Top 10 Books of 2018

I read over 100 books this year, so it is incredibly hard to narrow the list down to just 10 books! I really like reading new releases and this year almost half of all the books I read were published in 2018, so like last year, I’ve decided to publish two lists. This will be my top 10 favourite books that were published in 2018, and my second follow up post with be my top 5 favourite books that I read in 2018, but were published in other years. Without further ado, here’s my top 10 of 2018, in order this year!

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie has been making waves this year and was my first Courtney Summers book. I started reading it on a 3 day kayak trip and was totally enthralled with it the entire weekend. It’s a powerful read, but one of the things I actually liked most about it was the format. Sadie tells the story of a young woman named Sadie – when her sister turns up dead, Sadie disappears from town and goes on a mission to track down her sister’s killer. What made the format so unique was that half of the book is told in the style of a podcast investigating what happened to Sadie, while the other half is told from Sadie’s point of view as she moves through rural America trying to track down the killer. The podcast reminded me a lot of Serial and I thought it made for a really interesting and dynamic read. Summers doesn’t hold back any punches in this story and it’s really a book about how girls and women disappear and are murdered far too often. I can’t take another dead girl.

9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After was a bit of a slower read compared to some of the other books on this list, but is the writing and the story ever beautiful! It tells the story of Taiwanese-American teenager, Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. In her grief, Leigh believes that her mother has come back as a bird and is trying to communicate with Leigh. In an effort to learn more about her mother, she decides to take a trip to Taiwan for the first time to meet her grandparents. The story is filled with magical realism and is a beautiful coming of age story about grief, mental health, the pains of growing up, and the importance of chasing after the things that you love. I really liked the portrayal of mental health and depression and how anyone can be impacted by them and how there’s often no rhyme or reason to why someone might suffer from depression. I loved the cultural aspects that were woven into this story as well as Leigh’s relationship with her friend Axel and how it evolves throughout the story. Mostly though, I just loved this for the beautiful writing and would definitely recommend to anyone!

8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage has been featured on pretty much every “must read books of 2018” list I’ve seen on the internet and was featured in Oprah’s book club, so I was intrigued to read it. It’s about a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s marriage is abruptly cut short when Roy is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and incarcerated for 12 years. They try to maintain their marriage, but 12 years is a long time and Celestial starts to drift away from Roy. However, when Roy gets a surprise early release after 5 years, everyone’s lives are thrown into turmoil. Celestial has moved on and is unsure what to do in the face of her husband’s release. Roy on the other hand, is still hugely invested in Celestial and wants to give their marriage another shot. It’s a thought provoking novel on the justice system and what it means to be black in America. I really liked it because there were no easy choices for the characters and it was a critical look at the impact prison can have on the individual and their greater family and community.

7. Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

I’ve been reading Saga for the last two years, but for some reason, Volume 8 hit me a lot harder than any of the other volumes. I also read Volume 9 this year, which I liked, but didn’t love, but something about Volume 8 struck me differently. Saga is a graphic novel series about an intergalactic romance between two soldiers on opposing sides, Alana and Marko. The series starts off with them giving birth to their daughter, Hazel, and the entire series is them gallivanting around the galaxy trying to avoid all the individuals that think their marriage and relationship is an abomination. Volume 8 deals with abortion and I think it’s one of the reason’s why I liked it so much. The whole series is incredibly diverse and examines a number of different relevant social issues, and this issue looks at some of the reasons why women and couples decide to have abortions and why all reasons are valid. Overall, I would highly recommend the series, I’ll just put a disclaimer that the series does include a lot of sex and nudity.

6. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery to me why I liked this book as much as I did. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good romance, but I think it was because this was one of the rare New Adult books that I could actually relate to. I find there’s a huge gap in literature between stories about teenagers and stories about adults. There’s not a lot of great books about people in their mid-twenties and this book really that need. The Simple Wild is about 26 year old Calla. She grew up with her mom in Toronto, but she’s been estranged from her father, who is an Alaskan bush pilot, since she was 2. When she finds out her father has cancer, she decides to finally make the trip up to Alaska to meet him. She’s never understood her father’s life or why he would never leave his job to be with her and her mother. She finally has the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but fears it may be too late. At the same time, she meets her father’s best pilot, Jonah, and despite having almost nothing in common, they strike up a friendship that evolves mostly out of the two of them teasing one another. I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jonah, but this book has so much more going for it than just romance. I’m obsessed with any book set in Alaska and this was a great story about taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

5. Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad is a collection of stories about rape and rape culture that definitely needed to be told. I listened this anthology as an audiobook and I thought every single essay added something valuable to the collection and as a whole, the essays were extremely diverse. The premise of the book is that any story about rape, assault, or rape culture deserves a space and to be heard. People often refrain from sharing the things that have happened to them because they think they are not that bad compared to what has happened to other people they known. Gay wants to break down that idea that there is any kind of scale for breaking down the things that happen to us. Every story is that bad and every pain deserves to be acknowledged. It is only by sharing our stories that it becomes evident just how pervasive and widespread rape culture is. Your voice deserves to be heard – what happened to you is that bad – there is no hierarchy of pain and we acknowledge you.

4. Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This was my first Toews book, but I was totally blown away by it. It’s a short and simple book, but so startling in it’s honesty. Women Talking is based on a Mennonite community in rural Bolivia where the women were continuously subjected to sexual assault in secret by members of the community. They were not believed and were told that they were being punished for their sins. Eventually it came out that several men in the community had been knocking the women out with animal anesthetic and raping them in their sleep and they were arrested. This is the re-imagined conversation that took place between the women in deciding how to move forward from this ordeal. As they see it, they have three options: they can do nothing, stay and fight, or they can leave. It is extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking. Even though these characters are imagined, I was inspired by the women and their ability to forgive, love one another, and use humour to move on with their lives.

3. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Okay, now we’re into the top 3! It’s hard to organize the lower end of this list because I liked all those books but they’re not the top books that stand out to me and it’s difficult to rank them. But the top of list is easier because they were my favourite books that I read this year, starting with Wundersmith, the sequel to Nevermoor. The Nevermoor series is a new middle grade fantasy series that I am obsessed with. I’ve compared it multiple times to Harry Potter, not because it’s like Harry Potter, but because it reminds me of all the things I loved about Harry Potter and in how it makes me feel. Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, destined to die on the eve of her 11th birthday. But instead, she is whisked away by enigmatic Jupiter North to the land of Nevermoor, which is filled with magic and flying umbrellas and gigantic talking cats. It is such a fun series filled with so much whimsy! The world building is incredible and the plot is clever and has a lot of depth. I am in love with the characters and the world Jessica Townsend has created and I cannot wait to see where she takes this series in the future!

2. Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Our Homesick Songs took me totally by surprise. It’s historical fiction about Newfoundland’s cod fishery and the moratorium in 1992. It’s about family, community, loneliness, music, and love of place. The Connor family has always lived in the small rural, island town of Big Running and has  always survived off the cod fishery. When the fish disappear, many families are forced to make tough decisions about their future and leave their homes in search of work on the mainland. Aidan and Martha try and avoid that fate for their children, Cora and Finn, and instead decide to share a job at one of the camps in Northern Alberta. But as their community slowly disappears, Cora and Finn struggle with the changes to the life they’ve always known and the hole in their community. As a Newfoundlander, this book spoke to a part of my soul and I absolutely fell in love with Hooper’s writing style. I can see how it might not work for everyone, but her writing evoked such a feeling of homesickness that I felt I’d just moved right into the pages with Cora and Finn and Aidan and Martha. It’s a beautiful story about family and community and the links that tie us together. It’s a heartbreak story that was a reality for many Newfoundland families and I thought Hooper did a wonderful job of transporting her readers back to this time and place. I love the way she tied music into the story and I know this family will stick with me for a long time.

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

And the number one spot goes to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I read this book back in June and nothing has been able to top it since. It was an extremely emotional, but enjoyable, reading experience and even 6 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Setting is everything for me in this novel. The Great Alone is set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on the Albright family: Ernt, Cora, and their daughter Leni. Ernt is a POW from the Vietnam War and suffers from PTSD. He’s worried about the direction the government is going and in an effort to get back to the land, moves the family to the small town on Kaneq in Alaska. They move in the height of summer and Leni is totally enamoured with the landscape and their hand to mouth existence. It’s hard work to survive in Alaska and the sense of purpose and the long summer days keep Ernt’s PTSD at bay. However, when the long winter starts, Ernt’s demons start to get the better of him and Leni begins to wonder if she’s more at risk from the dangers lurking outside her door or from the dangers lurking within. It is a heartbreaking story, but Hannah creates such a sense of place and community that I just totally fell in love with. The writing is beautiful and every character is so well imagined and developed. A wonderful story about family and community, but also about the challenges women faced in the 1970’s and still face today.

