At Foyles bookshop in London. Photo by Adam, who is awesome, and in no way requested this shout-out.

At Foyles bookshop in London. Photo by Adam, who is awesome, and in no way requested this shout-out.

It’s an annual tradition—every year I put together a list of my 11 favorite books read during the year. (Yes, 11! I always allow myself one extra book because I’m the boss.) Looking over my picks for 2018, I was struck, as I seem to be every year, by how my reading life continues to change with me as I change as a person.

Just a few ways my reading life has changed for the better this year:

-This year I read more genre fiction and less literary fiction than ever before and had a great time doing it. We all know good books stay with you long after you finish the final page, and whatever headspace a book puts me into is where I tend to stay, mood-wise. So it’s no real surprise that I’ve found my mental health is dramatically better when I’m reading books that make me feel good. Literary fiction and heavy non-fiction, while absolutely worthwhile, generally aren’t doing that for me anymore.

-I used to shy away from self-published books or titles that don’t have many reviews, which I see now is a backwards way of thinking for someone who enjoys recommending books to people. Now I don’t feel pressure to jump on every most-touted, highest-grossing bandwagon that comes along. You don’t need me to tell you about that blockbuster you’ve already seen on the internet, on the front table of the bookstore, or hell, even the endcap at the grocery store—if you’re interested, you probably bought it and it’s sitting on your coffee table. Now it gives me great joy to discover and promote books by lesser known, up and coming authors—especially women and POC authors!

-I used to employ a tone of apology when I reviewed romance, as if I needed to justify my enjoyment of a genre that celebrates relationships between people. Well, those days are officially over. Shame has no place when it comes to our reading choices. Romance is officially my favorite genre--it’s happy, it’s fun, it’s real, it’s an escape, but it also brings out the best in its readers. Reading romance has made me a kinder, gentler, more open and loving person, and that is definitely not something to apologize for.

-I’m continuing to diversify my reading in new ways. Prioritizing books by POC authors has been a habit for several years now, but this year I made an effort to seek out books by and about LGBTQ people, including those who are trans and non-binary. There’s so much good stuff out there, I’ve barely scratched the surface! Look for lots more LGBTQ rep here in 2019.

-I read books aloud in the evenings before bedtime with my husband, Adam, and it was a fun way to bond and wind down from our day. We are slowly working our way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series about a wizard named Harry who lives in Chicago and fights all manner of evil supernatural creatures. Adam has read the whole series multiple times, so he can answer all my annoying questions as they come up. Harry is a great character, the books have a great mix of humor and adventure, and reading them together has been a real highlight of my reading year.

And a few nerdy stats:

I read 175 books this year, for a total of 63,357 pages

53% by POC authors

85% by women

20% from the library

And now for the list--my top 11 favorite books read in 2018! I had a tougher time choosing this year than usual because of my changing tastes, so you get a little bit of everything with this list. There’s plenty of romance, some fantasy, some historical, a Western, and yes, some literary fiction even made the cut (but only the very best!).

Thirsty by Mia Hopkins

I just finished this book yesterday so I haven’t even featured it in a post yet, but I loved it so much there was no way it wasn’t making this list. In my opinion, the best romance novels are those with characters you grow to care about deeply, flawed and fully fleshed out people that overcome their demons and find a happier, better life. Salvador Rosas has just gotten out of prison after a five-year stint for stealing cars. He was a gang member like his father and grandfather before him, but now he’s trying to sort out his life and figure out if there is a different future for him. His relationship with Vanessa, a girl who grew up in the neighborhood and has made a good life for herself and her daughter, has more challenges than most you see in romance, which just made me love them more. I listened to the audio version narrated by Ozzie Rodriguez, and it was so well done I sorted laundry, made two batches of granola, unloaded the dishwasher, scrubbed the bathtub, and finally just sat in a chair for an hour yesterday because I couldn’t stop listening to their story.

