The Best Books of 2020

2020 has been a unique year, to say the least. Through all the uncertainty, we've been so grateful for you, our friends and neighbors, and your wonderful support of our local bookstore. With the holidays just around the corner, we can't wait to help you discover the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. To that end, our merry band of booksellers is very proud to present our annual "Best Books" list—a selection of titles we especially loved this year, and think you will, too.

You're welcome to scroll through all 30 titles, from Picture Books down to Cookbooks. Alternatively, use the links below to jump straight to the section of your choice! As a fun bonus, we've shared a few author Q&As—it's always such a treat to hear more from the people who create these special books. Finally, we'd love to welcome you to the shop soon. Make your appointment to browse our shelves, give us a call, or send us an email. We can't wait to help you shop this holiday season.

Happy reading, friends. And from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your continued love and support. 

PICTURE BOOKS  |  EARLY CHAPTER BOOKS  |  MIDDLE GRADE  |  YOUNG ADULT  |  ADULT FICTION  |  ADULT NONFICTION  |  COOK & GIFT BOOKS


 

How to Be a Pirate

by Isaac Fitzgerald; illustrated by Brigette Barrager

CeCe wants to play pirates with the boys in the neighborhood, but they tell her that girls can’t be pirates. CeCe is certain that her Grandpa knows about pirates because he has so many tattoos. As Grandpa reveals each arm tattoo to CeCe, he describes a characteristic that a pirate must have, helping CeCe realize she can be a pirate because she’s brave, quick, independent, and fun. Full of love and girl power, this picture book reminds readers that they can be anything they want to be!

—Cathy

 

 

I Go Quiet

by David Ouimet

Beautifully and intricately illustrated, this is a thoughtful insight into how it feels to be introverted, shy, or distracted and how one can find vision and voice through reading books. This will touch the heart of your quiet one. Highly recommended.

—Kimberly

 

 

The Old Truck

by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey

On a small farm, an old truck gets older and a young girl grows up. This lovely picture book, illustrated in muted tones with handmade stamps, is a testament to the value of hard work, persistence, and dreams.

—Ann

 

Read our Q&A with the Pumphrey Brothers. 

 

If You Come to Earth

by Sophie Blackall

A standout in all ways! A young girl imagines what it would be like to come to our planet for the first time. Her thoughts and illustrations truly capture the diversity and beauty of our planet. Read it to yourself or read it to children. Blackall's imaginative illustrations convey so much of our human world, as well as the natural world around us. Our world is so full of wonderful beings. A keeper!  

—Valerie

 

A Polar Bear in the Snow

by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Shawn Harris

A polar bear moves through the snow, from the land to the sea. The spare text and stunning illustrations made me gasp aloud—this is one of the most stunning author/illustrator collaborations I have ever seen. It doesn't matter that it doesn't snow often in Texas. This book is gorgeous. On par with the best Eric Carle.

—Cathy

 

Baloney and Friends

by Greg Pizzoli

Featuring Baloney the Pig, and Baloney's friends Bizz (a bee), Peanut (a horse), and the hilariously grumpy Krabbit (a rabbit), this book will remind readers of their favorite bits from the Frog and Toad series. Fun instructions at the end teach young readers how to draw each character. Greg Pizzoli has created an early reader-comic book mashup full of heart and humor!

—Cathy

 

Skunk and Badger

by Amy Timberlake; illustrated by Jon Klassen

Badger lives a perfectly delightful life, doing Important Rock Work, until Skunk arrives and turns his life upside down. I haven’t been this charmed by a book in a long time. Amy Timberlake uses gorgeous, funny language that reminds the reader that kindness goes a long way. And Jon Klassen’s illustrations are SUBLIME. A lovely story of friendship, perfect to read aloud to all ages. 

—Cathy


Watch our virtual event with Amy and Jon on Facebook!

 

The List of Things that Will Not Change

by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead has written yet another layered novel about familial love in its myriad of forms. When her parents divorce, Bea is given a journal  to write down things that will remain constant in her life. When her dad announces that he is marrying his boyfriend Jesse, Bea is excited to gain a sister. With the help of her notebook and her kind therapist, Bea is ahor.ble to work through her feelings (mostly her anger management ones). It's a quiet book that will resonate with Stead’s fans and hopefully garner new ones.

—Valerie

 

The One and Only Bob

by Katherine Applegate; illustrated by Patricia Castelao

Gruff-but-lovable Bob the dog picks up the narrator’s reins in this follow-up to Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan. He’s adjusting to his newfound status as a family dog after years on his own, and looks forward to trips to the zoo to visit with old friends Ivan and Ruby. When a bad storm throws his world into chaos, Bob finds bravery he never knew he had in order to rescue a friend he thought was lost forever. Themes of courage, friendship, and forgiveness are balanced perfectly against Bob’s wry observations and self-deprecating wit. Readers in grades three through six—and anyone who loved Ivan—will cherish more time spent with these characters. Highly recommended.

