Fort Dodge Public Library: Making the list with all the best books

Library staff offers recommendations, looks ahead to new releases

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari Laurie Hotz, director of youth services at the Fort Dodge Public Library, arranges some of the books she recommends for young readers this winter.

With the January weather causing freezing across the state, it may be a good time to stay at home and read a book to pass the time.

But which book?

According to the staff of the Fort Dodge Public Library, there were popular books in 2016 for all age groups that they would recommend.

Library Director Rita Schmidt said a number of those books had a common theme.

“Twenty-sixteen was a stellar year for books about women behind the scenes making a huge difference at a time that most people think of them as having been stay-at-home moms or having these strict societal roles,” Schmidt said.

One of them was “Rise of the Rocket Girls” by Nathalia Holt.

Schmidt said the book is about women who worked behind the scenes with the United States space program and who helped get it started.

“It’s the history of these unknown young women who helped develop projects at the jet propulsion lab and the role they played in the space race,” she said. “Most people always think of the men and the astronauts. These are the women behind the story who are also instrumental in helping us reach those goals.”

A similar book is “The Glass Universe” by Dava Sobel, which is about women at the Harvard Observatory who helped measure the stars.

“They were instrumental in taking their male colleagues’ observations and determining what they meant,” Schmidt said. “It’s just a fascinating story about their contribution behind the scenes to giving us a full understanding of what the universe looked like.”

There’s also “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly, which will soon have a big-screen adaptation coming to theaters.

“It’s about the black female mathematicians who helped NASA calculate things that would help with launching the rockets and getting the astronauts into space,” Schmidt said.

For fiction lovers, Schmidt said there were a couple science fiction books that she enjoyed reading in 2016.

“A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas tells an alternate version of the character of Sherlock Holmes that Schmidt found interesting.

“In this particular version, Sherlock Holmes is a woman,” she said. “Her name is actually Charlotte Holmes, and she’s brilliant, but because of the era she’s living in, no one takes a woman seriously, and so she has to hide behind the fictitious character of Sherlock Holmes to solve cases.”

She added historial fiction lovers may enjoy “The Summer Before the War” by Helen Simonson, which talks about how World War I impacted the people of England in 1914, just as the war was starting.

“(It’s about) how life changes for everyone as the war begins and the opportunities and the confusion and the heartbreak that comes along with the war and those changes,” Schmidt said.

Young adult

A number of young adult books proved to be popular in 2016, according to Alexis Powers, library assistant.

“The Crown’s Game” by Evelyn Skye has a magic theme to it.

“There’s a designated magic person that goes through a bloodline normally,” Powers said. “In this case, there’s two of them that have to compete to become the king’s champion magician.”

In the book, Powers said the two magicians set up their own tricks to prove themselves worthy.

“Flawed” by Cecilia Ahern proved another intriguing read for Powers.

It describes a society in which everybody is perfect.

“They go through plastic surgery as kind of a norm to become the perfect person inside and out,” Powers said. “And if you do anything wrong, you go on trial and you’re branded and you’re basically an outcast. You don’t get treats, they put you on a regimen and you have to check in all the time. It’s basically house arrest.”

But one of her personal favorites of 2016 was “The Star-Touched Queen” by Roshani Chokshi.

Powers described the book as similar to “One Thousand and One Nights” and “Aladdin.” It follows a character who Powers called the “king of the underworld.”

A girl then becomes his queen “and he teaches her how to weave the tapestry that kind of guides life,” she said. “And it’s got a twist ending.”


In terms of children’s books, Laurie Hotz, the library’s director of youth services, said there were a number of books that were constantly getting checked out in 2016.

She described last year as “the year of the reader.”

“When I was a kid, ‘Dick and Jane’ was a reader,” Hotz said. “Now readers have multiple characters and readers are popular, whether you’re a child just beginning to read or whether you’re a child in third or fourth grade.”

She said the evolution of the books has made them popular.

“Readers are still popular because the characters are so much more in-depth and the storylines are so much more in-depth,” Hotz said.

Most of the library’s popular books featured characters in popular cultures, such as Barbie, Batman and books about LEGOs.

“Books about toys are huge,” she said. “Whether it’s a beginning to read book or a thick chapter book that has an actual story.”

The pictures in LEGO books are very popular among children, and she said because anything can be made with them, they can be creative.

“Those are huge,” she said. “I cannot keep those on the shelf.”

This past year also saw a resurgence of J.K. Rowling’s popular “Harry Potter” series, including re-releases of the books in a format that includes more illustrations.

“When ‘Harry Potter’ first came out, there were maybe a few illustrations in the books,” Hotz said. “But now, it’s one of the most beautiful books that’s come out all year. That’s been really, really popular this year.”

Upcoming books

As for books that have release dates in 2017, Schmidt said there are a few that she’s anticipating.

“The Death of Kings” by Rennie George Airth is part of a series that’s about a World War II veteran who went on to become a retired chief inspector.

“And one of his colleagues asks him to come back and help solve a case,” Schmidt said. “He’s just a very complex, interesting character, and I love a good mystery.”

There’s also “The Bear and the Nightingale,” by Katherine Arden, a fantasy book that Schmidt is looking forward to reading.

“It’s about a medieval version of Russia where history and myth coexist,” she said. “It just looks fabulous.”

For Powers, young adult author Ellen Hopkins has two books coming out this year that she’s anticipating.

The one she’s most interested in is “The You I’ve Never Known,” which is a book of poetry.

“I’m not sure if this is going to be in her normal format,” Powers said. “It sounds like it might be different than her normal stuff. I’m excited to see how she does when she gets away from what she normally writes.”

Hotz said it’s likely the most popular children’s books in 2017 will be connected to movies.

“Those have been really popular,” she said. “Especially some of the newer movies.”

“Anything with a movie tie-in will be big,” Hotz added. “Guaranteed.”