Best of 2020: Staff Picks

2020 has certainly been a year to remember (or forget depending on your situation). While much of the year has been rough to get through, at least we’ve had books, movies, TV shows, music, games, and more to help us get through it all. These are the works of art and entertainment that our staff members have picked as their favorites in this most atypical year.


Bonita: History Center Curator

Streaming Service: Kanopy

I cannot say enough about Kanopy. I pace myself and save it for the weekends only, when my evenings are all about red wine and Kanopy. Via this wonderful service we have seen the most memorable, surprising and often utterly delightful movies from around the world, that nobody has ever heard of. Try it, you’ll be hooked.

Click here for Kanopy.

Audiobook Streaming Service: Libby & Hoopla

I can’t chose between the 2 of them, I use them both & rely on them 5 days a
week on my 40 minute drive to & from work. They make the drive more than just bearable – I look forward to getting in my car and switching on an audio book. They both have an extensive selection and the apps are very easy to use.

Click here for Libby / Overdrive and click here for Hoopla.

Audiobook Series: “Inspector Gamache” by Louise Penny

Back to my 40 minute drive to and from work – I barely notice, I am lost in this series of thrillers set in a fictional village outside of Montreal, Canada. How I would love to be sipping hot chocolate in Three Pines bistro, sitting and reading in Myrna’s secondhand bookshop, dodging Ruth the crochety old poet and her duck, while murder and mayhem whirl around me in the snowstorms. Never fear Inspector Gamache will recite obscure poetry
and solve any crime with old world style and panache. What a shame Three Pines doesn’t exist!

Audiobooks available at the library, and on Overdrive and Hoopla.

TV Series & Magazine: Gardeners’ World

I’m an avid gardener and Monty Don is my heart throb. I love the shows and watch them on Britbox or YouTube, while the magazine keeps me going in the long winter months. Gardening tips, green wellies, British countryside, dogs and Monty – wonderful. I have a back catalogue of the magazines for the last 3 or 4 years, if anyone wants to borrow them.

TV Series available on Amazon Prime.

Magazine available at the library.

YouTube Channel: Cruising the Cut

It sounds unlikely but, this is terrific viewing. David – the presenter – sold up, gave up his job as a journalist & bought a narrowboat in which he cruises the canals of England while posting videos of it all. There is a lot of tea drinking and footage of swans (which seem to be rampant in England!), but the whole thing is just peaceful and delightful with the most amazing scenery. I watch this on YouTube but I believe the last series is now on Amazon Prime.

Available on YouTube and Amazon Prime.

Film: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I’ve been a fan of Sam Neill for ages and now I’m also a fan of Julian Dennison (the kid). This 2016 New Zealand comedy/drama will absolutely charm you, make you laugh and cry, and long for simpler times. It’s a great adventure story, perfectly acted, directed and shot (terrific scenery), ideal for a Saturday night. I saw this on Kanopy but I believe it’s also on Netflix.

Available on DVD, Kanopy, Hoopla, and Netflix.

Scandinavian TV Series: Borgen

Another one that sounds unlikely I know, but this is very addictive. A political drama set around the Danish Parliament. Don’t expect The West Wing or House of Cards (both terrific), this is much more down-to-earth – a middle aged bicycle-riding female politician with both family issues and political enemies, who suddenly finds herself Denmark’s Prime Minister, by default. Very binge-worthy. I watch it on Netflix who gives the option to turn off the sub-titles and get a dubbed version. Don’t do it! The
dubbing is horrible. Cope with the sub-titles.

Available on Hoopla and Netflix.

Non-Fiction Book: On the Shores of the Mediterranean by Eric Newby

Eric Newby can be a bit wordy and long-winded (but then so can I) but, this was a joy to read. A great travel book around Europe on a budget without all of the usual privileges. A lot of history and geographical information interspersed with arguments with his wife / travelling companion! I was exhausted for them by the end of it. A cracking good read though.

Available from Amazon.

Fiction Book: The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia

I’m a bee-keeper so I was drawn to the title, and the bee theme does run throughout, but it is set in Northern Mexico in the early 20th century at the time of the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish flu pandemic. It follows the fate of a family and strange child with a strong connection to a swarm of protective bees. Beautifully written, it’s very visual and totally immersive.

Available from Amazon.

Positive Surprise Event to Have Come Out of the Year of COVID-19: Cape May County Music Events

Michael Kline and Spy Boy Productions, who put on the Exit Zero Jazz festival, branched out and put on Rootsock live music events this summer at Hawk Haven Winery in Rio Grande, the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, as well as other locations. Live music from NJ and Philadelphia, all outside, with picnics, food trucks, local wines – it turned out to be an excellent socially distanced summer for live, local entertainment. Even when we are out of this pandemic, I hope these events will continue – absolutely fabulous. Well done and thank-you to Michael Kline, Spy Boy Productions
and Cape May County.

Nature TV Show: BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and Winterwatch

I watch it on Britbox. 3 times a year for a week each time (goes out live in UK) this wonderful insight into Britain’s natural world is sheer joy and delight. Often hilarious, always low-tech (hand drawn graphics make a refreshing change!), endlessly lovely. Beautiful scenery, Mindful Minutes from nature, really, really informative & amazing.

