After reading 176 books in 2018, you’d think it’d be impossible to narrow it down to my 10 favorites. But honestly, it was surprisingly easy; these are the ones that most stood out to me on my first pass through my Goodreads shelf.
The thing is, there are a ton of books I read and loved in 2018, and for different reasons. But these 10 are the ones that most stuck with me, that immediately jumped out to me as favorites when reviewing everything I read in 2018.
I have them organized below in the order I read them last year. The hyperlinked titles will take you to Goodreads so you can learn more about them if my brief summaries weren’t enough. And, you know, you you can add them to your TBR shelf.
Also, let’s be real—I cheated a bit in picking just 10. More than one of these books is representative of several others!
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Quick take: Celebrity memoir about being the son of a white man and a black woman in South Africa when it was a crime to have a transracial relationship.
I read Born a Crime at the very beginning of the year, and it’s still stuck with me as one of the most powerful things I read in 2018. It’s such a moving story about Noah and his relationship with his mother and what it was like for him to literally be born a crime. I learned so much more about South African history and culture and gained a new appreciation for how fortunate my life is. Plus Noah is such a great storyteller, and I couldn’t put this book down. If you do pick this up, I highly encourage you to check it out on audio! Noah does an amazing job narrating it, and I really liked hearing his voice for his mother as well as listening to him speak in various languages (he speaks eight!).
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Quick take: Contemporary romance in which things ramp up a notch between two feuding coworkers when they wind up competing for the same job.
I love a good hate-to-love romance, and The Hating Game checked off all of the boxes for me. There was just so much great banter and tension and chemistry between the hero and heroine, and I literally could not put it down. I just really, really liked Lucy and Josh and their antics and watching Lucy slowly realize how desperate Josh is in love with her. And there were so many standout scenes in this book as it built towards the end. I loved it so much I almost immediately started rereading it after I finished it, and that almost never happens to me. Oh, and I immediately bought a physical copy after reading the library one, if that gives you an idea of how much I loved this book!
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
Quick take: Historical romance between the bastard son of an earl and the owner of a governess agency. Includes one of the best kidnapping scenes ever (trust me!).
I’ve enjoyed the other Eloisa James books I’ve read (though I’m far from having read her entire backlist), but Seven Minutes in Heaven is the first one of hers that really blew it out of the water for me, and it launched my discovery of a bunch of other books of hers that also belong on this list, including My American Duchess, Wilde in Love, and Too Wilde to Wed. James just does such a great job showing two people gradually fall in love with each other with minimal angst and tons of banter and back-and-forth between the hero and heroine, which I love in romance novels. All four of these books do that for me, though I specifically mention Seven Minutes in Heaven since it’s the book that got me hooked on James’ writing.
Grant by Ron Chernow
Quick take: Massive biography about Civil War general and two-term president Ulysses S. Grant, from the author of the biography that inspired Hamilton.
Grant is definitely not for everyone; at 960 pages, it’s a beast! But I was just so impressed by how well written this was and how much I learned about Grant and the Civil War despite being somewhat of a Civil War buff. And while I expected to be more hooked on the half about the Civil War given my existing interest in the war and my tendency to skip over Reconstruction history, I’m shocked that I was actually more invested in learning about Grant’s presidency. There was just so much I didn’t know about what was going on at the time and what a good president Grant actually was. He was instrumental in wiping out the Ku Klux Klan, though the Klan came back later when successive presidents cut back on protections for blacks in the south. If you’re at all interested in American history and think you can handle such a big biography, I really can’t recommend this one enough.
A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe
Quick take: Gilded Age New York romance following a lady architect who realizes that her one-night stand with a handsome man during her trans-Atlantic voyage was actually with her new boss.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe why I like A Scandalous Deal other than to say it’s very me. I really liked the plotline and how unique it was and seeing what interesting challenges came with it and how Eva and Phillip dealt with that. I love the fact that she’s an architect, plus I really enjoy reading historicals set outside of Regency England. And since I live in New York, it’s extra fun because I know all of the places from the book! The main draw, though, was definitely the relationship between Eva and Phillip and how they fell in love and came to trust each other. I loved the tension and back-and-forth between them and was rooting for them so hard by the end. Such a wonderful book!
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Quick take: YA scifi involving corporate espionage, a deadly virus, and an out-of-control AI told in a series of interviews, chat logs, and other alternative formats.
I have never read anything like Illuminae, and I loved every minute of it! I literally could not put this book down and wound up binging the entire trilogy in quick order. The storyline was just so gripping and had so many twists and turns, and I really liked the characters and enjoyed rooting for them in the face of such impossible odds. And the formatting is so cool! I’ve never seen anything like it, and it worked really well to tell the story this way. I would have enjoyed Illuminae regardless, but the formatting just upped it up a notch. Also, it was really clever and funny! I was definitely laughing out loud more than once. I really enjoyed this trilogy, and now that I know how the entire thing wraps up, I want to go back and reread it with a new perspective. Plus I hear the audiobooks are fantastic!
The Displaced edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Quick take: Essay collection about various refugee experiences.
The Displaced was not on my radar at all until I went to a panel at Book Con about refugee writers and refugee lives with Viet Thanh Nguyen and two of the authors. Listening to them talk about their experiences was fascinating, and I bought a copy of the essay collection they were talking about as soon as possible. Out of all the books I got at Book Expo and Book Con, this is the one I picked up first because I was so intrigued to learn more, and it’s such a short book that I flew right through it. Nguyen did an amazing job curating a collection of essays that show a broad range of refugee experiences from refugees who originally came from around the world and who ultimately settled around the world. It just gave much a much more global perspective of the challenges refugees face and what lasting impacts being a refugee can have on their lives. I think this book is an especially important read in the midst of our current immigration debate and one of the worst refugee crises in history, and if you read one book from this list, I think it should be this one.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Quick take: Post-apocalyptic adult fantasy in which the Navajo gods of old have come to life.
