A guide to exploring new genres

Each year, groups of librarians from across the country hole up in a room (this year, a virtual room) to discuss and select the best books from the year before. The Notable Books List features literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; the Listen List is all about outstanding audiobooks; and The Reading List, which I want to tell you about today, highlights outstanding genre fiction in eight genres: Adrenaline (aka thrillers, adventure stories), Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Relationship Fiction, Romance, and Science Fiction.

While each genre has a winner, it also has a four-title shortlist of runners up. Taken together, the five books in each genre represent a range of the types of stories a reader can find in that genre, with the idea that both longtime fans and folks new to the genre can find a title of interest. If you are looking to branch out into new areas of fiction reading, it is a great place to start. Check out the 2021 winners (for books published in 2020) below, with annotations from the ALA Reading List Council, or in our catalog.

Adrenaline

The Holdout by Graham Moore
Ten years after Maya Seale convinced her fellow jurors to acquit a man of murder, a true crime documentary reunites the jury amid claims of new Continue reading “A guide to exploring new genres”

Queering Historical Fiction & Historical Fantasy


Queer literature is booming right now, with more and better representation of LGBTQIA+ characters every year. Here are some recent historical novels and historical/alternate history fantasy to check out. First, some historical novels with queer protagonists:

The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco is one gritty historical debut. It has a pretty fast-paced bent, introducing Alma, a bi undercover agent who routinely dresses and acts as a man, who loves fighting and collecting lovers, and gets into plenty of scrapes. Set in 1887 Port Townsend, WA, it centers on a group of opium smugglers and climbers on the make, with a widowed woman of color mastermind, Delphine, pulling strings behind the scenes. A little too violent for my tastes, but it all worked for the character and grimy setting. Here, too, is an article about the seedy Port Townsend history that inspired the novel. Continue reading “Queering Historical Fiction & Historical Fantasy”

Nightstand Reads with author Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters is the latest from Sara Donati, a bestselling author known for her riveting and well-researched historical novels. We asked her to share her own reading list with us:

I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction out of personal interest and professional necessity. My novels are deeply researched, so I spend a lot of time reading medical texts and government reports written before 1890.  But I also read contemporary and historical fiction of all stripes, from noir crime to romance to short story collections. Ancient Rome, modern-day Detroit, Victorian England, WWII China are all welcome.

If I continue thinking about a book long after I’ve finished it, I consider it time well spent. Here are some of my recent discoveries.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
by Rebecca Traister
There is a lot to be angry about. Traister’s book came out just after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified, and it reminded me that women’s anger, once focused, is hugely powerful. It has launched movements and revolutions that have changed the world for the better. Continue reading “Nightstand Reads with author Sara Donati”

Historical fantasy – the best of both worlds!

I appreciate the way genre designations can make books easier to find, but I confess that I love the bleeding edges where books shade from one genre into another; my current bailiwick is historical fantasy. I find that it brings the best elements of historical fiction – a strong sense of time, place, and culture – and melds it with the fantastical elements that make anything possible. Here are a few recent titles that I’ve been thrilled to find.

Book cover image for The Bird KingThe Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – In 1491, Granada, the last remaining vestige of Muslim Spain, has been surrounded and besieged by the Catholic Spanish forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. When a delegation comes inside the walled city to negotiate, young concubine Fatima is charged with welcoming the female delegates, including a member of the Spanish Inquisition. After Fatima accidentally reveals that her friend Hassan, the court’s mapmaker, can draw places he’s never seen and reshape reality, she realizes she has put him in danger. Aided by jinn, Fatima and Hassan flee the city. Continue reading “Historical fantasy – the best of both worlds!”

The best of genre reading in 2018

Coordinated by the American Library Association, each year a group of librarians from across the country form The Reading List Council with the goal to identify the year’s best books across eight genres. Here are the 2019 winners (for books published in 2018) in Adrenaline, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, and Women’s Fiction, plus the short list of runners up in each category. Find new titles in the genre you love, or branch out and find something new to try. You can also find this full list in our library catalog.

Adrenaline

Book cover image for Safe HousesSafe Houses by Dan Fesperman
Managing CIA safe houses in 1979 West Berlin, Helen overhears a secret conversation that sends her on the run. Thirty-five years later, a tragedy leads Helen’s daughter to dig into her mother’s secret past, unaware that her mother’s old enemies are still watching. Continue reading “The best of genre reading in 2018”