Favorite books I read in 2018

In 2017, I settled into a genre that doesn’t seem to be waning. I’ve always enjoyed a good whodunit, but that’s morphed into thrillers and mysteries that do a good job of hijacking my brain. The best books are the ones with top-notch character development, a plot you can’t dissect, and pacing so swift that you can’t look away for a moment without wondering what might happen next.

Not all of my favorites from 2018 are thrillers, but most of them are. (Keep in mind these aren’t necessarily books that debuted in 2018.)


The Secrets She Keeps follows two storylines – Agatha is a pregnant thirty-something who works at a dreadful grocery store. She longs to have her ex-boyfriend back in the fold of their impending family. Life is pretty miserable. Meg, on the other hand, is a pregnant mommy blogger who enjoys a happy, public life married to a handsome sportscaster. Agatha’s life is notably less desirable than Meg’s, and after watching the pregnant blogger shop in the store where she works, a plan starts to form. Obviously, Agatha is jealous of Meg, and it’s this emotional drug that keeps her watching and waiting. When their stories finally align, the pacing and tension is everything you need it to be.


As soon as I finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I knew it was going to be a 2018 favorite. Additionally, I recommend you listen to this book instead of read it because the narration by Cathleen McCarron is an absolute delight.

Eleanor Oliphant is a special lady. Thirty years old and full of quirks, she is likely somewhere on the autism spectrum, though fully capable of living an independent life. Her mother is a constant nag, and her co-worker Raymond provides a lovely contrast to Eleanor’s cut-and-dry lifestyle. Unfortunately, something bad exists in Eleanor’s history, an event we don’t yet understand. However, as memories unfold, the tragedy comes to light, and Eleanor’s life will never be the same.

The book is a perfect mixture of serious and funny. There are laugh-out-loud moments followed by pure heartache. Gail Honeyman deserves all the applause.


If you’ve asked me for a book recommendation in 2018, it’s likely I told you to read Sometimes I Lie. Hoo-boy, it was good.

Told through three timelines – Now, Before, and Then – we learn about Amber Reynolds’ life. During Now, she’s in a coma. Before puts the pieces together of how she wound up in that coma. Then includes passages from a diary written by a young girl in 1991 and 1992.

Lest you think three timelines is hard to keep track of, no worries. The story is impeccably written, an admirable feat for Alice Feeney, as Sometimes I Lie is her debut novel. If you love fiction at all, read this one.


If you asked me for a book recommendation in 2018, it’s also likely that I told you to read Homegoing, which is not a thriller. It begins in 18th Century Ghana, where two half sisters, Effia and Esi, don’t know the other exists. Effia is married off to a wealthy and influential Englishman who oversees the British slave trade headquartered on the Gold Coast. Esi, the daughter of a tribal warrior, is sold into slavery and is kept in the dungeon of the same castle where her half-sister lives. She eventually passes through the Door of No Return to board a boat headed for America.

Thus begins a 300-year journey that follows the descendants of Effia (in Africa) and Esi (in America). It is exhaustive, emotional, and absolutely necessary to read if you have any interest in trying to understand the African American story. I was shocked to learn that Yaa Gyasi did not win the Pulitzer for Homegoing, but I was pleased to know she was at least in the running. Before my boys graduate high school, they will read this book.


My final favorite book I read in 2018 is The Word is Murder, which I love even more whenever I think of it. Anthony Horowitz was given the go-ahead by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two Sherlock Holmes novels, so he was well-equipped to craft The Word is Murder.

To explain this book well takes more than a paragraph, so I encourage you to click on the link above or do your own research if you want to know more. Essentially, Horowitz writes himself into the book as the narrator and main character. He’s an established novelist, doing just fine, when ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne (the obsessive, sharp Sherlock character) asks for his help to document a murder investigation. After some hesitation, Horowitz morphs into the Watson role, and the pair investigate the murder of Diana Cowper, a woman who walks into a funeral parlor one afternoon to prepay for her future services and is found murdered in her apartment later the same day.

If you have any interest in Sherlock Holmes at all – the TV series or the original works – The Word is Murder is a must-read.


And since I also appreciate knowing what books people DON’T recommend, I suggest you pass on The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Anatomy of Dreams, There Will Be Stars, and possibly Witch Elm, which currently remains unfinished because it is dreadfully slow.

Five Favorite Books I Read in 2017

I chose poorly in 2017, which is perhaps why I was unable to reach my 40-book goal this year. (I’m still reading No. 32 The Man Who Smiled and listening to No. 33 Artemis). I selected no less than a dozen books that ended up being ho-hum or outright bad, which made my resolve for reading a weak one. Some books I didn’t even review on the blog, if that tells you how uninspired I was (Believing the Lie, The Graveyard Book, and more). Plus, four of the books I read this year were for my literature and creative writing class, so while they counted toward the total, I didn’t review them here.

