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The end of the year is here. How many books have you read? Which ones were your favorites? Read on for my list of the Best Books I Read in 2018.
As of today, I’ve read 82 books since January 1 (my goal was 70). I have two library books on my bedside table—including Rebecca Traister’s engrossing Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger—that I’m hoping to get through by December 31. That will bring my total to 84—not as satisfying a number as 85, but I’ll take it.
I read many terrific books this year. Books that awed me, inspired me, and kept me up way past bedtime. Books I couldn’t stop talking about and books I bought as gifts for friends because I loved them so much.
I also read books that weren’t home runs. Some—including a few highly anticipated novels—fell flat, while others didn’t hold me past chapter one. But the good books outweighed the not-as-good. So which books made my “Best of” list? Read on!
Overall Best Book
Circe by Madeline Miller
I met Madeline Miller at a book signing in October and fangirled big time. It’s kind of embarrassing how much I gushed about Circe (and her other novel, The Song of Achilles), but the truth is that her books are captivating reads, and my favorites of 2018. In Circe, Miller has created a dazzling story of the witch from The Odyssey, uncovering her motivations and backstory, and depicting the depth of her character.
Best Historical Fiction
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
Ooo—You have to read this book! The Age of Light doesn’t officially come out until February 5, 2019, but I got my greedy hands on an advanced copy. The Age of Light is the beautifully written story of photographer Lee Miller, and I adored it (I’ve already started a list of the people I’m gifting it to). Go pre-order it now!
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Winner of the 2010 National Book Award, Just Kids is Patti Smith’s exceptional memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their journey to find their footing as artists. I listened to Just Kids as an audio book and fell in love with Smith’s poignant narration. No matter how you read this memoir, you’ll enjoy it.
Best Elementary Age
Matilda by Roald Dahl
My daughter’s review of this classic kids book? “Mom, this is my favorite book in the whole world.” High praise, indeed. We read Matilda aloud together, and had the best discussions about Matilda and her adventures. A must-read.
Best Middle Grade
Refugee by Alan Gratz
My eleven-year-old son and I read this novel, based on true stories, for a book club at our local library. My son devoured it in one day, and I followed suit. Refugee follows three children who are refugees at different points in history—during the Holocaust, Cuba in the late twentieth century, and Syria in 2015. The stories are heartbreaking and filled with loss. But Refugee serves a greater purpose: to remind us all—children and adults alike—how refugees need our support and sympathy, not judgment and rejection.
Best Murder Mystery
Chief Inspector Gamache Novels by Louise Penny
I read a lot of murder mysteries this year. Which is a little strange, as I don’t think I’ve really ever read murder mysteries before. They’re a great choice if you’re looking for complex plotting, carefully layered stories, and (sometimes) an unexpected twist. The Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny was by far my favorite. With more than a dozen novels in the series, I found myself immersed in the village of Three Pines in Quebec and the mysteries before Gamache and his team. So good!
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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
I love a good page-turner, one of those books where I tell myself “just one more chapter” until I realize I’m still reading at 1 AM—way past my bedtime. The Great Believers was that book for me this year. With two alternating storylines, The Great Believers moves back and forth between a group of friends in Chicago in the early days of the AIDS epidemic to a woman searching for her daughter in Paris thirty years later. The stories are connected, but you’ll have to read The Great Believers to figure out how.
Book That Surprised Me the Most
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
Winner of the 2018 National Book Award, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez is, at first glance, not my kind of story. It’s about a woman who inherits a Great Dane from a friend and has to sort out how to care for the dog in her small, rent-controlled NYC apartment. But The Friend is really about loss and friendship, and I was hooked. I found the book charming, the writing mournful and intimate (so much so that at times I wondered if the book was really a memoir), and the awards well deserved.
The Heart Is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai by Elizabeth Flock
In The Heart is a Shifting Sea, Flock follows three couples as they maneuver family, love, and marriage against the backdrop of the swiftly changing culture of India. Flock, a journalist, lived with Indian families while researching and writing this book, and that intimacy brings the reader right into the story.
Best Book to Listen to as an Audio Book
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, The Underground Railroad is a novel I’m still thinking about it—months afterward. The writing is top-notch, and it’s filled with creative storytelling. I listened to this as an audiobook, and the narration by Bahni Turpin was A+—a real compliment to Whitehead’s vision.
Most Satisfying Reads
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living and The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller
Louise Miller is a pastry chef as well as a novelist, and her baking expertise infuses her writing; her stories are deeply satisfying, like eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake. I recently recommended these books to a friend who was dreading an upcoming long flight. Read these books, I said. You won’t realize how long you’re on the plane–you’ll be too caught up in the story! As an added treat, Miller includes a recipe in her books, and I can tell you from personal baking experience that they are the perfect finish to her novels. More about the books here.
Best Book about Time
Eternal Life by Dara Horn
You weren’t expecting this category, were you? I read several books this year that had a time element—from time travel to immortality—and Horn’s book was the one that stood out from all the others. Eternal Life is the moving story of woman who makes a deal to save her son’s life and finds herself still alive 2,000 years later. The burden of immorality, especially in the digital age, is wearing on her, and only one person understands—the man she once loved who has traveled the world all these years looking for her.
Best Book(s) for a Beachy Vacation
Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan
Even better than the movie! Fun and frothy, written with a witty eye, Crazy Rich Asians (and its two sequels) are entertaining and perfect for long afternoons lying in the sun, the sea lapping at your toes. Here’s my review of this series.
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And, finally: Books I’ve Repeatedly Recommended This Year Because They’re So Great (You Should Read ALL of Them)
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexandra Chee
The Turner Houseby Angela Flournoy
Happiness by Aminatta Forna
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
So many fantastic books, right? Happy reading! See you in 2019, friends.
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