Every December, hundreds of librarians from across the country vote for their favorite books of the year. This year’s picks include a romance in which the heroine’s fiercely career-driven outlook doesn’t get sacrificed for her love interest, a genetic scifi thriller, and a locked-room mystery set in an upscale hotel.
Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.
Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city.
Let’s get one thing straight up front: These are not BAD books. They’re actually wildly popular for the most part, and objectively well-executed, I just happened to hate them. Personal taste does not have to be rooted in reality or logic. We like what we like. For instance, I will put most books and movies down that feature a love triangle because they make my skin crawl. Below, I listed several best-selling books I was led to believe I would enjoy, but did not, and what I would recommend reading instead.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (2018) by Hank Green Why I hated it: So, so, so many reasons. This is one of the only books I’ve ever rage-quit and had it been a physical and not audio copy I may have hurled the book into a different room so it would no longer offend my eyes. Based on this title alone, Hank Green cannot write female characters. The protagonist is a bisexual 20-something Asian woman. Cool, diversity is cool, but Green used this character’s sexuality like a cheat code for objectifying the other female characters in the story. Also, this book features giant robots mysteriously appearing around the world. How awesome, right? IT IS NOT the robots didn’t do SHIT. And the book ends on a cliffhanger, which I only know about because I looked up the ending online after rage quitting. Finally, the use of modern youth vernacular will NOT age well in this novel. I was wincing when I read it and the ink had hardly dried.
A Master of Djinn (2021) by P. Djeli Clark Why it’s great: Where Green totally biffed writing women characters, Clark excels. Most characters of consequence in this book are women. It blows my mind that in the year of our lord 2022 I am feeling grateful to encounter a whole book full of multidimensional female characters that don’t focus on their looks or a man to make their way in the world. Read this book for access to a mostly female cast of vibrant and memorable characters, gorgeous world building, and incomprehensible eldritch beings trying to cross into nice, semi-horror filled early 20th century Cairo. Did I mention Cairo is a world superpower because someone figured out how to let djinn and other spirits back into the world? And that’s not even a spoiler.
Nobody’s Fool (1993) by Richard Russo Why I hated it: Sully, the titular character, is a perennial loveable loser who squandered his life being moored down by family trauma and a can’t-do attitude. Russo seems to be in love with his own prose as well as protagonist Sully, and I just don’t get it. Indeed, the writing itself cannot be beat, it was the ideas within however, which I took umbrage. For instance, a horrid racial epithet is casually bandied about at one point to describe the nature of work Sully engages in, and the level of male wish fulfillment appearing throughout was kinda gross. Every book its reader, and I am not the one. I made it about half way through the almost 600 page doorstop before I put it down. Save yourself some time and watch the 1994 screen adaptation of Nobody’s Fool starring the ever-wonderful Paul Newman instead of trying to slog through this brick.
Empire Falls (2001) by Richard Russo Why it’s great: This is Russo’s Great American Novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction over a Jonathan Franzen book, thank god, because it deserved the honor. Now, I don’t normally stan boomer-age whiteguy authors, as they tend to write books for other men (see above for criticism of Russo’s earlier work), but this book shines with an undeniable light that we can all bask in. Empire Falls was adapted into a very passable miniseries for HBO starring Ed Harris. Watch the series for sure, but be sure to read the book too, so as not to miss out on an evil cat giving protagonist Miles a run for his money, amongst other things.
The Spellman Files (2007) by Lisa Lutz Why I hated it: Lutz published six Spellman books in the 2010ishes and all I could think about while reading the freshman installation was how badly this was not working for me so how could they possibly be popular enough to demand so many installations. Spellman strives to assemble a quirky and interesting family of private detectives whose dysfunction is more a feature and less a bug, but they come across as a watery Royal Tannenbaum situation with more severe antisocial disorders. And not in a fun way! While the protagonist was meant to be a daring and independent young woman, all I could see was somebody who would benefit from therapy, a reinforcing of boundaries, and maybe a damn hug.
Read Instead: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (2011) by Sara Gran Why it’s great: I love a hot mess protagonist and where The Spellman Files falls short, Clare DeWitt succeeds in spades. DeWitt is the self-described world’s best PI who is obsessed with the work of obscure French detective Jacques Silette. In the City of the Dead, she has found herself in a recently post-Katrina New Orleans which DeWitt fled years earlier when her mentor was unceremoniously murdered. She is back to track down a missing DA as well as try to untangle her violent past. While none of that sounds earth-shattering, there is something about DeWitt and her unflinching self-destruction and devotion to Silette’s teachings that I found completely compelling. So far, Gran has graced us with three Claire DeWitt novels, and they get successively better. Read them in order for the best experience. If you’re a Mead card holder, all three are available in ebook and audio format on Hoopla, so no wait time for you.
