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Best Books I Read in 2018

According to Goodreads, I’ve read one hundred fifty books this year.

Having read so many books, which were the best ones? The ones that stuck with me, that I want to grab you and tell you to read this book now. Here are ten, in no particular order.

Buy Hamilton’s Battalion here

This is an anthology of three novellas perfect for the Hamilton fan in your family. All the stories touch upon Alexander Hamilton, but they are not about him. Rather he serves to act as the connecting thread through three very different stories.

My favorite is Promised Land by Courtney Milan. It’s the story of Rachel, a woman serving in the continental army as a man and Nathan, who she tackles, thinking him a British spy. Reasonable, given his sympathies when they last spoke. Awkward, given that her husband thought she’d died of yellow fever. Rachel and Nathan are both great characters, and they have issues to work through (even putting aside the failed her own death thing) that make the story compelling.

Buy A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole here

A Princess in Theory is the first book in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. I couldn’t put this book down. Ledi and Thabiso’s story is part modern fairy-tale (a prince in disguise) part secret identity exposed (prince? Or fuckboy?) and a hell of a lot of fun. I love that the heroine is a scientist and completely dismissive of Prince Thabiso, who has never been treated that way before. When an unknown disease hits Thesolo, Thabiso convinces Ledi to go there with him and help find a cure. Oh, and they’ll need to pretend their childhood engagement is back on. (I love the fake relationship trope)

Book 2 in the series was great, and I’ve pre-ordered book 3 (April 2019) and the novella that will act as book 2.5 (Jan 2019).

Buy Rosemary and Rue here

So I’m actually going to use this space to encourage you to read the entire October Daye series–I devoured the first twelve books in only a few weeks. I will say that books 1 and 2 are good but a little shaky, but once they take off in book 3 they only get better and better. October Daye is a half-human half-fae in this urban fantasy series.

It opens with her on a case as a private detective–but instead of recovering the missing people, she is turned into a fish for fourteen years. That loss of time informs the rest of the series because her partner moved on, and her daughter wants nothing to do with her. She turns her back on the world of Fae until she’s dragged back into that life by a binding spell. The secondary characters are compelling, Toby is a flawed but awesome heroine who anchors the series. I love Seanan McGuire’s books almost without exception and I’m already dying for book thirteen.

Buy Puddin here

If you’ve read or seen Dumplin’ (and you SHOULD), you’ll want to read the sequel, Puddin’. If you haven’t, Puddin’ works as a solo book, but Dumplin’ is so good, I encourage you to read both. Puddin’ is the story of Millie Michalchuck, who has gone to fat camp every year, but is determined to go to a journalism camp this year instead. Callie Reyes is in line to be the next dance captain until she leads an act of vandalism, and Millie identifies her. Callie has to work with Millie at her uncle’s gym as her punishment. An unlikely friendship forms…until Callie finds out that Millie is the one who turned her in. Millie has to battle her mother and the world’s expectations of fat girls to follow her dreams. Julie Murphy is great.

Buy Me Talk Pretty One Day here

This is actually a recommendation for the audiobook rather than the physical book. While reading the essays can give you a giggle, it’s hearing David Sedaris’s voice with all of its inflections as he reads his work that will make you die of laughter. I recommend all of his books, and just finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on audiobook about a month ago.

Buy Heretics Anonymous here

When an atheist is enrolled at a Catholic school, how will he ever make friends or fit in? How will he survive any day without his eyes rolling out of his head? This is a great YA novel about faith, falling in love, and growing up. Definitely worth a re-read.

Buy Big Fat Bitch here

I gave a rave review to Big Fat Bitch here, but my fast review is that this slow burn romance is a great take on Beauty and the Beast. I love that the “beast” in this book is the woman. But it’s so much more than a romance. If you like deeply complex narratives, love stories, and books making you cry, pick this one up.

