Best Books of 2021 at the Jacksonville Public Library

  • A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris (physical book available at the library): Joshua Ferris’ comic novel follows a suburban Chicago investment adviser who believes he’s dying of pancreatic cancer, only to find out that his internet-fueled self-diagnosis was wrong. He tries to make amends with his estranged children, with mixed results. Then things go off the rails with a series of narrative shifts that lead the reader to question whether anything that came before was actually true. The novel wears its metafictional heart on its sleeve, but as smart as it is, Ferris isn’t in love with his own cleverness–the result is a brilliant novel that’s full of heart. -Michael Schaub, book critic
  • A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib (physical book available at the library): Hanif Abdurraqib combines memoir and criticism in this stunning essay collection centered on Black artists such as Michael Jackson and Josephine Baker. The deep dives into history are fascinating, and his criticism is brilliant, but it’s his honest, passionate forays into autobiography that make this collection so singular and powerful. Talent like Abdurraqib’s doesn’t come along often, and this book is one of the best essay collections–and best memoirs–in years. -Michael Schaub, book critic
  • A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (physical book available at the library): A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is incandescent. In this historical fantasy of manners and magicians, Robin is the new liaison to a secret magical society he has just found out exists. He’s quickly embroiled in the mystery of his predecessor’s disappearance, helped reluctantly by his icy magical counterpart, Edwin. The prose is exquisite, the world-building rich and the magic system so good. The romance is also-ahem-very good. Do you like stories that drip with yearning? A book you might read on a train, pausing only to textscream about some new beauty? That you’ll immediately reread? This is it. Fog-faced menaces, houses with character, magical hedgemazes, romance–go read! -Jessica P. Wick, writer and book critic
  • A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg (physical book available at the library): Even if you’re an avid birder, you might never have heard of the striated caracara, a charismatic but endangered scavenger that makes its home in and around Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. In his fascinating debut book, ornithologist and indie rocker Jonathan Meiburg writes about his journeys in search of the elusive bird, and the changes that threaten its future. You don’t have to know the first thing about birds to be drawn into this beautifully written, enchanting book. -Michael Schaub, book critic
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (physical book available at the library): Humans screw a lot of things up. If you need a break from that, read A Psalm for the Wild-Built. You’ll enter a world (not our world) where people have managed to dial things back from the brink. Centuries earlier, humans and robots agreed to part ways, and now the humans are living in harmony with nature–existing on clean energy, eschewing consumerism and working with their hands. But as good as things are, our protagonist, Dex, just isn’t content. The novel opens with the traveling monk abandoning a seemingly good life to seek out cricket song, long vanished in this world–which is when things start to get really interesting. Because that split between robots and humans? It ends when Dex runs into a chipper robot called Splendid Speckled Mosscap. -Beck Harlan, visual and digital editor, NPR’s Life Kit
  • A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (physical book available at the library): The unreliable narrator is a hallmark of many a thriller, but this book is a master class in not knowing who to believe. There are three narrators, each lying to themselves just as often as they’re trying to deceive others. Paula Hawkins’ universe weaves together memory, imagination, wishful thinking and delusion to create a painful yet propulsive murder mystery in which no one comes out with their hands completely clean. -Leah Donnella, supervising editor, NPR’s Code Switch
  • A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow (physical book available at the library): Zinnia is cursed, not by fairy and spindle, but by a corporation and a genetic disease that will kill her before she’s 22. She’s always felt a connection to the Sleeping Beauty tale–and on her 21st birthday, staring down the barrel of inevitability, she’s suddenly transported to a storybook otherworld, where another sleeping beauty is trying to escape her story. Cue quest, spanning worlds. I adore how Alix Harrow tells stories about story, dredging myth from mundanity, giving us women who save each other. A Spindle Splintered is unapologetically self-aware, but also earnestly romantic. It doesn’t flinch from darkness, and Zinnia’s voice is worth reading. -Jessica P. Wick, writer and book critic
  • A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (physical book available at the library): When my faith in humanity falters (often, these days), I reach for a George Saunders story. His fiction is the dressing room mirror that finds us naked and vulnerable, capturing us humans at our most embarrassing, selfish, lazy or lovelorn. Saunders’ gift, though, if that he never condemns his characters–or us–but instead pleads for patience and grace, daring readers to forgive each other our awfulness and to live with kindness on our minds. His latest book is nonfiction but still thrums with empathy as Saunders, who also teaches creative writing at Syracuse University, unpacks the short stories of four Russian writers–Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev and Gogol–exploring how they too used verbs, nouns and adjectives to paint and plead for our shared humanity. It’s a must-read for writers, and for the rest of us humans. -Cory Turner, correspondent/senior editor, NPR Ed
  • Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (physical book available at the library): Has there ever been a better time to read about a charming, hilarious young woman who just can’t seem to get it together? This book follows Eve Brown–a talented cook, phenomenal singer, devoted sister and, at the start of the story, a notorious ne’er-do-well. As her story unspools, Eve winds up learning a lot about herself and what she’s capable of; her struggle also helps illuminate how rigid and often misguided the expectations of our family, friends and communities can be. -Leah Donnella, supervising editor, NPR’s Code Switch
  • Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (physical book available at the library): This is a book that examines refugee stories and touches on themes of generational rumination and cultural introspection, focusing on memory. At its fulcrum is a doughnut shop that separates So’s characters from the Cambodia they remember and the America they’ve come to understand. They’re all carrying baggage, and are often enduring–trying to make sense of repressed feelings. As memories go, it is a prison, but also a refuge. -Andrew Tran, intern, NPR’s Washington Desk
  • Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): This moving nonlinear memoir explores Nadia Owusu’s many lives–as privileged child of a U.N. employee, world traveler, bereft daughter, caretaker to her siblings, boarding school student, serial job applicant, writer–and the cracks and fault lines running through them. One of her main themes is storytelling, which she sees as the way we understand ourselves, others and the world we live in; any story that is too simple or that holds no contradictions is suspect, for that means it lacks the nuance necessary for a deeper understanding. Aftershocks is a marvel of narrative agility. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • All That She Carried by Tiya Miles (physical book available at the library): In the 1850s, an enslaved woman named Rose, upon learning that her 9-year-old daughter, Ashley, was about to be sold away, packed a tattered cotton bag that would serve as a keepsake. Rose and Ashley never saw each other again, but Ashley’s sack was passed down within the family. In 1921, Rose’s great-granddaughter embroidered it with a cursive script starkly describing the cruelty her foremothers had endured–and the strength and hope embodied in Rose’s gift: “It be filled with my Love always.” In All That She Carried, historian Tiya Miles unpacks Ashley’s sack to tell a sweeping story about the unfathomable horror of slavery–as well as the transcendent power of Black love and resilience. -Bridget Bentz, web producer, NPR’s Fresh Air
  • All the Feels by Olivia Dade (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): All the Feels is Olivia Dade’s latest installment in a loosely linked series of stories about the cast of a fantasy TV show that TOTALLY isn’t Game of Thrones (even though everyone, including the cast, hates the last season). Bad boy actor Alexander can’t stop getting into trouble; he despises his character arc and he’s got plenty of off-screen demons, so after one bar fight too many, the showrunners stick him with a minder–short, stubborn former emergency room therapist Lauren. Do sparks fly? You bet they do. Is there angst? Oh so much. Alex and Lauren have chemistry like Mentos and Diet Coke–and Dade’s spot-on depiction of fan culture is just chef’s kiss. -Petra Mayer, editor, NPR Books
  • Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston (physical book available at the library): Amari and the Night Brothers takes readers on a (literally) magical adventure following a protagonist named Amari, a young Black girl who you can’t help but root for. She’s full of heart and determination, making her way through supernatural trials to find her missing brother, while discovering the magic she had in herself all along. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter and the world of fantasy, this is the next series you should jump into (For ages 8-12) -Kara Frame, associate producer, NPR Visuals
  • America, My Love, America, My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): If patriotism is a love of one’s country, what happens when you’re not sure whether your country loves you back? Daria Peoples-Riley explores this topic with a poet’s spirit, asking probing questions that delve into the complexities of American identity. And while she doesn’t claim to have an answer to all these difficult questions, the book is ultimately hopeful. Because questioning is an act of love and holding a country to high expectations is patriotism. The book ends with the lines, “America, I am you. America, you are me.” because one thing is beyond question: It is we the people who make a country. (For ages 4-8) -Minh Le, author of Lift and Green Lantern: Legacy
  • American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser (physical book available at the library): Did you know that in the mid-20th century, adoption in the U.S. was an industry? Pregnant girls were sent to homes to have children that would be adopted in utter secrecy. Gabrielle Glaser dives into that history while making you feel the personal cost through the story of one mother who gave up her son even though she and the baby’s father married and wanted desperately to keep him. We also meet their son, who though happy with his adoptive family, always wondered about the woman who gave him up. The book powerfully argues against adoption secrecy. -Emiko Tamagawa, senior producer, NPR’s Here & Now
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (physical book available at the library): Is it possible to review the entirety of our current geologic era? Probably not. But don’t tell that to John Green, whose sparkling collection of essays attempts to make sense of the anthropocene through five-star-scale reviews of everything from Piggly Wiggly to staphylococcus aureus. The essays are charming, curious and heartfelt–a short yet poignant ode to The Mountain Goats chief among them–and each feels like its own adventure on a journey toward understanding our world and humanity’s impact on it. -Brandon Carter, assistant producer, NPR’s Washington Desk
  • Baking with Dorie by Dorie Greenspan (physical book available at the library): Who doesn’t like baking with Dorie? You might feel a jolt of deja vu at this new release from the popular baking doyenne. Same meticulous Dorie-style foolproof instructions but newly packaged into a collection of irresistible essentials. Most are sweet sophisticates, like Mocha-Walnut Torte, Tea and Honey Madeleines, and Apple Szarlotka; but there are head-turning savories (clam chowder pie!) and breakfast treats (cheddar-scallion scones!) too. Whether this winter brings convivial gatherings or yet another unwelcome quarantine, these indulgences will lift all spirits and every mood. -T. Susan Chang, food writer
  • Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): It’s 1913, and 12-year-old Petra is tasked with leading her family through war-torn Mexico to seek safety in the United States. A fast-paced, thrilling tale of courage, danger and loss, Petra Luna is based on author Alda P. Dobbs’ own great-grandmother. This is Dobbs’ middle-grade debut novel, and it’s not just a powerful story that tackles serious issues–it’s a gripping piece of historical fiction that you may read in one sitting. (For ages 8-12) -Juanita Giles, Executive Director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival
  • Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang (physical book available at the library): Qian Julie Wang’s story weaves through the streets of New York City, where she and her family try to build a life as undocumented immigrants from China. Wang’s world is shaken when her mother falls extremely ill, but cannot risk going to a doctor because of her immigration status. I was moved by how powerfully Wang writes about the grief of being an outsider, but also the courage required to forge onward. This book powerfully illustrates a question in the center of American identity today: What does it mean to call America home? -Hafsa Fathima, production assistant, NPR’s Weekend Edition
  • Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (physical book available at the library): Sally Rooney’s third novel is again about a small group of young, literary Irish folks swirling around each other, experiencing searing feelings of need, ego and beauty. They live otherwise unremarkable lives. When I talk about the book in person, I have trouble making eye contact, worried that admitting an intense connection with Rooney’s writing reveals something about myself that I wouldn’t otherwise share–as though I (to borrow a scene) inadvertently disclosed my mobile browsing history to an acquaintance. -Eric McDaniel, editor, the NPR Politics Podcast
  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers (physical book available at the library): A widowed father cares for his autistic son as they both struggle to reckon with their grief–for their lost loved one and for the planet in the time of climate change. It’s a quick read compared to Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning climate epic The Overstory, but no less powerful, a wrenching mediation on the twinned pains of love and grief and what it means when we’re forced to feel things that are simply too big to feel. -Eric McDaniel, editor, the NPR Politics Podcast
  • The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Gracey Zhang (physical book available at the library): You say you believe in body positivity? In this picture book, an American girl and her Japanese grandmother don’t share a language, but they do share a love of bathhouses. Look for some U.S. readers to get squeamish when they realize that everyone inside the bathhouse is naked. It’s a small price to pay for a book celebrating all kinds of people, big and small. You’ll find this to be one of the best “love your body” titles for kids on the market today. (For ages 4-8) -Betsy Bird, librarian, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
  • Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): A boy and his mother get caught between the American and Canadian border when they refuse to deny their Blackfoot citizenship. The kids who pick up this graphic novel will have to read through the book and then sit and think about it for a while. These characters calmly refuse to claim themselves as either Canadians for Americans, throwing the world around them into chaos. This is a powerful story of identity and standing up for yourself. (For ages 8-12) -Betsy Bird, librarian, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
  • Bright Star by Yuyi Morales (physical book available at the library): Bright Star takes readers on an exploration of the borderlands between the United States and Mexico, inviting us to observe moments of joy, to be attentive to danger and to shout out in anger when necessary. Yuyi Morales includes reminders to “breathe in, breathe out” throughout the book, giving the story the feel of a guided meditation that crosses from the world of animals to the world of people. In doing so, she shows how the actions of humanity can sometimes run counter to the ways of the natural world. (For ages 4-8) -Minh Le, author of Lift and Green Lantern: Legacy
  • Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile (physical book available at the library): I was enthralled with this memoir as one of my favorite artists shared stories about her dysfunctional childhood, life on the road and what it’s actually like to be a songwriter. What makes the audiobook a must-listen is that each chapter is punctuated by Carlile singing a song that shaped her life; you’ll get to hear phenomenal covers of the artists who shaped Carlile, like Elton John and Dolly Parton, plus new takes on some of her classic songs “The Joke” and “The Story.” -Jessica Reedy, producer/editor, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (physical book available at the library): A terrific sequel to Catfishing on CatNet–which somehow managed to be both a tender coming-of-age story and an edge-of-your-seat thriller–Chaos introduces new characters and new dangers. On her first day in a new school, Steph meets Nell, a closeted teen raised in a doomsday cult; entrusted to her estranged father after her mother’s strange disappearance, Nell is both worried and testing the bounds of her relative new freedom. Steph and CheshireCat (her benevolent, cat-loving AI friend) decide to help–but find themselves uncovering app-based conspiracies and terrorist plots, as well as a mysterious new AI. -Amal El-Mohtar, book critic and co-author of This Is How You Lose the Time War
  • Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred Rembert and Erin I. Kelly (physical book available at the library): This book is visually stunning, full of images of the late Winfred Rembert’s art, which he carved and painted in leather. There are scenes of his life growing up in rural Georgia–a jarring juxtaposition of nostalgic moments like fishing or dancing in the juke joint, and dark memories of picking cotton, escaping a lynching, and working on the chain gang. Rembert’s brutally honest storytelling helps us see the sacrifice and grit it took for Black Americans to survive in the Jim Crow South, something he said should make families proud and want to talk about their history. -Debbie Elliott, correspondent, NPR’s National Desk
  • Children Under Fire by John Woodrow Cox (physical book available at the library): It’s one thing to be told America’s gun violence epidemic is bad for kids. It’s quite another to let Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox take you inside the Olsen family as their 8-year-old daughter–who survived a school shooting–experiences a 34-minute violent fit of rage and self-loathing that requires her parents to restrain her and administer sedatives. Or to have Cox introduce you to a 9-year-old boy in Washington, D.C., who told his mom he wants to die so he can be reunited with his dad, who was fatally shot. Neither of these children was ever hit by a bullet, but that’s exactly the point. -Chris Benderev, producer, NPR’s Embedded
  • Children of the Fox by Kevin Sands (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): What’s better than a group of clever, brave kids who get the better of adults? If they happen to be criminals, all the more entertaining. Kevin Sands brings mystery, magic and a pretty major con-job to his first fantasy novel, a story where things are never quite as they seem. It’s not easy to create an entirely new mythology, but Sands does a fine job with this first installment in his new series. Be prepared for an exciting read. (For ages 8-12) -Juanita Giles, Executive Director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival
  • The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful is heady stuff, soaked through with longing as thoroughly as strawberries left overnight in gin. Told from Jordan Baker’s perspective, this is the retelling of The Great Gatsby we deserve: vibrant, dazzling examination of ambition; an insightful exploration of character and the drive to belong; a dreamy, sharply-etched glamour, dripping with exquisite images, infernal deals, and paper silhouettes brought to life. Jordan’s uncertain social status, as a Vietnamese adoptee in a rich white family, coupled with a keen wit make for a compelling narrator. I’d spend more time with her. -Jessica P. Wick, writer and book critic
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (physical book available at the library): In 15th century Constantinople, a young girl scales an abandoned monastery looking to steal books. In the 1940s, in Lakeport, Idaho, a boy follows his father to a new job, a new life and, eventually, a new war. In 2020, a troubled teenager sits in his car outside the Lakeport public library, a gun in his pocket, a bomb in the backpack beside him. In 2146, on a generation ship headed for a new home on Beta Oph2, a girl waits inside a sealed room, hiding from a deadly plague, her only company an artificial intelligence called Sybil. These characters are linked, brilliantly, impossibly, through words, stories, libraries and, most notably, an invented manuscript (for which the novel is named) about a man who gets turned into a goat, a fish and a bird while searching for an imaginary city in the sky. -Jason Sheehan, author and book critic
  • The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen (physical book available at the library): Although sequels to literary successes aren’t rare, few deliver on the promise of the initial work. But that’s not so with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s book The Committed. The formerly unnamed narrator of The Sympathizer trades the underbelly of Los Angeles and the squalid reeducation camps of Vietnam for Paris, where he sells hashish to intellectuals while undergoing a mental breakdown. On the face of it, the novel is a thriller, but dig deeper and it tells the story of not only what immigrants often must do to survive, but also the dehumanizing impact of colonialism on the colonized. -Krishnadev Calamur, acting chief desk editor, NPR’s Washington Desk
  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (physical book available at the library): The Hate U Give is one of my favorite books of the past few years, so I knew I had to read its new prequel–and it did not disappoint. The first book focused on 16-year-old Starr Carter, who witnesses her best friend’s death at the hand of the police. In Concrete Rose, Thomas proves she’s a master at world-building and shifts the focus to Maverick Carter, Starr’s father. Set in 1998, 17-year-old Maverick learns he is the father of a young baby. Once again, Thomas creates an honest and compelling story about what it’s like to bear adult responsibilities when you’re only a teenager–a reality many young Black people face. I hope Thomas continues to revisit this universe again and again. -Jessica Reedy, producer/editor, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • The Confidence Men by Margalit Fox (physical book available at the library): This story is so gripping and so extraordinary, I had to keep double-checking to see if it was true. It is. During World War I, two British officers imprisoned in a remote Turkish camp conned their way to freedom using–wait for it–a Ouija board. Margalit Fox weaves in bits of history about the long con, spiritualism, telepathy and the treatment of people experiencing mental illness. But it’s the plot that rivets (and sometimes makes you laugh out loud). -Carol Ritchie, homepage and engagement editor, NPR Digital News Desk
  • Cook This Book by Molly Baz (physical book available at the library): Whether you’re a longtime Molly Baz fan or just discovering her, you’re sure to have a good time with Cook This Book. Time in the kitchen is meant to be fun, and Baz works to make that so by providing the fundamentals to take your home cooking to the next level. Throughout this book, you’ll find QR codes that help you learn a new technique visually. Follow her guidance when it comes to seasoning and flavor profiles, and then you can make any recipe your own. Hot ‘n’ Crispy Chicken Cutlets and Kimchi Ranch and Paccheri with Pork & Lentil Ragu are just a couple of the recipes that you’ll want to make over and over, making them more your own each time. -Wynne Davis, editorial assistant, NPR’s All Things Considered
  • Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (physical book available at the library): People love to hate on Jonathan Franzen. He writes chick lit! He snubbed Oprah! What’s with all those essays about birds!? But even if you’re in it for the hate-read, you kind of have to admit the man knows novel writing. Crossroads explores the inner life of each member of the Hildebrandt family, beginning with Russ, the small-town Indiana pastor whose inner life is more angsty than those of the teens he preaches to; his wife, Marion; and their four kids. Every character makes bad decisions, each is wracked with insecurity, but they’re so richly drawn with delicious, gossipy backstories that it’s too much fun to pass up. -Rose Friedman, editor, NPR’s Culture Desk
  • Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (physical book available at the library): Michelle Zauner’s debut memoir eloquently lays out the complexity and the ongoing grief of losing a parent in your 20s, just as your own life is about to start. Zauner, who heads the indie band Japanese Breakfast, writes about how she turned to Korean food as a way to process her grief when her mother, her only tie to Korean culture, died of cancer. The book, which was first excerpted as viral New Yorker essay in 2018, reflects on how cooking and eating the food that her mom once prepared gives her a way to connect to her identity. -Alyssa Jeong Perry, producer, NPR’s Code Switch
  • Cultish by Amanda Montell (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): In this thought-provoking-yet-accessible read, linguist Amanda Montell weaves together personal anecdotes, survivor interviews and academic research to walk us through the loaded language of cults. The book explores the influence of “cultish” groups from Scientology to SoulCycle, examining how they use language to their advantage and why so many of us find them fascinating. Montell, the daughter of a cult survivor, breaks down these communties’ stories and rhetorical strategies with context and care, asking important questions about what constitutes a cult and how exactly they win over their followers. You’ll come away armed with some nifty vocab terms and a better understanding of the cultish language that shapes us on a daily basis. -Rachel Treisman, production assistant, NPR’s Digital News Desk
  • The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon (e-book available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): Any list of 2021’s best romantic comedies must include Farrah Rochon’s The Dating Playbook. The story she weaves about Taylor Powell, a fitness trainer in need of some clients, and Jamar Dixon, an injured football superstar in need of a secret but hard-core fitness regime, is fresh, funny and sexy. It also boasts a ripped-from-the-headlines plot that touches on topics like football and concussion, and how social media has made having a private life an artform for anyone with celebrity status. Rochon presents her themes with jump-off-the-page humor, and they go far beyond the ups and downs of romance to broader concerns about family, women, friendship and jealousy. -Denny S. Bryce, book critic
  • The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): The past few years have given us many reasons to wonder: How did we get here? In The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, an anthropologist and an archaeologist attempt to answer that question, while also examining the assumptions upon which most of social history is based. You may be familiar with the basic story that gets told: It starts with hunter-gatherers in their “state of nature,” which is followed by the rise of agriculture, which leads to population growth, private property and eventually hierarchy and bureaucracy, all culminating in the modern state. But what if that narrative is a little too linear and neatly organized? What if that version of history is actually kind of racist and sexist and overlooks many of the most interesting moments in the history of humankind? As we struggle with where to go next as a species, this book asks us to reexamine the story we’ve told about ourselves–and to imagine some new possibilities. -Erin Sells, director, NPR’s Institutional Giving
  • The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling (physical book available at the library): The Death of Jane Lawrence asks the age-old question pondered by Gothic novels and fairy tales alike: What do you do if your deeply attractive but hastily married husband is hiding a dark secret in his crumbling manor house? Well, when bookkeeper Jane’s arranged marriage gets complicated, she takes matters into her own hands. Gothic novels have to walk the line between horror and romance and not flinch from either. The Death of Jane Lawrence is up to this task, even as it descends into a sort of frenzied madness. -Caitlyn Paxson, book critic
  • The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell (physical book available at the library): If you remember the days of people working their way through college doing shifts on the docks or driving a cab–or lived that yourself–you might be wondering why those days are long gone unless you’re, say, an equity fund baby or the Olsen twins. Josh Mitchell, a Wall Street Journal reporter, explains why: government policies designed to help Americans compete in the global technological race, but also an unholy alliance of funding systems, lax regulation and institutional competition that has bid up the price of a college education far beyond the rate of inflation and far beyond the ability of many people to pay. This might be an unlikely choice for a book club pick but hear me out. You could do worse than to educate yourself about how a system that is designed to improve access to education seems to be doing the opposite. -Michel Martin, host, NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered
  • Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters (e-book available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): Transgender characters in literature often get flattened into archetypes, which I didn’t fully realize until I started to see the world through the eyes of the funny, flawed, complicated characters in this debut novel by Torrey Peters. Peters pivots from comedy to tragedy and back as effortlessly as great writers like Annie Dillard. Describing a funeral for a trans girl, Peters writes, “Everyone will dress themselves in some shade of goth–in goth apparel you can look sad while also showing off fishnets…” Few authors can walk that tightrope without tumbling. Peters does it with grace, all the while giving us a front-row seat. -Ari Shapiro, host, NPR’s All Things Considered
