Our Favorite Books of 2018

Friday, December 14, 2018

Staff Picks 2018
What books were winners with Library staff members in 2018?  From pop culture potboilers to heavy-hitting history reads, check out the favorites that lined our shelves this past year.

View the full list of books in the catalog >

(Looking for reading recommendations? Get customized book ideas from Library experts by taking advantage of our Shelf Help service.)


No Place Like Home
C.J. Janovy

Activism starts small. Sink into the personal stories, which became political lightning rods, of ordinary people in Kansas.

Kaite Stover, Readers' Services

C.J. Janovy visited the Library in August 2018 to discuss her book:
About the event  Listen to audio  View accompanying slideshow

The Line Becomes a River
Francisco Cantú

The author’s account of work and life on the U.S.-Mexico border is timely and eye-opening, no matter where you stand on walls and borders. The son of a Mexican immigrant living in the Southwest, writer Cantú joins the Border Patrol in an effort to gain greater understanding of the physical and metaphorical divisions associated with this part of our country. He describes his experiences with the life-and-death conditions in the desert, witnessing the unintended repercussions of immigration policies, such as how stricter border enforcement has driven desperate people into the hands of drug lords and human traffickers. He also recounts his time among fellow patrol agents, exploring the idea of moral injury and wondering if they’re part of a solution or contributing to the problem. Full of brutal stories and anecdotes, the book goes beyond the border-related sound bites and assumptions regurgitated by politicians and talking heads to offer a complex view of a place that figures prominently in our national conversation.   

Andy Dandino, Public Affairs

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love    

Through charming, colorful, humorous illustrations, readers follow young Julian's fascination with a trio of beautiful, vibrant women on the subway and his attempts to copy their magical style. Julian's abuela quietly observes his transformation (and the mess of her living room), and makes a powerful decision.

Kaite Stover, Readers' Services

Red Clocks
Leni Zumas

In what could be a not-too-distant future, five women living very different lives try to make their way in and around the same small town. People's lives are messy and there are no easy answers here, but the writing is so compelling! The author really puts you right alongside the characters. I wanted to start it again as soon as it was over.

Alice P., Collection Development

Yuyi Morales

I don't often use the word "masterpiece," but this picture book is a masterpiece of art, story, and life. A mother and her son cross into a new place where the language is not that of their ancestors. They wind up in a marvelous place - the Library. A series of stunning double-page spreads captures the joy of discovery there. Thanks to books and story and art, this mother and son find their place in the new land.  

Crystal Faris, Youth and Family Engagement

The Poet X
Elizabeth Acevedo

This is a young adult book about a black-Latina teenage girl, Xiomara Batista, who has a strict Catholic mother and seemingly perfect twin brother and best friend. She also has a crush on someone who is not so pristine. In this novel in verse, Xio finds, through her natural talent for poetry, her own unique voice and the power to use it.

Anna Francesca Garcia, Central Youth Services

Our House
Louise Cavendish

There are three places in which the reader will scream out loud in this twisted novel of psychological suspense. And that's after the terrifying domestic scenes that open the book. There's no blood, no gore. Just heart-stopping, page-turning shivers.    

Kaite Stover, Readers' Services

Heavy: An American Memoir
Kiese Laymon    

This gripping memoir details the physical and spiritual weight on a black body that comes from violence, grief, trauma, abuse, loneliness, and family. Lyrical prose highlights brutally honest situations. The author narrates his own work. Don't miss this one.

Kaite Stover, Readers' Services

Awake Emezi

This is unlike any other book I've read. To the naked eye it's about mental illness, gender identity, expectations and fluidity, mixed cultural backgrounds, and spirituality. But Emezi's writing transcends the way these topics are typically discussed in fiction. You don't recognize that she is talking about the trans experience because Emezi isn't writing a trans character. She's telling a story, not trying to throw the trans experience into her novel for the sake of including a trending topic. The way she structures the dialogue between the selves can be confusing at times. You're not sure who is talking, which self is presenting, but that mirrors young Ada's own confusion and draws the reader closer to all the selves.    

Katie Dennis, Customer Services

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Patrisse Khan-Cullors    

This is an important book for those of us who are privileged to live our lives relatively free of institutional abuse and systematic oppression. Khan-Cullors writes so passionately and deeply about her pain, her struggles and loss, her activism and triumphs, that I felt I shouldn't be reading this -- it's too personal. But it’s exactly what I should be reading. Khan-Cullors doesn’t edit herself to make white people comfortable. She’s radical, queer, and speaks her truth without apologies.

Katie Dennis, Customer Services


The Prince and the Dressmaker
Jen Wang

I love this book because it's all about being true to yourself and doing what you love, no matter what other people think of you. The illustrations are beautiful, and add so much life to the story.
Tiffany Weyant, North-East Branch

Alma and How She Got Her Name
Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has a long name -- too long if you ask her. But after learning where each of her names came from and how they tie her to her family history, she comes to appreciate how they are part of a legacy in a family with rich and diverse characters.

