PINE RIVER LIBRARY

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Staff Favorite Books of 2020

2020 was quite the year… but at least there were plenty of great new books published this year to help us escape reality! 

Want to put one of these books on hold through the library? Just click on the book title and it will open the page in the library catalog where you can place a hold… easy! You can also call us at 970.884.2222 ext. 1 to place a hold as well!

Darcy Poletti Harp
PR and Programming Librarian

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

Clever and immensely readable, I devoured this book in single weekend. I’ve always loved Nick Hornby’s smart, funny writing- About a Boy and High Fidelity are my favorites. This novel is the tale of a two Londoners who fall in love despite the lines between class, race, education, and age that place them in separate parts of British society. Set in 2016, the novel does an excellent job of capturing the zeitgeist of the Brexit referendum as well as the the trials of modern dating and parenting struggles.

The Nightwatchman by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich is one of my favorite writers and this book doesn’t disappoint. Set in North Dakota on a Native American Reservation in the 1950s, this book tells the story of a tribe fighting for their land and sovereignty. Like most of Erdrich’s books, it’s full of rich and unique characters, magical realism, and the small and large heartbreaks of life on a reservation.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

I loved King’s previous book Euphoria about the anthropologist Margaret Mead, but this novel about a struggling young writer is a turn in a totally different direction. I felt like I was right there beside the main character as she struggled with the complexities of modern life- dating, working, female friendships, student loans, gender inequality- all while trying to pursue her dreams of becoming a novelist. 

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

I love books that open a window into a new world for me. Told in a unique narrative style, this novel weaves the stories of characters that defy the norms of gender and sexuality in the political turbulence of 1990’s Nigeria.

Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi

I LOVE Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks- I cook from his books more than any other cookbooks on my shelf. I’ve been cooking multiple recipes from Flavor every week since I bought it a few months ago. These recipes are full of the bold, fresh, and innovative flavors Ottolenghi is known for, and like all his recipes, I’ve never been disappointed by a dish. I mean, MISO BUTTER ONIONS?! Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients and steps in many recipes- a savvy cook can tell where to cut corners or substitute- I call my adaptations “Yotam Lite.” 

 

Elizabeth vonTauffkirchen
Digital Services and Media Hub Manager

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai 

This sweeping family saga takes place in North Vietnam. It is beautifully written and the characters are deep and fully developed. There are definitely some ugly moments, as the book covers two violent periods in the history of the country. However, there are so many wonderful descriptions of the flora, fauna, and food of the region too. This book is evocative of place, and the language is elegant and precise. Although this is her first novel, Quế Mai has previously published poetry (in Vietnamese) and it shows in her exquisite use of English in this novel. She also uses Vietnamese proverbs in the book, which further enhance the exceptional portrayal of her home country. Five stars. 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

This exquisite YA book is written in verse. I listened to the audio version and found myself several times on the verge of tears while walking my dog. The story revolves around two older teen women who each lost their father in a plane crash between New York and the Dominican Republic. These two female characters are so beautifully written that I feel as if I know and love them both. Such a heart-wrenching, touching, lovely book. Five stars. 

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

This long-awaited sequel to Ready Player One was such a fantastic read! I was a bit concerned, to be honest, as the first book was practically perfect in every way. I thought there was almost no chance Cline would be able to pull off the atmosphere and excitement of the first book with this follow-up book but I was completely wrong. This book has a very similar feel to the first, with a quest, billions of lives at stake, plucky, likable characters, and oh so much eighties nostalgia. Brilliant! Five stars. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This sweeping, generational tale was fascinating to read. Two identical light-skinned black women grow up with radically different lives, one embracing her black heritage and one shunning it and pretending (quite successfully) to be white. The story continues, including the college life of the daughter of one of the sisters, who encounters so many interesting people on her journey, including her estranged aunt. This story examines race and identity while conveying a deeply detailed family saga with well developed and interesting characters throughout. I loved it! Five stars. 

Network Effect by Martha Wells

This is the first long-form work in a series that began with four short novellas, the first of which is All Systems Red. This hard science fiction series is actually a fascinating examination of what it means to be a “person.” The title character, who calls itself “Murderbot,” is a security unit which has hacked its own governor module. However, instead of going on a murderous rampage, which is what the humans in the stories assume any Sec Bot who has a hacked governor module will do, Murderbot uses the freedom to watch serial dramas during downtime while continuing to keep the human clients safe. This character is as fully fleshed out as any human character I’ve ever read about and it’s twice as fascinating. I love Murderbot! Five stars.

