Best of the Best 2021

2021 is at a close, and the Iowa City Public Library Staff reflected on some of the literary highlights of the year, voting for new favorites in a variety of genres. Coincidentally, 125 different titles were submitted as we celebrate the Library’s 125th Anniversary! Browse the full list below, or check out the Best of the Best in this blog post.

The genius under the table : growing up behind the Iron Curtain

Yelchin, Eugene, author, illustrator.

j947.085 Yelchin

Drama, family secrets, and a KGB spy in his own kitchen! How will Yevgeny ever fulfill his parents' dream that he become a national hero when he doesn't even have his own room? With equal amounts charm and solemnity, award-winning author and artist Eugene Yelchin recounts in hilarious detail his childhood in Cold War Russia as a young boy desperate to understand his place in his family.

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Starting off the Best of 2021 with Staff Picks in Children's. For this genre, "The genius under the table" received the most staff votes this year!
- Becky

Chez Bob

Shea, Bob, author, illustrator.

jE Shea

A lazy alligator comes up with a plan to lure his prey by opening up a restaurant for birds--until he realizes that birds are even better as friends.

Close your eyes : a book of sleepiness

Houran, Lori Haskins

jE Houran

After seeing sleepy baby animals, a child is finally ready for bed.

Bodies are cool

Feder, Tyler, author, illustrator.

jE Feder

Illustrations and easy-to-read, rhyming text celebrate bodies of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors, with different kinds of hair, eyes, spots, scars, and more.

There's a ghost in this house

Jeffers, Oliver, author, illustrator.

jE Jeffers

A young girl lives in a haunted house, but she has never seen a ghost. Are they white with holes for eyes? Are they hard to see? Step inside and help the girl as she searches under the stairs, behind the sofa, and in the attic for the ghost.


Wang, Andrea, author.

jE Wang

Embarrassed about gathering watercress from a roadside ditch, a girl learns to appreciate her Chinese heritage after learning why the plant is so important to her parents.

Grandpa across the ocean

Yum, Hyewon, author, illustrator.

jE Yum

When a little boy visits his grandfather on the other side of the ocean, everything is unfamiliar and boring until time together proves that Grandpa can be a lot of fun.

An occasionally happy family

Burke, Cliff, author.

jFICTION Burke Cliff

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. It doesn't help that this will be the first vacation they're taking since Mom passed away. Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo's dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.

We are still here! : Native American truths everyone should know

Sorell, Traci, author.

j970.1 Sorell

A group of Native American kids from different tribes presents twelve historical and contemporary time periods, struggles, and victories to their classmates, each ending with a powerful refrain: we are still here.

The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate, author.

jFICTION DiCamillo, Kate

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo's lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

The road to wherever

Bradley, John Ed, author.

jFICTION Bradley John

With his father absent and his mother working, eleven-year-old Henry "June" Ball must spend the summer on the road with his cousins, "Ford men" who repair old cars.

The cursed carnival and other calamities : new stories about mythic heroes

jFICTION Riordan Rick

A collection of ten stories by authors from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint that remix myths for modern readers.

Aven Green, baking machine

Bowling, Dusti, author.

jFICTION Bowling Dusti

Aven knows she's an expert baker of cakes and cookies since she's been baking with her mom for a really long time. Plus no one bakes quite like her. She cracks eggs with her feet and measures sugar and flour with her feet (plus measuring cups) since she was born without arms. And now Aven has her eye on the prize: a beautiful blue ribbon for baking at the county fair.

Across the desert

Bowling, Dusti, author.

jFICTION Bowling Dusti

While using a public library computer to find help for her mother who is addicted to pain medicine, twelve-year-old Jolene witnesses a friend's livestreamed crash-landing in the Arizona desert and embarks on a journey to rescue her.

Song for Jimi

Smith, Charles R., Jr., 1969- author.

jBIOGRAPHY Hendrix, Jimi

The story of guitarist Jimi Hendrix's career told in verse.

City of the plague god

Chadda, Sarwat, author.

jFICTION Chadda Sarwat

Thirteen-year-old Sikander Aziz has to team up with the hero Gilgamesh in order to stop Nergal, the ancient god of plagues, from wiping out the population of Manhattan in this adventure based on Mesopotamian mythology.

Seek you : a journey through American loneliness

Radtke, Kristen, author, artist.