—Noah

 

Ways to Make Sunshine

by Renée Watson; illustrated by Nina Mata

This modern take on old-fashioned slice-of-life stories follows positive-thinking fourth-grader Ryan Hart throughout the year as she struggles to discover her talent, master public speaking, be a leader, enjoy school and friends, and, even when things don’t work out perfectly, find sunshine! Readers 8-10 years old will identify with Ryan’s trials, worries, stumbles, and successes. I smiled all the way through this.

Jennifer

 

Watch our virtual event with Renée Watson on Facebook!

 

Everything Sad is Untrue

by Daniel Nayeri

After his mother converted to Christianity, Daniel Nayeri's family left Iran in the middle of the night with the secret police on their heels. They headed to an Italian refugee camp before arriving in Oklahoma, where he spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence. This fictional memoir reads almost like Scheherazade in middle school. With a crystal clear voice, Daniel leavens this sometimes-painful immigrant experience with love, humor, and hope.

—Ann

 

How We Got to the Moon

by John Rocco

Caldecott-honor winning author/illustrator John Rocco takes an in-depth look at the people and technology behind the moon landing. This gorgeously illustrated, meticulously researched book celebrates the 400,000 people who played roles—big and small—in putting a man on the moon. A must for any space fan and the nonfiction aficionados in your life.

—Cathy

 

 

The Gravity of Us

by Phil Stamper

Cal is a social media teen journalist with over half a million followers and a summer internship at Buzzfeed until his father comes home and announces that he's been selected as the newest astronaut on NASA's mission to Mars and the family is moving from Brooklyn to Houston. The hype surrounding today's astronauts resembles that of the 1960s, only this time it's reality programming with 24/7 coverage everywhere. When Cal meets Leon, the son of another astronaut, there's an instant attraction. And when Cal discovers some secrets about the upcoming mission, he has to get to the truth without hurting his family or his new relationship. A charming YA love story set in Houston for grades 9 and up.

—Ann

 

Read our Q&A with Phil Stamper.

 

 

Stamped

by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Straight-talking Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi provide younger readers with a comprehensive historical background of racist ideas, starting in the 1400s through current times. Engaging and honest, this book gives a brief overview of the seeds of racism, the economic impetus and how false perceptions become imagined and unfortunate realities. The men and women who have fought to break racist stereotypes and carved paths of antiracist purpose are also highlighted. With easy-to-read language, Reynolds and Kendi ignite a sense of outrage and purpose in readers young and old alike as they discuss the twisted and slow progress Americans have made in pursuit of the Constitutional decree that "all men are created equal." Recommended for all humans who can read. 

—Raquel

 

Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo

When a plane bound for the Dominican Republic crashes shortly after takeoff, two girls grieve the loss of their father. Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt and dreams of studying in New York City, where her father lives. Yahaira, a skilled chess player, lives in New York with her parents. Unbeknownst to them, they share a father who maintained two separate families. Camino and Yahaira struggle to understand the complicated man they knew as their father while beginning to develop a familial bond of their own. Elizabeth Acevedo returns to poetry as she takes a close look at grief, betrayal, and family.

—Ann

 

Legendborn 

by Tracy Deonn

A new and fascinating take on the Arthurian legends set in present-day North Carolina. When her mother dies in a car crash, sixteen-year-old Bree is devastated and gladly accepts a place in the Early College program at UNC Chapel Hill to get away from home and the memories. On her very first night on campus she witnesses magic and students battling demons, unwittingly stumbling into an eternal battle with evil and a secret society of the Legendborn. A mage tries to wipe her memories of the incident, unwittingly unlocking a memory related to her mother's death. With the help of a reluctant Legendborn, Nick, Bree infiltrates the society, believing them to have had something to do with her mother’s death. As she seeks the truth, Bree will have to face her own past to decide whether to join the Order and the upcoming magical war, or bring about their downfall. Several plot twists make this an engrossing read. It is also the first of at least two books and I look forward to continuing on this adventure with Bree. Fans of Victoria Schwab (This Savage Song) will love this strong, female lead!

—Caroline

 

Read our Q&A with Tracy Deonn.

