This year was another strange one, but good thing there were still plenty of great books published in 2021! Here’s a list of staff favorites. TIP: If you click the title of the book or the cover image, the link will lead you to the library’s online catalog and you can request the book right then and there!
Darcy Poletti, Assistant Director
The Eternal Audience of One by Remy Ngamije
I loved this often funny, “young” look at the gender/class/racial politics of modern Africa. The book spans the European African Diaspora, the Rwandan genocide, and modern Namibia and Cape Town. This book is centered around the charming (and sort of lost) Séraphin and his college friends who are searching for their place within the nuanced stratifications of South Africa society. I especially loved how this book could dart between light hilarity and serious class analysis within a few paragraphs.
I Love You but I Have Chosen Darkness
by Claire Vaye Watkins
This quirky book was all over the place, from the L.A./Death Valley Manson Family scene to Midwestern literary academia to the rundown gritty glam of Reno and Las Vegas. The main character, whose name also happens to be Claire Watkins, was raised in the Mojave Desert by an eccentric mother and a father who was previously associated with the Manson Family- just like the author. After the success of her debut novel and the birth of her first child, Claire is struggling to fit into the roles of literary wunderkind and nurturing mother. The novel follows her family history as well as her current downward spiral of an existential crisis, with the desolate American West as a very well written backdrop.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
I loved, loved this memoir of family and food. I already enjoyed the music Zauner makes with the band Japanese Breakfast, but this memoir about her complex relationship with her Korean mother brought another layer of depth to her songs. Zauner grew up in Eugene, Oregon with her American father and Korean mother. This is the story of how their family was shaped by the large personality of her mother, along with the foods that were always wrapped up with memory and home for her throughout the years. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer when Zauner was only 26, and the book recounts her childhood, caring for her mother during her sickness, her mother’s death, and finally how she has come to terms with it all. Just such a good study of the relationship between a mother and daughter- plus SO MUCH DELICIOUS FOOD!
Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I have loved all of Rooney’s books, starting with the sharp and poignant novel Normal People. Her newest work is a look at friendship, love, and sex in the age of modern capitalism and environmental woes. I enjoyed how the novel switched between a normal narrative and emails between the two main characters- it was this correspondence that delved deeper into issues of philosophy, society, and identity. Like her other books, I listed to the audio and read the book at the same time. I highly recommend the audio version of any of her books as they are all read by the same Irish reader, whose lilt enhances the story.
Becky Van Den Berg,
Young Adult Service Manager
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Most students don’t make it out of the Scholomance, the odds are not in their favor. Especially when you are an outcast who’s own grandmother predicted you would grow to destroy the entire world! El has never had it easy, she’s used to fighting monsters at every turn, mostly herself as she fights her nature and strives to work for her magic rather than take it. When Orion Lake, the golden boy of the school saves her life one too many times El has to begin to fight against other things, mostly the enclavers who desperately don’t want her to become one of them. This book is full of adventure and atmosphere – perfect for anyone who likes a little danger with their magic!
Ink and Sigil by Kevin Hearne
Kevin Hearne’s novels are full of adventure and humor. This one did not dissapoint! When we first meet Al MacBharrais he’s walking in on the death scene of his seventh apprentice. He know’s he has a curse on his head but he doesn’t know why he’s so unlucky in training new Sigil agents. When he learns of a trafficking ring dealing in mystical creatures and gains the trust and help of a witty hobgoblin he is thrust into a crime ring that will take all of his Sigil training to solve!
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
From it’s opening scenes this book defies simplification. Does it have magic? Yes. Does it have mystery? Yes. Is it full of adventure, bad guys, misdirection and a heroine that might be a little bit evil herself? Also yes. This book is entertainment at it’s finest because more than anything it’s a book about trying to set wrong things right and learning how to be human in the process.
Michaela Wilson, Office Manager
The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky
This is the first book by Goldy Moldavsky that I have heard about and it did not disapoint. The Mary Shelley Club is a YA thriller about a bunch of horror movie obessed teens. The main character, Rachel, is a scholarship transfer student to a new school after a tradegy. Instead of reliving tramatic memories, she takes comfort in horror movies. One night at a party, Rachel unknowling sees something happen that leads her down the path to a secret soceity, The Mary Shelley Club. Outside of “meetings” the group memebers all plan and conduct a fear test on a fellow class mate, that are eventually taken too far. I loved these characters, especially how flawed they were, and how the author really set up the feeling of dread throughout the whole story!
Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar
This book is truly unique in the way it is written. Described as ‘metafiction’, Chasing the Boogeyman is a fiction book that reads like true crime (it even has pictures!). The author writes about the murders of young girls in his home town after he graduated from college and moved back into his parents house. Watch groups are formed, curfews are made and everyone in the little town of Edgemount are on high alert. The main character, Richard, is in the middle of all of it. He even feels like he is being watched, and he gets strange calls at his parents house. Maybe looking for his own clues isn’t the best idea and he should leave it to the FBI. The only question is, which parts actually happened and which parts are actually fiction?