  • Dream Girl by Laura Lippman (physical book available at the library): Laura Lippman’s latest standalone thriller, Dream Girl, deftly draws on #MeToo themes and owes a lot to Stephen King’s 1987 horror classic, Misery. Here’s the premise: Shortly after a famous novelist named Gerry Anderson moves into a duplex penthouse in Baltimore, he tumbles down his “floating staircase” and is rendered immobile, totally dependent on a night nurse and young assistant for care and company. That’s when the threatening phone calls begin. Cranky, funny, brilliant and unscrupulous, Gerry is a marvelous creation–a literary lion in winter who may belatedly pay a high price for the crimes of his youth. -Maureen Corrigan, book critic, NPR’s Fresh Air
  • Edge Case by YZ Chin (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): YZ Chin’s excellent debut follows Edwina, a Malaysian woman who does quality assurance for a New York City startup, as she navigates a host of problems. Her work visa is about to expire, her mother keeps trying to get her to move back home, her co-workers won’t stop making sexist “jokes,” and her husband has gone missing. Chin’s novel explores social problems deftly; it’s smart but not showy, emotional but not sentimental. This is a wonderful novel from an author of deep compassion. -Michael Schaub, book critic
  • Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (physical book available at the library): This is the story of one family’s pursuit of profit and the trail of death and addiction left in its wake. Empire of Pain is a meticulously reported account of the Sackler family, whose development and ruthless marketing of the painkiller OxyContin triggered the opioid epidemic, devastating communities across the U.S. It’s also a compelling indictment of a drug company more focused on money than alleviating suffering–and a system of checks and balances that didn’t work. -Jane Greenhalgh, senior producer and editor, NPR’s Science Desk
  • Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho (physical book available at the library): This book is brilliantly written because it focuses both on how the characters’ eyes look and on how they see. Focusing on a young girl who takes pride in her “eyes that kiss in the corner and glow like warm tea,” Joanna Ho’s lyrical intergenerational story combines with Dung Ho’s warm and often magical imagery to bring us a celebration on how we see the world–and how we see ourselves. (For ages 4-8) -Minh Le, author of Lift and Green Lantern: Legacy
  • Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown (physical book available at the library): Daniel James Brown’s absorbing book tells the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, which was composed of Nisei, second-generation Japanese American soldiers in World War II. He chronicles the valor of the young American men who fought in Europe, but whose families were imprisoned in internment camps, the victims of the vile racism that choked the country at the time. It’s a fascinating, expertly written look at selfless heroes who emerged from one of the darkest periods of American history. -Michael Schaub, book critic
  • Fight Night by Miriam Toews (physical book available at the library): Miriam Toews’ fiction has long mined the central traumas of her life–her father’s and sister’s depression and their suicides, and her childhood in a repressive Mennonite community. This novel adds tenderness by parsing these events from the perspective of a 9-year-old, Swiv, who has been suspended from school for fighting. Written as a letter to her missing father, Fight Night tracks Swiv’s new education. Her teacher is her grandmother Elvira, an effervescent woman with a chronic heart condition. This study of trudging forward after calamity teems with absurdity and reminds us that staying alive, despite it all, can be its own revenge and reward. -Kristen Martin, writer and book critic
  • Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (physical book available at the library): As we head into the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, Brandon Taylor’s collection of short stories unfolds like a season of prestige television–a warm potluck of human messiness. It’s actually at a potluck that we meet the three characters whose messy love triangle is the fulcrum around which the stories turn. Taylor’s prose is gorgeous, his stories are sharp and beautiful, and they collect to form an extraordinary portrait of what it means to be overwhelmed, which in 2021 is also what it means to be human. -Catherine Whelan, editor, NPR’s Morning Edition
  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (physical book available at the library): This is a thriller-mystery as drenched in affection for slasher flicks of the ’80s and ’90s as their heroines were in blood. Here, those franchises are based on real-world murder sprees survived by a “final girl,” the lone survivor who takes out the monster at the end. For decades, these women have been meeting for group therapy–and then somebody starts trying to kill them. Glorying in horror tropes, meta-references and social critique, Hendrix’s novel is about women who refuse to give up. There’s interesting stuff here about the way women are discussed, how their stories are monetized and how we as a society consume anguish. -Jessica P. Wick, writer and book critic
  • The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton (physical book available at the library): Most novels about popular music are bad. But author Dawnie Walton beats the curse with her story of a Black woman from Detroit, Opal Jewel, and a white Englishman, Nev Charles, who pair up and become an early-1970s sensation. Walton, a longtime arts journalist, goes granular and gets all the details right, whether it’s the particular accents of the British Invasion, the sleaze of the music business or the fabulosity of the industry’s designers who turned ordinary strivers into birds of paradise. The book is a tour de force structurally and, on the level of language, a total gas. Best is the character of Opal, an amalgam of real-life rock heroines like Nona Hendryx and Merry Clayton, whom Walton renders as utterly unique. This is the rock novel that owns the subgenre now. -Ann Powers, critic and correspondent, NPR Music
  • Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh (physical book available at the library): In this timely novel, Junie is subject to traumatic taunts and attacks. Ellen Oh’s unflinching look at racism in middle school doesn’t shy away from big issues. When Junie learns of her immigrant grandparents’ harrowing hardships during the Korean War, she views them, and her situation, through a new lens. Slowly, she begins to find herself and, in doing so, gains the courage and confidence to speak up and fight back. (For ages 8-12) -Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (physical book available at the library): Ojibwe college student Daunis has become enveloped in an FBI investigation that threatens to tear apart her community, and once she agrees to go undercover, she realizes that the corruption runs deeper than she ever could have imagined. This absolute powerhouse of a debut combines a contemplative exploration of existing between two cultural identities with backwoods thriller intrigue, and does it with such confidence and grace that you find yourself suddenly at the end, breathless and hard-pressed to believe that it’s over. Firekeeper’s Daughter forges a new path, creating a deeply engaging mystery that illuminates far more than the expected whodunnit. -Caitlyn Paxson, book critic
  • First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Alisha Rai is one of my go-to writers when I need a romance. Her books are usually quite spicy, but with this novel, Rai shows she can write a great slow-burn romance. When beauty influencer Jia Ahmed learns that she has been catfished by a man pretending to be Bollywood star Dev Dixit, she ends up striking up a friendship with the real actor. A paparazzi mishap leads Jai and Dev to begin fake-dating. Will their fake relationship lead to real feelings? It’s a lovely story about decent people just trying to do the right thing. -Jessica Reedy, producer/editor, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King (physical book available at the library): Lily King’s writing is my most widely recommended: anchored so insistently around character and plot that it pulls in even the least voracious reader, so keenly observed and gently told that I made time to revisit her novel Euphoria. Many of Five Tuesdays in Winter‘s stories are quite sad–but in their refusal to treat emotion with any distance, they manage to make sadness feel less lonely. Hard to imagine what else you might ask a book to do. -Eric McDaniel, editor, the NPR Politics Podcast
  • The Five Wounds by Kristin Valdez Quade (physical book available at the library): I read this book months ago, and I still think about the opening–in which unemployed and floundering Amadeo ponders his role as Jesus in his town’s Good Friday procession. He takes the job, arguably, too seriously. The end result involves a nail gun and trip to the emergency room. From there, we spend a year with Amadeo and his family as they try to hold it together in fictional Las Penas, N.M.; through a teen pregnancy, cancer and the launch of a doomed windshield repair business. Kirstin Valdez Quade’s debut novel is often funny, but it doesn’t hesitate to dive into the darkest corners of family life either. Quade weaves the stories of several family members, plus friends and lovers, together easily. You end up feeling like you’ve known them all, and their often messy and beautiful dynamics, forever. -Nina Kravinsky, assistant producer, NPR’s Morning Edition
  • The Free World by Louis Menand (physical book available at the library): This brick of a book is a dazzling, often dizzying, cultural history of the decades following World War II. It was a period when, in Louis Menand’s words, “Ideas mattered. Painting mattered. Movies mattered. Poetry mattered.” I learned a lot about towering intellectual and artistic figures such as George Kennan, James Baldwin and Pauline Kael. Much to his credit, Menand does not indulge in hero worship. His sketches can be frank and unflattering. And he does not skimp on the struggles of women, as well as writers and thinkers of color, to get their due in the intellectual hothouse of Cold War America. -Neal Carruth, senior director, NPR’s On-Demand News Programming
  • From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry by Paula Yoo (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): This story of Vincent Chin’s murder will grab you and not let go, even long after you’ve read the last page. This book is a meticulously researched account of the 1982 killing of a young Chinese American–and how the dramatic aftermath united the Asian American community. Extensive interviews give voice to Vincent’s life and death and show us that even though this tragedy occurred 40 years ago, anti-AAPI hate and violence are still jarringly present. -Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Fuzz by Mary Roach (physical book available at the library): Mary Roach is your favorite party friend. Her stories crackle with wit and gumption, and each leaves you thinking: “I can’t believe she did that…and I very much wish I’d been there.” In this book, Roach shadows Vatican rat catchers, investigates simulated animal attacks in a Reno conference center, and (yes) learns how to build a better mousetrap. But the magic of Roach’s work is what lurks just below the surface of each of her escapades: her gentle meditations on how we all might live as better stewards of a planet we share. -Eric McDaniel, editor, the NPR Politics Podcast
  • The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): The old adage warns against judging a book by its cover but the vibrant colors of this book are what first attracted me to Namina Forna’s exhilarating debut novel. This gripping fantasy adventure stars Deka, a young woman whose golden blood causes her to be cast out of her community–but not before she suffers unspeakable atrocities. When Deka accepts an opportunity to start fresh in service of the emperor’s elite army of warriors, she leaves her home behind, embarking on a campaign that puts her special abilities to the test and sow the seeds of revolution. Every bit as intriguing as its cover, this book is packed with action, shocking revelations and a bold heroine whose courage and tenacity are sure to keep readers turning the pages until its thrilling conclusion. -Nikki Birch, lead video producer, NPR Music
  • Girlhood by Melissa Febos (physical book available at the library): Peering back at one’s childhood and adolescence can be a daunting task, one that Melissa Febos takes seriously. Although most of the essays in this book dip into the author’s adult life as well, they keep trying to find the child and teenager that she was–how she learned to be, feel, believe and react. In her trademark lush prose, Febos questions the ways girls’ behaviors are controlled, and how we learn to cage and control ourselves well into adulthood. But there is hope: She also shares her own attempts to unlearn the lessons of girlhood and find pockets of liberation. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian (physical book available at the library): Neil–Neeraj when his parents are mad–Narayan is the narrator of this fast-paced, voice-driven debut novel. His rollicking tale begins when he’s a teenager living in Hammond Creek, Ga., with his parents’ expectations weighing on his shoulders and an unrequited crush on Anita, his neighbor and childhood friend. When he discovers that Anita and her mother have been brewing a secret alchemical concoction using stolen gold and ambition to help Anita succeed, he quite understandably wants in…consequences… who cares? A gripping novel that’s as intelligent as it is fun. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • Goldenrod by Maggie Smith (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): During a time when so much felt out of our control–not the least because of the pandemic–Maggie Smith swooped in with her poems to help us make sense of the world. Sure, we all want to know “what is the point?” And Smith, with quintessential charm, responds: “We say in the grand scheme of things / as if there were one. We say that’s now how / the world works, as if the world works.” Instead of trying to figure out “how the world works” Smith’s poems ask that we turn to smaller objects. The stone, the seashell, the goldenrod–what can they tell us? Maybe there are no answers. Just lessons to be learned and unlearned; our vision continually altered by the small details around us. -Jeevika Verma, assistant producer, NPR’s Morning Edition
  • The Good Girls by Sonia Faleiro (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): In mid-2014, the news in India was dominated by two stories: Narendra Modi’s landmark election as the country’s prime minister and the horrific deaths of two teenage girls in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh. The image of the girls’ bodies hanging from a tree in a village grove went viral. A year later, Sonia Faleiro began her multiyear journey of reporting their deaths by investigating their lives. This groundbreaking book goes beyond the national conversations about sex and violence, the sociopolitical machinations and the media-generated controversies around the killings to weave an intricate, page-turning whodunit. Faleiro doesn’t simply lay out the various problems that beset the case. She shows us, in precise detail, its human, historical, political and economic costs. -Jenny Bhatt, book critic, host of the Desi Books podcast
  • Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (physical book available at the library): How delightful, one year into a pandemic, to take a high-flying journey to far-flung corners of our world with Maggie Shipstead. This aviation novel takes us from Montana to Antarctica and fits nicely into a grand tradition of epic historical dramas, but it comes with a twist. Woven throughout is a modern Hollywood retelling of the missing pilot’s story, which provides a bonus commentary on how myths and legends refract over time. -Danny Hensel, production assistant, NPR’s Weekend Edition
