My 5 Star Top Ten List

2020 has been a year in which I read many trilogies:  Shades of Magic by Schwab, Lady Astronaut series by Kowal, Star Trek: The Janus Gate by Graf, The Broken Earth by Jemisin, and The Dam Keeper by Kondo and Tsutsumi

My top 10 list (in chronological order that I read them)

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson

(A sequel to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, which takes the thrills to the next exciting step.)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

(What makes us the wise man of the ape species?)

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Each of the three books in the ongoing series so far are 5 stars in my opinion. I love the alternative history space race that is firmly rooted in real science and math.)

Blacksad written by Juan Diaz Canales with art by Juanjo Guarnido

(This is a film noir detective story with animal characters. It is a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

(The middle volume with a sort of Olympics for Magicians is the peak)

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

(This is a slim steampunk adventure set in Cairo by a hot speculative fiction writer.)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

(A classic text of the ’60s Civil Rights era that is still useful for understanding current racial tensions in America.)

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

(A great start to her Hugo Award winning trilogy with a couple nice twists near the end.)

The Dam Keeper: Return from the Shadows by Robert Kondo and ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi

(Perhaps this ending of the trilogy with its community joining together is the best part.)

Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez

(This is a poetry book recommended by the virtual book club on this blog as a book to start the conversation about immigration.)

-Byron

Top FifTEeN of 2020 (Heh! No one will notice the extra five, right?)

This has been an unusual year (such an understatement!) and (not shockingly) it’s translated to what I wound up reading this year… (so much insight!) But like every previous year, it was a struggle to decide which books and why. Hopefully you’ll find a new book to try or you’ll have a happy “oh! meeee too!” moment! (Bonus comments in parentheses because you can’t see me doing eyerolls at myself. Enjoy!)

Now let’s get on to the goods, in alphabetical order by author, The Books:

Adult Fiction

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen

It felt like reading an excellent BBC series: engaging characters, smart mystery, and a great WWII time/place setting. The second book in the series will be out before the end of the year: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers! (Historical Mystery)

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Mr. Backman can write a likable,  curmudgeonly character like few can but this book is really more of an ensemble journey and each character has their own quirky personality. The beginning is a little dark but quickly becomes an uplifting story of how individuals can build their own supportive community. (General Fiction)

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Just like when you hear about any picture of a perfect wife, husband, or marriage, it becomes clear there is no such thing as perfect. Quiet and thoughtful, suspenseful and satisfying, this book was everything I wanted it to be. (General Fiction)

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

I loved Ready Player One and was a little worried the sequel wouldn’t live up to the original, what a waste of a decent worry! All the pop culture references, interesting future-thinking ideas, and plenty of exciting plot twists, this is *chef’s kiss* a delight! Fun extra -the IRL setting is Columbus, Ohio!(General Fiction/Science Fiction)

Weather by Jenny Offill

Odd, quirky, sometimes uncomfortable, and completely engaging. If you’re looking for a book short on pages and long on impact, this might be the one for you! (Literary Fiction)

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was on my list last year and prompted me to read this older title by the same author. Yep, just as good! It’s a long-game mystery with shades of The Shining suspense. (Mystery)

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

The family relationships, the wanting to be a part of something while also needing to be an individual, watching how society’s views on a variety of topics changed with the decades, all made each page of this book a pleasure. If you grew up in a small town, you’ll feel this story that much more deeply. (General Fiction)

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Mix a little Thin Man, Nick and Nora, with a little Mickey Spillane, add a female Sherlock Holmes and Watson, put World War II espionage into the background, and you’ll get close to understanding why you want to read this next. It’s a debut and I’m typing this with my fingers crossed that the second book will be coming soon! (Historical Mystery)

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

This author consistently connects her characters and action in smart and surprising ways, with conclusions that are unexpected and satisfying. I’ve only listened to the audio versions of Ms. Steadman’s books, and I don’t plan to change that, it’s like hearing a radio drama with all the sound effects a listener could hope for! (Mystery)

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Charming and insightful, this is the story of a “bot” who has a degree of self-awareness that he needs to seek therapy before going on a journey to fulfill his dreams. It’s not a simple journey as he needs to hide his true nature as our society is prejudiced against AI and are as likely to attack him as help him. You might shed a tear or two along the way, but it’s worth it. (General Fiction)

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

If you like superhero/supervillain movies or you’ve watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, you will love every page of this book. Anna shows some small but special abilities with numbers but she’s tired of being a contract worker for whichever villain needs temporary help. Offered what seemed to be an easy and high paying gig changed everything, just not for the better. With engaging characters, interesting thoughts on how we think of good vs. evil, and some really clever surprises, this book checked all the boxes for me this year. (General or Science Fiction)

