2018 Books

Between two book clubs, I read 22ish “required” books a year, and I have quite the stack to work through and lots of recommendations coming in from my reader friends (yay! I love that!), so I’m making a little “required” list of my own to accompany the others, in hopes that I really will make it to these 12 books at some point this year. As always, the full list and a little blurb about each follows in the rest of the post. Happy Reading!

  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman (Thanks, Obama!)
  2. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (#RWBookClub)
  3. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (sooo many people recommending this one)
  4. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (DS)
  5. State of Wonder by Anne Patchett (been on my list for a couple years now)
  6. Unseen by Sara Hagerty (KG)
  7. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (SB)
  8. The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (SO)
  9. A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin (RG)
  10. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (Glennon rec)
  11. Rising Strong by Brene Brown (from my own list)
  12. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (started this behemoth in 2017; will finish in 2018!)Untitled design (1)


  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (book club read) — so, so good. Can’t wait to talk about this at book club because the way it is written is beautiful and thought/question provoking. (finished 1.1.18!)
  2. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (my book club selection) — I have been wanting to read this since EG mentioned it in Big Magic and while it took a little to get into it (that may have just been a result of the audiobook format), I could not believe how it all unfolded, developed, or resolved. SO good. And really, I can’t wait to discuss with my book club when the time comes!
  3. Gift from the Sea by Anne Marrow Lindbergh — started and finished in one day, I plan to reread this one many, many times throughout the rest of my life. Although I think certain gender/marital roles are a bit outdated in the language used to refer to them, this is such a beautiful and easily digestible rumination on the life and changing seasons of adult womanhood. I highly recommend! (finished 1.31.18)
  4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman — and in total contrast from the previous entry on the list, this one was started last July and just now finished during the first weekend of the following February. Whoops! B and I started listening to this on our trip to KC, but the audio was 20+ hours long and while we got a good chunk of it started on that trip, we got nowhere near finishing it before school started. Anyway, I really want to watch the Starz version of this because it is such a crazy, other wordly, and twisty book that I can’t wait to see what the show is like.
  5. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan — this is the third novel in this series and I am finally getting a good grip on the huge cast of characters in this wealthy family and all their drama. As with the first two books, I found this to be an entertaining read (and again, the easiest to follow, but that may just come from exposure at this point).
  6. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness — another read-in-a-day book thanks to its YA nature and heart-wrenching, pull you along story. Definitely would be a good one for kids dealing with family sickness or for an empathy lesson for those in different family/health situations.
  7. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson — Welp, should have picked this one for book club, too, because it warrants a lot of discussion, especially the end which didn’t exactly seem satisfying to me. I liked the spin of the main character beginning again and again, though. It was interesting to see what all I could pick up as “changes” in each life, as they were sometimes subtle (and other times shocking).
  8. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (book club read) — This was a perfect read following Life After Life as instead of starting over and over, it followed one Korean family living in Japan for 70+ years, with lots of beautiful vignettes/glimpses into the lives of people around them, too. Oddly enough, they both were set with the same start time, so there were some crossovers about the war and such, but this book gave me great insight into what life was like for people displaced from Korea by the terrible and  continuing conflicts.
  9. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown — although just as emotionally and intelligently as dense as the last book of hers that I read (Daring Greatly), this one was much more digestible (and more brief) and extremely relevant to today’s times, making it a recommended read for sure.
  10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (book club read) — Haven’t read this in years so was happy that one of my friends picked it just before the movie release so I could refresh. I seem to remember there being more resolution to it from my years ago read, so my take on it this time was a little different (do I love it so? I don’t know), but I’m very curious to see how they treat it in the film.
  11. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankle — I canNOT say enough about how much I loved this book. I’ve been saying that a lot of my reads thus far this year have been good (and they have been) but this is one of the tops. I love the way it is written, the characters, and the depth of the questions (parenting, life, etc.) it raises. Focused on a family with five kids (OK, so I may have been biased from the get go), it features their journey/story of when their youngest of five boys begins to demonstrate that he is in fact not a boy. For real; everyone should read this book. (finished 2.25.18) (side note: sort of crushing it on my self-made list. now will have to wait for some of the titles to become available through the library as the wait lists are long for several of them)
  12. The Midnight Watch by David Dyer (book club read) — while the concept here is interesting (the fictional “what if/why”s of a ship that was near the Titanic as it sank but did not come to its rescue), I did not care for the writing of this novel. The unreliable (and alcoholic) narrator drove me nuts, and ultimately I would have liked more resolution for the end of the book.
  13. Still Me by JoJo Moyes — had no idea a third book was coming out in the series until the night before its release, but manged to get an e-copy from library fairly quickly and it was an enjoyable/predictable read and far less gut wrenching than the first two. (finished 3.6.18)
