I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Monday, December 27, 2021

What I'm Reading: Becky's Best Books I Read in 2021

For the fifth year now, I am doing my best books that I read in this year in a category list rather than in raked order, Why? Because why I loved these particular books matters more to me than the order in which I would place them. How I interacted with them, how they affected me, how they stayed with me is what is important here because that is why they are my personal "Best."

Some of the categories are the same from year to year, others change. This is because the books I read create their own experiences and categories to me personally and I want to capture that experience each year along with the titles. I am not a robot, I am a human reader, even if reading and suggesting titles is my job. In order to remind myself [and all of you] of the joy in what we are paid to do, I am trying to create a year end best list that captures, celebrates, and acknowledges that.

Also, by this time, lots of people have already weighed in with critically acclaimed "best" lists for weeks now, so why do you need more of that from me?  I played my part in that side of the "best" debate with my Best Horror of 2021 list as part of #LibFaves2021. That is a place where my opinion on what is the BEST matter from that expert perch.

What I bring here on the general blog that is most helpful to all of you out there in the trenches, is a list that reflects my best experiences as a reader. This is a list that is personal to me, my tastes, and my weird quirks. You can use it to help other readers, yes, but because it is so specific to me, it is actually better used by you as a conversation starter.

For example, you can ask people "What is the most fun you had reading a book this year?" or "What title was the biggest surprise to you?" Those are questions readers can answer much more quickly and easily than "What was your favorite book?" These are also questions that encourage longer conversations.

The categories I have listed here provide great conversation starters to offer to your patrons. You can even use my answers to keep the conversation going by saying, "I was thinking about this question because Becky said [fill in the title] as her answer."

The point of my "Best" list is to both offer books that I loved this year, while also presenting an example of a regular reader view of a "best" list.

Below you will find my list of the best books I experienced in 2021 [regardless of publication year] in 13 categories created by meIt is arbitrary but so what? It's my list of what mattered to me the most this year. Each title links to a longer review which will explain why it is the "best" book for that category, and will include my "Three Words."

After creating the list I also audited it. So in the 13 categories there are 15 books, 10 are by women [which is an all time high for me], 7 are POC, and 3 are LGBTQ. This is what happens when you make an effort to diversify your reading by the way, you end up with a diverse lists of best titles. I filled out my categories first and did the audit second. If it had turned out to be too white, cis, and male, I would have owned it publicly as I have before. 

All titles link to my full review.

I'll be back on January 6, 2022. Have a safe and happy New Year.

Becky's Best Books I read in 2021

Best Feel Good Read of 2021: World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil [lush, episodic, celebratory]

Book That Stayed With Me All Year: [tie] Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica  [thought provoking, chilling, visceral] and Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters [thought provoking, heartwarming, authentic]

The Most Fun I Had Reading a Book in 2021Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion by 
Tom Beaujour and 
Richard Bienstock [oral history, enlightening, witty]

Best Book From 2020 Best Lists That I Read in 2021Caste: The Origin of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson [thought provoking, engrossing, conversational and well researched]

Best Surprise: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark [conversational, compelling, empowering]

Best Book By A Big Name Author: [tie; I am so happy these authors fit this category; also weirdly they both use the same trope as a frameMy Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones [heartbreakingly beautiful, meticulously crafted, thought provoking] and The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix [darkly humorous, great world building, flawed by sympathetic narrator]

Best Speculative Fiction: The Upstairs House by Julia Fine [oppressive atmosphere, psychological, compelling]

Best Horror: Reprieve by James Han Mattson [thought provoking, immersive, high anxiety] For my full Best Horror of 2021, click here.

Best Graphic Novel: [tie] Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? [well researched, disturbing, compellingly paced] and The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus [superior world building, terrifying, immersive]

Best Audio: Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner [lyrical, heartbreakingly beautiful, self aware]

Best Historical Fiction: Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell [character driven, complex, atmospheric]

Best Middle Grade: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller [Story About Stories, Engaging, Believable]

And one final category for 2021. I did not count this one in the above data because it is a little silly:

Best Book That I Published This Year: The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror, Third Edition by Becky Siegel Spratford

Thursday, December 23, 2021

How To Audit Your Personal Reading via Book Riot

We are coming up on the end of the year, and regular readers to this blog know that after the calendar turns and I take a short blogging break, I always begin the new year with an assessment of the previous year's reading resolutions.