Lock Every Door (2019) by Riley Sager Why I hated it: Some authors never resonate. This is the case for Sager. He is massively popular and has several titles that on paper seem like they’ll be right up my alley but in execution I can’t get into it. Lock Every Door initially appealed because it takes place in an early 20th century construction of a fabulous spooky Manhattan apartment building. There’s a Rosemary’s Baby vibe happening, but no Satanists, and buddy I got to tell you that was one of the biggest disappointments I’ve ever had in my leisure reading life. The solution to this “mystery” was pretty irritating and I wish I had the time back that I used to read this. I also read Lock Every Door which has a supernatural switcheroo as well, so maybe it’s a theme in Sager’s work. I dunno. It doesn’t do it for me.
There’s Someone Inside Your House (2017) by Stephanie Perkins Why it’s great: First and foremost, before you read any further, take a moment to say the title of this book out loud. No wait, don’t just say it, SCREECH it. Try it, you’ll like it. Besides the very fun-to-yell title, this YA thriller has a brisk pace, interesting character arcs and juicy secret pasts to unfold. The creep-factor is high and the central mystery has a satisfying and hard to predict solution. Most who enjoy thrillers or mysteries would enjoy this highly consumable and appealingly candy-colored book.
Would I say my taste in books is highly individualistic and not based on any objective literary criticism? Yes, yes I would. That’s the beauty of leisure reading. We get to pursue what we like without justifying the reasons. Some people only read Amish romance. Some people only read nonfiction accounts of Arctic expeditions. Some people only read graphic novels and manga. Guess what, they are all valid in their reading pursuits because there’s no wrong way to leisurely read.
If you are casting around for book recommendations consider using our reader’s advisory service, Your Next Five Books, by clicking HERE. If you are in need of ebook or audiobook troubleshooting, or help requesting books, please call us or stop in for help, and happy reading.
Every month, librarians across the country pick the ten upcoming titles they’re most excited to read. This month’s picks include a deliciously creepy take on Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the story of an 8 year old girl forced to attend Weight Watchers, and a pair of romance novels that grapple with the intersection of love and mental health.
A retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher, Kingfisher’s latest adds the creepiest of flesh to the bare-bones tale by Poe. Complete with a scary, isolated mansion and eerie behaviors of the residents, this version not only makes perfect sense within the original narrative, but adds a depth of understanding that suddenly makes all the pieces fall into place. For fans of Mexican Gothic, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Night Stranger. —Sheri Stanley, Gulfport Library
Despite preferring to sit very still, even indoor kids like me enjoy summer weather. We might not want to move around very much, but we have our ways of utilizing the longer, warmer, brighter days. For instance, when the weather warms up I go a little bananas and fill my backpack with snacks, a blanket, and books to take with me to the beach. I find someplace in the shade (we burn easily, you see) and make myself comfortable. Since Lake Michigan is conveniently close, and since Sheboygan has minimum three beautiful beaches to lounge on, I never have to think very hard about how to spend my days off. Parking isn’t a problem and my gas bill doesn’t exist because I ride my bike. This is what my low-maintenance summers are shaped like and it never gets old. Below, I listed several fantastic books that pair nicely with summer escapism. For book recommendations that are tailored to a specific taste, please consider using Mead Library’s Your Next Five Books book recommendation service.
Sometimes you want to game. Sometimes you want to eat. Why not take those two things and smash them together? Now you can! Today’s blog post is a collection of geeky cookbooks. I’ve included the descriptions from our catalog under each listing.
“From the D&D experts behind Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana comes a cookbook that invites fantasy lovers to learn about their favorite fictional cultures through their unique cuisines and lifestyles. 80 recipes inspired by the magical world of Dungeons & Dragons–perfect for a solo quest or a feast shared with fellow adventurers.”
What are librarians reading in March? This month’s picks include the story of a delivery boy thrown into an inter-dimensional Jurassic Park, a twisted horror tale set deep in the Mojave Desert, and a thriller about a family forced into Witness Protection.
Meddy Chan is getting married, and the wedding planners are perfect–until Meddy overhears the wedding photographer talking about murdering someone at the reception. Her aunties spring into action, setting into motion a series of madcap misadventures intended to save Meddy’s special day. A charming combo of close-knit family, humor, and light mystery. — LibraryReads review by Nanette Donohue, Champaign Public Library
A socially awkward hotel maid finds herself at the center of a murder investigation when she discovers a wealthy hotel guest dead in his bed one day.
