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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

What I'm Reading: Becky's Best Books That I Read in 2023

For the seventh year in a row, I am doing my best books that I read during this calendar year in a category list rather than in some kind of ranked 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 over the course of the calendar year, this is what is most important because it is why they are my on personal "Best" list.

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 strive to create a year end best list that captures, celebrates, and acknowledges that.

By this time, lots of people have already weighed in with critically acclaimed "best" lists for weeks now, but I always wait to post this until end the year here on RA for All. So I am keeping that tradition. [This is my last post until I return from vacation on January 8, 2024.]

I also wait to post because my list is about my reflections on myself as a readers over the last 12 months. It is not just another best list. 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. (Click here for my post about turning conversation starters into displays)

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?" And these are the types of questions that engender dialog.

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 2023 [regardless of publication year] in 14 categories created by meIt is an arbitrary amount, but so what? It's my list of what mattered to me the most this year so I get to decide how I present it. Each title links to a longer review which will explain why it is the "best" book for that category.

Some general comments about my list this year. Compared to last year, when I was on the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellent in Fiction and Nonfiction Committee, I did not read in many books outside of Horror and I barely read any nonfiction. But, that was a good thing. This year was a refreshing break after the intense reading for work last year. While I loved that ACM experience, having a year to reset and read only what I was assigned for review and what struck my fancy during the times between deadlines, was necessary.

[For more about the unique reading year that 2022 was for me you can read my 2022 Best Books I read post here.]

Click each title below for reviews and more appeal information

And for my backlist of Best Books I Read post, you can use the blog archive at the bottom of every page in the right gutter. I make sure this annual post is always one of the last posts of the year, that way when you click on the year, it is one of the first posts that pops up.

I'll be back on January 8, 2023 with Part 1 of my Reader Resolutions. Have a safe and Happy New Year.

Now what you have been waiting for.....the list!

Becky's Best Books I read in 2023

Best Feel Good Read: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune [sweet, engaging, character driven]

Book That Stayed With Me All Year and Best Debut: Chlorine by Jade Song [weird, wonder, extreme unease]

The Most Fun I Had Reading a Book in 2023: Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle [neurodiverse MC, cinematic, religious cults]

Best Book From 2022 Best Lists That I Read in 2023: Tomorrow and Tomorrow And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin [Relationship Fiction (Friendship), Thought Provoking, character centered]

Best Surprise: Better Living Through Birding: Notes From a Black Man in the Natural World by Christian Cooper [Surprising, Engaging, Reflective]

Best Speculative Fiction: Whalefall by Daniel Kraus [harrowing, survival thriller, moving character study]

Best Horror: My Top 10 Horror for 2023 is posted here. If forced to pick a single "best" title I choose The Reformatory by Tananarive Due [engrossing, 360 degrees of fear, nuanced]

Best Graphic Novel: Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky [fun, nuanced, thought provoking]

Best Audio: When the Angles Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb [Jewish Folklore, Historical Fantasy, Richly Plotted]

Best Historical Fiction: Lone Women by Victor LaValle [pervasive unease, strong sense of place, masterfully paced]

Best Collection: Spin a Black Yarn by Josh Malerman by [immersive, intensely unsettling, utterly original]

Best Nonfiction: 101 Horror Books To Read Before You're Murdered by Sadie Hartmann [Genre overview, participatory, conversational tone]

Best WTF Read: What Kind Of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman [body horror, psychological horror, viscerally terrifying]
Editor's Note. This is a brand new category, but as I said in The LineUp last week:

WTF For the Win: Maybe it is because we have all lived through some wild times recently, but this past year, there were a handful of books that took a left turn, sending the story down a path that, in less talented and imaginative hands, could have been disastrous. Instead, in these novels, it is exactly the authors’ willingness to take those risks that made them some of the most memorable reads of the year. 

I have a feeling this category might stick around. Time will tell. 

And that's a wrap on 2023. See you next year!

Friday, December 22, 2023

My Most Popular Post of 2023 and Scheduling Notes

I wanted to end the week with my own wrap up post and report my most viewed post of the year. It is below.

Today is the last post until 12/27  where I will wrap up the year on RA for All with my Best Books I read in 2023 post.

Then I am on vacation until 1/7. When I return 1/8 and 1/9 with my annual 2 Part Goals posts.

