Oh, how I love a good list. One of my favorite things on social media is when someone puts out a list. Lists of the best this and best that. Lists of things to buy and lists of things you can’t live without. Sure, these lists are made to sell you things that you didn’t know you needed, and I know that I’m taking a financial risk just clicking on the list link, but my love of a good list is a hard habit to break.
And nothing beats a list of books. Hot books. New books. Favorite books. Books you’ve read. Book you should read. A girlfriend of mine just sent me her list of the books that she read in 2018, favorites in bold font, numbered in no particular order. I respect her so much as a reader, I immediately began comparing it to my own list of books. What books did we have in common? What books are on my TBR (to-be-read) list? What books do I need to read? I wrote in the margins of her lists and carefully posted it on my bulletin board, a home of honor for any good list.
As a book reviewer, I am a fan of brevity. No need for a long synopsis (you can get on Amazon for that.) No purpose in long, drawn out opinions. It’s one of the reasons that I created my One Sentence reviews. But when you look over the 74 books you read in the year and decide on ten that were your favorites, those books deserve a little more time and attention.
So without further ado, my list of favorite reads from 2018:
AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones
This book is filled with perfectly written sentences. Rarely do I read a book and find myself thinking, “Wow, I loved that sentence. Let me read it again.” There were a lot of beautiful sentences in this book, making hard not to love. Yes, this book received a lot of hype, but in my opinion, it was all well deserved.
Roy and Celestial are newly married, living in the south when Roy is accused and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. This story follows Roy and Celestial through his five years of incarceration and their reconnection at his release. We watch the characters struggle through their love for one other and the realities that have now been placed upon their relationship. Can their marriage and their love survive such complex and devastating circumstances?
EDUCATED by Tara Westover
I was finally drawn into this book after hearing the author speak on one of the television morning shows. The brief description of her life and her new book immediately piqued my interest. It sounded similar to The Glass Castle which I loved.
This memoir is such a crazy and outrageous story that if I didn’t know that it was true I wouldn’t have believed it. Honestly, it’s amazing that she is still alive to even write her story. Westover does an excellent job painting of a vivid picture of her vulnerable life on a mountain in Idaho: her religious zealot and mentally ill father, an abusive brother, a mother too paralyzed by duty to help protect her.
Throughout the book you find yourself rooting for Tara, feeling protective of her. After finishing this book, I wanted to find more about her, to read more about her, to see how she’s doing. One standard of a 5-star book is one that once finished leaves you hungry for more. Educated does that in spades.
MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan
It only took me six years to get around to reading this one, but I’m so glad I finally picked it up. I don’t give out many five stars. (I’m very particular when it comes to handing out stars.) I save them for only the most special, for those books that stood high -for me- above the rest. Mr. Penumbra was one of those lucky books.
Clay has been let go from his web design job in San Francisco. He’s not in a financial position to be picky, so he takes a nightshift job at an obscure little 24-hour bookstore. But after a few days on the job, with an odd cast of characters who stop by the store not to buy books but to check them out from something called the Waybacklist, Clay starts to wonder if this store is more than it seems.
Quirky would be a great word to describe this book, except it’s not enough. It’s too limiting. Yes, this book is full of great quirky characters but it is their quirkiness that makes the book so good. Clay, his childhood friend Neel, and his girlfriend Kat are like an adult version of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And just like the three best friends from the famous series, these friends are stronger together, and together they will come to answer one of Mr. Penumbra’s favorite questions: What do you seek in these shelves?
Along with the subtle humor, this book is filled with puzzles and romance and friendship and secret societies. Some of the technical moments of the book went a little over my head (okay, maybe a lot over my head) but it didn’t take away from the charm of this book. This book wasn’t at all what I expected which might be one of the things I like most about it.
THE HATE YOU GIVE by Angie Thomas
This is one of those books that is categorized as young adult fiction but is a book that is meant for everyone. You should read this book. Everyone you know should read this book. It is real. It is current. It is hard to read. It is disturbing. It is frustrating. It is upsetting. And all of those things are what make it so good.
Starr is caught between two worlds: the world of her fancy private school and her poor neighborhood. One night while hanging out with one of her friends from the neighborhood, Khalil, a horrible tragedy occurs that leaves Starr carrying a responsibility to her friend and her community that she never wanted.
The depth of the issues that this story addressed is authentic and something that everyone at any age, background, or community should read.
THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni
When a book is consistently given over 4-star reviews, you must pick it up. You’d be crazy not to.
This book follows 40 years of Sam Hill’s life. Sam, born with ocular albinism, has red pupils. Quickly given the title of “Devil Boy” by his classmates, he endures bullying by both children and adults in his life. The love of his mother and father along with a new friendship give Sam the strength he needs to handle what life brings.
