Staff Picks 2020, Part 2

A recurring topic of discussion amongst the staff is how our reading changed this year. One would think, given the time we all found ourselves with during the shutdown that many of us would have made progress on our “To Read” lists, but that was not so. There was a shift to shorter novels, or novels that brought comfort to the reader (however the reader defines comfort), and many of us even stopped reading for a time. What about you? Did you notice changes to your patterns of reading?

Cyndi’s Top Picks of 2020:

If Cyndi had any lingering doubts that the challenges presented by 2020 has impacted her level of concentration, reviewing the titles she has chosen for her top picks made it very obvious. She has always read and enjoyed graphic novels and novels in verse, but all of her top picks for 2020 are those exclusively.

The Hill House graphic novel series by various authors:

The Farmhand series by Rob Guillory:

The Middlewest series by Skottie Young:

Cyndi’s favorite stand alone graphic novels, with the adaptation of Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down being her No. 1 pick for 2020, are:

Two novels in verse made this year’s cut:

Emma’s To Read list only got longer this year, but, though she didn’t read as much as normal, she did find some favorites. They are:

Emma’s favorites include an audio book version of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series:

And to wrap up Emma’s list is The Little Witch by M. Rickert. It is a short story that you can read online. To read it, click here or on the image below.

Jen’s Top Picks:

My reading patterns were definitely impacted by covid. I began a number of books only to put them down thinking I don’t care. There were a couple of months where I didn’t read anything, but in retrospect this made my favorites even more favored.

Audio books:

Tom Hanks reads The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and you do not want to miss out on his performance. Patchett’s writing is enjoyable to read, and it absolutely shines with Hanks’ execution. Is there anything Hanks can’t do?

Amor Towles’ book A Gentleman in Moscow was favored among patrons when it was released in 2016 and it is still checked out with great frequency. It was not until this past summer that I listened to it. After hearing Nicholas Guy Smith’s reading, I wondered why it took me so long to get to it. The writing, the performance, the depth of characters, the turn of phrases all combine to make a beautiful, sad-that-it’s-over story.

I almost returned The Searcher by Tana French and read by Roger Clark without even trying it. I just felt rushed for time, but I found myself alone one evening, so I popped the cd into my player and after the first few minutes, I made opportunities in my schedule to finish it. Whether I was washing dishes or finishing a gift for someone for the holidays, I listened to French’s newest novel. A former police officer from the United States retires to a quiet Irish village only to be persuaded to find out what happened to a missing local lad. I have always enjoyed French’s mysteries and this was no exception.


Though it is a short book, Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma should not be underestimated. A gothic tale, this dragon story set in Great Britain was a delight. I enjoyed it so much that I actually bought a copy.

This is one of those children’s books that, I think, adults would enjoy as well. Witty and smart, it is a tale of a thief whose boasting finally ends him up in trouble. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is an award winner and a thoughtful, entertaining read.

I first saw this book when it came through as an Inter-Library Loan. A Kingdom Far and Clear: the Complete Swan Lake Trilogy by Mark Helprin and illustrated Chris Van Allsburg is a beautiful book. The illustrations are luxurious and add so much to the story. Though presented as a fairy tale story, it does not sugar coat reality or follow the happy-ever-after trope.

I could not put down My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. I devoured it in almost one sitting. (I did finally have to put it down long enough to eat.) I found it sad, hilarious, and entertaining. The characters were so real. In the end, I wondered who the real serial killer actually was.

Mariah’s Top Picks:

My friend told me I HAD to watch this and SHE WAS RIGHT.  Schitt’s Creek made me laugh, then tear up, then laughcry, and then laugh some more.  This show is so bighearted, and the character growth and development are excellent, and as soon as I finished all of the seasons I started it over again.  In fact, it may now be my favorite show OF ALL TIME. Did I mention that it made me laugh?  *Disclaimer: if you watch the first episode and first episode ONLY and think “what is she raving about, this show is not all that” HANG IN THERE, it may take a few episodes to get hooked!

This show totally took me by surprise – it is AMAZING!  The acting is great, the cinematography is GORGEOUS, and the story is oddly compelling (oddly because, you wouldn’t think a series about playing chess could be exciting – IT IS!)  I was avoiding The Queen’s Gambit because it looked dark (and it definitely is dark at times) and I’ve pretty much only been wanting lighthearted comedies this year, but I am SO GLAD I watched it.

Caleb Marshall choreographs dance workouts to popular music and puts them up for free on YouTube and they are so much fun!  Did I feel silly/laugh the entire time I was dancing? Yup! Did I feel one thousand times better after a dance/laugh session? YUP! 

I listen to this CD in the morning while doing yoga, and it is exactly what I needed this year: a soothing voice and a reassuring mantra! My favorite track is “Everything I Need,” where he sings about the darkness being fruitful and not being afraid. I like all of his music, but this album in particular is excellent!

When I wasn’t listening to Trevor Hall, I was listening to The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer on audiobook for my daily dose of calm.  I have read bits and pieces of this book for years – carried it around in my car, packed it on vacations – but this is the first time I’ve actually read it start to finish and it was great!

“I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots.  I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours.  I spend my entire day talking to children.” “I hope you like feminist rants, because that’s kinda my thing” “Oh my gosh.  Look, it’s food. I love food!” Jessica Day is basically me, haha.  New Girl on Netflix has been my favorite show for years, only recently replaced (tied for first?) by Schitt’s Creek.  It’s silly and funny and quirky and even though I’ve watched the whole series at least five times and can quote most of it by heart, I still am catching jokes that I missed the first five watches.  Perfect comfort watch!

Hamilton. So good.  Just so good.  That is all.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk is one of those kids books that I recommend to all the adults – this historical fiction was absolutely beautiful!

Was The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (metaphorically speaking) preaching to my choir?  Sure.  Did it make me feel better? It did indeed!  Did I insist on reading multiple passages aloud to my fiancé, who knew well enough to humor me and just listen to the passage, and then to my much longer rant about whatever topic I was reading?  Yup!  Fun times!

And, we discovered sheet pan cooking during the early days of stay-at-home, and I honestly don’t know if I will ever cook vegetables any other way ever again! I have yet to taste a vegetable that doesn’t taste better roasted in the oven.  Take LITERALLY ANY VEGETABLE, cut it up, slather it in olive oil and salt/pepper and any other spices you might like, and roast in oven until done.  SO GOOD!