And now, my most popular post of the year.


As part of the updates I am making to the Anti-Racist programs that Robin and I offer [See also this post last from week], I am going a bit off the traditional service to readers focus, but not that far off because it involves a question we get all of the time. Here is a version of said question:

You have great advice on how to deal with problematic titles and disinformation in the library, but we also need help with hate groups trying to use our meeting rooms? How can we firm up our programming policies without violating Freedom of Speech.

I will get to the easy policy fix in a moment, but first, the same advice we give for books works for these program situations. As I like to say, all opinions can be shared at the library but not all deserve self space. 

Going back to last week's post, let's begin with a less inflammatory example. A library is supposed to hold authoritative material. When Pluto was deemed, "not a planet," we all rushed to delete every book that listed Pluto as a planet from our collections. It was not a fact anymore. No one fought us on this. It was expected.

The same procedure should hold true for a more inflammatory example, Holocaust deniers. We should not have books on the shelf that say the Holocaust did not happen because it did. This opinion incorrect factually. Their claims that you should have their books because they have a right to free speech are not valid because it is irresponsible for us to shelve books that are not factual. 

[For reference, the entire Country of Austria passed a law to provide Holocaust Refugee Reparations Citizenship and I now hold both citizenship and an EU Passport as proof that it did happen and they are formally apologizing for it. Entire countries don't do this unless the thing they are apologizing for actually happened.]

Back to our collections. Our shelf space is limited and we cannot and should not fill it with books that are completely false when we don't even have room for all of the accurate books we would want to include.

It is important to not that using the words "false" or "misinformation" could be inflammatory, so we need alternatives. I tackled this very question with the Strategic Planning Committee at my library this past Winter. I wanted us to be STRONG against misinformation in our Mission Statement-- not just our collection policy-- and I challenged us to find a word to denote that but was less inflammatory and would not be twisted to be used by bad actors. Because if we call something someone disagrees with "misinformation," they could say we were discriminating against them and their views.

I give the team full credit on this one. We worked hard to get this right and I am proud of our use of "meaningful" in our Mission Statement:

We strive to enrich our community by inspiring connections, providing access to meaningful resources, and encouraging curiosity in an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere.

People expect us to have meaningful resources. So you don't need that Holocaust denying book anywhere in your library because it is not meaningful.

Which leads to the next point that people bring up to argue with my previous point-- but Becky libraries need to be "neutral." It is part of our ethics. 

First of all, if we were neutral, we would buy every single book that is every published and never make a choice as to what to add(and we would never weed). Obviously we do not do this. Every single item that is added to our collections is a choice, made by someone trained to craft a library collection, but it is a choice. We use a variety of metrics and a collection development policy to guide those choices but because it involves choice and policy, it can never be neutral. 

Libraries are not and never have been neutral. We are not political. Neutrality is and never has been the goal. Contrary to popular belief, the ALA has never used the term "neutral." (For more on this from the ALA committee tasked with addressing this misconceptions, click here.)

However, one can see where the waters were murky and that place is with the ALA Code of Ethics. Principles 1-8 hug that neutrality line a little too close for comfort. In 2021 the ALA Council recognized this and took a stand by adding a 9th Principle, stating

We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.

This 9th Principle clears up the misunderstandings of the first 8 and lands on the side of action, telling libraries that they must act again systemic oppression. 

Some library workers try to argue with me that they ignore the 9th principle because it "contradicts" the first 8, but to them I say that that perceived contradiction is the entire point. This amendment is the final statement and if your library follows the ALA Code of Ethics, which every library I have seen does by referring to I tin this policy manual, you now are required to fight oppression.

I have very little patience for our library colleagues who hide behind the language of neutrality because it is WRONG, it is also lazy, but fundamentally and most importantly it is incorrect. If you or your bosses are one of those people who lean on this language, I want you to really read this post. Sit with it and think about why you are incorrect. And if you still disagree with me, contact me, goodness knows you wouldn't even be close to the first person to object to me saying "Libraries are not neutral." I have had people reach out to chastise me for this belief, I have had them refuse to sign a contract to work with me because they must sign off on my EDI Mission Statement which proclaims this, and I have had people write those who have hired me angry letters. 

