LibraryReads is the monthly nationwide library staff picks list for adult fiction and non-fiction. Rather than picking “the best” of anything, LibraryReads represents collective favorites—the books library staff across the U.S. loved reading and cannot wait to share. The February 2024 LibraryReads list includes:
A Fate Inked in Blood by Danielle L. Jensen
Bound in an unwanted marriage, Freya spends her days gutting fish but dreams of becoming a warrior. And of putting an axe in her boorish husband’s back.
Freya’s dreams abruptly become reality when her husband betrays her to the region’s jarl, landing her in a fight to the death against his son, Bjorn. To survive, Freya is forced to reveal her deepest secret: She possesses a drop of a goddess’s blood, which makes her a shield maiden with magic capable of repelling any attack. And it’s been foretold that such magic will unite the fractured nation of Skaland beneath the one who controls the shield maiden’s fate.
Believing he’s destined to rule Skaland as king, the fanatical jarl binds Freya with a blood oath and orders Bjorn to protect her from their enemies. Desperate to prove her strength, Freya must train to fight and learn to control her magic, all while facing perilous tests set by the gods. The greatest test of all, however, may be resisting her forbidden attraction to Bjorn. If Freya succumbs to her lust for the charming and fierce warrior, she risks not only her own destiny but the fate of all the people she has sworn to protect.
The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett
In Daretana’s greatest mansion, a high imperial officer lies dead—killed, to all appearances, when a tree erupted from his body. Even here at the Empire’s borders, where contagions abound and the blood of the leviathans works strange magical changes, it’s a death both terrifying and impossible.
Assigned to investigate is Ana Dolabra, a detective whose reputation for brilliance is matched only by her eccentricities. Rumor has it that she wears a blindfold at all times, and that she can solve impossible cases without even stepping outside the walls of her home.
At her side is her new assistant, Dinios Kol, magically altered in ways that make him the perfect aide to Ana’s brilliance. Din is at turns scandalized, perplexed, and utterly infuriated by his new superior—but as the case unfolds and he watches Ana’s mind leap from one startling deduction to the next, he must admit that she is, indeed, the Empire’s greatest detective.
As the two close in on a mastermind and uncover a scheme that threatens the Empire itself, Din realizes he’s barely begun to assemble the puzzle that is Ana Dolabra—and wonders how long he’ll be able to keep his own secrets safe from her piercing intellect.
The Book of Doors by Garethe Brown
Cassie Andrews works in a New York City bookshop, shelving books, making coffee for customers, and living an unassuming, ordinary life. Until the day one of her favorite customers—a lonely yet charming old man—dies right in front of her. Cassie is devastated. She always loved his stories, and now she has nothing to remember him by. Nothing but the last book he was reading.
But this is no ordinary book…
It is the Book of Doors.
Inscribed with enigmatic words and mysterious drawings, it promises Cassie that any door is every door. You just need to know how to open them.
Then she’s approached by a gaunt stranger in a rumpled black suit with a Scottish brogue who calls himself Drummond Fox. He’s a librarian who keeps watch over a unique set of rare volumes. The tome now in Cassie’s possession is not the only book with great power, but it is the one most coveted by those who collect them.
Now Cassie is being hunted by those few who know of the Special Books. With only her roommate Izzy to confide in, she has to decide if she will help the mysterious and haunted Drummond protect the Book of Doors—and the other books in his secret library’s care—from those who will do evil. Because only Drummond knows where the unique library is and only Cassie’s book can get them there.
The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo
In the last years of the dying Qing Empire, a courtesan is found frozen in a doorway. Her death is clouded by rumors of foxes, which are believed to lure people by transforming themselves into beautiful women and handsome men. Bao, a detective with an uncanny ability to sniff out the truth, is hired to uncover the dead woman’s identity. Since childhood, Bao has been intrigued by the fox gods, yet they’ve remained tantalizingly out of reach―until, perhaps, now.
Meanwhile, a family who owns a famous Chinese medicine shop can cure ailments but can’t escape the curse that afflicts them―their eldest sons die before their twenty-fourth birthdays. When a disruptively winsome servant named Snow enters their household, the family’s luck seems to change―or does it?
Snow is a creature of many secrets, but most of all she’s a mother seeking vengeance for her lost child. Hunting a murderer, she will follow the trail from northern China to Japan, while Bao follows doggedly behind. Navigating the myths and misconceptions of fox spirits, both Snow and Bao will encounter old friends and new foes, even as more deaths occur.
The Book of Love by Kelly Link
Late one night, Laura, Daniel, and Mo find themselves beneath the fluorescent lights of a high school classroom, almost a year after disappearing from their hometown, the small seaside community of Lovesend, Massachusetts, having long been presumed dead. Which, in fact, they are.
With them in the room is their previously unremarkable high school music teacher, who seems to know something about their disappearance—and what has brought them back again. Desperate to reclaim their lives, the three agree to the terms of the bargain their music teacher proposes. They will be given a series of magical tasks; while they undertake them, they may return to their families and friends, but they can tell no one where they’ve been. In the end, there will be winners and there will be losers.
But their resurrection has attracted the notice of other supernatural figures, all with their own agendas. As Laura, Daniel, and Mo grapple with the pieces of the lives they left behind, and Laura’s sister, Susannah, attempts to reconcile what she remembers with what she fears, these mysterious others begin to arrive, engulfing their community in danger and chaos, and it becomes imperative that the teens solve the mystery of their deaths to avert a looming disaster.
