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Staff Picks 2020

During quarantine, the Pollard Library staff had plenty of time to read. Here are some of our favorite books published this year.

Although the library building is closed to visitors, you can still request items to be picked up curbside. Simply place a hold or fill out our request form. We’ll let you know when your items are ready, and you can call us to schedule your pickup. Our new curbside hours are: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday 10-5; Tuesday 11-7, and Saturday 10-1. Please note that there may be a waiting list for some of these books.

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson

Known as the ‘American Sherlock Holmes,’ Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest forensic scientists, with a skill level that seemed almost supernatural. Heinrich spearheaded the invention of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious – some would say fatal – flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation. Based on years of research, American Sherlock captures Heinrich’s life, work, and legacy.

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Barker House by David Moloney

David Moloney’s Barker House follows the story of nine unforgettable New Hampshire correctional officers over the course of one year on the job. While veteran guards get by on what they consider survival strategies–including sadistic power-mongering and obsessive voyeurism–two rookies, including the only female officer on her shift, develop their own tactics for facing “the system.” Tracking their subtly intertwined lives, Barker House reveals the precarious world of the jailers, coming to a head when the unexpected death of one in their ranks brings them together. David Moloney’s Barker House follows the story of nine unforgettable New Hampshire correctional officers over the course of one year on the job. While veteran guards get by on what they consider survival strategies–including sadistic power-mongering and obsessive voyeurism–two rookies, including the only female officer on her shift, develop their own tactics for facing “the system.” Tracking their subtly intertwined lives, Barker House reveals the precarious world of the jailers, coming to a head when the unexpected death of one in their ranks brings them together.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters. Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast. They’re polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block. Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. But as the summer stretches on, January discovers a gaping plot hole in the story she’s been telling herself about her own life, and begins to wonder what other things she might have gotten wrong, including her ideas about the man next door.

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Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Suspended unjustly from elite Middlefield Prep, Donte Ellison studies fencing with a former champion, hoping to put the racist fencing team captain in his place.

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The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years–a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names. The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II–an experience Eva remembers well–and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from–or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer–but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war? As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yadriel, a trans boy, summons the angry spirit of his high school’s bad boy, and agrees to help him learn how he died, thereby proving himself a brujo, not a bruja, to his conservative family.

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A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

This novel follows a group of children and their families on summer vacation at a lakeside mansion. The teenage narrator Eve and the other children are contemptuous of their parents, who spend the days and nights in drunken stupor. This tension heightens when a great storm arrives and throws the house and its residents into chaos. Named for a picture Bible given to Eve’s little brother Jack, A Children’s Bible is loosely structured around events and characters that often appear in collections of Bible stories intended for young readers. These narrative touchstones are imbedded in a backdrop of environmental and psychological distress as the children reject the parents for their emotional and moral failures-in part as normal teenagers must, and in part for their generation’s passivity and denial in the face of cataclysmic change. In A Children’s Bible, Millet offers brilliant commentary on the environment and human weakness and a vision of what awaits us on the other side of Revelations.

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Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: A Novel by Deepa Anappara

Based on a true story–Nine-year-old Jai watches too many reality police shows, thinks he’s smarter than his friend Pari (even though she gets the best grades), and considers himself to be a better boss than Faiz (even though Faiz is the one with a job). When a classmate goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from TV to find him. He asks Pari and Faiz to be his assistants and together they draw up lists of people to interview and places to visit. But what begins as a game turns sinister as other children start disappearing from their neighborhood. Jai, Pari, and Faiz have to confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force, and their fears of soul-snatching djinns. As the disappearances edge ever closer to home, the lives of Jai and his friends will never be the same again. At times exuberant, at times heartbreaking, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line traces the unfolding of a tragedy while capturing the fierce warmth and resilience of a community forged in times of trouble.

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The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land. During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea , Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist — is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors. Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land. In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom.

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Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best by Neal Bascomb

For fans of Boys in the Boat and In the Garden of Beasts, the pulse-pounding story of how a Jewish race car driver and an American speed queen triumphed over Hitler’s fearsome Silver Arrows on the eve of World War II.

The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka

On the day of their estranged father’s wedding, half-sisters Cheyenne and Livy set off to claim their inheritance. It’s been years since the two have seen each other. Cheyenne is newly back in Seattle, crashing with Livy after a failed marriage and a series of dead ends. Livy works refinishing boats, her resentment against her free-loading sister growing as she tamps down dreams of fishing off the coast of Alaska. But the promise of a shot at financial security brings the two together to claim what’s theirs. Except: instead of money, their father gives them information-a name-that both reveals a stunning secret and compels them to come to grips with it. Parallel and individually, the sisters and their adopted brother set out on journeys that will test their faith in each other, as well as their definitions of freedom. Moving from Seattle’s underground to the docks of the Far North, from the hideaways of the southern swamps to the storied reaches of the Great Offshore Grounds, Veselka spins a tale with boundless verve and linguistic vitality, a deep interrogation of American greed and mythology, and an undeniable tenderness-it is the first great post-capitalist novel of the 21st century.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound-and dangerous-secrets hidden within its walls?

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Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu *National Book Award Winner*

From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe comes a deeply personal novel about race, pop culture, assimilation, and escaping the roles we are forced to play.

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Making a Faustian bargain to live forever but never be remembered, a woman from early eighteenth-century France endures unacknowledged centuries before meeting a man who remembers her name.

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Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

To discover the truth behind her mother’s mysterious death, a teen girl infiltrates a magical secret society claiming to be the descendants of King Arthur and his knights.