Complain all you want but you are wrong and hurting our profession.  The sooner you sit back and come to terms with your misguided views and do the work to move on, the better it will be for all of us. 

But Becky I thought you were going to talk about program room policies? Yes, I am getting there by way of grounding us in our core policies and principles as they relate to materials. Again as that 9th Principle of he ALA Code of ethics states (emphasis mine): 

We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.

Everything I have written up to this point is building the case for what I am going to write next...

...We are obligated to say no to groups who would like to use our spaces if their mission is to be racist or homophobic. That 9th Principle includes our allocation of spaces, in other words, our programming space.

It is in black and white in the ALA Code of Ethics. Something every single library makes mention of in their policies of following. NOT standing up against hate groups is going against the 9th Principle which requires that you recognize AND dismantle systemic oppression. So, allowing Nazis into your spaces, for example, goes against the ALA Code of Ethics because by allowing them in you are supporting hate.

A more nuanced issue is the current, organized effort to spread hate by Kirk Cameron and his Brave Books publishing company. Click here for details if you are unfamiliar with the issue before proceeding. 

In both issues people say (to me and others), but Becky our Program Room Policy requires that we not judge a group who requests space. Or we have a statement that says the fact that we are hosting program does not mean we are approving of the organization hosting said program. And, the laziest of the arguments, we have to be neutral and or allow every request regardless of our personal opinions.

STOP. Last one first. Just like with books, we do not have to allow every request, Nothing in our rules or laws says as much. Now we cannot refuse people based on our personal opinions, this is true. However, if we are using the ALA Code of Ethics, which again, every library I have seen makes mention of following it in their general policies, our professional opinion would be to disallow groups that do not allow us to support that 9th Principle. 

This 9th Principle argument is a professional one. It is a policy reason to say no to any group that goes against our requirement "to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion..."

It is your library administration's job to apply their written policy in their action, so this should be plenty for any library to refuse Nazis or Brave Books or Antti-Trans groups; however, I suggest you also include an out clause as well, and I will use my library as the example.

We state that we follow the ALA Code of Ethics in our policies and made sure to vote to uphold these ethics since the inclusion of the 9th Principle in a public meeting. We also have a very clear statement in our Programs policy. You can read the entire thing here but here is the key statement for our purposes: 

Staff welcomes program suggestions and proposals, yet retains the right to determine which programs and events are scheduled.

In other words, the staff have an out clause. They can say no to whatever they want for whatever reason they want. Now, any person requesting programming space has a right to appeal if denied, but if your library is following the ALA Code of Ethics, you have that as your professional argument for denying them (if you can't find another one). Of course they can always go to your Board but that is another situation. [As a Board member myself, I can assist you there but this is a post for library workers, not Board members]. 

But adding this out clause is important because it mimics our collection policies (see it alcoves back to the beginning). We cannot add every book. We make professional decisions based on policy, and yet, we sill sometimes just don't add something because we just don' think it fits our collections. It is our professional opinion in the end that makes the final call. It is our job to make these decisions. Well, the same holds true for our programming spaces. We have policies that say how we decide, but ultimately, we are the experts. We have the final say. End of discussion. 

And before you come after me, as others have, that this is not legal. It 100% absolutely is legal. The above policy has been vetted by an attorney. The argument I am making to disallow certain groups is backed by the ALA Code of Ethics. Hiding behind neutrality and simply saying yes to a hate group because it is easier or because you don't want to be in the news... all of that is lazy. 

I am writing this detailed post today because I have be contacted by multiple library workers, from places big and small, and I have shared this advice privately so they can fight within their own organizations to make change. But, I know others need something they can point people to. I have worked to make sure my library has strong policies and language so that I can lead by example. 

If you need me to talk to your administration, first send them this post. Then email me or have them email me. I will speak to anyone about this topic for free. 

I appreciate your attention today as I went a little off topic. I will add this post, and last week's post referred to at the start of this post to my ActivelyAnti-Racist Service to Leisure Readers page for easy recall. Back to lighter fare tomorrow. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

2023 Horror Book Highlights by Me via The LineUp

One of my favorite writing gigs is my 4x a year column for The LineUp. I love it because it is one of the only times I can write directly to readers. Just about everything I am paid to write is meant to be read and used by library workers. But 4x a year, I get to speak to voracious readers directly.

