If you’re stuck in a dreaded reading slump or haven’t picked up a book since Catcher in the Rye in High School English but don’t know where to start, here’s a list that might help. I read a lot of books in 2018 – some great, some not so great. But the following books were standouts to me. I mostly read Young Adult and Fantasy Fiction, but there are some variations, such as Historical Fiction and Mystery. If you’re interested in seeing all the books I’ve read in 2018, check out my Goodreads.
- A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab – (Young Adult Fantasy) Kell is one of the last Antari – magicians with the rare ability to travel back and forth between parallel Londons. Unofficially though, Kell is a smuggler and falls in with cut-purse, Delilah Bard. Adventures ensue. This was the first book I’ve read by V.E. Schwab and in my opinion, the strongest in the trilogy. I loved the world building and action. The characters were memorable and distinct. It was a very fun, fast read.
2. The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed (Young Adult Contemporary) The Nowhere Girls follows the story of three different girls – Grace Salter, Rosina Suarez and Erin Delillo – as they grapple with what it meant to be a girl in today’s world. Though at times, it can be a bit heavy-handed, I thought the message was important and I loved the diversity of characters.
3. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue (Fiction) . An English nurse, Lib Wright, is summoned to a tiny Irish village in the 1800’s to prove or disprove a miracle. An 11 year old girl, Anna O’Donnell, is said to have survived without a morsel of food in months. What will Lib uncover?
4. Darius the Great Is Not Okay – Adib Khorram (Young Adult Contemporary/LGBTQIA+) This is a book about belonging. Darius Kellner is a Persian boy that can’t find a place in his American high school. When he takes a trip to his native Iran for the first-time, he goes on a journey of self-discovery. Really such a beautiful and subtle book about coming to terms with who we are.
5. Endling, the Last – Katherine Applegate (Middle Grade Fantasy) You know how some books you read in grade school don’t hold up when you revisit them as an adult? This is not one of those books. Having read it for the first time as an adult, I can absolutely say this is a book for everyone. Byx, a mythological dog creature is the youngest in her dairne pack. But one day, the pack is slaughtered and Byx is afraid she might be the last of her kind. She sets out to find the truth of what is happening to the dairnes (and if she is truly the last) with the loveable creature, Tobble, the wobbyk, and a young human girl, Kara. Such a touching read, with adult themes of animal extinction and eugenics.
6. The Last Magician – Lisa Maxwell (Young Adult Fantasy) . This book is Newsies meets Gangs of New York meets magic. Magic is all but dead in modern day New York. Until Esta, a thief, goes back in time to old New York, a world of ruthless gangs and secret societies and most importantly magic, to find out why magic died. Very cool characters and atmosphere. Can’t wait to read the sequel.
7. In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan (Young Adult Fantasy) Elliot is an obnoxious thirteen year old boy, who doesn’t fit into his school or indeed his world. Given the chance to attend school in the Borderlands, a fantasy world, doesn’t really improve things either. Elliot is still hugely obnoxious and largely unliked and he’s not impressed by most of the fantasy. But he matures and comes to occupy an important place in the Borderlands, alongside his friends Serene and Luke. This book sounds like your basic Harry Potter/Magicians knockoff, but it’s not. It skews gender stereotypes, flips conventions and tropes on their head, has some hilarious dialogue and a completely lovable cast. One of the biggest surprises of the year.
8. Ezekiel – John Fanning (Historical Fiction) . Ezekiel follows the story of Ezekiel Yusuf Moran, a homeopath and French Résistance fighter. At ninety-nine years old, Ezekiel recounts the amazing story of his life to his son, Daniel. This book is a meditation on what it means to be human. I loved the relationships between Ezekiel, Mathias and Therese, and at times it moved me to tears. Brimming with insight and sensitivity, this one’s a must-read.
9. The Murderer’s Ape – Jakob Wegelius (Middle Grade Fantasy) . Sally Jones is a gorilla who works on a cargo ship alongside Captain Henry Koskela (aka Chief). Though she cannot speak, she understands everything. When one of their jobs goes sour, Chief is accused of murder and it’s up to Sally to exonerate her dear friend, Chief. This book has adventure, exotic places and a memorable cast of characters. And includes some awesome illustrations too! It has a pulp-noire, detective feel to it that’s so fun. Great for middle grade, on up to adults.
10. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar (Historical Fantasy Fiction/Magical Realism) . In the last 1700s, merchant, Jonah Hancock, gets a late night visit from one of his ship captains who has sold his boat for a dead mermaid carcass. What at first, he thinks will sink him, ends up earning him fortune and fame. It even brings him love. But when he manages to capture a real life mermaid, things take a turn for the worst. Very good historical fantasy fiction book.
11. Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott (Mystery/Thriller) Kit Owens and Diane Fleming form an unlikely friendship in middle school around a mutual love of science. During this time, Diane confides a terrible secret to Kit. They drift apart after middle school, but more than a decade later meet up again on a project. Kit and Diane go head to head for a coveted research position and soon find themselves in a dangerous case of cat and mouse. This was a really great thriller with complex, flawed female characters. I’d never previously read anything by Megan Abbott, but absolutely loved this book,
12. Sky Song – Abi Elphinstone (Middle Grade Fantasy) Erkenwald is ruled by a cruel Ice Queen. Eska is a girl captured by the queen. She breaks free from a cursed music box and joins up with Flint, an outcast who comes up with marvelous adventures. Together, they must defeat the Ice Queen and free Erkenwald from her clutches. I love this middle grade story because it’s all about the importance of finding and using our voice in the world. I think for young girls and women, this will be a very empowering book!
