Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’


The Best Books I Read in 2018

by Anne Wilmoth on January 3rd, 2019

As a new reading year dawns, I’d like to recommend some of my favorite reads of the past year. Mind you, these are books not necessarily published in 2018, but all are books that I eagerly devoured during 2018.

Adult books: 38 nonfiction; 29 fiction

Juvenile/YA books: 3 nonfiction; 44 fiction

Total: 114

Because it’s impossible to judge adult and children’s books on the same plane, I have to enthuse about my favorites in each category.

Top 5 Adult Fiction I Read This Year:

ThumbnailNine Perfect StrangersLiane Moriarty (2018)

In Moriarty’s newest book, nine strangers meet on a remote Australian health retreat. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different guest, and we learn incrementally about the background of each and their reasons for joining the retreat. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and then becomes creepy – Moriarty is a master of the slow-building thriller. Events become more and more outlandish as the plot builds but in a completely delicious way. The ending is a little weak but by that point you don’t care because the roller coaster has been so exciting.

ThumbnailEligible Curtis Sittenfeld (2016)

I feel defensive of this book because I don’t want people to dismiss it as fluffy “chick lit.” The cover image doesn’t help, but please believe me when I say that Sittenfeld has some of the most sharp, incisive, crisp (and hilarious) writing you’ll ever read here. (If a man writes a book about relationships, it’s taken for granted as valuable literature appropriate for the edification of all, whereas if a woman writes about relationships, it’s frivolous, idiotic “chick lit” that would only appeal to other women [i.e., no one important]…okay, that’s a whole other blog post.) Anyway, this is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, in which the five single, adult Bennet sisters return to their childhood home in Ohio after their father’s health scare and their mother obsesses about marrying them off.

ThumbnailThe Underground RailroadColson Whitehead (2016)

Despite the fact that this book won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, I was skeptical when I heard that in this book, the Underground Railroad is a real, literal train operating underneath the ground. BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE MAGICAL REALISM. However, I gave it a try anyway, and I was so glad I did, because my mind was absolutely blown by this book. Protagonist Cora endures unthinkable suffering in bondage before her daring escape North, state by state, on the Underground Railroad, launching a twist-filled, page-turning narrative (and the train thing just works). It’s difficult to read, to say the least, but the sanitized version of slavery that fills school history books is not enough to understand our American legacy.

ThumbnailClock DanceAnne Tyler (2018)

Tyler has written 22 novels, but this is the first of hers I’d ever read. This book’s protagonist is Willa, and the book is divided into four sections that describe the four defining periods of her life. In the final section, her son’s ex-girlfriend (who Willa barely knows) is temporarily sidelined with an injury and Willa ends up moving in with the ex-girlfriend and her young daughter in an unfamiliar city. Tyler’s style is fairly understated, in that the details are richly observed, the characters are deeply developed, and the reader is left to largely draw her own conclusions. Some conclusions: women’s choices have been constrained in different ways throughout history; women have been taught to be quiet and not make a fuss about anything; in the modern world, you might have to actively create your own community.

ThumbnailMrs. FletcherTom Perrotta (2017)

In case you haven’t noticed, I like female-driven fiction. In this book, Eve Fletcher is a middle-aged single mother of one son. When he leaves for college, Eve is at loose ends. Then she experiences something of a sexual reawakening when she receives an anonymous late-night “sext,” at the same time she is trying to decide how to address her son’s casual misogyny. Her fixation on this digital overture begins to affect other areas of her life – this book is filled with ethical dilemmas and has much to say that is timely and relevant about gender relations and expectations.

Top 5 Adult Nonfiction:

ThumbnailNomadland: Surviving America in the 21st CenturyJessica Bruder (2017)

You know how you see older adults rambling down the highways of America in their RVs, and you think they’re taking it easy now that they’ve retired, seeing the sights on a great road trip? Well, that might not be the case. This book describes a new, low-cost labor pool exploited by America’s corporations: transient older adults, who lost everything in the Great Recession or simply can’t afford to retire at all, who live full-time in vehicles and work as campground hosts, seasonal Amazon warehouse workers, Adventureland ride operators, or at other short-term, scattered hustles across the country, many of which offer poor working conditions. Prepare to have your eyes opened by this stunning work of investigative journalism, in which author Bruder spent months living in a camper van to document this group, hidden in plain sight.

ThumbnailStranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitMichael Finkel (2017)

This book tells the shocking true story of Christopher Knight, who unceremoniously took to the woods in 1986, when he was 20 years old, and reemerged almost three decades later. During that time, Knight lived alone, year-round, without once seeing or speaking to another human being, in the woods of Maine. Knight had no real agenda or statement to make – he just really, really preferred to be alone. So much so that he stole from nearby summer cabins and camps to survive and evaded law enforcement for thirty years. This is a fascinating account of one man’s dedication to life on his terms.

ThumbnailThe Not Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USADoug Mack (2017)

This was the first book I read in 2018, and it stuck with me the whole year. If, like me, you know nothing about America’s territories beyond a vague awareness that they exist, you will find this book incredibly enlightening. There is a section dedicated to each of America’s five inhabited territories, and interesting facts abound – for example, I didn’t know American Samoa has the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory. (This is despite the fact that those born in American Samoa, unlike those born in any of the other five inhabited territories, are considered U.S. nationals, not U.S. citizens). This book is written as an exciting travelogue, as Mack travels to each territory and writes about the culture, landscape, and history of each location.

ThumbnailSmall Animals: Parenthood in the Age of FearKim Brooks (2018)

It all started when Brooks ran briefly into a suburban Target and left her three-year-old son alone in the car. After she was arrested and battling child-endangerment charges, Brooks began researching the modern-day hysteria surrounding child safety. (Spoiler alert: kids have a literally one-in-a-million chance of being snatched by a stranger off the street.) Brooks, self-deprecatingly and with humor, examines how parenting has changed over the years and the role fear plays in modern parenting.

 

ThumbnailNorthland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten BorderPorter Fox (2018)

Fox travels by canoe, car, foot, and steamship along the longest land border between two countries in all the world: the border between the U.S. and Canada. Along the way, Fox examines the history of the border region, including the indigenous peoples and European exploration; how climate change has affected the Great Lakes region; the political climate’s influence on borderlands; and the modern culture of those who live along the border. Fun fact: though the vast majority of American resources go to protecting our border with Mexico, the only two known terrorists who have crossed overland into America have come in from Canada. Also, Fox lovingly describes the breathtaking landscapes so you’ll want to go canoe and camp in the Boundary Waters immediately.

Top 5 Juvenile/YA Fiction:

ThumbnailThe Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 Christopher Paul Curtis (1995)

I have never laughed so hard while reading a book! This multi-award-winning book by autoworker-turned-author Curtis describes one summer in the life of 10-year-old Kenny, a kid tortured by his teenage brother Byron, who is an “official juvenile delinquent” in early-1960s Flint, Michigan. In an attempt to straighten Byron out, the Watsons embark on a road trip to Alabama to visit an intimidating older relation. Some poignant moments hint at what’s to come, but the stunning ending will take your breath away.

 

ThumbnailLong Way Down Jason Reynolds (2017)

In another multi-award-winner, Will’s older brother is shot and killed in an act of gang-related violence, and Will, consumed by with shock and grief, grabs his brother’s gun from their home and goes to avenge his death. However, on the elevator ride down from their apartment to the street, the elevator begins stopping at every floor to admit the ghost of a person from Will’s life who was killed previously by gun violence. They all have a story to tell that influences Will’s understanding of the code of the streets by which he’s always abided – in the end, what will Will choose to do? This book is written in staccato verse, takes place over just 60 seconds, and will leave you reeling. A good choice for reluctant readers, as it can be read quickly and the story is extremely compelling.