Two columns a year are my choice. In 2023 I did a preview of the first ever Middle Grade Stoker Award by highlighting the finalists and giving them adult readalikes in the Spring, and in the Fall I highlighted some of the best Horror cover artists.

My other two columns are wrap-up pieces. Every Summer I do a post about the Bram Stoker Award winners with readalikes, and that brings us to today and my piece for December. I love that this year end "wrap-up" is not another "Best" list. Instead, I pick 4 trends I saw over the year and pick titles that best present it.

Click here to read my brand new 2023 Horror Book Highlights. Or see below where I have reprinted my draft, plain text, but honestly, the version that Lisa Quigley put up on the site is much prettier and more fun to read, and it has the links to buy the books.

I am particularly proud of my final trend. Also one of the things I loved about the trends this year is that many of the books could have fit in multiple categories. One in particular makes me giggle every time I see my column because it would be a HUGE spoiler if I had put it in a different category.

For those who are interested, here is the link to all of my columns in one place. But you should be promoting The LineUp and the entire family of Open Road Media sites. Their focus is on readers and promotion of backlist titles. They also have A Love So True (Romance), The Archive (History), Murder & Mayhem (Crime Fiction), The Portalist (SF/FSY), and more. 

From the Haunted Stacks: 2023 Horror Book Highlights 

A detailed look at 2023's wide range of horror fiction, from the "library world's horror maven."
By Becky Spratford | Published Dec 21, 2023

While there are many best lists out there for you to peruse this time of year, in true librarian fashion, I thought I would give you a more nuanced look at the year that was by taking you on a walk through some of the most interesting Horror trends I have noticed accompanied by 2023 titles that illustrate them best.

Siblings Steer Some of the Best Stories of the Year: In 2023, many of the very best novels focused on sibling relationships, but not as the cause of the terror, rather as the very reason that the characters were able to triumph over the monsters, ghosts, or evil puppets.

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due 

Jim Crow Florida, 1950. Gloria and Robbie Stephens Jr, 16 and 12 respectively, are left behind after their mother dies from cancer and their activist father is forced to flee North to Chicago. When Robbie kicks a local white boy in the knee to protect his older sister, he is sentenced to 6 months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory with a notorious history. Told in the alternating perspectives of Gloria and Robbie, readers follow the action, set over 2 weeks, as Goria works to set Robbie free. The timeline may be short but the history of the horror that imprisons Robbie is long and the ghosts who live on the school’s grounds are unwilling to wait any longer for justice. An engrossing and heartbreakingly beautiful story that speaks to all situations where injustice occurs and compels its readers to act.

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

Perennial bestseller Hendrix’s early 2023 release navigated the well worn haunted house trope, inserting fresh horrors into its pantheon (including a terrifying puppet), while also crafting an emotional and thought-provoking story about trauma and loss. Louise, a single mother, lives in California with her 5 year-old daughter Poppy, a continent away from her hometown, Charleston, SC. She has spent her life trying to keep as much distance, physically and emotionally, as possible from her family, especially her overly indulged brother, Mark. But when their parents die suddenly, Louise is forced to return home and reckon with the secrets that have been haunting their family for generations, secrets that not only may be responsible for her estrangement with Mark, but may also be actively trying to kill them.

The Insatiable Volt Sisters by Rachel Eve Moulton B.B. and Henrie, the Volt Sisters, are the last in the line of the founding family of Fowler Island in Lake Erie, macabrely famous for the mysterious disappearances of its female visitors. Opening in 2000, as B.B. contacts Henrie about the death of their father. Henrie agrees to return home with her mother, Carrie. Told in two time frames, 2000 and 1989– the year Henire and her mother escaped the island– and from the perspective of four realistically flawed women-- B.B. Henrie, Carrie, and the island’s museum curator, Sonia, readers will be immediately hooked by their voices, the place, and the dark, mysterious history that surrounds it all. Think Shirley Jackson channeling HP Lovecraft and you get an idea of what to expect. 

Centering Love: Horror is a genre that purposely provokes terror in the reader. These are stories where terrible things can and do happen, but these three books excelled at invoking palpable fear while also allowing love, and the hope that stems from it, to blossom at the heart of these emotional tales. 

