My Favorite Books in 2018

December 10 2018 | I set a goal of reading 100 books in 2018, which I completed sometime in November and I expect I’ll finish another few. Like my 2017 post, I want to preface this with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly 300-500 page fiction, usually of the general narrative, fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. I very rarely read 600+ page or non-fiction books. So before everyone is all “how do you have the time?!” know that I can polish off a 300 page science fiction novel in about 2-3 nights. I LOVE audiobooks and I count them here. When I’m walking or running, books are often my companion. I read a lot while traveling and I travel a lot for work. I loathe airports and books absorb me, so I turn to them while flying. I usually knock back 3 books per trip. Also, I count graphic novel volumes as a book. I do not count individual comic books/issues. Also new this year I included all the chapter books (books read in multiple sittings and are 75+ pages) I read to/with my son. I’m going to continue to include the books and graphic novels I read with him – and eventually our daughter. He has started reading entirely independently this year and we’ve joined a parent-child book club. It’s remarkable to share this joy with him!

That is all to say, I surround myself with words and fantastic stories unapologetically; it was not hard to read 100 books this year, given how books infiltrate my life.

In addition, I want to start logging all the amazing (and some “meh”) children’s picture books I read with my daughter. I haven’t yet decided whether to start a seperate GoodReads account to track these or if I should just set my goal at 250 and include them in my general count. Details, details.

Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list is below too. My reviews are brief, because seriously, time is a hot commodity but I have also shared the GoodReads description.

Finally, one last note, most of these books were not released in 2018, that is just when I read them.

As I mentioned, finishing my goal doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading until 2019, so please, join me on Goodreads and finish out 2018 with me!

Finally – SHOUTOUT LINCOLN CITY LIBRARIES! Thank you for being an important resource to me and my family.

In no particular order, my favorite books of 2018:

The Power by Naomi Alderman 

ThePowerGoodReads: In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday TimesYoung Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This book, and a couple specific scenes, still haunt me or make me pause often. This is an amazing book. Easy to consume, creative beyond measure and undeniably impactful. I was interested in it because Alderman was an editor for one of my favorite science fiction website and also wrote the storylines for Zombies Run – a popular interactive running/walking app where the runner participates in an unfolding Zombie scenario (it is cool as hell for runners).  Anyway, this book is wild, at times hilarious, at times hard to read, and not at all what you expect it to be. Is is a feminist manifesto? Maybe? Does it explore the human condition and the inherent good and evil in us all? Absolutely.

Binti (#1-3, Trilogy) by Nnedi Okorafor

GoodReads: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This is simply excellent science fiction that includes diverse, rarely seen in literature, representation. I cried during these books. I empathized with Binti. I judged her. I loved going on this 3 book adventure with her. The audiobook performance is suburb and adds to the novels. These are short reads, almost novellas, but some of the best science fiction I read this year.

 

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

GoodReads: From one of America’s most critically acclaimed graphic novel writers – inspired by true events, a startlingly original look at life on the streets of Baghdad during the Iraq War. In his award-winning work on Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA (one of Entertainment Weekly’s 2005 Ten Best Fiction titles), writer Brian K. Vaughan has displayed an understanding of both the cost of survival and the political nuances of the modern world. Now, in this provocative graphic novel, Vaughan examines life on the streets of war-torn Iraq.

In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD raises questions about the true meaning of liberation – can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?pride

Based on a true story, VAUGHAN and artist NIKO HENRICHON (Barnum!) have created a unique and heartbreaking window into the nature of life during wartime, illuminating this struggle as only the graphic novel can.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: If you’ve never read a comic book or graphic novel volume that brings you to tears you’ve missed out on the best of the medium. This story of the lions who escaped the Baghdad zoo in the bombing Iraq in 2003 contains some of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen in comic art juxtaposed against one of the most gut wrenching (and remarkably written) stories out there. Vaughan has earned his accolades in this industry – this book tells the story of the true and varied costs of war, and the reality of being wild and “free,” in a more nuanced way than any text-only novel possibly could.

Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, both by Neil Gaiman

I’m lumping these together, though they are not related in any way beyond being by the same author. I went on a Gaiman binge this year. These two were the captured me in the biggest way – though everything I’ve read by him is starting at a baseline of excellence.

neverwhereNeverwhere on GoodReads: Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: Richard Mayhew is so painfully relatable, likeable, and little depressing. The world Gaiman creates here is gritty, ruthless, exciting, scary, fantastic, and somehow a little appealing. This is a great book and to put to bluntly, I just enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a fun ride, and one I suggest others enjoy.

The Graveyard Book on GoodReads: After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddlergraveyard.jpg wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This was the first of Gaiman’s youth/children’s books that I have read. I’ve seen Coraline of course, but not read the book. This is not for young children, but I’m very excited to read it with my kids in a few years (thinking ages 8 or 9). This is gruesome little tale that is full of love, heart, and mystery. The book is split into sections, which are sort of full little stories into themselves. Bod is a charming character who sticks with you. The twists and turns actually managed to surprise me – and I think it helps I love graveyards.

Here is the review I wrote immediately after listening this book: “I listened to the audio version of this and I cannot recommend that enough. Listening to the author read his own words about this beautiful, unique coming-of-age story about a boy raised in a graveyard was beyond moving and compelling. The end had me smiling through tears. I wanted to run to my kids schools and hug my babies, telling them to go explore and enjoy this great big world. I think my son (and especially my preschooler daughter) are still much too young for this book, but I look forward to sharing it with him when he is closer to 8.”

Night Watch (Discworld #29) by Terry Pratchett

GoodReads: For a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: Let’s start with these two quotes from the book:

“Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come round again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.”

“There were plotters, there was no doubt about it. Some had been ordinary people who’d had enough. Some were young people with no money who objected to the fact that the world was run by old people who were rich. Some were in it to get girls. And some had been idiots as mad as Swing, with a view of the world just as rigid and unreal, who were on the side of what they called ‘the people’. Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People…
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people..
As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn’t be a revolution or a riot. It’d be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down.

And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn’t try to bite the sheep next to them.”

nightwatchThe final resolution of this novel was quite as bleak or depressing as the above quotes, but this particular portion of the book really impacted me in a way that many novels haven’t recently.

It did something books always should: It challenged some of my ideology and self-perception.

I sometimes fancy myself a revolutionary but as an attorney I appreciate order, logic, and even-thinking. As such Vimes deeply appeals to me, but his thoughts on “revolutions” spoke to me in a way I’m not used to. It is not pure cynicism, but rather a so-complex-it’s-simple world view.

Keep in mind, this is still part of the Discworld universe and lives in the land of fantasy – which in many ways made its social commentary even more striking and hard to swallow.

We all know Pratchett was good, but novel after novel I find I’m self saying “God damnit he was SO good.”

The Tiffany Aching Series, starting with The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30), by Terry Pratchett

Like Gaiman, I couldn’t pick one Pratchett book. I already highlighted Night Watch as a stand alone, but I’m putting the Tiffany Aching books together. They include, “The Wee Free Men,” “A Hat Full of Sky,” “Wintersmith,” “I Shall Wear Midnight,” and Pratchett’s last ever novel that I have not yet had the heart to read, “The Shepherd’s Crown.”

Tiffany is special. Just so, so, importantly, wonderfully, powerfully specially.

GoodReads: An inner series in the Discworld saga. This set of books are about Tiffany Aching, a witch-in-training with only a frying pan and her common sense and the Wee Free Men.

weefreeElsbeth’s thoughts/favorite quotes as posted to GoodReads immediately after reading:

The Wee Free Mean:Tiffany Aching is who I’ve wanted to be (and who I’ve sometimes felt like) since I was 9 years old myself. Again, these novels, laughs, wit, tears, and irreverent intellectualism. Pratchett was a master.

A Hat Full of Sky: “Rain don’t fall on a witch if she doesn’t want it to, although personally I prefer to get wet and be thankful.” “Thankful for what?” said Tiffany. “That I’ll get dry later.””

A young woman named Tiffany is changing my life. The power in these novels, set in whimsical fantasy, is moving, bone deep, and thoughtful in a way that can only have written in a spirit of joy and contented acceptance of the world. Terry Pratchett challenges readers not to be anything but themselves, which forces you to realize, your true self is your strongest self.

Wintersmith: “This I choose to do. If there is a price, this I choose to pay. If it is my death, then I choose to die. Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do.” Oh Tiffany. How you’ve reached me and moved me.

I Shall Wear Midnight: “If you have let pride get the better of you, then you have already lost, but if you grab pride by the scruff of the neck and ride it like a stallion, then you may have already won.”

Tiffany Aching has made me a better, happier person. Oh, the power of words on a page.

Honorable Mentions:

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Pride and Joy (OG Runaways #1) by Brian Vaughan

Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell

Plutona by Jeff Lemire

Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery by Aaron Sanders

Full Pictorial List:

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