One of the great things about working in a library is being able to recommend things you really enjoy to patrons, and of course getting to be friends with many of them as a result. As such, sitting down to think about what we all really enjoyed over the past year is always a treat, though whittling our favorites down to just a few can also be a challenge. This year our staff has a selection of books (for both adults and kids), audiobooks, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and video games across a wide variety of genres that should offer up something for just about everyone! Underneath each selection is a series of buttons that will take you to the relevant location where you can either borrow the title from the library (in print, on CD, DVD, Playaway, Libby, Hoopla, or Kanopy) or stream it through your favorite services like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max. We hope you had a good 2021, or as good as can be expected in current circumstances, and let us know what your favorites of the year were in the comments! And to see what several major authors picked for their favorite books of the year, click here!
Ruth Ware Audiobooks
Last year I couldn’t stop listening to everything Tana French has written on audio. This year it was Ruth Ware. If you like mysteries and enjoy audiobooks, I can’t recommend her enough. Her 2020 release One By One was particularly well-done on audio – Imogen Church is amazing! I can’t wait for her 2022 release, The It Girl.
The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley
This book made me feel the same way The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society did so many years ago. They’re set in different times and dealing with different concepts but ultimately there’s something about the sense of community and relationships that form in each book that had me connecting the two.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
I love memoirs. I love food writing. This has both, done very well. It made all the best of lists, and rightly so. If you enjoy memoirs and haven’t checked it out, please do. Note – it deals heavily with the writer’s mother’s illness and death. Also great in food and memoir – Finding Freedom by Erin French.
Earth!: My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by David Litchfield
A great juvenile nonfiction book with plenty of facts about our planet. The information is shared in easy-to-understand language and often humorous ways. Other books in the series include Sun, Moon, Mars, and Ocean.
I really liked this new installment to the Ghostbusters franchise. I thought it had a really good blend of new storyline interspersed with the original Ghostbusters story.
It’s a Wonderful Life
The movie is a classic that never gets old. One man’s journey from the depths of despair through the love of those around him.
Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald, illustrated by Ben Wood
This fun juvenile graphic novel series follows a bunch of pigeons who go around making the world a safer place.
Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
These early chapter books are great for new readers or fun for parents to read. Junie B. is hysterical. She is often doing the wrong thing, but her heart is in the right place.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This was my first reading of the tale and I enjoyed it. I have seen many movie versions of the book and always enjoyed the story. The story of redemption is timeless.
Collection Development Librarian
Only Murders in the Building
While I decided to watch this because of my love of Steve Martin and Martin Short, the almost immediate plunge into the murder mystery hooked me. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, and their banter made me feel like I was involved in the investigation.
This TV show is what I think The X-Files would be like if it had focused on comedy. Two professionally disgraced men are specifically requested to help find a man who works for a secret department that investigates the unknown (aliens, cryptids, etc). The storyline is interesting, but my favorite part of the show is its sense of humor! Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and Craig Robinson (The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) have perfect chemistry as Max and Leroy, and don’t follow the formula we’ve become so used to in half hour comedies. It’s rare a comedy takes me by surprise multiple times in an episode, and this one does every time. It’s a perfect, chill, enjoyable comedy!
Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
A young bear keeps being asked, “Can bears ski?” You follow along with him from not being able to fully hear his family through his getting hearing aids.
I’m Sorry by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Michael Ian Black was first known as a comedian, and lately he has been writing a wonderful picture book series starring a girl, a flamingo and a potato. In this installment, Potato hurts Flamingo’s feelings and gives a lackluster, insincere apology. The girl helps Potato understand the importance of a good apology, and how to give one.
Keep Your Head Up by Aliya King Neil, illustrated by Charly Palmer
D is having a rough day. Everything seems to be going from bad to worse. He is encouraged to keep his head up, be kind to himself, and get through the bad days, because tomorrow is a fresh start.