Samantha Edwards, Youth and Family Engagement

Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game
Rob Neyer

National baseball writer and Kansas City native Rob Neyer uses an inning-by-inning description of a 2017 game between the Houston Astros and Oakland A's to examine baseball history and the effects of the trend toward analytics.

Ryan Stoops, Information Systems

Tara Westover    

This book is well written and very inspirational. A must read.

Ingrid P., L.H. Bluford Branch

Be Prepared
Vera Brosgol

This middle-grade graphic novel is a hilarious coming-of-age story that shows the real highs and lows of being an awkward tween. Thinking she’ll finally make friends who understand all of her family’s Russian customs, Vera willingly commits herself and her brother to Camp Orra, where the kids must speak Russian, attend Russian orthodox church, and go on long marches through the wilderness. Some mean older girls, a nasty game of capture the flag, and an embarrassing drawing later, Vera is fed up with the camping life and ready to go home. But unfortunately, her mother needs them to stay an extra week!

Samantha Edwards, Youth and Family Engagement

Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
Elizabeth Partridge

I'm not sure why -- maybe because the authors don't want to leave any information out -- but many nonfiction books seem to run out of steam near the end. This one kept me engrossed through the last page. Told from many perspectives -- soldiers, nurses, protesters, architects, Americans, Vietnamese -- Boots on the Ground is an outstanding portrait of the Vietnam War and its effects.    

Ron Freeman, Plaza Branch/Children's Librarian    

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
John Carreyrou

Toxic leadership meets medical malpractice. This fascinating investigative book chronicles the stratospheric rise of Elizabeth Holmes, the charismatic wunderkind CEO of medical device startup Theranos, and the shocking revelation that her company lied about the capabilities of its blood-testing devices to investors, corporate partners, the U.S. military, and patients. Bad Blood is a cautionary tale of how Silicon Valley’s tendency to follow the Steve Jobs messiah-leader model can create hostile and unhealthy workplace environments and how demands of loyalty from workers are a one-way street. In this case, the cult of personality became more like a real cult, divided into believers and nonbelievers in the company’s mission (and in Holmes herself).

Andy Dandino, Public Affairs    

Matt de la Pena

This book was such a wonderful reminder that the littlest moments in life can be so full of love. Revealing the ups and downs of life in every type of home with every type of family, love connects us all. A great read for kids and adults!

Molly Doroba, Youth and Family Engagement

The Night Diary
Veera Hiranandani

I frequently feel that I learn more (or at least retain more) from reading good historical fiction than from nonfiction. This book is set during the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947. It is told through the diary entries of Nisha, a 12-year-old writing to her mother who died in childbirth. The confusion of the time, the uprooting of families, and the flaming of religious tensions become much more memorable when viewed through Nisha's eyes.

Ron Freeman, Plaza Branch/Children's Librarian

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Ottessa Moshfegh

OMG, this book is dangerous! It sucks you in and makes you want to go into hibernation.

Ingrid P., L.H. Bluford Branch

Fear: Trump in the White House
Bob Woodward

A fascinating peek behind the curtain at political infighting, revolving-door cabinet appointments, and high-level decision making.

Ryan Stoops, Information Systems

Hans Rosling

With the pessimistic undertone of the news today, it's difficult to believe that things are actually improving in the world. Hans Rosling uses a quiz to test readers on what they know of the world, then demonstrates with simple charts and graphs what the facts really show. When we are armed with the facts, we can actually see gradual improvement in global conditions over time. Be prepared to be astonished at what you think you know and what is actually true. It will really change the way you look at the world, and information in general.  No "fake news" here,  just the real deal.    

Stacey M., Reference

The Hazel Wood
Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood is fairy tale-ish mystery involving parallel worlds and Tim Burton-esque characters who are hiding dark family secrets. It may not seem like a solid choice for the holidays, but the familial strength and love between mother and daughter will cause you to reconsider.

Amanda Barnhart, North-East Branch

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States
Jeffrey G. Lewis

Completely plausible and absolutely terrifying. Lewis shows what the consequences of poorly thought-out foreign policy decisions could be.    

Ryan Stoops, Information Systems

Rising Out of Hatred
Eli Saslow

How does a young man raised to be the next leader of the white nationalist movement do a 180-degree turn, changing his mind about everything he was raised to believe?  What I loved about this book is that it shows how people with strong ideologies can change when they open their minds and hearts to others with differing sets of beliefs. This is a particularly apt read in today's hotly charged political atmosphere, where topics such as race and white nationalism have been brought to the forefront.