 

Shelley Walchak
Library Director

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

This heartbreaking story of a family in Glascow, Scotland, deals with the struggles of dealing with an alcoholic mother and the effect on her children.

 

Lydia Wacasey
Library Specialist

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks

Denizens of an exclusive, high-tech community are cut off from society and left to battle the harsh elements of the Pacific Northwest and defend themselves against a gang of predators.   

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

A feisty female protagonist, Noemi Taboada, is stranded in a remote and decaying estate with a deeply disturbed family. Fans of Emily Brontë and Mary Shelley will enjoy this gothic horror story. 

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

This novel focuses on a summer getaway turned wrong when an unexplained blackout leaves a family removed from civilization. A knock on the door of their remote vacation home kicks off an eerie examination of race, class, and consumer culture.

 

Brenda Marshall 
Assistant Director

Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

An American man disappears while on a bike trip in rural Vietnam. His new girlfriend is left behind with a mystery to unravel. I enjoyed this international thriller. 

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad

A timely walk through my own white privilege with this illuminating book and accompanying journal prompts. We are currently reading this in a book club and although I am finding it challenging, I believe it is leading us on an important journey. 
 

Milk Street Fast and Slow: Instant Pot Cooking at the Speed You Need by Christopher Kimball

I struggled with making dishes in my Instant Pot that looked as good as they tasted until I checked  this cookbook out of the library. Christopher Kimball has assembled dishes to cook using either the pressure cook or the slow cook option of your Instant Pot or Crockpot depending on the time available. I haven’t been disappointed yet and ended up buying my own copy!
 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Set in contemporary Philadelphia, this is a story of a young black woman who is falsely accused of kidnapping a white child she is actually babysitting. Well written characters and a compelling plot.
 

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

The fifth book in the Cormoran Strike series follows a missing person’s case from decades ago. I listened to the audio version on my phone by using the library’s free Libby app. It held my attention for almost 32 hours! 

 

Brooke Smith
Circulation Supervisor

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

I loved Untamed by Glennon Doyle because of her raw truth. It can’t be easy to share with the world that you rely on Lexapro and have even created a song in its honor. She shares parenting struggles and what she’s learned – lessons we can all relate to. She writes about racism from our cultured viewpoint which adds clarity to the chatter. Most of all she touches on each of our individual raw power. She’s an author and an activist, but she does it from the introverted standpoint which is unique and humbling. 
 

 

Summer Sanford
Children’s Services Specialist

Anya and the Nightingale by Sophiya Pasternack

This delightful fantasy is centered around friendship and encourages the reader to question what they are told. (Juvenile Fiction)
 

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

Get swept away in this coming of age story that transports you into another world with writing that brings this story to life. (Juvenile Fiction)
 

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

This vivid fantasy bridges reality with a magical world that brings west African mythology to life. (Juvenile Fiction)
 

Me and the World by Mireia Truis

This delightful book compares common things like food or sports around the world with beautiful infographics. (Juvenile Nonfiction)
 

Exploring the Elements: A Complete Guide to the Periodic Table by Sara Gillingham illustrated by Isabel Thomas

Let this artful guide take you on a journey through each element’s letter symbol and atomic number, exploring its attributes, characteristics, uses, and interesting stories behind its discovery. (Juvenile Nonfiction)
 
 

Michaela Wilson
Office Manager

A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones

This is a laugh out-loud crime thriller that will keep you up at night just to find out what happens! I would pick this book up if you are even feeling the slightest bit blue or just need a good laugh with some characters you can cherish. 

Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

The main characters live in a world full of fae, werewolves, angels, and demons…and in a world full of high-rise apartments, internet, and cell phones. This book is wild but worth the read and honestly, one of the best books I’ve read that has high fantasy and technology within the same world. 

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

I struggled with deciding to recommend this because it is a gory read but it’s also extremely well written with dark humor and an epic friendship between a group of women. This is perfect for fans of slow-burn horror!

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

This fits perfectly in with the slasher troupe- sort of. I really can’t say anything without giving something away, but this was super fun. Just know this book will not be what you are expecting! Take that idea and run with it. No seriously… RUN!

 

Wendi Weinstein
Acquisitions/Cataloging Manager

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

This is not only the best book I read in 2020, it’s one of the best ever.  I actually bought a second copy so I could highlight and make notes!  Wilkerson writes in a most natural and clear way about the unseen hierarchy of racism and lays bare the subtle ways in which we all participate in it without recognition.  Her argument is not heavy-handed, but provocative and illuminating. I believe everyone who reads it will benefit.
 