Gladys the Magic Chicken by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Adam Rex
Glady is an ordinary chicken. Right? Through a hilarious, action packed chain of coincidences (and people seeing what they want to see), Gladys’s reputation as a Magic Chicken gets her passed from person to person.
Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani, illustrated by Holly Hatam
A girl’s father does her hair every day, and she especially loves when he gives her a bun on the top of her head just like the joora he wears under his turban. These are their hair twins days!
Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker
This nonfiction picture book tells you all about the Survivor Tree, which witnessed and made it through the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center in NYC. You experience the day, the aftermath, and how the tree is prospering now in the 9/11 memorial.
We Are Family by LeBron James & Andrea Williams
Five kids have been looking forward to (and depending on) the next season of Hoop Group, but now it looks like the season will be cancelled. They work, hustle and fight to get the program back – not just so they can play basketball, but so they can get their chance to prove themselves.
Kiranmala & the Kingdom Beyond series by Sayantani DasGupta
Kiranmala is an ordinary sixth grader living in North Jersey, until her twelfth birthday when her parents disappear, a rakkosh demon shows up, and two princes fly in on their winged horses to take her to another dimension. She has to fight demons, solve riddles, find her parents, AND save the world!
Maya & the Return of the Godlings by Rena Barron
In this sequel to Maya & the Rising Dark, Maya is now repairing the veils with her father and trying to control her powers (and repair the baby wormholes they create). But it soon becomes apparent she and her friends will have to go back to The Dark and retrieve what they left behind – her father’s soul.
Pahua & the Soul Stealer by Lori M. Lee
Pahua is a lonely Hmong girl who is considered weird, since she can see spirits. She spends her time watching her little brother and hanging out with her best friend – the spirit of a cat. One day she accidentally unleashes a malevolent ghost that steals the soul of her brother, and teams up with a warrior shaman to save him. This is a Rick Riordan Presents title!
Tristan Strong Keeps Punching the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
In this third book in the Tristan Strong series, Tristan is thrown back into the world of African American folk heroes, needing to fight the haint King Cotton for hopefully the last time, and get his magic cell phone (which contains the god Anansi) back from a girl who somehow knows all about his previous adventures. This is a Rick Riordan Presents title!
I Survived the Galveston Hurricane, 1900 by Laura Tarshis
Experience the record breaking and life changing Galveston Hurricane first hand! Like all the I Survived books, you learn a ton of history in a quick, interesting, and attention-grabbing way.
The Five Pandavas series by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah, while trying to prove herself to kids at her posh private school, inadvertently unleashes an ancient demon from her mother’s museum. She now must find the reincarnated souls of the five Pandava brothers (from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata) to recapture it. These stories delve into Hindu Mythology, making sure to remain accessible to those who may not be familiar with it already. This is a Rick Riordan Presents series!
Digital Outreach Associate
21. Shadow & Bone
This Netflix series based on Leigh Bardugo’s popular YA novels is one of the more fun sprawling fantasy series to come along in recent years. Sure, in some ways it hews pretty close to the formulas established by Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Shadowhunters, but it also deviates from them in enough ways to keep things feeling fresh. It isn’t perfect, but by the end of this first season you will be anxious to see where things go next.
I don’t know if anyone was necessarily clamoring for a prequel to 101 Dalmatians that recasts the film’s classic villain in a more sympathetic light, but that’s never stopped Disney before. Luckily, this particular IP-milking affair works a lot better than it should, in no small part due to some stellar performances by Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. The stunning costume designs don’t hurt either.
19. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
The latest installment in Ubisoft’s long-running series may drift too far from the usual formula for some, and stick too close to it for others, but in many ways it’s a great distillation of the various ideas that have contributed to its success over the last 14 years. The core story arc is compelling, the open world is stunning, and the typical fetch quests and tower climbing feel more purposeful than usual. Stealth may matter less than it has before, but it’s still a lot of fun.