Lone Women by Victor LaValle 

The year is 1915. Adelaide Henry, 31 has lived her entire life in a California, Black farming community with her parents, but as the novel opens, Adelaide places her murdered parents in bed, burns the house down, and heads to catch a train to Montana, a territory that allows unmarried, Black women, the opportunity to claim a homestead. Taking only an overnight bag and a heavy, securely locked trunk containing her family’s curse, one that she is now solely responsible for controlling, Adelaide attempts to flee her past while still literally shackled to it. Readers follow Adelaide to the edge of civilization, Big Sandy, MT, to meet its marginalized and outcast citizens, feel the wide open, unforgiving landscape, and watch the captivating drama, both real and supernatural, unfold. This Horror-Western hybrid will grab readers from the start and threaten to never let them go. It is also my personal pick for the best Horror novel of the year.

A Light Most Hateful by Hailey Piper

If Neil Gaiman, Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson could birth a book baby, this stunning novel would be the outcome. Olivia, 18, lives in Chapel Hill, PA, the small town she settled in 3 years ago, after running away from home when her father caught her kissing a girl. Even though the town is not fond of outsiders, she has found her place living in best friend Sunflower’s orbit. As the novel opens, a fierce storm brings torrential rain and what sounds like human screams from the hills. Olivia is working at the Drive-In as an angry monster emerges from the ground and most of the townsfolk enter a zombie-like trance. Olivia runs for her life, looking for Sunflower, trying to save them both, but what exactly is she running away from, and where is she running to? Olivia is about to have the longest night of her life; one that will change her world forever.

Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle 

Rose, a senior in high school, is a member of the Kingdom of the Pines, a church with deep ties to her local community and a national reputation for running Camp Damascus, a LGBTQ conversation camp with a 100% success rate. While hanging out with friends, Rose sees a decaying woman at the edge of the wood, wearing a red polo and nametag, staring straight at her. Engaging, curious, kind, and proudly neurodiverse, Rose carries the story as Tingle meticulously introduces distrust and confusion, even going so far as to sew unease with single word choices. As Rose’s situation gets more dire, she gathers her found family, embraces love, and fights against the monsters threatening to destroy everything Rose holds dear. 

Dazzling Debuts: While an author could write many books over their career, they can only have one first novel. Some are good, some meh, and then there are those that shine so brightly, it is hard to believe this is their first go at it.

Everything the Darkness Eats by Eric LaRocca

Henley’s Edge is that kind of small New England town where everyone knows each other, but it is also a place where evil, both human and supernatural, has taken hold. Senior women have been disappearing without a trace. The local cop, Malik, is unable to find any leads, while simultaneously facing violent, homophobic attacks in his own home. Heart Crowley is a rich, funeral plot salesman who wants to help people find everything they are looking for in this life, if only they will go into his basement first. And then there is Ghost, an unlikely hero, a young man grieving a huge loss, literally stalked by guilt. LaRocca doubles down on everything that has made his shorter works a viral success, enhancing the dread with scenes of palpable fear, deep-seated trauma, and visceral villainy, using his expertly built, messily realistic characters to move readers through every possible emotion.

Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede

Maeve spends her days performing as the famous ice princess at “the happiest place on earth,” while her nights are spent brazenly murdering people and hiding her crimes in plain sight. But when Maeve meets her best friend’s gorgeous brother, she begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself. Unapologetically dripping with graphic sex and violence, Leede is actively working every angle in an attempt to disgust and disturb her readers, balancing extreme scenes with dark humor and Maeve’s engaging narration. As sympathy builds for Maeve, readers will squirm even more, realizing just how much they are enjoying this illicitly alluring tale.

Chlorine by Jade Song

Speaking from adulthood, Ren recounts the pivotal year, when she exchanged her life as a good Chinese daughter, working hard to get into a top college, competing as an elite swimmer, for a life without terrestrial concerns, as a mermaid. No longer human, Ren shares her memories with a direct, confessional narration, effortlessly drawing readers in from the first lines. As Ren struggles with the pressures of her sport, the obsession of her coach, her feelings for her best friend Cathy, and her experiences as an immigrant, the rawness and pain are familiar, but it is Ren’s insistence on becoming a mermaid, where this tale leaves a lasting mark. Full of contractions, magnificently balancing and remarkably sustaining wonder and dread, magical realism and harsh reality, this is a story that will hold readers in its thrall, squirming with discomfort, yet, unable to look away from the page. This first novel is also one of the most spectacular novels I have read in recent years.