Yet, since I read so many unremarkable books this year, choosing my favorite five was easy! (Original reviews are linked.)

  1. Ready Player One
    Hands-down, this is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and credit goes to Susan (of “Susan and Lesli”) for recommending it to me. Granted, I listened to it on Audible instead of reading it on paper, but if there was ever a book to listen to instead of read, it’s this one. Narrated by Wil Wheaton, Ready Player One is a love letter to the 80s kid who longs for the good old days of Family Ties reruns,  and Atari.
  2. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
    There are two time periods that capture my heart in equal measure. One is the back-to-back Tudor and Elizabethan Eras in England, and the other is the Roaring 20s, specifically the Lost Generation writers who lived an expat life abroad. Zelda Fitzgerald surely would’ve had a different life with access to proper mental health care. Alas, her tragedies flowed straight from her mixed-up mind into real life. If you are equally interested in the Fitzgeralds (and Hemingways), you’ll love Z. 
  3. The Great Divorce
    I’m not sure why it’s taken me until my late 30s to enjoy C.S. Lewis, but better late than never. In a time that feels spiritually void, The Great Divorce reminds me that God is always present and always listening, offering perfect love for our imperfect selves, and the white noise of our collective bickering is small potatoes when it comes to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. From a literary standpoint, I am all over the imagery and symbolism of The Great Divorce. The writing and message are a perfect pair.
  4. Wonderstruck
    I selected Wonderstruck as one of four novels I taught this semester in my literature and creative writing class, so there isn’t a stand-alone review to link (yet). Written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck begins with two stories – Rose in Hoboken, 1927 and Ben in Minnesota, 1977. Rose’s story is told via illustration, while Ben’s is a traditional narrative. The pair of children seem to have nothing in common, but as each side unfolds we see that Rose and Ben have much in common, from their hearing impairments to their search for family. Told in three parts, Wonderstruck is a fast-paced, emotional tale of endurance and an exploration of what one might do to find a home. (Wonderstruck has been made into a film!)
  5. A Column of Fire
    Aside from Hogwarts, Kingsbridge is my favorite fictional setting and I was thrilled to go back there one last time. Just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, A Column of Fire brings together several families – some Protestant, some Catholic, and a few who long for religious tolerance. Not only did it quench my thirst for the Elizabethan era, it was the perfect book to read after a series of duds. Per usual, I didn’t want it to end.

An honorable mention goes to Faceless Killers by Henning Menkell, the author of the Wallander series. If you’re into crime/thriller novels, and especially if you’ve watched the BBC TV show Wallander, check it out! I’m currently reading a second Menkell book (The Man Who Smiled) and have a third waiting in the wings. He’s joined the company of Tana French and Mo Hayder on my crime/thriller bookshelf.

My goal for 2018 is to MAKE BETTER CHOICES. I’m not sure where my brain went this year, but I wasted a lot of time on books I didn’t enjoy. Not again! Cheers!

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2016

In 2015, I read 53 books, verifying to myself that I could, indeed, read 50 books in a year. For 2016, I gave myself a break and set a goal of 40. If all pans out by New Year’s Eve, I will have finished 46 books (45 on paper, one audio).

Of those, I chose ten favorites with ease. Numbering them 3-10 was even easier, but depending on the day, my top two choices could be swapped. It could go either way. That’s what happens when a book reaches Ken Follett and Khaled Hosseini levels. Those books have their very own shelves.

To be on my Top Ten, the book has to be all-consuming. Not only does the writing have to be fluid and paced, the plot has to be imaginative and addictive. The book has to take over my whole brain so that I’m thinking about it while I’m driving and running and I must ten minutes here and there to read. It has to hit me in the gut or keep me up at night or break my heart. I want to feel it.

The genre doesn’t matter. On this list are thrillers, post-apocalyptic stories, fantasy and contemporary narratives, well-known authors, not-so-well-known authors, and subject matters that range from fashion and terrorism and murder to historically and culturally specific events. Each book is linked to my original review. Enjoy, and Happy Reading in 2017!

10. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant. Funny, quirky, and strangely troubling as it pertains to our national security. All Boy Hernandez wants to be is a fashion designed. How unfortunate to be mistaken for a terrorist! Be careful who you trust!

9. Station Eleven. This was the first book I read in 2016 and it was such a great choice! Though I’m not usually into post-apocalyptic fiction, I found Station Eleven to be endearing and unique in its focus on a traveling symphony in a post-apocalyptic reality. When there is no electricity, no means of transportation, and no way to communicate with one another, you must whittle humanity down to its very basic form and see what survives.