155.92 Radtke

When Kristen Radtke was in her twenties, she learned that, as her father was growing up, he would crawl onto his roof in rural Wisconsin and send signals out on his ham radio. Those CQ calls were his attempt to reach somebody--anybody--who would respond. In Seek You, Radtke uses this image as her jumping off point into a piercing exploration of loneliness and the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another.

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This marks the start of staff recommendations of 2021 Graphic Novels for all ages. "Seek You" and "Big Apple Diaries" tied with the most staff votes for this genre.
- Becky

Big Apple diaries

Bermudez, Alyssa, author, artist.


In Big Apple Diaries, a heartfelt diary-style graphic memoir by Alyssa Bermudez, a young New Yorker doodles her way through middle school--until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack leaves her wondering if she can ever be a kid again. Alyssa must find a new sense of self and purpose amidst all of the chaos, and find the strength to move forward with hope.

Friends forever

Hale, Shannon, author.


Shannon is in eighth grade, and life is more complicated than ever. Everything keeps changing, her classmates are starting to date each other (but nobody wants to date her!), and no matter how hard she tries, Shannon can never seem to just be happy. As she works through her insecurities and undiagnosed depression, she worries about disappointing all the people who care about her. Can she be the person everyone expects her to be? And who does she actually want to be?

The leak : for the love of truth

Petty, Kate Reed, author.


Ruth Keller is brash and precocious; she argues with her dentist, her parents, and her teachers. So, when she discovers a strange black slime in the man-made lake of her suburban neighborhood, she decides to investigate. This is a story about corruption, pollution, and freedom of the press, and the young journalist at the center of it all.

White all around

Wilfrid Lupano

Canterbury, Connecticut, 1832: a charming female boarding school has found success among the locals, with two dozen girls enrolled. Some in town question the purpose of educating young girls—but surely there's no harm in trying? At least not until the Prudence Crandall School announces its plans to start accepting black students. Thirty years before the abolition of slavery in the United States, in the so-called "free" North, these students will be met by a wave of hostility that puts the future of the school in question, and their very lives in peril. Even in the land of the free, not all of America's children are welcome.

The secret to superhuman strength

Bechdel, Alison, 1960- author.

BIOGRAPHY Bechdel, Alison

From the author of Fun Home, a profoundly affecting graphic memoir of Bechdel's lifelong love affair with exercise, set against a hilarious chronicle of fitness fads in our times.

Turtle in paradise : the graphic novel

Holm, Jennifer L., author.


In 1935, when her mother gets a job housekeeping for a woman who does not like children, eleven-year-old Turtle is sent to stay with relatives she has never met in far away Key West, Florida.

Dog Man

Pilkey, Dav, 1966- author, artist.


George and Harold create a new comic book hero in Dog Man, a crimefighter with the head of a police dog and the body of a policeman, who faces off against his archnemesis Petey the cat.

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Check out "Mothering Heights," the latest in the Dog Man series!
- Becky


Lai, Remy, author, illustrator.


Every Saturday, Pawcasso trots into town with a basket, a shopping list, and cash in paw to buy groceries for his family. One day, he passes eleven-year-old Jo, peering out the window of her house, bored and lonely. Astonished by the sight of an adorable basket-toting dog on his own, Jo follows Pawcasso, and when she's seen alongside him by a group of kids from her school, they mistake her for Pawcasso's owner. Excited to make new friends, Jo reluctantly hides the truth and agrees to let 'her' dog model for an art class the kids attend. What could go wrong?

Bad sister

Harper, Charise Mericle, author.


Meet Charise. She's energetic, helpful, a model pet owner and full of inventions. But she's also a bad sister. When she goes too far and breaks little brother Daniel's tooth, can she redeem herself? Is an accident really an accident if you could have stopped it? But most importantly... What does it mean to be a good sister?

The legend of auntie Po

Khor, Shing Yin, author, artist.


Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman's daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan--reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.

Lore Olympus

Smythe, Rachel (Comics artist), author, artist.


A reimagining of Persephone and Hades' story from Greek mythology. Scandalous gossip, wild parties, toxic relationships, power plays, and sex are all part of the lives of the gods that Persephone must navigate to find her own power.

Himawari House

Becker, Harmony, author, illustrator.


When Nao returns to Tokyo to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, she books a yearlong stay at the Himawari sharehouse. There she meets Hyejung and Tina, two other girls who came to Japan to freely forge their own paths. The trio live together, share meals, and even attend the same Japanese-language school, which results in them becoming fast friends. But will they be able to hold one another up as life tests them with new loves, old heart breaks, and the everyday challenges of being fish out of water?