Reading Trail of Lightning was the best experience. I thought I would enjoy it (hence why I picked it up), but other than that I had virtually no expectations. So I was not at all prepared when I was completely blown away by it! I just really liked Maggie and seeing her develop throughout the course of the story, and of course I love Kai! Roanhorse did an amazing job hitting all of the beats you’d expect in a fantasy novel while also constantly surprising you, and this book has stuck with me ever since. And I loved her incorporation of Navajo mythology. It just added another layer to the story, plus it was really cool learning about a new mythology—though to be clear, parts of the cultural elements were definitely fictional. But it was really cool how they felt organic to the story. Anyways, if you’re looking for fantasy that’s familiar yet different and are a fan of mythology, I think you’ll love this book as much as I did.
A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
Quick take: Contemporary romance between a hot mess apprentice sword maker and a secret Scottish duke/Hufflegruff.
I was definitely pulled to A Duke by Default by the fun premise and all of the nods to traditional elements of historicals in a contemporary setting, plus I’m a big fan of Alyssa Cole and have enjoyed everything I’ve read that she’s written. But I was not prepared to fall so hard in love with this book! I just really liked Portia’s journey of self discovery and Tavish’s willingness to acknowledge when he’s wrong and his drive to make the world a better place. I thought both characters were really well developed and I loved their relationship with each other. Plus Cole just brought in so many different elements to this story that I wasn’t expecting and that we don’t see enough in romance, like Portia’s struggle with ADHD and Tavish’s experience as the biracial child of a Scotsman and a refugee from South America. It added a whole other layer to the story. Definitely a must read! (Also, how amazing is that cover?! The Reluctant Royals series has some of my favorite romance covers ever.)
The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
Quick take: Historical duke/governess romance with the most adorable funeral scene ever (you have to trust me on this, too!).
Tessa Dare has written so many of my absolute favorite historical romances, and she might have topped them all with The Governess Game! It was just such a fun and funny and sweet read. Seriously, this is romance at its best. You just sit there and sigh about how perfect it is when you finish reading it, and then go through the rest of your day in a daze. Chase and Alexandra just had so much great banter (a recurring theme in my favorites here!) and so many touching scenes as they slowly fell in love with each other. And while I’m not generally a huge fan of lord/governess romances, Dare handled this one really well and made sure the power dynamic between Chase and Alexandra was addressed. This book was just so perfect, and now I really need to go back and reread it.
Oh, and this is another book that actually stands in for another! While The Governess Game slightly edges it out as my favorite, I recently started reading the last of Dare’s backlist and fell completely in love with One Dance with a Duke. Highly recommend!
I might not have placed these books in the top 10, but they each stuck with me for various reasons and I highly recommend them, too!
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann: This is such a great true crime book about the murder of Osage Nation members in the 1930s over access to their oil money. It reads super easily for those of you who are tentative about nonfiction, but that makes it no less powerful of a look at just one of several ways Native Americans have been mistreated by colonists throughout history.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: This is an excellent graphic memoir about Satrapi’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution and later going abroad to Europe for school. Highly recommend.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: This was such a powerful memoir by trans activist Janet Mock about her experience growing up trans and eventually undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Such an important read as trans rights continue to be threatened.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui: This year wound up being a bit of the year of the graphic memoir! This one is about Bui’s family’s journey from Vietnam to the United States. It’s just so powerful and moving, and the illustrations are beautiful.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: This story of an autistic woman who hires a male escort to help her learn about sex was such a fast, fun read that I thoroughly enjoyed!
What a Difference a Duke Makes by Lenora Bell: This book is another historical lord/governess romance with lots of fun banter that I couldn’t put down. Such a fun, adorable romance.
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell: This graphic memoir trilogy is amazing! It chronicles Rep. John Lewis’ role in the Civil Rights Movement, framed by Obama’s election to office, and it includes so much history that everybody, especially Americans, need to know.
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh: Obviously you have to start at the beginning of this paranormal romance series with Slave to Sensation, but while I’ve enjoyed the entire Psy-Changeling series, my favorites so far have definitely been Caressed by Ice, Branded by Fire, and Play of Passion. I never would have thought I’d love these books so much, but they’re super addicting and I’ve been enjoying every minute of working my way through this series!
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria: This is a dance-off reality show romance, and all I can say is that it was addicting and I absolutely loved it! I highly recommend the sequels, Dance with Me and Dance All Night, too. Daria has become one of my go-to authors after reading these!
In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero: This was so much more than your typical celebrity memoir, telling Guerrero’s story of growing up in the U.S. as the child of illegal immigrants and the ramifications, including mental health ones, of coming home from school one day to find out her parents had been deported. I have to warn you that the writing isn’t the best, but the story is so important that that doesn’t matter.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung: Another incredibly powerful memoir, this time by an Asian woman who was adopted as a baby by white parents and grew up in a largely white community. It touches on so many important topics, including race, adoption, family, identity, and more. The hype is real for this one!
There you have it. My favorite books of 2018. I read so many amazing books this past year, and if 2019 is half as successful, I will be a very happy camper!
Have you read and loved any of these books? Have I persuaded you to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments, and happy reading in 2019!