WTF For the Win: Maybe it is because we have all lived through some wild times recently, but this past year, there were a handful of books that took a left turn, sending the story down a path that, in less talented and imaginative hands, could have been disastrous. Instead, in these novels, it is exactly the authors’ willingness to take those risks that made them some of the most memorable reads of the year.

The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey

 Kadrey, Urban Fantasy mainstay, and Khaw, a Horror rising star, team up for a cinematic and immersive “eldritch whale” of a duology opener. Julie, 29, is starting to feel the aches and pains of her job, using her small, magic packed body to help keep NYC clear of monsters. She recovers with booze and drugs, barely making enough money to cover the rent. But when an old flame, the head of “Excision” for one of the top Wall Street firms, comes asking Julie for help, she starts a chain of events that threatens to eat up the whole world in its wake. Filled with monsters, action, and situations that are bonkers in all the right ways, this is a crowd pleasing, visceral, Cosmic tale worthy of a wide audience.

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus 

One of the most beautiful and moving novels of the year is disguised as a riveting, cinematic, survival thriller. Jay is a high school senior dealing not only with the loss of his local hero and diving legend father, Mitt, but also his unresolved anger with their complicated relationship. In an attempt to come to terms with his grief, Jay attempts a dangerous, solo dive that is cut short when he is swallowed by a sperm whale. Told from Jay’s point of view in short, alternating chapters set in the present from inside the whale’s stomach with chapter headings that note how little air is left in his tak, and the past, mostly between 2015 and 2021. The pacing is relentless, the awe, astounding, and the tension, palpably constricting, even as Kraus takes time to add the necessary scientific details. However, it is Jay’s growth throughout the story where this novel shines, allowing its beauty to emerge, and leave its mark on all who encounter it.

What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman

Madi, a palm reader in Brandywine, VA, may have just returned to town with her 16yo daughter, after fleeing as a pregnant teenager, but her roots run deep in the Chesapeake Bay region. While plying her trade at local farmer’s market, she sees her high school boyfriend, Henry, who has spent the last 5 years searching for his missing infant while mourning the suicide of his wife. When Henry, still a person of interest in these cases, gives his palm to Madi, she experiences disturbing images of the water and the boy, visions that have physical manifestations. Chapman immediately introduces suspense, hooking readers with Madi’s engaging but increasingly unstable narration, confidently and deliberately steering the tone from uneasy to weird to absolute terror with a twist so shocking, no one will see it coming. A disorienting, immersive, and thought provoking contemplation of hope, grief, and guilt, Chapman traps readers in a net of visceral Horror from which they cannot look away no matter how much detritus bursts forth. But beware, readers may never look at a crab the same way again.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: The Ultimate Best Books of 2023 List via Lit Hub

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here. 

The list I have been waiting for is finally here-- LitHub's aggregation of all the major best lists. From the landing page:

The Ultimate Best Books of 2023 List

Reading All the Lists So You Don’t Have To Since 2017
By Emily Temple 

December 20, 2023

The end of the year is approaching, the universe is expanding, and the internet is updating—right now, it is mostly updating its Best Of lists. Therefore, per Literary Hub tradition, I will now present to you the Ultimate List, otherwise known as the List of Lists—in which I read all the Best Of lists and count which books are recommended most.

This year, I sorted through 62 lists from 48 publications, which yielded a total of 1,132 books. (I can only say: yikes.) 94 of those books made it onto 5 or more lists, and I have collated these for you here, in descending order of frequency.

This is the only single list you need to look at because Temple has done the most focused work of anyone out there. And the results, are RA gold for you. The post she has created seamlessly combines adult fiction, nonfiction, and GNs into one list. Further, she not only does the compiling for you, the sources are listed and linked (!) at the bottom of the page, so you can have access to the 48 most influential publications' best lists, and the aggregation of which titles are on the most lists, with just this one click. It is crowdsourcing first, but also, a resource to dive deeper, all in one place.

But wait, there's more....