We free the stars

Faizal, Hafsah, author.


The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan's Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya.

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"We Free the Stars" is the staff pick for the YA Best of 2021!
- Becky

Into the dark

Gray, Claudia, author.


Long before the First Order, before the Empire, before even The Phantom Menace...Jedi lit the way for the galaxy in The High Republic.

Any way the wind blows

Rowell, Rainbow, author.


Simon must decide whether he still wants to be part of the World of Mages-- and if he doesn't, what does that mean for his relationship with Baz?

A sitting in St. James

Williams-Garcia, Rita, author.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Williams-Garcia, Rita

1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family's indifference, to sit for a portrait. It will be a testament to all the hardships she overcame, the glory her life ought to have been. As she sits for the portrait, other stories are revealed: that of Thisbe, an enslaved woman who must stand silent by her mistress but observes everything. Or Byron, heir to the plantation, whose desires cannot fit with his family duty. Stories that span generations, and secrets that are buried as deep as the family fortune.

Concrete rose

Thomas, Angie, author.


Maverick feels strongly about family ties, making choices he feels necessary to help support his mom while his King father serves time, and leave him literally holding his son in a doctor's waiting room after he gets paternity test results back and his babymomma ghosts. Now the child he's raising is impacting the lives of his family and his girlfriend, and the gang life he led to support them all financially could leave them all bearing his responsibilities since it endangers his life. It looks like he may have been offered a chance to go straight, but leaving the King Lords won't be easy, and a "real" job has high demand for low return.

Skin of the sea

Bowen, Natasha, author.


Transformed by the goddess Yemoja into a Mami Wati, an African mermaid charged with collecting the souls of those who die at sea, Simi goes against the gods to save a living boy, Kola, from drowning.

Jade fire gold

Tan, June CL, author.


Ahn is no one, with no past and no family. Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child. When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her lethal magical abilities. But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Iron widow

Zhao, Xiran Jay, author.


Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

Aurora's end

Kaufman, Amie, author.


When we last saw Squad 312, they were working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally. But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite theirs.

Firekeeper's daughter

Boulley, Angeline, author.


Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, either in her hometown or on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of college, but when her family is struck by tragedy she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, a new recruit on her brother Levi's hockey team. When Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, she reluctantly agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source of a new drug. How far will she go to protect her community, if it threatens to tear apart the only world she's ever known?

Razorblade tears

Cosby, S. A., author.


A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance. Provocative and fast-paced, S. A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears is a story of bloody retribution, heartfelt change - and maybe even redemption.

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Starting the list of recommended 2021 mystery titles with ICPL staff's choice for best mystery, "Razorblade Tears."
- Becky

Lady Joker

Takamura, Kaoru, 1953- author.

FICTION Takamura, Kaoru

This tour-de-force is widely regarded as the quintessential post-WWII Japanese novel. A plan to kidnap a major corporation's CEO becomes an allegory for the alienation of the individual self, a mirror to modern-day Japanese identity.

The lost village

Sten, Camilla, 1992- author.

FICTION Sten Camilla

The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Velvet was the night

Moreno-Garcia, Silvia, author.

FICTION Moreno-Garcia, Silvia

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a riveting noir about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome thug, and the mystery of the missing woman that brings them together.

The plot

Korelitz, Jean Hanff, 1961- author.

FICTION Korelitz Jean

When Jacob Finch Bonner discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that - a story that absolutely needs to be told. In a few short years, all of student's predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says. As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his "sure thing" of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

The night hawks : a Ruth Galloway mystery

Griffiths, Elly, author.

MYSTERY Griffiths, Elly

North Norfolk. The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, uncover a Bronze Age hoard on the beach-- near a recently deceased body. Not long after, the same group uncover the apparent murder-suicide of a scientist and his wife at the isolated Black Dog Farm. The farm has long been said to be haunted by the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die.

The man who died twice : a Thursday murder club mystery

Osman, Richard, 1970- author.

MYSTERY Osman Richard

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim - the Thursday Murder Club - are still riding high off their recent real-life murder case and are looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet at Cooper's Chase, their posh retirement village. But they are out of luck. An unexpected visitor - an old pal of Elizabeth's (or perhaps more than just a pal?) - arrives, desperate for her help. He has been accused of stealing diamonds worth millions from the wrong men, and he's seriously on the lam. Then, as night follows day, the first body is found.

The other Black girl : a novel

Harris, Zakiya Dalila, author.