 

The Black Kids

by Christina Hammonds Reed

Reed’s excellent writing shines and reflects the sad truth of today's America in this masterpiece of a debut novel. This novel stars Ashley Bennett, a wealthy African-American girl who attends a predominantly white private school that reeks of quiet discrimination in Los Angeles. Ashley's story of her struggle to find herself in a world with so much background noise is told, as she looks around and starts to notice the stark contrast between her life of luxury and the disturbing treatment of African-Americans on the news and in real life everywhere she turns. This timely book takes place in the early 1990s during the protesting of the brutal treatment of Rodney King, with riots and looting in the background that adds to this intriguing plot. As Ashley goes through this formative journey of self-discovery, she starts to see how all of the seemingly small acts of discrimination in her own life lead to a much bigger picture that affects Ashley and the people she loves more than she originally thought.

I thoroughly enjoyed and devoured this book!! This novel was an excellent piece of literature, and although this book was set in the 1990s, it highlights the inequity African-Americans face in America today. Reed's writing flowed page after page, and her vivid language instantly transported me to Los Angeles. I learned so much from this book, and it was impossible to put down. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for an insightful fictional read that ties in real-life events and gives insight to the terrifying, discriminatory, culture African-Americans still face today.

—Gabriella T.

 

Dear Edward

by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward is a novel that will stay in your heart forever. Twelve-year-old Edward, the only survivor of a plane crash that kills many, including his family, must come to terms with his new life. As he struggles, the people who love him dearly must help. People want Edward to be a savior of sorts—which, in the end, he may be. Rejoice that this novel of grief and redemption is coming your way soon. Ann Napolitano mines a big-hearted gem from a universal theme.

—Valerie

 

Valentine

by Elizabeth Wetmore

Brutal and majestic, the west Texas landscape is the setting for this fiery novel set during yet another "high" moment for the oil industry in Odessa. The women in this town have suffered. When Gloria, a fourteen year old Mexican American is horrifically assaulted, the town is splintered into factions. It's a hard world for widows, young mothers, and children with dust blowing in their eyes. It's a must read for Texans and, well, everyone.

—Valerie

 

Watch our virtual event with Elizabeth Wetmore on Facebook!

 

The Authenticity Project

by Clare Pooley 

A green composition book left behind in Monica's cafe starts its journey around the world, changing the lives of all the people who pick it up, read it, and then write their own stories in it. Julian, the lonely,elderly artist, Monica, the cafe owner who would love to be a mother, and a cast of many populate this heartwarming tale of making a family out of strangers. As the characters start to interact, you will cheer them on through their journeys.

—Valerie

 

Party of Two

by Jasmine Guillory

Olivia Monroe has moved home to Los Angeles to start her own law firm. When she meets a gorgeous guy at a hotel bar and has an amazing time, she's stunned to learn that he's Max Powell, the junior senator from California. Olivia has absolutely no interest in dating someone with that high of a profile, but Max is sweet and funny and has chocolate cake delivered to her office—what's a girl to do? Jasmine Guillory combines swoony romance and real world issues to deliver a very satisfying read!

—Cathy

 

Watch our virtual event with Jasmine Guillory and Abbi Waxman on Facebook!

 

Fresh Water For Flowers

 by Valérie Perrin; translated by Hildegarde Serle  

Violette Toussaint is an orphan whose difficult life seems ever met with a shrug of nonchalance. During her feckless marriage, she finds herself as the caretaker of a small, Burgundian cemetery and her life begins to take a firmer shape. She and the others that care for the cemetery—the priest, the gravedigger, and the groundskeeper—develop a life rhythm, and there is so much humor, truth, and sadness in the mundane things that they go about doing each day. When a police officer, Julien, comes to the cemetery to inter his mother's ashes, he and Violette begin a friendship that helps both of them make peace with their pasts. I LOVED this book!  It is melancholy, but so beautifully written.  

—Sandra

 

 

Anxious People

by Fredrik Backman

A fumbled bank robbery by an otherwise good but desperate person turns into an unintentional hostage situation at an open house. As the story unfolds, alternating between frustrated police interviews and the true events of the day, the richly developed characters evolve from self-centered, anxious people into outwardly-focused problem solvers. Fantastically funny, touching, and relatable. Highly recommended!

—Kimberly

 

The Third Rainbow Girl 

by Emma Copley Eisenberg

The facts are that in the summer of 1980, two young women were hitchhiking in Pocahontas County, West Virginia en route to the annual Rainbow Festival. Their murdered bodies were found in a remote clearing on a remote road. Over the years, multiple people confessed to the murders. Was it a local as many thought? Or an itinerant mass murderer traveling the country, raging against Black Americans and others? Eisenberg dives deeply into the case after spending time there years later as a Vista volunteer. This engaging book tells the story of the people of this rural county, the history of the area, and the officials who would not let the case die. It is also Emma's story: Her time with these people, her loves, and her discontent. It is a stirring addition to the Appalachian canon.

