Book List, Staff Picks

Staff Favorite Reads of 2020

Happy Election Day everyone! We’re closed today at Towne and off to our polling places. Don’t forget to go vote if you haven’t already! Today we’re sharing our favorite reads of 2020 and we hope that you’ll stop in tomorrow (or check out our website) and shop with us for your next favorite book!

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I absolutely loved The Jane Austen Society. As I read, I felt I was walking around Chawton, immersing myself in the world of her colorful inhabitants, surprised by how they handled certain situations, while simultaneously feeling like they were behaving exactly as they should. The plot is intricate and beautifully woven, written by the hand of the master storyteller, it’s a great book for Austen lovers and historical fiction lovers alike!

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.
A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.

Soulswift by Marie Bannen

This book made me cry. It broke my heart right in two. I know that may not sound like a glowing review, but trust me it is. The best stories are the ones that make us feel so deeply we drown in them. That is what SOULSWIFT is. A deep, beautiful, heartbreaking story that will stay with you forever. You’ll love it as you read it and you’ll be shaking when it’s over, but you wouldn’t want it any other way.

A dark, epic fantasy about a girl who must rethink everything she believes after she is betrayed and hunted by the religion that raised her—from Megan Bannen, author of The Bird and the Blade. Perfect for fans of The Winner’s Curse and The Girl of Fire and Thorns.
Gelya is a Vessel, a girl who channels the word of the One True God through song. Cloistered with the other Vessels of her faith, she believes—as all Ovinists do—that a saint imprisoned Elath the Great Demon centuries ago, saving humanity from earthly temptation.
When Gelya stumbles into a deadly cover-up by the Ovinists’ military, she reluctantly teams up with Tavik, an enemy soldier, to survive. Tavik believes that Elath is actually a mother goddess who must be set free, but while he succeeds in opening Her prison, he inadvertently turns Gelya into Elath’s unwilling human vessel.
Now the church that raised Gelya considers her a threat. In a race against the clock, she and Tavik must find a way to exorcise Elath’s presence from her body. But will this release stop the countdown to the end of the world, or will it be the cause of the earth’s destruction?
And as Tavik and Gelya grow closer, another question lingers between them: What will become of Gelya?

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

Reader disrection is advised for this story. The Poppy War is one of the first adult fantasy books that I have ever read. It is a gritty fantasy set during a war, where almost everyone is morally grey. This first book starts at an academy where our main character, Rin, is studying to become a military official for her country. She is one of three girls in her year at the school and she has to overcome a lot of obstacles in order to earn her place for the rest of her time there. I like this book because it is a super easy adult fantasy to get into, and is currently helping me overcome a huge reading slump. The actions scenes are very well-written, the characters are so intriguing, and the world is already incredibly well-developed.

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg

I was on a long flight and I wanted to take a nap. I had this book with me and though, eh, I’ll read a story and then drift off. Only I couldn’t stop after the first story, or the second or third. I was forced to abandon my much-needed snooze because Van Den Berg’s writing gripped me, unsettled me, that much. The final story, the titular one, is a striking example of the benign discomfort of the uncanny. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, as effective short story writers aren’t so easy to come by.

An urgent and unsettling collection of women on the verge from Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel.
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, Laura van den Berg’s first story collection since her prizewinning book The Isle of Youth, draws readers into a world of wholly original, sideways ghost stories that linger in the mouth and the mind. Both timeless and urgent, these eleven stories confront misogyny, violence, and the impossible economics of America with van den Berg’s trademark spiky humor and surreal eye. Moving from the peculiarities of Florida to liminal spaces of travel in Mexico City, Sicily, and Iceland, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is uncannily attuned to our current moment, and to the fears we reveal to no one but ourselves.
In “Lizards,” a man mutes his wife’s anxieties by giving her a LaCroix-like seltzer laced with sedatives. In the title story, a woman poses as her more successful sister during a botched Italian holiday, a choice that brings about strange and destructive consequences, while in “Karolina,” a woman discovers her prickly ex-sister-in-law in the aftermath of an earthquake and is forced to face the truth about her violent brother.
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears presents a collection of women on the verge, trying to grasp what’s left of life: grieving, divorced, and hyperaware, searching, vulnerable, and unhinged, they exist in a world that deviates from our own only when you look too closely. With remarkable control and transcendent talent, van den Berg dissolves, in the words of the narrator of “Slumberland,” “that border between magic and annihilation,” and further establishes herself as a defining fiction writer of our time.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

From award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone comes an enthralling, romantic novel spanning time and space about two time-traveling rivals who fall in love and must change the past to ensure their future.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

I really enjoyed this novel because it made me think about how well I know myself and those around me. As the story begins Julian, a lonely widow and semi-famous artist, leaves a green notebook labeled the Authenticity Project at Monica’s cafe. Inside Julian writes about his life and challenges the next person, who finds it, to do the same and answer the following question; share your truth and reveal the one thing about you that defines you and makes everything about you fall into place. As the notebook is discovered by Monica and Hazard and Riley and others new friendships are created and truths about oneself revealed.

The story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love.
Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren’t really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes–in a plain, green journal–the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It’s run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves–and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica’s Café.
The Authenticity Project‘s cast of characters–including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends–is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. It’s a story about being brave and putting your real self forward–and finding out that it’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it looks a lot like happiness.
The Authenticity Project is just the tonic for our times that readers are clamoring for–and one they will take to their hearts and read with unabashed pleasure.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

If you want to lose yourself in an entirely new fantasy world full of lovable characters and gut-wrenching moments, I can’t recommend a better series. Although this book is loosely based on Beauty and Beast, it quickly becomes its own story, and it is better than I could have imagined. You’ll be wanting to read the second book before this one even ends.

The sexy, action-packed first book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Court of Thorns and Roses series from Sarah J. Maas.
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a terrifying creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not truly a beast, but one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world.
At least, he’s not a beast all the time.
As she adapts to her new home, her feelings for the faerie, Tamlin, transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But something is not right in the faerie lands. An ancient, wicked shadow is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it, or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
From bestselling author Sarah J. Maas comes a seductive, breathtaking book that blends romance, adventure, and faerie lore into an unforgettable read.

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