The 16 Best Books I Read In 2018

In 2017, four of my favorite books were non-fiction. This year, while I read some non-fiction, none of them made my “best of” list. Here’s the 2017 list, if you’re interested.

I read more excellent YA fiction this year than last, though my list is still pretty eclectic. Here’s my list on Goodreads, if you’re interested. The count is a little different from my personal tally; Goodreads had a glitch midway through the year, and I’m guessing they missed recording a few. Of the 143 number of books I read last year, these are my favorites.

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Voyager, by Diana Gabaldon (Historical fiction): These books just keep getting better. I love books that aren’t any one thing, and these books cross lines of historical fiction, romance, science fiction, and fantasy. Jamie and Claire are fantastic main characters, and their chemistry is wonderful.

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A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara (Literary fiction): A friend of mine really wanted to read this book, but had heard that it was horribly depressing. The back cover copy seemed interesting, so I said I’d read it along with her. And it happened to match a Popsugar category (a book with an ugly cover), so I killed two birds with one stone.

I read this book almost a year ago now, and I’m still thinking about it. When I first finished it, I couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it. It’s horribly sad, but also says some wonderful things about relationships. As time has gone on, and I’ve gotten some distance from it, I like it better. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone.

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I Remember You, by Cathleen Davitt Bell (YA Romance/ Fantasy): This book was an unexpected favorite for me. It had intriguing back cover copy that made the book sound a bit sinister. It’s not really; it’s a lovely romance with some twists I never saw coming. I read it several times this year, and it was just as good on audiobook as it was in print.

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Uncanny, by Sarah Fine (YA thriller): Uncanny is a wild ride. Every time I thought I understood what was going on, there was a twist. Cora can’t remember what happened the night her sister died, and she turned off her brain-computer interface. As she tries to piece together what happened along with an android therapist, things get more and more sinister.

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The Woman in the Window, by AJ Finn (Mystery/ Thriller): I really dislike the “main character is a drunk unreliable narrator and no one believes her” genre. I’ve read several books like that, and I’m over it. Because of that, I didn’t really enjoy the first half of this book because it seemed like more of the same. But a friend insisted I’d like this book, so I went with it.

Midway through the book there was a twist I didn’t see coming, and once it happened, I couldn’t put the book down. It was totally worth reading.

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The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco (YA horror/ paranormal): I got this book from a search I did for “best YA horror.” It was recommended on several sites, so I gave it a try.

It’s very different horror, borrowing Japanese lore to create a ghost story that’s just fantastic. Okiku is a ghost who kills child murderers, but is otherwise not really interested in the living. Tark is a teenager with weird tattoos and a strange past. When Okiku notices him, the fun begins.

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Because You’ll Never Meet Me/ Nowhere Near You, by Leah Thomas (YA science fiction): I seriously had no idea the first one was science fiction until midway through the book. Two boys write letters to one another on the advice of their doctor. Ollie is allergic to electricity.  Moritz has a pacemaker. They know going into the friendship that they’ll never meet. They’re such opposites that they don’t expect to find common ground, but they do. Their voices are so different, yet complement one another so well that I enjoyed every minute of these strange books.

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I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson (YA contemporary): Once upon a time, Noah and Jude are inseparable. They’re twins, and no one understands them like the other. But  then, something terrible happens, and they’re suddenly strangers. This is a moving book about grief and love, and how when we’re in pain, we sometimes alienate the person we care about most.

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The Weight of Zero, by Karen Fortunati (YA contemporary/ mental health): In my opinion, there aren’t a ton of YA books that get mental health “right.” This one is a poignant portrayal of bipolar disorder, grief, and suicidal ideation. It covers some pretty heavy material and probably isn’t for everyone. Yet, it’s not unrelentingly depressing and ends up with a happy ending that feels realistic, rather than trite. Excellent book.

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An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (contemporary): You know how when everyone is talking about a book, you start to feel like it can’t live up to the hype? I was seriously concerned that this book would be a disappointment. It wasn’t. It comments our flawed justice system and relationships. What would you do if your spouse was convicted for a crime you knew they didn’t commit? It’s an interesting question without easy answers, and I honestly had no idea how this book would end.

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The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke (YA science fiction): This may be the strangest book I read this year. It’s a love story between a woman and an android. It’s somewhat disturbing at times, but poses the fascinating question of what it means to be human. Should a sentient being have the same rights as a human?