The Teacher by Freida McFadden
Eve has a good life. She wakes up each day, kisses her husband Nate, and heads off to teach math at the local high school. All is as it should be. Except…
Last year, Caseham High was rocked by a scandal involving a student-teacher affair, with one student, Addie, at its center. But Eve knows there is far more to these ugly rumors than meets the eye.
Addie can’t be trusted. She lies. She hurts people. She destroys lives. At least, that’s what everyone says.
But nobody knows the real Addie. Nobody knows the secrets that could destroy her. And Addie will do anything to keep it quiet…
Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange
Colorado, 1864. Star, a young survivor of the Sand Creek Massacre, is brought to the Fort Marion Prison Castle, where he is forced to learn English and practice Christianity by Richard Henry Pratt, an evangelical prison guard who will go on to found the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, an institution dedicated to the eradication of Native history, culture, and identity. A generation later, Star’s son, Charles, is sent to the school, where he is brutalized by the man who was once his father’s jailer. Under Pratt’s harsh treatment, Charles clings to moments he shares with a young fellow student, Opal Viola, as the two envision a future away from the institutional violence that follows their bloodlines.
Oakland, 2018. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield is barely holding her family together after the shooting that nearly took the life of her nephew Orvil. From the moment he awakens in his hospital bed, Orvil begins compulsively googling school shootings on YouTube. He also becomes emotionally reliant on the prescription medications meant to ease his physical trauma. His younger brother, Lony, suffering from PTSD, is struggling to make sense of the carnage he witnessed at the shooting by secretly cutting himself and enacting blood rituals that he hopes will connect him to his Cheyenne heritage. Opal is equally adrift, experimenting with Ceremony and peyote, searching for a way to heal her wounded family.
After Annie by Anna Quindlen
When Annie Brown dies suddenly, her husband, her children, and her closest friend are left to find a way forward without the woman who has been the lynchpin of all their lives. Bill is overwhelmed without his beloved wife, and Annemarie wrestles with the bad habits her best friend had helped her overcome. And Ali, the eldest of Annie’s children, has to grow up overnight, to care for her younger brothers and even her father and to puzzle out for herself many of the mysteries of adult life.
Over the course of the next year what saves them all is Annie, ever-present in their minds, loving but not sentimental, caring but nobody’s fool, a voice in their heads that is funny and sharp and remarkably clear. The power she has given to those who loved her is the power to go on without her. The lesson they learn is that no one beloved is ever truly gone.
When Grumpy Met Sunshine by Charlotte Stein
When grumpy ex-footballer Alfie Harding gets badgered into selling his memoirs, he knows he’s never going to be able to write them. He hates revealing a single thing about himself, is allergic to most emotions, and can’t imagine doing a good job of putting pen to paper.
And so in walks curvy, cheery, cute as heck ghostwriter Mabel Willicker, who knows just how to sunshine and sass her way into getting every little detail out of Alfie. They banter and bicker their way to writing his life story, both of them sure they’ll never be anything other than at odds.
But after their business arrangement is mistaken for a budding romance, the pair have to pretend to be an item for a public who’s ravenous for more of this Cinderella story. Or at least, it feels like it’s pretend―until each slow burn step in their fake relationship sparks a heat neither can control. Now they just have to decide: is this sizzling chemistry just for show? Or something so real it might just give them their fairytale ending?
A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams
Ricki Wilde has many talents, but being a Wilde isn’t one of them. As the impulsive, artistic daughter of a powerful Atlanta dynasty, she’s the opposite of her famous socialite sisters. Where they’re long-stemmed roses, she’s a dandelion: an adorable bloom that’s actually a weed, born to float wherever the wind blows. In her bones, Ricki knows that somewhere, a different, more exciting life awaits her.
When regal nonagenarian, Ms. Della, invites her to rent the bottom floor of her Harlem brownstone, Ricki jumps at the chance for a fresh beginning. She leaves behind her family, wealth, and chaotic romantic decisions to realize her dream of opening a flower shop. And just beneath the surface of her new neighborhood, the music, stories and dazzling drama of the Harlem Renaissance still simmers.
One evening in February as the heady, curiously off-season scent of night-blooming jasmine fills the air, Ricki encounters a handsome, deeply mysterious stranger who knocks her world off balance in the most unexpected way.
Bonus Pick: A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian
There’s something sinister under the surface of the idyllic, suburban town of Wesley Falls, and it’s not just the abandoned coal mine that lies beneath it. The summer of 1995 kicks off with a party in the mine where six high school students witness a horrifying crime that changes the course of their lives.
Notable Nonfiction: Why We Read: On Bookworms, Librarians, and Just One More Page Before Lights Out by Shannon Reed
We read to escape, to learn, to find love, to feel seen. We read to encounter new worlds, to discover new recipes, to find connection across difference, or simply to pass a rainy afternoon. No matter the reason, books have the power to keep us safe, to challenge us, and perhaps most importantly, to make us more fully human.
Shannon Reed, a longtime teacher, lifelong reader, and New Yorker contributor, gets it. With one simple goal in mind, she makes the case that we should read for pleasure above all else. In this whip-smart, laugh-out-loud-funny collection, Reed shares surprising stories from her life as a reader and the poignant ways in which books have impacted her students. From the varied novels she cherishes (Gone Girl, Their Eyes Were Watching God) to the ones she didn’t (Tess of the d’Urbervilles), Reed takes us on a rollicking tour through the comforting world of literature, celebrating the books we love, the readers who love them, and the ways in which literature can transform us for the better.