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The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

It is 1953. Thomas Wazhushk is the night watchman at the first factory to open near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a prominent Chippewa Council member, trying to understand a new bill that is soon to be put before Congress. The US Government calls it an ’emancipation’ bill; but it isn’t about freedom – it threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their very identity. How can he fight this betrayal? Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Pixie – ‘Patrice’ – Paranteau has no desire to wear herself down on a husband and kids. She works at the factory, earning barely enough to support her mother and brother, let alone her alcoholic father who sometimes returns home to bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to get if she’s ever going to get to Minnesota to find her missing sister Vera. In The Night Watchman multi-award winning author Louise Erdrich weaves together a story of past and future generations, of preservation and progress. She grapples with the worst and best impulses of human nature, illuminating the loves and lives, desires and ambitions of her characters with compassion, wit and intelligence.

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Nobody Will Tell You This but Me: A True (as Told to Me) Story by Bess Kalb

A funny, warm, original memoir in which a grandmother speaks to her granddaughter from beyond the grave, telling, with candor and humor, stories from both their lives–of kinship, loyalty, tenacity, and love.

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Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality. Piranesi’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. For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

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Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

When Ruby King’s mother is found murdered in their home in Chicago’s South Side, the police dismiss it as another act of violence in a black neighborhood. But for Ruby, it’s a devastating loss that leaves her on her own with her violent father. While she receives many condolences, her best friend, Layla, is the only one who understands how this puts Ruby in jeopardy. Their closeness is tested when Layla’s father, the pastor of their church, demands that Layla stay away. But what is the price for turning a blind eye? In a relentless quest to save Ruby, Layla uncovers the murky loyalties and dangerous secrets that have bound their families together for generations. Only by facing this legacy of trauma head-on will Ruby be able to break free.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

A 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.

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Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

Three Hours in Paris is the story of Kate Rees, the young American markswoman who has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris on the dangerous business of trying to assassinate the Fuhrer. A country girl from rural Oregon-a grieving widow with no spy training but a vendetta and a lot of gumption-now has the state of the entire war in her hands. When the hit goes badly wrong, Kate is on the run for her life-all the time wrestling with the suspicion that the whole operation was a set-up. Beloved author Cara Black-author of the New York Times bestselling Aimée Leduc Parisian private investigator series-brings Occupation-era Paris to vivid life in this pulse-pounding, richly detailed story about one young American woman with the moxie to take on Hitler himself.

Universe of Two by Stephen Kiernan

Keynote From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption-a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar life seeking redemption-and they find it together. Internal Description Graduating from Harvard at the height of World War II, brilliant mathematician Charlie Fish is assigned to the Manhattan Project. Working with some of the age’s greatest scientific minds, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, Charlie is assigned the task of designing and building the detonator of the atomic bomb. As he performs that work Charlie suffers a crisis of conscience, which his wife, Brenda-unaware of the true nature of Charlie’s top-secret task-mistakes as self-doubt. She urges him to set aside his qualms and continue. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda. At the war’s end, Charlie receives a scholarship to pursue a PhD in physics at Stanford-an opportunity he and Brenda hope will allow them a fresh start. But the past proves inescapable. All any of his new colleagues can talk about is the bomb, and what greater atomic weapons might be on the horizon. Haunted by guilt, Charlie and Brenda leave Stanford and decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to making amends for the evil he helped to birth into the world. Based on the life of the actual mathematician Charles B. Fisk, Universe of Two combines riveting historical drama with a poignant love story. Stephen Kiernan has conjured a remarkable account of two people struggling to heal their consciences and find peace in a world forever changed. ONIX Retailer Description “Stephen Kiernan has pulled off the nearly impossible … The most tender, terrifying, relevant book you’ll read this year.”–Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Lost Family From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption-a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar life seeking redemption-and they find it together. Graduating from Harvard at the height of World War II, brilliant mathematician Charlie Fish is assigned to the Manhattan Project. Working with some of the age’s greatest scientific minds, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, Charlie is assigned the task of designing and building the detonator of the atomic bomb. As he performs that work Charlie suffers a crisis of conscience, which his wife, Brenda-unaware of the true nature of Charlie’s top-secret task-mistakes as self-doubt. She urges him to set aside his qualms and continue. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda. At the war’s end, Charlie receives a scholarship to pursue a PhD in physics at Stanford-an opportunity he and Brenda hope will allow them a fresh start. But the past proves inescapable. All any of his new colleagues can talk about is the bomb, and what greater atomic weapons might be on the horizon. Haunted by guilt, Charlie and Brenda leave Stanford and decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to making amends for the evil he helped to birth into the world. Based on the life of the actual mathematician Charles B. Fisk, Universe of Two combines riveting historical drama with a poignant love story. Stephen Kiernan has conjured a remarkable account of two people struggling to heal their consciences and find peace in a world forever changed.

You Know I’m No Good by Jessie Ann Foley

Mia is officially a Troubled Teen”–she gets bad grades, drinks too much, and has probably gone too far with too many guys. But she doesn’t realize how out of control she seems until she is taken from her home in the middle of the night and sent away to Red Oak Academy, a therapeutic girls’ boarding school in the middle of nowhere. While there, Mia is forced to confront her painful past at the same time she questions why she’s at Red Oak. If she were a boy, would her behavior be considered wild enough to get sent away? But what happens when circumstances outside of her control compel Mia to make herself vulnerable enough to be truly seen?