Sam’s mother’s religious devotion is unwavering. She sees Sam’s eyes as evidence of a touch from God, willing Sam’s life to be extraordinary. What Sam experiences, however, causes him to question the God that his mother is so devoted to. How could the bullying and discrimination that he endures be God’s will?
I cheered for Sam. I hurt for Sam. I worried about Sam. And I couldn’t put the book down because I needed to quickly find out what happens to him.
SMALL FRY by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
I decided to pick up this memoir of Steve Jobs first daughter after listening to a review on The New York Time’s Book Review podcast. Downloading on Audible, I walked around my house looking for things to clean so I could keep listening. (Listening to books make toilet cleaning makes just a little more tolerable.)
Lisa’s story centers around her challenging, unconventional upbringing, a father who denied her for years and a mother with financial, mental, and emotional problems. Even though her father was cruel, at times downright mean and emotionally abusive, her love and devotion to him never wavered. Her desire for a strong, traditional, family unit drove her to continually place her heart in harm’s way.
After finishing, I wanted to get rid of all of my Apple products. I was so mad, so upset that a father with so much could give so little to his own child. Even after his death, Brennan-Jobs continues still to seek her father’s approval. Never wanted to paint this negative picture of her famous father she mentioned in the NYT Book Review podcast that she never wanted to write this story but found herself needing to get it out so she can write the stories she really wants to write. In my opinion, Brennan-Jobs is a survivor with a story that anyone would find compelling.
A PARIS APARTMENT by Michelle Gable
I would never characterize myself as a fast reader. Life and children have a way of slowing me down. That is why you know a book is REALLY GOOD when I finish it in two days. 372 pages in two days is probably some kind of record for me. I will admit, I didn’t get much done around the house and the errands had to wait. The book took precedence.
I loved my visit to Paris through the pages of the book. As I neared the end, I had the same sensation when you’re on a fabulous vacation that you don’t want to go home. I wanted to stay in Paris with April and all of the other colorful characters in this book. Thank goodness by the time I read this book, the author had already released her next novel, I’ll See You in Paris. I quickly ordered the book and will be excited to return to Paris soon.
This book would make for a great book club pick because there is so much to discuss. Some French wine and stinky cheese would all you would need to make discussing this book with your friends a total delight. Je recommande fortement! (I highly recommend!)
RUSH by Lisa Patton
It’s difficult to review this book and not give everything away. Let me simply say, I loved this book. I loved it so much, I chose it as my favorite one OF THE WHOLE YEAR. It made me happy. Several times I had lumps in my throat and felt the tears creepy up, all for happy reasons. And several times I wanted to punch certain characters in the face. When an author brings out those kinds of emotions in you, well that’s a true sign of a 5-star book. When I finished it I immediately wanted to ask the author to write a sequel.
Yes, this book is about a sorority, but the sorority is simply the backdrop that the author creatively uses for addressing a bigger topic. I appreciated how the author handled issues like social class and racism without shoving it down your throat. Patton doesn’t pussyfoot around the issues but instead created a story where characters are forced to confront and address their views about race that have been long embedded in their lives and histories. The characters aren’t perfect and their reactions and attitudes aren’t always perfect either. But what I loved most was that at the end of the story, there was hope. There was hope that fight for change was plausible, and reasonable, and achievable. This book had a positive, hopeful, happy ending, which, let’s face, we don’t get much in the real world these days. It was refreshing!
BECOMING by Michelle Obama
This book is about a woman. A strong, intelligent, loving daughter, wife, and mother…who just also happened to be the First Lady. I loved her before, but now I feel that I really know her. I admired her before, but now I really respect her. I wanted to meet her before, but now I want to be her best friend.
Her message is strong and much like her husband in 2008, she brings us hope in a time when we need it the most. She makes it clear that she has absolutely no intentions of ever running for office, but I don’t want her to. I want her fighting for all of us in her own powerfully effective way.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and start 2019 with this special read.
THE LOST VINTAGE by Ann Mah
I almost stopped reading this one. I was a few chapters in and it just wasn’t keeping my attention. I have a standing rule to read at least 100 pages before deciding whether or not to abandon a book and this time that rule served me well.
Set in Burgundy, France both in present day and during WWII, we follow Kate as she discovers a part of her family’s history that has been buried since the war. If you are a fan of historical fiction, of books like The Nightengale, this one will be perfect for you. Family secrets, hidden vintages of expensive wine, tragic stories of Nazi-occupied France make for a compelling story that once you do get sucked in, you can’t stop reading.