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Our Best of 2018: Book and Video Game Recommendations from the Past Year!

2 Jan

In celebration of the New Year we decided to look back at a few of the library staff’s favorites you can check out from Hoboken and other BCCLS libraries!  I’ve linked to the print editions, but Hoboken Library Patrons can check out many of the books as ebooks and digital audiobooks from eLibraryNJ, Hoopla, or eBCCLS.

Favorite Fiction: Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava and
Social Creature
by Tara Isabella Burton
social creature
I read a lot of good books in 2018. My favorite was Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava. I wrote about it for the blog earlier this year. I loved this book for the intricate plot, the stunning prose and dialog, and the way it made me laugh out loud.

Another book I greatly enjoyed was Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature, about a toxic friendship between Lavinia, a well-off New York party girl,  and Louise, who dreams of living Lavinia’s lifestyle, but barely manages to live hand to mouth as she pursues her dream of becoming a writer in New York. I loved the decadence, the homage to social media, the upscale product placement (Cristal! Agata and Valentina!), not to mention the sex and the drugs. Some of the craziness stretched credibility, but Social Creature is definitely not easily put down.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

Favorite Nonfiction: American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
by Shane Bauer
American Prison
In 2014, Shane Bauer spent four months working undercover as a $9-an-hour prison guard at Louisiana’s notorious Winn Correctional Center, a private prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Bauer’s experiences at Winn will horrify most readers as he documents his experiences working in a severely understaffed private prison where guards are poorly trained and inmates live in appalling conditions. American Prison is not only an incredible piece of first-person journalism; Bauer also provides a history of private prisons, interspersing his narrative with an expose on the era of “convict leasing” in which prison labor replaced slave labor on plantations and free labor in many industries. Bauer’s history has made me reevaluate my understanding of America’s justice system more than any other book I have read.

Written By:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Favorite Mystery: An Act of Villainy
by Ashley Weaver
actofvillainy

My favorite mystery this year was An Act of Villainy by Ashley Weaver.  The book is part of Weaver’s Amory Ames series which I had written about in a blog about her previous novel The Essence of Malice.  I think this is my favorite in the series I’ve read so far.  The book is set in the backstage theatrical world of London in the 1930’s; Amory is asked to investigate when a leading lady (and mistress of a friend) begins receiving menacing letters.  In addition to an intriguing mystery, I thought it was interesting to see Amory react to the relationship troubles of another couple in light of some of her own marital complications.  Honorable mystery mentions go to Diane Andrew’s Toucan Keep a Secret and Rhys Bowen’s Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding.

Other books I have loved this year and previously blogged about include for science fiction: Catherynne M. Valente’s funny fanciful Space Opera which takes Eurovision Song Competition to a galactic level; best fiction would be The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen, with it slow building suspense and well written characters; and for fantasy Kill The Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne & Delilah S. Dawson which gives a refreshing new spin on the classic hero’s quest.

Written By:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

Favorite Video Game: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
SmashBros

I’m an avid gamer and have been since childhood, so I was really looking forward to the newest installation of Super Smash Bros., especially since I’m old enough to have been around and playing since the first Smash Bros. game was released in the 1990s. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which was just released on December 7, absolutely lives up to the hype of its predecessors, and since acquiring it I haven’t been able to put it down and trying to unlock a roster of 74 video game characters so I can play as whoever I want. Smash Ultimate, the fifth installment of the series, is highly recommended.

Written By:
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian

Curious what other library patrons have been enjoying this past year? Here are the ten most frequently circulated fiction and nonfiction works of 2018 compiled by Head of Circulation Rosary Van Ingen:

Top Circulating Fiction 2018

  1. Little Fires Everywhere
  2. An American Marriage
  3. The Woman in the Window
  4. The Immortalists
  5. The Great Alone
  6. Manhattan Beach
  7. Still Me
  8. The Lying Game
  9. All We Ever Wanted
  10. The Woman in Cabin 10

Top Circulating Nonfiction 2018

1. Fear: Trump in the White House
2. The Last Black Unicorn
3. Educated: A Memoir
4. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
6. Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
8. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
9. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
10. Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow: Concepts, Tools, and Techniques to Build Intelligent Systems

What were some of your favorite items this year? Let us know in the comment section!

