My best books of 2018 (and other distinctions)
2018 was an excellent year for books. I was in a reading slump for about 18 months but 2018 snapped me right out of it - thanks in no small part to TWO book recommendations from my mother-in-law that ended up making this list of my favorite books of the year (they are the first two).
Educated, by Tara Westover. I read this book myself and was amazed and disgusted and inspired. Then I got to relive all those feelings over and over again as those in my various circles of acquaintances read it. It was the book that launched a thousand group chats (and low-key facebook stalking sessions of the real-life principal characters).
The Unwomanly Face of War, by Svetlana Alexievich. This is the women’s oral history of war that I have been waiting for all my life, every time I picked up any other book, fiction or non, about war. I just didn’t know it until now.
Ghosts of the Tsunami, by Richard Lloyd Perry. This book should be good by default, given its subject matter (the 2011 tsunami in Japan). But it is breathtakingly good, incandescently good. It took its fascinating topic and elevated it.
Prairie Fires, by Caroline Fraser. Reverent, but contextualized and unsparing - there are parts of this book that I wish I could un-read because sometimes the truth is uncomfortable and manipulative and a wee bit Nazi-sympathizing (ROSE). But it was good for the soul to re-examine a childhood heroine and get comfortable with the fact that we are none of us perfect.
Call Me American, by Abdi Nor Iftin. This is a book that I wish someone would go hand out for free on street corners in the US because people just need to read it! There is so much to learn here about refugees, immigration, and compassion.
Obsidio, by Amie Kaufman. This was the third (and final) book in a series and it represents so much creativity and heart and regard for the reader. Smart Teenagers in Charge are sometimes JUST the thing.
Bright We Burn, by Kiersten White. Another third and final book of a series, also with so much heart. The audacity of this author to re-write 16th-century Ottoman/Wallachian history with a teenage girl protagonist! And to do it WELL! I salute you, Ms. White.
Most unexpectedly good book: The Bear and the Nightingale. You know, vaguely redone historic-ish setting, girl with magical powers…how good could it be? I’ve read a thousand stories like this, right? WRONG. I was not prepared for how rich this book was and how completely it would pull me into its orbit.
Most unexpectedly bad book: My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand et al. This was an unfortunate case of a book 2 (and I usually love book 2s!) not living up to the sheer delight and joy of book 1.
Most-read books: This year I re-read Columbine, Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, and Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley.
The Sarah J. Maas award for Best Bad Book (a book that is vaguely trashy but is fun to read): The Wedding Date, for sure.
Worst good book: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. The editors should have been more heavy-handed even though theirs was an extremely difficult task: putting together a book after the author unexpectedly died. So it was good…but it should have been even better.
Worst book I didn’t finish: Children of Blood and Bone. I’ll give you twenty seconds to name every YA fantasy trope that comes to mind. Done? OK, so this book has all of the ones you just named. ALL OF THEM.
The The Selection award for Worst Book I Did Finish: Ain’t nobody got time to finish bad books anymore. This category is becoming obsolete as I get more comfortable saying NEXT! to mediocre books.
Worst cover: Book covers are so good these days. That said, here are two abominations:
There is so much going on here that I can’t even.
I think this cover is really weird and othering in a way that is totally avoidable. The other books in this series have really good covers so I’m not sure what happened here.
Best covers: I would legit hang both of these on my wall.
Worst title: Children of Blood and Bone. It’s like it came from a YA title generator.
Best title: Ghosts of the Tsunami, We Crossed A Bridge and it Trembled, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
Book that gave me the worst case of logorrhea: Educated, for sure. Group chat, in person, email, videochat: I discussed this book with all of the people, in all of the ways.
Wait…what? Soooooo these books are not in the same series nor written by the same author, and yet they look like this (and both feature a main character who is bisexual). However, the author of the book on the left wrote a really gracious, positive blurb for the book on the right, which warms my heart.
Books in which married scientists’ life work ends in a miraculous discovery but also tragedy for one of the pair: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, A Thousand Pieces of You
Books in which a real-life con man pretends to have a life-threatening illness when he doesn't: The Stranger She Loved, The Road to Jonestown
Books in which mangos are described lovingly: Hello, Universe, The Night Diary
Books in which main characters stumble upon a recently used battlefield strewn with casualties and are overcome by the stench: Kingdom of Ash, Bright We Burn
Books whose main character is a South Asian girl: The Breadwinner, My Name Is Parvana, Mud City, Parvana’s Journey, Amal Unbound, The Night Diary
Books featuring LGBT+ characters (to the best of my recollection): Texts From Jane Eyre, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Dread Nation, Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, Bright We Burn, The Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason, Autoboyography