—Valerie

 

The Book of Eels

by Patrik Svensson

What, exactly, is an eel? Where does it come from? How does it reproduce? These seemingly simple questions have captivated naturalists and researchers for centuries—and are still largely unanswered today. The Book of Eels doesn’t set out to answer those questions, exactly. Author Patrik Svensson revels in the eel’s slippery, unknowable nature, and the book is as much a chronicle of the his own desire to understand eels as it is an explanation of the creature. Svensson draws on the work of scientists like Aristotle, Freud, Rachel Carson, and Johannes Schmidt, all of whom became obsessed by the eel at some point in their careers. Through it all, he also weaves in autobiographical threads that deepen the book’s themes of conservation, destiny, and mortality. You’ll never think of eels the same way—and they’ll never be far from your thoughts. Highly recommended for anyone who loved The Sea Around Us, Spineless, or anything like it.

—Noah

 

 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

by Isabel Wilkerson

In this forceful and compelling examination of race relations in the United States, Wilkerson uses the concept of caste to describe the "fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits." What makes a caste system work is the belief of participants that there is always another class of people who are inferior to one's own. Although the book compares the three major caste systems of modern times—India, Nazi Germany, and the United States—the majority of Wilkerson's examples of how a caste system works are taken from the experiences of Black Americans in the U.S. As an investigative journalist, she cites research of sociologists, economists, historians, and anthropologists that supports her theory of the deleterious effects of a caste system. Pick any chapter in this book and you'll read a litany of statistics and anecdotes that show how the superiority of whites in our society has been maintained, and how, even among African Americans, a caste system has developed. In the author's view, radical empathy is the only solution that will break the hold of this artificial construct in our society and bring us up to the level of every other developed country in the world. This is a powerful book with a lot of good history. Recommended.

—Alice

 

A Knock at Midnight

by Brittany K. Barnett 

Coming of age in northeast Texas in the 1980s and 1990s, Brittany Barnett was a smart Black girl, surrounded by a large extended family who encouraged her to excel. But drugs were a lucrative business for members of her community for whom few other job opportunities existed. When Barnett was ten, her mother, a hard-working nurse, went to jail for drug possession, and the two years of her incarceration made an indelible mark on the author’s outlook on life. Not so many years later, with an honors degree in accounting and while working on a law degree, Barnett met Sharanda, a young mother who was serving a life sentence for a relatively minor drug offense, an example of the harsh sentences handed out during the War on Drugs era. Although she had a plum job as a corporate attorney, Barnett devoted her spare time to what was becoming her passion—seeking to reopen several cases, including Sharanda’s, where punishments were much more severe than the crimes. The harsh laws have been modified in recent years, but prior convictions were not readdressed. Barnett’s work had some success, and where cases weren’t reopened, she was able to get clemency from the outgoing President Obama for several of her clients.  

This is an inspiring story of a young woman’s commitment to changing unjust laws and changing the lives of the thousands of individuals in prison on drug offenses.

—Alice

His Truth is Marching On

by Jon Meacham; afterword by John Lewis

Closely following the death of Congressman John Lewis, Meacham's book is a graceful homage to a man he calls a Christian saint. Although it is not a complete biography of Lewis, it is an informed discussion of the making of one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. Lewis was one of the early organizers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Meacham does a good job of bringing to life the nitty gritty details of the civil rights battlefields, which included the over 40 times that Lewis was arrested for protesting injustice. What distinguishes John Lewis was his total commitment to nonviolence as a means to achieving social justice, a commitment under-girded by his strong literal interpretation of Christian theology: It wasn't enough for Lewis to encourage nonviolence; he had to love the person who was beating him. He saw his actions as a means to fostering what he called "a beloved community."

—Alice

 

See You on Sunday

by Sam Sifton

"The point of Sunday dinner is just to have it. Even if you don't particularly like entertaining, there is great pleasure to be had in cooking for others, and great pleasure to be taken from the experience of gathering to eat with others... It makes life a little better, almost every time." —Sam Sifton

I've been cooking since I was very young and found this book to be very heartwarming and tastefully tempting. This is comfort food at its best and a guide to easily welcoming others into your space with one of the most genuine gifts you can give. You'll find a variety of flavors from different regions that are sure to delight.

—Kimberly

 

The Flavor Equation

by Nik Sharma

Whether you are a dedicated cook or someone who is new to the idea of melding science and cooking, you will love The Flavor Equation. Everything goes into our cooking—the aroma, the desire for sweet or salty, the texture, and more. The recipes are wonderful, but Sharma's reflections on cooking—and what makes you want to eat the entire bowl—makes for great reading. (Just maybe not when you are hungry!)

—Valerie