Best Books of 2018: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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Every year I think I will do a top ten list and every year I just can’t do it. That said, there were three books that I recommended over and over again this year – The Wife by Alafair Burke, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, and The Widower’s Notebook by Jonathan Santlofer.

Here are my 25 favorite reads of 2018.

THRILLERS

THE WIFE by Alafair Burke: Wow, what a read! There are many twists in this story but the ending is the real shocker. The pacing is relentless, the characters are so well drawn that they completely drive the narrative. If you are a fan of the “girl books,” put this on your list. In general I’m not, but this book was exceptional, I loved it.

SUNBURN by Laura LippmanThis is a standalone novel and Lippman’s turn at the unreliable narrator genre that has permeated the best seller lists. She does an excellent job of it. There are a lot of lies, more deaths and several unexpected twists to this story, not to mention quite the shocking ending. This was a one night read for me, albeit a very late night, but I couldn’t put it down.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST by Brad MeltzerA twisty, at times violent, roller coaster ride of a thriller. There is a lot of really fascinating information on the death process of fallen soldiers, history about Houdini, his friends and family, and about magic in general. The surprises keep coming, the pacing is relentless, and the body count high in this terrific political thriller. (And librarians, the President appointed Librarian of Congress plays a prominent part!)

OUR HOUSE by Louise CandlishWowza! This book has been getting all sorts of accolades and it’s easy to see why. It’s a very different kind of story and a timely one. Set in London, it feels like it could be set in any suburban community. A real page turner of a book, fast paced and interesting with great characters and more twists and turns than a hurricane.

TRUE FICTION by Lee GoldbergThis is a fast paced story with lots of action, explosions and chase scenes as well as a lot of laughs, my favorite combination. I’m not sure if the all the technology mentioned is accurate and I really don’t want to know – if big brother is watching us all that closely, I’d be terrified. It is a terrific introduction to a new series, and I can’t wait for the next book.

AFTER ANNA by Lisa ScottolineIn this new standalone thriller, there are two sides of a heartwrenching story alternating chapter by chapter, and in a truly unique way, one is moving forward and the other is moving backward. Scottoline has the mad writing skills to pull it off and do it really well. I was reading away, completely engrossed with this family and their saga when suddenly the story took a hard turn and starting moving at breakneck speed to a really shocking ending. I stayed up late to finish it, then stayed up even later thinking about it. I love when that happens.

BOOK CLUB BETS

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens: Kya is a most unusual character and we meet her when she is about five years old. Her coming of age is an astonishing story and beautifully told. The writing is simply superlative and the descriptions just bring this unusual setting, a marsh in rural North Carolina, to life. It’s perfect for book discussion and anyone who enjoys a good story, engaging characters and beautiful writing.

THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin HannahThis is a fascinating look at a life most of us would never experience living entirely off the land and bartering for whatever else you need in a remote village in Alaska. It is also a coming of age story, a story about the effects of war, about an abusive marriage, anarchy, and more…This is not a happy story, but a dark, searing one that will be staying with me for a very long time. It is such a gripping novel that I just couldn’t put it down and I can’t wait to talk to someone who has read it.

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe BenjaminBenjamin poses the philosophical question if you knew when you were going to die, would you live your life differently? But it delves even further than that into relationships, both familial and others. It is beautifully written and each character drives their own story. Worthy of all the praise it has received, and certainly worthy of discussion.

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer EganThis is a fascinating look at the roles of women during the Depression and the war, and the lives of sailors, politicians, and gangsters and how their lives intertwine. Anna is a terrific character and moves the story along. A very interesting and enjoyable read, with much to discuss.

WOMENS FICTION

ALL YOUR PERFECTS by Colleen Hoover: Hoover has a way of drawing the reader in and making us care about her characters, even when it is painful to do so. By alternating the darkness of a marriage on the rocks with the light of falling in love, she makes us think about how a relationship goes from one extreme to the other. I never saw this ending coming, and it was a masterful finish to a very thought provoking, emotional read. I loved it.

HOW TO BE FAMOUS by Caitlin MoranCaitlin Moran writes strong, feminist fiction with a unique protagonist and a wicked sense of humor. While set more than twenty years ago, this Bildungsroman feels very topical and should appeal to strong women of any age.

THE BUCKET LIST by Georgia ClarkThe Bucket List takes a very serious subject, a 25 year old woman testing positive for the BRCA1 gene, meaning she is very likely to get breast cancer, and provides a sweet, funny, sexual romp. While tackling a serious subject, Clark injects quite a bit of humor here, making this a fun, sexy read.

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

THE KISS QUOTIENT by Helen HoangSo hot sex? Check. Lots of laughs? Check. Great characters? Check. An unputdownable story? Double check! This book checks all the boxes for a great romance and really ups the ante. I can’t wait to see what Hoang does next. Don’t miss it.