FICTION Harris Zakiya

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing. A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

The grandmother plot

Cooney, Caroline B., author.

MYSTERY Cooney Caroline

Freddy leads a life of little responsibility, following his own meandering path. His only real attachment is to his memory-challenged grandmother, whose nursing home he regularly visits. When another nursing home resident is murdered, though, Freddy panics. To stay safe, he'll have to straighten up and face the music.

The turnout : a novel

Abbott, Megan E., 1971- author.

FICTION Abbott Megan

Ballet flows through their veins; Dara and Marie Durant were homeschooled and trained by their mother. Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara's husband and once their mother's prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie teaches the younger students; Dara trains the older ones; and Charlie, sidelined after years of injuries, rules over the back office. They keep the studio thriving-- until a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school's annual performance of The Nutcracker. Then an interloper arrives, and threatens the delicate balance.

Project Hail Mary : a novel

Weir, Andy, author.


Ryland Grace has been asleep for a very, very long time. He's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. He can't remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

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This marks the start of staff recommendations for 2021 sci-fi and fantasy novels! "Project Hail Mary" received the most votes for this genre.
- Becky

Once more upon a time

Chokshi, Roshani, author.


A fairy tale prince and princess get a second chance at getting what they truly desire in this dazzling tale as they embark on an enchanted road trip and encounter a delightful cast of magical characters. Imelda and Ambrose have forgotten why they got together in the first place. After a whirlwind courtship and a fairy-tale wedding, they embark on life together as royalty of Loves Keep. But when Imelda is in trouble, Ambrose sacrifices their love to save her life, little knowing that the loss of their love will jeopardize the entire kingdom...

Leviathan falls

Corey, James S. A., author.


The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

The galaxy, and the ground within

Chambers, Becky, author.


With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.


Solomon, Rivers, author.


Vern escapes the religious compound where she was raised and gives birth to twins in the forest, raising them away from the influence of the outside world. Her community won't let her go that easily, however, and as they pursue, she breaks the boundaries of humanity, changing her body in uncanny ways in order to protect her family.

The wolf and the woodsman : a novel

Reid, Ava, author.


In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline-- her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king's blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered. Monsters attack en route, slaughtering everyone except Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain. But he's no ordinary Woodsman.

Breaking badger

Laurenston, Shelly, author.

FICTION Laurenst Shelly

It's instinct that drives Finn Malone to rescue a bunch of hard battling honey badgers. The Siberian tiger shifter just can't bear to see his fellow shifters harmed. But no way can Finn have a houseful of honey badgers when he also has two brothers with no patience. Things just go from bad to worse when the badgers rudely ejected from his home turn out to be the only ones who can help him solve a family tragedy.

Fugitive telemetry

Wells, Martha, author.


When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people-who knew?) Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! Again!

The last graduate : a novel

Novik, Naomi, author.


A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education.

Act your age, Eve Brown

Hibbert, Talia, author.

FICTION Hibbert Talia

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong--so she's given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It's time for Eve to grow up and prove herself even though she's not entirely sure how. Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner is on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell.

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This marks the start of staff recommendations for 2021 romance novels! "Act your age, Eve Brown" received the most votes for this genre.
- Becky

One last stop

McQuiston, Casey, author.

FICTION McQuiston, Casey

From the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue comes a new romantic comedy that will stop readers in their tracks... Casey McQuiston's One Last Stop is a sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

Honey girl

Rogers, Morgan, author.

FICTION Rogers Morgan

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, 28-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls' trip to Vegas to celebrate. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn't know, until she does exactly that.

The layover

Waldon, Lacie, author.

FICTION Waldon Lacie

After ten years as a flight attendant, Ava Greene has one trip left before she bids her old life farewell, and she plans to enjoy every second of it. Then she discovers that former pilot Jack Stone, whom she's held a secret grudge against for years, is on her flight. When their plane encounters mechanical problems, what should have been a quick stop at the Belize airport suddenly becomes a weekend layover.

The Shaadi set-up : a novel

Vale, Lillie, author.

FICTION Vale Lillie

In this witty and heartfelt rom-com debut for fans of Jasmine Guillory, Emily Henry, and Tessa Bailey, an Indian American woman signs herself and her boyfriend up for a matchmaking site to prove they're a perfect match, only to be paired with her ex instead.

Second first impressions : a novel

Thorne, Sally, 1981- author.