Top Reads of Summer 2018

I read 29 books throughout the months of June, July, and August. It’s so hard to narrow it down to my favourites, but here’s a few of the books I loved this summer:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
I am obsessed with this book. It may end up being my top read of 2018. It’s set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on 13 year old Leni and her parents. Her dad was a POW in Vietnam and still struggles with PTSD, taking out his frustrations on Leni’s mother. The setting was the highlight of this book for me, followed closely by the writing. As someone who loves the mountains and the outdoors, I was totally sucked in my Kristin Hannah’s depictions of Alaska and the unforgiving nature of the great white north.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
This is the follow up series to Harry Potter that I’ve been waiting for. A middle grade fantasy series about young Morrigan Crow, a “cursed” child who has been rejected by her family. To avoid her fate, she signs a contract with the mysterious Jupiter North and is whisked away to Nevermoor, where she competes in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society. This is a clever and beautiful book about belonging and I can’t wait to see where Townsend takes this series.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
One of my more recent reads, Women Talking is a sobering book about the injustices women face and the struggle of when to walk away and say enough is enough. This is a fictional recounting of true events that took place in a mennonite community in Bolivia. The women in this book are undervalued, despite the great contributions they make in running their community. Even though they’ve been violated by the men in their community, it’s still hard for them to walk away. They understand the community will fall apart in their absence, but they also understand that walking away will be more effective than trying to stay and fight and that only in their absence might things change.

Not That Bad by Various Authors, edited by Roxane Gay
This is a book of essays edited by Roxane Gay about rape culture and how women have been conditioned to stay silent, believing their experiences are not that bad. It features a wonderfully diverse series of authors and re-iterates that no matter what has happened to you in the past and how worse you think someone else’s experience was, your experiences are valid and they matter.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This was an interesting novel about the American justice system and how it disproportionately targets and prosecutes black people. It had some great social commentary on what it means to be black in America, but I really liked the relationship dynamics between the 3 central characters and how it incorporated family into the story. Roy and Celestial had only been married for a year when Roy is incarcerated. Believing that Roy will be in prison for 20 years, she moves on to another relationship with her childhood friend, Andre. But when Roy is released early, Celestial must make a difficult choice about her relationships.

Sadie by Courtney Summers
This is the new YA book that everyone is talking about and it was extremely compelling. Sadie’s younger sister is murdered and in her anguish, Sadie disappears without a trace as she heads off in search of her sister’s murderer. What’s so interesting about this book is that it’s partly told in the format of a podcast about missing girls. It reminded me of Serial and features a journalist interviewing Sadie’s friends and family, trying to learn more about her disappearance and her sister’s murder. It’s a fast paced, but introspective read and I totally flew through it.

July Monthly Summary

I wrote about this in my August Monthly Challenge post as well, but I’ve been feeling like I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump this summer. I know I still managed to read a total of 25 books in May/June/July, which is right on track for my reading goals, but reading has been feeling like a bit more of a chore. I get into these spurts where I just fly through a book every 3 days and can’t wait to read the next one. But I haven’t been as excited about the books I’ve been reading since I came back from Vietnam. That said, my August Challenge is to read as many books off my bookshelf as possible, and so far it is working wonders! Getting to pick my book based on what I’m feeling in that moment is so much more enjoyable than forcing myself the read something that, even though I might really want to read it in general, might not be what I’m feeling like reading in that moment.

So that’s my little update, without further ado, here’s my July Summary:

Books read: 10
Pages read: 3,176
Main genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Favourite book: Not That Bad

To start, I read two ARC’s in July, Sadie by Courtney Summers, and Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood. Both were fantastic! Sadie was a really interesting combination of murder mystery and YA. I struggle to call it YA at all because I really think this fits better as adult fiction that just happens to feature teenagers. It’s a gritty book, but what I loved about it was that half of it is written in the form of a podcast. It was such a different concept and it really worked for me. Rust & Stardust is based on the true crime that inspired Lolita, and while it was disturbing, I really liked the authors voice in this novel and thought it was a really accurate time period piece.

I managed to fit 2 audiobooks into July as well. The first was Not That Bad, which is a compilation of essays about rape culture, edited by Roxane Gay. I love Roxane Gay, so I knew this was going to be fantastic. What really struck me about the anthology was the diversity and the refrain that no matter what has happened to you, it is “that bad” and you should be justified in feeling however you choose about it. The second audiobook was of a totally different genres, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. This was my first fantasy audiobook and I actually really liked it! It’s this east-asian, dark retelling of the evil queen in Snow White and I thought it was super dark and compelling.

