The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. Perfect for holiday gift-giving! For more book lists and featured book reviews, check LAPL Reads.
Taking as inspiration her own experience fleeing Rwanda for France, Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse's debut novel unfolds in pieces, jumping between Africa and Europe, back and forth in time, from three POV characters, echoing the chaos and instability of life in post-colonial Rwanda as ethnic Hutu tried to erase ethnic Tutsi from the country. Poignant and heart-rending, this novel is another jewel in Europa Editions' considerable crown.
More of a deeply unsettling tone poem than structured narrative, this novel, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter, evokes a bizarre countryside where an unnamed man lives with his toddler son. Coughs and laughter emanate from the trees; here, a tree stump flourishes with poison; there, the shapeshifting, fanged mailman blames imps for the missing post; further into the forest, lines of trudging refugees escape an unknown conflict.
Belle da Costa Greene was a rare books librarian, best known for developing the personal library of J. P. Morgan. She was beautiful, intellectually brilliant, loaded with charisma, and knew what she wanted out of life. Born to Black parents, she could and easily did pass for white. This illuminating, compelling fictionalized biography brings to life the times in which she lived, the early part of the 1900s, and her life.
The author states that she would not live her life as a "troupe" no matter what she did, even as a story troupe is playing out. There is empathy for these characters and readers will fight right along with them to change the ending of this story, which will be a surprise
This is the next chapter in the life of Cussy Mary Carter (The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek).This novel belongs to her daughter Honey, who steps into her mother’s shoes, along with Junia, her mother’s obstinate, loyal mule. Along with lush, evocative descriptions of locations, the people of Kentucky are portrayed with grace and dignity, especially the resilience, ingenuity and bravery of the women who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of their communities as librarians, pack horse or otherwise, nurses, teachers, miners, and fire-tower watchers.
When attorney Lizzy Chung feels completely empty after winning her first court trial, she takes three weeks off work and flees Los Angeles for the tiny California town where her very handsome best friend, Jack Park, works in his family’s brewery. While volunteering in the town’s struggling bookstore, Lizzy begins to question whether the path her strict parents set her on is the path she wants to stay on.
This compelling novel is about the life of a virtuoso guitar player, from childhood music school through the onset of Parkinson's Disease in late middle age. It's set primarily in Ukraine, Russia, and Germany, and spans the years 1971-2014. The book considers issues of language and culture, as well as the nature of music and of life itself.
The third volume in the Thursday Murder Club series finds the club members investigating the death ten years prior of a local television presenter, while a kidnapper sets Elizabeth the task of killing his rival. If she refuses, then her best friend dies. Funny and thrilling in equal measure, this novel proves pensioners in a retirement village are anything but boring.
Since she was 2 years old Carolina Soto had been coached by her father to become the greatest professional tennis player in the world. With a singular focus she eventually achieves this goal, and retires at the age of 31. When a younger player is about to break this record, Carrie comes out of retirement to defend it. Along the way she redefines her relationship to the game, her rivals, her father, and a possible new love.
This is a great book if you love mystery, murder, a bit of fantasy and of course, libraries! There is a murder in the cartography department of the New York Public Library. What's discovered is a priceless gas station map. What is so special about this map that people would kill for it? How does the map fit in with our main character's personal tragedy? Only by digging deep into the past will the mystery and murder be solved.
This novel weaves a wonderful tale of intrigue, subterfuge, and magic in an alternate 1920s Seattle. Filled with marvelous characters, a twisty plot, and a dollop of social commentary on both the past and the present, Comeuppance Served Cold is a marvelous read that will leave you hoping the author will return to follow Dolly (or whatever name she is using) on her next adventure.
This novel is a new version of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and shifts to a multigenerational tale of the Darling women, exploring the bonds between mothers, children, and siblings, and the difficulties recovering from trauma whether experienced as a child or an adult. There are reimagined stories of familiar characters and locations recognizable from the earlier stories. The author taps into the dark side of the original novel and weaves these dark underpinnings into a story of loss, regret, determination and redemption.
This delightful novella features a worldly, intelligent, sophisticated, and talented 17-year-old girl and her resourceful (to say the least) maman. This book will appeal to Francophiles; those who have issues with certain literary agents, editors, or the publishing industry in general; and those who think some fashion trends are stupid and ugly. Kudos to New Directions for publishing this slyly humorous story.
Laurie just cancelled her wedding and is facing down the big 4-0 when she is asked to return to her hometown to take care of her favorite aunt’s estate. Dot lived to be ninety and while sorting through Polaroids, clothes, books, and knick-knacks Laurie finds a wooden duck hidden away in a chest and a love letter that hints at secrets Dot kept from everyone, even Laurie. When the duck goes missing under suspicious circumstances Laurie starts working with her best friend and her first love to solve the mystery while trying to create her own unique version of happily ever after.