  14. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson — perhaps my perspective is shaded by my choice of reading this (start to finish) during the return trip from SD for my grandpa’s funeral, but I didn’t really care for this book. It’s not a sad book, but it’s also not a terribly helpful book in terms of instructions either. It reminded me of a more anecdotal Marie Kondo (KonMarie Method) book, but that one irritated me, too, so maybe I’m just not in the right place for decluttering books at this point in my life. And while I sort of see how this could start a conversation for families before someone actually passes, I could also see how a recipient of a gift copy of this book could think, “Ummm, so you’re saying I have too much stuff and should get rid of it all so you don’t have to?” Again. I may just be really prickly these days.
  15. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the Original Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling — Huh. Wasn’t really my intention to read the screenplay version of this, mostly because I think they aren’t the easiest thing to read, but it was still interesting and told a great story. Perhaps I’ll have to track down the original version another time to get the full effect.
  16. Beartown by Fredrik Backman — Backman has quickly become my favorite contemporary author, and I’ve only read about half of his stuff. This one was HARD to read because of the subject matter but I absolutely love the way he can develop such a vast and complete cast of characters and write what is a essentially a who-done-it in way that leads up to the final pages but is never cloying or annoying in doing so. So, so good.
  17. The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers — The piece of nonfiction was fascinating. It’s all about one man’s quest to improve the quality of life for coffee farmers in Yemen and the quality of Yemeni coffee and I learned a TON. Plus it was an entertaining and ultimately suspenseful read as the real world, politics, and war all played roles within the story. (finished 3.29.18)
  18. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman — I’ve now read all of Backman’s novels (not his novella and another short) and he is now tied for Tops at my Contemporary Author’s list. His stuff is incredible. This novel spins off from a side character in My Grandmother Asks…, and a side character I didn’t even like mind you, and I LOVED this book. The way he writes! I laugh, I cry, I just want the stories to keep going (& I never quite figure out where they are landing until they tell me at the very end). Seriously. Read his work. Any of it! SO. GOOD. (finished 4.4.18)
  19. Educated by Tara Westover — had I known about this book earlier, it would have definitely gone on my Must Read list, but as it is, it founds its way to me/that list anyway. Couldn’t put it down. It is a remarkable coming of age novel, except that’s just it – it’s not a novel. It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.
  20. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (book club read) — I don’t read many books set in a day’s time span, so that alone made this interesting to read, once I got into which admittedly took a while. I also don’t read many novels set in contemporary times, although this one is still a decade out at this point, so the pop culture references were different for me. I’ll be curious to see what shape the discussion takes for this one – talk of war? soliders? love and loss and life? football? Not sure.
  21. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (book club read) — Huh. I don’t know. Normally I really like YA reads but this was one was almost too much of a teenage drama, except with OCD thrown in and some comically melodramatic “love scenes.” I saw some of the twists coming, but maybe just because I had forewarning that there were some. The author’s note at the end made me appreciate the whole thing more as she explained that she wanted to write a book that would highlight OCD in young people and hopefully show them how they could manage through therapy, etc.
  22. A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin — This biography was such a great read. Informative, inspiring, entertaining. I loved that the timeline was so close to when Ben and I visited Rwanda (but sadly Heaven was not one of the restaurants we visited; I even checked our scrapbook to see); I could see in my memory some of the exact places he mentions in the book. But more than that, this book really sheds lights on how foreign aid can/should work – go in and help but ultimately prepare yourself and all those around you for your eventual step back. Helpers are not meant to be saviors, upon whom all is dependent, and this book of setting up health centers, better ag practices, and even starting an upscale restaurant, demonstrates that all beautifully.
  23. The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil — I received a birthday gift of three months to Book of the Month (online subscription service; so cool!) and this was my first pick. It was a strange coincidence to read it, the tale of a young Rwandan refugee leading through seven African countries and eventual landing in America, directly after the previous book on my list. A Thousand Hills to Heaven spoke so much about healing, hope, and rebuilding, and then this book showed that same resilience but with a much darker shadow of never being able to shake off entirely the trauma of the war and fleeing it. (finished 4.28.18)
  24. S-Town — I know this is a list of books but a friend had the very fun, very spontaneous idea to have our book club listen to this podcast and holy cow, it is intense, interesting, crazy making, and so many other things – I can’t wait to discuss it with them! And it is as long as some of the audiobooks I have “read” so I am counting it!
  25. The Self-Driven Child: The Science And Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Strixrud and New Johnson — Ben ordered this after reading an article about it on NPR and I have to say, this is one parenting/brain book I think all modern parents should read. While a lot of it applies to adolescents, I think there are ideas here that we can definitely start applying to our own kids.
  26. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (book club read) — I don’t often reread books (because my stack of new to-reads is so long) but I was very glad a friend chose this for bookclub because it was excellent to read again after 15ish years. I came to it with much more perspective and understanding, not to mention empathy for the mother character even though our circumstances are not at all similar. And weird because this makes the third book set in the same general region of Africa that I’ve now read in the last couple months. (finished 5.19.18)
  27. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine — although it took me almost half the book to get into this one, it’s a quick read so that wasn’t the worst thing ever, and once I got to that halfway point, it became pretty page-turning. This is a story about marriage and perceptions, lies and deceptions. Essentially, a great summer/beach read.
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