Quirky Characters and Karmic Mishaps: The Comic Crime Novels of Donald E. Westlake

31 Oct

Thieves' Dozen

Last year, for the very first time, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Inspired by some books I love very dearly, I hammered out a first draft of a heist novel in sixteen days. Whilst I don’t know if I’ll have the time to do NaNoWriMo again this year now that I work full-time, I do want to share those books I adore so much with all of you!

The author of the books in question is mystery novelist Donald E. Westlake, who was incredibly prolific and wrote a number of different series and stand-alone novels, often under pseudonyms (the most notable of these being Richard Stark). You can borrow many of Westlake’s books as ebooks or digital audiobooks from Hoopla. His books vary in tone, but the genre Westlake had the best handle on was the comic crime novel, and that’s where the books I’m talking about fall. Whilst he’s probably best known for writing (as Stark) about hardened criminal Parker, his most genius works, at least in my opinion, come from a completely different take on that character. Westlake came up with a scenario involving Parker having to steal the same object multiple times, but decided it was too silly to throw Parker into and thus created a new character to take on the job instead.

Thus, in 1970, the world was introduced to John Archibald Dortmunder and his equally endearing but incompetent partners in crime, and in my opinion the literary world is a much better place for it. These are seriously some of the single funniest books I’ve ever read in my life, and I’m a noted comedy enthusiast. The premise is relatively simple: the Dortmunder novels are 14 books about the world’s unluckiest criminal mastermind, John Dortmunder, and his weird compatriots (who are really more like friends) as they attempt to steal things and generally fail miserably or have some sort of misadventures along the way. The NYC-based crew generally targets people who deserve it, so you’ll be firmly on their side, especially since they never use weapons (it’d be a heavier charge if caught, and they’re just not violent people). Dortmunder’s plans are brilliant, and they’d work just fine if he wasn’t incredibly unlucky. Usually by the end of the book things have worked out in some way or another and the crew is safe and ready to heist another day and their enemies have suffered some sort of karmic mishap (either at their hands or fate’s hands). You’ll meet all sorts of odd people in these books because they’re set in and around New York City and that’s just how things are here.

For a general idea of how these books work, in the first one, The Hot Rock, the gang is tasked with stealing a valuable emerald belonging to one country back from another. There are five attempts to steal the emerald in the 287-page book, only one of which is permanently successful, and at the end, the government stiffs the team when they return the emerald, so they steal it back and swap it with a fake. That’s basically how these books tend to go. There are fourteen full books in total, as well as a bunch of short stories, many of which are collected in an anthology called Thieves’ Dozen. I can’t recommend these books highly enough right now since they’re the sort of thing so sorely needed in these times – funny books that involve awful people often receiving their comeuppance at the hands of a bunch of competent but horribly unlucky thieves who are as quirky as they are lovable.

Hoboken and other NJ state library card holders can access biographical information, reviews, and career overviews about Westlake from Literary Reference Center. If you’re into crime novels on any level, there’s probably a Westlake book that fits your style perfectly since he wrote in so many varying styles, but the Dortmunder novels are such a delight that I have to recommend them specifically. Definitely give them a go if you need something lighter in trying times!  If you want more books featuring charismatic criminals check out this previous Staff Picks post.

If you are working on writing your own novel check out the Hoboken Public Library’s monthly writers group where you can get helpful input from other writers on your work.  This month’s meeting is Monday, November 12 at 6:30 PM.  Email hplwriters @ gmail.com for more information.

Written by
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian
When she’s not obsessing over comedy, she’s probably watching baseball, playing video games, or serving the every whim of her 22-lb cat Murphy. An earlier version of this blog post appeared on her personal Tumblr account in August 2017.

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