Available from BritBox.


Chris P.: Technical Services Associate

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

Really funny.

Available in Print, Large Print, Audiobook, Playaway, eBook, and eAudiobook


Erin: Library Director

The Book on Pie by Erin Jeanne McDowell

This book was just released at the end of 2020 but it’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite things. If you’ve ever wanted to improve your pie baking skills, this is all you need.

Available in Print.

Tana French

I read the first in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series years ago and loved it but somehow managed to not pick up any of her other titles since then. Perhaps I was subconsciously saving all the goodness for this year, when I really needed it. Her mysteries are brilliant and I particularly enjoy them on audio.

Available at the Library and on Overdrive.

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez

My book club selected this title this year for one of our Zoom meetings and I couldn’t be more grateful to the friend who made the pick. It’s thought-provoking and fascinating. Scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Would make a great gift!

Available in eBook and eAudiobook.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

I’ve enjoyed Erik Larson’s books for years and always anxiously await the next one. I was particularly excited for this title, as it’s what he was working on when he came to speak at the Avalon Library in 2018. He doesn’t share details about works in progress, so I’ve been curious ever since we spoke that summer. With the exceptional research Mr. Larson is known for, this ассоunt of Churchill and London during the Blitz was worth the wait.

Available in Print, Large Print, eBook and eAudiobook.

The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn

When I heard Netflix was turning Julia Quinn’s Bridgeton series into a show produced by Shonda Rhimes I knew I’d be tuning in. It hasn’t come out yet (the release date is December 25) but it inspired me to reread some of the books in Ms. Quinn’s beloved historical romance series. It’s a series all fans of the genre should check out. I’m betting on the Netflix series to be just as entertaining.

Available at the Library and on Overdrive.

Walk the Wire by David Baldacci

One of my highlights of 2020 was having the chance to chat with David Baldacci for our Summer Author Series. It was a great event and we were thrilled to host him. Of all the characters Mr. Baldacci has created over the years, Amos Decker is one of my favorites. Walk the Wire is the latest in the series, but start with Memory Man if you haven’t read any of the books in the series.

Available in Print, Large Print, Audiobook, Playaway, eBook and eAudiobook

Bakerita

This book released in March and I was so excited about it I did a video for the library’s YouTube page. Months later I’m still loving it. If you or someone you know is into baking with more wholesome ingredients, check it out.

Available in Print and eBook


Heather: Patron Services

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

This book was a great read. Set in World War II France, this historical novel follows a young woman, Eva, as she flees her birthplace to escape the Nazi round-up of those of Jewish descent in Paris, France. In her exile, she becomes a part of the Resistance working as a forger. Her talent for making false documents helps many Jewish children escape to Switzerland.

Available in Print & eBook.

Overcomer

The story of a man who has lost his coaching position in the sport he loves, basketball, and reluctantly coaches another sport, cross-country, with only one student to train. Great story of faith, inspiration, and healing.

Available on DVD.

Destined to Ride

This movie tells the story of a young girl who unhappily spends the summer with her aunt, the sister of her deceased mother. Raised in the city, life on her aunt’s ranch is unfamiliar. In addition, being surrounded by horses brings to the surface the pain of losing her mom, who was an avid horseback rider.

Available on DVD.

Transfigured by Christine Watkins & Patricia Sandoval

This inspiring story tells of Patricia Sandoval’s descent into drugs and homelessness before finding faith and strength from that faith.

Available in Print.

Santa Baby by Jonathan Stutzman & Heather Fox

A truly fun picture book. Santa is feeling tired and asks the spirit of Christmas to give him a gift of shaving off some years. Well, Santa becomes a baby and the residents of the North Pole fear he won’t be able to pull off Christmas as an infant. If you haven’t heard of this husband and wife writing / illustrating team, definitely check out Llama Destroys the World.

Available in Print.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black

A middle grade book series from 2008, it was new to me this past year. Following the divorce of their parents, three siblings move with their mother to their family’s run-down estate. While there they fall upon a world of fairies, elves, goblins, trolls and other magical creatures. They soon find themselves immersed in many adventures.

Available in Print.


Sean: Digital Outreach Associate

1. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

Getting access to over 200 games to play across your Xbox console, PC, or mobile phone for only $15/month is an absolute steal. Microsoft’s recent studio buying spree also means that a lot of the most anticipated game releases will be available on the service on release day for no additional cost. It’s hard not to love this service and it’s interesting to see how it will change the video game industry going forward.

Click here for Xbox Game Pass.

2. Parasite

Bong Joon Ho has long been one of the most interesting directors working in the industry, and it is great to see him finally receive the sort of acclaim he deserves here in the United States. This masterpiece of misdirection and social criticism will make you gasp and laugh pretty equally throughout, but most importantly, will have you thinking about it long after the end credits begin to roll.

Available on Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack.

3. Hamilton

Everything about this show is worth the hype. The music, the dancing, the performances, and the story are all wonderful. Even better is being able to finally watch this from the comfort of home with the original Broadway cast. Smart direction makes you feel like you’re really in the theater, while still affording you some views of the action that are far better than any real seat could offer.