ThumbnailMidnight Without a MoonLinda Williams Jackson (2017)

This work of historical fiction describes a summer in the life of Rose Lee Carter, who lives a harsh existence with her grandparents on a sharecropper plantation in Mississippi in 1955. When Emmett Till is murdered nearby, fear and anger reverberate through the community, ultimately leading to some hard choices for Rose Lee. What I enjoyed most about this book are the fully-developed, multi-faceted characters, the nuanced – never simplistic – portrayal of conditions in the American South in this period, and the bold dialogue.

 

ThumbnailThree Times LuckySheila Turnage (2012)

Strong female protagonist Moses LeBeau, a “rising sixth grader” in the tiny town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, has a mystery to solve. When a local eccentric turns up dead, Mo and her best friend Dale (named after Dale Earnhardt), find themselves evading a smooth-talking, out-of-town lawman while they attempt to pinpoint the killer themselves. Mo’s own existence is something of a mystery, seeing as she washed ashore in a hurricane and is being raised by two more eccentrics, who own the local cafe. Mo’s Southern voice is delightful here, and wisdom and wit fill every page (“I’m Baptist. So far, Fast or Never is the only speeds I got with forgiving.”) The book is funny, and the suspenseful mystery keeps the pages turning.

ThumbnailA Case in Any CaseUlf Nilsson (2016)

I don’t know why, but any children’s book translated from the Swedish is a pure delight, and this book is no exception. The third in a series (the first two were just as good), lovable curmudgeon Detective Gordon (a frog) and his deputy Detective Buffy  Then, when two mouse children go missing during a class outing, Gordon and Buffy must find them! A sweet and gentle mystery perfect for reading aloud to children ages three and up, this book is so cute and funny that I had to read certain bits over several times, just to let the pleasure sink in. (“It was all the forest children from the kindergarten on an expedition. Buffy saluted the teacher mouse at the front of the line. The children all wore flowery tops and backpacks.”) The messages of kindness, community, and looking out for one another were welcome, too.

Happy reading! Did you have a reading goal in 2018? What were some of your favorites?

ICPL Top Staff Picks for 2018: FICTION

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on December 21st, 2018

The Iowa City Public Library is pleased to present our favorite reads of 2018!

Employees were asked to submit the titles they read and loved this year with all nominations divided into 10 categories: fiction; young adult; children’s – babies through 2nd grade; children’s – 3rd through 6th grades; romance; mystery and thriller; science fiction/fantasy; autobiography/biography/memoir; non-fiction; and graphic novel. The only rule was that the book had to be released in 2018. Any book that was nominated by more than one staff member made our 2018 Best of the Best list.

We’ll share our Best of the Best list on the last day of 2018. Until then, here are the Library’s top fiction books for 2018. Keep checking back to see what made the cut in our other categories.

ICPL’S BEST FICTION BOOKS OF 2018

  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
  • The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
  • The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
  • Evening In Paradise: More Stories by Lucia Berlin
  • White Houses by Amy Bloom
  • Halsey Street by Naima Coster
  • French Exit by Patrick deWitt
  • Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
  • Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
  • The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  • Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  • Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • There There by Tommy Orange
  • The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry
  • Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

ICPL Mock Newbery Awards 2019

by Morgan Reeves on November 15th, 2018

It’s time to prepare for our Mock Newbery Awards this year. The real Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  Read the rest of this entry »

New Urban Fantasy on OverDrive/Libby

by Melody Dworak on February 26th, 2018
New Urban Fantasy on OverDrive/Libby Cover Image

Those of us who use Libby regularly may have noticed that there have been some new fantasy books on the “just added” list. I’m happy to spread the news that our fiction buyer has gotten us several Helen Harper books. Helen Harper is an independent author from the UK who writes excellent series books in the urban fantasy genre. I first learned of her through the podcast Smart Podcast Trashy Books, which is hosted by a popular blog that reviews romance books.