FICTION Thorne Sally

An advertisement has been placed (again!) by the wealthy and eccentric Parloni Sisters. The salary is generous and the employers are 90 years old, so how hard could the job be? Well, none have lasted longer than a week.

The dating plan

Desai, Sara, author.

FICTION Desai Sara

Without rules, these fake fiancés might accidentally fall for each other in this romantic comedy by the author of The Marriage Game.

The dating playbook

Rochon, Farrah, author.

FICTION Rochon Farrah

When it comes to personal training, Taylor Powell kicks serious butt. Unfortunately, her bills are piling up, rent is due, and the money situation is dire. Taylor needs more than the support of her new best friends, Samiah and London. She needs a miracle. And Jamar Dixon might just be it.

A lot like adiós : a novel

Daria, Alexis, author.

FICTION Daria Alexis

After burning out in her corporate marketing career, Michelle Amato has built a thriving freelance business as a graphic designer. So what if her love life is nonexistent? She's perfectly fine being the black sheep of her marriage-obsessed Puerto Rican-Italian family. Besides, the only guy who ever made her want happily-ever-after disappeared thirteen years ago.

Ten rules for faking it

Sullivan, Sophie, 1976- author.

FICTION Sullivan Sophie

What happens when your love life becomes the talk of the town? As birthdays go, this year's for radio producer Everly Dean hit rock-bottom. But this is Everly's year! She won't let her anxiety hold her back.

The love hypothesis

Hazelwood, Ali, author.

FICTION Hazelwood, Ali

When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman's carefully calculated theories on love into chaos. As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn't believe in lasting romantic relationships--but her best friend does, and that's what got her into this situation.

People we meet on vacation

Henry, Emily, author.

FICTION Henry Emily

When Poppy met Alex, there was no spark, no chemistry, and no reason to think they'd ever talk again. Alex is quiet, studious, and destined for a future in academia. Poppy is a wild child who only came to U of Chicago to escape small-town life. But after sharing a ride home for the summer, the two form a surprising friendship.

Isn't it bromantic?

Adams, Lyssa Kay, author.

FICTION Adams Lyssa

As the daughter of a Russian journalist who mysteriously disappeared, Elena Konnikova escaped danger the only way she knew how: She married her childhood friend, Vladimir, and moved to the United States, where he is a professional hockey player in Nashville. Vlad thought he could be content with his marriage of convenience. But it's become too difficult to continue in a one-sided relationship. He joined the Bromance Book Club to learn how to make his wife love him, but all he's learned is that he deserves more.

Crying in H Mart

Zauner, Michelle, author.

BIOGRAPHY Zauner, Michelle

From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean-American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.

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This marks the start of staff recommendations for 2021 Biographies/Memoirs. "Crying in H Mart" received the most votes for this genre.
- Becky

Girlhood : essays

Febos, Melissa, author.

155.333 /Febos

When her body began to change at eleven years old, Febos understood immediately that her meaning to other people had changed with it. Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny.

The history of bones : a memoir

Lurie, John, 1952- author.

780.92 /Lurie

The book is full of grime and frank humor--Lurie pulls no punches and bars no holds in his descriptions of the frothy whirlpool of the East Village at that time. His story is a journey back to one of the most significant moments in our cultural history, one whose reverberations are still strongly felt today.

The ugly cry : a memoir

Henderson, Danielle, author.

BIOGRAPHY Henderson, Danielle

Abandoned at ten by a mother who chose her drug-addicted, abusive boyfriend, Henderson was raised by grandparents. She grew up Black, weird, and overwhelmingly uncool in a predominantly white town in upstate New York, which created its own identity crises. Here she shares how she found the strength and smarts to save herself, as her grandmother gifted her a faith in her own capabilities that the world would not have most Black girls possess.

Somebody's daughter : a memoir

Ford, Ashley C., author.

BIOGRAPHY Ford, Ashley C.

One of the most prominent voices of her generation debuts with an extraordinarily powerful memoir: the story of a childhood defined by the ever looming absence of her incarcerated father and the path we must take to both honor and overcome our origins.

Beautiful country : a memoir

Wang, Qian Julie, 1987- author.

BIOGRAPHY Wang, Qian Julie

Searing and unforgettable, Beautiful Country is an essential book about the cost of making a home in a hostile land from an astonishing new talent.

Broken horses : a memoir

Carlile, Brandi, author.

781.66092 /Carlile

Brandi Carlile was born into a musically gifted, impoverished family on the outskirts of Seattle and grew up in a constant state of change, moving from house to house, trailer to trailer, fourteen times in as many years. Though imperfect in every way, her dysfunctional childhood was as beautiful as it was strange, and as nurturing as it was difficult.