Stacey M., Reference

The Immortalists
Chloe Benjamin

The characters, who are intriguing and unexpected, are the real joy in this book. I enjoyed the way the author intertwined the stories of four unique siblings and their struggles as adolescents and adults to deal with knowing the dates of their death, as foretold by a fortune teller in their youth. Themes such as destiny, magic, escapism, love, science, and the ties of familial bonds link each character's story and make for a great narrative that really resonated with me.

Stacey M., Reference

Friday Black
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

A hard book to describe, but one full of powerful, urgent, striking imagery. This collection of short fiction pieces is mix of genres, touching on serious topics in creatively imagined scenarios. Stories include a vision of commercialized racism, a tale of family dynamics and destiny, an infinite-loop apocalypse, and the delicate salesmanship required to fend off consumer zombie hordes hungry for post-Thanksgiving sales.

Andy Dandino, Public Affairs    

I'll Be Gone in the Dark
Michelle McNamara

An in-depth look at a decades-long hunt for a serial killer. Interwoven with insight into the author obsessed with the case and the investigators who spent their careers stymied by the elusive criminal.

Kim Angotti, Youth and Family Engagement

Lost Connections
Johann Hari

Journalist Johann Hari has set out to show that the true causes of depression and anxiety in our society stem not from chemical imbalance in our brains but simply from  how we are living. Hari interviews a wide range of people including social scientists, an Amish community, and urban Berliners. She concludes that instead of internalizing our mental health issues, we need to turn to community to radically change the way that we engage with the world and one another if we are to curb the rapidly deteriorating mental health of our societies.

Sawyer Johns, Central Circulation

Baby Teeth
Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth is Zoje Stage's first novel, and I hope it is not her last. This psychological thriller is right up my alley (sick and twisted), but it is not a novel for everyone. Hannah, a  mute 7-year-old, loves her father a little too much. The only thing standing in the way of her happiness is her mother. Told from both the daughter's and the mother's points of view, Baby Teeth explores the complex relationships between mother and child, but definitely not in a normal way.  I liked the portrayal of the "evil" child and the mind games she plays with the unsure mother, who has her own secrets.  Deliciously disturbing!

Diana Ash, North-East Branch

The Cruel Prince
Holly Black
The Cruel Prince is a fast-paced, young-adult fantasy with dazzling world-building. Jude is an incredibly resilient protagonist with a thirst for power in Faerie, the magical land to which she was spirited as a child following the murder of her parents. As a mortal, Jude makes up for her "mayfly life" through sheer grit and complete disregard for her own safety. The young, forbidding prince Cardan is the flint to her steel, and the hatred between them intensifies into a destructive rivalry. This book has fantastic plot twists and a heroine with a strong and compelling voice.    

Samantha Edwards, Youth and Family Engagement

Kill the Queen
Jennifer Estep
This book has some great fight scenes, tons of drama, and lots of suspense! Female gladiators, royals, magic, assassins, and court intrigue are all found here. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in this genre.

Vicky P., Special Events

Two Girls Down
Louisa Luna

This is not your typical "girl in the title" story.  Without giving too much away, I can say two girls go missing and efforts are put in motion to find them.  What I liked most was the character of Alice Vega, a bounty hunter known nationally for helping to find missing kids.  She enlists a former cop in her search for the girls.  I hope to see these two paired in future books; they have great chemistry! Luna's story already has been optioned for TV.

Alice P., Collection Development

Blood Water Paint
Joy McCullough

The author does a great job with this historical novel in verse. The frustrations of a talented painter in a time and a city that provide patronage to talented painters -- who are male -- are palpable. The interweaving of gender and family dynamics with pieces of Roman art history and the stories of two heroines from Bible stories kept me rapt from beginning to end.

Jamie Mayo, Youth and Family Engagement

Natural Causes
Barbara Ehrenreich

I like her sarcasm, her eye-opening and down-to-earth truth about the "epidemic of wellness." We all need to take charge of our own health.

Ingrid P., L.H. Bluford Branch

Killing Commendatore
Haruki Murakami

Fiction writer and fantasy realism master Haruki Murakami offers self-reflection, love, and mystery in his new novel. It is gripping, humorous, and beautifully written. Highly recommended.    

Jakob VanLammeren, Reference

Damian Dibben

Interesting narration, historical fiction, dogs, friendship, love ... I wish I could read this book for the first time all over again.

Kara Evans, Missouri Valley Special Collections



We admit: We can’t just keep our recommendations confined to a calendar year. Here are a few additional books read by Library staffers in the past 12 months that may not have been published in 2018 but still gave us a literary charge.

The 50th Law (2015)
50 Cent and Robert Greene

I liked the discussion of fear -- when is it useful (i.e. protecting us from physical harm), and when does it only get in the way of us becoming our true selves and living the life we truly want? By confronting our own mortality, we learn how to truly live.    