Multiple layer of backlist and indexing are happening here, meaning you can embrace "Best" across multiple years. Reminder, "Best" titles have a longer shelf life than the current year. Last year's best titles, even 5 years ago, are great suggestions for a wide swath of readers. Here's how LitHub makes it easy, all year long, with their clear, consistent, and accessible tags at the bottom of their posts:

All of these tags pull up useful information in reverse chronological order, meaning you decide how far into the backlist you want to dig.

Back tomorrow with my final column in The Lineup Weekly for this year. This one analyzes 2023's Horror Trends. But in the meantime, here is a link to all of the pieces I have written for them, including last year's Horror Trends post (speaking of the backlist).

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

What I'm Reading: Audio Books and Graphic Novels

As I was going back to my Goodreads to make my "Becky's Best Books I Read in 2023" list (going live on the blog 12/28) I realized there were a few books, all audio or GN that I had not reviewed. Fixing that here in one post with links to the Goodreads comments.

All of these books will be on my best books list coming soon. You will have to wait to see for which categories though. Coming 12/28.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: CBC's Fiction and Nonfiction Picks and RA for All Scheudling Notes

 This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here. 

Today I have the Canadian Broadcast Company's (Canada's version of NPR) Best Canadian Nonfiction  and Fiction lists.

I love looking at Canada for suggestions, especially for my avid and/or hard to please readers because I often find them books that are great reads but that others might not have heard about yet. We are very lucky to share a border with a large country, with a vibrant publishing landscape and avid readers, that speaks the same language as us. This is not very common throughout the world.

These lists are great to add to your Attack of the Best Lists repertoire. And every book listed is annotated and there are links to further information, from interviews with the authors on CBC to info about other books by those authors, and even more lists. It really is a treasure trove of resources you can use now or all year long.

Click here for the Nonfiction list

Click here for the Fiction list

And now for some scheduling notes:

  • RA for All will be publishing every day this week.
  • Both blogs will have Becky's Best Horror Books posted sometime this week.
  • RA for All: Horror will be off from the Best Horror Books post until 1/11 but when it comes back, I will have an ARC for the finale of the Jade Daniels Trilogy. So maybe you want to get entered ASAP for the #HorrorForLibraries giveaway. Click here to see how to enter.
  • RA for All will be off 12/25 and 26 and will return 12/27 with a big announcement of a brand new program and 12/28 with my "Best Books I Read in 2023 post
  • After 12/28 I am off until 1/8 for vacation with the family.
  • 1/8 and 1/9 will be my annual posts where I assess my goals from 2023 and then set my goals for 2024.
I know people are working weird schedules over the next few weeks, so whenever you encounter this post I hope you have a wonderful end of 2023 and a safe start to 2024.

Friday, December 15, 2023

LibraryReads: January 2024

  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.

New in February 2023-- a bonus pick with an annotation by a LibraryReads Board member. See this month's pick at the end of this post. It also appears on the PDF list for printing and displaying at your library.

Now let's get to the January 2024 list.... 

Emily Wilde's Map of the Otherlands

Fawcett, Heather    

Del Rey 

After the events of the first book, Emily sets a new goal of creating the first Map of the Folk. Her plans progress well until an attack from Wendell's stepmother forces Emily to embark on a quest for an elusive door. Will they find it this time? This fun series installment has fantastical new creatures and realms to discover, and the dynamic between Wendell and Emily is sweet and exciting. Recommended for fans of cozy academia with a dash of magic.

—Lisa Leinhos, Marx Library, AL
NoveList read-alike: A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske

Now for the rest of the list:

The Busy Body   

Donovan, Kemper   


A very talented ghostwriter signs on to help a failed female presidential candidate (shades of you know who!) write her memoir. Their initial work weekend is going well until there is a mysterious drowning next door. The politician feels called upon to investigate, taking her ghostwriter along—a Watson to her Holmes. An enjoyable mystery tale ensues.

—Joan Hipp, Florham Park Public Library, NJ
NoveList read-alike: The Girl Who Took What She Wanted by Stewart Hoag

First Lie Wins   

Elston, Ashley

Pamela Dorman Books    

Nothing is ever as it seems in this fast-paced novel. All the reader knows is that nothing about Evie is true. It's her job to lie and wrangle her way into situations, gather info, and create situations that put others at risk. Yet this time, things are different. During a con, someone shows up with her actual birth name and history. Perfect for readers who enjoy books with twists and turns around every corner.