8. Long Man. Set over the course of three days in 1936, Annie Clyde Dodson refuses to surrender her property to the government and the TVA. It doesn’t matter that it will all be under water soon anyway. She won’t do it. But just when her resolve reaches fever pitch, her three-year-old daughter Gracie goes missing. With all her might, Annie Clyde must keep the government at bay and find her daughter alive. The pacing of this book is so steady, so even. It was hard to put down.

7. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Clay lands himself a job at a bookstore and immediately knows the place is super weird. The contents, the layout, the patrons. All weird. But he needs the job so he can’t be picky. It isn’t long before Clay is swept into a centuries-long adventure that feels like an Indiana Jones movie. This book gets extra points for its attention to detail in typography. Design nerds will love it.

6. You. Before this one, I’d never read a book written in second person, but now that I have, my standards are very high. We read You from the point of view of Joe, a sick, twisted, vulgar young man who is transfixed by Beck, a girl who is cute and oblivious to so much attention. Readers are in Joe’s mind so deep that it’s hard to crawl out. And actually, I didn’t really want to. (The sequel, Hidden Bodies, is on my must-read list.)

5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Having just read this one, it is still fresh and tender in my mind. It is 1987 and June Elbus has just lost her uncle to AIDS, a confusing and troubling disease that the 14-year-old doesn’t understand. Finn was a renowned artist and also June’s godfather and closest confidant. While her family just wants to move on with their lives, June is unable to, especially after Toby, Finn’s partner, who is also dying, extends an invite to grieve together. The two develop a secret, sympathetic friendship that teaches June about life and love in more ways than she imagined.

4. The Winter People. This one had me on the edge. Unable to read it at night, I hurried to The Winter People first thing in the morning and read it over the stove top while cooking dinner. When it got dark outside, I put it down. Set in West Hall, Vermont, over two time periods, it focuses on the murder of Sara Shea (1908) and Alice (Present Day), who lives in Sara’s old house and has gone missing. Sara’s old diary has been unearthed, and there are things that happen in the woods behind the house. And then there’s that closet that’s been boarded up, and the strange passageways inside the house that only a few people know about. There are a dozen little mysteries that form one big crazy equation, and Ruthie, Alice’s daughter, sets out to solve them all. IT IS SCARY GOOD.

3. The Snow Child. Having just finished this one a couple of days ago, I’ve pinpointed a new reason why it moved me so. Beyond its magnificent style and elegance, more than its magical setting, The Snow Child tugged on a part of my heart that has long since healed. Infertility is a wretched beast, and the loss one feels when she’s told she cannot bear children is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. When Jack and Mabel, painfully childless, build a girl out of snow, it’s done in fun, with imagination, with a nod to what might’ve been in another lifetime had things worked differently. And yet, when a girl appears in the Alaskan wilderness, the couple doesn’t know what to do with her. Call out to her? Bring her inside? Is she even real? The Snow Child is beautiful in so many ways. If you’re going to read it, make sure you read it in wintertime.

2. The Devil of Nanking. Grey is a 23-year-old Brit who’s traveled to Tokyo to find a survivor of the 1937 Nanking Massacre. She’s spent a decade trying to prove something she believes to be true, and this survivor supposedly has footage of some kind that confirms it. This story is nail-biting and brutal. Like The Winter People, I read it at every free moment. The author is vivid in her details, even the most horrific ones. I’ve never read another thriller like it. It is perfect.

1. The Secret History. Donna Tartt is good writer. A damn good writer. The Goldfinch proved it, but The Secret History solidified it. Though it’s nearly 600 pages, you don’t even notice it because the pacing is lightning fast. You don’t have time to sit around and wish the book would end already. Richard Papen is our narrator who tells the story of how he and his college classmates killed Edmund, nicknamed “Bunny.” Richard is troubled by what they did and by how they managed it after the fact. We’re all a little mad, but some, I believe, are more mad than others.

New York Times By the Book tag

The New York Times “By the Book” questionnaire is a recurring column in the paper answered by well-known creatives – actors, writers, artists, etc. It’s also a common tag on blogs written and hosted by book lovers.

Basically, it’s a fun way for book lovers to talk about books.

1. What book is on your nightstand now? A History of God by Karen Armstrong, 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, Dixieland Delight by Clay Travis, Quiet by Susan Cain, The Book of Common Prayer

2. What was the last truly great book that you read? The Secret History by Donna Tartt

3. If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know? I would love to have a meal with Ken Follett so I could pick his brain about the writing process. This would be risky because people you admire could always turn out to be jerks. Fingers crossed he’d be delightful.

4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves? Stupid Black Men by Larry Elder. It was given to me and I haven’t read it yet, but the title is jarring and lends itself to all sorts of assumptions. Larry Elder is an African-American Libertarian who shares many of the same ideas about government as I do. One day I’ll read the book, perhaps sooner than later, but the title alone might give a person pause and wonder what sort of person I am. (However, if you know me personally, then you know what kind of person I am.)