Buy Media Darling here

I reviewed Media Darling here, but my fast pitch is that this f/f romance between a movie star and a media writer is possibly my favorite romance of the past year, period. Both Emerson and Haley are well written, three-dimensional characters. They make mistakes, make love, and while it’s hard fought, they get their happy ending.

Buy The Autumn Bride here

I got this book from The Ripped Bodice (indie romance bookstore–buy from them!) as a “blind date with a book.” I haven’t read much Regency era romance, but it was my blind date, so I decided to give it a chance. Abigail and her three closest friends are practically starving. So Abby does something she’d never imagined–she goes over some rooftops and breaks into a house, desperate to find something to buy–or eat. Instead she finds Lady Beatrice, an old woman being abused by her servants. Abigail and her friends save Lady Beatrice from her servants and are promptly adopted as her “nieces”–the Chance sisters.

When her real nephew, Max, returns from abroad, he’s certain that the girls are gold diggers at best. Sparks fly between him and Abigail, and the rest is history. Each of the four books (Autumn Bride, Winter Bride, Spring Bride, and Summer books) works as a stand alone, but they’re better read back to back as a series.

Buy Nate Expectations here

Nate Expectations is actually the third book in Tim Federles’ series about Nate, a small town boy who becomes a Broadway Actor. In this book, Nate’s show closes down and he has to go back to small town life. When he’s assigned a project on the book Great Expectations, he decides to put on a musical. The book centers around this. There’s great secondary characters and Nate continues on his journey to figuring out who he really is.

You don’t need to read the first two books in the series, but if this book appeals to you, read them first.

 

What was/were your favorite book/s of 2018

 

 

 

ARC review–A Season to Dance

Buy A Season to Dance here

4/5*

Publication date–Dec 2018

 

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

After Olivia’s mom dies, Olivia must return to her hometown. The prima ballerina is recovering from a torn Achilles heel, and might never dance again, which is ironic because her mother leaves Olivia her dance studio. Olivia decides to stay on through the annual recital, and then plans to sell the studio after.

Zach returned home to keep an eye on his father. After years on the Atlanta PD, he’s become the chief of police in his hometown. When Olivia returns to deal with her mother’s estate, it’s like a knife to his heart.

Olivia and Zach were in love in high school, but Olivia left to pursue her dream of becoming a professional ballerina, which broke Zach’s heart. He’s still in love with her. And she has never gotten over him.

Watching the two of them long for each other, but pulling apart so that they can guard their hearts is a great read. You root for them from the beginning, and when they finally come together, it’s very satisfying.

There is a subplot about vandalism, and Olivia is targeted. Unfortunately, for the reader it’s beyond obvious who is behind the attacks on Olivia’s dance school.

The sex is well done.

I recommend this book if you like the tropes of rekindling love with an ex or hometown romance.

ARC review–Cocksure by Shiloh Walker

There’s only eight days left in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and although I’ve already “won”–written 50k words–I want to finish strong. I completed the long novella/short novel I’d started prior to NaNo, and I’m almost done with a story I was a few k words to it. Neither technically follows the rules of NaNo as I didn’t start fresh with a new work. But nonetheless, I’ve still accomplished so much, and that was the point of doing NaNo for me–How much can I get done when I limit my other distractions?

But soon I’ll be back to a more regular posting schedule.

Buy Cocksure Here

4/5*

Published November 2018

 

I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cocksure is a romance between a movie star and his personal assistant that features a fake relationship that turns real.

Luke is a movie star with a secret he’s ashamed of in his past. When he’s caught in a threesome, the media goes wild. But he doesn’t have time to deal with the media frenzy because his mom gets sick. He asks his personal assistant, Sabrina, to come home with him and help ensure he can be with his mom. After his mom is in the hospital, Luke blurts out that he’s engaged to Sabrina. Perhaps because lately he can’t stop thinking about her.

Sabrina has been Luke’s P.A. for five years, and been in love with him for most of it. She’s not amused when Luke tells her what he’s done and begs her to play along. Things get confusing when Luke kisses her, and then more. Soon it’s hard to tell where truth ends and fiction begins.