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Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell (Romance): In my eyes, Rainbow Rowell can do no wrong. This was a cute romance novel about a guy who ends up reading email exchanges between two women in his office, and falls in love with one of them. He knows it’s creepy, but he can’t stop. I knew it was going to end with HEA (because duh), but couldn’t figure out how it would get there. Great fun.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (Contemporary): Eleanor Oliphant is completely unlikeable. She’s rigid and annoying… and completely compelling. Even in the beginning, when I didn’t like her, I couldn’t put the book down. By the time I got to the end, I wanted to give her a huge hug and make her some tea.

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli (YA contemporary): Reading this book was like a mini-vacation. Simon has such a weird and wonderful voice. I couldn’t stop reading, and I eagerly tried to figure out the mystery of who “Blue” was. This is one of those books best read in one big gulp.

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The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd (Historical fiction): I have to thank the Popsugar reading challenge for this one. I probably never would have read this book if I didn’t need something for the category “a book (fiction or non) about a real person.”

This was a fascinating take on Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and “her” slave, Handful. While the real Ms. Grimke was gifted a slave as a child, there isn’t much known about her. The story is told in alternating voices between Sarah and Handful, and hearing the two women tell their stories was riveting in an unexpected way. If this is what history class was like growing up, I would have paid closer attention.

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The Boy At the Door, by Alex Dahl (Mystery/ thriller): Another book I owe to Popsugar, for the category “Nordic noir.” This was a thrill ride. There were some parts I figured out long before they were revealed, and other things that kept me guessing until the last minute. There are times when I kind of want the “bad guy” to escape the consequences of their actions, and this was one of them.

What were the best books you read this year?

Rooting for a Terrible Character

I recently read The Boy at The Door, by Alex Dahl, to fill a “Nordic noir” category for a reading challenge.

As I was trying to pick out a book, I read some Goodreads reviews, hoping to get a sense if I’d like the book or not. And what was interesting to me was how many people said they hated the main character, Cecilia.

A quick, spoiler-free summary is that Cecilia is asked to take a boy home from swim practice one night, only when she gets to his house, it’s obviously abandoned. So she brings him home, and from there, a series of events happen that threaten the “perfect life” she’s created for herself, because that life is based on lies.

I can see why people didn’t like Cecilia. She’s selfish, manipulative, unapologetic, a complainer, and a perfectionist.

But she’s also pretty open and honest with the reader. There are reasons that she is the way she is. She’s also kind of vulnerable, wanting to keep the life she’s so carefully crafted.

As Cecilia’s secrets were revealed, none of them surprised me. Yet I felt increasingly sorry for her as this life she’d crafted fell apart.

It got me to thinking about how a lot of people probably would feel that the “bad guy” got what she deserved, and on one level, that’s probably right. Actions have consequences, and everything that happened to her was a result of the terrible choices she made.

On the other hand, she never meant to hurt anyone. She was only thinking of herself when she did things, which is not an enviable trait. And yet, it’s clear that she didn’t think through the consequences of her actions. She was just so terrified to lose what she’d built that she was in constant reaction mode.

I’ve always found the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” to be an interesting one. While that’s undoubtedly true, it’s also paved with bad intentions. Why don’t we get any credit for our intentions? Why do others tend to judge us based on the worst thing we ever did? We all make mistakes, so why can’t we be more forgiving of the mistakes of others?

I didn’t like Cecilia. I wouldn’t want her as a friend or as a relative. But reading this story, I absolutely felt sorry for her and hoped that things would work out for her in the end.

Have you ever disliked a character but hoped they’d have a happy ending?

(And incidentally, if you want to try Nordic noir, I absolutely recommend this book.)

F is for Fight Club

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Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

Yes, the same Fight Club that became a movie with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.  I saw the movie first, and then had to rush out and buy the book.

I’d read other books with unreliable narrators, but this one was so different than the rest that it really made me pause in admiration for how skillfully done it was.  I love a good plot twist (as opposed to a cheap plot twist) and this was one that made me sit back and wish that I would have written it.

This book, oddly, is also when I became aware that I liked writing about mental health and started incorporating main characters with mental health issues on purpose.

I loved the message of the book, and I loved how it was told.  It taught me that a book didn’t have to be preachy or uplifting to have a positive message.  Fight Club was dark and gritty with characters who weren’t particularly good people.  But just because they weren’t good people doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a lot of positive things to say.

Fight Club is one of those rare books that have not only influenced me and made me think, but is also just an excellent read.

“Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club