13. The Wicker King – Kayla Ancrum (Young Adult Contemporary/LGBT+) . August’s best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder. In it, he is the Wicker King, ruler of a fantasy world. August is torn between playing along with Jack’s hallucinations and seeking help for him. I loved the way this was written, the exploration of mental illness and the blurring of what is real and what is not. Brilliant.
14. The Boy At the Key Hole – Stephen Giles (Mystery/Thriller/Historical) Nine-year-old Samuel lives in a once great estate in Surrey with the family’s housekeeper, Ruth. His father is dead and his mother has been abroad for five months. Samuel begins to suspect Ruth has killed his mother and that he is in danger. A deliciously dark gothic tale in the vein of Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier.
15. Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand (Young Adult Horror/Fantasy/LGBTQ+) . Sawkill Girls follows the stories of Marion, Zoey and Val, three girls living on Sawkill Rock. Girls have been disappearing on Sawkill Rock for centuries and the girls are determined to get to the heart of it. Really great book with badass girl characters.
16. The Hazel Wood – Melissa Albert (Young Adult Fantasy) . Seventeen year old Alice and her mother have been on the run ever since she can remember. But everything changes when Alice’s grandmother, a reclusive author of a cult-classic fairytale book, dies alone on her estate and Alice’s mother goes missing. Alice, along with her classmate, Ellery Finch, must travel to the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Really gripping book that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
17. Mirage – Somaiya Daud (Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction) Eighteen year old Amani is a dreamer, who dreams of traveling beyond her isolated moon and writing like the old world poets. She is kidnapped and taken in secret to the royal palace to be a body-double for the cruel Princess Maram. Captivated by the palace’s beauty and Maram’s Prince Idris, Maram must toe a careful line to keep her family and her planet safe. It’s exciting to see more diverse books by diverse authors. And this book was a gem!
18. Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) – Tomi Adeyemi (Young Adult Fantasy) Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the Prince, who longs to eradicate magic for good. Another diverse read, with excellent world-building and strong characters. Can’t wait for the sequel!
19. Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire #1) – Natasha Ngan (Young Adult Fantasy/LGBT+) Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. Admired for her unusual golden eyes, Lei is stolen from her home and trained to become a consort for the King. But she refuses the King’s advances and falls in love with another consort, setting off a string of dangerous events. I loved the world building in this and I know it’s going to be an important book for so many!
20. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik (Young Adult Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling) Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. He gets the family into a lot of debt and Miryem must step up and turn silver into gold. Her fate becomes tangled with creatures in the wood and a King who seeks to exploit her power. I loved Novik’s Uprooted, but this book surpassed even that for me. Satisfied my penchant for wonderfully dark, fairy-tales.
21. Circe – Madeline Miller (Fantasy/Myth/Historical/Retelling) . I read the Iliad and the Odyssey in High School and mostly remember them as a catalogue of different battles and injuries. It was interesting, but missing a human element, a storytelling element that really makes books sing. Miller brings Greek mythology alive. I love-loved Miller’s Song of Achilles and was nervous I wouldn’t love Circe as much. But this retelling of the witch Circe’s life is compelling and un-put-downable. Miller is setting herself up to be a great!
22. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (Historical Fiction/LGBT+) Cyril Avery was born out of a wedlock to a teenage mother in a rural Irish community in the 1940s. Adopted by a distant and self-absorbed set of parents (including a famous author), Cyril has a hard time fitting in. This book tells the story of Cyril’s life growing up as a gay man in Ireland and abroad. It was poignant and touching and wickedly funny. Amazing story, amazing writer.
23. Labryinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) – Zoraida Cordova (Young Adult Fantasy/Paranormal/LGBT+) Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power, but the spell backfires and her entire family disappears. Now she must team up with her best friend and a bad boy to travel to Los Lagos to get them back. Diverse, interesting read. I can’t wait to read the sequel.
24. The Lake House – Kate Morton (Historical Fiction/Mystery) A child goes missing in 1933. Years later, the house is abandoned and the family has passed or been scattered. A detective taking a break from the force retreats to her grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall near the abandoned estate. Will she end up solving the decades old mystery? I love historical fiction and though I struggled a bit with the back and forth narratives, I really loved the setting and atmosphere.
25. The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. 1) – Jonathan Stroud (Middle Grade Fantasy/Mystery/Horror) This book was one of the biggest surprises of the year. I picked it up not knowing anything about it, and was completely blown away. I’m now three books into the series and obsessed. When the dead start coming back as ghosts (ghosts that can kill you with a fatal touch), the only ones who can see the ghosts and thus, fight them off are children. Lucy Carlyle, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins are agents at Lockwood & Co., a group that hunts down and destroys these ghosts. The books are imaginative and a real page turner. Absolutely recommend to people of any age!
So tell me: What were your favorite books you read in 2018? Have you read any of the books on my list and loved (or hated) them?