The dust is still settling on the holiday shopping rush. Indeed, I opened the doors this morning to see wisps of ribbon and paper rolling like tumbleweed across the floor. It was as busy a season as we could have hoped for, and we have you, dear readers, to thank. If this is your second holiday season shopping with us, I am doubly grateful for your support as we got our storefront opened for business in 2021.

This week has been much quieter than we’ve gotten used to in the past few weeks, but I really enjoy the break from the ferocity of December. It’s a great time to take stock (literally, as we close for inventory on Jan. 3) and reflect on the year that was.

One of the most frequent compliments we received from the throngs of holiday shoppers was about our ‘Staff Picks’ shelf talkers that you’ll find scattered across the stacks. While we certainly sold plenty of the Big New Books this month, we also sold dozens of older paperbacks simply on the recommendation of our staff. So today I asked our erstwhile and exhausted booksellers to look around and pick a few of their favorites from 2021.

The list below is not in any particular order or ranking – it’s just a mix of beloved titles from Amy, Crete, Joe, Katarina, and me. Most are still in stock or will be soon, so if you’ve got a gift card to burn or extra time to read on winter break, dive in!

Enjoy and see you in the new year!

Steve

Founder & Manager

MATRIX by Lauren Groff

We’ve come to expect great writing from Lauren Groff, but this is something in an entirely new realm. Lucid and captivating with a strikingly unique vision, MATRIX was deservedly a National Book Award finalist. Almost nothing is known about the life of 12th century Middle English poet Marie de France, but Groff uses that mystery as the spark for this singular work of historical fiction. But this isn’t a book bogged down with horses, candles, and other period details. Rather, it’s a daring experiment in the idea of women living in community and the ways it can provoke and rupture established society.

– Steve

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY by Amor Towles

Part adventure, part coming-of-age, a little bit of a heist, and a general feel of a classic Greek tragedy, Amor Towles spins a true gem with his third novel. For those fans of A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, we are welcomed back to Towles’ superb writing and character development as we follow brothers Emmett and Billy on a road trip from Nebraska to New York City along one of America’s earliest transcontinental roads.

– Joe

ME (MOTH) by Amber McBride

Two lost teens, each the shore to the other’s shipwreck, drifting along highways and shared moments of grace as they try to carve out what it means to live, and to heal. This incredible novel-in-verse debut follows Moth, living with her aunt in the aftermath of her family’s death but struggling to cope in the face of her aunt’s shared grief, and Sani, taken from the Navajo reservation of his upbringing and brought to live with his mother and her new family. To break from a world where neither feels like they belong, they embark on a shared road trip of exploration and catharsis. This book is perfect.

– Amy

FUGITIVE TELEMETRY (Murderbot Diaries #6) by Martha Wells

The first book in the series, ALL SYSTEMS RED, was the first book recommended to me by Amy and I am so glad that she did. What two-time Hugo Award winner Martha Wells gives us is a futuristic landscape filled with quirky people and the most relatable character I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. FUGITIVE TELEMETRY, the 6th installment, has our protagonist shift away from protecting live humans to solving the murder of one on a space station.

– Joe

TIDESONG by Wendy Xu

I hope this is the beginning of a series, because between the incredibly imaginative artwork, the beautiful story-scape, and the beautifully resonant messages on anxiety, friendship, family, and communication, I am hooked! Wendy Xu has created a complete masterpiece and I want more!

– Amy

BETTER TOGETHER by Christine Riccio

As an older sibling having grown up in a divorced household, this novel really hit home for me. I loved the dynamic between Siri and Jamie – similar to how my sister and I felt like polar opposites growing up – and that even when they didn’t want to admit it, they aspired to be more like one another. Definitely a fun read. A cross between The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday.

– Crete

LASERWRITER II by Tamara Shopsin

This is a wholesome and sweet snapshot of an Apple repair shop from before Genius bars were even a thought in Steve Jobs’ little bald head. While I think anybody would enjoy this book, I specifically recommend it to Apple supremacists (despite their products’ planned obsolescence) and those who like Parks and Recreation more than The Office.

