Text: Staff Picks 2020

Staff Picks of 2020

We all stayed home a bit more this year, which meant we had more time to read! We love books as much as you do, so we wanted to share some of our 2020 favorites with you! Browse the list below to read the book descriptions, then click on the book cover to place a hold. These aren’t all of the books we enjoyed, though. If you’re looking for more reading recommendations, request a Book Bundle or check out our booklists for kids, teens, and adults.

We’re also always highlighting new books on social media, so follow Johnson City Public Library on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!

Cover image for The midnight libraryBetween life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived, to see how things would be if you had made other choices. Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets? Up until now Nora Seed’s life has been full of misery. When she finds herself in the Midnight Library, she can now undo every decision she regrets. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be.

Cover image for The awakeningWhen Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars. This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny

Cover image for Smoke bittenShapeshifting mechanic Mercy Thompson will face a threat unlike any other…I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five-pound coyote and I can fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them. Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill—until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill, wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived. Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything—even kill the person you love the most. It is here, in the Tri-Cities, in my territory. It won’t—can’t—remain. Not if I have anything to say about it.

Christina says, “It’s the newest book of the ‘Mercy Thompson’ novels. They are amazing.”

Cover image for The time of green magicWhen eleven-year-old Abi moves with her father and new stepfamily into an eerie old house, something magical makes her books more real and brings a not-so-imaginary friend to stepbrother Louis.

Cover image for The Truth Is a Cave in the Black MountainsThe text of “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” was first published in the collection anthology “Stories: All New Tales” edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. This gorgeous full-color illustrated book version was born of a unique collaboration between writer Neil Gaiman and artist Eddie Campbell, who brought to vivid life the characters and landscape of Gaiman’s story. In August 2010, “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” was performed in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House to a sold-out crowd—Gaiman read his tale live as Campbell’s magnificent artwork was presented, scene-by-scene, on large screens. Narrative and art were accompanied by live music composed and performed especially for the story by the FourPlay String Quartet.

Emory says, “The audio recording of this book is read by the author himself with musical accompaniment to great effect. The story is only an hour or so long, which makes it easily consumable, and there is depth and eeriness that makes me sit and process the story long after I’ve finished it.”

Cover image for The searcherCal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens. But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat, and starts to realize that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets.

Cover image for Blacktop wastelandA gritty, voice-driven thriller about a former getaway driver who thought he had escaped the criminal life who is pulled back in by race, poverty, and his own former life of crime. Beauregard “Bug” Montage is a man with many different titles: husband, father, friend, honest car mechanic. But before he gave it up, Bug used to be known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best Wheel Man on the East Coast. After a series of financial calamities, Bug feels he has no choice but to take one final job as the getaway driver for a daring diamond heist that could solve all his money troubles and allow him to go straight once and for all. Like “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “Drive” (but with a mostly black cast of characters), Blacktop Wasteland is a searing, operatic story of sons living up (or down) to their fathers; of a heist gone sideways; of a man ground down by economic desperation; of fast cars and daring chases and identity and love.

Thirteen-year-old Jamie must spend her summer volunteering at Foxfield Public Library, but quickly grows to love the people there and enthusiastically joins the fight to save the library.

Jennifer says, “It is a heartfelt love letter to libraries and perfectly encapsulates what makes them so special.”

For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has been on a mission to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, one thing has become increasingly clear to her: If you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down. In this moving and compelling book, Melinda shares lessons she’s learned from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels around the world. As she writes in the introduction, ‘That is why I had to write this book—to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want all of us to see ways we can lift women up where we live.’ Melinda provides an unforgettable narrative backed by startling data as she presents the issues that most need our attention—from child marriage to lack of access to contraceptives to gender inequity in the workplace. And, for the first time, she writes about her personal life and the road to equality in her own marriage. Throughout, she shows how there has never been more opportunity to change the world—and ourselves. Writing with emotion, candor, and grace, she introduces us to remarkable women and shows the power of connecting with one another. When we lift others up, they lift us up, too.

Julia says, “Gates provides a wonderful explanation about how treating all people with dignity and respect elevates every society.”

Cover image for The starless seaZachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a rare book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas of honey, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a beautiful barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the rare book and in his own life

Kip says, “This story was artfully and lovingly crafted, woven and re-woven so delicately that I can hardly imagine how Erin Morgenstern even went about writing it. A book for those passionate about books; a story that is timeless, boundless, and filled with the enigma of endings and beginnings. To seeking!”

Cover image for PiranesiPiranesi‘s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

Lisa says, “This beautiful, refreshing novel brought to mind one of my favorite film quotes, from Harvey: ‘In this world Ellwood, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well for years I was smart… I recommend pleasant, and you may quote me.’ I am so very glad that Ms. Clarke gave us this gift of a work, right now when we need it.”

Cover image for Killing commendatoreIn “Killing Commendatore”, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada. When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances. To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors. A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art–as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby–Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.

Lisa says, “I’ve always been afraid of reading this author; he has such a towering reputation, and the book descriptions sounded really confusing to me. I figured his prose would be impenetrable. Not at all! I can’t generalize too much from just the one book, but this was totally readable, fascinating…and very difficult to describe, so I think that’s where the confusion comes in. Supernatural elements are definitely part of it, but there’s a matter-of-factness about them that’s surprising, and pleasingly so. I can’t wait to read more of him!”

Cover image for The dearly beloved : a novelSet in the years 1950-1970 in a changing America and London, follow[s] two married couples – ministers and academics – whose intricate bonds of faith and friendship, jealousy and understanding, are tested by the birth of an autistic child.

Mandy says, “Everything about this book is beautiful: the writing, the story, even the cover! Set in the 1960s, we follow the lives of two pastors and their wives in New York City. All four main characters come from very different backgrounds, and the book explores their complicated relationships with their faith, each other, and the changing times.”

Cover image for DublinersFifteen stories evoke the character, atmosphere, and people of Dublin at the turn of the century.

Michael says, “What makes this newest edition more relevant for me is that there is an introduction, as well as footnotes, by Terence Brown, an emeritus fellow of Trinity College Dublin. These footnotes provide a wonderful insight by shedding light on a host of topics from the religious beliefs and practices of the day to the names of specific streets and the significance they play in the telling of the individual story. Although classified as a novel, it is now more apparent to me that Mr. Joyce was actually drawing from actual events of his day, taking the necessary precautions to change names and locations without compromising the intent of each tale. With this new, better understanding I am enjoying this book much more this time around.”

Cover image for Black sunThe first book in [this trilogy is] inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic. In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain

Cover image for Stamped : racism, antiracism, and youA history of racist and antiracist ideas in America, from their roots in Europe until today, adapted from the National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning.

Tiffany says, “This is a YA ‘Remix’ of National Book Award-Winning “Stamped From The Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi. This is a must-read for all ages on the history of racism but it is not a history book! This book made me think, cry, and come to terms on how I want to be a better person and a better person to others.”

Summaries written by Library staff or adapted from Amazon.

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