My top ten books of 2018 so far (and four favorite re-reads, too!)Mar 25, 2020
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This has gotten a little bit out of hand.
Last year I decided to set a Goodreads goal for the first time. It seemed like all of my bookish friends were doing it, and that’s the best reason to do something, after all. Some of my friends aspired to finish 10 books in 2017, others planned to hit 100! Wowza! I took a look at the books I wanted to read… then my house… then my children… and decided to strive for 30. Not quite 3 books per month. That seemed doable. And sure enough, despite 2017 being one of the crappiest years on record (for the Epling house, anyway), I managed to exceed my goal by four! Yay me!
So when 2018 came, I thought I would challenge myself with a slightly higher goal: 36 books. Exactly 3 per month this time. I saved it on Goodreads (I mean, is it really official otherwise?), grabbed The People of the Book, and got started.
And then something crazy happened. I read nine books in the month of January. NINE BOOKS, y’all. What in the actual heck? I figured that would slow down. After all, I had started two of them in December… and January is a slower month… so we’ll just think of that as a head start for later in the year when I inevitably fall behind… right?
Except I didn’t.
In fact, I hit my goal for the year on April 30. 36 books in 4 months. 9 books per month.
And by the time we closed out the first half of 2018, I had completed 64 books.
It’s kind of ridiculous, friends.
Now, before you start to wonder whether I’m a speed-reader or just a terrible housekeeper, let me let you in on a little secret: It’s both. Just kidding. Well, sort of. I’m not great at cleaning, but I’m not spending hours on hours laying on the couch with a good book, either. Instead, I have another secret… audiobooks. I have a constant supply of audiobooks on my phone (thanks, Overdrive and my local library!), and I listen to them at increased speed. I noticed a while back that I could tell almost no difference between “normal” speed and 1.2x, so I started there… but that has increased over time, and now I almost always listen at 1.8x or even 2.0x!
In general, I play fiction books on my phone, something with a story I can follow while I fold laundry, clean the kitchen, or drive. If I’m reading something I might want to earmark, underline, or otherwise revisit, I try to read a printed copy, whether on my Kindle or on paper. (I’ll note below whether I listened to or read each book listed.)
Also, we love to read as a family, so I generally have two family reads going: one for all five of us, and one for when Daddy is at work or out while we are reading. Those are reflected in my count, but I did not include the several hundred times I read Pete the Cat, Thomas the Tank Engine, and other such kids’ books to Joey. One of these days I’m going to compile a list of some of our favorite family reads, but today is not that day.
So now we enter the second half of 2018, and thanks to the wonder of Facebook, many of you have given me some great suggestions as I head toward doubling (and then tripling…) my reading goal for the year. In return, I’d love to tell you about some of the books I have loved so far this year. I had a terribly hard time narrowing it down, and have switched out books several times, but this is what I have settled on. For now. I could probably reorder them six times and still not feel like I have it quite right, so don’t assume that I liked the number 5 book any less than the number 1, or number 3 much more than number 9, because it just isn’t that simple, OK?!?
Also, not all of these are new releases, but they were new to me. BUT I also re-read some favorites this year, and I can’t do a list of my top reads without at least mentioning those… so I gave you four of my favorite re-reads, too.
(And if you want to see all of my insane reading adventures, follow me on Goodreads!)
My Top Ten Reads of 2018 (so far)
10. One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
I actually read this book twice this year, once on my own and once with Grace (who was in 7th grade). One of Us is Lying is a YA mystery that was fun to unravel, especially for those of us who loved “The Breakfast Club” back in the day. Five high school students (a brain, a jock, a beauty, a burnout, and an outcast) are assigned detention, and they seem to have been set up… especially frightening when one of them dies in the classroom. It quickly becomes clear that someone in the room is the murderer, but who? (Audiobook)
9. Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen
This book was on the bubble, not because it isn’t great, but because I have read so many good books this year, and this was definitely one of the “lighter” ones on the list. But that’s exactly why I felt the need to include it! Nine Women, One Dress is light and fun, but still creative and interesting. In many ways, it felt more like a series of short stories, as we follow one dress—the “it” dress of the season—from owner to owner. It is the very definition of chick lit but is still well-written and enjoyable. There was one particular plotline that I found to be a little obvious and eye-roll-inducing (I’m not going to give any spoilers here, but if you read it, let me know! I’d love to see if you think the same thing!), but overall the book was so good that I can overlook that one little flaw. (Audiobook)
8. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
This lovely novel traces the (hypothetical) history of a very real manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest surviving illuminated Jewish texts. Hannah Heath, a book restoration expert, is called in to restore this manuscript for display. As she catalogs interesting findings—a butterfly wing, salt crystals, etc—we jump back in time to see how those items came to be part of the book. It is a beautifully-written twist on the familiar plot device of jumping timelines. This book reminded me how much depth and history can be found in studying old books, not just for their original written content, but for the story they tell in their margins, their worn bindings, and even the “dings” they get along the way. (It kind of makes you hate ereaders…) (Audiobook)
7. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I enjoy a good memoir, but I am not as into them as some of my friends. Still, two of my top ten books are memoirs this year (well, this HALF of the year), and for good reason. This book is moving. It is inspiring. It is sobering. Paul Kalanithi is a thirty-six-year-old neurosurgeon when he is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. A man who has always been obsessed with the meaning of life, his own sickness puts that search into a whole new light. I laughed and cried and nodded my way through this one. Remember when I said I prefer a printed copy when I might want to underline or earmark? I enjoyed the audiobook version of this (not read by the author for obvious reasons), but I do wish I had a hard copy that I could mark up. (Audiobook)
6. Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman
OK, let me just say this: If Fredrik Backman writes something, you need to read it. Every time I pick up a book by him, it is with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. What if this one disappoints? What if he doesn’t live up to the hype I’ve created in my own mind? And every time, I am completely thrilled with every word he pens. Britt-Marie was no exception. Now that being said, I do present this book to you with two caveats: 1-Of his books, this was probably my least favorite. Again, it is still FANTASTIC, but if someone asked for the ONE Fredrick Backman book they need to read, this wouldn’t be it. 2-This book is, if not exactly a sequel, a follow-up to My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and I highly recommend you read that before picking up this one. Britt-Marie was a prominent, though not the main, character in My Grandmother, and this book shows her picking up the pieces of her life in the aftermath—and that’s as much of a spoiler as I’m going to give you. Backman has a masterful way of looking inside people and showing you how complex we all really are, even those who we think we can easily figure out or put in a box. I love love love his writing… in case you can’t tell. (In fact, his newest book will likely be my number one for the entire year, but I didn’t finish that until July, so you’ll have to wait for my review on that one…) Also, while I typically use audio for fiction, I always read printed copies of Backman’s books. They are so full of wisdom and beautiful writing that I just have to see them, underline them, memorize them.
5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I’m always a little hesitant to speak to modern race relations. As a small-town white woman in her 30s, I rarely feel like I have anything insightful or helpful to add to the conversation. That being said, I have read a few novels on racial issues this year, and this was definitely my favorite. The Hate U Give broke my heart, but I felt that Thomas did a great job of putting the reader in the shoes of the main characters and examining the complexity of the issues faced by black teens and families in America today. The story follows Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old who witnesses the death of her unarmed friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Starr lives in a poor neighborhood but attends school in a wealthier suburban neighborhood, and has to face her friend’s death torn between these two worlds. The Hate U Give is compelling and thought-provoking without being so heavy that you dread picking it up, if you know what I mean. (Audiobook)
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Full disclosure: Part of me was enamored with this book because of the setting… northeast Ohio in the ‘90s. I knew the places she named, I listened to the same music her characters liked, I could so relate! But honestly, that was like the icing on the cake. The real treat was this amazing novel. The characters. The plot. The writing. The everything. Little Fires Everywhere was my second book by Ng, and I almost didn’t read it because I didn’t love Everything I Never Told You as much as everyone else seemed to. But I am so glad I gave it a chance, because it was just fantastic. It all starts when Mia and Pearl Warren (a mother and daughter) rent an apartment from the Richardson family in Shaker Heights. As friendships develop, secrets come out, and… well, I refuse to give anything more away. I will just say this: I generally shy away from character-driven (as opposed to plot-driven) books, which is probably why I didn’t love Everything I Never Told You. This book, though, is a beautiful blend of the two. Ng develops deep, flawed, lovable, relatable characters in the midst of a compelling story. You really need to read this one. (Audiobook)
3. Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour
Untangled stands out a bit on this list. It’s not a novel or memoir, so how it could make my top ten? Because it is probably the best parenting book I have ever read. Truly. Entering the teen years with Grace has been tough. I find myself doubting every decision I make, every word I say. I constantly wonder, “Is this normal? But what about that—is that normal? What should I do about this?” Enter Lisa Damour, Ph.D. Dr. Damour is the director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, maintains a private psychotherapy practice, and is the mother to two girls. If she isn’t an expert on teen girls, I don’t know who is. (By the way, a fun tidbit: this is another book with a local connection! Laurel School is right here in northeast Ohio! I very much want to go take this woman to lunch. Would that be weird? Probably. Or maybe we would be BFFs. There’s only one way to find out, right???) Untangled walks parents through seven developmental phases of teen years, tells them what to expect, provides practical insights on how to handle it, reassures them that much of the crazy-seeming behavior is normal, and helps them to look for signs that they do need to be concerned. Honestly, this book was so very reassuring and helpful. I think I have at least half of it highlighted. I may read it annually until Grace is out of high school. If you have a daughter, get this book.