Told in alternation first person points of view, this is a well crafted story. You get to see into both characters’ heads, and understand their motivations. Readers will figure out Luke’s secret, but only through small drips and drabs, before he tells Sabrina, but I think that’s part of what works. Walker gives us just enough to understand where the characters are coming from.

Both characters are flawed, although Luke much more so. Sabrina can–at times–be a bit of a Mary Sue, but is still interesting enough to carry her half of the story.

Sabrina is a plus sized woman (at one point she says she fluctuates between a 14 and a 16) and at times she has trouble believing that Luke would want her, but she does not magically lose weight. He appreciates and adores her curves. I like that the book does feature a heroine who looks more like the average woman (who is a size 14), and that she doesn’t have that magical slimming that too often has happened in the past.

This is the first of a series, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next book. The series is called the Cochrans of Cocker County, and since Luke has a number of siblings, the series has quite a bit of potential.

ARC Review: Unforgettable by Elle Spencer

Buy Unforgettable here

4/5*

Published 11.13.18

 

Unforgettable is actually two novellas bundled together. I’ll be reviewing each separately below.

 

In Forget Her Not, Samantha King queen of the one night stand with men, has woken up next to Mia Rossi—and she can’t remember a thing about their night, only that it changed something within her. But the obstacle to their relationship isn’t that Sam can’t quite remember what happened, or even that they live far away from each other–the biggest two are that Sam thinks she’s a huge fuck-up and that Mia is her ex-boyfriend’s little sister.

That the love interest is the little sister of the man she dated for quite a long time, even to the point of him proposing to her, is a new twist on the dating someone who is known very well by the protagonist. That part is done well, including a showdown between Samantha and her ex.

However, the thing that slows down the book is that Samantha has only one method of coping–self sabotage. There’s a point, though, after which I thought Mia was crazy to keep running after her. But I was rooting on each of the women individually–for Sam to see that she deserves love, and for Mia to kick ass, but it was hard to root for them as a couple. But I suppose that’s the point–love isn’t always logical

***

In Forget Her Never Abby hooks up with the incomparable Kendall and they have an amazing night together. Only for Abby to find out that Kendall is married. Worse, she’s Kendall Squires, half of the lesbian power couple that’s changing New York’s skyline, and Abby is an architect. When Kendall’s wife finds out, she threatens Abby’s job.

Abby tries so hard to do the right thing, but is miserable. Kendall, on the other hand, is tired of living in a loveless marriage, and can’t get Abby out of her mind. When Abby and Kendall try to be just friends, their chemistry makes it impossible.

Of the two novellas, I think I bought into this one better. Kendall and Abby have the kind of raw chemistry that drags you in. I was rooting much more for them as a couple, even when the way forward seemed impossible.

***

Spencer does a good job of providing two very distinct stories, both in the “a night so amazing you’ll never forget it” trope. All four women involved have distinct voices and motivations. Each love has its unique barriers.

But for me, the biggest test is whether the book holds my interest. While there were moments when the stories dragged, it was never so much that I started to consider looking at another book instead.

 

ARC review: Media Darling by Fiona Riley

Media Darling by Fiona Riley can be purchased here

4.5/5*

published 11/13/18

 

I received an arc of Media Darling from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Media Darling is a f/f queer romance between a star and a celebrity reporter.

Haley is a would-be screenwriter who works at the Sun to make her bills. When she is asked to fill in at a media event for another reporter, she’s determined to get something done. When she can’t get Emerson’s attention on a red carpet, she lets out a piercing whistle, which unfortunately silences everyone around her, which gives a paparazzi the opportunity to yell an embarrassing question about Emerson and Rachel.

Emerson is a star under siege when her ex-girlfriend Rachel (who was kicked off the movie they were working on together) accuses Emerson of smearing her reputation and that it was all Emerson’s fault. After the red carpet incident with the paparazzi, Emerson tells her assistant that she never wants Hayley near her again.

