JCPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we wanted to share our favorite books of the year with you. Browse the list below to read the book summaries* and click on the covers to place holds.

And don’t forget, we always love giving recommendations! Request a Book Bundle or call (423) 434-4450 for personalized help from your librarians.

We also regularly highlight books from our collection on social media, so follow Johnson City Public Library on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for updates.

Cover image for The midnight library

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In “The Midnight Library”, Matt Haig’s enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

From the author of the international bestseller “The Light Over London” and “The Whispers of War” comes a poignant and unforgettable tale of five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special place.

Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

In this sweeping novel reminiscent of Kate Morton’s “The Lake House” and Kristin Harmel’s “The Room on Rue Amélie”, Julia Kelly explores the unexpected connections that cross time and the special places that bring people together forever.

The bestselling author of “American Housewife” and “Southern Lady Code” returns with a viciously funny, deeply felt collection of essays on friendship among grown-ass women.

When Helen Ellis and her lifelong friends arrive for a reunion on the Redneck Riviera, they unpack more than their suitcases: stories of husbands and kids; lost parents and lost jobs; powdered onion dip and photographs you have to hold by the edges; dirty jokes and sunscreen with SPF higher than they hair-sprayed their bangs senior year; and a bad mammogram. It’s a diagnosis that scares them, but could never break their bond. Because women pushing fifty won’t be pushed around.

In these twelve gloriously comic and moving essays, Helen Ellis dishes on married middle-age sex, sobs with a theater full of women as a psychic exorcises their sorrows, gets twenty shots of stomach bile to the neck to get rid of her double chin, and gathers up the courage to ask, “Are you there, Menopause? It’s Me, Helen.”

A book that reads like the best cocktail party of your life, “Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light” is chockablock with fabulous characters: cat-lady plastic surgeons and waterpark Adonises; bridge ladies and poker players; platinum medallion fliers and Garage Sale Swindlers; forty-year-old divorcées; fifty-year-old new moms and still-young octogenarians. Alive with the sensational humor and ferocious love for her friends that won Helen Ellis legions of fans, this book has a raw vulnerability and an emotional generosity that takes this acclaimed author to a whole new level of accomplishment.

In “A Psalm for the Wild-Built”, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

In the vein of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Life After Life”, “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is “New York Times” bestselling author V. E. Schwab’s genre-defying tour de force.

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever―and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

​Taking kids on an imaginary trek through different landscapes and seasons, “How to Find a Fox” celebrates one of our planet’s most graceful and enchanting creatures: the red fox. Ossi Saarinen’s stunning wildlife photos and Kate Gardner’s lively and informative words capture the magical and profound connection between animals and humans. Readers will be inspired to get outside and make their own discoveries—maybe with a camera in-hand, just like Ossi.

When the “grownup virus” hits, kids who live in the same apartment building must cope with strange new rules and extended time at home with parents and siblings.

And they survive brilliantly, each in their own way. Twin boys throw themselves into an independent research assignment on prehistoric people and embrace their own devolution. A budding track star is encouraged to run laps on his balcony by a neighbor who has a secret crush on him. A classroom troublemaker reaches out to a teacher when his own father begins to exhibit signs of mental illness. A young entrepreneur saves himself and his hairdresser mother from financial collapse by renting out the family dog. And a girl finds a way to communicate with her hearing-impaired neighbor so that they can spy on the rest of the building.

The stories follow the course of the pandemic, from the early measures through lockdown, as the kids in the building observe the stresses on the adults around them and use their own quirky kid ingenuity to come up with ways to make their lives better. Funny, poignant and wise, this book will long outlive even the pandemic.

“The Sol Majestic” is a big-hearted and delightful intergalactic hopepunk adventure for fans of Becky Chambers and “The Good Place”.

Kenna, an aspirational teen guru, wanders destitute across the stars as he tries to achieve his parents’ ambition to advise the celestial elite.

Everything changes when Kenna wins a free dinner at The Sol Majestic, the galaxy’s most renowned restaurant, giving him access to the cosmos’s one-percent. His dream is jeopardized, however, when he learns his highly-publicized “free meal” risks putting The Sol Majestic into financial ruin. Kenna and a motley gang of newfound friends—including a teleporting celebrity chef, a trust-fund adrenaline junkie, an inept apprentice, and a brilliant mistress of disguise—must concoct an extravagant scheme to save everything they cherish. In doing so, Kenna may sacrifice his ideals—or learn even greater lessons about wisdom, friendship, and love.

Utterly charming and out of this world, Ferrett Steinmetz’s “The Sol Majestic” will satisfy the appetites of sci-fi aficionados and newcomers alike.

Getting acquainted with local flora and fauna is the perfect way to begin to understand the wonder of nature. The natural environment of Southern Appalachia, with habitats that span the Blue Ridge to the Cumberland Plateau, is one of the most biodiverse on earth. “A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia”―a hybrid literary and natural history anthology―showcases sixty of the many species indigenous to the region.

Ecologically, culturally, and artistically, Southern Appalachia is rich in paradox and stereotype-defying complexity. Its species range from the iconic and inveterate―such as the speckled trout, pileated woodpecker, copperhead, and black bear―to the elusive and endangered―such as the American chestnut, Carolina gorge moss, chucky madtom, and lampshade spider. The anthology brings together art and science to help the reader experience this immense ecological wealth.

Stunning images by seven Southern Appalachian artists and conversationally written natural history information complement contemporary poems from writers such as Ellen Bryant Voigt, Wendell Berry, Janisse Ray, Sean Hill, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Deborah A. Miranda, Ron Rash, and Mary Oliver. Their insights illuminate the wonders of the mountain South, fostering intimate connections. The guide is an invitation to get to know Appalachia in the broadest, most poetic sense.

From Graham Moore, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Imitation Game” and “New York Times” bestselling author of “The Sherlockian”, comes a thrilling novel—based on actual events—about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America.

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of “Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky”, the Percy Jackson series, and “Nevermoor”.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Explore a fantastical forest in this exquisite and lyrical picture book that celebrates all trees, from maple to elm to ginkgo to magnolia to redwood—written by award-winning author Tony Johnston.

Part poetry, part celebration of nature, each page of this stunning book brings readers deeper into the majestic world of trees. Old trees. Trees with shiny leaves shimmering after rain. And at night, trees holding out their limbs for the stars. Debut illustrator Tiffany Bozic created her striking artwork by painting directly on tree bark and the authenticity shines through in this meditative work.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, Hafsah Faizal’s “We Hunt the Flame”―first in the Sands of Arawiya duology―is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya―but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds―and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible.

But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

It took me a lifetime to have the courage and the clarity to write my memoir. I want to tell the story of the moments—the ups and downs, the triumphs and traumas, the debacles and the dreams—that contributed to the person I am today. Though there have been countless stories about me throughout my career and very public personal life, it’s been impossible to communicate the complexities and depths of my experience in any single magazine article or a 10-minute television interview. And even then, my words were filtered through someone else’s lens, largely satisfying someone else’s assignment to define me.

This book is composed of my memories, my mishaps, my struggles, my survival, and my songs. Unfiltered. I went deep into my childhood and gave the scared little girl inside of me a big voice. I let the abandoned and ambitious adolescent have her say, and the betrayed and triumphant woman I became tell her side.

Writing this memoir was incredibly hard, humbling and healing. My sincere hope is that you are moved to a new understanding, not only about me, but also about the resilience of the human spirit.

Love,

Mariah

*All book summaries come from amazon.com.

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