I read 135 books in 2018. The best of the lot are summarized below and my Goodreads reviews for each can be found here. (To be clear, not all of these books came out in 2018. That’s just when I read them.)
As usual, in 2018 I tried to read books in many different genres, with an emphasis on perspectives and voices that don’t always echo my own. Hopefully you’ll find a suggestion below that connects with you and inspires the development of your own 2019 reading list–even if that’s just to read a single book.
I had never heard of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) until I saw they were making a film adaptation that comes out in 2019. Glad I decided to check it out. This is a wonderful, action packed series, easily on par with The Hunger Games. Like THG, this series starts off being about kids, but quickly progresses to tackle more adult issues like free will, gender politics, and warfare. But there’s also a talking dog. Trust me, it’s pretty awesome.
Best Young Adult (YA)
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is epic storytelling at its finest and ended up on numerous year-end best books lists. It’s a truly original book with an interesting perspective on race and class, oppression and privilege. Word of warning for people who like tidy stories: COBAB is the first book in a planned series and ends with a cliffhanger.
Best Literary Fiction
This year it was a toss up between a new book, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and an older, award-winning one that took me far too long to finally read, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Immortalists asks you to consider how differently you might live your life if you knew the exact age you were going to die. Homegoing examines the impact of slavery on two families over the course of 300 years. Both were beautifully written and periodically made my heart hurt.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen is a meticulously researched, illuminating read on how fantasy and “magical thinking” came to be so deeply embedded in the DNA of America. A great read for anyone who has been wondering “How did things get so messed up?” (Runner up: Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser — a must read for any Little House geeks out there.)
This is also a toss-up between The Stars Now Unclaimed by and LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff. Stars is a epic saga full of “bonkers space battles” about a spy on a mission to recruit children with miraculous gifts to prevent the destruction of the universe. “Lifelike” (which I guess is technically YA Sci-Fi) is about a kick-ass cyborg (and her band of misfit friends) trying to uncover the secret of her past and stop some evil androids.
I read some great memoirs this year, but the best of the lot was Rabbit: A Memoir by Patricia Williams, a book that was both heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring about growing up as a young, black woman in poverty. (Runner up: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello).
Best Historical Fiction
Another toss-up. I equally loved both White Houses by and Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird. Houses is the story of Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt’s lover who for a time lived in the White House alongside FDR and his mistress, (crazy, huh?) Daughter is about a former slave posing as a man during the Civil War and fighting in the Army’s legendary Buffalo Soldiers unit.
Since I read gobs of these, my litmus test for determining which ones are good is being able to remember the book’s plot months afterwards. The following four thrillers passed that test this year: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (which will come out as a movie in 2019), Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney, (because it had a twist in it I honestly didn’t see coming) Watching You by Lisa Jewell, (because, while you may see its twist coming, you’ll want to stick around to find out why) and Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier because it’s a wee bit darker than the rest.
My favorite fantasy book of the year was Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett, a highly engaging, action-packed read with a unique world-building. There are rational, logical, scientific principals behind the “magic” you’ll find in Foundryside. But don’t worry, you’ll be able to follow along even if you blocked out all memories of high school physics class like I did.
I slogged through a number of romance books this year I didn’t like, including a media top pick in this genre, An Extraordinary Union and two books said to have inspired the movie The Shape of Water (The Pisces & Mrs. Caliban). The only romance I enjoyed was The Idea of You by Robinne Lee. It’s not necessarily an exceptional book, but it was light (gosh, everyone is so very rich!) and didn’t get weird about issues of consent and power dynamics.
Best Stephen King
I read both of the books King released in 2018, The Outsider and Elevation (as well as a book by his son, Joe Hill). Of the two, I liked The Outsider more. (I’m embarrassed to admit I forgot to add it to my Goodreads log.) I wasn’t totally in love with it, but had some nice intrigue and I liked the tie to the last series. Honestly, if Uncle Stevie keeps churning out the books, I’ll keep reading them.
Best Wild Card
I’m not sure how to classify Severance by . It’s an end of the world book that isn’t totally focused on the end of the world. I loved it. A lot. Apparently I wasn’t alone–Severance was a top pick for numerous book lists and won a bunch of awards in 2018. However, the reviews for it thus far have just been so-so. Maybe the critics and I are wrong? You be the judge. If you’re looking for something different, give this book a try.