18. The Suicide Squad & Psycho Goreman
If you’re in the market for a heaping dose of juvenile humor, gross-out visual gags, and bizarre plotting, you need look no further than this pair of movies. Gleefully gory and consistently over-the-top, both feature some of the more memorable movie moments of 2021, and both are not-so-secretly smarter than they first appear.
17. Promising Young Woman & She Dies Tomorrow & Titane
This trio of memorably off-the-wall female-lead films would make for a great mini-marathon. Exploring themes of toxic masculinity, viral misinformation, and internalized trauma they all leave you with a lot to think about, but their colorful and stylized tableaus and warped sense of humor mean you’ll have fun watching them too.
16. Forza Horizon 5
Microsoft’s Forza open-world racing series has a pretty well-established formula by this point, but it’s still pretty effective. It’s hard not to have fun zipping around the Mexican countryside in a tricked-out supercar listening to some hot tunes. And there are few other games out there that so ably demonstrate just what Microsoft’s latest consoles are capable of graphics-wise.
15. The Father
Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman are absolutely stellar in this harrowing examination of dementia. Clever directorial tricks help to make the viewer really understand just how disorienting this disease can feel, both for those who suffer from it and those who try their best to take care of them.
14. Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
This debut short story collection is the kind of book that only comes around once in a while. Fully living up to its pre-release hype, these loosely connected tales follow of group of Cambodian Americans living in Southern California, and in addition to offering up some of the best writing of the year, is also a consistent joy to read. It’s a shame that the author was taken from us so soon, as I would have loved to see where he could go from here.
13. The Other Two
HBO Max’s raunchy comedy series about the siblings of a tween-pop star continues to be one of the funniest shows on TV. The clever pop culture references and pitch perfect blending of acerbic wit and genuine heart make it essential viewing, as long as you don’t mind your jokes being more than a little blue.
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbet’s sprawling sci-fi novel proves that the source material is more “filmable” than previously thought. It manages to make sense of the story without feeling like a non-stop exposition dump, features several excellent performances, and offers up some of the most thrillingly beautiful action set pieces to grace big (or small) screens in years. It’s a great relief then to find out that Warner Bros. has greenlit the next chapter, as it would have been a true shame not to see where this version can still take us.
11. The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
This sprawling fantasy adventure had already been racking up fans around the world so it’s great to see it finally make its way Stateside. Essentially an ode to the power of books, it features memorable characters, impressive world-building, and a page-turning plot. You’ll find it hard to put down while also wishing that it would never end.
10. Martin Eden
Italian actor Luca Marinelli’s star continues to rise in the Jack London adaptation Martin Eden. As a man who uses self-education to rise into the literary elite, he virtually carries this well-staged production on his shoulders. Sweeping in scope but intimate in detail, this is the sort of story American studios don’t make anymore.
9. Judas and the Black Messiah
A riveting look at the FBI’s attempts to take down Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, lead by two stunning performances by LaKeith Stanfield as informant Bill O’Neal and Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton. A near perfect film that will keep you glued to the screen that highlights social issues that are unfortunately still very much with us today.
8. The Green Knight
David Lowery’s take on an Arthurian legend offers up some of the most striking imagery of the year, anchored by a flawless central performance by Dev Patel. Unexpected oddities appear around nearly every corner, but the central themes of acting honorably and accepting the consequences of your actions remain as easy to understand and timeless as ever.
7. Ted Lasso
It should come as no surprise that the second season of Apple TV+’s hit series couldn’t live up to its pitch perfect first, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still one of the best shows on TV. There was a willingness to take chances this time around that don’t all necessarily pay off, but the writing is still funny and engaging and the central cast is still an absolute joy to spend time with. I can’t think of any other current shows that leaves one with the same feeling of overall happiness that this one can.
6. tick, tick…BOOM!
