– Staff Favorite Reads of 2020

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, “The art in this drew me to it, but the story was lovely and weird. It was about how if you keep going, you may just see some amazing things.” –Kaity M., May Memorial Library

Favorite Books 2020

Honestly Adoption by Mike and Kristin Berry, “Mike and Kristen have been foster parents for years and adopted several children. In this concise book, mostly written in a question and answer format, they offer helpful information based on research as well as their own real-life experiences, and moving accounts of the children who have come through their home over the years. If you know anyone who has been touched by adoption or the foster care system, this is an informative and even transformative book.” –Jenna B., Graham Public Library

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, “A non-fiction children’s poetry book, that is full of positive, affirming short stories about girls from all backgrounds and cultures dealing topics that children experience. Each poem introduces you to a character that you have met in your own life or that speaks straight to how you see yourself at a young age. It is a love letter to growing up a girl! The pictures are beautiful and bright with texture popping off the page. The poetic text is good for most reading levels and can delve into topics that are great conversation starters for young girls, like the first poem, I Am a Canvas, which speaks to how we can allow the things other say define who we are.  This is a must read for women, girls, and grandmas!” – Alexis, Branch Manager, North Park Library

I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown, “A children’s book written by a father and son. When young children question if they are good enough, this book can empower them to love themselves just the way they are. With different family structures in this book and diverse characters it is a great way to explore and start conversation about how everyone is uniquely and wonderfully made. The text is fluid and the pictures are eye catching. This is a perfectly designed book for all ages.” –Alexis, Branch Manager, North Park Library

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, “Like so many of us, I found myself managing to get through this year by reading. I made the conscious decision to return to some of my childhood favorites, as books have always been my preferred means of education and escapism. While any of Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction masterpieces could rightfully be included on my list of best books of 2020, I find “Parable of the Sower” to be particularly timely and therapeutic.” –Haley P., May Memorial Library

The Field Guide to Citizen Science by Darlene Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman, and Caren Cooper, “A wonderful compilation of ideas on how children and adults can contribute to making a difference. It offers suggestions on how to be involved in small ways even from home using research and the internet to observing mushrooms and sharing what you learn. What a fantastic way to excite children and entangling them in the fascinating world of Science!” –Susie Flores, Mobile Library Driver

Greenwood by Michael Christie, “I decided to read this book completely at random, and it has become one of my favorite novels of all time. Christie’s prose seeps across the story like the expanding roots of the trees it details. As the secrets of several generations are carefully untangled, Christie marks the passage of time across the rings of one of the world’s last trees. When the reader emerges once more at the trunk, the stunning results stemming from seemingly arbitrary past decisions pale in comparison to the consideration of hope and family that encircle the Greenwoods’ story.” –Haley P., May Memorial Library

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, “While the narrator addresses the “Dear Reader” throughout, everything else about this embedded narrative is fresh and original. Since reading Plain Bad Heroines, I haven’t looked at yellow jackets the same way… For quirky types who went through a Sylvia Plath phase in college (who didn’t?) and fans of tongue-in-cheek wit, horror, indie films, feminist historical fiction, and boarding school drama.” –Samantha H., Mebane Public Library

Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan, “This book was a fun, quick read, and the main character is quirky so you want her to be happy in spite of her best efforts. It’s a great read when you want something fun and happy and light with a great and happy ending; it will make you wish you could visit this theme park.” –Kaity M., May Memorial Library

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel, “A dark, atmospheric crime thriller about familial relationships and aberrant behavior. Would also highly recommend Amy Engel’s previous novel, The Roanoke Girls.” –Lisa K., May Memorial Library

Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans, “In this award winning, nonfiction picture book a family slips away under the cover of darkness to escape along the Underground Railroad. I enjoyed this book because, while it is simple enough for children to understand, the illustrations and scant text manage to convey a depth of emotion that will touch readers of all ages. The expressive artwork in dark blue (and eventually bright yellow) tells a powerful story of fear, heartbreak, uncertainty, and finally, joy when the family reaches freedom.” –Kelsey B., North Park Library