– Katarina

THIS THING BETWEEN US by Gus Moreno

If you’re anything like me and already have a strong distrust for smart speakers, this will only further your paranoia. And buckle up because this is one hell of a creepy and unsettling novel about a man who suddenly loses his wife and gradually loses his sanity…or is Thiago actually dealing with a possessed home speaker? And wait until you get to the part where he finds ‘The Wall.’ Seriously, can someone else read this so I can unpack this novel?

– Crete

THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING by Davids Graeber and Wengrow

Provocative, revolutionary, and daringly bold, this book is nothing less than a complete overhaul of everything we had assumed about prehistoric humans. Designed to refute not just Hobbes and Rousseau, but also Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker, and Yuval Harari, this is the big social history book that will change how everything is written afterward. Would you believe it’s also funny?

– Steve

A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN by George Saunders

Indulge in a masterclass in the art of brilliant short stories taught by the charmingly earnest George Saunders. He’s taught this course at Syracuse’s MFA program for almost thirty years, and reading the book is like auditing a class with your favorite teacher. You may think 19th century Russians aren’t your thing, but this will appeal to all lovers of great writing. *NOTE: this includes all 7 short stories in their entirety.

– Steve

THE ROCK FROM THE SKY by Jon Klassen

The opening could be from any generic children’s book: a petulant tortoise and an aloof armadillo disagree on the best place to sit. But then a humongous meteorite arrives and all bets are off: we are firmly in Klassenland. The genius behind the beloved Hat Trilogy once again gives us the absurdity and deadpan humor we (by which I mean parents) have come to love reading again and again.

– Steve

BEAR IS A BEAR by Jonathan Stuztman and Dan Santat

A little girl discovers while growing up that her teddy bear is everything she needs it to be: a friend, a pillow, a tea-time partner. But one day, she must put away her bear… until he’s found again. This sumptuously illustrated, oversized picture book is the perfect gift for baby showers, birthdays, and the holidays. Parents who grew up on classic stories like THE VELVETEEN RABBIT and CORDUROY will love this new spin on a teddy bear seemingly come to life.

– Steve

Aristotle and Dante duology by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante’s story is equal parts romance and coming-of-age. Saenz writes prose like it’s poetry, and eloquently gives due attention to issues of 1980s USA. While it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties facing them, Ari and Dante’s story is still heartwarming and wholesome. You’ll feel happier for having read it!

– Katarina

Montague Siblings trilogy by Mackenzi Lee

Each of these ‘guides’ follows one of the Montague siblings’ P.O.V. across 18th century Europe on a crazy adventure, starting with Monty, whose Grand Tour to the continent goes awry. Two things I love about these books: 1) the truly incredible cast and 2) there’s always just a hint of magic. I love the Montague siblings so much, and you will, too!

– Katarina

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH by Julian Sancton

The little-known saga of the 1897 Belgian Antarctic Expedition (yes! Belgian!) is no icy, barren wasteland for author Julian Sancton. Beset by low funding, feeble leadership, mutiny, and navigational errors, the Belgica seems doomed even before it inevitably gets stuck in the Antarctic ice pack. But the polar winter is where this tale begins to diverge from more famous expeditions. Through ingenuity and desperation, the polylingual crew scrapes together a bold and madcap plan for escape, which adds unexpected excitement to the climax of this narrative history. Knowing that one officer will attain the Pole years later (and that another will end up in federal prison for mail fraud) gives readers compelling reasons to keep turning pages into the cold, dark night.

– Steve

THE NATURE OF OAKS by Douglas Tallamy

Part observational guide, part impassioned plea, Douglas Tallamy’s latest book considers oak trees and their foundational role in ecosystem health. If you’ve read NATURE’S BEST HOPE or BRINGING NATURE HOME, you already know that Tallamy is a champion of native plant species, and he consistently makes the point that no plant plays a bigger role in our ecosystem than the oak tree. Through a year of his monthly observations, the reader is led on a guided tour of the stages of life that oak trees make possible and demonstrates how anyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of birds and butterflies needs to take care, and plant more, of this essential species.