I wasn’t a particularly big fan of the movie version of Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent, so I can’t say I had the highest of expectations for tick, tick…BOOM!. I was happily surprised by just how great this semi-autobiographical “rock monologue” turned out to be. Filled with catchy songs, memorable performances, some fun cameos, and smart direction by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s a true treat for musical theater fans.
Pretty much every modern media company is looking for the next Game of Thrones, and Apple TV+’s big push into that territory is its big budget adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books. It’s a little too cerebral to become a smash hit like GoT, and features some massive jumps in time that are likely to further confuse some viewers, but it’s a great blend of mystery and adventure that manages to be both very smart and very fun, and that features some of the most striking imagery captured for any medium this year.
4. West Side Story
We can debate about whether this remake of the 1961 original, itself adapted from Broadway, is really necessary, but the fact of the matter is that it’s here, and it’s pretty damn good. Tony Kushner’s tweaks to the script and Steven Spielberg’s impeccable direction breathe new life into the material and help it to feel more relatable to modern audiences without losing the magic that has helped this material to endure for so long. We may not get many more movies like this one in theaters, which is really a shame, but if they have to go out, at least they did it in style.
3. Only Murders in the Building
Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez portray true crime podcast addicts who become entangled in each other’s lives when they begin investigating a murder in their storied New York apartment building in this absolutely delightful Hulu hit. The entire cast is perfect, and the material is even better. The central mystery is twisty and compelling enough to hook the viewer, while the character development and witty comedy, along with some of the year’s most stylish and bold directorial decisions, keep them coming back. Season 2 has already been greenlit, and I for one can’t wait to spend more time with this endearingly odd trio.
2. The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion’s sweeping but intimate drama of repressed desires in the old American West is a gorgeous treat for cinephiles. Undergirded by stellar performances, there is both a tension and a sadness throughout, as Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a stereotypical loner cowboy who lashes out at the world around him, especially when he sees someone afforded the kind of life he secretly wants for himself.
1. The Underground Railroad
It is a great shame that this Amazon limited series based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead hasn’t received more awards attention than it did, as it is far and away one of the best TV shows ever made. Adapted and directed by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), it follows Cora (a masterful Thuso Mbedu) as she escapes life on a Georgia plantation via the Underground Railroad, which in this case is literally a steam train running through tunnels towards the North. Slave hunter Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton) and his assistant, a Black child named Homer (Chase Dillon), trail her as she makes her way through several states, each exposing the many different ways racism can rear its ugly head. Moments of great beauty are interspersed with some of stunning horror; escapist TV this is not, but it is a vital and necessary reckoning with some of our country’s darkest moments.
Youth Services Coordinator
For Christmas 2020, our daughter Sarah gave us a gift that has truly kept on giving: a subscription to Netflix. Netflix has been our first exposure to the wild, wonderful world of streaming – a “gateway” if you will. We have since gone on to subscribe to Paramount Plus and BritBox, so here are my favorites for all three:
Those of us who grew up in the New York area and can remember back to the late 70’s, probably remember a show called Prisoner: Cell Block H, shown on Channel 11. Set in an Australian women’s prison called Wentworth Detention Centre, it was very gritty for its day. Every night featured a warning before it began that it was definitely “For Adults Only.” Prisoner was addictive to the point where I actually planned my dates around it (remember, this was before VCRs). Fast forward 40+ years later, and Netflix offers Wentworth, the remake of Prisoner. There was no way I was not going to check it out. To be fair, the first season is a bit of a slow burn. Stick with it, because you will be amply rewarded in every one of the eight seasons that follow. Because of its setting, there are no punches pulled and absolutely nothing is sugar-coated. It is definitely not a show where children or grandchildren should be in the room. The language is rough, the violence is frequent, the acting is exceptional. You will find yourself wondering “Why have I never heard of these actors?” Pamela Rabe is nothing short of brilliant as Joan “The Freak” Ferguson, the prison’s Governor (Warden). My Wentworth addiction is in full swing to the point of now wanting to attend the Wentworth Con. Remember, you have been warned…
Did you go to Catholic high school in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s? Well, settle in, watch Derry Girls, and prepare to laugh ‘til it hurts. There’s only one more season being made, so hurry up and watch the first two seasons now. Set in Londonderry, Northern Ireland during the time of “The Troubles,” four Irish Catholic teenage girls and the boy cousin of one of them (who is the only boy in an all girls’ school, but that’s another story) get into more misadventures than can be believed. If your school didn’t have at least one nun like Sister Michael continually rolling her eyes at the students, you didn’t really go to Catholic high school.