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

I had a flute instructor in college who spent the first 20 minutes of each class reminding students to be conscious of how we were breathing. He told us that we are born knowing how to breathe, but somehow “forget” as we grow older.  This book is an eye-opening reminder of how the most natural functions of our human bodies can help heal us, and elucidates how extraordinary the act of breathing is – and that how we breathe determines so much about our health.  Fascinating!
 

The Quiet Americans:  Four U.S. Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War – A Tragedy in Three Acts by Scott Anderson

This book introduces us to four men, a couple of whom might seem unlikely spies, and follows their personal stories through the early years of the CIA  and into the Cold War.  It makes the reader think about the sometimes unintended consequences of espionage and its relationship to foreign policy.  Anderson is one of a handful of authors who can write about history in an engaging, page-turning style.  Another timely and provocative read!
 
 

Becky Van Den Berg
Youth Services Manager

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Anna’s not a villain…she just works for them! When her life is upended by a superhero doing “good” she confronts how much good these so called “heroes” actually do and then sets about working for the biggest villain she can find in an attempt to put an end to them once and for all! This book was SO FUN!! Finally, we get to see what happens on the other side of hero-dom!

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

El was lucky enough to snag a spot at the illustrious Scholomance to achieve her magical training. There’s no teachers, no time off, and no friends…but there is plenty of danger and death! What if every spell Harry Potter learned cost him life force? What if his allies only worked with him if it gave them a leg up? This book is totally immersive and a great, new look at why magical learning might not be all it’s chalked up to be!

Providence by Max Berry

Set in the future, humans in space are completely dependent on the A.I. that runs their indestructible Providence ships. These ships have been key to the ongoing war with alien creatures. But a surprising attack leaves the ship and the crew at the mercy of space, being cut off from home base and Earth and their ship’s A.I. doesn’t care who it kills, as long as the enemies are kept off of the ship. This book is action packed. The crew of the Providence each have their own reasons for wanting to join in this war, where serving in space makes you an instant celebrity on Earth. This book is light on the science and heavy on the fiction- a super fun escapist adventure!

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

A virus related to rabies has completely overrun the population of Massachusetts. It infects and kills quickly. Those who are in the early stages of the infection are viciously dangerous to others. When Dr. Sherman gets a call from her friend who is eight months pregnant and whose husband was just murdered by an infected neighbor, the doctor must get to her and then get her back across town to a hospital… all while the world goes insane around them. I picked this to read because I enjoy Tremblay’s writing. His horror is somehow more thorough and less predictable than most horror authors. It’s kind of a lot given the current global situation, which is exactly why I picked it to read!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Sometimes, returning to the scene of childhood trauma isn’t the best idea, especially when those events have ended up in a book written by a family member entitled House of Horrors. But Maggie was too little to remember experiencing the horror and thinks that not only was her father likely embellishing the terror in order to sell books, but as a restorer of old homes, this seems like the perfect opportunity for her to turn the page and make some money. But when things start going bump in the night and strange occurrences grow, Maggie will have to confront the fact that her father just might have been telling the truth. I love scary stories and because I read them so often, almost nothing actually scares me. This book is a great addition to the horror/thriller genre – it’s fun to read and will leave you looking over your shoulder!

Lisa Stone Zabka
Tech Librarian

Mexican Gothic by Silva Moreno-Garcia

I am a fan of mystery and intrigue and this fits the bill. The setting of High Place reminded me of Manderley of Rebecca fame. It’s full of interesting characters and set in the Mexican countryside. What is it that keeps Noemi so drawn to this house and its mysterious family? 

Milk Street Fast and Slow: Instant Pot Cooking at the Speed You Need by Christopher Kimball

I love to eat, therefore, I love to cook! This Instant Pot cookbook offers a wonderful assortment of tasty, easy meals. The recipes have a knack for using just the right spices to please the palate. 

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

I left New York the summer of my 18th year. I am still drawn to stories, interesting folks, music, and food of the city… and of course I am drawn to the New York City Library. So, how could I not have at least read The Lions of Fifth Avenue?! This book combines my love of mystery and historical fiction.

The Paris Hours by Alex George

With a touch of historical fiction, this is a story of four different people over the course of one day in 1927 that explores the intense effects of war of the characters who live in this beautiful city. The four main characters lives cross in the end with a very memorable finish. 

The Searcher by Tana French

Tana French is one of my favorite authors. Her character and story development always keep me guessing. This is her latest contribution to mystery, suspense, and complicated relations.