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith, “The premise of this book – a library in Hell where unfinished stories reside, and a librarian who has chosen to work there and not move on to Heaven  – was intriguing, but what really makes this one of the best books of the year were the characters in this story. You fall in love with Claire, the librarian, Brevity, her assistant librarian, Leto, her demon helper, Hero, who escaped from his book and is pulled into their quest, and even Ramiel, the angel. Our “heroes” are tasked with finding a piece of incendiary writing called the Devil’s Bible that may change the balance of power between heaven and hell and cause irreparable damage on Earth. The sequel is sitting in my To-Be-Read pile right now!” –Mary Beth A., Outreach Coordinator

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, “This book is an absolute delight. In a similar vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Midnight Library is just the right combination of science fiction, realistic fiction, existentialism, philosophy, and romance, with the pace, imagery, and emotion of a movie. Definitely not one to miss!” –Jenna B., Graham Public Library

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, “This was such a feel-good book! Rule-follower Linus Baker is sent by the government to see if an orphanage housing six unique magical children is following regulations. But when he meets the children and the master of the orphanage, Arthur Parnassus, his entire life is changed for the better, as he realizes rules aren’t always meant to be followed.” –Mary Beth A., Outreach Coordinator

Louis by Tom Lichtenheld, “In this comical and charming picture book, Louis, a much-loved teddy bear, grows weary of all his owner’s adventures and plans his escape, only to reconsider at bedtime. Simple, bold pictures, and humor that even small children will pick up on make this a great book for caregivers and little ones to read together.” –Jenna B., Graham Public Library

Alice Across America by Sarah Glenn Marsh, “This is a fascinating and rousing account of Alice Ramsey, the first woman to drive a car across the United States. Readers will enjoy the bright, beautiful artwork and have fun following Alice and her brave female friends as they make history in their journey across America.” –Jenna B., Graham Public Library

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, “What happens when your normal, everyday life gets shattered and the shock of it all leads to silence? That silence can sometimes turn a tragedy into a mystery that captures the public imagination and therefore thrusts you into notoriety.” –Susana G., Library Director

Jacob Riis’s Camera by Alex O’Neill, “A fascinating story about an immigrant’s experience. Follow Jacob as he overcomes adversity and uses his talents to change unjust conditions for many other immigrants in his city. With the use of a camera, Jacob captures the attention of Theodore Roosevelt in a way that sheds light on the lives of impoverished families and brings hope and change.” –Susie F., Mobile Library Driver

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini, “Follow Kira on her journey as the instrument of first contact with aliens hundreds of years after humanity has expanded beyond their planetary restrictions and capitalized on the colonization of the stars.  A wonderful epic science fiction story that captured my imagination!” –Susana G., Library Director

The Dutch House by Anne Patchett, “You know how sometimes you seem to pick up the right book, just at the right time, and everything clicks? That must be what happened with me and Ann Patchett’s latest novel The Dutch House because, once I finished it, I was so glad to have read it. The story is about a family dealing with loss, but it never gets sad enough to be depressing because it is buoyed by the relationship between brother and sister. Ann Patchett is a master storyteller.” –Katherine A., Branch Manager, Mebane Public Library

Crucial Conversations: tools for talking when stakes are high by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer, “My best read of 2020 was originally published in 2002, with a second edition released on 2012. How I wish I had found it earlier! This is one of those books that people say changed their life. I must admit that I agree! Although I accepted years ago that there would be difficult conversations in life, I spent so much time and energy avoiding and/or dreading them that I couldn’t really be present when they finally happened! The tools the author’s talk about in this book couldn’t be more timely. With all that is going, learning to add to the pool of meaning between people could literally change the world. There is not a person on this planet that wouldn’t benefit from learning these tools and techniques.” –Deana C., Associate Director of Operations

Something Needs to Change by David Platt, “Chronicles his week-long trek through the Himalayas, a journey on which he meets girls who have been lured from their families and trafficked in the city below, hungry children, and people living in severe poverty and with intense physical pain. His expedition leads him to reflect on the world and its suffering, his faith and religion, and what he and those who live more abundantly can do to make a difference.” –Jenna B., Graham Public Library

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, “This was a beautiful walk through history from the perspective of a fascinating character. It also beautifully examines what makes life worth living.” –Kaity M., May Memorial Library

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab, “This was the sequel to Tunnel of Bones, and it was just as great. Paris is beautiful, but it is even more beautiful when you can see its ghosts.” –Kaity M., May Memorial Library

