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SDPL Recommended Reads

Staff Picks 2024

San Diego Public Library staff write short book reviews of their favorite titles for the San Diego Union Tribune, which are published every other Sunday. Here is a selection of the titles we've recommended. Checkout information may be found in the library catalog.

For more book recommendations and reviews check out our YouTube Channel for video reviews by staff.


Cover of The Upcycled Self bt Tariq Black Thought Trotter

The Upcycled Self by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter
Reviewed by Kevin Tran
Library Assistant III, Allied Gardens/Benjamin Library
San Diego Union Tribune, May 5, 2024

After burning down their family home, six-year-old Tariq Trotter has an abundance of time to observe his surroundings in Philadelphia. Now a fifty-two-year-old famed hip hop artist and a member of the group The Roots, Mr. Trotter, aka Black Thought, has been piecing together his father’s death during his youth and the death of his mother as an adult. These vignettes of different pivotal life chapters that have shaped Mr. Trotter to date make up his memoir “The Upcycled Self.” Other stories include having a job at the neighborhood optometrist during his teen years, and meeting Ahmir Thompson, aka Questlove, to form The Roots, which later become the house band for “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Mr. Trotter delivers a reflective self-help narrative through lived and hard-earned wisdom.


Cover of Bright Young women book by jessica knoll

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll
Reviewed by Amanda Schoppmeyer
Library Assistant III, La Jolla / Riford Library
San Diego Union Tribune, April 21, 2024

“Bright Young Women” is a fictionalized account of what characters Pamela Schumacher and Tina Cannon experience when their lives are upended by a serial killer. Told from the two women’s perspective, this book begins with the fateful night at a Florida sorority and hits the ground running. Jessica Knoll’s research and attention to detail richly recreates the year of 1978 when the book begins, and follows these women as they navigate through tragedy and experience empowerment as they search for and confront the killer, shedding light on the sacrifices and triumphs that come with defying societal norms. Perfect for true crime fans and everyone who enjoys a fast-paced thriller!


Book cover of the Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer
Reviewed by Debbie Taylor
Librarian II, Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library
San Diego Union Tribune, April 7, 2024

If you loved reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as a kid, then you’ll fall in love with “The Wishing Game.” Instead of a chocolate factory, reclusive author Jack Masterson has his “writing factory,” an island in Maine. The “Clock Island” series of children’s books enthralled a generation of readers, but a new book hasn’t been released in six years. When Masterson announces the long-anticipated latest novel, he also declares a contest to win the only copy of this new manuscript. Four adults, all once children who ran away from unhappy situations at home to Clock Island to meet “The Mastermind” whom they believed had the power to make their wishes come true, will solve riddles and compete in games to win the prized manuscript. Each has their reasons for wanting to win the contest, but who will win the ultimate prize? This is a sweet, hopeful, emotionally satisfying book!


Book Cover for The Resisters

The Resisters by Gish Jen
Reviewed by Peter Miesner
Librarian IV, Central Library
San Diego Union Tribune, March 24, 2024

In this novel, we find ourselves in the near future--in AutoAmerica, where technology is pervasive and invasive! Where everything and everyone is surveilled! And where people are not just figuratively divided, but physically divided, with the “Netted”--largely fair-skinned and employed, living on high land--and the “Surplus”--the have-nots, who are seen as not employable, living on the water or in danger of being under water. Among the Surplus is a couple, a former professor and his lawyer wife, resisting the system and trying to keep their humanity and dignity. To them is born a girl who grows to have an unparalleled pitching arm, not such a big deal until AutoAmerica squares off against ChinRussia in the Olympics. Socio-economic issues, racial issues, family issues, and yes, baseball!


Book cover for The Only One Left

The Only One Left by Riley Sager
Reviewed by Kelly Verheyden
Supervising Librarian, Central Library
San Diego Union Tribune, March 10, 2024

Set in 1983, the novel follows home health-aide Kit as she begins a new posting at the home of the reclusive and wheelchair bound Lenora Hope, who was accused of murdering her entire family in 1929. As Kit begins to care for Ms. Hope, she can’t resist asking her about the murder of her family. To her surprise, Ms. Hope replies “It wasn’t me.” Kit’s curiosity gets the better of her as she tries to uncover the truth about the murders that took place over fifty years ago. Riley Sager sets the novel in a gothic mansion on the Maine coast that is placed precariously on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. The house, the staff and Ms. Hope all give off ominous vibes that create tension and propel the reader forward. The mystery unfolds slowly but the character development is rich and when the twist happens readers will be both surprised and satisfied.