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor
I love to descibe her books as Stephen King Lite! This atmospheric psychological thriller takes place both in the past and present, allowing the reader to keep guessing about the plot and what is real and not real. After a scandal at her previous church leaves a child dead, unconventional vicar, Jack Brooks, and her teenage daughter, Flo, are relocated to the village of Chapel Croft. I loved the location of this book and how it really made me feel like I was in this small town and interacting with the towns people. This book is a slow burn, but it is also an immersive and fun read!
Youth Enrichment Manager
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
This juvenile non-fiction book is a collection of poems celebrating the little-known women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. I loved the author’s use of the “Golden Shovel” which takes a short poem in its entirity or select pieces from the original poem to create an entirely new poem. Set alongside the original works, Grimes’s all-new poetry pays tribute to the unique heritage of these women and their spiritual connection to nature, illuminating female self-expression in the early twentieth century, reinvented with contemporary relevance and context.
Starfish by Lisa Fopps
This middle grade novel is delightfully a body positive read.
Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawsons third autobiography is just as hilarious as her other two and I love how she uses humor to explore depression and mental illness.
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
This middle grade novel is a mix of lost in space meets Latinx oral storytelling.
Tech and E-Materials Librarian
Summerwater by Sarah Moss
An intriguing look into the lives of several families that are vacationing in a small town in Scotland during the rainy summer season. They are all keeping to themselves, but quietly take notice of each other. They do start to notice one family that “doesn’t seem to belong there”. And here, the mystery begins!
Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If you like Mexican Gothic, Moreno-Garcia does not disappoint with Velvet Was the Night! Hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies in 1970’s Mexico provide the backdrop for the life of Maite, a secretary who loves reading Secret Romance. How does she get wrapped up in all of the previous mentioned? Another sometimes dark, intriguing mystery by Moreno-Garcia.
Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel
Tomas has always been willing to follow his childhood crush anywhere. It is now 1976 in Argentina during the height of the dictatorship regime that controls every aspect of life. How far will Tomas go to prove himself to Isabel now that they are adults? Part mystery, part love story, part picture into history, this first time novel by Loedel is amazing.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
“As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation.” (Goodreads) This is an incredible YA novel about a strong teenage girl, racial issues, drug issues and family…oh how important family is. Definitely one of my favorites this year by a debut author. Looking forward to what else this author can send our way!
Brenda Marshall, Director
I found this book both heartbreaking and hopeful. McGee shares how racist systems hurt white people as well as people of color and how we all benefit when our society becomes more equitable. She uses extensive research as well as people’s personal stories to illuminate her explanations. This is a timely, relevant, and interesting read. It includes a large bibliography which is also fascinating and allows the opportunity to explore further. I highly recommend it. We also have the audio version on Libby.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
I really enjoyed this dark psychological thriller set in the very near future. Scientist Evelyn Caldwell’s husband has been having an affair… with her clone! I ripped through this book in a few days.
Jill Bolte Taylor, Harvard neuroanatomist, experienced a massive stroke when she was in her late thirties that disabled the right hemisphere of her brain. Her first book, My Stroke of Insight, outlines her experience and recovery. In this new book she delves into the roles of each of the four quadrants of our brains and invites us to play with naming and including them in our decision making! Entertaining and informative I found this a fascinating read.
Lydia Wacasey, Circulation Supervisor
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Richard Power’s book, Bewilderment, is a heart-breaking but worthy read. Set in a dystopic, near-distant future during a time of political unrest and environmental crisis, the story focuses on a newly widowed father and his young, neurodivergent son. Power’s writings on nature are once again unparalleled, as is his capacity for examining empathy.
Phonebooth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina
From the first chapter of Phonebooth at the Edge of the World, I knew that Laura Imai Messina’s book would make my Best of 2021 list. Following the deaths of her mother and daughter to a tsunami, Yui finds herself bereft and unable to move forward, until she learns of a distant phonebooth that allows grief-stricken people a chance to reconnect with lost loved ones. Along her way to the phonebooth, she meets a widower who’s on a similar healing journey, and we follow the pair as they begin building a shared life together in the wake of their individual memories and losses. It’s both sensitive and filled with beautiful, prose-like language.
Murderbot Diaries (series) by Martha Wells
A bulk of my reading hours this year were devoted to Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series. Starting in January with All Systems Red and continuing through April with the 6th installment, Fugitive Telemetry, I couldn’t put it down until I’d caught up. Wells’ fast-paced series features an ungendered, augmented human/robot, Murderbot, who hacks their governing system, freeing them to explore their own interests— namely watching endless hours of soap operas. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Murderbot and their dry, often snarky sense humor as they struggled to define a sense of self in a world that doesn’t acknowledge Murderbot’s humanity or recognize their personal agency.