—Larissa Porach, Jefferson County Public Library, CO
NoveList read-alike: The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark

Diva: A Novel

Goodwin, Daisy

St. Martin's Press    

Readers get behind the scenes of Maria Callas's life and her complicated relationships. She’d hoped to marry Aristotle Onassis, but instead he wed Jackie Kennedy. Callas ended up alone, even with all the money and accolades for her phenomenal soprano voice. This fictional portrait takes some creative license, but that doesn't detract from this well-researched portrait of an international superstar.

—Sandra Meyers, Frankford Public Library, DE
NoveList read-alike: Jackie & Maria by Gill Paul

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years: A Novel    

Khan, Shubnum    


Hoping for a fresh start after tragedy, Sana and her father move into a South African apartment building with a host of quirky neighbors. Sana becomes fascinated by the story of Meena, a former resident when it was the estate of a wealthy troubled family. A lonely girl, a heartbroken djinn, and long-buried secrets come together in this gorgeously gothic tale of love and grief.

—Mara Bandy Fass, Champaign Public Library, IL
NoveList read-alike: The Last Dreamwalker by Rita Woods

The Clinic

Quinn, Cate

Sourcebooks Landmark  

Meg enters an exclusive rehab facility undercover after the supposed suicide of her sister. In the process, she exposes some ugly truths about people who profess to have her best interests at heart. Quinn does a terrific job creating quirky characters and keeping readers guessing. The unexpected twists and eerie location make this a great pick for readers in the mood for atmospheric suspense!

—Michelle Meeks, Wetumpka Public Library, AL

NoveList read-alike: I'll Be You by Janelle Brown  

Come and Get It

Reid, Kiley 

G.P. Putnam's Sons  

Millie is a 24-year-old RA in a dorm of typical college girls. All she wants is to get through her delayed senior year, start saving for a home to call her own, and find a good job for when she graduates. When she makes some increasingly bad choices, she puts all of that in jeopardy and has to face the fact that she may not like the person she is becoming.

—Linda Quinn, LibraryReads Ambassador

NoveList read-alike: Wahala by Nikki May 

Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect     

Stevenson, Benjamin

Mariner Books  

Ernest is struggling to write his second book. He hits the jackpot, so to speak, when a murder is committed on a train hosting the literary festival he is attending. He now has his new topic and narrates this murder mystery. Full of quick dialogue, clever clues, and odd characters, this off-beat offering will be much fun for the right reader.

—Crystal Faris, Kansas City Public Library, MO

NoveList read-alike: There Should Have Been Eight by Nalini Singh  

Twenty-Seven Minutes   

Tate, Ashley  

Poisoned Pen Press

A young woman died in a car accident while her brother Grant, who was driving, survived, along with another passenger. What really happened that evening is a mystery. Why did Grant wait so long to call for help—and what was his sister so angry about? Readers looking for a page- turning narrative with a strong sense of place will find this compulsive thriller a great read.

—Carri Genovese, Indianapolis Public Library, IN
NoveList read-alike: The Only Survivors by Megan Miranda

All Rhodes Lead Here: A Novel    

Zapata, Mariana     


Rhodes, the ultimate silver- fox grump, and bright ray of sunshine Aurora, are complete opposites in many ways. This gentle and sweet love story is built through action as the characters learn to trust each other. Including Rhodes's son Amos in the story adds a level of care between the couple by being the first thing they bond over.

—Jordan Abitz, Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library, KS
NoveList read-alike: Said No One Ever by Stephanie Eding

Board Bonus pick:

Family Family: A Novel

Frankel, Laurie 

Henry Holt

Who Owns this Sentence: A History of Copyrights and Wrongs

Belols, David and Alexandre Montagu

W.W. Norton

See our social media for annotations of the bonus picks

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 the Hall of Fame. Click here to see the Hall of Fame authors organized in alpha order.

The Heiress: A Novel   

Hawkins, Rachel

St. Martin's Press

The Fury

Michaelides, Alex

Celadon Books   

Mislaid in Parts Half-Known

McGuire, Seanan


Only If You're Lucky:  A Novel    

Willingham, Stacy 

Minotaur Books   

Midnight Ruin   

Robert, Katee   

Sourcebooks Casablanca