I snuck in 2 volumes of Lumberjanes in July. It’s a graphic novel series that I originally picked up because it was by the creator of Nimona (which I am obsessed with), but Noelle Stevenson has since moved on from the project and I’m kind of over it now- it’s a fun series, but it’s just always the same – so I’ve decided to move on. I didn’t write a review about the volumes, but the short volumes helped boost my reading numbers.

I read two YA/historical type novels; My Plain Jane, which is the second book in the (non-sequential) Lady Janies series by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, and Bright We Burn, which is the final book in The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White. My Plain Jane was a bit of a disappointment compared to the first book, My Lady Jane, but Bright We Burn was a fantastic epic conclusion! Both are re-imagined history novels and I would definitely recommend Kiersten White’s books, as well as My lady Jane.

The Last two books I read were part of my July Monthly Challenge. I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. I had a third book as well, which I picked to be Swing Time by Zadie Smith, but I admit that I haven’t finished it yet. I am about 100 pages in and I am liking it, it’s just a bit of a slower paced book that I’m slowly working my way through.

But I really liked An American Marriage. I thought it was a great look at America’s justice system and racial prejudice. I thought some parts of the book were a little problematic, but overall I liked it. Unfortunately I didn’t really like The Map of Salt and Stars. I thought it had a fantastic premise, but the writing wasn’t great, nor was the character development or plotting.

So overall still a good month and I’m hoping to get back of the swing of things in August!

An American Marriage

Rating: ⭐
Author: Tayari Jones
Genres: Fiction
Pub Date: Feb. 2018 (read Jul. 2018)

This is so hard to review! I loved the first 2/3 of this book – I thought the writing was fabulous and the character development was so fantastic. Jones created this heartbreaking scenario and dynamic between the characters and I thought it was executed brilliantly. But I didn’t love the last third of the book, not because of how it ended (endings frustrate me all the time, but it doesn’t make them bad), I just didn’t love the character dynamics in the last third of the book. Although it wasn’t enough to deter me from rating this highly because I did really think that the writing in this book was fantastic.

Here’s the scenario: Celestial and Roy have been married for just over a year and are very much still learning about each other when Roy is falsely accused and prosecuted for a crime he didn’t commit. He is incarcerated for 12 years and it is just heartbreaking to watch these two characters be torn apart and the injustice of having your life stolen from you just when you were settling down to really start it.

Like I said, I thought the set-up for this story was brilliant. The author spends just enough time introducing you to these two characters before breaking your heart for them. They were both in their early 30’s when Roy goes into prison and have essentially had the core of their marriage and life together stolen from them. They stay together, but Celestial eventually starts to move on with her life and moves on to another relationship, while Roy is stuck in the limbo of prison. Unable to fight for himself or his wife or to be there for his parents when his mother becomes ill.

When Roy gets a surprise early release after serving only 5 of his 12 years, Jones places her characters in an impossible situation, where no one is wrong, but everyone is hurting. The outside world has moved on without Roy, but he is not ready to let his old life, or his wife, go.

I loved this scenario because there is no right or wrong answers. Everyone feels wronged, but no one is necessarily wrong. They were placed in a mess of a situation and they all tried to move forward as best they could. I loved the emotional dilemma of this story because it really made me think and the simple storytelling evokes a lot of emotions. Roy and Celestial’s parents play a large role in the story too and I loved how Jones wove these characters into the narrative and used them as support for the familial themes throughout the novel. I really do think this was an excellent piece of storytelling and it’s why I will still be giving the book 4 stars.

But let’s talk about the problematic pieces (for me anyways). I didn’t love the last third of the story because I thought it fell too heavily on Roy and Andre. They spent forever fighting over Celestial like she wasn’t even a human being with any agency. They both felt they were entitled to her for their own reasons and neither was particularly interested in who Celestial really wanted to be with (especially Roy). Celestial’s voice in the story totally died out and she became so malleable to the two characters that I had no idea who this character even was any more. I wanted her to stand up for herself and I wanted the two men to acknowledge that the choice was ultimately hers, no matter how wronged they might feel by the decision. I mean, essentially I don’t think Celestial even knew what she wanted, which may be why the author wrote her this way, but I just got frustrated listening to the two men talk about her.

I mean, I know this is accurate to how a lot of men do think, so I can’t fault Jones too much. I just wanted Celestial to have more agency. It reminded me of TV shows and movies produced by men where the female characters only serve to advance the male protagonist’s storyline. I sometimes felt that Celestial was a secondary character to Andre and Roy and that at the end, she only really existed to serve their development.