Do you like Derry Girls? You are going to love Moone Boy! Young Martin Moone is the youngest of four children, and the only boy. Martin has an ever-present imaginary friend named Sean, who is 6 feet tall. Sean often serves as a sounding board to Martin, building up his confidence and giving him “suggestions.” Martin’s best friend, Padraic, also has an imaginary friend named Crunchie Haystacks (picture a well-past-his-prime professional wrestler). Some of the funniest scenes are when the two boys and their imaginary friends get together, but you’ll laugh out loud at every episode of the three seasons – guaranteed. The only downside of Moone Boy for me is that the last episode doesn’t quite feel like much of an ending. Oh, well… nothing’s perfect – even in Ireland.
Where do I begin? Should I just say it’s a British soap opera set in the multicultural East End of London or should I say it’s another one of Linda’s addictions? This show has been on BBC One since 1985 and shown on WLIW-21 in New York since 1987. Personally, I’ve been watching it since 1989. In marked contrast to the prime-time American soaps of the ‘80’s such as Dallas and Dynasty, which focused on the wealthy upper class, EastEnders focuses on the day-to-day lives of lower class Londoners. As one might expect, many of the original characters have come and gone. EastEnders loves to bring back the originals whenever they can as the story lines permit, which is what keeps the long-time viewers like me watching. If you decide to try the show for yourself, bear in mind that some of the Cockney accents take about a week’s worth of episodes to understand. To me, it’s the finest of the British soaps – sorry, Coronation Street.
I cannot imagine life without Paramount Plus; it’s a simple enough user interface that newbies like me can navigate easily. I like having the option to watch Young Sheldon or Bob Hearts Abishola live as they are being broadcast or later if I choose. It’s great to watch the Channel 3 news from Philadelphia and seamlessly glide into the CBS Evening News all the way up to and through The Late Show and The Late Late Show if I choose with no additional work on my part – just like old-school “free” TV! It’s wonderful to see Stephen Colbert on the same night he appears; my understanding is that Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon can only be viewed one night after the original broadcast.
The Good Fight
Years ago, there was The Good Wife. That show morphed into The Good Fight. If there was only one reason to subscribe to Paramount Plus (and there are many), this show would be it. The ever-talented Christine Baranski plays Diane Lockhart as well as she ever did, and the actors who accompany her – Audra McDonald, Cush Jumbo, Delroy Lindo and the rest of the cast are nothing short of amazing.
History Center Digital Collections Coordinator
4. The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey
Last year, The Expanse became my favorite sci-fi TV show, so I decided to read the original books this year… and they are even better! Despite knowing the plot from the show, I couldn’t put the books down. In both series, the writers imagine a future where humans on Earth and Mars are locked in a cold war, leading to all sorts of interplanetary intrigue. There are also a lot of fascinating details about how humans might live in zero gravity and how long-distance space travel could work within the laws of physics.
I stumbled across this podcast by accident and I’ve been hooked ever since. Each season explores a different political revolution from history – French, Mexican, Russian, etc. – and the stories are told in a way that is both entertaining and informative. I highly recommend this podcast for fellow history nerds.
