Staff Picks of 2018, Part 3

And to wrap up Topsham Public Library’s 2018 Staff Picks will be Linda, Susan, Mariah, Julie, and me. What are your favorites that you read last year? Have you already sunk your teeth into a good one this year?


Linda’s 2018 Top Picks:

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

I can’t help it! This Inspector Gamache book just has to jump to the top of the list. Louise Penny never disappoints. She has painted her characters with deep strokes and they just keep growing into themselves. There are no wasted words in her books and every sentence has depth beyond the obvious. This one is one of my favorites, as Gamache seeks to undo the consequences of his last investigation. The stakes are higher than ever. Just how far is Armand willing to go to stop the carnage? And why did a woman known as “the Baroness” make him an executor to her will, when he had never met her? Once again, I recommend that if you have not read these, you might want to start at the beginning of the series and read in order. The subplots running throughout the series make it far more interesting that way.

Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh

This is the first book in a series about Beatrice Stubbs, a British detective. Having been involved in ‘an incident’ Beatrice’s career has been stalling. Her superior knows that she is an exemplary officer and he assigns her to a puzzling case. Four high powered men have died on the continent and he sends Beatrice to head up the investigation. But can she trust herself? And can she prevent the next murder? This is an exciting romp around Europe after a clever and efficient killer. Beatrice Stubbs is a well drawn character, flawed though she is, and I found myself rooting for her all the way.

The Dry by Jane Harper

This mystery takes place in Australia, in a small farming town devastated by a multi-year drought. The people are struggling and tensions are already high when a young family is killed in an apparent murder/suicide. To make matters worse, the town bad boy, turned cop, returns for the funeral of his friend. Of course, not all is as it seems and a 20 year old case may be bleeding into the present. Jane Harper sets the scene well, placing the reader right in the dust with the characters and there are no easy answers. This isn’t a happy story but it is a good one.

Murder on the Oxford Canal by Faith Martin

This quintessential British police procedural is the first in a series previously published in Britain and more recently in the U.S. DI Hilary Greene was married to another DI, Ronnie Greene, who was recently killed. However, everyone knows that Ronnie was dirty and made millions in tainted money. Now circumstances have put DI Greene in charge of her own murder case, which she is determined to solve in order to save her own career and see justice done, while ducking the attentions of internal affairs.  Her team is a varied group including the young sergeant who has a crush on her, a female sergeant, aspiring to greater things, including hooking up with the Chief Inspector who oversees their unit, and an old-school detective who was almost certainly her wayward husband’s right hand man. All of this makes for an interesting stew of events, leading to an exciting climax.

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen

This twelfth in the Her Royal Spyness series is pure charm and delight. Could Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line to the British throne, actually be marrying the Honorable Darcy Fitzwilliam, handsome man of her dreams? With wedding arrangements getting more complicated by the minute and a secret assignment from the Queen on her mind, Georgiana is not so sure. And where are they going to live on their paltry earnings? Just in time Georgiana receives a letter from one of her mother’s past husbands, giving her his family home to manage in his absence. When she arrives to take residence something does not seem quite in order there and thus the adventure begins. Who is the new butler and who actually hired him? What are those strange noises from the closed off wing? And where are the family heirlooms she remembers from her childhood? Even more importantly, will she still be alive for her wedding day?

Susan’s 2018 Top Picks:

This year, my picks went back to the fantasy genre. I really enjoyed the V.E. Schwab Shades of Magic trilogy- A Darker Shade of Magic, A  Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.  Schwab creates a mesmerizing world with strong characters.  I was sorry to see the story end and am among the fans who would love more.

This series led me to Witchmark by C.L. Polk , the first book in the Kingston Cycle Series. Another gripping read with amazing characters and a steampunk feel.  I can’t wait for the second book to come out in June of 2019.

Finally, another great guilty pleasure: Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness.  A separate story about some of the other characters in the All Soul’s Trilogy, this book was an unexpected visit with old friends.  I miss the major characters of the saga not being central to this story but enjoyed it thoroughly.

Mariah’s 2018 Top Picks:

In The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a young boy survives an accident which kills his mother. Abandoned by is father, the young boy is taken in by family friends. As he grows, he is drawn back time and time again to a small painting that reminds him of his mother and leads him into the art underworld.

While serving he was President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie died at age 11. In Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Willie’s soul has gone to the bardo – a type of in-between place – where ghosts get together and hang out and perform acts of penance. During this time, a battle is waged over Willie’s soul.

In Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, abortion is illegal as well as in vitro fertilization. Right to life, liberty, and property is given to every embryo. Five women in the same community deal with this reality and what it means for them individually.

David Small is an award-winning children’s book illustrator, and in Stitches: A Memoir he tells the story of his dysfunctional childhood and surviving cancer but losing his voice.


The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson is the story of Nelson’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge who is fluidly gendered.


I Walk with Vanessa, illustrated and written by Kerascoët, is a children’s book about a girl who witnesses another girl being bullied and doesn’t know what to do.


Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter tells the story of a 12 year old girl who lives in an endless forest. In order to escape she must overcome the monster who grows its body to reflect her biggest fear.

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans is about a boy who finds himself in a strange world with three weird companions and they have to solve clues, battle a cruel stuffed animal, and deal with three thousand Wimbly Woos.

As a servant of a powerful woman, it is Mara’s job to look for magical treasures in the ocean. One day she finds remains of an extinct being that is still humming with magic. Instead of being rewarded, Mara must go further and deeper than she has ever gone before and what she discovers on the way is more dangerous and more magical that anything she has experienced. City of Islands by Kali Wallace is sure to delight.

Julie’s 2018 Tops Picks:

Janie has lost her boyfriend, her job, and her apartment all in the same day, but her misery will not end when Quinn Sullivan, aka Sir McHotpants, makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid is a fun read.

Saga vol 9 by Brian Vaughn is a graphic novel about one family finding their place in the universe.



The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy is the story of a friendship between a girl and a snake. The snake watches Mary as she grows from a little girl into a woman, and he watches her city be destroyed as war draws near. What the snake knows, that Mary does not, is that one day this friendship will end and they will be torn apart.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews is book 10 in the Kate Daniels series. In this book, Kate sees that war is coming, and in order to save her child, Atlanta, and the world she must form alliances that she knows will lead to betrayal and possibly her death.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson involves elves, goblins, spying, international intrigue and impending doom. This older children’s book won’t be what you expect, but will be well worth it.

Jen’s 2018 Top Picks:

I’m cheating a little bit. My first pick is actually an author. At the Friends of the Topsham Public Library Book Sale, I bought Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I was transported to another place and time, and I fell in love. I didn’t realize it, but that book is part of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series and I delighted in each book: Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits. The books are set in Barcelona, Spain in the 1950s and have a gothic feel to them. The characters are well developed, real, witty, lovable and loathsome. He has written other books for adults and for children, too. Of his others, I’ve read Marina and The Prince of Mist. Though I do like some more than others, I have never been disappointed.

I happened upon a movie trailer for Child 44 starring Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman and Noomi Rapace. (I’m going to take a moment and unabashedly gush over Tom Hardy. I haven’t seen everything he is in, but I am impressed by his acting. It amazes me how his looks can change as well – he never seems to appear the same. I was introduced to Joel Kinnamen in the TV series The Killing and was excited to see him as he’s as entertaining to watch as Hardy. Now, back to the book review already in progress.) I discovered the movie was based on a book also titled Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. Obviously, I had to read the book first, (actually I listened to it and the reader, Dennis Boutsikaris did a great job). Children are being murdered, but in a society that refuses to believe crime happens because that would reflect badly on their government, investigations are difficult to carry out. Set in the Soviet Union in the 1950s allows Smith to depict a society bound by fear  which adds intricacies and thoughtfulness to what otherwise might be just another thriller.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman is a tale whose story is told as much in the illustrations by Eddie Campbell as in the written story itself. Gaiman is a storyteller that breathes new life into tales that you might think you already know. This story is about a father seeking to avenge the death of his daughter.


I am determined to read more non-fiction. One of my favorites from 2018 is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. I will admit that I listened to the audiobook and that if I had read it, I might have given up in spots as it is quite dense and lengthy, but it is well written. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a leading theologian in Germany during Adolf Hitler’s rise. Metaxas details Bonhoeffer’s upbringing, his education, and his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The life of such a complex character was interesting.

Another non-fiction read that I thoroughly enjoyed and learned much from was Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. The sinking of the USS Indianapolis is the worst sea disaster in US Naval history. Vincent and Vladic take another look at the ensuing court martial and make a case that the captain inappropriately took the blame.


Michael Koryta is a new author for me and his book How it Happened was a pleasant introduction. Set in Maine, an investigator is attempting to solve a case, but all he has to go on is the word of a down and out heroin addict who may be the guilty one herself.