Jennifer M., Plaza Help Desk

Alice in Chains: The Untold Story (2015)
David De Sola    

This book chronicles the alternative metal band Alice In Chains from its inception in 1987 to its breakthrough into the mainstream, detailing the events that took the lives of lead singer Layne Staley and original bassist Mike Starr and the group's eventual reforming with new singer William Duvall.

Jakob VanLammeren, Reference

Before We Were Yours (2017)
Lisa Wingate

A haunting tearjerker based on a real-life monster. This came highly recommended by several friends, and it did not disappoint!

Kim Angotti, Youth and Family Engagement

Braving the Wilderness (2017)
Brene Brown

Spot-on data and inspiring stories were just what I was looking for to help me stand up in a way that feels right in our polarized world. It doesn't get better than having Brene read it to you. I love her voice. The Library has it on CD and for digital download. You also might want to buy a print copy so you can underline all of the stuff you want to put into practice.

Jamie Mayo, Youth and Family Engagement

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (2001)
Robert Olen Butler

A collection of short stories, unrelated but on the same topic --the Vietnam War -- and told in the voices of different characters.

Katie Taylor, Human Resources

Kill Creek (2017)
Scott Thomas

This debut novel is a love letter to the horror genre. The book's premise -- as an internet publicity stunt, four renowned horror authors spend Halloween night in a haunted house near Lawrence, Kansas -- uses the structure of a classic gothic horror story to celebrate the tropes of the genre. The protagonists -- analogs of Stephen King and R. L. Stine, among others -- are compelling, sympathetic characters, haunted by their own demons well before they ever set foot in the house. Like a ghost, the book haunts the imaginations of its readers after the last page is turned. Although published in October 2017, a coven of Library staffers discovered the book in 201 and was delighted to learn that the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library is a prominent setting in the book.

Reed Beebe, Finance

Persepolis (2017)
James S. A. Corey

This is the seventh installment of The Expanse series, which is a delightfully suspenseful jaunt through our near-future solar system. This last installment begins the last of what will be three trilogies. Bursting with imagination and thoughtful characters.            

Ryan Reed, Customer Service

The Unkindness of Ghosts (2017)
Rivers Solomon

One of the most inventive, unique, and brilliant debuts I've read. Solomon places the reader in a post-apocalyptic society resembling the antebellum South, but all contained on the Matilda, a ship hurtling through space to a promised land. Gender norms, and genetics, plant life and science have evolved on the Matilda, but racism and religious fervor remain. Aster, a brilliant scientist and slave, and the surgeon Theo risk it all to bring the oppressive regime down. Rivers is an incredibly gifted writer, and I am hoping for a sequel because I don't think this story is over.

Katie Dennis, Customer Services

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend (2013)
Glenn Frankel    

The Searchers is one of the key works of an iconic filmmaker (John Ford) with an iconic star (John Wayne) that runs counter to the image of star and the West up to that point. This book provides the historical background to fully appreciate and understand this standout American film. (Actual events were fictionalized by novelist Alan Le May, Ford's reworking of Le May's book, and the revamping of John Wayne's heroic persona.)

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, Bluford Branch

Tales from Ovid (1997)
Ted Hughes

An ongoing problem with translations of works is the struggle between verbal fidelity and some more intangible fidelity to the author's tone and sense. There are dozens of translations of Ovid's Metamorphoses available, including an excellent translation by Rolfe Humphries.  As one of his last poetic works, Ted Hughes, one of England's greatest 20th-century poets, tackled a selection of Ovid's stories.  The collection has only about a third of the entire Metamorphoses, but Hughes' qualities as a person and a poet fit Ovid tremendously well.  Ovid was a "smart" poet -- he clearly had read a lot of material, knew a lot of stuff, and could really strut his stuff with all sorts of poetic tricks. The same can be said of Hughes. Hughes' translation is not as faithful to the Latin text as Humphries' or Allen Mandelbaum's, but it is full of Ovid's brio and snarkiness.

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, Bluford Branch

The Rievers (1962)
William Faulkner

William Faulkner can be a challenging read. That said, there is something all-encompassing about his literary world.  Aside from a couple of books, all of Faulkner's works are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County in Faulkner's native Mississippi.  One could almost write a history of that county and its place in the  history of Mississippi based on Faulkner's writing.  But it is not just Faulkner's completeness in creating a fictional world that gets me.  It's his wonderful style.  Faulkner's wordiness is the antithesis of the style of someone like Ernest Hemingway.  But whenever I'm reading Faulkner, the words flow like some beautiful molasses river and I find myself caught up in it.  It's as if I'm sitting on the front porch with Faulkner, just listening to his lilting accent spinning his tales. Unlike much of Faulkner, which has a tragic tone, The Reivers, his last novel, is a comic burlesque, one last romp in Faulkner's world.
Bernard Norcott-Mahany, Bluford Branch