CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2020

Ask a librarian for some good books, be prepared for a long list! I recently asked our staff members to share some their favorite reads in 2020, and the answers that came back were many and varied. We really do read a lot! Not all the books on this list were published in 2020, (some were older books we just got around to reading in 2020!), but all received a solid thumbs up from a member of our staff:

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Chapter Books

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Adult Non-Fiction

 

( * – this book was recommended by more than one staff member)

 

Thanksgiving-themed Books for Kids and Adults


For many of us, Thanksgiving has been a time when family members far and wide gather together, with as many people and as much food crammed around the dinner table as we can fit. Ah, the good old days! Thanksgiving may look a little different this year,  when social distancing and travel restrictions can put a damper on social gatherings.  Never fear! We’ve put together some Thanksgiving-themed reading to help keep your holiday spirit going, even if you’re celebrating from a distance.

For Kids:

 

For Adults:

 

 

A Double Dose of Girl Power: Enola Holmes and Flavia de Luce

When the Enola Holmes movie was recently released on Netflix, I decided to read the book that it was based on (The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer) before watching the movie. As I read the book, I was struck by two things. #1, though this book series is found in the Children’s Room, it has surprisingly sophisticated themes and I found it very appealing as an adult reader. #2, the protagonist, Enola Holmes, precociously adept at solving mysteries, reminded me of another young sleuth I loved, the delightfully quirky Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s series.

I quickly devoured The Case of the Missing Marquess, and immediately checked out the rest of the series. I’m happy to report that all six books are wonderful, quick reads that will appeal the fans of dear Flavia, or cozy mysteries in general. Let’s take a look at the young protagonists from each series.

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, whom she admires but rarely sees. Raised by her mother in a very unconventional way, and often left to her own devices for extended periods of time, Enola has a skill set not normally found in young ladies of her era, with a particular talent for cryptology. In 1900, on her 14th birthday, her mother mysteriously disappears, leaving coded clues behind. Enola sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance, much to the consternation of her brothers, who want to put her into boarding school and make a proper lady out of her. She is in hiding from them for most of the series, and it’s fun to watch Enola outsmart the brothers who think themselves so much smarter than her.

Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old girl in 1950 who lost her mother when she was a baby. She lives with her largely-absent father and two annoying older sisters on an English country estate that’s seen better days. Flavia’s upbringing is also quite unconventional, and she spends much of her time indulging her passion for chemistry, becoming quite an expert in poisons through the many experiments she conducts in her laboratory. Flavia’s obsession with the gruesome and deadly along with her need to get to figure out why things happen is a by-product of losing her mother at such an early age; indeed Harriet de Luce remains a presence in the sad little family throughout the series. While this could be maudlin, it is never overdone, and Flavia’s determination to make sense of events in the world around her drives everything she does. She is the definition of “pluck”.

Both girls are motherless and do not follow the social norms of their times. Both have older siblings who are the banes of their existence.  Both are whip-smart and often underestimated by the adults around them. And both have the uncanny knack for landing in the middle of trouble, over and over again, and are able to survive largely by their wits.

The Flavia de Luce stories are longer and a bit more complex than the Enola Holmes stories, but watching both of these unconventional sleuths get to the bottom of each mystery they land into is pure delight. I’ll add an additional plug for the audiobooks, the narrators of each series are pitch-perfect in their portrayals, and really bring the characters to life.

It’s recommended to read the books in both series in order, as each book builds off the previous one. Get a double dose of girl power with these terrific mysteries!

Flavia de Luce Mysteries:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  5. Speaking from Among the Bones
  6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
  7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
  8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
  9. The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
  10. The Golden Tresses of the Dead

Enola Holmes Mysteries:

  1. The Case of the Missing Marquess
  2. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
  3. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
  4. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
  5. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
  6. The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye

British Mysteries from Book to Screen

Today’s post comes to us from our Deputy Director Deb, who loves a good mystery!

Many devoted mystery readers began with Agatha Christie’s classic golden age mysteries featuring Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. I certainly did! These distinctly British offerings are a perfect gateway into the world of mysteries. And like so many other British mysteries, they have been made into marvelous television series, which you can watch using the library’s new streaming video service, Acorn TV. Or you can download the books in e-book or e-audio from the library’s website.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are both well represented on Acorn TV and in our e-book and e-audiobook collections. Consider reading or listening to Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders or The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Check out Acorn TV and watch Marple, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, The Agatha Christie Hour and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Also try Christie’s classic locked-room mystery, And Then There Were None, considered to be the world’s best-selling mystery, available in e-book and e-audio and on Acorn.

The Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton features a middle-aged woman who sells her London PR firm and moves to the country (the Cotswolds, to be precise), where, in true amateur detective fashion, she encounters—and solves– murders galore! Try the first book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, available in both audio and ebook. Or read any of the others—like so many long-running mystery series, it isn’t necessary to read them in order. Then watch Agatha Raisin on Acorn, a top pick for fans of cozy British mysteries.

One of my favorite village cozy series, also by M.C. Beaton, features the unambitious and charming policeman Hamish Macbeth who patrols the village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. I have listened to all of them on audio. The reader, Graeme Malcolm, imbues the audiobooks with such charm and personality that I’m betting you, too, will be hooked! We have more than a dozen titles available on e-audio, including Death of an Honest Man and  Death of a Gossip. Then check out Hamish Macbeth on Acorn.

The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, featuring a glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne, is actually Australian, but close enough to fit in with our British theme. The supremely independent Miss Fisher has class, sass and the means to pull it all off! Try Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, or The Spotted Dog. The clothes alone make the series worth watching Miss Fisher on Acorn!

Ann Cleeves’ series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is considerably darker than the other series in this post. DCI Stanhope is a solitary, obsessed, caustic, brilliant investigator near the end of her career working in northern England. Try listening to the first in the series, The Crow Trap, or read The Seagull. And be sure to watch Vera on Acorn TV.

Set in Ireland, the long-running Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen has been thrilling readers (and now TV fans) for years. Taylor is a classic ex-cop turned seedy private eye prowling the underbelly of Galway. Try e-book or e-audio  Galway Girl or e-audio Purgatory and check out Jack Taylor on Acorn.

The Easter-Passover Connection

During the next week many people will celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover (April 8-16) or the Christian holiday of Easter (April 12). Some will celebrate both, some neither. Either way, they are both prominent holidays on the calendar, and have more in common than you may have thought.

Both holidays fall on different dates every year, although they always fall in the springtime, and the dates often overlap. Do you know how the dates for each holiday are determined? Passover is a fixed date on the Jewish calendar, the 15th day in the month of Nisan. The Jewish calendar follows the cycles of the moon, while the Gregorian calendar (the most widely-used) is a solar calendar, using the Earth’s orbit around the sun as its measure of time.

This explains a little of why Passover begins on a different date on the traditional Gregorian calendar each year, but why Easter? You have to dig into history a bit to understand the connection. Historically,  the events of Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) are are believed to have taken place place during Passover, a holiday which predated the birth of Christ by many centuries. Some theologians and historians have theorized that Christ was actually sharing a Passover meal with his disciples at what became known as the “last supper”.

So we know both holidays historically took place near each other on the calendar, but it wasn’t until the 4th century that things got standardized. Jewish scholars assigned Passover a fixed date  – the 15th of Nisan – on their calendar, and the Christian Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter would be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Then there’s Orthodox Easter, which goes by the Julian calendar (differing from the Gregorian calendar by 13 days). It can all get pretty confusing!

Need to convert dates from one calendar to another? Click here.

Whether you’re a religious observer, or just in it for the chocolate eggs,  here are some fiction finds to kick back with during this holiday season:

Passover:

The Dinner Party by Brenda Janowitz. After Sylvia Gold discovers that her daughter has invited the very wealthy parents of her boyfriend for Seder, she agonizes over making the right impression, but when old memories and grievances surface, she learns the importance of acceptance.

All Other Nights by Dara Horn. How is tonight different from all other nights? For Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army, it is a question his commanders have answered for him: on Passover in 1862 he is ordered to murder his own uncle, who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln.

Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home by Harry Kemelman. Rabbi David Small uncovers a Passover plot than undeniably raises more than Four Questions — threatening to ruin not only his holiday Seder but his role as leader of Bernard’s Crossing’s Jewish community.

 

Easter:

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. When the charming, seemingly idyllic town of Three Pines is rocked by a killing during an impromptu Easter séance at a local haunted house, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is confronted by a web of baffling questions as he searches for a killer.

Easter Bunny Murder by Leslie Meier. Spring has sprung in Tinker’s Cove, and Lucy Stone has a mile-long to-do list from painting eggs with her grandson, to preparing the perfect Easter feast, to reviving her garden after a long, cold winter. She hardly has time to search for a killer with a deadly case of spring fever.

Alibis & Angels by Olivia Matthews. With the Lenten season fast approaching, Sister Louise “Lou” LaSalle looks forward to a final day of indulgence before giving up her favorite sweets. But one Briar Coast resident won’t get the chance to repent. Opal Lorrie, the mayor’s director of finance, just turned up dead in the parking lot of the Board of Ed.