Kanawha County Public Library staff see many books during the year, so we can be pretty picky about our favorites. The Book Team asked staff for a list of the best books they read during the past year. The difficult task was trying to narrow in on what to share with you. Here are our favorites of their favorites.
The ravens have lived at the Tower of London for centuries. The legend claims that should they leave England, the throne will be in peril. The current “ravenmaster” caring for the ravens is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife. To become a ravenmaster, former military men must serve at least 22 years and then apply for a limited number of openings.
Skaife was happy to make the cut and then found himself tapped to be a ravenmaster-in-training. Blending together stories of the Tower, the individual ravens and his own life, Skaife pulls in the reader as he meets and falls in love with the individual birds. If you fall in love with the ravens in “The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London,” you can follow them on Twitter at @ravenmaster1.
In his debut novel, Tommy Orange intertwines the stories of Native Americans attending a local powwow in Oakland, California. By setting “There, There” in an urban environment, Orange avoids the stereotypes that readers might have. It also means that his characters are dealing with their identities as Native Americans in their own way.
As the various characters prepare to go to the powwow, so does Tony Loneman, who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and plans on robbing the event. The violence, which might happen, is juxtaposed against the cultural genocide experienced by Native Americans. Staff felt Orange had created a world that would grip the reader and make it hard to put down the book.
In this nonfiction staff pick, Rick Bragg explores the memories and recipes of his Alabama childhood in “The Best Cook in the World.” After his mother was admitted to the hospital, Bragg was inspired to write about his mother’s cooking when he realized none of her recipes were written down. He intermingles humorous and heartfelt family stories with his mother’s beloved recipes throughout the book. When recommending the title, staff said it would remind many readers of West Virginia families.
Known for compelling stories of people living through times of crisis, Kristin Hannah has set “The Great Alone” in Alaska, where events and location isolate 13-year-old Leni and her mother, Cora. Her father, Ernst, who suffers from PTSD since returning from Vietnam, inherits a piece of land in Alaska. It seems like a chance for a new start. However, his lack of success and the isolating weather overwhelm Ernst’s fragile state.
Hannah — who also lived in Alaska as a child — vividly paints the interdependence of the small communities and the effects of the long, dark winters. This book would be a great choice for book clubs.
“The Fifth Season,” the first book in “The Broken Earth Trilogy,” by N. K. Jemisin, is a Hugo award-winning fantasy novel. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this story weaves the harrowing tale of a mother, Essun, who is confronted with murder and betrayal. Jemison captivates with this tale of survival and the lengths a mother will go to save her child. Our staff says it will pull you in and you will not be able to put it down.
The life of Victorian-era royalty has long been a subject of fascination for many readers. In this nonfiction staff favorite, “The Royal Art of Poison,” Eleanor Herman explores what it was really like to live as royalty centuries ago. Herman combines forensic science with historical fact to discuss the untimely end to many royals throughout history. Staff suggests this for readers who like something a little more sinister.
Torn from the headlines, “Bloody Sunday” is the latest job for CIA agent Dewey Andreas. Andreas is ready to retire, but North Korea and Iran are secretly arranging to work together to create the nuclear weapons they lack. Andreas is the available agent with the talents needed to stop this nefarious scheme. The plan is to poison the North Korean head of the military and force him to hand over the information needed in exchange for the antidote. Things go wrong, and Andreas himself is exposed to the poison. Now the clock is ticking as he is running out of time to save himself and still get the information.
Ben Coes has created another action-packed spy novel and has introduced a new character, Jenna Hartford from MI6, who many readers hope to read about in future “Andreas” novels. You can start with this book, but it is more rewarding if you start with book one, “Power Down.”
“Finding Our Forever” is book one in Brenda Novak’s new “Silver Springs” series. Cora searches for her birth mother to find out why she was put up for adoption. Step one is getting a job as an art teacher at the ranch her birth mother, Aiyana, runs for troubled boys. Step two is not falling in love with Aiyana’s adopted son, Eli.
Staff who read this enjoyed how Novak told the story leading to the “happily ever after” and anticipated the next tale in the series.
True crime journalist Michelle McNamara became consumed with discovering the identity of the Golden State Killer. She was in the process of writing this staff favorite, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” when she unexpectedly passed away at the age of 46.
Published after her death, with the assistance of her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, this book is full of riveting details and will leave readers on the edge of their seats. The staff member who suggested it discovered the book after it was in the news due to the use of DNA in tracking the killer in 2018.