  • The Guncle by Steven Rowley (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): Don that caftan, shake that cocktail and settle in for the story of a single, not-quite-middle-aged guncle (gay uncle) learning to care for two small children. Patrick acquires his niece and nephew through a series of family tragedies. He’s a successful sitcom actor hiding out from his celebrity and from himself, it turns out, in Palm Springs. While mostly a comic novel, The Guncle also portrays slights against queer people and the toll those take on a person’s life. Patrick learns to nurture the children and himself. -Jason DeRose, NPR’s Western Bureau Chief
  • Halfway Home by Reuben Jonathan Miller (physical book available at the library): Reuben Jonathan Miller’s impressive debut takes on an often-ignored aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system: the fact that even those who leave incarceration are, in many ways, never truly free. Labyrinthine rules and regulations govern the lives of the released and can mean ineligibility for student loans and public housing or the inability to live in a home that has a foster child. Miller combines data with the lived experiences of the people behind the numbers to create a compelling critique of a deeply problematic system. -Ericka Taylor, organizing director for DC Working Families, book critic
  • Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (physical book available at the library): Colson Whitehead’s newest novel is about a heist in Harlem and the ramifications of the crime for those who did the deed. The novel kicks off in 1959 and storms into the 1960s with Ray Carney, furniture store owner, at the helm. Whitehead’s characters live in Harlem (thus the title), and his book brings the Black community of the 1960s to life with insight, grace, research, an outstanding cast of characters, and humor that is by turns gritty, culturally observant and wickedly funny. Harlem Shuffle is a powerful must-read–if it isn’t already on your bookshelf. -Denny S. Bryce, book critic
  • The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale (physical book available at the library): In 1938, Alma Fielding, a 34-year-old housewife in London, told the press that a poltergeist invaded her home. Nandor Fodor, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant working for the International Institute for Psychical Research, spent the next several months investigating the strange activity in Fielding’s home. These two intriguing figures are at the center of Kate Summerscale’s excellent narrative, a ghost story that is also about women and power, the anxiety of the unknown and the ways people (consciously or unconsciously) behave in order to escape certain aspects of their lives. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (physical book available at the library): Anna Sun is a talented violinist in the Bay Area whose disappointing boyfriend springs a proposal on her: an open relationship. While processing her boyfriend’s request and battling a creative block, Anna meets Quan and wonders if he might be the real deal. I love this book because it deals with issues that feel really relevant to today, such as creative burnout, bad boyfriends and neurodivergence, which Helen Hoang explores through these deeply rich and heartfelt characters. -Candice Lim, production assistant, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Hell of a Book by Jason Mott (e-book available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): As a nameless narrator and debut author of a bestselling novel travels the country on his first book tour, he finds himself on an epic journey of self-discovery–even though he is usually drunk and never entirely certain of where he is or even what his book is about. He is also never entirely certain of what is real–is he being followed by a young Black boy who was recently murdered by the police? Why is his dead mother in the audience? This is a novel about racism and loss and fear and trauma and the toll it all exacts. It is also about who we become as a result. It is also, as the narrator insists, a very unusual love story. -Erin Sells, director, NPR’s Institutional Giving
  • Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): One night, Grace Porter–burned out and aimless after finally getting her Ph.D. in astronomy–gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she does not know, in Vegas no less. Cliché? Definitely. A bad idea? Maybe…not? Through the mists of her epic hangover, Grace starts to piece together clues about her mysterious new wife. Yuki, as it turns out, hosts a radio show about the supernatural. What follows is a delightfully weird summer where together, Grace and Yuki learn about mythical monsters and even face down some of their own. -Lauren Migaki, senior producer, NPR Ed
  • House of Sticks by Ly Tran (physical book available at the library): Ly Tran’s memoir is unique among Vietnamese American narratives in the sense that the author’s identity crisis is not about liberating himself from her parents’ past, but her unwillingness to remove herself from their suffering. As an unsentimental yet deeply moving examination of filial bonds, displacement, war trauma, and poverty, the impact of this book lies in Tran’s nuanced celebration of a family love that withstands the enormous cost of the American dream. -Thuy Dinh, writer and book critic
  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): There’s a crime at the beginning of this novel, but it isn’t crime fiction–it’s a noirish Caribbean-set drama. Starting with a young woman’s act of defiance and the botched robbery of a wealthy British visitor, tragic events occur in quick succession in a far-from-idyllic fictional island community. The full consequences and interconnectedness of those events are revealed at a slower pace, however. Alternating between generations, time periods and characters’ points of view, Barbadian author Cherie Jones unveils an absorbing and authentic allegory of race, class, and intergenerational trauma. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer (physical book available at the library): From the moment you meet bodybuilder security consultant Jane Smith and her massive purse she’s dubbed “Shovel Pig,” you’re stuck with her–in a good way. The book kicks off with a taxidermied hummingbird and a mysterious note, and it just gets stranger from there. VanderMeer is known for his weird and wonderful world-building, as well as his ability to inject commentary about the perils of climate change and surveillance into his plots, making a sci-fi thriller something more. This book doesn’t disappoint. For big VanderMeer fans, it’s also a lot easier to follow than his 2019 novel Dead Astronauts. -Jenna McLaughlin, correspondent, NPR’s National Desk
  • I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins (physical book available at the library): Claire Vaye Watkins may be our greatest living chronicler of the American West, showing how everything from geology to poverty to Charles Manson has shaped it. Hers are always stories of place first, and then the people who find themselves in that place–by choice sometimes, by circumstance often. She writes about the people broken by the land and those who have come to it in an attempt at healing. This book focuses on a writer named Claire Vaye Watkins who abandoned her husband and newborn back East by coming out for a book event in Reno and simply… not going home. There’s fun to be had in trying to parse the real Watkins from the made-up one, but the novel itself takes the form of a sex, drugs and Oregon Trail revisitation of all the lovely and horrible things that make us who we are. -Jason Sheehan, author and book critic
  • Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee (physical book available at the library): Over the course of three books–Jade City, Jade War and now Jade Legacy–Fonda Lee has charted the history of the Kaul family of the No Peak clan as they engage in war, politics and murder. Those characters we met as young men and women in City have grown up now. Those who lived through War have husbands and wives, children are growing into their own power; they’ve all spent two decades (or more) jockeying for control over territory, businesses and, most important, the magical/bioenergetic jade that gives superhuman powers to those who possess it. Lee’s Green Bone Saga is The Godfather with an Asian cast, Game of Thrones in a suit, tie and sunglasses. It has all the earmarks of a modern, international gangster epic juiced with boardroom intrigue, economic theory and swordfights. -Jason Sheehan, author and book critic
  • Jew-ish by Jake Cohen (physical book available at the library): Food writer and self-described “nice Jewish boy” Jake Cohen’s love letter to his Ashkenazi culinary heritage concerns itself with more than brisket and latkes. Even as he hunts down the perfect challah or matzo ball soup, he’s also toying with weird and wonderful mashups like Pastrami Biscuits and Gravy, or Pesto and Sun-dried Tomato Babka. And he has one eye on the very different foodways of his Mizrahi husband. That means Roasted Cauliflower with Pistachios and Golden Raisins, or Sour Cherry Rice Pudding. This may not be your bubbe’s recipe collection, but the marriage of flavors it brings to life was clearly meant to be. -T. Susan Chang, food writer
  • Juan Hormiga by Gustavo Roldan, translated by Robert Croll (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Juan Hormiga is the one red ant among thousands of black ants, but it’s not his being red that sets him apart from the rest of the colony. While every other ant is an industrious as you might expect, busily collecting food or digging tunnels, that’s just not Juan Hormiga’s forte. No, Juan has some extraspecial talents: “If there was one way in which Juan Hormiga was second to none, it was his way of taking a nap.” And he’s a born storyteller. Roldan’s illustrations–whimsical, charming, fun, adorable–show wide-eyed ants at rapt attention. How can the ants possibly work when Juan is telling such wonderful stories? Juan Hormiga is a jewel of a story. It has everything kids want from a book: silliness, adventure (kind of), daring (kind of), a cliffhanger (kind of), a satisfying ending (truly!). (For ages 5-8) -Juanita Giles, Executive Director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival
  • Just as I Am by Cicely Tyson (physical book available at the library): In a memoir published just days before her death, Cicely Tyson reflected on her 96 years on Earth, including over six massively influential decades in the entertainment industry. The book is a rich text; it goes beyond the surface of just chronicling a legendary performer’s career highlights. Instead it’s an eye-opening look at life as a Black actress in Hollywood, proving that little has changed. The book is an opus that should be read by anyone who cares about film and television. -Jessica Reedy, producer/editor, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): To tell you the story of the book implies that I know more than I do. Here’s what I do know: It’s amazing and worth many visits. A series of vignettes introduced by luscious pencil drawings of the view inside a kaleidoscope and an image from the vignette itself, it features a 13-year-old narrator and his friend James, who is alive in some of the vignettes and dead in others, but never any less real or present. It’s about memory and love. It’s amazing and beautiful. (For ages 10 and up) -Philipp Goedicke, limericist, NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
  • Kennedy’s Avenger by Dan Abrams and David Fisher (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): For much of the nation–save the conspiracy theorists–Dallas’ role in the Kennedy assassination ended with the death of Lee Harvey Oswald at the hands of Jack Ruby. But what became of the man who assassinated the assassin on national TV? Dan Abrams and David Fisher, who have cornered the market on overlooked trials of historic significance, bring us Ruby’s murder trial. We meet the characters (Ruby and his celebrity lawyer), hear the arguments (was Ruby insane and when?) and contemplate the reputation of Dallas, which became a national pariah. -Patricia Cole, copy editor, NPR’s Digital News Desk
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (physical book available at the library): This book is a masterpiece from Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro about the saving grace of love. The story is set in a United States of the near future, a place riven by fascist political movements. Our narrator, Klara, is a type of robot known as an “Artificial Friend,” designed as a companion for the children of this brave new world. Klara becomes the companion of a girl named Josie, who’s sick, and the story turns on Klara’s attempts to heal her. Poignant and profound, this book will make you think about what makes a creature truly “human.” -Maureen Corrigan, book critic, NPR’s Fresh Air
  • Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Set in both mainland China and the United States, Te-Ping Chen’s stories explore the personal and the public, individuality and community, and the complicated relationships between those. In one story, a group of commuters gets stuck on a subway platform for days, then weeks, and they begin making a new life down there. In another, a widow goes in search of her husband’s family, about whom she knows next to nothing. Including tales both realist and fabulist, Chen’s stories shine with haunting details and nuanced emotions. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • Last Call by Elon Green (physical book available at the library): This hard-boiled true crime book tells the story of the “Last Call Killer,” a man who preyed on gay men in the 1980s and ’90s. Instead of leading with the killer’s story, Elon Green puts the victims first, shining a light onto their complicated lives and the messiness of who they were. Along the way, he gives readers glimpses into queer life in New York City at the time and of the gay activists working to protect their community during the height of the AIDS epidemic. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (physical book available at the library): What would you risk for the truth? Growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950s, all Chinese American Lily Hu can see is what’s expected of her from her family and friends. But her views are challenged when she falls in love with a white girl who makes her question everything about the life she thought she was supposed to lead. Danger, racism, and homophobia, overt and otherwise, strike from all sides in this nuanced and thrilling page-turner. Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a novel for anyone who has ever dared to wonder “what if?” -Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough (physical book available at the library): Containing the viral essay “Cable Guy” among others, Lauren Hough’s debut collection chronicles her time being raised in the Children of God cult–also known as The Family–and the years after she left. But this alternatively funny and painful book isn’t only a cult memoir. Slowly, essay after essay, Hough draws parallels between the cult she was raised in and American exceptionalism in all its various facets, from rah-rah-‘Merica attitudes surrounding freedom to the worship of individualism to the demands of capitalism. This is a startling, vivid read. -Ilana Masad, book critic
  • The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor (physical book available at the library): Set in a Sierra Nevada logging camp three years after the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law, this book focuses on 13-year-old Mei. As a Chinese kid, Mei is exposed to the racial tumult created by the law, and she copes by telling stories about the legendary Auntie Po and her giant blue water buffalo, Pei Pei. Written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor, this is a really sweet book that centers nonwhite Americans within American history. The art is lovely and accessible for young readers, and there’s plenty to enjoy for older comics enthusiasts too. (For ages 10 and up) -Mallory Yu, producer/editor, NPR’s All Things Considered
  • Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (physical book available at the library): This latest Joan Didion collection includes stories on addiction, alternative media, not getting into a college and the rise of Martha Stewart. Although some of these pieces are half a century old, Didion’s prose crackles with immediacy and precision. Generations of readers have turned to her iconic Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The White Album to wrestle with the atomization of culture. Didion’s theme continues to be the widening gyre and a center that cannot hold. -Jason DeRose, NPR’s Western Bureau Chief
  • The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams (physical book available at the library): This clever first novel is a beguiling dual love story about how language and people intersect and connect–the joy of lex. A century apart, two lexicographers beaver away in London on the same unfinished Encyclopedic Dictionary. Peter Winceworth, stuck working on the S’s in 1899, rues the English language’s lamentable gaps, and has a habit of fabricating words that might fill them, such as “procrastinattering” about the weather. A hundred years later, an intern named Mallory is hired to update definitions and weed out any bogus entries, aka Mountweazels. The intertwining plotlines build to an explosive climax that raises questions about the instability of language, how words gain currency, and whether fake words are any less real than actual words. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • The Light of Days by Judy Batalion (physical book available at the library): This book reads like adventure fiction but with a wealth of detail that makes you realize it’s a true story. Young Jewish women living in the Polish ghettos during the 1940s took enormous risks to resist the Nazis: They smuggled weapons, medicine and, sometimes, people. They took full advantage of the fact that as women, it was easier to pass as Catholic Poles. Though many were caught and killed, a few managed to make it out and live as Israeli citizens. Reading about their courage is astonishing and humbling. -Emiko Tamagawa, senior producer, NPR’s Here & Now
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (physical book available at the library): Amor Towles’ latest is a compulsively readable joyride. Set in 1954, with the country on the brink of major change, this Great American Road Novel follows four boys, three fresh from a juvenile reformatory, as they set out in an old Studebaker in pursuit of a better future. Their route from Nebraska to New York is filled with unexpected twists, turns, detours and close encounters. This is a quest novel, and its large cast–not all of whom are heroic–settle scores as they seek to find their way home. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by Tom Gauld (physical book available at the library): When a childless king and queen seek kids of their own, they end up with a wooden robot and a girl made from a log. And when tragedy places the siblings in danger, this unlikely duo will plunge into a multitude of adventures to help each other. First-time picture book creator Tom Gauld has a keen ear for fairy-tale conventions with much of the story’s charm coming down to his keen ear for tone. And with blurbs from Neil Gaiman, Oliver Jeffers, Jillian Tamaki, Jon Klassen and Carson Ellis, clearly this book is doing something right. (For ages 4-8) -Betsy Bird, librarian, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
  • The Lost Village by Camilla Sten, translated by Alexandra Fleming (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): If you’re a fan of Nordic-noir, you’ll love this creepy story set in the abandoned Swedish mining town of Silvertjarn. Once a bustling outpost, since 1959, the place has been fallow–yet Alice Lindstedt, whose grandmother Margarethe was once the local nurse, can’t get Silvertjarn out of her head. She brings a film crew there to make a documentary, and everything goes wrong. What makes this thriller fresh is that it focuses on nondetective female characters who solve a decades-old mystery by thinking about how those involved once actually lived. -Bethanne Patrick, book critic
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fannone Jeffers (physical book available at the library): I will admit up front that Honoree Fannone Jeffers’ debut novel is intimidating. For one thing, it’s almost 800 pages long. For another, it is stupendously good. Rooted in the South, this is a very American tale: Jeffers’ heroine, Ailey Pearl Garfield, is a blend of her family’s ethnicities (African, Native, white) and circumstances (enslaved, free, indentured). Readers follow Ailey’s life as she comes of age, becomes a historian and begins to research her family’s accomplishments and traumas over generations. Jeffers’ renditions of Black family traditions and the burden of respectability politics are spot-on, and made me wish the book was even longer. -Karen Grigsby Bates, senior correspondent, NPR’s Code Switch
  • The Magician by Colm Toibin (physical book available at the library): Colm Toibin’s magnificent biographical novel about Thomas Mann encompasses the full sweep of the German Nobel prize-winner’s life, including his carefully repressed homosexuality, the genesis of major works like the story “Death in Venice” and The Magic Mountain, and the devastating rise of Nazism, which sent him, his wealthy, secular Jewish wife, and their large, often ungovernable brood of artistic offspring into exile in Switzerland and the U.S. With its intertwined portraits of a deep, complicated writer and a world that changed beyond recognition in his lifetime, The Magician should appeal to history buffs as well as literary mavens. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): The title stands for protagonist Mary Jane Dillard, but anyone who remembers the 1970s–during which Blau’s latest book is set–will get the double entendre, even if Mary Jane herself is fairly oblivious. Hired to babysit Isabelle “Izzy” cone, whose parents Dr. and Mrs. Cone have an eccentric lifestyle, Mary Jane relishes the escape from her staid upper-class Baltimore neighborhood. When the Cones announce that rock star Jimmy Bendinger and his rock star girlfriend Sheba will be moving in for the summer, things get a little wild. But not too wild. Mary Jane provides exactly the right hit of the good (nostalgic) stuff. -Bethanne Patrick, book critic
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff (physical book available at the library): It’s 1158 and an unlucky but well-educated girl of 17 is sent from her home to become a nun. She proves savvy and sharp-elbowed: In a mere lifetime, she transforms the decrepit abbey into a women-only, lightly queer Vatican. Fans of Fates and Furies will recognize Lauren Groff’s penchant for leads with dark psychologies–and not much else. It’s a challenging read, but deeply rewarding. -Eric McDaniel, editor, the NPR Politics Podcast
  • Me (Moth) by Amber McBride (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): A girl who lost her family in a car accident takes a transformative road trip across America with a boy she barely knows. This book may feature a list of sightseeing stops and a series of motels, but it defies the road trip genre, carving out a pensive path through ancestry, trauma and art. On every page, author Amber McBride builds layer upon layer of meaning, entwining imagery of moths with Navajo creation stories with American history with Hoodoo magic. For a book in verse that is so spare and careful with words, Me (Moth) is very full of meaning. -Caitlyn Paxson, book critic
  • Mike Nichols by Mark Harris (physical book available at the library): This story starts with Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky, a German refugee with vaccine-induced baldness who spent most of his childhood quietly observing others and skipping school to hide out in a movie theater. It ends with Mike Nichols, one and the same, the legendary performer-turned-director who dominated both Hollywood and Broadway with a string of spectacular hits and misses. Mark Harris, who knew Nichols, takes us through everything that happened along the way in this immersive biography that includes amazing photos. It’s a book to savor, full of juicy industry details, nonstop name-dropping and insights from scores of Nichols’ famous friends. It truly feels like stepping into Nichols’ world. -Rachel Treisman, production assistant, NPR’s Digital News Desk
  • The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): It’s often said if five people see the same thing happen, they’ll tell you about it in five different ways. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new novel takes this truism to an extreme: When a supernatural, massive star appears in the sky over Southern Norway one day, it causes all kinds of weirdness, which each of the novel’s many narrators recount differently. They relate the event to the drama and difficulties they’re facing in their lives, whether that’s staring down a loveless marriage or grappling with the existential drama of finding one’s place in the world. (You know, the easy stuff.) Equal parts realistic, fantastical and surreal, this book will leave you with more questions than answers–and perhaps a greater sense of observation toward what’s in the sky above. -Casey Morell, associate producer-director, NPR’s All Things Considered
  • Mr. Watson’s Chickens by Jarrett Dapier, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi (physical book available at the library): Big chaos energy alert! What happens when three chickens turn into 456? Mr. Nelson never signed on for this, but his partner, Mr. Watson, started with just a handful of poultry, never dreaming where it might lead. Can this relationship be saved? Madcap energy infuses Tsurumi’s wild illustrations. It’s also nice to see a loving, gay relationship in a picture book that doesn’t center on parenthood–of human children, anyway. (For ages 3-5) -Betsy Bird, librarian, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
  • My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones (physical book available at the library): You know the saying, “If you have a hammer, every problem look like a nail”? In this book, every problem looks like a slasher movie to 17-year-old Jade Daniels. She sees the world through the lens of doomed towns and sinners, masked killers and final girls. But behind Jade’s dramatic interpretation of events is a more mundane type of horror: the loneliness of a girl with next-to-no community, the isolation of living in a small rural town, the specter of wealthy newcomers who treat Proofrock, Idaho, as a new world to be conquered. Despite all the doom and gloom and bodies piling up, this book still manages to be just as hilarious as it is human. -Leah Donnella, supervising editor, NPR’s Code Switch
  • My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (physical book available at the library): Say “Charlottesville” and two things might come to mind immediately: Thomas Jefferson’s august estate and the white supremacy riot that occurred in the city in 2017. Both figure prominently in Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s first book–a collection of finely crafted short stories and a novella of the same title. Each focuses on race, belonging and community and the question “To whom does American history belong?” All will leave you thinking long after you’ve turned the last page. -Karen Grigsby Bates, senior correspondent, NPR’s Code Switch
  • My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): When Paloma walks into her apartment and finds her roommate dead, she knows things are about to get very messed up. But for Paloma, a transracial adoptee from Sri Lanka now living in California, things are already very complicated. This is a debut thriller from Amanda Jayatissa and is ostensibly about the mysteries in Paloma’s past. Really, though, it’s an intricate story of the masks we wear, the layers we hide behind, the expectations we try to live up to–and a beautiful meditation on identity. -Swapna Krishna, pop culture writer
  • Nicky & Vera by Peter Sis (physical book available at the library): Nicky had a secret. An unassuming businessman, he saved hundreds of children from the Nazis–and never told anyone. This brilliant picture book by author-illustrator Peter Sis is also the story of Vera, a young Czech girl Nicky helped rescue. Their lives come together 50 years later when he is surprised on a television show and honored by those he saved. In addition to the moving text, the exquisite art is at once intimate and expansive, as is this incredibly moving story. (For ages 6-8) -Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): When history demands you speak, what happens when you sing? Artist Christian Robinson may be associated with adorable books, but he began his career with serious picture book bios like Harlem’s Little Blackbird and Josephine. Here, he pulls out all the stops with Nina. History is visually incorporated into the day-to-day features of Nina’s life. Meanwhile, Traci N. Todd synthesizes Nina’s importance in a child-friendly manner, punctuating the text with such phrases as “politeness had gotten her people nothing.” Award-winner material and a visual stunner. (For ages 4-8) -Betsy Bird, librarian, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
  • No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (physical book available at the library): This book opens with police shooting and killing an unarmed Black man. Lincoln had been addicted to drugs, estranged from his family, living on the street. Not the sort of man the community rallies around, Cadwell Turnbull tells us. But when Lincoln’s sister, Laina, is mysteriously offered a copy of suppressed police bodycam footage of the shooting, it becomes a whole different kind of story. Because Lincoln is a werewolf. The footage proves it. And from that shocking start, Turnbull builds a world where monsters and magic are real and exist within a world like ours, already grappling with issues of race and sexuality and class and collectivism. There’s the overarching idea of othering those who do not look like us or live like us or love like us, and the terrible consequences of both hiding our secrets and revealing them. -Jason Sheehan, author and book critic
  • Noor by Nnedi Okorafor (physical book available at the library): Yes, this book by Nnedi Okorafor contains all of the bracing fast-paced narrative action of her other Africanfuturist novels, and yes it takes on many of the issues she plumbs so well without being heavy-handed. But this one is just… so weird and specific and genius. AO, born Anwuli Okwudili, has always felt those initials stood for Artificial Organism. She’s got technically advanced prosthetics for which she is often demonized. DNA, or Dangote Nuhu Adamu, is a Fulani herdsman with a deeply felt connection to nature and folklore. The two of them are on the run–both wrongly accused–in a story that explores how technology and nature are both exploited, and how they can be harnessed in ways that might give a reader not just a bangin’ page turner, but something akin to…hope. -Barrie Hardymon, supervising senior editor, NPR’s Investigations Unit