Here is a link to my assessment of my 2020 Resolutions and here is the link to my 2021 Resolutions I created AFTER doing the assessment.

I also have many library workers who have not only taken my example to heart, but they shared their own assessments with everyone here on the blog. Use the "assessment" tag to read all of these posts.

I always encourage you to do the same before making any new resolutions for yourselves. And this year, I have another example of a way to audit your reading all year long. This one is from Kelly Jensen over on Book Riot

From her article, "How to Audit Your Reading Life":

Much like a financial audit, auditing your reading life means taking stock of the highs and lows of your reading within a given time frame. In this instance, we’ll look at the year as a whole. Auditing can be as simple or as complex as you’d prefer, and it can be done by journaling or opening up a couple of Google Docs and Sheets and going to town digitally. The process can be as analytics-driven as you’d prefer, as much as it can be as emotional and feelings-driven as you prefer (and it may be beneficial to even dig around in these book journaling prompts to go deeper into the best reading experiences you’ve had to find fodder for the audit). 

This guide for how to audit your reading life will offer ideas for diving into your reading world, with notes for where there are opportunities to journal or rate your book life over the past year with the idea this is an adaptable framework, suitable for using any time of year or in any way that best serves you. There are no one-size-fits-all guidelines here, just as there’s no one-size reading life. Consider this a jumping off point, wherein you can delve into making your reading life not just reflective of you now, but a helpful tool for navigating your bookish future.

Please click through to read her excellent guide. Kelly published this back at the end of November, but I have been saving it as my final post of the year, well final before my end of the year personal best.

I will be taking the rest of this week off but I will return on Monday [12/27], with my annual category based, "Best Books I Read" list. Then a blogging break to recharge and spend time with my family from 12/28 thru 1/5. 

I will return 1/6 and 1/7 with my posts assessing my 2021 Reading Resolutions and setting my 2022 Goals, as referred to at the top of this post, before we settle back in to more regular programming here at RA for All HQ, including a very busy January of training programs. 

In the meantime, I highly encourage you to bookmark today's post and think about how you audit your reading life. I will be using this article to help me do my annual assessment as well. 

While I am taking time off, I want to encourage you to use the links here today to spend some time thinking about yourself. With so many examples, from different people, you can use what works for you from all of our examples. 

Or use none of it. All I am asking is that you consider being introspective about what you have read, if it is working for you, and why you chose it. I promise you, just spending some time contemplating this will improve you personal reading life and your work with readers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What I'm Reading: Goodreads Updates Final 2021 Installment

Today I have my second installment of my catch up reviews- interestingly, it took me until the missile of the year. This post should serves as a reminder that I do periodic updates of all of the books I read for "fun" on Goodreads and then compile them here so that the titles are searchable on the blog too. 

See below for the authors and titles as well as my three words. Use the links [click on titles] to read the full review on Goodreads.



Best Books 2021: Lit Hub's Ultimate Best List

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Best Books 2021" series you can use the best lists tag
Yesterday one of my favorite best lists dropped-- Lit Hub's annual data crunch, of best lists from 33 major outlets. They make a list of the books that got the most "best" nods so you can get a sense of a consensus. And the outlets they check are both literary and populist.

I do not just love this list for the obvious reason that it gives you a sense of the overall "best" books but I also use it to build my annual "Year in Review" presentation that I give for PCI Webinars. More on that in January.

But that is next most, for today here is the Ultimate Best Books of 2021via LitHub.

Click here to enter the article.

 The Ultimate Best Books of 2021 List

Reading All the Lists So You Don't Have to Since 2017


For good or for ill, no matter what happens in any given year—be it insurrection, new variants, the rise of #BookTok, or even a free Britney—the end-of-year lists will go on. And therefore, per Literary Hub tradition, we will count them. After all, didn’t 2021 teach us anything about the value of personal opinions vs. actual data? (No, actually, I’m sorry to say that it looks like it didn’t, but for the record: listen to the data.) 

So this year, I counted up 49 lists from 33 outlets (as ever, there are . . . even more out there, but life and time are both finite), which recommended 785 total books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. 138 of those appeared on 3 or more lists, and I have collated those for you here, in descending order of frequency. 

Does this mean that these are the absolute Best Books of the Year? Who knows! But if you pay attention to a single popularity contest this year, you could do worse than choosing this one.