Molly loves her job, loved her recently deceased grandmother, and cherishes the way the rules of her work let her blend in with others. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection. But Molly’s orderly life is turned on its head the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself very dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s odd demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect and she finds herself in a web of subtext and nuance she has no idea how to untangle.
What to read while you wait: – The Lazarus Hotel: another locked room mystery set in an upscale hotel – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: about an isolated young woman and the friendships she develops after she and a coworker help save an elderly man who collapses – Pretty as a Picture: a locked room mystery with a protagonist who also just wants to do her job
In the lastcouple of years, I wrote about some of my favorite horror movies. Instead of movies, to keep things fresh, I decided to talk about horror graphic novels. So get cozy in your favorite reading chair and grab one of these terrifying titles! Like my other posts, I’ve included the synopsis from our catalog.
“Kurôzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water to the spiral marks on people’s bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi’s father and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurôzu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!”
Shark Week may be over for the year, but that doesn’t mean you can go back in the water quite yet. You might know the more famous shark movies, like Jaws or Deep Blue Sea. Today’s blog post is a school of more unusual shark movies. Below each title, you’ll find a summary of the movie from our catalog. Let’s dive in.
“Strange things are happening in Druid Hills, Kentucky. People are saying there are “large Great White sharks swimming in the corn stalks!” Meanwhile, serial killer Teddy Bo Lucas is arrested for killing dozens of people using shark jaws and teeth as weapons. Chief Vera Scheider is caught in the middle, trying to figure out if her missing twin sister Lorna might be one of them.”
What’s your favorite coping method? Lately I’ve got two. First, I’ve been daydreaming and scheming over the past 14 months about having a mini road trip adventure. Soon I will leave my dark hovel and re-enter the bright, shining world, and when that time arrives I know which books are coming with. Which leads me to coping mechanism #2; keeping an eternal, endless reading list that will never get shorter, only longer. Always longer. Check out my list below for some summer reading inspiration of your own. What’s that? It’s not officially summer til June 20th? Why don’t you tell someone who hasn’t been living in their head for the better part of a year and a half, because I will never listen.
Below, I list my top three genres and the books I’ve been saving to read on the road, along with their runners-up.
Some will know T. Kingfisher as Ursula Vernon, author of the very popular juvenile graphic novel series, Dragonbreath. She felt the need to create a pen name to distinguish the adult titles from the juvenile titles, and after enjoying work published under both names, I can see why. Kingfisher spins dark fairytale-adjacent stories filled with sinister characters, terrifying big boss-style monsters, and genre-defying badass women. Check out some of her short fiction HERE. I’ll look for a spooky roadside motel near the woods to read this one at night.
Here are some additional titles to make your skin crawl:
Summertime is murder mystery time, specifically Agatha Christie time. There’s just something about the warmth and the light that makes me want to read her work. One would think that after being a Christie stan for more than two decades I would have already gotten to this gold-star standard, but no. Along with Death on the Nile, The ABC Murders, and A Caribbean Murder, And Then There Were None is considered among her greatest novels. I have seen minimum one movie adaptation but have since forgotten whodunnit, but should know the solution to the mystery by the end of my vacation, if all goes according to plan. Ideally, picnicking somewhere gorgeous.
And Then There Were None is also a fascinating example of how beloved media can, and should change over time. The original title of this book featured the worst racial epithet I can think of and was also known at one time as “Ten Little Indians”. To read more about the racism subsequent publishers have done their best to purge from Christie’s work, take a look at THIS article. It’s an apt topic to explore and discuss while everyone is so het up about “cancel culture”. Some things should be relegated to the past, and unnecessary and negative portrayals of racial stereotypes is one of those things.
This book checks a lot of boxes for me; outer space, giant space station, giant space station disaster, artificial intelligence, neurodivergent protagonist, woman author. The past decade has been a cavalcade of excellent women and femme-penned speculative fiction and scifi, all to the credit of the genre. Reading about far off galaxies and hitherto unknown beings gives me a sense of calm and peace that I can’t articulate. I’m going to read this at an outdoor patio while I wait to be brought something delicious to eat and drink.
Will I actually end up reading the books I have picked out? No way to tell. Chances are that I will find many distracting and cruddy paperbacks in secondhand stores while I gallivant far and wide. All listed titles are available through the Monarch catalog unless otherwise specified. Don’t see any titles that float your boat? Why not give the Your Next Five Books tool a try? Never hesitate to reach out for tech help, book recommendations, or encouraging words. Email email@example.com or call 920-459-3400, option 4. Oh, and have a fantastic vacation.