– Amy

THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall’s illustrations act as the perfect illumination to this medieval tale about the power of friendship and the importance of stories. Wise, lovely, and unique, Kate DiCamillo has delivered a great story with a character for every reader. Answelica the goat!

– Amy

CURSE OF THE SPECTER QUEEN by Jenny Elder Moke

Samantha Knox knows her way around books. When one arrives at her shop for some much-needed repairs, Sam discovers a secret code connected to the end of the world. Soon, she and her two friends are in the thick of it fighting not only for their lives but for all of humanity. This fast-paced Y.A. novel has all the feels of a good Indiana Jones movie with a strong female lead.

– Joe

EVERYBODY IN THE RED BRICK BUILDING by Anne Wynter and Oge Mora

The inaugural selection for our Charter Kids Book Box was signed by illustrator, Caldecott Honoree, and Rhode Islander Oge Mora. A chain reaction of noises wakes up several children (and a cat) living in an apartment building. But it’s late in the night, so despite the disturbances, one by one, the building’s inhabitants return to their beds—this time with a new set of sounds to lull them to sleep. The best book of the year for reading out loud.

– Steve

IT FELL FROM THE SKY by The Fan Brothers

Every new book by the Fan Brothers is a work of art unto itself, but lately they’ve been venturing into some truly strange and exciting new territory. In this gently satirical book, a beautiful round wonder appears one day and an enterprising spider decides to charge admission to his fellow bugs for the privilege of viewing it. Kids and parents will marvel at these gorgeous illustrations and have plenty to discuss afterward.

– Steve

SPIDERTOUCH by Alex Thomson

The best way I can describe this book is as “bigger on the inside.” It follows Razvan, a fingerspeak translator, trying to stay in his lane as he is suddenly recruited into an underground revolutionary movement against the very beings who employ him. Thomson’s writing style is distinct, impressive, and a delight to read because it’s efficient – what you need, when you need it, no more, no less. I especially recommend to learners/speakers of second languages.

– Katarina

THE KINGDOMS by Natasha Pulley

I adore Natasha Pulley’s writing- I love her playing with time and possibility, and her ability to tell the most quietly profound love stories. With her signature trick of pulling on the moment that you recognize someone you’ve never met, Pulley has wrought a part murder-mystery, part war-epic, part queer-love-story, wrapped up in a time-traveling Napoleonic sea voyage. This book will make you want to pull on a cozy sweater, grab a giant mug of tea, and curl yourself around it like the wind in a spiral staircase. But remember (if you can) that lighthouses, wherever they are, are not built as an invitation, but as a warning.

– Amy

More from What'sUpNewp

Jewish holiday recipes for everyone to try

For eating experiences that can be enjoyed year-round, Stacker compiled a list of 15 global Jewish holiday recipes and their histories from Allrecipes.com, news reports, Jewish historical sites, and Jewish recipe developers.

Loading...

Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Steve Iwanski, Charter Books

Steve Iwanski grew up in Tiverton and got his start in retail working summer jobs at the Sakonnet Boathouse and the Army-Navy Surplus. He graduated from Tiverton High School and the University of Notre Dame. In 2010 he joined Teach For America and taught high school English for four years in the Mississippi Delta. In 2014 he was hired as a bookseller at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, MS. When author and owner Jamie Kornegay stepped away from the store in 2016, he asked Steve to serve as manager. Under his management, Turnrow was Main Street Greenwood’s 2017 Retailer of the Year and the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Small Business of the Year. He also served as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Retail Committee and served for two years as a board member of Main Street Greenwood. He's excited to bring his passion for community and bookselling back home to Newport County with the opening of Charter Books at 8 Broadway in Newport.