CLICK HERE for the list. They also offer backlist access in the post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Best Books 2021: Graphic Novel Critics Poll

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Best Books 2021" series you can use the best lists tag  

Today I want to feature a specific best list but also a type of best list. Okay, that sentence was confusing so let me explain. 

Some best lists just tell you what titles they think are best while others take the time to look back on the year that was, talk about the genre or format and its trends. I wrote one of these for Horror for The Lineup and it will go live at the end of this month.

While you wait for that, today I have a great one for you that is ready to read-- the Graphic Novel Critics Poll which is a combo best list and trends and issues article. 

Read the full report here via PW. This will get you some "best" options for your graphic novel patrons AND get you up to speed on the entire format.

And don't forget, I am not posting about every best list here on RA for All, only the ones I think have something about them that makes them a great choice to use with library patrons. For a comprehensive list of every best list, visit Largehearted Boy's aggregated list of every best list

Monday, December 20, 2021

Becky's Favorite Horror of 2021

From December 8th to 17th I participated in LibFave2021 on Twitter. LibFaves is a Twitter crowdsourced best list by library workers. For 10 days we all tweet out 1 title a day, a 2021 release that we would consider one of our favorites of the year.

Because every title that is mentioned eventually gets included in a spread sheet which contains every single title Tweeted during the event, I use the event each year to highlight my personal Top 10 of 2021 #HorrorForLibraries titles.

For more on #LibFaves2021 you can see this post from 12/8 on the general blog.

Here is my Twitter thread of the 10 books I added to the conversation during the official event . I did not put them in any ranked order, but here today, I will with my 3 words and links to my longer reviews. Please remember, this list is my PERSONAL best list. Some of it crosses over with critical lists I have been a part of [some still to be published] but not all of it.

But before that list, here is a reminder that I have all of my annual "Best Horror" lists going back to 2005 on my "Archive of Becky's Lists, Articles, and Presentations," a permanent page on the Horror blog at this link. Because yes, I follow my own rules and make sure backlist best lists are easily to access anytime and with on click on any new best list. These books are still "best," they just aren't brand new.

Okay, with no further ado...

Becky's Personal Top 10 Horror of 2021

10. Hearts Strange and Dreadful by Tim McGregor [pervasively creepy, strong sense of place, slow burn]

9. Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark [audio, read by the author] [conversational, compelling, empowering]

8. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix [darkly humorous, great world building, flawed by sympathetic narrator]

7. The Last House of Needless Street by Catriona Ward [layered, multiple points of view, heartbreaking]

6. Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo [strong world building, relentless pace, harrowing]

5. Queen of Teeth by Hailey Piper [body horror, thought provoking, immersive] Also my pick for first novel of the year

4. My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones [heartbreakingly beautiful, meticulously crafted, thought provoking]

3. Things Have Gotten Worse since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca [epistolary, menacing, engrossing]

2. Goddess of Filth by V. Castro [reclaiming the possession trope, unsettling, immersive]

1. Reprieve by James Han Mattson [thought provoking, immersive, high anxiety]

Feel free to share your favorites int he comments. And check out the general blog next Monday for my final post of 2021 and my overall best reads of the year [regardless of publication date].

Friday, December 17, 2021

Best Books 2021: Booklist's Stars Issue

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Best Books 2021" series you can use the best lists tag
Click here to enter the homepage

Each December Booklist magazine does an entire issue recapping every star review that appeared in the magazine over the course of the year. It is a great, consolidated resource to get a snapshot of the "best" books of the last year. It is all organized the same way that the magazine is, meaning it is intuitive to use as a resource.  For example, each star crime review is listed together in alphabetic order by author's last name while the same happens for each Arts & Leisure starred nonfiction, and so on.

The breadth of options and range of views on what makes something best are eye opening and cross formats, fiction, nonfiction, and all age levels. You can use the current issue to find titles in a number of genres tor nonfiction categories based upon your readers' tastes.

But the Editors are not simply regurgitating their year of work in this issue, leaving it to you to comb through all of the stars to find the brightest among them. Nope. They also have curated "Editor's Choices" within each subcategory of reviews and name a single "Top of the List" title for all of the major categories.

Because Booklist allows each reviewer to assign stars to their reviews [based on criteria we have all been trained to use to make this distinction], it is useful for the Editor's of each sections, the experts, to weigh in on the best of the best. This provides continuity and authority. 

