Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Best Books I Read in 2018...



Wow, another year has come and gone. I can't figure out where 2018 went! It's been a wacky, busy year, but I helped mitigate the sheer wackiness and what-else-could-go-wronginess by reading. A lot. Like more than ever before. (And I thought I reached that ceiling last year.)

I read 186 books in 2018—the most I've ever read (or at least since college, when I managed a bookstore and was able to read most of the day). I traveled a lot this year, and spent a lot of time on planes, in airports, and tossing and turning in hotel rooms, which certainly enabled the increase in the number of books I read. So did a few cases of insomnia, a few blissful days of vacation, and some pretty fantastic books I couldn't put down.

I didn't love every book I read; in fact, there were more than a few I stopped reading so I didn't bother to write reviews, and there were also more than a few (sadly) that petered out before the end, so I wound up skimming through the remainder of the book. I hope that's not a continuing trend in 2019!!

As I've done for the last nine years, I went back through all of the books I've read and come up with a list of my favorites. Culling 186 books down to a finite number was really, really difficult, so what I've done is come up with a list of 25, along with an additional 12 which just fell short of the very best but they're still too good to miss.

I've linked to my original review of each so you can read more about each one. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and know which books you'd count among your favorites, even if you didn't read as much as I did! I'll list my top five (in random order) and then the remainder of the books will be in random order as well—ranking would be far too complicated!!

The Best of the Best

Tin Man by Sarah Winman: Oh my god, did I love this book. I don't know if everyone will feel the same way I did, but this one had me from the first page to the last. This is a simple story, really—a tale as old as time, if you will—but it held me in its grasp completely. It runs just under 200 pages, so I read the entire book in an evening. This beautiful book about friendship and love will remain in my head for a long time. See my original review.


An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur: This is a story about friends that become family as well as the often-blurred lines between friendship and love. It's a story about how we can never completely outrun the traumas we face, the challenges of parenthood, the trust that is so key to the success of long-term relationships, and what it is like to feel like you keep missing your chance at happiness. Absolutely blew me away. See my original review.


A Charm of Finches by Suanne Laqueur: When I read An Exaltation of Larks, people told me that the follow-up was even better. And they were right. This is a gorgeous, sensitive, sexy, emotional book, full of moments that made me smile, made me blush, horrified me, and made me full-on ugly cry at times (on a plane, no less). It's a beautiful story of finding love and self-worth, of realizing it's okay to depend on others, and of how redemptive that love can be. See my original review.


Sadie by Courtney Summers: Man, this book is going to haunt me for a while!! Courtney Summers has created an absolutely incredible, haunting, poignant sucker punch of a book. It's sad, hopeful, disturbing, thought-provoking, and it hurt my heart, but it was amazing. This is easily one of the best, most affecting books I've read all year. And while this was a novel, stories like these, sadly, are all too true. See my original review.


Us Against You by Fredrick Backman: This is the sequel to Beartown, one of the best books I read in 2017, but it's equally amazing. Reading this book was like getting to visit old friends—you revel in every minute because you know you'll be sad when your time together is over. Even though these books are about a hockey-obsessed town, they are about so much more than that. That's where Backman keeps surprising you. See my original review.



More of the Best

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: This immensely moving novel-in-verse will light a fire inside you while it takes your breath away. This is a book about family, religion, friendship, young love, wishing you could be who your parents want you to be but not wanting to give up who you are, and the transformative power of words. I was utterly mesmerized by Acevedo's words and how they metamorphosized into such a memorable voice. See my original review.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I loved every single thing about this book. It's compulsively readable, like one of those television miniseries you can't stop watching. I'm a huge movie fan and love reading stories of "old Hollywood," but this is more than a soapy melodrama—this is a book with surprising depth, thought-provoking in the subjects it touches on, and unapologetic in its portrayal of what women needed to do to succeed in Hollywood. See my original review.


A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne: Boyne has created an unsympathetic, morally dubious character who is utterly unforgettable, and has slayed me in the process. Although there are similarities to The Talented Mr. Ripley, this is a novel all its own. We've seen this story before, but in Boyne's hands the suspense crackles, and you can't wait to see whether the main character will get his comeuppance. See my original review.