Keeping with urban fantasy tradition, Harper’s books have strong female protagonists, as well as more alpha males than you can shake a stick at. I have yet to read her Blood Destiny series but I have made it through the 3 audiobooks for the Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series. I will warn you that she likes bad jokes and puns, and for me that makes the series more lighthearted and fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Mock Newbery Nominee: The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

by Morgan Reeves on January 24th, 2018
Mock Newbery Nominee: The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla Cover Image

Welcome to the penultimate Mock Newbery summary and review! Today we’ll consider The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla. This story is all about understanding life and what it means to be a family. Will this heartfelt and humorous story connect with you?

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ICPL Staff Top Picks for 2017: Best of the Best

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on December 31st, 2017

It’s here: the Iowa City Public Library’s Top Picks for 2017!

Staff members nominated nearly 100 books released in 2017 as their favorite reads of the year. Those that made this list were nominated by more than one person, which truly makes them the Best of the Best.

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
  • The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
  • Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (published in Britain in 2016; released in the U.S. in May of 2017)
  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey
  • Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
  • Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman
  • Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  • Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Volume 1 by Emil Ferris
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Our Best Book Overall for 2017 is The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.

This debut novel was nominated by more staff members than any other book this year, which makes sense given all the other Best of 2017 lists it has appeared on this month. If you haven’t read it, be sire to check out a copy before the movie is released!

[LOVE] Biographical Fiction

by Kara Logsden on December 24th, 2017
[LOVE] Biographical Fiction Cover Image

I enjoy reading Historical Fiction and recently have come to appreciate the sub-genre “Biographical Fiction.”

According to Wikipedia, “Biographical fiction is a type of historical fiction that takes a historical individual and recreates elements of his or her life, while telling a fictional narrative, usually in the genres of film or the novel. The relationship between the biographical and the fictional may vary within different pieces of biographical fiction. It frequently includes selective information and self-censoring of the past. The characters are often real people or based on real people, but the need for “truthful” representation is less strict than in biography.”

I can’t think of a better way to spend a cold winter night than curled up with a good book that will sweep me away to another place and time. Biographical Fiction keeps my mind engaged and I often research facts and details of the person’s life while reading. More than once, learning about someone’s life has sent me on a trip to view their art or learn more about their life. Below is a list of some of my favorite Biographical Fiction novels. All are highly recommended.

Author/Title Description
Benjamin, Melanie

 Swans of Fifth Avenue

Melanie Benjamin’s novel features the relationship between Truman Capote and Babe Mortimer Paley with the backdrop of many upper class members of New York City society in the 1960’s. Reading the book made me want to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s!
Benjamin, Melanie

 The Aviator’s Wife

A memorable book about the life of Charles Lindbergh and his family told through the eyes of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the first woman to earn a first-class guider pilot license. She was also a writer and poet, best known for her novel, Gift from the Sea.
Boyle, T.C.

 The Women

Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate T.C. Boyle writes an interesting story about architect Frank Lloyd Wright as told by a fictional narrator about the women Wright had relationships with during his lifetime. Boyle lives in the George C. Stewart house in Southern California, which was designed by Wright.
Davis, Fiona

 The Address

The Singer Sewing Machine company co-founder, Edward Clark, commissioned the building of The Dakota apartment building in 1880 as the first luxury apartment building and one of the first buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The Dakota has been the home to many celebrities over the years, including John Lennon who was shot just outside in 1980. Davis’ story brings the building alive, hopping between fictional characters who live at The Dakota and their stories in the 1880’s and 1985.
Horan, Nancy

Loving Frank

Horan tells a compelling story about the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. I didn’t know a lot about Wright or Cheney before I read the book, and an unexpected plot change sent me to Google and a bit of quick research about the real lives of Wright and Cheney (yes … it’s true). Fascination with the story also sent me on a road trip to Oak Park, IL where I toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio.
Horan, Nancy

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Be ready to be swept away through time and travel in this fictional account of the life of Scottish Lawyer Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife Fanny Van de grift Osbourne. Through travel in Scotland, France, New York, Australia & Samoa and reflection on passion and illness, the story unfolds to help the reader understand the man who created both A Child’s Garden of Verse and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
McLain, Paula