Later that night, when Hayley gets between the same cruel intentioned paparazzi and Emerson, Emerson decides to investigate Haley. What she learns makes her decide that Hayley is the right person to tell her side of the story, including the explosive secret Emerson is terrified that Rachel will weaponize. As they spend more time together, sparks fly. But when their relationship is outed (pun intended), they need to decide if what they have is real, or just Hollywood magic.

Riley is a strong writer. Each of the women have a distinct voice. This is especially important in f/f or m/m or multi-partner couples because pronouns, which serve as shorthand in m/f romance can often make things blurrier. Despite seemingly oppositional occupations (in fact, their first encounter leads to a horrible paparazzi encounter for Emerson) Riley lays the groundwork for why these characters could work. The sex scenes sizzle.

The only thing that took it from a 5* to a 4.5* is that the real villain is so obvious that it’s surprising that it takes any effort to figure it out. But even with that, I didn’t mind the ride to see how the characters figured it out, and how they’d react. The writing is strong enough, though, that I think that it could’ve been masked a little better.

Check out Media Darling when it drops next week, or pre-order today!

 

Review–Decoy Date by Mira Lyn Kelly

Pre-order here for $6.74 on Kindle

4/5*

Published December 2018

I got this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Gwen has been in love with Ted since she was a little girl. He was her first kiss, her first sexual experience, and more. But it’s always been hot and cold. She’s never been his girlfriend. She watches him hit on women and take them home. But she just can’t get over him.

Brody had no idea what Gwen sees in Ted, who’s just jerking her around in his opinion. But he has a thing for Gwen, and if she really wants Ted, he’ll help her do it. The key, he tells her, is to make Ted jealous. And how better to do that than to pretend to date him?

This is a slow burn romance between Gwen and Brody, and the book does contain sex scenes. What starts off as a fake relationship begins to slowly turn real. Both Gwen and Brody try to write off their feelings, but they’re real. They’ve just settled into a relationship when Ted declares his love for Gwen.

I thought this was a great romance. It kept my interest, and I was rooting for Gwen and Brody. When their plan worked a little too well, I got really engrossed, needing to know how it ends. The sex scenes are well done–very steamy.

The characters are well done, with unique voices. I like that Gwen is curvy, and not some stick thin supermodel type. My favorite romances are the ones where women are done more realistically–which means different skin colors, orientations, sizes, etc. Brody is hot, and has a really sweet heart.

My issue with the book is that at times motivations are murky. I would have given it 5* but at times it felt like Brody was manipulating Gwen.

This is book four in The Wedding Date series, but works as a stand alone. I haven’t read the other books in the series, and while it was clear that there were previous romances in the series it wasn’t hard to step in and start with this book. I don’t feel the need to run out and buy the other books in the series, but I’ll probably add them to my Goodreads want to read queue.

 

Book VS Movie–The Hate U Give SPOILERS

This post has spoilers for both the book and movie. You have been warned.

Book 5/5*

Adaptation 3.5/5*

Movie without the context of the book 4/5*

When I heard that the movie for The Hate U Give was coming out, I decided it was time to read the book with my 5th grader. Originally I had thought 6th grade would be appropriate, but I took the movie coming out as a sign.

We did a car read along–I bought the audio book on Audible and a physical copy for Elanor. As a side note, the audio book is amazing. The narrator has a great sense of when and how to use emotion, and she made my eyes well more than once because of that. She differentiates the characters well.

Elanor struggled a lot with the scarier parts of the book–Khalil’s shooting, the riots, the fire at the store. But we had a lot of talks about police brutality and the complicated relationship between cops and communities of color. My husband is a person of color, and my daughters are as well, so these are discussions we have to have.

I took her to the movie yesterday. Here’s our discussion about the movie versus book. Below the video, I’ll give my review.

