Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

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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.

The Astonishing Color of After

Rating: .5
Author: Emily XR Pan
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (read May 2018)

I’m not a big lover of magical realism, so when I first read the synopsis for this book, I was not at all into it (despite the absolutely gorgeous cover). But I literally haven’t heard a bad review of this book so I decided to give it a try.

I’m not going to lie, it did take me a while to get into this book. It was definitely a slower read for me and I did even take a break in the first third of the book and read a complete other book before returning to this. There was no part of this book that I didn’t enjoy, it’s just one of those slower paced books that took me a little longer to get through, but not from lack of enjoyment.

The Astonishing Color of After is about American-Taiwanese teenager Leigh and her mother who has just committed suicide. Leigh is devastated by the death of her mother, but when she is repeatedly visited by a red bird she believes to be her mother, she is set on a path to discover the secrets of her family and Taiwanese roots. Leigh has never met her Taiwanese grandparents and the bird sets her on a trip to Taiwan to try and remember those things which her mother never shared with her.

While Leigh gets to know her grandparents and searches for her mother in Taiwan, we get flashbacks of the last 2 years. We learn about the decline of her mother’s mental health, the disappearance of her father within her everyday life, her great love and aptitude for art, and her lifelong friendship with Axel that has started to develop into something more.

First off, the writing in this book is fantastic. I loved Emily Pan’s style of writing and her descriptions of emotions turned to colour are gorgeous! As children, Leigh and Axel constantly describe their feelings and emotions to one another at any particular moment through different colours, such as the emerald green of jealousy, the burnt orange of desire, or the colourless absence of grief. Pan consistently uses colour throughout the novel to convey emotion and it made for the most breath-taking writing and journey.

This reminded me a little bit of Hour of the Bees, which is a middle grade book I read a few years ago and really liked (and one of the few magical realism books I’ve read). I actually didn’t have any problem with the whole ‘reincarnated as a bird’ idea (it played out a lot differently than I was expecting) and I really liked how the author used magical realism to transport us through memories. I also loved that this was mostly set in Taiwan and how the author integrated in several Taiwanese cultural elements to the story, such as Ghost Month.

This is primarily a story about mental health and grief. The author states in the afterward that she didn’t want to set out any one reason why Leigh’s mother may have killed herself and I really appreciated that. She wanted this to be more of a story that shows that depression can affect anyone and have no rhyme or reason. There’s generally not a specific cause to which you can attribute depression or a specific way in which people react or heal. Depression was something Leigh’s mom struggled with for many years and I thought Pan took us on a beautiful emotional journey, showing us both positive and negative memories that Leigh has of both of her parents.

I was in love with the flashbacks though. I loved Leigh and Axel’s relationship and their gradual transition from friends to something more. I thought it captured so well what it’s like being 15 and starting to develop feelings for someone – the embarrassment of being a teenager with changing hormones, the want for something more, the confusion of figuring out each other’s feelings, the fear of rejection – so accurate. I also really liked how she tied art and music into the story and the theme that liberal arts are still viable careers and that you shouldn’t be afraid to pursue things that bring you great joy.

Overall I think this book is super well written and strikes the perfect balance of sadness and sweetness. Like I said, it wasn’t the fastest read for me, but definitely worth it! 4.5 stars!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Narrated by: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Oct. 2017 (read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I listened to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter on audiobook and it is definitely the fastest I’ve ever listened to an audiobook! I LOVED IT!

I’ve written a few times about how I don’t love fiction audiobooks because I think they can be very unforgiving of an author’s writing and for some reason hearing fiction read out loud always seems to make the writing sound cheesy or lame. I think non-fiction translates better to audiobooks overall, but this is hand-downs my favourite fiction audiobook that I’ve listened to and I think the narrator, Kyla Garcia is TOPS!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was a National Book Award finalist in the young readers category and tells the story of Julia, a teenage daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. Julia’s older sister Olga has just died tragically in a road accident and her whole family is reeling from the loss. Julia’s mother always viewed Olga as the perfect daughter and Julia’s sharp contrast from Olga creates a lot of tension with her mother, who doesn’t understand why Julia is so difficult.

Julia is 15/16 years old (can’t remember) and she is extremely brash and confrontational. She’s constantly picking fights with those around her, she lies to her parents, she can be vulgar, and she is of course, grieving. In the wake of Olga’s death, Julia starts to discover some of her sister’s secrets and finds that her sister may not have been as perfect as she led everyone to believe. She struggles to justify this new Olga with the sister she knew and in her grief, she acts out against her friends and family.