Pick up the December 15th issue or peruse it online. But below I have re-posted the links to the highlights, including one of may favorite, annual, outside the box "best" lists-- the recommended reading lists from the 6 Andrew Carnegie Finalists.  

• Booklist Top of the List, 2021 
• Booklist Editors' Choice, 2021 
• High-Demand Reviews 
• What Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction Finalists Want You to Read

And finally, don't forget, December 15th issues from previous years do the same thing. You can go back and use December 15, 2020 or 2019 to find some excellent suggestions for your patrons, ones they could not find on their own, suggestions that haven't lost their "best" status just because the calendar flipped over to a new year.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Subscribe to NoveList Newsletters To Stay in the Know

I am very honest and open about my love for NoveList. Technically I am a contracted freelancer for them, but I mostly do just special projects now.

I use NoveList as an example in all of my training programs, and while I check if the library subscribes before I mention them, there is plenty of information you can use from NoveList without a subscription. 

One example is the free PDF of their "Story Elements"--a list and explanation of all the appeal terms and themes they use. I also always have the link in my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service. Rule 4,  the word "adjectives" links to it. 

You can use this PDF to help you to articulate the appeal of a book yourself or to help ask patrons questions about what they are looking for in a book. I cannot stress enough how useful this document is to all library workers who help all leisure readers. Seriously. I mean, I put it in my "10 Rules"

NoveList also has a blog with excellent articles, some of which they collect into their monthly newsletter. I prefer the newsletter to checking the blog because when the newsletter arrives, that reminds me to visit the blog for more great articles.

I got the NoveList News newsletter in my inbox yesterday, hence this post.

Here is the link to the current newsletter.

I wanted to highlight 2 of the articles because they are a great example of the overall content you can expect by subscribing to the newsletters. 

  • 2021 Year in Review- an infographic about what was searched and used the most, including links to the most read blog posts. It is a mini distillation of larger trends.
  • Don't Read What You Don't Want To: a great example of the RA Service articles they offer for free. They begin with a general discussion of how to talk with patrons on an RA related topic and then provide specific search strategies. This is a common article type. It helps any person working with leisure readers but helps those with a subscription a bit more.
At the bottom of the email newsletter, there is a link to subscribe to any and all of the NoveList newsletters. Pick some. Or just remember to check the blog regularly. 

What I don't want you to do is think that NoveList has nothing for you if your library doesn't subscribe. They know that individual library workers often have no say as to what databases the library purchases. They truly want to help you as much as they can even if you do not have access to the paid content.

Start here on the blog or here with the latest newsletter

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

LibraryReads: January 2022

    It's LibraryReads day and that means four things here on RA for All

  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about LibraryReads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips through this archive OR the sortable master list allowing you to mix and match however you want.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any LibraryReads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
  4. Every upcoming book now has at least 1 readalike that is available to hand out RIGHT NOW. Book talk the upcoming book, place a hold for it, and then hand out that readalike title for while they wait. If they need more titles before their hold comes in, use the readalike title to identify more readalike titles. And then keep repeating. Seriously, it is that easy to have happy, satisfied readers.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books.

Please remember to click here for everything you need to know about how to participate. Click here to see a database of eligible diverse titles sorted by month.

And finally, here is LibraryReads' extremely helpful Resources page.

Now let's get to that list.... 


January 2022 LibraryReads List!


The Maid 
by Nita Prose
Ballantine Books

“As a maid in a posh hotel, Molly is very proud of her work and the care she takes of the guests, even though she often has difficulty navigating social cues. When she finds a wealthy guest dead, she never imagines she has the keys to uncover a killer, and finds, after the death of her beloved Gran, there are many people willing to help her. For fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and How Lucky.”

—Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ 
NoveList read-alike: Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections: A Novel 

by Eva Jurczyk

Poisoned Pen Press

“When the director of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections suffers a stroke, Liesl is put in charge. Then a newly acquired manuscript goes missing, and Liesl’s leadership is questioned. A fast read that features older and imperfect characters, and addresses mental illness. For fans of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore and The Lions of Fifth Avenue.”