JOSH AND HAZEL’S GUIDE TO NOT DATING by Christina Lauren: Christina Lauren is the pen name of two women who write together, and they are quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. Two of my go-to authors? This is a smart, funny and completely irresistible romance. These characters are brought to life with such impact that I feel like I could run into either of them tomorrow. I laughed out loud quite a bit and just couldn’t wait for their happy ending. There are some explicit sex scenes which work with the story but it is the sweet romance that really is the draw here. Runners up (when the same author puts out three books in one year!): Love & Other Words, My Favorite Half-Night Stand

THE PROPOSAL by Jasmine GuilloryI loved these characters, they had their faults which only made them seem more real. They were very well developed and I couldn’t wait to see how their story turned out. Happily ever after, of course, this is a romance, but with a lot of fun, food and sex along the way. And laughs. Lots of laughs.

COWBOY ROMANCE: BIG BAD COWBOY by Carly BloomMy love affair with cowboy romances continues with this terrific entry into a new series. The setting was a small town in Texas. Maggie is a strong, independent woman, and you can’t help rooting for her to succeed. Travis is respectful yet playful, and their chemistry is so electric that it is palpable. He has a whole host of problems, but manages to overcome them. I loved them together, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series

HISTORICAL ROMANCE

BEYOND SCANDAL AND DESIRE by Lorraine HeathSins for All Seasons, Book 1.
There are a few nice twists in this story and a truly shocking ending, but no fears, everyone gets their happily ever after. Don’t forget to read the author’s note at the end, her research was remarkable, fascinating and heartbreaking. I loved this fast, fun and unexpected read – what a great start to a new series!

THE GOVERNESS GAME by Tessa DareI love Tessa Dare and this is a really good example of why. Her writing is crisp, the dialogue is fast and funny, the pages fly by and the characters come to life on the page. Dare takes things even further by making her heroine half-mestiza Filipino. Diversity is a wonderful thing and I am happy to see traditional authors expanding their horizons from the of-so-white world of Regency England. Many authors create strong female heroines that behave in ways that are completely out of character for the time period, so why not mix up the races, too. The point is not belabored by any means, but just is. And it works.

A SCANDALOUS DEAL by Joanna ShupeThe passion felt real, the odds of this couple getting together were almost insurmountable, and the characters rang true. The tidbits about the history of New York were just an added bonus. This was a terrific one night read for me, I really loved it.

YOUNG ADULT: I HAVE LOST MY WAY by Gayle Forman: I will read anything Forman writes, and I can’t say that about too many authors, especially those who write books for young adults. She’s just a great storyteller, and if you haven’t read her, or read a young adult bool before, try this one. It’s short, only 272 pages, and it moves. The writing is beautiful, the characters interesting and believable, and the story spans out over the course of one day. It explores themes of friendship and empathy, love and kindness and family.

COOKBOOK: DINING IN by Alison RomanA really great cookbook, mostly because the recipes are truly accessible. Nothing takes days to make, a rare esoteric ingredient pops up but for the most part these recipes are easy to source, easy to make and easy to enjoy. I can say is I love this book and hope you will, too.

ART BOOK: BIBLIOPHILE by Jane MountI am a long time fan of Jane Mount’s art and often spend time drooling over her website, the Ideal Bookshelf. If you are a complete book wonk like me, Mount offers paintings/prints similar to the cover of this book. She has hundreds of collections and books to choose from and you can create your own “ideal bookshelf”.

MEMOIRS

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan SantloferThis is a beautifully written, haunting and emotional memoir about loss, grief, love, and moving on. It is thought provoking, intelligent, important and ultimately inspirational. Comparisons to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking are inevitable, and Jonathan is the yin to her yang. A book worth reading and sharing.

EDUCATED: A MEMOIR by Tara WestoverThe accolades for this book keep rolling in and what can I say, they are all well deserved. It is a difficult story, beautifully told. Dr. Westover gave us all a gift, and I am most appreciative.

SERIES: THE LAKESHORE CHRONICLES by Susan Wiggs
I loved this heartfelt series about love, laughter and family set in the Catskill Mountains in New York. The characters are well developed and became my friends. The setting is picturesque and nostalgic. I wish I could read them all over again for the first time! Here are the books in order, and I think they are best read that way:

1. Summer at Willow Lake
1.a.“Homecoming Season” (a novella in MORE THAN WORDS: STORIES OF COURAGE)
2. The Winter Lodge
3. Dockside
4. Snowfall at Willow Lake
5. Fireside
6. Lakeshore Christmas
7. The Summer Hideaway
8. Marrying Daisy Bellamy
9. Return to Willow Lake
10. Candlelight Christmas
11. Starlight on Willow Lake

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