U.S. history, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Chinese folklore are woven into a story about a young girl, Daiyu, who wants to escape the fate of the tragic heroine for whom she was named.
What if Elphaba went to Hogwarts and the school itself tried to kill you? Reading the Scholomance Trilogy feels very much like that. This third and final volume wraps up the story of El and her misfit gang of friends in a wonderful way that is true to the world that has been built over three terrific books.
Addison has a marvelous way of seeming to wrap up a story only to pull a loose thread that takes the story in a new and unexpected direction. This book is a trifecta of wondrous characters, a fascinating plot, and a truly interesting world.
In this spectacular debut, a young woman must secure her future by marrying a man with a sizeable estate. Unfortunately, Hacienda San Isidro does not bring the peace of mind she had hoped for. Nightmares, both awake and asleep, haunt her as those around her ridicule her. Can the young, local priest help, or is she too far gone?
This is an involved tale set in Soviet era Russia, with a very atmospheric feel. The characters are believable people struggling against a myriad of unpalatable circumstances, some successfully and some with villainous results. A well thought out tale that I would recommend with a shout out to the octopus (and a wish that the author had given the octopus an explicitly happy ending).
White modernizes the Greek myth of the Minotaur with this spooky thriller set in an abandoned theme park, and a suspenseful plot until the very end.
A professor of biomedical informatics at Charles R. Drew University, Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi is also an award-winning poet and short-story writer. Drawing from her Nigerian background, her debut novel follows the lives of a core group of four women through their daring escapes, heart-rending anguish, and noble sacrifice.
Pure, light-hearted, science fiction escapism. It’s 2020, and Jaime Gray is stuck working as a food delivery person in pandemic stricken New York. One day he delivers food to someone who turns out to be a school acquaintance, and offers him a job working for an "animal rights organization." Eager for work, Jaime agrees and is soon off on an exciting adventure protecting Godzilla-like "animals" in an alternate dimension. Enter Earthly villains, and the real work begins.
The cozy fantasy novel, you didn't know you needed, tells the story of Viv, a battle-hardened orc who has hung up her sword for good to follow her dream of opening a coffee shop. Pure charm from start to finish with an endearing supporting cast, Viv's journey has rooting stakes that feel as big and important as any epic quest.
A novel that pulls no punches! After being fired from her underpaid job at a research facility and in desperate need of money, scientist Elizabeth Zott agrees to host an afternoon TV cooking show—which she promptly turns into a program that incorporates basic chemistry lessons. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there is overt sexism at nearly every turn. But Zott also has fans, friends, and supporters, including a small daughter and a large dog--both prodigies. There’s also a love story or two.
Werewolf Declan's life just fell apart in a spectacular way and things seem to be getting even more complicated when he meets his new roommate, Louise, a witch with a particular kind of magic he avoids at all costs as well as a couple of meddling ferrets and a fledgling phoenix named Dammit. However, when Declan’s estranged parents break out of prison (where he put them) looking for payback, he finds himself working with, and falling for, Lou, as they try to stay alive.
A poignant, often hilarious look at an apartment complex during the pandemic's first days. New loves, old loves and everything in between, as people must take a closer look at their lives during an unanticipated lockdown.
It’s 1947 in the Palestinian city of Jaffa, and the only thing 15-year-old mechanic Subhi is concerned about is impressing Shams, the peasant girl he wants to marry when they are both old enough. But as Mandate Palestine becomes the new State of Israel and everyone he knows is displaced, Subhi’s priorities veer from the romantic to the desperately existential.
In this richly imagined fantasy tale, a shy, convent-raised girl sets off on an impossible quest to save her older sister from the cruel and abusive prince she's been married off to. Kingfisher has a knack for taking familiar genre tropes and giving them a fresh, inventive, and feminist spin.
Wren Roland celebrates his 22nd birthday lamenting that he has never been kissed, and has not experienced what he is convinced will be a life-altering, incredible romantic experience. This sweet coming-of-age story is filled with hopes, dreams, film trivia, and summer nights spent at the drive-in. The novel is populated with likeable people: Wren, the relatable protagonist; Alice, the feisty former filmmaker who returned to her family home when Hollywood discarded her; Mateo and Alex, Wren’s roommates and found family; and, finally, Derick, the “one who got away” but has come back into Wren’s life at just the perfect moment.
Nine strangers receive an envelope in the mail and inside is a list of names on a blank piece of paper. One of the names on the list is theirs. None of the other names on the list are recognizable. Is this a piece of junk mail? Is it a marketing gimmick? It is something very easy to dismiss, until the people on the list begin to die. A marvelous mystery that seems to be inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The stakes are heightened by spreading the victims over the entire continental United States to create a nerve-wracking page turner that will keep readers guessing to the very end.
