It’s that time of year again; these are the books that I liked best this year. This is my very subjective, very personal list. I loved a lot of books this year; I mostly read romances and romcoms, and those books tend to keep me happy. But to be honest, I forget a lot of them as soon as I’ve moved on to the next. So the ones that stay with me are the ones that end up on my annual list. I’ve read over 300 books this year so had plenty to choose from. And I’m limiting myself to a top ten list this year!
I hope you find this list useful and interesting. It’s in no particular order:
OUR MISSING HEARTS by Celeste Ng: It’s been too long since we’ve had a book from Ng, after her previous bestsellers Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, which I loved. This book is even better, and I truly didn’t think that was possible. It also deals with families and racism but leaves Ohio and goes way beyond those topics to include politics, censorship, book banning, radical librarians (yay!) and so much more.
This was not an easy read because it’s all so abhorrent, disturbing, and way too close to where we seem to be heading in this country. And I suppose that was the point. This is a book that is crying out to be discussed, and don’t be surprised if your book group reaches new heights of passionate discourse. I loved this book as much as I hated what was happening in it. Our Missing Hearts is an unforgettable page-turner rooted in American politics, then spun out into a terrifyingly dark near-future in a stunningly beautiful novel. All I can say is put this on your “must-read” list. Read the full review.
LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus: This is a fantastic debut novel with an unforgettable protagonist, a chemist in the late 1950s-early 1960s when a woman’s place was in the home. When her circumstances change, she ends up hosting one of the earliest cooking TV shows. Elizabeth is a quirky, strong character and her story is both hilarious and heartbreaking, yet ultimately inspiring. Book groups will have much to discuss here. Read the full review.
TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin: This is a hard book to quantify; it probably is best slotted into the literary fiction genre (and boy, do they hate when literary fiction is called a genre!) All I can tell you is this is a tour de force and a mesmerizing read set in the world of video games. I don’t want to give away anything, so if you like character-driven stories that are fast-paced and emotionally engaging, then this is your book. I loved it, and so did just about all the critics. Too much hype can sometimes backfire, but it is well-deserved here. Read the full review.
MAD HONEY by Jodi Picoult & Jennifer Finney Boylan: This is a book full of secrets that slowly unspool throughout the story. It isn’t until the halfway point that we get the biggest secret, one that I never saw coming. Several reviewers have mentioned this, but no spoilers here. Let’s just say all these characters reveal different aspects of their lives and therein lies the intrigue of this story. This is a very engaging story with interesting characters and quite a bit of suspense. Picoult is the queen of family dramas, and she retains her crown with this latest endeavor. I couldn’t put the book down and there is so much to discuss, and your book club will love it. Read the full review.
SUGAR AND SALT by Susan Wiggs: Bella Vista Chronicles, Book 4. I love Susan Wiggs’ books; they always have intriguing characters, interesting settings, and unputdownable stories, and this is no exception. This story deals with a small town in Texas, a rape, and the unwanted pregnancy that follows. It deals with abortion and adoption and prison and women’s rights. It deals with our justice system and how it favors the rich. It could not be more timely, and all these things are handled with truth and grace and real-life emotions. While this is the fourth book of a series, it easily stands alone, as do all the books in this series. That said, I have loved every one of them and highly recommend them all. Do yourself a favor and read them in whatever order you can get them.
The Bella Vista Chronicles in Order:
Read the full review.
THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY by Brendan Slocumb: While this book is marketed as a thriller, it is more a coming-of-age story, a story about racism in America, and in particular, in the classical musical field. The mystery of a missing violin is a plot device that helps moves the story along, but it goes beyond that. I was so invested in Ray and his career that I couldn’t put this book down. I loved being immersed in Ray’s world and was desperate for him to get his violin back and see his career rocket. According to the author’s note at the end, this is a bit of a bildungsroman as he is a Black man and a classical violinist.
This book was truly such a gift, and I am most grateful for it. Read the full review.
THE LIGHTNING ROD by Brad Meltzer: Escape Artist, A Zig & Nola Novel: Book 2. The good news is that you do not have to read the first book in the series to understand this one; it stands alone beautifully. That said, the first book in the series made my best books of 2018 list so go read it anyway!
All the characters are interesting, multi-dimensional, diverse, and fully realized. The situations they find themselves in are often not of their own doing, but their resolve, ingenuity, and tenacity gets them where they need to go. That said, the body count is high and this is not a book for the squeamish. There are almost a dizzying number of twists and turns and the pages fly by in this unputdownable thriller. Yes, I stayed up late to finish it! This is a worthy sequel, and the second book of what is shaping up to be one of my must-read series. Read the full review.
DESERT STAR by Michael Connelly: Renée Ballard, Book 5 and/or Harry Bosch, Book 24. There is no retiring Harry Bosch. The Vietnam War vet is now a volunteer on Renée Ballard’s new Open/Unsolved unit for the Los Angeles police department. No spoilers here but the ending definitely feels like an ending. I understand it, and I trust Connelly to do the right thing with his most beloved character. This is another gem from one of the finest crime writers in the world – and that is not hyperbole.
Read the full review.
GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon: It’s been a long wait – seven years – for the ninth book in the Outlander series and while it is not the best book, it is an excellent read. This series really needs to be read in order and each book is rather long. This newest book takes place in 1779 in North Carolina, with forays to Savannah and Charles Town (Charleston,) and even to Philadelphia. While George Washington doesn’t make an appearance, his and some other famous names are dropped. This is well-researched historical fiction with time travel at its heart, and one of the most engaging romances in fiction. This is the series I wish I could read again for the first time. Read the full review.
REMINDERS OF HIM by Colleen Hoover: This is a story of mother separated from her child. It is, at times, an epistolary novel, as part of Kenna’s story is told through the hundreds of letters she has written Scotty since his death. It is also a romance, and there are a couple of sex scenes. It explores the messy emotions we all struggle with; guilt, sorrow, love, and forgiveness. It examines how everything is not always as it seems, and how assumptions can have a devastating effect on someone’s life. Ultimately, it is a story of redemption and hope.
This may be Hoover’s best book yet. It is a compelling story and a recognizable, relatable one. I read it in one afternoon, and I loved it. Book groups, please take note – lots to discuss here!
Read the full review.
I have never limited myself to a specific number of favorites in any given year, so it feels a bit uncomfortable to end here. Perhaps a few honorable mentions are in order…