Tastes like war : a memoir

Cho, Grace M., author.


Grace M. Cho grew up in a small, rural American town as the daughter of a white American merchant marine and the Korean bar hostess he met abroad. When Grace was fifteen, her Korean mother experienced the onset of schizophrenia, a condition that would continue for the rest of her life. Part food memoir, part sociological investigation, TASTES LIKE WAR is a hybrid text about a daughter's search through intimate and global history to understand herself and the cultural roots of her mother's condition.

These precious days : essays

Patchett, Ann, author.

814.54 /Patchett

As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart. At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a surprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores "what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.

A world without email : reimagining work in an age of communication overload

Newport, Cal, author.

384.34 /Newport

Outlines recommendations for business leaders on how to maximize a working team's professional productivity by improving administrative support and streamlining digital traffic.

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This marks the start of staff recommendations for 2021 nonfiction. "A world without email" received the most votes for this genre.
- Becky

Think again : the power of knowing what you don't know

Grant, Adam M., author.

153.42 /Grant

Think Again is a book about the benefit of doubt, and about how we can get better at embracing the unknown and the joy of being wrong.

The premonition : a pandemic story

Lewis, Michael (Michael M.), author.

614.592414 /Lewis

For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But the president insisted there was nothing to worry about. Fortunately, we are still a nation of skeptics. Fortunately, there are those among us who study pandemics and are willing to look unflinchingly at worst-case scenarios. Michael Lewis's taut and brilliant nonfiction thriller pits a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Afrominimalist's guide to living with less

Platt, Christine A., 1976- author.

640 /Platt

Platt presents a radical revisioning of minimalism, one that celebrates the importance of history and heritage, and gives you permission to make space for what really matters-- your way.

The sum of us : what racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together

McGhee, Heather C., author.

305.8 /McGhee

Heather C. McGhee's specialty is the American economy, and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. As she dug into subject after subject, from the financial crisis to declining wages to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common problem at the bottom of them all: racism, but not just in the obvious ways that hurt people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too.

Yours cruelly, Elvira : memoirs of the mistress of the dark

Elvira, 1951- author.

791.45028092 /Elvira

Yours Cruelly, Elvira is an unforgettably wild memoir. Always original and sometimes outrageous, her story is loaded with twists, travails, revelry, and downright shocking experiences. It is the candid, often funny, and sometimes heart-breaking tale of a Midwest farm girl's long strange trip to become the world's sexiest, sassiest Halloween icon.

The hill we climb : an inaugural poem for the country

Gorman, Amanda, 1998- author.

811.6 /Gorman

On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the sixth and youngest poet, at age twenty-two, to deliver a poetry reading at a presidential inauguration. Her inaugural poem, "The Hill We Climb," is now available to cherish in this special edition.

High conflict : why we get trapped and how we get out

Ripley, Amanda, author.

303.6 /Ripley

Ripley investigates how good people get captured by high conflict-- and how they break free. She interviews people who were drawn into high conflict, and shows how they found ways to rehumanize and recategorize their opponents, even as they continued to fight for what they knew was right.

Courage is calling : fortune favors the brave

Holiday, Ryan, author.

179.6 /Holiday

Courage Is Calling will show you how you, too, can be courageous in all aspects of your life, and thus, find goodness and strength within yourself.

On Juneteenth

Gordon-Reed, Annette, author.

394.263 /Gordon-Reed

Interweaving American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed, the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas in the 1850s, recounts the origins of Juneteenth and explores the legacies of the holiday that remain with us.

Work won't love you back : how devotion to our jobs keeps us exploited, exhausted, and alone

Jaffe, Sarah, 1980- author.

331.2 /Jaffe

You're told that if you "do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." Whether it's working for "exposure" and "experience," or enduring poor treatment in the name of "being part of the family," all employees are pushed to make sacrifices for the privilege of being able to do what we love. In Work Won't Love You Back, Sarah Jaffe, a preeminent voice on labor, inequality, and social movements, examines this "labor of love" myth -- the idea that certain work is not really work, and therefore should be done out of passion instead of pay.

All that she carried : the journey of Ashley's sack, a Black family keepsake

Miles, Tiya, 1970- author.

306.362 /Miles

Sitting in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is a rough cotton bag, called "Ashley's Sack," embroidered with just a handful of words that evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations.