Book cover for Minor Detail

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli
Reviewed by Cora Lee
Library Assistant III, College-Rolando Library
San Diego Union Tribune, February 25, 2024

This slim, forceful novel will leave an imprint on your brain. The first half, set in 1949, is based on a true story––the rape and murder of a Bedouin teenager in the Negev desert. The second half takes place decades later, when a young woman in Ramallah becomes fixated on the crime, realizing it took place exactly twenty-five years before the day she was born. The cool, impartial prose contrasts against the brutality of the events described. Shibli does not give the reader the ending they want. Nor does she answer the many questions that arise within this novel. Instead she provides insight into other questions, ones we all should be asking––what is it like to spend your whole life under occupation? How much suffering are humans able to endure? Who gets to write history?


Book cover for Kushiel’s Dart

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Reviewed by Amanda Lorge
Librarian II, Central Library
San Diego Union Tribune, 11 February 2024

A brave young woman destined for greatness navigates intricate court politics in a steamy fantasy novel inspired by European history and mythology. Whether you’ve been swept up in the romantasy madness running amok on BookTok or always been a fan of the genre, you must check out Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Cast aside by her parents, Phèdre is raised by the lavish Night Court and sold to a house of courtesans due to a scarlet birthmark in her eye. When the realm's most skilled spymaster recognizes the flaw as the mark of the god Kushiel, he purchases and trains her for his own purposes. Carey weaves a tale of twisting plots, lush world-building, and swoon-worthy love interests in mesmerizing first-person voice. On top of all of this, Kushiel’s Dart displays remarkable sex-positivity and unapologetic queerness for a novel written over twenty years ago.


Book cover for "Kiss Me Judas"

Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer
Reviewed by Steven Torres-Roman
Humanities Librarian, Central Library
San Diego Union Tribune, January 28, 2024

Just in time for Valentine’s day, I recommend this somewhat hallucinatory noir tale of desperate desire and terrible betrayal. Phineas Poe is a disgraced cop, formerly with Denver’s Internal Affairs Division. In the aftermath of his wife’s death and his own nervous breakdown, fresh from the psychiatric hospital, he goes to a bar and picks up a woman named Jude … and awakens in a tub full of ice and pinkish water, with a phone nearby and a note that reads “if you want to live call 911.” Missing a kidney and suspecting that a bomb has been inserted in its place, Phineas pursues the woman who removed his organ and stole his heart. If you’re in the mood for stylish, dark noir fueled by bad choices and unhinged obsession, you’ve found your next favorite novel.


Book cover of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Katzuo Ishiguro
Reviewed by Carley Freedman
Intern, College-Rolando Library
San Diego Union Tribune, January 14, 2024

This is a science fiction novel severely lacking in evil robots, space travel, or aliens. Yet, it managed to be the most haunting example of the genre I have had the pleasure (and terror) to read. Kathy is a thirty-year-old woman who works as a "carer." Nostalgic for her youth, she tells us about her childhood spent at Hailsham, a secluded boarding school in England. There she contends with the typical trials of adolescence: friendship, romance, maturity, and identity. But something doesn't feel right. And as her story unfolds page by page, Kathy and the reader simultaneously come to unearth the chilling truth of her past. To say any more would spoil the suspense. My advice: read it with a friend. This is a book you'll want to talk about.


Book Cover for Qualityland

Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling
Reviewed by Peter Miesner 
Librarian IV, Central Library 
San Diego Union Tribune, December 31, 2023

You have likely wondered (and worried) about just how much your shopping or viewing habits are tracked online, and you may very well be flabbergasted at the state of political affairs in the world today. Author Marc-Uwe Kling takes us to a future where these areas of concern are taken to the nth degree. In Qualityland (not merely a pretty good country, but the BEST country) what you need is delivered before you knew you needed it. A perfect Quality partner can be chosen for you. Presidential candidates tailor their pitches for each individual. In the middle of all this, Peter Jobless (your surname is your parents’ occupation) is on a mission to return something from The Shop that he didn’t want. But that’s impossible - because of course he wanted it! The ensuing drama is a satire in the tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.