A lot of the reviews for this book are pretty critical of Julia and I can understand why a lot of readers didn’t like her. She’s not a particularly likable character, but like Scarlett O’Hara, her flaws were what I loved about her, and I definitely loved this character. I have to give some of the credit to the narrator because I thought she captured Julia’s voice and the tone of this novel perfectly. Her Mexican accent was fantastic and she absolutely read this like an angst-y, grief-ridden teenager.

Julia had a lot of spunk and while I couldn’t believe some of the things she was gutsy enough to say to people, I thought she was incredibly relatable as a teenage daughter of immigrants. She’s grown up in completely different circumstances than her parents and they struggle to relate to each other. She’s lived her whole life in the shadow of her perfect older sister and even though Julia is really smart and accomplished herself, she’s always been overshadowed by her sister in her parents eyes. She is critical of Olga’s desk job and can’t imagine settling for a job like that when she wants to be a writer, but her parents are critical of her dreams because they don’t believe a writer is a real job and as people who have done labour their entire lives, they can’t imagine anything better than Olga’s desk job.

Following the death of her sister, her mother suddenly wants to try and give Julia everything she was never able to give Olga. She fears for Julia’s safety and is extremely protective of her, forbidding her to go to parties or spend time with boys. But Julia just wants to live her life and the wedge between her and her mother only grows bigger. Julia becomes depressed and overwhelmed by the constant pressure to be more like Olga and how critical her mother is of everything she does and wants.

While I thought Julia sometimes took things too far, I was incredibly sympathetic for her. She is grieving and her world is crumbling and she has little support to navigate the scary new world around her. I thought this book was so well written and that Sanchez captured what its like to be a teenager so well.

The only reason I rated this 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars is because I didn’t love the last third of the book as much. Julia eventually goes off to Mexico for a period of time and I didn’t think this added a whole lot to the story overall. She does learn more about her family there and starts to better understand her mother, but I felt these epiphanies still could have happened in America and that removing her from America made us have to press pause on the rest of the drama in the story, which made it feel a little bit disjointed. There’s a lot of plot points that surface in the last few chapters of the story and they felt a little out of place because her trip to Mexico disrupted the flow of the story.

But overall, I absolutely loved this and I would highly recommend the audiobook. I’m not convinced I would have liked this quite as much if I’d read it because I thought the narrator did such a good job as Julia!

History is All You Left Me

 

Rating: ⭐
Author: Adam Silvera
Genres: Young Adult
Read: Aug. 2017 on audiobook

 

History is All You Left Me has been getting a ton of great reviews, but I had a hard time getting into it.

This was my second audiobook, and while I definitely enjoyed it more than my first audiobook, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, I still didn’t love it. However, my dislike for Beneath a Scarlet Sky had to do with the writing, while I fear my dislike of History is All You Left Me may have been because of the narrator. I really didn’t like the narrator for this audiobook. He was whiny and annoying to listen to and I felt like he didn’t get the tone of the book right. I almost want to read a hard copy to see how I interpret the tone, but I know I’ll never be able to sit through it again.

It’s definitely a sad book. Griffin is dealing with the loss of his best friend and first boyfriend Theo. He broke up with Theo prior to his death, but anticipated they would one day get back together and was still in love with him. In his grief, he turns to Theo’s new boyfriend Jackson for comfort, but forsakes his other friends who are also grieving for Theo.

I think this was a good book about love, loss, grief, and moving on. But it also had a side story about Griffin’s struggle with OCD that I couldn’t really get into. I’ve never had OCD, so I have no idea how well it was portrayed, but I felt Griffin’s struggle with OCD could have been a story on it’s own and I’m not sure it worked for me in this book. But maybe it’s inclusion meant a lot to readers with OCD, so I don’t want to dismiss it.

In the end I’m giving it 3 stars because I do think it was a decent book, but the narrator kind of ruined it for me, so I would definitely recommend reading over listening for this one.

Note: I moved this review over from my goodreads account. I have read several more audiobooks since I read this book and I’m finding that I don’t really like listening to fiction, so that may be a factor in my dislike of this book. I’ve switched to mostly listening to non-fiction and have found it a lot more enjoyable.