Level Up by Cathy Yardley

I have never wanted so badly to smush two characters’ faces together! Tessa is an engineer at a game company, and other than going to work, she doesn’t get out much. But events conspire to thrust her not just into a new much-needed group of girlfriends, but into the arms of her roommate, Adam, who is also her coworker. Tessa and Adam have always had a friendly but distant rapport, but when he agrees to help her out with a side project, they start seeing each other in a new light. I’m sure I’m biased, but with a tech nerd hero named Adam, there was no chance I wasn’t going to adore this book.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

I was not prepared for how deeply I would feel for these characters and how personally the story would resonate with me. I am always searching for a reading experience like this--where the characters become fully real people, and through observing their lives, I come to understand something new about being human. That, to me, is the highest form of literature and it’s the reason I read.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana is about Marisol, a journalist, who grew up hearing tales of her grandmother Elisa’s life in Cuba before the revolution forced their family into exile in Miami. Now Elisa has died and Marisol is on her way to Cuba to scatter her grandmother’s ashes and set foot for the first time on the land that shaped her family’s destiny. Along the way, she meets her grandmother’s closest friends, learns about Cuba’s complicated history, falls into an unexpected romance, and discovers some long-buried secrets of her grandmother’s. In between Marisol’s chapters, we go back in time to hear Elisa’s story firsthand. It’s rare to find historical fiction that makes you feel like you’ve truly traveled to a different time, with characters that are so real you can’t help but empathize with them, and Chanel Cleeton has done both beautifully here.

A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

Hibbert is so, so good at writing realistic characters that you will grow to love. If some romance tropes have made you feel squicky in the past (dubious consent, controlling alpha males, unequal power dynamics, etc.), Hibbert’s books will be a breath of fresh air. Evan is a blacksmith (!) on a mission to get to know his prickly, borderline-unfriendly neighbor Ruth. Ruth, on the other hand, is suspicious of most people in her small town because of an incident in her past that gained her some unfair notoriety. She also has autism spectrum disorder and struggles to relate to people. However, Evan is persistent, striking up conversation and refusing to be swayed by the nosy gossips in town. Two nice but imperfect people getting to know each other and falling in love--this is romance done right!

Winston Brothers series by Penny Reid

Every time I read a new book in the Winston Brothers series, I try to decide who my favorite brother is and it’s totally impossible because I love them all. What makes it such a hit is the way all the brothers relate as a family. They each have their flaws and quirks, and their romantic lives are wildly different, but put them all together and it somehow just works. They’re the kind of family you’d want to marry into, so you could attend all their backyard barbecues and get all the inside jokes. (Sausage, anyone?) I have read every single one of these books like there was an international threat that could only be neutralized by my turning the last page, and I finish them on a high like I’ve saved the world yet again. They’re just magic.

Kingmaker Chronicles trilogy by Amanda Bouchet

Is it still a bodice-ripper if the bodice is made of boiled leather? Either way, I love this series with the heat of a thousand suns. I rarely wish I could live in the world of a book, but I want to fall asleep one night and wake up in Thalyria with a sword in my hand and a band of highly trained warriors at my side. I was super into this outwardly straightforward romance featuring (get this) two humans who love each other (like, a lot a lot). It’s nice to see a couple that has such a strong foundation and isn’t constantly beset by doubts and insecurities. The conflict comes from outside, and they present a united front against it. Which leaves the door open for all manner of magical creatures to come in and wreak havoc—spiders, snakes, Cyclopes, Hades’ guard dog, you name it.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Considering the current crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, with children being separated from parents and asylum seekers being treated like criminals, 2018 seemed like a good time to learn what it’s like to be a refugee. Although Bala’s book is set in Canada, not the U.S., and her characters are from Sri Lanka, not Mexico and Central America, the themes of the novel felt highly relevant to me. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what culture you come from, the desperation that comes from leaving your home and throwing yourself on the mercy of people who may not have any is universal.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a science fiction novel unlike any I’ve ever read. It’s set on a massive ship in deep space with stratified levels separating different classes of inhabitants. Aster, a lowdecker, is essentially a slave, forced to work in the fields at the mercy (or lack thereof) of harsh, power-hungry overseers. The only bright spots in her life are her memories of her mother, a brilliant woman trapped like Aster in a low station, and the time she spends with her mentor, the Surgeon. As Aster starts to decode some of the notes her mother left before her death, she realizes she may have a chance to upset the entire social order of the ship.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

I've never been particularly into superhero stories, but now I think all I was waiting for was one that featured women. Evie Tanaka is a behind-the-scenes girl, and she likes it that way. She’s the personal assistant to her childhood best friend Annie, who now embodies the persona of Aveda Jupiter, superhero and San Francisco celebrity. Aveda is flashy, flamboyant, and fabulous, and Evie is really good at playing second fiddle. Until suddenly she’s thrust into the superhero role herself—and then the former shrinking violet has to find her inner flaming hot diva. This book has just the right amount of magic and mayhem, not to mention awesome, realistic girl friendships and just enough romance to make you sweat. Of course, we superheroines don’t sweat, we glow.

