Librarian’s choice: Stephanie’s Favorite Books of 2020

Librarian’s choice: Stephanie’s Favorite Books of 2020

Here are my favorite reads that came out in 2020. I like to be eclectic in my reading, so there is a little bit of everything in this list. Some mystery, some romance, a little nonfiction, and all just plain good writing.


Guest List by Lucy Foley

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. And then someone turns up dead.

Another title by Foley, The Hunting Party, is available on Hoopla.


Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

It’s 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny. After Justine’s father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church – a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever.

Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine–a mixed-blood Cherokee woman– and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world–of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados–intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.

Also available on Hoopla.


Beach Read by Emily Henry

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.  They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

Also available on Overdrive.


Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald

In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep.

Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.

Also available on Hoopla.


Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . . From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” ( Kirkus Reviews ) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico.

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find–her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Also available on Overdrive.


Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.

Also available on Hoopla.


Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

We swim in freezing Arctic waters and piranha-infested rivers to test our limits. We swim for pleasure, for exercise, for healing. But humans, unlike other animals that are drawn to water, are not natural-born swimmers. We must be taught. Our evolutionary ancestors learned for survival; now, in the twenty-first century, swimming is one of the most popular activities in the world.

Why We Swim is propelled by stories of Olympic champions, a Baghdad swim club that meets in Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, modern-day Japanese samurai swimmers, and even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survives a wintry six-hour swim after a shipwreck. New York Times contributor Bonnie Tsui, a swimmer herself, dives into the deep, from the San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea, investigating what it is about water that seduces us, despite its dangers, and why we come back to it again and again.

Also available on Hoopla.

June is Pride Month

June is Pride Month

The Heart’s Invisible Furies: A Novel by John Boyne

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?
Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

Less : A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes—it would be too awkward—and you can’t say no—it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.
QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?
ANSWER: You accept them all.
What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last. Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.


Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

 

What We’re Reading at Home

What We’re Reading at Home

We’ve been busy reading while we #stayhome. See what our staff has been reading below.


Emily

The Book of Essie by Meghan by MacLean Weir

The youngest daughter of a famous reality show evangelical family becomes pregnant. Essie helps her mother manufacture an engagement to a classmate in order to cover for the public, all the while providing the true story to a reporter with her own background trauma from religious fanaticism. An absorbing read with a trio of central characters you won’t want to leave behind. This book will appeal to adult and high school-age fiction lovers, reality TV junkies.


Phoebe

Flight Season by Marie Marquardt

This novel trails two characters trying to navigate their own personal worlds. It is a cleverly designed novel that allows insight into each of the characters minds. I finished this book in one go because it was so captivating. Young Adult readers who like self realization novels with a touch of romance would love this!


Michelle C.

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

I found myself drawn into the Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox” about a young woman growing up in the Hasidic Jewish Community of Williamsburg, NY in present day.  It was a limited series, only four episodes, I think, but I was fascinated to learn about this religious community, their beliefs and traditions. That led me to the book upon which the series was based, an autobiography also titled Unorthodox and written by Deborah Feldman. I found her coming of age story to be fascinating and a triumph about how to follow your own path in the most extraordinary of circumstances. The description of Jewish food, the kosher preparations they follow, the clothing and hairstyles allowed by single and married women and what they represent, were all very interesting to me in addition to the main story itself.  Readers of biography, history, and religious and women’s studies will love this book.


Carolyn

Camino Island by John Grisham

I listened to and really liked Camino Island, which is about a young woman is recruited to recover priceless F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts that were stolen during a daring heist. I thought it was interesting that the book was loosely inspired by Amelia Island in Florida and that the town with the bookstore in the book was modeled off Fernandina, Florida. I recommend it for anyone looking for a good mystery.


George

The Sherlock Holmes Handbook or The Methods and Mysteries of the Worlds Greatest Detective by Ransom Riggs

The book is a reader’s companion to the casework of Sherlock Holmes and it explores the methodology of the world’s most famous consulting detective. Written in a lively fashion, it covers everything from analyzing fingerprints to bee keeping. 224 pages, but can be read in a Pittsburgh rainy afternoon. The Sherlock Holmes Handbook will appeal to Baker Street Irregulars of all ages. Fun read.