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (physical book available at the library): Elizabeth Strout’s third novel about writer Lucy Barton finds her beloved character distracting herself from grief over her second husband’s death by revisiting her relationship with her first, the philandering father of her daughters. Against all odds, William and Lucy have remained friendly, and he turns to her to help navigate some unhappy developments in his life, which lands them on a road trip to Maine. Lucy is repeatedly reminded that people are essentially unknowable and the past is never truly past. But oh, that titular Oh!–two letters that perfectly express Lucy’s abiding fondness for and exasperation with her ex. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • On Girlhood by Glory Edim (physical book available at the library): From the young girl being schooled and scolded in Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” to the teenager reckoning with her parents’ abandonment in Alexia Arthurs’ “Bad Behavior,” from the sister who learns to love herself and craws out of the shadow of her shallow sibling in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” to the young woman in Edwidge Danticat’s “Seeing Thing Simply,” who discovers that her body is a work of art; these short stories in Glory Edim’s anthology On Girlhood make a heartfelt window into the expansive world of Black girlhood. We see the way they love, the way they hate, the way they respond to pressure, and perhaps most importantly, the way they respond to society. -Keishel Williams, book critic and editor
  • On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed (physical book available at the library): In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed mingles her groundbreaking personal story–she was the first Black student to desegregate schools in her hometown of Conroe, Texas–with a less white-centered vision of the state’s history to create a new narrative. Shifting away from myths aimed at comforting white people, she reveals a truth that includes everyone, especially those freed by the official emancipation of enslaved people in the state on June 19, 1865. Along the way, Gordon-Reed notes Texas’ long-ago legacy in breaking away from Mexico to preserve its status as a slaveholder’s republic. Her story challenges Texas’ pop culture image as a land of heroic, mostly white cowboys to suggest a more complicated vision that mirrors America’s fitful history on race, equality and society. -Eric Deggans, TV critic, NPR’s Culture Desk
  • One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (physical book available at the library): This book made me fall in love with Casey McQuiston’s writing all over again. In this one, August, an inexperienced 20-something trying to figure out life in the big city, is an expert at keeping other people at arm’s length until she meets Jane, an impossibly cool girl who always seems to be riding the subway at the same time as her. This is a queer romance with a side of time-travel shenanigans, but amid all the whip-smart banter and heartwarming rom-com tropes is a potent reminder to make room for love in all parts of your life. -Sharon Pruitt-Young, reporter, NPR’s News Desk
  • The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng (physical book available at the library): Kids love their things, but which of their things is the most important? The 2002 Newbery-winner Linda Sue Park gets to the heart of the matter in this book. When a teacher gives her class an assignment asking what each student would save from a fire (if all people and pets were already safe), the answers are not what you might expect. Is a laptop really more important than an insulin kit? What about a piano or a sweater hand-knitted by Grandma? Written in the Korean sijo verse style and cozily illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng, this heartwarming story is thought-provoking and illuminating. (For ages 8-12) -Juanita Giles, Executive Director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (physical book available at the library): Effective satire is steeped in truth, and after three year as one of the few Black women in the trenches of mainstream publishing, Zakiya Dalila Harris had a wealth of material to borrow from for her provocative and sharp debut novel. The action centers on a Black editorial assistant whose dream job turns into her worst nightmare when a second Black girl enters the mix, and instead of sisterly camaraderie, she gets competition and gaslighting. The tension and danger escalate from there. With its arresting mix of sly social commentary, subtle horror and suspense, I found this book to be thoroughly and viscerally entertaining. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams (physical book available at the library): I’ve always loved old-school thrillers. But their protagonists were always men. I wanted to read about women like those hard-boiled men, smart and sharp-witted loners caught up in political and historical forces larger than themselves. In Beatriz Williams’ Our Woman in Moscow, I’ve found one: Ruth Macallister, a former model who’s thrust into a Cold War missing-person mystery after her twin sister, Iris, and Iris’ U.S. diplomat husband disappear in London–and then reappear, four years later, in Moscow. The less glamorous Iris saved her sister’s life when they were children; now it’s Ruth’s turn to do the rescuing. Williams borrows liberally from the thriller and noir genres, with dead drops, double-crosses and lots of drinking and smoking. Real spies–of the Cambridge variety–make appearances. This book is a breezy, welcome twist on a genre that, decades after the end of the various wars–both World and Cold–I haven’t bored of yet. -Maureen Pao, editor, NPR’s Digital News Desk
  • Outlawed by Anna North (physical book available at the library): An old Western with a young female protagonist? Count me in! I almost finished this book in one sitting–just couldn’t stop reading. There’s the young Ada at its center, navigating a world that’s told her she doesn’t belong. She joins a band of outlaws in search of answers and a better future. Along the way, there’s a love story, bank robberies, gun battles and an epic road trip. -Elissa Nadworny, correspondent, NPR Ed
  • The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (physical book available at the library): This book is about a middle-aged woman facing a choice: stay with the husband she loves, or leave him and embark on an entirely different life with her childhood sweetheart, the only man who knows her deepest secrets. The pages drip with longing and desire. And they pose an intriguing question: How do we know if we’re living the life we were meant to lead? If you’re looking for a beach read–one you can’t put down but that also make you think–this is a great choice. -Mary Louise Kelly, host, NPR’s All Things Considered
  • People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (physical book available at the library): For another year in a row, Emily Henry provided me some much-needed escapism. Poppy and Alex are best friends who vacation together each year. The book flip-flops from their pivotal trips (Tuscany, New Orleans, Croatia…) to the present day and chronicles their history from first meeting to when they became close to when things fell apart as adults. They’re polar opposites who are never in the right time in their lives to be together, despite their intense attraction. I found myself screaming at them but also asking the same questions they ask themselves, about safety, comfort and misread romantic gestures. You might think you know how romance novels end, but this was one of those books I couldn’t put down at night, even though I really should have been asleep–I wasn’t sure if things would turn out the way they always do. The slow-burn journey to love makes it all worth it. -Anjuli Sastry Krbechek, producer, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders
  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (physical book available at the library): This novel tells a fictionalized tale about a very real woman: Belle da Costa Greene, one of the “it” girls of the turn of the 20th century. As the personal librarian to J.P. Morgan, one of the richest and most powerful men in America at the time, Belle crisscrossed Europe acquiring rare art and manuscripts for Morgan’s personal library. She also led a glittering social life in the upper echelons of Gilded Age New York. But the whole time, Belle was keeping a huge secret: She was “colored,” in the parlance of that time, and passing for white. Authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray imagine how Belle navigated a world she wasn’t born into, why she chose to pass, and what the cost of keeping that lifelong secret might have been. -Karen Grigsby Bates, senior correspondent, NPR’s Code Switch
  • Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo (e-book available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps): There are many reasons why Harjo is the first Native American to be named United States poet laureate–and only the second person to hold that post for at least three terms, and they’re all on display in this book. More than a straightforward memoir, this is a biographical survey that focuses on the people, poetry and music that shaped Harjo’s life. It’s also a spiritual guide for those who want to learn how to forgive, move forward and focus on the positive things in life. -Gabino Iglesias, book critic and author of Coyote Songs
  • The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber (physical book available at the library): For many families, paying for college is one of the biggest financial decisions they’ll make. But the process to do it–navigating financial aid, applying for scholarships, just figuring out how much a semester will actually cost–can be extremely opaque. Journalist Ron Lieber, who writes a personal finance column for The New York Times, offers families a behind-the-scenes look at college costs and insights on how to game the system to pay less for higher ed. -Elissa Nadworny, correspondent, NPR Ed
  • The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. (physical book available at library): This book broke my heart in a necessary way. It’s spectacular. A poetic queer love story and an excruciating portrait of life on a Mississippi plantation, it deserves every accolade. At the center are Samuel and Isaiah, two enslaved boys who grow up as best friends and eventually become lovers, and an older enslaved man, Amos, who takes on the role of preacher as a way of securing some semblance of safety and power. Jones excels at ensemble storytelling, treating each character with compassion while being brutally unsparing about the system they live under and the desperate compromises they have to make. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • Putting It Together by James Lapine (physical book available at library): “Art isn’t easy” is a lyric in Stephen Sondheim’s song “Putting It Together,” from the 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical he wrote with James Lapine, about pointillistic painter Georges Seurat. And that point is made over and over in Lapine’s remarkable book of the same title. Part memoir and part oral history, Lapine chronicles the creation of this landmark musical, with brutal honesty. While the collaboration was ultimately successful, the birthing process was often painful, as conversations in the book reveal. The book is truly a must-have for anyone interested in theater and how it’s put together. -Jeff Lunden, contributor, NPR’s Culture Desk
  • Radha & Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Radha had a panic attack and tanked the biggest kathak dancing competition of her life, and now she’s back at Princeton Academy with one last chance. Jai is the incredibly handsome captain of the Bollywood Beats dance team, but he’s got his own troubles. He understands Radha’s aversion to public performance and recommends that she choreograph the dance team’s Winter Showcase. But the school’s director knows that the seniors won’t win the Showcase if Radha doesn’t dance the lead role. Can she do it? Reader, I laughed, I googled words and I wept as I finished the book in the wee hours of the morning. It was a beautiful thing to witness both Jai and Radha find their joy. -Alethea Kontis, author and book critic
  • Ramadan Ramsey by Louis Edwards (physical book available at library): Louis Edwards takes us on a delightful journey from his hometown New Orleans to the Middle East, through the eyes of a boy in search of his identity. Ramadan is born of a forbidden romance between Mustafa, a Syrian immigrant, and Alicia, a young African American woman, who fall in love over a bag of chips at the corner store. Mustafa’s family whisks him back to Syria before he knows about his son. Ramadan endures much hardship, including a hurricane, before embarking on a global quest to meet his father. Edwards taps into how places, and secrets, shape our lives. -Debbie Elliott, correspondent, NPR’s National Desk
  • Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby (physical book available at library): S.A. Cosby is a master of gritty, propulsive crime fiction, and his latest novel is a jolt to the heart. This moody and bloody Southern Gothic thriller marries the skillful action and plotting of Lee Child with the atmosphere and insight of Attica Locke. At the center are two battle-scarred, middle-aged men, one Black, one white, who know their way around trouble. Though they were in-laws, they’re virtual strangers suddenly brought together when their adult children are gunned down in cold blood. United in grief and determination, they’ll do whatever it takes to get rough justice for their murdered sons. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • Real Estate by Deborah Levy (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): This final volume of British writer Deborah Levy’s bracing autobiographical trilogy finds her wondering, on the cusp of both 60 and empty-nesthood, how and where she wants to live. Her career finally took off in her 50s after she left her husband, which gives her some leeway, though not quite enough to afford the “un-real estate” of her dreams. But this book isn’t really about dream houses or house lust. Levy’s multilayered, playful musings concern a different sort of property ownership–of one’s own life. The point, she reminds us, is to create a life for yourself in which you feel most at home. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • Red Island House by Andrea Lee (physical book available at library): Shay, the lead of this lyrical novel, is a Black American intellectual and expatriate newly married to Senna, an older, wealthy Italian man. When Senna builds his dream house in a remote part of Madagascar, he says it’s for her, but they both know it’s really his fantasy. So they alternate between a good life in Italy and lengthy, destabilizing interludes on the island, where Shay is thrust into the awkward role of plantation mistress while her husband plays the white lord of the manor. The novel offers fascinating glimpses into class, culture and Malagasy society–territory that Lee knows intimately–alongside gorgeous writing. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko (e-book available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): If you like fantasy, you’ve probably read 500 versions of the same story–noble hero overthrows a corrupt monarch and promises to rule the land with a just and even hand. But what happens next? When the rebellious outsider becomes the most powerful person in the kingdom, will they still be able to tell what justice looks like? In this book–the sequel to 2020’s Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko follows her characters into that second phase, where suddenly they have to confront the painful contradictions of having the last word–or at least seeming to. -Leah Donnella, supervising editor, NPR’s Code Switch
  • Remember by Lisa Genova (physical book available at library): This is a long-overdue user’s manual for memory. In a year where it felt like we were all collectively losing our marbles, it is a salve. Genova introduces us to folks who have no ability to remember, folks with impeccable memories who can’t forget, and to normals like us who forget to do things like take out the trash but remember every lyric to the 1996 hit song “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls. Genova reassures us that forgetting is normal (famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma once forgot his $2.5 million cello in the back of a cab!). She also reminds us that who we are is largely based on the memories we’ve kept and–just as importantly–the things we’ve forgotten. -Lauren Migaki, senior producer, NPR Ed
  • Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): When the COVID-19 pandemic hits, Malian is visiting her grandparents on a Wabanaki reservation. Now sheltering with them away from her parents and her school in Boston, she struggles with her own isolation and pandemic-related stress. It is in Malian’s grandparents’ stories that she learns how the people of her Indigenous community have always taken care of one another, through the government boarding schools and forced adoptions that tore Native American children from their families, and now COVID-19. Written in verse, this middle-grade novel shows us the pandemic through a child’s eyes and helps remind us that responsibility and caring for one another is something we all can do. (For ages 8-12) -Juanita Giles, Executive Director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival
  • Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule (physical book available at library): As people protest, counterprotest and counter-counterprotest the removal of Confederate statues in Virginia and other Southern states, and argue over the relevance of a 156-year-old war, Ty Seidule’s book provides an important and engaging history lesson. Seidule cuts down myths about the Confederacy and about Robert E. Lee, and makes it clear to anyone who doubts that their cause was deeply racist and wrong. The fact that this book is written by a Southerner, an Army veteran and a onetime Lee acolyte–a story Seidule weaves through the book, too–makes it all the more powerful. -Scott Detrow, correspondent, NPR’s Washington Desk
  • The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (physical book available at library): A lifelong fitness freak, who’s embraced everything from martial arts to mountaineering, the author applies the same rigor to her analysis of her quest for a mind/body connection, which contains the sort of psychoanalytic layers, self-deprecating charm and ambitious complexities her fans have come to expect. -Neda Ulaby, correspondent, NPR’s Culture Desk
  • Seeing Ghosts by Kat Chow (physical book available at library): Early in her affecting memoir, Kat Chow writes, “It is not incorrect to say that for years, the way my family grieved my mother was to avoid acknowledging her altogether.” Seeing Ghosts is a corrective to that silence, wherein Chow writes her mother “into being” and excavates her family history. A founding member of NPR’s Code Switch, Chow’s interest in race, identity and cultural history drives her memoir’s larger project, tracing her family from southern China to Hong Kong, Havana and the United States. The result is a meditation on what we owe our ancestors, generational grief’s root system and the melancholia of loss. -Kristen Martin, writer and book critic
  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (physical book available at library): Fresh off of winning the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich follows up with The Sentence, an intimate novel that’s a bit offbeat, yet filled with mordant humor. The story spans one year, from All Souls’ Day 2019 to All Souls’ Day 2020, in the life of Tookie, a Native American woman in Minneapolis. Tookie’s fresh out of prison and working at Birchbark Books–the same store Erdrich owns in real life–when she finds herself having to fend off a stubborn spirit as the novel coronavirus begins to wreak havoc in the country and the killing of George Floyd sparks outrage in their city, then the world. -Keishel Williams, book critic and editor
  • Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (physical book available at library): Eva and Shane meet when they are damaged teens on the same high school campus. They both have been traumatized by abuse–and the need to shrug off their trauma. The two become confidants and lovers for seven magical days their senior year–and then Shane disappears. Eva is devastated. Twenty years later, both are hugely successful authors. An awards show brings them together again; there’s passion–and a lot of wariness. Tia Williams does a great job of plumbing the hesitancies of emotionally gun-shy people and satirizing bougie Black literary life in this wonderfully adult romance. -Karen Grigsby Bates, senior correspondent, NPR’s Code Switch
  • Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim (physical book available at library): When a princess discovers she can do forbidden magic, her evil stepmother curses her and turns her brothers into cranes. “The Six Swans” has long been one of my favorite Grimm fairy tales, and Elizabeth Lim’s reimagining of it does not disappoint. It takes all the tropes–the princess in disguise as a kitchen wench, the enchanted brothers, the kindly prince–and twists them just enough to make them fresh, rendering this retelling more nuanced and compassionate than the original tale. -Caitlyn Paxson, book critic
  • Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen (physical book available at library): This is not your typical little mermaid! In Skin of the Sea, debut author Natasha Bowen brings to life West African myth, religion and history in an action-packed, nail-biting story about Simi, a Black mermaid tasked with collecting the souls of enslaved people who are thrown into the sea during the crossing from Africa, and granting them safe passage. But Simi is only supposed to pick up the souls of dead people. When she saved a living boy, she sets in motion the wrath of vengeful gods and has to face the truth and trauma about the slave trade. This is a great novel about power and who deserves to have it. -Keishel Williams, book critic and editor
  • Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford (physical book available at library): Ashley Ford’s riveting memoir is an honest, heartbreaking story about her father’s incarceration and the resulting family trauma. Her story is about race and family and about how the choices we make, plus those forced upon us, can complicate the trajectory of our lives. Ford writes with a refreshing and riveting candor. This book is not only a coming-of-age Midwestern tale with all the typical concerns about body image and mother-daughter tension, but also a sharp commentary on the harsh realities of growing up as a Black person in Indiana. Ford also gives us an important glimpse of how prison shapes the daughters left behind. -Asma Khalid, White House correspondent, NPR’s Washington Desk
  • Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Nichole Perkins is a master storyteller like no other. This collection of intimate essays showcases her warm, inviting, provocative voice as she opens up about facets of her life and personality you might not have known from her podcasting or other writing. On one page, you’ll find yourself thinking about your formative life experiences and what it might take to be more fully and unapologetically yourself, and on the next you’ll feel like you’re out with a friend hearing about the latest hilarities of dating. Enjoy breezing through this book and don’t be surprised when you wish for more once it’s over. -Kelsey Page, senior associate, NPR’s Audience Relations
  • Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (physical book available at library): Rivers Solomon’s previous books were set in outer space and the depths of the ocean; this book takes root in the nightmarish soil of the contemporary United States. Vern, a pregnant Black teenager on the run from a cult, gives birth to twins alone in the woods. She raises her children while stalked by a threatening presence she thinks of as “the fiend.” But something even more transformative than pregnancy is happening to Vern’s body, causing turbulent illness and superhuman powers by turn, and she and her twins set out on a dangerous journey to find help and understanding. -Amal El-Mohtar, book critic and co-author of This Is How You Lose the Time War
  • The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam (physical book available at library): This book is an incisive satire about faith, technology and intimacy in the modern world. When three close friends (two of whom are a couple) form a startup to create customized spiritual experiences that help the masses connect, it has the ironic effect of blowing their relationships apart. What’s especially thorny is that while the algorithm and research that make the tech work belong to South Asian American Asha, her charismatic white husband is the star the media and investors want to see. Tahmima Anam’s novel is a thought-provoking skewering of startup culture specifically–but because Americans revere tech and its leaders, we all share in those sins. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • The State Must Provide by Adam Harris (physical book available at library): Did you go to an HBCU? And did you ever, like author Adam Harris did, travel a few miles or even a few blocks away to a state-funded predominately white institution (PWI) and wonder why the library was so much bigger, the books so much newer or the gym so much better? Harris retraces the history of the funding strategies that all but ensured that historically Black college and universities would never compete on a level playing field. What he uncovers is shocking but not surprising: States would spend millions to keep institutions segregated and HBCUs underfunded but wouldn’t spend that same coin to actually improve their facilities. It sounds like a harsh meal, but it’s food for thought–and a call to action to anybody who cares about educational equity. -Michel Martin, host, NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered
  • Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Feisty Sun-Hee Song is a 17-year-old Korean American influencer who ends up in a digital detox camp after a slightly PG-13 moment goes viral. She’s forced to spend a month in the cornfields of Iowa among celebrities with no digital devices whatsoever–except the burner phone she smuggled in. Sunny’s in the running for an exclusive influencer contest, and she actually has a shot! But the other competitor is the meanest girl in camp, who has 10 times Sunny’s following. And is maintaining her social status worth risking her adorable budding romance with the farm family’s youngest son? An absolute joy to read. -Alethea Kontis, author and book critic
  • The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (physical book available at the library): This is an American saga about a small Georgia community trying to find its footing after emancipation and the trauma of the Civil War. Two young freedmen, brothers from a local plantation, are hiding out in the woods, trying to avoid their obstinate former master until they can make their way north. They find unlikely but steadfast allies in the eccentric white family who own the land. It’s a thoughtful, emotional and humane story and a surprising page turner full of twists and turns. The issues this book raises feel strikingly resonant right now. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Summer is supposed to be fun, right? But when developers threaten Wes’ close-knit community, he gets yanked into the controversy. In Chrystal D. Giles’ delightful, humorous and empowering debut novel, Take Back the Block, tensions are raised as the reality of gentrification is brought to the forefront. Wes is torn as neighbors, friends and family take sides, arguing about what is to be gained, and lost. Though the last thing he wants to be is an activist, Wes wonders if maybe he has something worth saying. (For ages 8-12) -Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Taste by Stanley Tucci (physical book available at the library): This is the perfect morsel of a book if Stanley Tucci has ever made the list of your dream dinner party guests. Tucci warmly and generously serves tales of the meals that accompanied laughter and heartbreak throughout his life, cooking tips you’ll marvel that you once lived without and countless recipes made more flavorful and elegant by their simplicity. There’s his infamous Negroni, the only tomato sauce you’ll ever need and every imaginable improvement on pasta. Crucially, if you ever do find yourself across the table from Stanley Tucci, for the love of all things culinary, don’t you dare cut your spaghetti. -Elena Burnett, production assistant, NPR’s All Things Considered
  • That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry (physical book available at the library): Irish author Kevin Barry has never shied away from the dark side, but he’s always had a touch of the romantic underneath his hard-boiled prose. In his new short story collection, he casts a wide net, writing about a varied cast of people–some hardened by life, some still vulnerable–living in western Ireland. He evokes the landscape of the human heart beautifully, but his greatest accomplishment is his understanding of the ways our collective psyche works. There’s not a bad story in this collection, and it’s as accomplished a book as Barry has ever written. -Michael Schaub, book critic
  • These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (physical book available at the library): Ann Patchett, beloved writer, bookstore owner and friend to many, gives readers more reasons to love her with this new essay collection. The centerpiece is the title essay–a tribute to Sooki Raphael, Tom Hanks’ longtime personal assistant and an artist whom Patchett befriended and helped in the difficult final years of her life. (Sooki’s soulful painting of Patchett’s dog adorns the book’s cover.) This isn’t the only essay that moved me to tears: There are lovely pieces about Patchett’s three fathers (biological and two steps); about what opening her Nashville bookstore has meant to her; and about the intimations of mortality induced by her induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This heartwarming book reminds us to make the most of our precious days. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall (physical book available at the library): This creative and creepy thriller kept me up all night. As a digital archaeologist, young, bright and inquisitive Michaela pieces together a person’s life story from the artifacts they hold dear, transforming them into a supercharged, high-tech scrapbook. Now she’s tasked with helping an older woman obsessed with memorabilia make a record of her own life before the memories slip away. But just as she’s getting started, that client is found dead with a plastic bag over head. Though a note points to suicide, there’s plenty of room for doubt, and Michaela is determined to find the truth no matter the danger. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan (physical book available at the library): Broken into sections on caffeine, mescaline and opium, this book might (briefly) persuade you to switch to decaf or change how you look at that cactus in your neighbor’s yard. But the heart of this book is an old magazine article Pollan wrote when he was a gardening columnist during the mid-’90s War on Drugs. He had colorful poppies in his backyard and wondered whether he could homebrew an opium tea. What could possibly go wrong? Now that attitudes toward drugs have become a bit looser and with the benefit of 2021 hindsight (hello, Purdue Pharma!), it is well worth picking up a copy for that section alone. It’ll get you thinking, in that gentle Michael Pollan way, about where society draws the line between good/bad, natural/synthetic, challenging/threatening. -Liz Baker, producer, NPR’s National Desk
  • The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Reams of material have been written about Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. But Anna Malaika Tubbs looks at the lives of their mothers. We discover that though their paths were very different, all three women were instrumental in shaping their sons’ lives. Louise Little was an activist, Berdis Baldwin encouraged her son’s creativity, and Alberta King gave young Martin lessons in faith and social justice. All three mothers ended up outliving their sons. Their stories add needed dimension to the ones we thought we knew. -Emiko Tamagawa, senior producer, NPR’s Here & Now
  • Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): This winningly titled baker’s dozen is bookended on one end by the title tale, which was first published in 1966, and on the other by a powerful new story. Written in 2020, “The Great Escape” checks in on Hilma Wolitzer’s longtime recurring couple–melancholic Howard and garrulous Paulie–at 90, just as the pandemic hits New York. Like her novels, Wolitzer’s stories delve into the vicissitudes of love and marriage with wisdom, wit and warmth. But brace yourself for the last one, which masterfully demonstrates literature’s power to move and console. -Heller McAlpin, book critic
  • Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (physical book available at the library): When 11-year-old Bug tries to prepare to enter middle school, it’s not as easy as it seems. Bug’s best friend Moira spends her time putting on makeup and checking out cute boys, but Bug has no interest. As Bug tries to manage leaving tomboy-hood behind, the ghost of recently-gone Uncle Roderick seems to be haunting the house. But why? What is he trying to help Bug figure out? A beautiful middle-grade novel about grief, self-realization and acceptance, Too Bright to See is a heart-rending tale of Bug’s transgender journey, with plenty of creepy ghost story thrills. (For ages 10 and up) -Juanita Giles, Executive Director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival
  • Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Author Atinuke raises the bar and shows the world what a quick, funny, smart early chapter book can be. Tola lives in an apartment in Lagos, Nigeria, with her Grandmommy, brother and sister. In three perfectly paced tales, she uses her cleverness to prove to the world that size isn’t everything. Atinuke can make everyday life in Lagos accessible to any child reader. A true standout. (For ages 7 to 9) -Betsy Bird, book critic and author of Long Road to the Circus
  • The Turnout by Megan Abbott (physical book available at the library): Sisters Dara and Marie Durant run their family ballet school, with Dara’s husband, Charlie, once a student there. When Marie accidentally burns one of their studios down, a “dance mom” recommends a contractor named Derek. The bulky, leering Derek transfixes them all so that renovations go far beyond necessary, just as ballet bodies turn out far past possibility. But what hold does Derek have on Marie, and what hold does Marie have on Dara and Charlie? As the annual clock ticks down to Nutcracker Week, all will be revealed, building up to a pain as exquisite as being en pointe. -Bethanne Patrick, book critic
  • Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (physical book available at the library): Carole Boston Weatherford, a master of children’s nonfiction, transports readers back to Greenwood, aka Black Wall Street, not only to the day of the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 years ago, but also to the days preceding the tragedy. She and Floyd Cooper paint a portrait of the thriving community, and by bringing Greenwood back to life, they make the loss feel all the more devastating. Cooper, whose grandfather lived in Tulsa at the time, was a beloved figure in the children’s literature community who, sadly, died earlier this year. Unspeakable is a fitting capstone to a career and life. (For ages 8 to 12) -Minh Le, author of Lift and Green Lantern: Legacy
  • Until Proven Safe by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley (physical book available at the library): I picked up this book with a degree of dread. Who wants to remain, even intellectually, in that claustrophobic place in which we slunk and mouldered our way through 2020 and 2021? But this book is not a hastily assembled response to the pandemic. Instead it’s a witty, charming consideration of one of our oldest and most effective responses to danger. I found it oddly comforting. -Annalisa Quinn, book critic
  • Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (physical book available at the library): Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s newest novel takes place in 1970s Mexico City, toward the start of the country’s Dirty War. At the center of the story is Maite, a 30-year-old secretary who leads a lonely, boring life amid the political tumult. She prefers to escape into romance novels and rock music. But when her neighbor goes missing under strange circumstances, Maite soon finds herself deep in a world of danger, dissidents and radical artists, all while she’s being followed by an eccentric criminal named Elvis. Pro tip: Be sure to listen to the novel’s playlist on Spotify while you read to be completely transported back in time. -Nina Fill, executive assistant at NPR
  • Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders (physical book available at the library): Tina Mains seems like an normal human teenager–except for the interplanetary beacon stuck in her chest. Pursued by alien assassins, she escapes (along with her best friend, Rachael) aboard an understaffed, broken-down spaceship called Indomitable and becomes the ultimate prize in a battle between two galactic superpowers. Since neither really wants to go back to Earth, Tina and Rachael join the Indomitable’s crew, recruit a super-team of teenage Earth nerds to round out the wildly diverse crew of misfits, and run off across the galaxy to try to save themselves, the Royal Fleet (and everyone else) from the evil Compassion. Victories begins as a kind of Midwestern, geeks-vs-bullies high school drama, ends as a modern re-skin of a classic, pulpy space opera, and in between Anders gets to spin a heartfelt and action-packed coming-of-age story about friendship, acceptance, loyalty and finding your own way in the world, all dressed in the spaceships-and-alien-assassins trappings of YA science fiction. -Jason Sheehan, author and book critic
  • Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (physical book available at the library): When a family pulls over on the side of the road to pick watercress, the young daughter is filled with a deep sense of shame at having to pick their dinner from a ditch. But as she learns more about her family’s past, that shame transforms into a newfound appreciation. Andrea Wang’s heartfelt and nuanced intergenerational story comes to life through Jason Chin’s brilliant watercolors, making Watercress a feast for the senses. But be warned: Comes prepared with tissues. (For ages 4 to 8) -Minh Le, author of Lift and Green Lantern: Legacy
  • We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba (physical book available at the library): This essay collection outlines the immediate need for abolition of prisons and policing by explaining how these systems perpetuate violence and harm. Full of altruistic grace, accessible language and thoughtful analysis, it’s a must-read: Our future, Kaba argues, depends on recognizing how our learned punishment mindset routinely damages lives. It’s a helpful text for those new to the fight for abolition, veteran organizers and everyone in between. -LaTesha Harris, editorial assistant, NPR Music
  • We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz (physical book available at the library): Emily and Kristen, two longtime best friends, are on a backpacking trip in Chile when a hookup goes awry and a male traveler ends up dead. This is the second time they have found themselves in this predicament: overseas, traumatized and having to dispose of a body. How could this happen twice? I devoured this book and didn’t want it to end. Beneath the thrilling cliffhangers and impeccably paced plot lies a very sharp portrait of female friendship and how magical and intense it can be. -Molly Seavy-Nesper, digital producer, NPR’s Fresh Air
  • What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy (physical book available at the library): We know, in a general, macro-level sense, what happened after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people died. Governments failed. Companies profited. But in this book, the author brings us the vivid, micro-level details of the lives of survivors. Her characters are stratified by class and country, but connected by guilt and grief. That we know another massive earthquake isn’t too far in their future only adds to the weight of Chancy’s writing. -Andrew Limbong, reporter, NPR’s Culture Desk
  • What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): This novel is as dark and poetic as it is devastating and emotionally gritty. But what makes it unforgettable is that it’s so close to the reality of immigration worldwide that it could almost be dipping its toes into nonfiction. A harrowing account of illegal migration gone wrong, this is one of those rare narratives that obliterates your belief in humanity–and then somehow manages to restore it. -Gabino Iglesias, book critic and author of Coyote Songs
  • While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory (physical book available at the library): Jasmine Guillory is the queen of charming romance novels. In her sixth book, we meet ad exec Ben Stephens and movie star Anna Gardiner, who hit it off at a marketing campaign meeting and end up falling into a just-for-cameras relationship (with some fun benefits too). Unfortunately, romantic feelings (as they always do) get in the way of this arrangement. You might remember Ben from one of Guillory’s last book, The Wedding Date–the brother of uptight Theo. The best part about Guillory’s books is revisiting these characters and guessing who will show up in subsequent novels. Guillory’s writing style is addictive, but she also tackles heavy themes. I can guarantee you’ll finish this book quickly and want to check out her other ones. -Anjuli Sastry Krbechek, producer, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders
  • White Magic by Elissa Washuta (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): This book explores iterations of magic and witchiness including everything from the Native rituals that shape Elissa Washuta’s Cowlitz heritage to smudge sticks packaged in plastic. The book unfolds in three mesmerizing acts, like a magic show; across the intertwining essays, Washuta is drawn to magic as a method of healing from a decade of abusive relationships, alcoholism and PTSD, looking for meaning and control. Standouts include an essay about playing the classic computer game Oregon Trail as a coping mechanism, and one on her home state of New Jersey as a “land of genocidal fairy tales.” -Kristen Martin, writer and book critic
  • Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews (physical book available at the library): Oh boy, friends, do you love a publishing mystery? A young woman named Florence Darrow, down on her luck and yearning to become a famous author, is hired to become the assistant to a bestselling writer who publishes under the pseudonym Maud Dixon. Trying to break a bad spell of writer’s block, the two head to Morocco. To say any more would be unfair to your future self who will want to reread this to see what you missed, but suffice to say, this one is a thriller. Who are you rooting for? No one, who cares? Both “Maud” and Florence are deliciously difficult ladies This book is for lovers of Misery, The Talented Mr. Ripley and anyone whose speculation about the real identity of Elena Ferrante went just a smidge too far. -Barrie Hardymon, supervising senior editor, NPR’s Investigations Unit
  • Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins (e-book available on the Axis 360 and Libby apps with your library card): Wild Rain is boldly feminist and unabashedly swoony. It’s about Spring, a Black female rancher who rescues–and then falls in love with–Garrett, a journalist passing through her part of Wyoming on assignment. In historical romances, Black men are too rarely afforded the space to be soft, sweet and supportive heroes who dote on their women and don’t mind when those women take the reins. But Garrett is all of those things, and that’s why I adored him. The way he knows when to stand up for Spring, while also knowing when to stand down, makes him all the more appealing. -Carole V. Bell, book critic
  • The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): I have a soft spot for fantasy inspired by Hungarian history, but there’s little softness in Ava Reid’s The Wolf and the Woodsman, which takes Hungarian history and Jewish mythology and braids them into a complex, often brutal story. Unlikely allies, questions of identity, betrayal, nuanced exploration of identity and what it is to be a conquered people, what it is to inherit a dark legacy, survival in the face of erasure, deeply flawed protagonists, and body horror–the woods are dark and deep, my friends! And make for a compelling read. Although the ending is abrupt, this is a solid debut. -Jessica P. Wick, writer and book critic
  • Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman (physical book available at the library): This book made me–and I say this as the highest compliment–think about everything I am most afraid of thinking about. Jess Zimmerman weaves together Greek mythology about Medusa, Scylla, The Sphinx and others, with personal experiences and universal challenges, creating essays that give a framework to even the heaviest considerations: whether to have a child, what a meaningful partnership looks like, what it means to have a fulfilling life, how to want things when you’ve been taught not to. I can already tell that I will be revisiting this collection often, especially at times when I am feeling brave enough to look in the metaphorical mirror. -Kelsey Page, senior associate, NPR’s Audience Relations
  • Yearbook by Seth Rogen (physical book available at the library): What sets Seth Rogen’s book of essays apart from other books by Hollywood Famouses is his self-awareness. He’s a white Canadian stoner who knows he rode a wave of privilege into an A-list movie career. But with that privilege also comes legitimate comedy chops. He’s a masterful storyteller, sharing funny anecdotes from his childhood and his early years in Los Angeles. He also shares fantastically hilarious showbiz stories about folks like Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise. But his stories aren’t mean–he shares just enough to keep us normals entertained, but he also maintains boundaries with the reader. I love Seth Rogen’s movies, but I hope he writes more books in the future. -Jessica Reedy, producer/editor, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
  • Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson (e-book and e-audiobook available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): The harrowing tale of Pheby Delores Brown begins in the 1850s when she is just 17 years old. Inspired by the real life of an enslaved woman in Virginia, Sadeqa Johnson’s Yellow Wife tells the story of Pheby and her connection to an infamous slave jail called the Devil’s Half-Acre–and the man who ran it. Johnson writes emotionally, passionately and fearlessly, blending the violence and insidiousness of slavery with the courage and strength of her characters. Throughout the story, threads of motherhood, family and sacrifice provide an anchor for hope, joy and love, making this novel a memorable journey to be discussed and cherished. -Denny S. Bryce, book critic
  • Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi (physical book available at the library): This is a story about two sisters and their complicated relationship. It’s also about coping when life gets messy and about what it takes to love your family and yourself. Mary H.K. Choi has proven yet again that she knows how to show the inside of a character’s mind better than anyone. As you witness Jayne and June navigate the complexities of early adulthood and the difficult situations they find themselves in–unstable housing, family secrets, disordered eating, cancer–you’ll find yourself wishing you could dive into their world and give them each a big hug (and maybe help them reform the healthcare system). -Kelsey Page, senior associate, NPR’s Audience Relations

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