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt

Finally, a Western that centers women throughout--and not just one woman, but a whole gang of them, tough and imperfect and rebellious and loyal and just gosh-dang realistic. Former slave Hattie LaCour and widowed white woman Margaret Parker are partners in crime--they and their gang of mostly female outlaws rob banks, stagecoaches, and mining offices, and they never get caught because no one believes women capable of their exploits. Lenhardt tells their story through artifacts like newspaper columns, interviews, and journal entries, which made me feel like a detective historian combing through the archives (but without all the work). I absolutely fell in love with these characters and was blown away by the breadth of diversity represented among them. How amazing to read a story that is in some ways so familiar yet centers people who are usually erased from narratives of this kind. This is the Western the canon has been missing.

I don’t usually pick a single favorite book of the year because that’s my version of Sophie’s Choice, but this year, gun to my head, I’d pick Heresy as the hands-down winner. It’s just so dang good, I’m still thinking about it months afterwards. I even bought a copy for my dad for Christmas. And it’s inspired me to seek out more Westerns in the coming year (look for that post coming soon!). It’s just incredible, and if you only pick one book from this list to try out for yourself, it should be Heresy. Trust.

That’s it for me for 2018! You can find my other annual favorites lists here. Comments are open below if you want to share your favorite books of the year.

Happy New Year, bookworms!

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Well, my friends, we’ve reached the finish line of 2017. A year ago, I reflected that 2016 was a great reading year for me despite how incredibly difficult it was in other ways, and I feel much the same now as I did then. With a cartoon villain in the White House, what else can we do but gird our loins and soldier on in defense of what we know to be right and just?

Reading has continued to be a way for me to live out my values--by supporting authors from marginalized communities and seeking out minority viewpoints, I’ve engaged with issues I care about and learned a lot in the process.

In March, I started the Give a Sh*t Book Club as my little form of resistance. It’s been a great way to hold myself accountable for reading about tough topics I might otherwise avoid. Sticking one’s head in the sand of privilege is tempting, no? But it also makes it hard to breathe. This year we read novels, a memoir, and non-fiction, and each book taught me something and made me a better person. You can click here for the full list, but out of all the books we read for the Give a Sh*t Book Club this year, I think I learned the most from White Rage. It’s not easy reading, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Big shout-out to my mom for being the most faithful book clubber ever. She read every single book with me, even though I know they weren’t always titles she would have picked up on her own and she has her own busy life going on. I’ve loved reading and discussing books with you, Mom! You don’t know what it means to me that you were always up for whatever I picked. You’re the best.)

And now for my favorite part, the statistics! This year I read 160 books. As usual, I made good use of my public library, with over a quarter of my books read coming from the library’s shelves. 51.25% of my books were written by people of color, and a whopping 83% were written by women. I hope you can tell with just a quick survey of this website how important it is to me to feature women writers and authors of color. If you haven’t tried expanding your bookshelf to include marginalized voices, please consider this my heartfelt invitation. Your world will open up in amazing ways, I promise.

Without further ado, here is my list of top 11 books read in 2017! (Yes, I always give myself one extra--it’s a tradition and I’m the boss.)

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things was a cathartic reading experience for me. I started listening to it on my way home from work and cried so hard I thought maybe I should pull over because I couldn’t see. Life is hard. Harder for some people than others. But hard for everyone. People are messed up and make bad choices and shit goes wrong. But there is honor in owning our mess and working to make it better. Most of the advice in the book starts from that place. Read the original post.