The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson: This may be one of the craziest, most thought-provoking books I've read in some time, if not ever. It's wild, poignant, forces you to suspend your disbelief, and some may even think it's sacrilegious or blasphemous, but it definitely cements Hutchinson as one of the best YA authors out there right now, one who combines science, emotion, and life's daily struggles to tremendous effect. Not for everyone, but utterly fascinating and thought-provoking. See my original review.


Educated by Tara Westover: Harrowing, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant, Educated is at times difficult to read, but I couldn't tear myself away from it. Westover shares her story about being caught between loyalty to family and God, and the desire to find your own way, to learn things on your own. Even though this wasn't an enjoyable book per se, it was written so skillfully, and Westover's story was so compelling. See my original review.


Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier: This is a terrific thriller, full of suspense as well as the realization that what happens in your youth can never be put completely behind you. Georgina Shaw and her two best friends, Angela Wong and Kaiser Brody, were pretty much inseparable in high school. But one night Angela went missing one night after a party, and Geo and Kaiser's friendship was never the same. Who could imagine that she could have anything to do with Angela's disappearance? See my original review.


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Raw, powerful, full of searing emotion, this is a book which speaks not only to the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife, but it touches on the bond between parents and their children, even in adulthood, and the mercurial nature of life. It is a searing portrait of the ragged ways we fall in and out of love. Jones is such a talented writer, and you actually feel the same dilemmas faced by her characters. See my original review.


Becoming by Michelle Obama: God, do I miss the Obamas. I love the matter-of-fact way she shares her feelings and experiences, revealing emotions and fears and moments of anger, as well as the moments of sheer joy, as mother, as wife, as daughter, and as First Lady. For the most part, the Michelle Obama you've seen at public appearances, on television shows, and in photos, is the Michelle Obama you get in Becoming. And that feels just right. See my original review.


The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan: Lyrical, emotionally powerful, even fantastical at times, this book is a stunning, poignant look at grief, family, love, and secrets that packs a real punch, and leaves you with gorgeous images in your mind. This is a beautiful, heartfelt, somewhat quirky book, which shifts between real and fantasy, present and past. At times it's necessary to suspend your disbelief, but despite its quirks, this book is, well, astonishing. See my original review.


What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera: One book written by two of my favorite YA authors equals ALL. THE. FEELS. It's an absolutely lovable, poignant, adorable book about two boys trying to listen to the universe—and fight it—in their quest to be together. It's a book about friendship, family, jealousy, and finding yourself, and having the confidence to realize you're worth being fought for. And it's a book about trying to make a relationship work in one crazy world. See my original review.


Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper: My heart is full. This book felt like a look into a magical place, the kind of town that doesn't exist anymore, even though sadly, towns like this exist all over. The characters were unbelievably special and beautifully drawn, and the story captured my heart from the very first page. At times Hooper's style is very spare, so it took a little getting used to, but the whole story was just amazing. See my original review.


Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood: No matter what our relationship with food is, we can't deny the place it has in our lives beyond simple nourishment. In this book, Hood reflects upon the connection between certain dishes and specific memories or times in her life, and each essay is accompanied by at least one recipe. It will whet your appetite and wet your eyes from time to time. This is the perfect book to give as a gift to those with whom you've shared recipes, meals, and memories related to food. See my original review.


November Road by Lou Berney: Berney delivers another stellar book which is part thriller, part character study, and part historical novel, as it so accurately captures the mood and social issues of the early 1960s. He is such an exceptional storyteller that I was hooked from start to finish, even if I had suspicions about how things would end up. Whether you're a thriller fan, or just a fan of exceptional writing, this is one to pick up and savor. See my original review.


Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl: This felt like a slightly-less-sciency Dark Matter (a spectacular book you need to check out) with a YA twist. There's definitely more angst and melodrama here, but with the twists and turns, the mystery-within-a-mystery, I really found it pretty spectacular. Pessl has once again proven that her talent knows no bounds. I loved every twisty, confusing, melodramatic second of this book. See my original review.