The ending did actually redeem it a little bit though because one of the characters finally came to some realizations about the relationship and their behaviour. But Roy’s entitlement made me mad. He made some pretty questionable choices after he got out of prison that made me lose my respect for him. I really think he had no high ground to stand on at all after some of the choices he made, but he still felt entitled to Celestial and their marriage. Even with some of these realizations at the end, Celestial is still only a reactionary character.

I may have to do a bit more research on the author. I’m interested to know what she based Roy’s prison and release experience on and whether she has any personal exposure to how people in similar situations have felt and acted upon being released from prison. I don’t want to judge Roy too harshly because I know that 5 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit must mess with you and I’m sure played a large role in how he acted upon his release.

To conclude, I’m still giving this 4 stars because I did really enjoy it and even though I didn’t like how the characters acted, they were still absolutely believable characters and accurate to how I’m sure some people would react in this situation. They didn’t have the maturity and respect I wanted them to have, but that doesn’t mean that weren’t good characters. Mostly I just wonder if the author intentionally wrote Celestial as such malleable character, or if she just didn’t even realize she’d given her character no agency and placed everything on the two male characters. If it was a male author I’d definitely call it a blind spot, but as a female author, I really don’t know if it was intentional or not.

The other reason I feel this still deserves 4 stars is because it is also a fantastic commentary on race, without being fully about race. I haven’t even mentioned that the entire cast of this book is black and that this undoubtedly plays a huge role in why Roy is wrongly convicted. Jones makes an important commentary about racial profiling and the injustices of the justice system, without making it her central theme. It’s ultimately a book about the long lasting impacts that the justice system can have on not only the individual, but their families and communities.

July Monthly Challenge

Where did June go?? I have a feeling that summer is just going to fly by this year! It’s easily my favourite season and I have a lot of hiking and camping activities planned this year, so I’m not sure how much reading I’ll be able to fit in, but I’ve still developed a pretty ambitious summer reading list.

I’ve been doing my best to select diverse books for my monthly challenge (and in general), and to tie in some of my challenges with my book club selections, so for my July Monthly challenge I’m aiming to:

Read 3 book by authors of colour

Like in everything else, diversity and representation are just as important in literature. I love reading not only for the storytelling, but because I genuinely learn so much from reading about different historical time periods and reading from the point of view of those who are different than me. One of the easiest ways to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is to read a book by someone with a different perspective and lived experience.

I’ve always been frustrated that the majority of books published are by american and english authors, even books that are set in other countries and from other perspectives are often still written predominantly by white american and english authors. Even the books I’ve selected for this challenge are partly by american immigrants. The 3 books I’ve picked for this challenge are:

  1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  2. The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
  3. Mystery Book! See poll below!

My first book, An American Marriage, has been sitting on my shelf since the beginning of the year and I’ve heard so many good things about it. An American Marriage is the story of a newlywed couple whose lives are ripped apart when the husband is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Black people are systematically targeted by police and oppressed within the justice system, so I’m really interested to read about this couple and the impact this sentence has on their relationship.

My second book is also my book club selection for July. This novel is being advertised as “The Kite Runner for Syria” and sounds super fascinating because it focuses on two girls who lived 800 years apart. One girl is a modern day Syrian refugee and the second girl is a medieval adventurer and mapmaker, which I am totally intrigued by. 800 years a huge timeline gap, so I’m interested to see how the author approaches this, as well as how she explores the humanitarian crisis that is ongoing in Syria. The author is Syrian-American.

Okay, so now about my last book. I have been having a really hard time picking the last book because there are several books I want to read, but I’m not sure what one I’m most into. I like trying to have a diverse selection for my challenge, and in this case, I’ve decided it might be better to wait until after I read the first two books to see what I’m feeling might be the best final book for the challenge.

I’m not going into this totally blind though and there are several books I’ve been going back and forth between and have been torn on which to pick. The books are Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Swing Time by Zadie Smith, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, and What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. They are all quite different novels, each with different aspects that appeal to me, so I’ve decided to pick one of these later in the month. Please let me know if you’ve read any of them and vote in the poll below. I’d love to hear your opinions and they may help me decide which book I ultimately pick! I would of course love to read them all and they will all stay on my TBR, but I am trying to pick one for this month!

There you have it, feel free to read along with me and share your opinions, I love getting comments and feedback and talking about all things book related!