My 15 favorite books from 2018

I’m still thinking about these 15 books at the end of the year.

The characters I met are now old friends, embodied in old stories that I have come to believe. Their lives happened, and I knew them.

This year I read quite a bit, for grad school, for pleasure, and for book club. I’d like to share my favorites, in case you’re looking for a good read. I’ve divided them up by genre.

Since you’re actually reading this blog, you must be looking for some book recommendations. We are meant to connect because I love making book lists.

And I love checking off the books I’ve read. (I’ll bet you do, too.)

Reading is never a waste of time, even if you don’t love the book, because something changes inside whenever you read a book. And change is growth.

I’ll begin with fiction because it’s the most fun. Nobody can argue about that. These books kept me turning pages, smiling to myself, and laughing out loud. The non-fiction and true-life fiction sent me to tears many times. That should be a plus for you. A good book should make you laugh and cry.

I’ve divided my recommended reading into 4 categories: fiction, mystery/suspense (also fiction), true-life fiction (fictionalized biography), and non-fiction. Here we go–

Fiction:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. My book club read this because we all liked The Nightingale; this story has the same type of suspenseful plot, but I think the characters are deeper and more flawed, so I liked this more. I listened to this book on audio, and the voices were amazing. The story takes place in Alaska–a beautiful, deep story of conflicted characters who must find the courage to stand up for themselves. I painted my guest room listening to this, and I was so angry and worried, I painted really fast. 

My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman. My book club read this because we loved A Man Called Ove. From a precocious granddaughter’s point of view, this was just as good as A Man Called Ove–endearing, hilarious, poignant, and even suspenseful. We all loved it. I immediately bought the sequel (below) and began reading it.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederick Backman. This is a spin-off to My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, picking up the minor character Britt-Marie’s story. I laughed the entire time I read it. Like Backman’s other main characters, Britt-Marie is a crusty, grumpy older person who finds herself when she begins to care about other people. I finished it in a couple days and bought Beartown by Backman. Not a sequel but also fun–I’m reading it now.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. My book club also read this. It’s a murder mystery, starring another precocious girl, set in England. All the things we love. The main character, Flavia (a self-taught chemist), is absolutely hilarious and lovable, and with a murderer on the loose, I also got to worry about her a little. Worth the read.

Mystery/Suspense:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. My book club tries to choose one classic each year to read. This was a fantastic pick. I had read it in high school, and all I could remember was a slice of the climax. I raced through, savoring the exquisite writing and clever pacing of a mystery told backwards. This book was certainly ahead of its time when it was published. The movie should be re-made (there’s only an old black-and-white, which we also watched). The story is that good.

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks. Also a book club read, this book was delicious. Complete with time travel, 2 stories in different centuries, murder, and magic, this has all the makings of a great movie. Annie Aster and her Victorian-era counterpart are completely delightful, spunky, and likable. The mystery that combines their stories gives them a lot more than a common enemy and a shared back yard, (which they had). We all loved this book.

True-life Fiction:

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict. I listened to this book on audio, also while I painted. I was so angry at Albert Einstein, I practically slapped the paint on. This tells the lesser-known story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant mathematician who was lost in her husband’s shadow. I rooted for her success and was appalled by the successes her husband stole from her. It’s a must-read, especially if you’re mathematical.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. I usually read at least one Holocaust book per year. This story chronicles the true-life experiences (based on her diaries) of Antonina Zabinski, a zookeeper-wife at the Warsaw Zoo during World War 2. In addition to funny animal stories, this tale unveils the bravery of the Warsaw Poles as they rescued their Jewish neighbors and engineered an impressive resistance movement. The movie was also wonderful.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. Also set during World War 2, this book weaves together the stories of 3 women–one American, one Polish Jew, and one German Nazi–and their connection to one another through a Nazi camp where medical experiments were performed on Polish-Jewish women. It was hard to read at times, but it was riveting and redemptive.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. My son read this as a freshman or sophomore, so it’s been sitting around the house for a couple years. I picked it up and started reading one day, and it hooked me. Krakauer pieces together the story of a young man lost in the Alaskan wilderness, re-creating the events that led to his mysterious disappearance and death. I couldn’t put it down.

Non-fiction:

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown; I’m a huge Brené Brown fan. I read all her stuff. This book is a culmination of her last several books about shame, vulnerability, and courage. It’s an encouraging read toward standing strong when you feel alone and when you lean into your sense of belonging to your true self and to your communities. As always, I felt empowered when I finished reading. Well, to be honest, I also felt a little unaccomplished and intimidated by her. But that’s okay.

Seeking Refuge by Stephen Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir. I wish I could say I picked this book up for its relevance, but it was required reading for grad school. It captured me. This book is not only informative about the world refugee crisis, but it clears up misconceptions about it. But I also felt inspired. It’s a must-read for all Americans who think they understand the refugee problem.

Executing Grace by Shane Claiborne. Also for grad school, this book surprised me. I grew up with strong opinions about capital punishment–I even thought they were Biblical–but after I read this book, I was stunned by the true stories and factual information in this book. While not a “fun” read, this book challenged my theology, biblical interpretation, and cultural concerns. It changed me.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Everyone should read this book. (It’s about our flawed justice system, but don’t let that scare you.) I listened to this on audible and cried throughout. I had to keep pausing the audio because I was so moved by Stevenson’s storytelling, his passion to champion the underprivileged, and the deep-ceded racism and indifference to the poor in this country. You really must read the stories of justice and injustice as told from the country’s premiere pro-bono attorney for those wrongly-accused and convicted.

Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith. Required reading for a leadership class, I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much. I was constantly highlighting sentences. This book motivates Christians to follow their God-given purpose in their vocation. If you’d like to read a book about purpose and calling, this is a good one.

Happy New Year and happy reading!

“Take some books and read; that’s an immense help; and books are always good company if you have the right sort.”

Louisa May Alcott. Little Women

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