Press reset : ruin and recovery in the video game industry

Schreier, Jason, author.

794.8 /Schreier

The business of videogames is both a prestige industry and a very opaque one. Based on dozens of firsthand interviews and covering the development of landmark games including Bioshock: Infinite, Epic Mickey, Dead Space, and more, and through the studios' shocking closures, this book will tell the stories of how real people are affected by game studio shutdowns -- and how and if they recover.

The New York Times cooking. No-recipe recipes

Sifton, Sam, author.

641.555 /Sifton

Cooking without recipes is a kitchen skill, same as cutting vegetables into dice or flipping an omelet. Sifton makes improvisational cooking easy. Each recipe uses ingredients you have on hand or could pick up on a quick trip to the store.

You'll never believe what happened to Lacey : crazy stories about racism

Ruffin, Amber, author.

305.896 /Ruffin

Amber Ruffin writes with her sister Lacey Lamar with humor and heart to share absurd anecdotes about everyday experiences of racism. Amber and Lacey share these entertainingly horrifying stories through their laugh-out-loud sisterly banter. Painfully relatable or shockingly eye-opening (depending on how often you have personally been followed by security at department stores), this book tackles modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.

This is your mind on plants

Pollan, Michael, author.

581.6 /Pollan

Of all the things humans rely on plants for-- sustenance, beauty, fragrance, flavor, fiber-- surely the most curious is our use of them is to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs-- opium, caffeine, and mescaline-- and explores the cultures that have grown up around these drugs.

Klara and the sun

Ishiguro, Kazuo, 1954- author.

FICTION Ishiguro Kazuo

In this luminous tale, Klara and the Sun, Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly changing modern world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

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This is the beginning of the 2021 ICPL recommended fiction titles. "Klara and the Sun" received the highest number of staff votes!
- Becky

Something new under the sun : a novel

Kleeman, Alexandra, author.

FICTION Kleeman, Alexandra

East-coast novelist Patrick Hamlin has come to Hollywood with simple goals in mind: overseeing the production of a film adaptation of one of his books, preventing starlet Cassidy Carter's disruptive behavior from derailing said production, and turning this last-ditch effort at career resuscitation into the sort of success that will dazzle his wife and daughter back home. But California is not as he imagined: drought, wildfire, and corporate corruption are omnipresent, and the company behind a mysterious new brand of synthetic water seems to be at the root of it all.

Milk fed : a novel

Broder, Melissa, author.

FICTION Broder Melissa

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam--by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family--and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

Damnation spring : a novel

Davidson, Ash, author.

FICTION Davidson Ash

For generations, Rich Gundersen's family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California's rugged coast. Rich and his wife, Colleen, are raising their own young son near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich's employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. When the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge, costing them all their savings, he grabs it. But Colleen has lost several pregnancies, and she isn't alone. The herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless, but what if these miscarriages aren't isolated strokes of bad luck? Her search for answers will divide a town that lives and dies on timber.

Apples never fall : a novel

Moriarty, Liane, author.

FICTION Moriarty Liane

Stan and Joy Delaney are killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they've finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. Then a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy's door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, and the Delaneys help her. Later, when Joy goes missing, Savannah is nowhere to be found. The police question the one person who remains: Stan. He's hiding something, and soon all of the Delaneys will reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

Early morning riser

Heiny, Katherine, author.

FICTION Heiny, Katherine

A wise, bighearted, boundlessly joyful novel of love, disaster, and unconventional family from the celebrated author of Standard Deviation.

How beautiful we were : a novel

Mbue, Imbolo, author.

FICTION Mbue Imbolo

'We should have known the end was near.' So begins Imbolo Mbue's exquisite and devastating novel How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by a large and powerful American oil company.

The final girl support group

Hendrix, Grady, author.

FICTION Hendrix Grady

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires.

Harlem shuffle

Whitehead, Colson, 1969- author.

FICTION Whitehead, Colson

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It's a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem. But mostly, it's a joy to read, another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Colson Whitehead.

How lucky : a novel

Leitch, Will, author.

FICTION Leitch Will

Daniel considers himself to be a mostly lucky guy - despite the fact that he's suffered from a debilitating disease since he was a small child, one that has left him unable to speak or to move without a wheelchair. Largely confined to his home, Daniel spends the hours he's not online communicating with irate air travelers observing his neighborhood from his front porch. One young woman passes by so frequently that spotting her out the window has almost become part of his daily routine. Until the day he's almost sure he sees her being kidnapped.