I feel like the book is very nearly perfect. I can’t think of anything I would change–it’s a 10/5* book. But because of the subject material, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy adaptation, especially as so much of what makes the book work is Starr’s inner voice.

The movie uses voiceover as a tool to give exposition and to allow us into Starr’s head. I think this works pretty well. If anything, they could have used it a bit more.

Obviously when adapting a 400+ page book, things are getting dropped.

The biggest change in the book versus the movie is that the character of Devante has been cut. This also cuts down the role of Carlos and his relationship with Starr (he’s basically a second dad). Much of Devante’s actions are done by Seven–King beats the shit out of Seven instead of Devante in the final act of the book.

Chris, who is the “good” white person in the book. The one who wants to learn, and who stays through the riots, almost getting killed with Starr, Seven, and Devante is gone. Instead we have one who says things that are kind of ignorant (“I don’t see color”) and he takes Kenya and Lyric away in the movie and never comes back. I had hoped to see Chris learn and grow, but I don’t think he did, really.

Maya isn’t Asian and there’s no minority alliance. While the whole “eating dog” thing is a minor plot point that I can see dropping, there was no need to cast a white/white passing actress in Maya’s role.

But let’s talk about Starr. If Amandla Stenberg doesn’t win awards, I’m going to flip tables. She embodies Starr perfectly. Her Starr is exactly like the one I pictured in my head. Her emotions come across so strongly that she made me cry at several points. She doesn’t pull any punches, and leaves it all on the table.

Overall, I think it’s great movie. It’s a 3.5/5* as an adaptation, and a 4/5* just as a movie without the context of the book. Be prepared to sob your heart out at several points, especially if you cry easily like me.

My only big complaint about the movie is the end. Starr should’ve done the last lines of the book verbatim. It would have been a far stronger ending.

ARC review–The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker

4/5*

Publication date–October 11, 2018

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I am cross posting this review to my author blog as it’s a romance title.

Do you like sweet romance? Sexy lawmen? A Cajun accent? I have a book you’ll love.

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols is a lovely sweet romance. Sasha is tired of being that poor widow after her husband was killed in the line of duty, so she moves to Rose Creek, Texas. Remy is the town’s sheriff, and a single father. Evie is his daughter and Sasha’s student–who knows what she wants. Evie orchestrates a meeting between Sasha and Remy, without knowing that Remy was the stranger Sasha had been dared into kissing on a girl’s trip to New Orleans. When Remy sees the mysterious woman who disappeared after a blazing kiss in his daughter’s classroom, he’s thrown. Sasha is torn between shock and embarassment–things like torrid kisses were supposed to stay on vacation where they belong. Sasha and Remy can’t really stay away from each other. Sasha determinedly holds the line of “I’m your daughter’s teacher, I can’t date a parent,” although it’s a losing battle. But step by step, the sexy sheriff breaks down her walls. Which leaves the question of whether Sasha can bear to give her heart to another lawman, and if Remy wants more than just a mother for his daughter.

The sexual chemistry between Sasha and Remy is electric. There is a steady build, and in any other book they would’ve fallen into bed within the first quarter of the book given that chemistry. I kept rooting for sex, and (spoiler) there is one sex scene, but it’s all off page, which is a bit of a disappointment. The way the sex scene is handled is a bit disappointing because it’s quite rushed, and not just because they’re lusting for each other and the sex happens off stage. There could’ve been a longer scene there to rebuild the tension that had deflated in the time since their last encounter.

We get to see the events through both Sasha and Remy’s points of view. Unfortunately there were time when I got a bit confused who’s point of view we were in.

The judicious use of Evie, Remy’s daughter/Sasha’s student is well done. Too often kids speak in inauthentic ways, but I think Evie is just about right (I have a daughter who is older than Evie and one who’s a bit younger). She’s obsessed with Sasha’s cat, loves Eloise, and is very interested in Sasha becoming her new mom. (Remy and her mom divorced when she was young.)