Adult Nonfiction

Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America  by David Giffels

The 2020 General Election may have cost Ohio our “bellwether state” title but if you want a better understanding of how one state can represent so much of the entire USA, this book is the one to read. The author uses his own travels to different locations and conversations with individuals to make each experience engaging for the reader. (Nonfiction)

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I’m embarrassed to say this is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Gladwell but this book sent me off on a “what else” deep dive, and now I’m a die-hard fan. I learned so much but reading the book felt more like I was reading a series of short, connected, stories. If you pick this one up, we can talk about how crazy it is that our brain defaults to what we want to believe even when the facts show a different reality. Just, so good!

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

Individually, they are funny and the laughs only increase as they tell how they became a couple. I listened to the audio version and highly recommend this option as Megan and Nick are the readers -it starts to feel like you’re in a candid conversation with new friends.

Teen Fiction

The Darkness Duology: Courting Darkness and Igniting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

The characters and setting are part of the His Fair Assassin series, and it feels like catching up with old friends (who can kick some serious hiney). Sybella must protect her younger sisters from being used as political pawns while also trying to keep the new Queen safe from enemies within the Royal House. The author always provides such strong women as main characters but remembers to give them flaws and quirks so they remain relatable. Ms. LaFevers never disappoints! (Historical Mystery)

Of course, I also think pretty highly of the books I suggested for the RRPL Gift Guide -ya know- and I might be counting those books as part of a bigger list for the year? Anyway… Happy Holidays, with books and snackies, for all!!

-Stacey

Nicole’s Top Ten of 2020

This year I stayed quite nicely tucked into my reading comfort blanket of weird, atmospheric, and dark reads for the most part. I read more than one collection of short stories, and one novella, which reflects my unpredictable ebb and flow of reading ambition the past ten months: some days I couldn’t focus on reading for more than fifteen minutes, while others days I was inspired to plant myself on the couch and read all weekend. Below you’ll find my ten favorite books I read this past year: including some supernatural thrillers, weird and beautiful science fiction, horror short stories, literary fiction, and more!

Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror Edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

Bunny by Mona Awad

Circe by Madeline Miller

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

RRPL Gift Guide

I love giving books and will take advantage of any occasion to find something I think will fit my giftee, and that includes pondering if there’s something you might want to gift yourself of course! I sorted the titles into broad ideas of who they might appeal to but left the heavy lifting of plot description to the reviews on bookshop.org (Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mishttps://bookshop.org/books/weather-9780345806901/9780385351102sion to financially support local, independent bookstores.) I hope this list helps you finish off your holiday shopping on a high note!

For your friend who wants something “different”
Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain
The Butterfly Lampshade by Amiee Bender
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
The Darkness Duology by Robin LaFevers
Weather by Jenny Offill
Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman

For your friend who wants something “thoughtful”
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Barnstorming Ohio by David Giffels
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Do Nothing by Celeste Headless
Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

For your friend who wants something “funny”
Anxious People by Fredrick Backman
The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
The Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman

For your friend who wants to “solve the puzzle”
Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen
Death in Her Hands by Ottesa Moshfegh
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

And if you’re looking for a way to do something extra, I just discovered the United States Postal Service has a program called “Operation Santa.” This won’t be news to everyone as it’s been going on for years but if you, like me, hadn’t heard of it before I’ll drop a link here.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy holiday season, with a book (or two) to help you keep feeling strong!
-Stacey

RRPL Gift Guide – Gifts for the Science Fiction Nerd in Your Life

Being something of a gigantic nerd myself, I know that it can be difficult to buy holiday presents for that science fiction aficionado in your life. They have all the action figures – excuse me, figurines – they could ever need, and there’s no more space for posters on their walls. Let me, a self-professed nerd, guide you on a journey to the perfect present for your loved one. 

All of these items are available through the library if you’d like to try before you buy, but please make sure to support your local independent bookstore; you can buy online and support indie bookstores with Bookshop.org.

If they love to read:

Gideon the Ninth & Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I cannot stop raving about this series – in my opinion, these books are the best sci fi I’ve read in years. If the phrase “lesbian necromancers in space” sounds like something your nerd would like, pick up these books! Not a reader? Try gifting them the audiobook versions, which are also excellent.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

A sci-fi love letter to NYC mixed with Lovecraftian horror, the newest book by the author of mega-popular The Fifth Season

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Has your nerd ever thought about the collateral damage that their favorite superhero creates by smashing two skyscrapers together? Choose Hench for a different take on superheroes.

Redshirts by John Skalzi 

If your nerd loves Star Trek, they’ll love Redshirts, which follows the little guys rather than the starship captains in a ‘legally distinct’ universe from Star Trek.

Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack

Another entry for Star Trek fans, this book is the prequel to the new series Star Trek: Picard.

Star Wars: The Mandalorian: The Art & Imagery

If your nerd can’t get enough of Baby Yoda, they’ll love this collection of art from the ultra-popular Mandalorian.

If they’re more of a movie person:

Tenet

The biggest film release of the year by one of the most acclaimed directors out there, Christopher Nolan. Your nerd is almost guaranteed to want this movie.

Star Trek: Picard Season One

Another exciting release in 2020, this new Star Trek series brings back the most beloved of starship captains, Jean Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart.

Underwater

This one is more of a horror entry, but still has science fiction elements. A crew of deep-sea researchers must get to safety after their underwater drilling station is hit by an earthquake.

Ex Machina

What happens when a tech genius creates a robotic AI? A sleeper science fiction hit from 2014 starring Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson.

Color Out of Space

Treat your nerd to this flick starring scenery-chewer Nicholas Cage as a farmer whose property is hit by a meteorite, based on an H. P. Lovecraft story.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

If your nerd is a Star Wars fan, they’ll want to complete their collection with the final installment in the new trilogy that started with The Force Awakens.

Good luck in your hunt for the perfect present, and keep an eye on this blog for many more gift guides from other staff members in the coming week!

Chocolate Day Reads

Try some chocolate themed fiction. We have sweet chocolate stories, dark chocolate stories, and even some hot chocolate stories.

Maybe nonfiction is more to your taste. We’ve got you (chocolate) covered.

Happy Reading (and sweet snacking)!

~Megan

Read Before You Watch

Do you like to read the book before you watch the film or television adaptation? Or are you someone who doesn’t mind seeing the screen version and then reading the book? Or, perhaps you are one of those people who only does one or the other. I must admit, there have been times that I chose not to read a book because the movie was not that interesting to me (looking at you Divergent series).

We’ve got some great television and film adaptations to look forward to, and below are a few of my top picks for books you should read before their adaptations hit your screen.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

A brand new HBO series just launched based on this awesome book by Matt Ruff. I really enjoyed the book, a smart mash-up of historical fiction, Lovecraftian horror, and sci-fi fantasy elements. Readers follow a series of of inter-connected stories about an extended African American family in the 1950s, mostly taking place in Chicago, and their dangerous encounters with the supernatural (sorcerers, inter-dimensional portals, a haunted house) and the terrible, rampant racism they constantly faced during the Jim Crow era.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

The film adaptation of this book is slated to hit Netflix September 16th so you have plenty of time to pick up this book (which is what I plan to do as I haven’t read it yet!). Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, The Devil All the Time follows a cast of characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s, including a husband and wife team of serials killers and a disturbed war veteran. The book, Pollock’s first novel, was described as “violence-soaked” from it’s first pages by The New York Times Book Review, so be prepared for a dark and disturbing read.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This newly published horror thriller has already been put into development by Hulu according to recent news. The drama series will be based on Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s bestselling novel, and produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos’ Milojo Productions and ABC Signature. Set in 1950s Mexico, Mexican Gothic follows glamorous and young socialite Noemí from her home in Mexico City to the dismal grounds of High Place, a gloomy English manor styled estate in the Mexican countryside. She is there to check in on her newlywed cousin after receiving a frantic letter begging for someone to save her. What will she discover about this odd family and strange house?

Are there any big or small screen adaptations that you are really excited about this year? Share in the comments!


Favorite Books of 2020 (So Far)

Can you believe that we are more than halfway through 2020?! I know I surely cannot. Little did we know in January how very different this year would look compared to years past, and really March to now have been a bit of a foggy blur. Not only does my handy dandy planner help me with my to-do lists now more than ever, it also helps me remember what day it is (which was not so much of an issue pre-2020).

One thing that remains constant though is the joy of reading. Despite whatever madness might be occurring, I can always find a comfy perch somewhere and escape into a book for a few hours. Books have been a reassuring friend to me these past five months and I hope you have been able to curl up with a fabulous book as well.

Below you’ll find some of my most favorite books I’ve read so far this year!

Circe by Madeline Miller

Miller’s novel is absolutely amazing. Circe is a beautifully written, smart, feminist tale that takes readers into the world of Greek mythology but with an entirely new vantage point. Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of sun and mightiest of the Titans. She is strange, empathetic, and viewed as weak by her family and peers, turning to mortals for friendship and comfort. Eventually she discovers she holds the power of witchcraft, particularly the power of transformation, and is subsequently banished to live in exile on a remote island. Here is where she truly finds herself and her power. This complex story has it all- complicated heroines, magic, monsters, romance, tragedy, and adventure. It is also very much a story about families and finding our own paths independent of our familial bonds. I wept at the ending not only because of how perfect it was, but because I could have easily read another 300 pages of this masterpiece.