Outlawed : a novel

North, Anna, author.

FICTION North Anna

The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.

A slow fire burning

Hawkins, Paula, author.

FICTION Hawkins Paula

When a young man is found gruesomely murdered in a London houseboat, it triggers questions about three women who knew him. Laura is the troubled one-night-stand last seen in the victim's home. Carla is his grief-stricken aunt, already mourning the recent death of yet another family member. And Miriam is the nosy neighbor clearly keeping secrets from the police. Three women with separate connections to the victim. Three women who are, for different reasons, simmering with resentment.

Good neighbors : a novel

Langan, Sarah, author.

FICTION Langan Sarah

Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world.

The Lincoln highway

Towles, Amor, author.

FICTION Towles Amor

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett's intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett's future.

A thousand ships : a novel

Haynes, Natalie, author.

FICTION Haynes Natalie

A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspectives of its women follows the stories of a vigil-keeping Penelope, an Amazon princess rival of Achilles, and three goddesses whose feud sparks a tragic conflict.

Nightbitch : a novel

Yoder, Rachel, 1978- author.

FICTION Yoder Rachel

An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler's demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck; her canines look sharper than she remembers. Her husband dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms.

Of women and salt

Garcia, Gabriela, 1984- author.

FICTION Garcia Gabriela

Present-day Miami. Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt.

Cloud cuckoo land : a novel

Doerr, Anthony, 1973- author.

FICTION Doerr Anthony

Constantinople, 1453: Anna lives in a convent where women toil all day embroidering the robes of priests. She learns the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to the paradise of Cloud Cuckoo Land, a better world, and reads it to her sister as the walls of Constantinople are bombarded by armies of Saracens. Lakeport, Idaho, 2020: Seymour, an activist bent on saving the earth, sits in the public library with two homemade bombs in pressure cookers. Upstairs, eighty-five-year old Zeno, a former prisoner-of-war, and an amateur translator, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon's adventures.

The women of Troy : a novel

Barker, Pat, 1943- author.

FICTION Barker Pat

Troy has fallen and the victorious Greeks are eager to return home with the spoils of an endless war--including the women of Troy themselves. They await a fair wind for the Aegean; it does not come, because the gods are offended.

Northern spy

Berry, Flynn, 1986- author.

FICTION Berry Flynn

A producer at the Belfast bureau of the BBC, Tessa is at work one day when the news of another raid comes on the air. The IRA may have gone underground after the Good Friday agreement, but they never really went away, and lately, bomb threats, arms drops, and helicopters floating ominously over the city have become features of everyday life.

Dream girl : a novel

Lippman, Laura, 1959- author.

FICTION Lippman, Laura

Injured in a freak accident, novelist Gerry Andersen lies in a hospital bed in his glamorous but sterile apartment, isolated from the busy world he can see through his windows. He is utterly dependent on two women he barely knows: his young assistant and a night nurse whose competency he questions. As he moves in and out of dreamlike memories and seemingly random appearances of a persistent ex-girlfriend at his bedside, Gerry fears he may be losing his grip on reality.

The love songs of W.E.B. Du Bois : a novel

Jeffers, Honorée Fanonne, 1967- author.

FICTION Jeffers Honoree

The great scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, once wrote about what he called "Double Consciousness," a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that's made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma. To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family's past. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story - and the song - of America itself

Malibu rising : a novel

Reid, Taylor Jenkins, author.

FICTION Reid Taylor

August 1983. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their baby sister, Kit. The siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over-- especially as the offspring of legendary singer Mick Riva.

Beautiful world, where are you

Rooney, Sally, author.

FICTION Rooney Sally

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young--but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

The inheritance of Orquídea Divina : a novel

Córdova, Zoraida, author.

FICTION Cordova Zoraida

Perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, and Sarah Addison Allen, this is a gorgeously written novel about a family searching for the truth hidden in their past and the power they've inherited.


Groff, Lauren, author.

FICTION Groff Lauren

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. Lauren Groff's new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.

Hell of a book : or the altogether factual, Wholly Bona Fide story of a big dreams, hard luck, American-Made Mad Kid

Mott, Jason, author.

FICTION Mott Jason

Soot, a young Black boy, lives in a rural town in the recent past. The Kid, a possibly imaginary child appears to a Black author on a cross-country publicity tour. to promote his bestselling novel. As their stories build and converge, they astonish. As the nation reckons with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news, what it can mean to be Black in America? Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind?