As I look back on the books I’ve read this year, I realize how lucky I am to have found or been introduced to so many wonderful titles. Many thanks to all the wonderful publishers who keep us bloggers updated on awesome new titles, and a major thank you as well to the Toronto Public Library for having such a fantastic collection. Did you know you can actually recommend books to the Toronto Library to add to their collection? I’ve had a few recommendations actually added in, which is how I got to read such fantastic works as America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
We see a lot of best-of lists to close off the year, and I thought I’d share some of my favourite reads from 2018. These are the books that made me go “oh my god WOW!” Not necessarily because they’re the best crafted story or the most technically impressive prose, but because they managed to touch my heart. And so full disclosure: this list is unabashedly subjective.
I have a soft spot for reading books by writers who are Asian or of Asian descent, so you may see quite a few of them on this list. If you have a similar interest and are looking for your next great read, check out this list of Asian / Asian descent writers I’ve read this year. I also have a soft spot for animals, and have been enjoying a lot of romance novels this year, and you’ll likely notice a few of those on my list as well.
Beyond that, take a look through my list below, which is in no particular order, and I hope you find one that resonates with you too, and helps you find your next favourite read.
1. The Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee
The Wolf is an incredibly gripping and dramatic true story about a super badass wolf, Oh-Six, who fights to survive against human hunters, territorial wolves and natural disasters in Yellowstone National Park. As an animal lover, I was Team Wolf all the way, but I like how Blakeslee balances a wide range of perspectives.
2. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
This is the first romance I’ve read with an autistic heroine (Stella has Asperger’s) and also a very rare romance with an Asian hero (Michael is half-Vietnamese). Stella and Michael felt so real and had all these vulnerabilities that only the other person truly got. Their sexual chemistry was also off-the-charts hot, and Stella’s aversion to being touched actually lends itself to one of the most sensual scenes I’ve ever read.
3. Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
This is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in a Toronto Muslim community. Khalid’s seeming arrogance is a mix of religious conservatism and social awkwardness. And Ayesha is funny and awesome, a substitute teacher by day and performance poet by night who is more interested in figuring out her career than in finding a husband. Ayesha’s family is hilarious, and her romance with Khalid sweet.
4. Still Me (Me Before You #3) by Jojo Moyes
Jojo Moyes took me on an intense emotional roller coaster with this book. What an incredible cast of characters! I loved the glitzy glamorous world of the Gopniks, which started out hilarious then revealed itself to be much more complex than first glance.
This is probably the fastest I’ve ever zipped through an audiobook because I just couldn’t put it down! Jamie is an awesome heroine — a necromancer who realizes she’s more powerful than she originally thought. And Jeremy was my first book crush in the Women of the Otherworld series when I started my Kelley Armstrong fandom with Bitten years ago, so I LOVED seeing him in love here.
6. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel
This just took hold of my heart from the very first moment when Satoru discovers a stray cat lounging on the hood of his silver van. I cried so hard at the ending, and it’s just such a beautiful story about the love and lifelong companionship of a cat and his human. So often, these kinds of books features dogs, so as a cat lover, I can only say: finally!
7. Love at First Run by Angel C. Aquino
This book is very close to my heart, because the writer is a friend and I’m so incredibly proud of her. It’s also a really sweet romance, about a woman who finds love when she joins a running club. Diana and Joshua had adorable chemistry right from the start, and I love how their friendship developed almost effortlessly. I especially love a scene where the scent of ramen, of all things, adds a romantic touch.
8. Moonlight over Manhattan (Book 6 in From Manhattan with Love) by Sarah Morgan
A hot but grumpy doctor and a sweet, shy dog sitter… I love this book so much! I love Harriet, her shyness and her stammer, and her determination to challenge herself. I love Ethan, his kindness and strength, and his struggle to open himself up to love. I was drawn to Harriet even in New York Actually (Book 4, about her brother Daniel), because I found her shyness and insecurity so relatable, and in Moonlight over Manhattan, I love how gently Ethan helps her through it.
