Like many of you, HCPL's bloggers took shelter and solace between the covers of books in 2020. Some found new authors who captured their imaginations. Others revisited old favorites. All want to share a title they found particularly enlightening, enthralling or just plain enjoyable amidst all the turmoil and isolation that was 2020. We invite you to share your own favorite read from the past year in the comments.
Recommended by Casey Froehlich
Hi, do you eat food? Read this book! I can't stress how much I think this should be essential reading if you live inside of a body. Not only if you've struggled with disordered eating or "feeling fat," but if you think you have a perfectly healthy relationship with food and your body because most likely you don't. Much like no one is impervious to racism in a society that tells us that white is the default and the ultimate good, no one who lives in our diet and weight-obsessed society is immune to diet culture and weight stigma. And guess what? Diet culture is intrinsically rooted in racism and sexism! It’s awful, and the kicker is that most people who buy into it actually increase their chances of poor health and inevitable weight gain as 90% of people who try to lose weight intentionally, gain it back, sometimes more. Obviously weight gain isn’t inherently bad, but it's the exact thing that diets promise to keep at bay and they can't even do that! So why keep wasting your money, your time, your mental energy when you could just read this book and start coming to peace with food, movement, and your own body?
Recommended by Doris Gonzalez
After dealing with a serious reading slump, this book got me out of it! Daisy Jones & The Six tells the story of a fictional band from the 70s. What makes the book stand out is its interview format; the story of the band is told through the members’ own words as they remember the experiences of their youth. From romance lovers to music fans, this book has something for everyone! It delves into difficult topics, like addiction, and you can’t help but empathize with the realistic characters and their struggles. It’s an entertaining book filled with compelling protagonists, and it will soon be an Amazon series fittingly featuring Elvis Presley’s granddaughter. You’ll forget you’re reading fiction!
The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Gold
Recommended by Molly McGinty
I love the many adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and I found The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes to be just as exciting and perfectly written. Dr. John Watson, famous for his friendship and partnership with the great Sherlock Holmes, is advanced in his years. He still resides at 221B Baker Street with his son, Dr. John Watson, Jr. One day, they get a visit from a woman whose brother was said to have committed suicide, but she knew it had to have been murder. Dr. Watson is ready for another investigative adventure. Early in the investigation, they meet Joanna Blalock, daughter-in-law of Dr. Blalock, a colleague of Watson’s. Only Watson knows the truth of Joanna’s real parentage. She is the biological daughter of none other than Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. It seems that Joanna inherited the brilliance of both of her parents. Young Dr. Watson is smitten with the beautiful and brilliant Joanna. The three of them investigate the murder/suicide together and with Joanna’s skills and Watson’s experience, they are able to learn the truth about the murder, but will they be in time to prevent the killer from taking his next victim?
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by Victoria Schwab
Recommended by Rhiannon Arriaga
I waited all year for this book to come out and when it did, I couldn’t put it down! I adore everything that Victoria Schwab (pen name V.E. Schwab) writes and I am secretly hoping that she will somehow come to the decision to write a sequel because Addie is an unforgettable character. In a split second she changes the course of her life in 1714 by making a pact with a dark, forgotten God and condemns herself to a life of immortality in which she can’t say her own name and no one can remember her after she leaves their sight. Imagine living for 300 years alone. Completely alone. Her surprise encounter with a man named Henry changes everything and makes you feel as if the torture of her existence might finally be over. Oh, and don’t let me forget the God she made the deal with in the first place, who pops in and out of her life just to spite her. I felt a deep sort of camaraderie with Addie; this past year has been a lonely one, as most everyone can attest to. If you like Fantasy you’re going to love this book!
The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor
Recommended by Laura Smith
I’m known among my friends and coworkers as a romance reader, but as I look over what I’ve read this year, there are much fewer romances than previous years. I’ve enjoyed a lot of books in 2020, many outside my normal reading preferences, but one of my favorites is The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor. A police procedural that goes back and forth between the 1990s and present day, Long Island and Dublin, it’s the kind of mystery I love – lots of investigating, low on the action (sorry thrill seekers!), a strong sense of place and a dash of romance (of course – it’s me!). I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, which is scheduled to release in June of 2021!