5. How do you organize your personal library? My collection is currently organized chromatically. I find that a color-coded shelving system is aesthetically pleasing. Plus, it’s not hard to find a book this way since my memory of cover design is pretty good. The Circle is red, Astonish Me is yellow, The Art of Fielding is blue, and so on.

Color coded bookshelves

6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read? I haven’t gotten around to reading The Cider House Rules yet, even though it’s been on my To Read list for ages. I’m not embarrassed about it, but I’ve seen the movie, and this might be the reason I haven’t picked it up yet. (The Cider House Rules is pale yellow, by the way. Almost beige.) I am completely embarrassed to admit that I read the entire Twilight series. My only excuse is that I was depressed at the time so maybe I didn’t know what I was doing. 2009 was a rough year.

7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? Easy answer – The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I expected to love it, but alas, I didn’t love it. I didn’t finish it, didn’t care that I didn’t finish it, and subsequently traded it in at a local used bookstore. I recently put down A History of God, which I started reading during Lent, but it is dense and not the kind of book I can digest in a series of days or weeks. I’ll eventually finish it, but not right now.

8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of? The books I’m drawn to depend on my mood. Sometimes I want a story with strong character development (May We Be Forgiven, The Light Between Oceans, She’s Come Undone) while other times I want something that’s plot-driven and keeps me on the edge of my seat (Night Film, You, anything by Tana French). Sometimes I want to time travel and settle in for a long piece of historical fiction. The only things I stay clear of fall under the umbrella of science fiction and fantasy. When I had to read Dune for graduate school, I nearly died of boredom.

9. If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? One Second After by William Forstchen

10. What do you plan to read next? Once I finish Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I’ll finally tackle The Girl on the Train. 

I tag YOU, Annette. 

Top Five Books of 2015

I completed the 50 Books Challenge by late November, a feat that both surprised and pleased me. I went on to read a few more and will likely round off the year at 54 if I finish Station Eleven by New Years Eve.

Of the 50+ books I read in 2015, I chose five as favorites, along with an honorable mention. To meet the criteria of “favorite,” the book had to 1) keep me interested 100 percent of the time, and 2) be one that I’d recommend to anyone and everyone. Note that these aren’t books that were written in 2015. Some are several years old.

I’ve placed them in order, so I’ll start with number five. (Each title is linked to my original review.)

PatronSaintofLiarsNo. 5: The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. This was my introductory book to Ann Patchett’s writing, and since reading this one I’ve acquired two more from resale shops. She is a beautiful storyteller and in this novel weaves together three points of view regarding an unwanted pregnancy, an escape to a nunnery, and a slew of lies used to comfort oneself. It is a revealing story about the things we do to make ourselves feel better.

No. 4: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. This one had me at the start because I simply could not conceive of doing away with one child to appease another. Of course the plot isn’t that simple. Not far into the story we learn that Fern wasn’t a normal child, and the family in which Fern was placed wasn’t a normal household. This book is so well thought out that the author practically spoon feeds readers proportionate bites of information at the proper time. It is a must-read for animal lovers.

No. 3The Circle by Dave Eggers. This book is the cautionary tale of our time. It is the 1984 of our generation. Though every character is an archetype and the equation of the plot is semi-predictable, it is a wild ride down a road that could very well be our future. Read with caution and let’s go off the grid together.

The GoldfinchNo. 2: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Not everyone would agree that this book was a home run. A few folks I know tried to read it and couldn’t get through, but that was not the case for me at all. I came to care for Theo, the main character so dearly that I couldn’t bear for the story to end. In my mind, he exists still. The story is so much more than the journey of a painting. It’s about how we long to make sense of things we don’t understand.

No. 1: Night Film by Marisha Pessl. This shouldn’t surprise you one bit. If I know you in real life, then I’ve tried to push this book in your hands. It’s not literary like The Goldfinch and it’s not endearing like We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s not rooted in reality like The Circle and it’s not heartstring-tugging like The Patron Saint of Liars. It’s just pure reading fun. It sucks you in and won’t let you go until the very last word on the very last page. It’s CRAZY and bizarre and a touch scary.

Night FilmNight Film wins because it put me in a trance for four days and that’s the kind of magic I want out of a book. I read it at every free moment and hardly fed my children because I couldn’t put it down. That’s the sort of power I’d like to have in storytelling, and since I don’t have that power, I’ll give a hardy handshake to the writers that do.

The honorable mention goes to Tana French, writer of two books I read this year and fully enjoyed: In the Woods and Faithful Place. They are part of an ongoing crime series set in Dublin and I plan to continue reading onward.

What are YOUR favorite books from 2015?