Dinosaurs are Not Extinct by Drew Sheneman, “Dinosaurs live among us and this book explains how. It is both educational and funny for children and adults. It reads like a story, so is good for small children and could be read at bedtime.” –Emery L., May Memorial Library

Brown Sugar Babe by Charlotte Watson Sherman, “A picture book about a little girl who has bought in to the idea that she needs to be something different. Throughout the beautifully depicted images on each page her mother relays how her beauty is truly precious, something to behold and love. This book a must read for children of all colors to realize their authentic beauty lies in being exactly who they are. –Susie F., Mobile Library Driver

Open Book by Jessica Simpson, “This may well be the most surprisingly excellent book of this year. The public’s associations of Jessica Simpson may be “ditzy,” “Daisy Dukes,” and “drama,” but this autobiography reveals a raw, emotional, wise, and poignant side of the songstress. Her vulnerability and strength shine through each revealing story of the background behind her glamorous and tragic public life, making it an entertaining and moving read.” –Jenna B., Graham Public Library

Poison Study by Maria Snyder, “Yelena is offered a second chance at life if she’s willing to become the food taster to the Commander of Ixia.  The possibility of death by poison looms on the horizon but in the meantime study, training, friendship, and possibly love become her normal.  Intrigue and magic make Maria Snyder’s Chronicles of Ixia a reading delight.” –Susana G., Library Director

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, “For me, 2020 started quietly with Steinbeck. The vignettes of characters whose lives typically go unnoticed (yet are heavily relied upon as they are the work force) are bursting with personality and moral conflicts. Everything about Cannery Row is understated yet beautiful. Like Mack and the boys settling into the FlopHouse, this year was all about turning inward and making our homes home even as they turned into offices and classrooms. Steinbeck’s unassuming characters who focus on the day-to-day and small pleasures are the perfect antidote to 2020’s apocalyptic dramatics.” –Samantha H., Mebane Public Library

Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka, “In this imaginative, wordless picture book a dandelion bud blooms into a real little lion who has huge dreams and isn’t afraid to go after them. I love adventuring with the brave little dandelion from the meadow, to the city, and even eventually to the moon—especially because there are no words and readers get to add their own creativity to this whimsical story. “ –Kelsey B., North Park Library

Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom, “I checked out the book because the art was beautiful, but then the story was just as good. It was about child who didn’t conform to any one’s ideas, and they showed the other children just how much fun it was to be your own person and present how you want to present.”—Kaity M., May Memorial Library

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, “The title and cover art perfectly fits this slim mystery slash linked short story collection. The cover is decorated with cross-stitched hearts and skull-and-bones, indicating all is not as it seems with 88-year-old Maud. This is a darkly funny book that can be read in no time at all.” –Katherine A., Branch Manager, Mebane Public Library

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams, “Beatriz Williams is always a sure bet for historical fiction fans, and this was one of her best! It is a tale of a famous female aviator, her co-pilot, and a wartime photographer. This book has it all: mystery, romance, adventure, and strong female characters.” –Amanda G., Adult Programming Coordinator

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner, “This book was wonderful. I loved the characters so much, and I just wanted them to hurry up and kiss already and stop being idiots. The best kind of romance book.” –Kaity M., May Memorial Library

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein, “This book will appeal to Wonder lovers, or anyone who wants a tear-jerker! Will isn’t having the greatest 7th grade year, with other kids making fun of him and calling him Turtle Boy. When he has to do community service for his Bar Mitzvah project, the rabbi takes him to meet RJ, an older boy who is in the hospital with an incurable disease. At first, the boys don’t get along at all, but as they learn to trust each other, and Will decides to take on RJ’s bucket list, their bond grows tight and Will becomes more comfortable in his own skin.” –Mary Beth A., Outreach Coordinator

Book Reviews

The Thursday Murder Club

I love mystery novels of all kinds, from the fluffiest cozies to the grittiest police novel…

The Potlikker Papers

Distinguished food writer John Edge talks about the Civil Rights movement and the New South eating scene via the lens of its foodways and culinary traditions.

The Thirty Names of Night

The Thirty Names of Night is Zeyn Joukhandar’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut novel, The Map of Salt and Stars.

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