Recommended by Jennifer Longoria
This book was not only my favorite read of the year, but on my list of favorite books of all time. Yaichi’s twin brother, Ryoji, is gay and married to an American man named Mike. After Ryoji dies, Mike comes to Japan to see the place his husband grew up and get to know the family Ryoji loved so much. This graphic novel series is beautiful and sad and poignant all at the same time. Yaichi has always said he accepted Ryoji’s sexuality, but did he really? Yaichi, after much self-reflection and stories from Mike, soon realizes how much of his twin brother’s life and happiness he missed out on because he allowed his brother’s sexuality to divide them rather than actively being there for him. This book is a perfect example of what acceptance actually looks like. Acceptance isn’t saying “Yes, I accept you.” Acceptance is showing you accept someone with love and by being a part of their life through all the different moments, no matter how small. I laughed, I cried, and I truly felt every moment of Yaichi learning from his past and learning to truly accept not only his brother, but Mike as well.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Recommended by Alicia Esquivel
In this year of the "new normal," how many times have you found yourself pining for "real life" or told yourself this isn't "real life"..."real life" is when x happens. Is real life a moving target or do we fail to realize we're always in it? This novel by Brandon Taylor gives us a peak into the life of Wallace--a gay Black man from the South in a graduate program at a Midwestern university. Wallace struggles with intimacy, loneliness, and purposelessness. He can't help but wonder, would life be better if he quit his graduate program? Is the grass really greener on the other side? Taylor so masterfully illustrates the microaggressions that Wallace goes through while also challenging Wallace to see how his trust issues may be preventing him from experiencing the realness that others in his life are also going through. #ownvoices
Recommended by Erin Petrie
This year I have read some beautiful books, award-winning books and books dealing with important issues. But my favorite book was one that gave me a rest from all of the deep thinking of 2020. In this graphic novel for kids, the main character is a young chef on a quest to find rare ingredients to make delicious food.
I love this book for its quirky humor. As an avid reader of fantasy and a player of DnD, I particularly love the way it takes well-loved conventions and tropes of the genre and turns them on their heads. Rutabaga often solves problems with creativity (and food) instead of brute force. The art style compliments the subject matter, and the author even includes some recipes for kids to try at home!
Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Recommended by Anjela Martinez
I read a lot of Young Adult literature and after awhile, YA novels begin to blend together, especially contemporary YA. I can only take so much high school drama. When I came across Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything I immediately wanted to read it because 1. The book cover is just gorgeous and 2. Sia and I are both Mexican Americans--we even share a name! The first half began like any other contemporary YA novel as it deals with friendship drama, racism, immigration, and first love, but there are these hints that something else is going on in the Arizona desert. I won’t spoil it for you, but when you get to the second half of the book, you’re in for a thrilling science fiction story. Like the X-Files and Stranger Things, Gilliland masterfully blends the drama of everyday life with the otherworldly. I look forward to reading more from Raquel Vasquez Gilliland and seeing the representation in YA fiction I wished there was when I was a teen.
Recommended by Amanda Place
Thirteen-year-old Zane Obispo lives in New Mexico at the foot of a dormant volcano. He and his dog, Rosie, explore the sleeping rock formation regularly, though Zane must do so with the aid of a cane, as he suffers from a permanent limp. When the mysterious Brooks arrives, Zane suddenly finds himself in the middle of a real-life fantasy: he is prophesied to free the Maya god of death from his prison, which just so happens to be Zane’s and Rosie’s volcano. Try as Brooks might to keep this from happening, things go from zero to crazy very fast. As a son of a god himself, Zane must save his loved ones by becoming the Storm Runner....
The Stranger (2015) by Harlan Coben
Recommended by Alexis Walters
I fell into the trap of needing to read the book before I watched the Netflix adaptation of the novel. I love Harlan Coben and most of his work is easy to follow and somewhat realistic. However, I was not as impressed with this thriller. Every character has their issues, but with these specific ones, I needed more backstory overall. I had so many questions afterwards! I would rate this 3.5 because it still kept me engaged. I still recommend this author for everyone who needs a quick weekend read!
