Library staff’s favorite books of 2023

Newton Public Library staff members were busy readers in 2023! Here are some of our favorites from the year that was.

To view this list within the library’s online catalog, click here. (A few staff picks are available only via interlibrary loan.)

Zamora, Javier. Solito. In Solito, Javier Zamora tells his own story of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to join his parents, who migrated north due to the Salvadoran Civil War.  As a nine-year-old traveling alone, he is taken under wing by fellow migrants who risk their own success and safety to ensure that they make it across together.  This must-read is both a devastating account of the realities along the U.S.-Mexico border and a humanizing portrayal of the people who are compelled to make the journey. Sara’s Pick

Callahan, Patti. Once Upon a Wardrobe. My favorite read this year was Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (Henry).  In it, Megs Devonshire sets out to fulfill her younger brother George’s last wish by uncovering the truth behind his favorite Narnia stories, written by C.S. Lewis. Rather than directly telling her where Narnia came from, Lewis encourages Megs to form her own conclusion as he shares the little-known stories from his own life that led to his inspiration.  What transpires is a fascinating look at the life-changing magic of stories.  After holding so tightly to logic and reason, her brother’s request leads Megs to absorb a more profound truth: “The way stories change us can’t be explained. It can only be felt. Like love.”  A beautifully written book with much wisdom to ponder! Kristin’s Pick

Patchett, Ann. Bel Canto. Great characters, unique setting, lots of food for thought! Sharon’s Pick

Le Guin, Ursula. Annals of the Western Shore. I’ve long been a fan of Le Guin, but I somehow overlooked this late-career trilogy, which Le Guin started writing at the age of 75 and finished at 78. This is Le Guin’s final foray into the fantasy world-building she undertook, to greater acclaim, in the Earthsea and Hainish novels, and here she shows total mastery over her chosen tools and methods. Le Guin uses fantasy devices sparingly, and in the service of her thematic and metaphorical ambitions, never to collar the reader’s attention. The themes of Annals are liberty and slavery. What does it mean to be free, both in body and in spirit? How can a society come to be free, or unfree?

King, Stephen. The Outsider. “An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is discovered in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens–Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon have DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad. As the investigation expands and horrifying details begin to emerge, King’s story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.” Dan’s Pick

King, Stephen. Holly. “Stephen King’s Holly marks the triumphant return of beloved King character Holly Gibney. Readers have witnessed Holly’s gradual transformation from a shy (but also brave and ethical) recluse in Mr. Mercedes to Bill Hodges’s partner in Finders Keepers to a full-fledged, smart, and occasionally tough private detective in The Outsider. In King’s new novel, Holly is on her own, and up against a pair of unimaginably depraved and brilliantly disguised adversaries.” Dan’s Pick

Forsyth, Frederick. The Day of the Jackal. “The Jackal. A tall, blond Englishman with  opaque, gray eyes. A killer at the top of his  profession. A man unknown to any secret service in the  world. An assassin with a contract to kill the  world’s most heavily guarded man.” CJ’s Pick

Clarke, Susanna. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars in 1806, most people believe magic to have long since disappeared from England – until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers and becomes an overnight celebrity. Another practicing magician then emerges: the young and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s pupil, and the two join forces in the war against France. CJ’s Pick

Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. “In a narrative that boomerangs through centuries and space, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.” CJ’s Pick

Noble, Diane. The Sister Wife. This is a great historical fiction novel about the start of the Mormon religion, and the lives of women who have to come to grips with the idea of having plural families, and how that tests their faith. Rachel’s Pick