The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve written about my fangirl love for Jeff VanderMeer’s work on this blog before, but this is perhaps my most favorite book of his to date. It is also the one that ripped my heart out. It is an exploration of the beauty of humanity, conversely also about the cruelty humanity is capable of, and the endurance of love- all packed into under 100 pages. Readers will be mostly lost if they haven’t read any of the other Borne stories (Borne; Dead Astronauts) so I would highly recommend picking up at least one of those before diving into The Strange Bird. Here we follow a new character- a biotech bird mixed of human, avian, and other creature’s genetic material, known only as the Strange Bird. Following her escape from the lab that made her, she is plagued by mysterious dreams, drawn by some invisible beacon inside her to a faraway location. A difficult and gorgeous story that will stay with you long after you close the cover.

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

Perhaps my favorite spooky book so far this year (and you know I love spooky books!). An eerie and atmospheric horror story of women and witchcraft, that also reads as a psychological thriller. The story is set in colonial New England and follows a young woman who is lost in the woods while picking berries for her family- or did she leave her family on purpose? Much is unclear about her circumstances. Eventually she runs into a helpful older woman in the woods, who leads her to yet another mysterious and generous woman with a cozy cabin and plenty of food. Quickly it is made clear that all is not what it seems in this forest and these women may not truly be trying to help her return home. Elements of classic fairy tales and folklore, combined with an unreliable narrator and surreal, dreamlike moments unfold into a disturbing story that I could not put down.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I wasn’t sure I liked this book until I was more than halfway through it, but I’m glad I kept reading, because it turned out that I actually loved it. The writing is extraordinary and what kept me turning the pages, but I wasn’t confident this tale of wealth, white-collar financial crimes, and ghosts would all come together and hit me with the emotional impact I expect of a book. Well, The Glass Hotel delivers and in many unexpected ways. The story looks at multiple characters, but begins and ends with Vincent, a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass palace on a remote island in British Columbia. Readers travel to Manhattan, a container ship, the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, and back, as we follow the connecting threads of one devastating Ponzi scheme and the various people it’s long tendrils dragged down with it.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

This book is tricky- it wants you to think it is one story, but it twists and turns into another story and then yet another story. It is difficult to share why it is so captivating and amazing without spoiling too much of the plot, but I can say the early parts of the book introduce you to two particularly irritating white hipster men. They have an obsession with “real” music which essentially means any music that is from black culture and eventually this morphs into a hyper-focused interest in blues from the pre-war era for one of them. There are some seriously funny but bothersome passages discussing audiophile interests, vinyl collecting, and expectations of “real” musicians. I assure you, it is worth it to keep reading through the annoying narrator. The story really goes off the rails maybe halfway through and takes readers on a a new narrative that shifts our sense of reality and time, eventually ending with a note of satisfying and thought-provoking vengeance. Alternatively, this is also a story about white privilege, appropriation of black culture (especially music) in America, white wealth created from the exploitation of black bodies, the industrial prison system, and many more deep seated themes.

Have you read any of my favorites? What are some of your favorites that you have read in the past six months? Share with me in the comments!

Winter Book BINGO: Spotlight on LGBTQIA

The Merry Spinster

by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Confessions of the Fox

by Jordy Rosenberg
RubyFruit Jungle

by Rita Mae Brown
Clariel

by Garth Nix
Less: a novel

by Andrew Sean Greer
So Lucky

by Nicola Griffith
Witchmark

by C.L. Polk

Lists of books with an LGBTQIA authors or character:

Winter Book BINGO: Spotlight on Graphic Novels

So you need to read a graphic novel in order to complete a BINGO, but you don’t know where to start. Let me help you. My own introduction to graphic novels was Bill Willingham’s Fables series. This epic series is a very grown-up retelling of classic fables and fairy tales. It’s still one of my favorite series. But you aren’t ready to jump into a 22-volume, Eisner Award winning series? No problem!

Try something cute, light, and funny:

Or maybe a graphic biography or memoir? We have books about familiar figures as well as ordinary people. Here are some of my favorites:

Ready to jump into a series? Let’s do it!

Maybe you’d like to try a classic:

Finally, let’s not forget the superheroes:

If none of these strike your fancy, come on in and browse our collection. Graphic novels are visual, you might just have to see them to find the one that’s right for you.

~Megan