—Alison Zaya, Lowell Library, Lowell, MA
NoveList read-alike: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Electric Idol 

by Katee Robert

Sourcebooks Casablanca

“A fantastic, modern retelling of the old myth of Psyche and Eros. Their romance is lovely, exploring the trope of fake relationships and forced marriage while both characters are struggling to make it out alive. For those who loved Neon Gods and Lore Olympus."

—Brenna Timm, High Plains Library District, Greeley, CO 
NoveList read-alike: Dark Desires series by Zara Cox

A Flicker in the Dark: A Novel 

by Stacey Willingham

Minotaur Books

“Chloe knows what it’s like to be judged and whispered about, and how it feels to have your family torn apart by a serial killer: your own father. Now on the 20th anniversary of the murders, bodies start turning up, and she finds herself in the middle of the investigation. Unique, riveting, and thrilling. For fans of Jennifer McMahon and Laura Lippman.”

—Shellie Taylor, Iredell County Library, Statesville, NC
NoveList read-alike: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Must Love Books 

by Shauna Robinson

Sourcebooks Landmark

“An inspiring romcom debut that tackles the question “Are you happy?” After five years of working for a publisher, Nora gets a pay cut instead of an expected promotion. She decides to work freelance on the side for a competitor, which leads to a hectic juggling of business and personal relationships. For fans of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and Beach Read.”

—Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Library, Austin, TX
NoveList read-alike: My Salinger Year by Joanna Smith Rakoff

The Overnight Guest: A Novel 

by Heather Gudenkauf

Park Row

“A violent, suspenseful page turner with a compelling plot: A young girl narrowly escapes harm when her parents are shot dead in their home and her brother and best friend (who was sleeping over) disappear. The story then toggles to follow a true-crime writer investigating the town years later. For fans of Dark Places and When You See Me.”

—Heidi Sandiford, Hillsdale Free Public Library, Hillsdale, NJ 
NoveList read-alike: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Reckless Girls: A Novel 

Rachel Hawkins

St. Martin's Press

“When Lux and her boyfriend agree to ferry two women to a beautiful island near Hawaii, it seems like the perfect refuge for Lux, who’s still grieving her mother’s death. But then more people join them on the island and they find danger lurking everywhere. Give this inventive slow-burn thriller to fans of Ruth Ware and Riley Sager.”

—Cari Dubiel, Twinsburg Public Library, Twinsburg, OH 
NoveList read-alike: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Roughest Draft 

By Emily Wibberley; Austin Siegemund-Broka


“In this bookish romance, two estranged co-authors are pressured into fulfilling the last book on their contract after their relationship goes haywire. It's always fun to read about the writing/publishing process, and there’s great chemistry between the leads. For fans of Christina Lauren and Emily Henry.”

— Rebecca Swanson, Fitchburg Public Library, Fitchburg, WI 
NoveList read-alike: Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

The School for Good Mothers: A Novel 

by Jessamine Chan

Simon & Schuster

“When recently-divorced Frida leaves her daughter home alone, she’s sentenced to a reeducation center where she must prove she's a good mom by bonding with a lifelike doll. This chilling dystopian novel highlights how performative and competitive parenting can be; for readers of The Handmaid’s Tale and Klara and the Sun.”

—Elizabeth Zielinski, Olathe Public Library, Olathe, KS 
NoveList read-alike: Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Weather Girl 

by Rachel Lynn Solomon


“Ari and Russell scheme to get their feuding divorced bosses back together, Parent Trap-style, and regain peace in the workplace. Instead, they find love. A touching, surprisingly weighty romance, exploring issues of depression and body image and incorporating glimpses of Jewish faith. For fans of Get a Life, Chloe Brown and The Matzah Ball.”

—Alicia Ahlvers, Henrico County Public Library, Henrico, VA 
NoveList read-alike: The Marriage Code by Brooke Burroughs

The LibraryReads Hall of Fame designation honors authors who have had multiple titles appear on the monthly LibraryReads list since 2013. When their third title places on the list via library staff votes, the author moves into our Hall of Fame.

Click here to access the Hall of Fame Archive with annotations and readalikes 

The Accomplice: A Novel 

by Lisa Lutz

Ballantine Books

Her Hidden Genius

By Marie Benedict

Sourcebooks Landmark

The Last House on the Street: A Novel 

by Diane Chamberlain

St. Martin's Press

The Magnolia Palace: A Novel 

by Fiona Davis


Where the Drowned Girls Go 

by Seanan McGuire