The novel covers many topics, from the United States' relationship and history with Puerto Rico; Hurricane Maria and its aftermath; family secrets and the damage those secrets cause to generations that follow. There are moments that are hard to read, yet in the end each part serves the story as a whole. There is a playful grace threaded throughout the pivotal relationships of the novel. And, to put your mind at rest, the title does not foretell Olga’s fate.
An inspiring debut novel about a woman who is juggling her passions and her dreams, but who is not necessarily following what is best for her. Angela Appiah is a perfect daughter and is studying to be a doctor, but unlucky in love. Will she learn to love herself in time to find her passion and her love?
Set in the Yucatán, two adolescents from different backgrounds become acquainted. Franco Andrade lives a pampered life inside a gated community. Polo does not, but he comes to work on the gardens within. As she did in Hurricane Season, Melchor writes in raw, unsparing language and plot, about disenfranchisement, class consciousness, economic disparity and alienation.
With almost no notice, Jess tells her half-brother Ben that she’s left London and is on her way to Paris to visit him. When she arrives, her brother is nowhere to be found, and there’s a hastily cleaned blood stain on the apartment floor. Convinced the other residents of the building know more than they’re letting on, Jess begins an investigation that will uncover darker secrets than she ever could have imagined.
The primary setting is a strip club in rural Illinois, and all of the characters, other than the police officers, are the dancers, bouncers, customers, and owner of the club, or their friends and families. Rutkoski demonstrates that strip clubs can be filled with compelling, complex characters rather than clichéd stereotypes, providing a window into a mostly unknown world filled with women working their jobs as they would in any other type of work, navigating the inherent hazards while looking out for each other, and making their way in a world that demands the services they provide while simultaneously dismissing and/or penalizing them.
A quiet but compelling story about loss and grief, how they affect us and how, if we’re lucky, we find the ability to move on with our lives. The story is set in a small tourist town in northern Washington and is populated with characters that are both interesting and immediately recognizable. As interesting as these humans are, the true star of this debut novel is Marcellus. Irascible, ingenious, observant, and full of surprises, Marcellus’ running commentary on the humans around him, and their activities, are a joy to read.
Seemingly disparate storylines are woven together in a beautifully composed, complex speculative fiction novel, set during multiple time periods, as early as 1912 Vancouver to as late as a 2401 moon colony. Mandel employs time travel to connect her stories and characters before, during and after a fictional pandemic.
In this novel, the main point of intrigue is who the next minister of the local Unitarian Universalist church will be. The politics of the search and its aftermath are fascinating! The novel is written in the form of a planned memoir by the protagonist, a restaurant critic, author, former seminary student, and member of the Search Committee. A big plus is that the Search Committee recipes are included.
A novel filled with dark magic, luminous stars, brutal studio heads, and a seemingly endless stream of those willing to do almost anything to be a part of making movies. Behind the walls of the Wolfe Studios are those willing to be sacrificed to keep the studio running, and be able to make another film. They will take any part offered as a chance to break through and get noticed. A harrowing, fantastical journey through an alternate pre-code Hollywood, where magic is rampant, contracts with the studios are Faustian, and movie stars literally inhabit the night sky if they are lucky enough to rise. It is also a journey of self-discovery, love found, lost, and found again. And, it is a reminder there is a bit of monster in all of us, which might make our dreams come true.
Political satire at its best, with a giant talking cat that shoots people and giant presidential heads that are constantly brainwashing the city's populace. You will love it or hate it!
Alice is turning forty and everything is going okay, except for the fact that her father is sick. After a wild night out, Alice finds herself transported back to her 16-year-old self with the ability to change her future, and maybe save her father while she's at it.
When college friends in the 1990s start a company and make a video game, they don't realize the impact it will have on the rest of their lives.
Babylon, Long Island is introduced as a very American place where being gay or Latinx doesn't mean being out of the mainstream. The story arcs are woven together and the plot elements, characters and language are authentic.
Imagine you could upgrade your genome and become a person with special abilities, becoming smarter, stronger, more intuitive. Now imagine getting those abilities when you didn't ask for them and realizing that it could change all of humanity and not in a good way. What would you do?
In this James Bond pastiche for the Fleming estate, Anthony Horowitz follows the British agent on what may be one of his final adventures. Following the events in The Man with the Golden Gun, it involves the death of M, Russian mind control, a deed that can only be carried out by James Bond. Also, Bond is humanized, making him a bit less of the invulnerable superspy, transforming him into an actual person who is getting older, in some ways wiser, and dealing with the ramifications of the life he has led. While this is definitely a Bond adventure, with edge of your seat tension, it is also thoughtful and reflective and is a marvelous addition to Bond’s exploits.