2. The Beatles: Get Back
Peter Jackson did a fab job restoring this archive footage. Much of it looks like it was filmed yesterday. But what I like most about this documentary is that there are no cut-away interviews with experts or celebrities. Aside from the occasional line of expositional text, we are allowed to simply enjoy the Beatles’ banter and song-writing brilliance with no interruptions.
1. Dune: Part One
As a longtime Frank Herbert fan, I didn’t think his science fiction masterpiece could be faithfully adapted into an entertaining movie. Fortunately, I was wrong. The casting was excellent, the cinematography was gorgeous, and (most importantly) my friends who hadn’t read the book were still able to enjoy it. We can’t wait for Part Two!
I read three standout cookbooks this year, and I mean read! They all shared a narrative full of personal and cultural information that made them feel more like autobiographies with recipes.
Bress ‘n’ Nyam by Matthew Raiford
Raiford is a chef who came home to Georgia in 2010 to take up the reins as a sixth-generation farmer on the farm his great-great-great grandfather, a freed slave, established in 1874. Old, updated, and new recipes embrace the Gullah heritage of Raiford’s family and community, and rich narration gives insight to the family’s history and the local culture.
Amber & Rye: A Baltic Food Journey: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania by Zuza Zak
The author describes a trip through the Baltic region with her young daughter, teaching her about her Eastern European heritage. It reads more as a travel guide with recipes and contains beautiful photographs, not only of the food but of the destinations.
New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian by Freddie Bitsoie & James O. Fraioli
I can’t say it better than the publisher’s blurb so here it is:
“From Freddie Bitsoie, the former executive chef at Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and James Beard Award-winning author James O. Fraioli, New Native Kitchen is a celebration of Indigenous cuisine. Accompanied by original artwork by Gabriella Trujillo and offering delicious dishes like Cherrystone Clam Soup from the Northeastern Wampanoag and Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin from the Pueblo peoples, Bitsoie showcases the variety of flavor and culinary history on offer from coast to coast, providing modern interpretations of 100 recipes that have long fed this country. Recipes like Chocolate Bison Chili, Prickly Pear Sweet Pork Chops, and Sumac Seared Trout with Onion and Bacon Sauce combine the old with the new, holding fast to traditions while also experimenting with modern methods. In this essential cookbook, Bitsoie shares his expertise and culinary insights into Native American cooking and suggests new approaches for every home cook. With recipes as varied as the peoples that inspired them, New Native Kitchen celebrates the Indigenous heritage of American cuisine.”
BOOK: How Y’all Doing? by Leslie Jordan
ALBUM: 30 by Adele
History Center Curator
Best Film: The Truffle Hunters
Best seem with a bottle of white Burgundy & a snack of Jacobs Cream Crackers topped with truffle infused goat cheese, available from Avalon’s Mouse Trap cheese store – can I advertise?
Best Book(s): The Salt Path and The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn
Travel, nature, common sense, inspiration. I cried & laughed in equal measure, truly lovely.
Best Music: Voyage by Abba
I’m a huge Abba fan so of course I was delighted and a little terrified by this. It did not disappoint.
Best TV: Grand Sumo November Highlights
Including Sumopedia (everything you ever wanted to know about this fascinating, ancient, traditional sport full of symbolism & surprising grace) streaming on NHK. A treasure I just happened to come across by mistake. NHK is terrific English language Japanese cultural TV channel. Sumo? Well, any sport where the referee wears an ornate dressing gown, carries a fan, and has a dagger tucked into his waistband just has to be good. (I rush home every Friday night to a bottle of wine & the company of several large Japanese gentlemen – can I say that?).
The Indian Doctor
This is an award-winning British comedy series with very serious undertones. It tells the story of a highly educated Indian doctor and his wife who go to England with the hope of living a glamorous life in London. Instead, they are assigned by the NHS to a coal mining village in Wales. Themes include the assimilation of outsiders, epidemics, and land control. The second season is particularly appropriate in our time of COVID. This is one of those shows where you consider the characters to be part of your family. Hated to see it end after the third season.