I should add that I love Books 4 – 6 in this series overall. Harriet and her siblings Daniel and Fliss grew up with an abusive father who broke their mother’s heart, and I love how their childhoods all impacted their approaches to and experiences of romance.
9. Family Trust by Kathy Wang
Finally — a book to satisfy my post-Crazy Rich Asians cravings! This is a biting yet heartfelt comedy on a wannabe rich Chinese American family in Silicon Valley. It’s a story that feels universal — any rich family can have a similar battle over inheritance — but the Huang family’s ambitions also feel very Silicon Valley, and there are little touches about their experiences that feel uniquely Chinese-American, and first + second generation immigrant.
10. Little Green by Tish Cohen
Cohen has written a story about a marriage undergoing tremendous strain, and then pushed to the breaking point when the unthinkable happens to the couple’s daughter, and I love how real, nuanced and complex the characters and their relationships are. I immersed myself in it on a hot summer’s day, and felt so much for all of the characters.
11. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
This is such a lovely graphic novel, about a prince who secretly likes wearing dresses and the seamstress who designs him the most beautiful gowns. I love Sebastian and Frances’ relationship, and I love this story about pursuing one’s dreams and the need sometimes to put one’s dreams aside to help a friend. At the end of the book, Wang talks about her decision to draw the characters young, and I think that decision added a touch of tenderness and vulnerability to the whole story.
12. Glass Houses by Louise Penny
It’s always a treat to return to Three Pines with Chief Superintendent Gamache and his neighbours. In Glass Houses, Gamache puts everything (his career, his reputation, the peace in his small town) on the line to go after the big game: winning the war on drugs.
13. Into the Wild (Warriors # 1) by Erin Hunter
Warrior cats battling over territory and facing treachery in their own clan! And the hero is a former ‘kitty pet’ who feels the call of nature and joins up with a group of cats in the nearby forest. It’s fast paced and exciting, with lots of compelling characters to cheer for. And yes. I, an adult woman, practically devoured this middle-grade book and immediately borrowed the next one… and the next… until I finished the entire six book series. It’s just really compelling storytelling, and the best part is there is an entire collection of miniseries to check out within this universe.
14. Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammadi
This is such a lovely, pleasurable read. It makes me want to go spend a year in Florence myself, eat all the delicious and all-natural foods she describes, and live the bella figura way.
15. The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi
I couldn’t put this book down. Faruqi is a gifted storyteller, and has built a beautiful world under the sea. I love the nerdy scientific factoids that popped up randomly and the character of Coralline, a mermaid apothecary who must find a mythical elixir to save her younger brother. This book kept me absolutely captivated the entire time.
16. Convenience Store Woman by Sayata Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
This book is a helluva punch, and it’s so beautifully written — tremendous emotion barely contained by the narrator’s detached language. It’s a wake up call to readers to question our relationship with social norms, and how we respond to people who don’t quite conform to expectations. Can one be happy without being “normal”?
17. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
Hollis’ premise is simple: women spend too much time apologizing for our dreams when we should just own up to them and realize we have every right to prioritize ourselves and our own happiness. Favourite advice: imagine your commitment to your goal as a coffee date with Chris Hemsworth. What will it take to make you give up that date, and why can’t your commitment to yourself be as important? Girl, Stop Apologizing isn’t out till March 2019, but Hollis’ earlier book Girl, Wash Your Face may be just the inspiration you need until then.
18. Merrily Ever After by Jenny Holiday
What happens if, after you achieve your happily ever after, you realize you must break a promise to the man you love? Elise and Jay got married on the understanding that they would never have kids, and when Elise discovers she’s somehow become pregnant, she needs to figure out how that will impact their relationship. I love the raw emotion and honesty in Elise and Jay’s relationship, as well as the super sexy chemistry and deep underlying love that just makes you cheer for them the entire time. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, sexy and heartwarming holiday cheer.