Circling the Sun

An unforgettable story that transports readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920’s and a story based on the real life of aviator Beryl Markham. Markham, abandoned by her mother when a child and by her father when she was a teenager, struggles to find her path. Circling the Sun not only captures what made Beryl Markham famous (horse training and being the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic from east to west) but also chronicles her free-spirited childhood, adolescent struggles, happiness, insecurities, and heartbreaks.
McLain, Paula

The Paris Wife

The fictional story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. After a whirlwind courtship the couple marries and moves to Paris so Ernest can pursue his writing career. In Paris the couple is caught up in the fast paced social life and struggle with balance, identities, love and loyalty.
Moriarty, Laura

The Chaperone

Laura Moriarty’s newest novel is a hybrid story about the life of silent-film star Louise Brooks and fictionalized character Cora Carlisle. The story begins in 1922 when 36-year-old Cora Carlisle agrees to chaperone 15-year-old Louise Brooks for a summer in New York City dancing with the Denishawn School of Dance.  Readers learn Cora’s life, just like Louise Brooks’, is not what it appears and the story revolves around Cora’s path of self-discovery and quest for happiness.
Russell, Mary Doria

Dreamers of the Day

 

Midwesterner, schoolteacher, influenza epidemic survivor, and world traveler, Agnes Shanklin, witnesses the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference where world leaders, including Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Lady Gertrude Bell, make a plan to divide the Middle East into the countries of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.
Vreeland, Susan

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

 

Because of this book, I went to New York City to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other places to see Tiffany Glass. This is the story of Clara Driscoll, who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany at his New York studio and is possibly the person who conceived the idea for the iconic Tiffany stained glass lamps. Set with the turn-of-the-century New York City backdrop with issues such as the rise of labor unions, women in the workplace, and advances in technology.

ICPL Top Staff Picks for 2017: Fiction

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on December 23rd, 2017

The Iowa City Public Library is pleased to present our favorite reads of 2017.

Employees were asked to submit the titles they read and loved this year with all nominations divided into eight categories: fiction, young adult, children’s, mystery, science fiction/fantasy, autobiography/biography/memoir, non-fiction, and graphic novel. The only rule was that the book had to be released in 2017. Any book that was nominated by more than one staff member made our 2017 Best of the Best list.

We’ll share our Best of the Best list on the last day of 2017. Until then, here are the Library’s top fiction books for 2017. Keep checking back to see what made the cut in our other categories.

ICPL BEST FICTION BOOKS OF 2017

  • The Address by Fiona Davis
  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
  • Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
  • The Good People by Hannah Kent
  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
  • The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
  • Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
  • The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
  • The World to Come by Jim Shepard
  • Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (published in Britain in 2016; released in US in May of 2017)
  • Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
  • Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson
  • Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth

What was your favorite fiction read of 2017?

Mock Newbery Nominee: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

by Morgan Reeves on November 28th, 2017
Mock Newbery Nominee: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng Cover Image

Welcome to the first installment of our Mock Newbery summaries and reviews. Will See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng earn your vote for our Mock Newbery Award? Read on to find out what makes this realistic and moving story special and let us know what you think.

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Stephen King books for young adults

by Melody Dworak on October 19th, 2017
Stephen King books for young adults Cover Image

Today I helped a family look for classic Stephen King books that tweens and teens might like. You wouldn’t expect a list like that to be very long, given that he’s a horror writer. Still, I found lots of books that young adults could pick up and read and still sleep at night (maybe).

The library has a book recommendation tool called NoveList. It’s one of our online resources that you can log into from home with a resident library card and password. NoveList has a genre called “Adult books for young adults,” which helps younger readers branch out from the Young Adult Fiction section and find good books on the first floor as well. Lo and behold, 27 of Stephen King’s books fit this criteria for NoveList.  Read the rest of this entry »