My only real complaint is that Sasha keeps saying she won’t let a dominant personality dictate her actions, but that isn’t quite what happens. Remy is very much an alpha/in charge kind of character and for the most part Sasha gives in. I would have liked a little more spine.

 

Review– Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Buy Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

4/5*

Published August 2018

 

Michael’s family just moved for his dad’s work. Again. After his dad promised that the last move was going to be the final move. Worse, atheist Michael is being sent to Catholic School, with its stupid uniforms and religion and rules. He’s sure he’s not going to make any friends and will be trapped in his own perception of hell (assuming he believed in hell, which he doesn’t) for the next two years until he graduates. Then, in Theology class, a girl starts arguing with the nun over saints. Here, Michael realizes, is someone he can be friends with. He chases the girl down after class and Lucy invites Michael to sit with her friends.

Eventually he is asked to join their secret club, Heretics Anonymous. Lucy is actually Catholic, and believes in it, except for the part where women can’t hold any real power. She’d want to be a priest, but it will never happen, and she’s upset over it. Avi is Jewish and gay. Eden is the youngest in a very Catholic family, but is a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Max is a Unitarian who loves cloaks and hates the dress code.

At first all H.A. does is sit around and discuss what’s wrong with the school. Then Michael suggests that they start doing things. Things like subverting the dress code by leaving pairs of neon shoelaces around the school. Or when they print a paper to counter the overly censored school paper.

But is H.A. making the school better? Or worse?

But one day Michael takes it all too far.

I thought that the book was really well written. The story was engaging with really good pacing. I didn’t realize how long I’d read for, and I immediately wanted to go back to reading it. I wish there was already a sequel! (On the other hand, no sequel because it’s perfect as it is.) It was highlighted in Buzzfeed’s YA books to read this summer and it’s easy to see why.

The evolution of Michael’s relationships, including his romance with Lucy were engaging and, again, well paced. Avi is distrustful of him at first, and doesn’t want Lucy to invite Michael to join H.A. Lucy falls for him, but slowly. Michael is closer to some members than others, and he never hangs out with Eden alone, for example, but she’s a friend in his circle. So it’s more realistic than if they were all the bestest buddies ever.

I don’t think the reader will find any shocking reveals, but even if they’re predictable, they’re well done.

I really liked that the characters were quite diverse. There are Latinas, Asians, and Black students, and it’s nice to see that their race is not a defining characteristic a la The Baby-Sitters Club where Jessi was Black and did ballet and that was all of her character development. Avi being gay is also not a defining characteristic but when it’s used, it’s used well.

Henry does a good job of presenting what’s wrong with that sort of school environment, including the abstinence assembly and the teacher’s morality clauses and how they’re enforced. But through Michael’s eyes, we also see a softening toward the church and things that are good within it. Both believers and non-believers can enjoy the book.

I thought that the “villain” of the story–Theresa, a soldier of Christ with no ability to see beyond that into the gray areas–is something of a cardboard cutout. I sort of get why she cares so much, but she’s still a flimsy villain. I wish she were a little more developed and three dimensional. Some of the secondary characters, like almost all of the teachers are also less defined than they could be.

Overall, a great book if you like realistic fiction and YA.

Kid Vid Review–The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

4/5*

Published Sept 2014

This week it’s Rhi’s turn and she picked one of her favorite books to have read to her–The Book with No Pictures. As a heads up, if you can’t read with expression and make silly noises, this is not for you. It can also get a little tiresome if you have read it every day for an extended period of time. BUT if you are comfortable being silly, your kids will LOVE this book. Rhi might give it a 5*, but I’d say it’s a 4*–enjoyable, worth rereading, definitely a book for the home library, but not something you might look forward to reading with them, especially after the first 100 or so times.

The Book with No Pictures is best for the pre-K to grade 2 set, but my fifth grader almost always shows up if we are reading it, and she laughs her head off, too, although I don’t think she’s ever bothered to read it on her own. It’s the experience of a parent/adult being silly that makes them both lose their minds.