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: This book is heartfelt, warm, and endearing, and utterly deserving of the praise and love being heaped on it. It is definitely a story that will live in my mind for a long time. This is a love letter to nature, but it is also a beautiful story about what you can accomplish when people believe in you and instill you with that confidence. There is a simple beauty to this book and so much heart. See my original review.


Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren: I thought this book was excellent—every heartfelt, emotional, sexy, melodramatic second. It takes the story of best friends who become something more and then throws them into utter discord. There is just so much heart and emotion in this book, so much love, and I couldn't get enough. (This is one of four of Lauren's books I loved this year—Roomies, Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, and My Favorite Half-Night Stand were also amazing.) See my original review.


Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee: Told in shifting points of view, this is a poignant, powerful, beautifully written account of living with mental illness and the toll it takes on everyone around the individual. This is a simple, moving story about the relationship between two sisters, the push-and-pull of familial obligations. It is hard to believe that this is Lee's debut novel, because everything feels true and flows smoothly. See my original review.


Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi: I loved loved loved this book, and it reminded me of how good an amazing YA book (or any book for that matter) makes me feel. Even though you've probably seen this story before, maybe countless times, in Mary H.K. Choi's hands, it's so fresh and appealing, and I just couldn't get enough. There's a quirkiness to Choi's writing that is utterly endearing, and she has so much heart. See my original review.


A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza: Poignant, warm, and thought-provoking, this is a tremendously self-assured look at an American Muslim family, and the obligations and tangles that family and religion create. It was so emotionally rich, a fascinating study of a family struggling with how to reconcile the traditions and beliefs of their religion with the needs and wants of the ever-changing world, particularly post-9/11. See my original review.


A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi: This was a tremendously affecting, beautifully written, thought-provoking (and anger-provoking) novel. I read the entire book in a day, and was simultaneously moved, outraged, saddened, horrified, embarrassed, and utterly hooked. What a fascinating and beautiful story this was. See my original review.



More Not to Miss
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Don't Believe It by Charlie Donlea

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen by Hannah Howard

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

The Shadow Girl by Misty Mount

14 comments:

  1. Hi Larry, really appreciate of all your great reviews in 2018. They are not only fascinating but also enhancing effects of the books. Thank you!

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  2. Hi Larry!

    I stumbled across your blog about a year ago and have found some great books no one else (that I know anyway!) is talking about. I really enjoyed "An Exaltation of Larks" -- which I had a hard time finding via my library.

    And from last year "The Never Open Desert Diner" plus its sequel were fabulous.

    156 books! (Shakes head, slinks off)

    I fall off the turnip truck with most YA and fantasy but you are a go-to resource for me for fiction ideas.

    Thank You!

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    1. Thank you!! Believe me, 156 books is amazing, no need to sneak off! Glad I could help you find some great books!

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    2. Oh, Oh. "Stillhouse Lake" was another GREAT recommendation. And "The Dry."

      I'm kind of nerdy about keeping track of where I get ideas from. In case you're interested you're responsible for 25 books I read last year with a combined rating of 3.93!

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  3. Outstanding treasure trove of books, Larry. Of your selections, I have only read Sam Hell and The Great Alone. This post is foing into my bookmarks, and I will be referring to it many times this year. Thanks!!!

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    1. Thanks, Chris! I hope you find others you enjoy!!

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  4. I appreciate your reviews! We have such similar reading tastes and you've become one of my favorite recommendation sources. Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks so much, Tina! I really appreciate that. Happy New Year!

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  5. GREAT READING AND MOVIE LIST!!!!!!!!!!

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  6. Interesting list! I think I've only read Feast (and it wasn't one of my favorites). I've seen Educated and Becoming recommended a lot but haven't picked them up yet... Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Hi Larry, great list. I'm adding some to my (huge, ever-growing) to-read pile. Thanks for your honest reviews! ~Sheila on Goodreads

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  8. Hi Larry, I read your reviews on goodreads.com and always enjoy them. Thanks for the time spent on you intelligent and well-written reviews.

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