Blair

The Bad Seed by William March

I’m just finishing The Bad Seed, the novel by William March.  I had just re-watched the film of the same name – powerful performance by Nancy Kelly as the mother of the murderous Rhoda – and wondered about source material.  The book is vastly different from the film but it is a deep and abiding portrait of a mother faced with the horrific circumstances involving a child (think “The Exorcist”).  It is complex because the mother is as responsible for what occurs as the child. Great stuff!


Lynne

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I recently read The Glass Hotel. Beautifully written and with intriguing characters. From the author of Station Eleven— which was even better. I’m currently reading Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffith (which just won the Edgar Award for 2020); a slightly spooky mystery — can’t wait to find out whodunit!

 


Richelle

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

This well-written story keeps you guessing until the end. It’s a modern mystery with a mid-level pace and several red herrings thrown in to keep readers engaged. I could barely put the book down & enjoyed several late-night reading sessions! Mystery lovers will enjoy this title.

 


Dustin

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

I enjoyed it because it had elements of true crime as well as history. It tells a piece of the story of how to FBI came to be through the narrative surrounding a number of unsolved murders.

 


Laura M.

The Five Silent Years of Corrie Ten Boom by Pamela Rosewell Moore

The book I’m reading is really old, but really inspiring! So inspiring that I’m reading it a second time back-to-back! During World War II, Corrie and her family were arrested and sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home in Holland. The library also has Corrie’s best-selling book The Hiding Place which launched for Corrie a worldwide ministry of travel and speaking for 30 + years. Rosewell’s book is an inspiring account of how Corrie’s ministry amazingly continued after she suffered a stroke and could no longer speak! But the book I would recommend first is The Hiding Place because that would introduce readers to this inspiring lady, Corrie Ten Boom!


Jen

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Right now I am reading The Mirror & the Light. Although I am only about half way through it, I am enjoying it. I love the way she writes; you really feel like you are right there, talking to Henry VIII. Mantel is descriptive and the book is really well researched.  This is the third book in the Wolf Hall Trilogy, so if  you liked Wolf Hall (personal favorite) or Bring Up the Bodies, also by Mantel, you will enjoy this book!


Stephanie

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Based on a true story, this book explores the secret Cold War plot to bring Doctor Zhivago to the world. The idea that literature can change the world prompted the CIA to try and smuggle this masterpiece out of the USSR. Prescott weaves the tales of Pasternak, his muse Olga, and the CIA to create this delicious blend of historical fiction and espionage thriller. Read if you like historical fiction, spies, and Russian literature.


Alex

So Much Longing In So Little Space / The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I am reading So Much Longing In So Little Space / The Art of  Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Loving this book, a brilliant writer’s thoughts and opinions about  the work and psyche of one of my favorite painters, Munch. Every sentence is rich and provocative, with many references to philosophers and other painters (including interviews with) and of course a plethora of information about Munch’s life.


 

Sage

UnTamed by Glennon Doyle

I loved this book!  Honest, raw and gave me so much to think about in regards to relationships and how to live life authentically.

 


Bette

Virgin River by Robyn Carr

I have read many books during this time but here are three I really enjoyed: Virgin River a light read from Robyn Carr. When you finish the book you can binge watch the original Netflix series of the same name based on the book. The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grimes is a debut novel that delves into the family secrets of an Italian American family. I could not put down this timely family story. And also once again local author Marie Benedict’s Lady Clementine entertains while giving us a gentle history lesson.


Ellen

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

This is the perfect book for anyone who needs a laugh.  Especially if you have kids.  Comedy Lovers will really enjoy this title.  I also read, When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan (writer, director & Jim’s wife). When you are a mother of five and writing partner of a well-know comedian, learning that you have a tumor the size of a pear in your head is not great news.  Well, it’s not really great news for anyone.  Even though medical scares are serious, Gaffigan is able to tell her story humor and heart. This title is really great for Biography readers.


 

Ready for an Adventure?