2. I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
Two of the authors who appear on this list absolutely make me swoon. First, Fredrik Backman, and now Marisa de los Santos. I adore every book she writes, and I swear her characters are as real to me as the people in my own neighborhood. I am in awe of writers who can create characters like that. That being said, if you haven’t read anything by de los Santos yet, don’t start here—I’ll Be Your Blue Sky is the third book in a series, and you definitely don’t want to miss a single page. (The first book in the series is in my “favorite re-reads” section, so more on that in a minute.) When I picked this book up, I expected it to be just a fun, light continuation, a follow-up into the lives of dear friends. But it is so much more. The story follows Clare Hobbes (who was a teen when we last saw her in Belong to Me: A Novel) as she leaves her fiancé at the alter and explores life on her own. And much like Little Fires Everywhere, I don’t really want to tell you any more than that. I want you to read it for yourself. And then call me up and we’ll grab coffee (well, you can grab coffee and I’ll have chai) and we can talk all about Clare and Cornelia and… well, I’m going to stop there before I start giving things away. Just go read it already, would you???
1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This book. You guys, it was a total spoof that I even picked this up. I really don’t read that many memoirs. And I didn’t even know who Trevor Noah was. But a friend recommended it on Facebook, and I trust her taste in books, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Oh my gosh, it is incredible.
I read Born a Crime in March, and I haven’t stopped talking about it since. Noah’s story of growing up as Apartheid fell is just amazing. It reads like a novel, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think. His perspective is so interesting and his comedy smart. His life truly started as a criminal act—born to a white Swiss man and black Xhosa woman who were legally forbidden from being in a relationship due to their races. The ensuing tale of poverty, love, and mischief is worth every minute of sleep you will give up to finish it. (Also, if you live under a rock like me and hadn’t heard of Trevor Noah, after you read this book you should definitely check out his special on Netflix.)
So there you have it, my top ten new-to-me books from the first half of 2018. But here’s the thing… those aren’t the only great books I’ve read this year. Have you ever found a book that you love so much that once just isn’t enough? That you have to revisit it every so often, like a dear old friend? Well, I have a few of those, and I re-read some of those this year, too. If ranking my original top ten was hard, trying to put these in any kind of “likability” order was pretty much impossible. So I just listed them alphabetically. You’re welcome.
My four favorite re-reads of the year so far
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
I almost can’t bring myself to give you a description of this book, because I cannot possibly do it justice. I have read many of Moriarty’s books, but this one and What Alice Forgot are by far my favorites. Big Little Lies tells the stories of Jane (a young single mom who is new to town), Celeste (the beautiful mom who seems to have it all), and Madeline (the mom to a blended family who is funny and fierce and seems to hold everyone together) as their friendships form and deepen. Again, as with several of the books I have mentioned, I just absolutely cannot tell you more than that. Because I could not bear it if I gave something away—you really need to let the story unfold as Moriarty has written it. Because it is just that good.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
I have read this entire series at least five times—which is impressive considering I didn’t read them at all until Grace was in kindergarten. When she started asking about them, I thought I should probably check them out for myself. What on earth took me so long? How did I survive 30 years on this planet without Harry, Hermione, and Ron? These books aren’t for kids—they are for human beings. If you’re wondering if these books are for you, that’s the only question you need to ask yourself: Am I human? Yes? Then I need to read this series. (No, I haven’t re-read the entire series this year, but I have read the first three… and I’ll probably finish the rest before the year is out.) One final note: If you have ever considered listening to an audiobook, this is where you should start. Jim Dale is absolutely phenomenal in his reading of these stories.
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
From the very first page, I was absolutely enamored with this book. (Yep, this is the first book in the series that includes I’ll Be Your Blue Sky.) The tale of Cornelia, Martin, and Clare is charming and heartwarming and fun and utterly un-put-down-able. The friendship and love and loss and beauty and… oh, you just have to read it. I love when authors create stories that are simultaneously light and deep, and de los Santos has done this amazingly with Love Walked In.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I first read the story of Scout and Jem Finch when I was in eleventh grade language arts. As much as I loved to read even then, the teenager in me didn’t especially enjoy being told what to read, so I wanted to hate this book. But I just couldn’t. I loved it. It stayed with me. I didn’t read it again, however, until about five years ago when my book club selected it. I remembered enjoying it, but I had forgotten just how beautiful the writing was and what a charming yet sad story Lee had told. If you have somehow made it this far in life without having read about Scout, Jem, Dill, and Boo Radley, please rectify that now. You won’t regret it. (Also, this year I read To Kill a Mockingbird aloud to my whole family—well, to everyone except Joey, who can’t be bothered to sit still for stories without pictures. They all loved it. I highly recommend it for kids in middle school and up.)
Well, I think that pretty much sums it up. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do. I’ve only finished five books so far this month—I wouldn’t want to get behind… 😉
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