I’m not one of those people who always reads the most current books. I put books that look interesting on my Want to Read list on Goodreads and maybe I’ll get to them in the next few years. I always have such a backlog that I try to start with the oldest ones so they’re not on the list forever. I know, I’m a freak. I think books have feelings.
Anyway, so many of these books came out before 2018, but I read them in 2018 so who cares. These are my favorites from my last year of reading, and because I read 42 this year I’m only including my five stars.
The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins
I don’t think I need to provide a summary here. I reread these after have a hankering for the movie one night and watching all four movies in one weekend. A good question I’ve gotten in book clubs and at readings is, if you could have written one other book, what would it be? And this is my answer. NOT just because it was made into a movie, (although how cool would that be?), and NOT just because it was a supermega phenomenon that made Suzanne Collins a shitton of money (although, obviously, also cool). It’s because the concept is SO genius and the execution of that concept completely brilliant. It’s edgy, it’s smart, it’s suspenseful, it’s sexy, it’s scary, and it has a lot to say about the nature of people and power and war and love and family and…just so many things!
The Two-Family House, by Lynda Cohen Loigman
Brooklyn, 1947: in the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born minutes apart to two women. They are sisters by marriage with an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic night; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and their once deep friendship begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost but not quite wins.
I listened to this on audiobook and it was one of those ones that made me want to keep driving or sit in the car in my driveway an extra minute to keep listening. Here’s the blurb: Loigman alternates perspectives in this book, which I love, and each voice is so unique and compelling. The intertwining of the main event and its effect on all the book’s relationships is so beautiful and heartbreaking at times and funny in others. The benefit of the audiobook is the Brooklyn accents to accompany those voices, so I highly recommend it.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
This not only put a face and a story to the Black Lives Matter movement, it was also a universally relatable portrayal of a young girl struggling between fitting in and being true to herself and a beautiful story of a modern American family who alternate between surviving and thriving in a tough neighborhood. Starr shows us her life through every possible lens. If you don’t walk away from this book with a new perspective, I don’t know what to tell you.
Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.
This is another one that I encourage you to listen to. It’s not a stand-up routine but is certainly as funny as you would expect!
The Perfect Mother, by Aimee Molloy
A psychological thriller about a group of new mothers whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing. As the police bungle the investigation and the media begin to scrutinize the mothers in the days that follow, damaging secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are formed and fractured.
Totally addicting – I read it in one day! Not only was the story smartly plotted, with an ending I couldn’t guess, but I also enjoyed the various refreshingly honest perspectives on new motherhood.
Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth, who is African American, is removed from an assigned patient when the baby’s white supremacist parents specify that they don’t want her touching their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. She hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime.
The story is told through Ruth’s perspective, as well as the white supremacist father and the (also white) public defender who takes her case but refuses to mention race in the courtroom. This was another one I couldn’t put down, another book that should be required reading. Ruth, who always believed that if she worked hard her race didn’t have to define her, finally allows herself to be angry for the way she has been treated all her life. I also love how Picoult dove into the white supremacist psyche without trying to pull us over to his side, as well as the public defender’s journey to understand her own white privilege.
Heartburn, by Nora Ephron
Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has “a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs” is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel writes cookbooks for a living. And in between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Ephron’s irrepressible heroine offers some of her favorite recipes.
Another one to listen to on audiobook – it’s narrated by Meryl Streep and absolutely hilarious!
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America, from the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day.
This was such a unique form of storytelling – a new perspective every chapter, each one so different and yet dealing with the root issue of systemic racism. Each descendant’s story provides a snapshot of their generation’s history. So smart, so compelling!
Lilac Girls, by Martha Kelly Hall
A WWII novel told through the voice of New York socialite Caroline Ferriday, who works at the French consulate and is in love with a married musician; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager thrown into a concentration camp for her role as courier for the underground resistance movement; and ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, who responds to an ad for a government medical position only to find out it’s in a concentration camp.
I’ve read a fair share of stories from concentration camp survivors (both fictional and otherwise), but they’ve been mostly male. Reading it from the female perspective made it hit closer to home, and like many tales of this nature left me wondering if I had the kind of strength (and luck) necessary to survive such horrors. Despite the weight of the subject, Hall Kelly has a simple writing style that is easy to read and keeps you flying through the pages. With themes of resilience, forgiveness, and the enduring power of love through tragedy, you will be hard pressed not to find something that tugs at your heart strings.
I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi
Maddy is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother, host of excellent parties, giver of thoughtful gifts, and bestower of a searingly perceptive piece of advice or two. She is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch…until she commits suicide, leaving her husband Brady and teenage daughter Eve heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? How they can possibly continue without her? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve are forced to come to terms with unsettling truths.
Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find the perfect replacement for herself. Along comes Rory: pretty, caring, and spontaneous, with just the right bit of edge…but who also harbors a tragedy of her own. Will the mystery of Maddy ever come to rest? And can her family make peace with their history and begin to heal?
Another audiobook that kept me sitting in the car! The actors read their parts perfectly, the story so heart wrenching yet hopeful, the writing simple yet sophisticated, and the characters layered but relatable. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a book to make that commute seem shorter! I liked it so much I ordered the book book.
The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz
Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.
She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.
It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?
Another one I read in only a couple sittings. Super absorbing and addictive. I just HAD to find out what set the main character on the run in the first place. PS – you’ll never guess.
Goodnight, Beautiful Women, by Anna Noyes
Moving along the Maine Coast and beyond, the interconnected stories in Goodnight, Beautiful Women bring us into the sultry, mysterious inner lives of New England women and girls as they navigate the dangers and struggles of their outer worlds. A woman watches her husband throw one by one their earthly possessions into the local quarry, before vanishing himself; two girls from very different social classes find themselves deep in the throes of a punishing affair; a motherless teenager is sexually awakened in the aftermath of a local trauma; and a woman’s guilt from a childhood lie about her intellectually disabled cousin reverberates into her married years.
I don’t tend to gravitate to short stories, (although Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories are absolutely delicious), I loved these so much! They were dark, smart, deep and enlightening, with gorgeous gorgeous writing.
So that’s it, the best books I’ve read this year. Right now I’m rereading my absolute favorite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming on audiobook. On deck for early 2019 I’m looking forward to reading Gregory David Robert’s The Mountain Shadow, his follow-up to Shantaram, also one of my favorites), The Perfect Stranger, Megan Miranda’s follow-up to All the Missing Girls, (one of my favorites from 2017). I’m also salivating for Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers and Elin Hilderbrand’s The Perfect Couple (what’s up with titles with Perfect in the title lately?) to come out on paperback, and I want to check out more from Jodi Picoult. And my TBR list is still over 140 books long!