Feeling cooped up? Longing for the outdoors? Here are six books and one movie that take you on an epic adventure. From hiking some of the world’s tallest mountains, to exploring the depths of the seas, these tales will take you someplace you’ve never been before.

Note: Titles marked with an asterisk (*) are available with no wait through Hoopla!

BOOKS

Blind Descent Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by James Tabor

“Holds the reader to his seat, containing dangers aplenty with deadly falls, killer microbes, sudden burial, asphyxiation, claustrophobia, anxiety, and hallucinations far underneath the ground in a lightless world. Using a pulse-pounding narrative, this is tense real-life adventure pitting two master cavers mirroring the cold war with very uncommonly high stakes.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

 


Deep : Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves by James Nestor

Deep is a voyage from the ocean’s surface to its darkest trenches, the most mysterious places on Earth. Fascinated by the sport of freediving—in which competitors descend great depths on a single breath—James Nestor embeds with a gang of oceangoing extreme athletes and renegade researchers. He finds whales that communicate with other whales hundreds of miles away, sharks that swim in unerringly straight lines through pitch-black waters, and other strange phenomena.

Most illuminating of all, he learns that these abilities are reflected in our own remarkable, and often hidden, potential—including echolocation, directional sense, and the profound bodily changes humans undergo when underwater.


Denali’s Howl by Andy Hall

In the summer of 1967, twelve young men ascended Alaska’s Mount McKinley—known to the locals as Denali. Engulfed by a once-in-alifetime blizzard, only five made it back down.

Andy Hall, a journalist and son of the park superintendent at the time, was living in the park when the tragedy occurred and spent years tracking down rescuers, survivors, lost documents, and recordings of radio communications.

In Denali’s Howl, Hall reveals the full story of the expedition in a powerful retelling that will mesmerize the climbing community as well as anyone interested in mega-storms and man’s sometimes deadly drive to challenge the forces of nature.


Emerald MileThe Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Ferdako

From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.

In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedented emergency that may have resulted in the most catastrophic dam failure in history. In the midst of this crisis, the decision to launch a small wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” at the head of the Grand Canyon, just fifteen miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, seemed not just odd, but downright suicidal.


K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs

Ed Viesturs, one of the world’s premier high-altitude mountaineers, explores the remarkable history of K2 and of those who have attempted to conquer it. At the same time, he probes the mountain’s most memorable sagas in order to illustrate lessons about the fundamental questions mountaineering raisesquestions of risk, ambition, loyalty to one’s teammates, self-sacrifice, and the price of glory. Viesturs knows the mountain firsthand. He and renowned alpinist Scott Fischer climbed it in 1992 and got caught in an avalanche that sent them sliding to almost certain death before Ed managed to get into a self-arrest position with his ice ax and stop both his fall and Scott’s.


Touching the VoidTouching the Void by Joe Simpson *

The 25th Anniversary ebook, now with more than 50 images. ‘Touching the Void’ is the tale of two mountaineer’s harrowing ordeal in the Peruvian Andes. In the summer of 1985, two young, headstrong mountaineers set off to conquer an unclimbed route. They had triumphantly reached the summit, when a horrific accident mid-descent forced one friend to leave another for dead. Ambition, morality, fear and camaraderie are explored in this electronic edition of the mountaineering classic, with never before seen color photographs taken during the trip itself.


Bonus Movie

MeruMeru *

Three renowned climbers navigate nature’s harshest elements and their own complicated inner demons to ascend Mount Meru, the most technically complicated and dangerous peak in the Himalayas.

 

 

 

 

Let Us Help You Find Your Perfect Match

Have you ever needed help finding a good book? MatchBook is here to help with that! The librarians at Sewickley Public Library have created this easy-to-use online form that you can use to get great reading recommendations. Librarians have been the go-to resource for finding reading material for ages. Now you can get help with your book list from the comfort of your own home.

Every time a form is filled out, one of our librarians will receive a notification. They will make 3 to 5 title recommendations based on the information that you entered. Users should expect a response within one week.  The service is available for all ages and can be accessed at www.sewickleylibrary.org/matchbook.

Please note that during the COVID-19 closure, librarians are unable to request physical items for patrons. All recommendations will be available in an online format (ebook or eaudiobook).