Available on Disney+.

4. The Old Guard

Movie theaters being closed all Summer meant the usual crop of blockbuster movies was put on hold. Luckily Netflix had this crowd-pleaser on tap. The somewhat smaller stakes allow the characters to become better developed than usual, which is made even better by how groundbreakingly inclusionary the film manages to be. Exactly the sort of smart and fun entertainment we needed this year.

Available on Netflix.

5. The Mandalorian

Season 2 of Disney+’s flagship series manages to maintain the high bar set by season 1, bringing us 8 more perfectly sized episodes of adventure, action, and just the right amount of heart. The cutting-edge tech used to pull it all off make it even more impressive, and add up to a gorgeous looking TV show that can make several megabudget blockbusters look cheap by comparison.

Available on Disney+.

6. Chromatica by Lady Gaga

If there was ever a year that needed a 43 minute blast of pure, unadulterated, 90’s-house-loving, dance pop joy it was 2020. Featuring guest spots from Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK, and Elton John along with production by electronica heavyweights like Axwell, Tchami, Skrillex, and Madeon (among others); the mixture of upbeat melodies and personal lyrics was the perfect, cathartic soundtrack to a weird Summer.

Available on Hoopla.

7. The Good Place: Season 4

Only the final few episodes of the series aired in 2020, but they still ended the show on such a perfect note that they outshone everything else on TV for me. The blend of absurdist humor, deep philosophizing, and genuine sweetness that made me fall in love with the show to begin with was maintained almost flawlessly up until the memorable end.

Available on DVD.

8. A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

Using a large scale environmental disaster, this quick but sharp read examines how the complacency of one generation can disfigure the future of the next. A riveting read that will leave you simultaneously feeling worried and hopeful, and possibly a little guilty.

Available in eBook & eAudiobook.

9. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

A woman suspects a newcomer to town is a vampire and enlists the help of her book club to figure it out in this funny, exciting, scary, and yes, charming book. Aside from an appreciation of mothers there isn’t some overarching message here, just one of the most fun reads of the year.

Available in Print, eBook & eAudiobook.

10. The Trial of the Chicago 7

An absolutely stellar cast heads up Aaron Sorkin’s movie about the infamous uprising during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the ensuing trial of those alleged to have started the violence. Whipsmart dialogue, excellent performances, and smart direction keep viewers riveted to this topical and timely film.

Available on Netflix.

11. The Invisible Man

This retelling of the classic story brings it firmly into modern times. Anchored by a fantastic Elisabeth Moss performance, and using its central conceit as a clever means to examine toxic masculinity and institutional misogyny, it’s the first great #MeToo thriller.

Available on Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack.

12. Taskmaster

This British panel show debuted several years ago, but only just made it stateside over the Summer. As the pandemic left many of us stuck at home, the producers of this series began uploading episodes to YouTube on a weekly basis for us to enjoy. The premise is simple: host Greg Davies and his assistant Alex Horne (also the series’ creator) invite 5 comedians each season to participate in a series of tasks to vie for the trophy (a bust of Mr. Davies’). They then gather to watch the results and critique each other in front a live audience (remember those?). Reliably hilarious, and easily the best of this type of show to come along since Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Available on YouTube.


Shannon: Assistant Director

Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling

I enjoyed it and really appreciated it. It’s being mismarketed, as more of a suspense thriller, but it’s really about the characters and their relationships.

Available in Print, eBook, & eAudiobook.

The King of Staten Island

It’s the first movie to make me genuinely laugh in a really long time.

Available on Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack.

The Mandalorian

Engaging and engrossing. They did a great job on the Star Wars world. And Baby Yoda is awesome.

Available on Disney+.

The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt 

A terrific book about being yourself with quaint, homey illustrations. I enjoyed it and my children enjoyed it even more. They like ghosts and I like the message.

Available from Amazon.


Terri: Patron Services, 2004 – 2019

Anxious People by Fredrick Backman

Humorous and surprisingly compassionate, I had a similar reaction to A Man Called Ove.

Available in Print, Large Print, Playaway, eBook, & eAudiobook.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

I was especially thrilled the author was part of our Summer author series.

Available in Print, eBook, & eAudiobook.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I loved the Philadelphia setting and Tom Hanks’ narration in the audiobook.

Available in Print, Large Print, Audiobook, eBook, & eAudiobook.

Long, Bright River by Liz Moore

Also an Avalon Library Summer series author. I chose this book because of its setting – Kensington section of Philadelphia today. I found it a suspenseful story of a policewoman’s search for her sister.

Available in Print, Large Print, eBook, & eAudiobook.

The Queen’s Gambit

Available on Netflix.

The Crown: Season 4

Available on Netflix. Prior seasons available at the library.

One thought on “Best of 2020: Staff Picks

  1. Thank you for this wonderful synopsis by some of the present and retired staff!
    I would love to see this every month, maybe submitted by staff on a rotating basis.
    You all possess a wealth of reader, viewer and “player” (Sean) experience and opinion.
    Thank you!

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