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Recommended by Darcy Casavant
Of course, I had read “The Lottery” in school; but I started to do a deep dive into Shirley Jackson’s other works after watching the Netflix series, “The Haunting of Hill House.” In this, her final work, Blackwood Manor towers over an impoverished town, inciting envy and hatred – and that was before the murder trial. It ticked all the boxes for my newly discovered love of folk horror: brightly bizarre characters, an embellished environment with its own rituals, and sympathetic magic. And then there’s our protagonist, Merricat: not just an unreliable narrator, but a dangerously unpredictable creature. She stood in the corner of my thoughts by the light of the fire for many days after closing the book.
Why Will No One Play With Me? By Caroline Maguire
Recommended by Crystal Mosley
So, I originally got this book to better understand why my oldest son, who is 8 years old, was having issues with other kids. This book promised to help improve relationships between children, build better reflective listening, and coach your child into the lives of their peers if they are struggling. Upon reading the first few pages, I discovered that this was describing my own childhood and situations in my past that were parallel to the stories in this book! I came out on the other side of this not only understanding my son a little bit better, but also acknowledging my own weaknesses that may have prevented me from making friends earlier on in life. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to people of all ages and backgrounds because there really is no wrong time to learn something new about yourself. Many people lack social intuition and functioning skills and this book can help both kids and adults! Why Will No One Play With Me is a healthy look into the way our minds, as children, may think differently than others and how we can guide those experiences and feelings into a better social result. If I learned anything, it was that it really does take a village.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Recommended by Elizabeth Burton
I’ve been a chronic insomniac since I was a kid, but 2020 was the year my insomnia actively tried to ruin my life. After struggling fruitlessly with meditation, herbal tea, and blue light avoidance, I found the only real cure: a good book. In particular, Emily Bronte’s gothic masterpiece Wuthering Heights was my midnight companion for a good chunk of this year. There is something incantatory and soothing about her lush, Victorian prose, and Cathy and Heathcliff are refreshing protagonists in that they are genuinely nasty, frustrating, and immature. This makes them feel deeply human against a sea of Victorian novels filled with mustache-twirling villains and selfless martyrs. Experts say that a key component of getting a good night’s sleep is getting out of your own head, and Emily Bronte’s guided tour of the wily, windy moors was the book that got me out, and got me through 2020.
Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith
Recommended by Jennifer Bacall
For those who crave a bouncy book that weaves rock-star memories, with touching reflections and mixes in some poetic language, this is the book for you. It is a revelry, a string of consciousness. Patti Smith’s writing and thoughts bounce from memories of her time with Pulitzer Prize winning author Sam Shepard, to finding sustenance in foreign cities and all sorts of other human things in between. Smith has been awarded for her writing because it feels both otherworldly and familiar, both academic and pedestrian. This is a slight book that is like a great long coffee break with a friend. You may find yourself pulled back to reread a turn of phrase or look up a song that Smith mentions in an anecdote. It’s like a polaroid picture pinned to your wall, it says a lot more than it appears to at first glance.
All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music by Michael Corcoran
Recommended by David Cherry
In an era when many of us experience music primarily via earbuds in the insular confines of our own heads, and when artists, in the midst a global pandemic, can produce polished albums through the magic of cloud computing and digital overdubbing, then drop them into millions of waiting smartphones with a click of a mouse, Michael Corcoran’s All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music celebrates a time when music was a sweaty, sometimes dangerous, often soul crushing, blue collar gig spread from town to town, one all-night drive and chicken wired bandstand at a time. Some of the folks Corcoran profiles are well-known: Selena, The Geto Boys, Janis Joplin. Others, like Gatemouth Brown and Lefty Frissell are cherished by dwindling but fierce groups of aficionados. And still others are so obscure—like Washington Phillips—that until recently no one was exactly sure what musical instrument he used to make the otherworldly melodies on the few recordings that survive. Corcoran practices the warts-and-all school of journalism, so the people he profiles come off as flesh and blood human beings, not Instagram-filtered, focus-grouped figments. But, best of all, thanks to the magic of filesharing most of the music referenced in the book is available on mp3 (even Washington Phillips’ haunting dolceola).