March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

What a humbling, hopeful, and unbelievably timely trilogy this is. John Lewis is an American hero, and what’s most amazing to me is that he refuses to quit. In the face of opposition, he keeps going. This is a man who believes change can still happen, even after all he’s seen and endured. That kind of strength baffles me even as it inspires. These graphic novels will fill in all the holes in your education when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement. Read the original post.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary Addison was nine years old when she killed a baby. Allegedly. She’s never told anyone the story of what happened that night. She’s now fifteen, has transitioned to a group home, and is trying to think about her future. When she finds out she’s pregnant and the social workers tell her she won’t be allowed to keep her baby, she decides it’s time to tell her story. She needs to clear her name so that she and her boyfriend and their child can be a family. And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot, because DUDE you need to experience this for yourself. Read the original post.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The world of this book is so warm and inviting I want to curl up in it with a blankie and never come out. Science fiction isn’t necessarily my first-thought genre for “books with a lot of heart,” but that’s exactly what The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is. It’s about a diverse, somewhat misfit group of travelers aboard a ship whose job is to drill wormholes in space. The crew of the Wayfarer may be a ragtag bunch, but (deep down at least) they’re all good people who care about and respect each other. It’s the kind of ship where you can be your own brand of weird and accepted unconditionally. Read the original post.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

If the idea of a drunk guy passing out on his face in the midst of an important confession on his wedding night and then surprising his new bride in the morning by turning into a horse in the middle of their bedchamber sounds hilarious to you, you will probably like My Lady Jane. The story is loosely--very loosely--based on English history, but deviates so immediately and thoroughly from historical fact that you don’t need to know anything about what really happened to have a great time reading it. The skinny is, Edward the king is dying and he names his cousin Jane as heir to the throne--somewhat controversially, it turns out, as Edward’s older sister Mary is vying for the crown, and the man Edward has married Jane off to has an embarrassing, ahem, equine habit. Read the original post.

The Seven Realms Series by Cinda Williams Chima

These books are everything I want—detailed worldbuilding that’s worked in organically with the story, court intrigue with shifting alliances and constant plays for power, complex but ultimately super-lovable characters, serious external conflict instead of silly problems manufactured by the characters themselves just to drive the story, and (of course) juuuuust enough romance to keep it interesting. No one’s flinging their bra off a rooftop here (did the characters wear bras, since it was kind of a medieval setting? I am going with no). But you could cut the sexual tension with a knife! My favorite kind of sexual tension, cut-able. Read the original post.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I read Three Dark Crowns in February of this year, and I loved it so intensely I read it again in July. I don’t know that I have ever in my life read the same book twice in a year. I am not a rereader by any stretch—I always want to move on to the next shiny new book. But these three teen queens totally captivated me. Kendare Blake is not following any of the rules—it’s not clear to me even now which of the three, if any, I should be rooting for. See the original post--a video I did with Adam!

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Admit it: that title caught your eye, didn’t it? If you’re one of those people who “doesn’t read romance,” let me quickly say before you tune out that this book has so much going on beyond the steamy stuff. There are generational clashes, sisterly complications, challenges to gender roles, and even an unsolved crime. This is one of those books that is hard to categorize because it does so many things (and does them all really well). It’s a shot of female empowerment straight to the bloodstream. Read the original post.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Powerful men who have used their positions to hurt women are being called out left and right these days, which is exciting and empowering but also distressing because we’re finally seeing how pervasive that kind of behavior is. This book ponders what would happen if women were able to physically overpower men. Teenage girls throughout the world suddenly have the ability to send electric shocks from their fingertips, and as the mysterious power spreads to adult women as well, the balance of the world begins to shift. Told through the eyes of a handful of compelling characters, The Power will make you question everything you think you know about gender politics. Read the original post.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Mobster-style crime families in an east Asian-inspired fantasy world where jade gives people superhuman powers is not something I knew I wanted, but now that I’ve read this bonkers awesome book, it seems obvious because OF COURSE how could that not be incredible?! I am notorious for avoiding long books, but the 500 pages flew by with zero lags in the action. Even the fight scenes are so beautifully written they seem choreographed--and I hate fight scenes! The only thing that would make this book better is if a TV or film adaptation already existed. This is the kind of big, sprawling, action-packed story that begs to be put onscreen. One of the best and most effortless reading experiences of my year, hands down. Read the original post.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

I don’t have a post for this book because I just finished it yesterday, but I had to include it on my list of favorites. I read some great romance this year, and I raved not too long ago about my love for Courtney Milan’s historical romances, but typically I shy away from contemporary romance. That is, until Alisha Rai. This is the first in a new series, and it’s been getting a ton of hype--I feel like I’ve seen that beautiful cover all over the place. Well, I’m here to tell you ALL the hype is justified. Rai’s characters are so real, her writing is so good, and yes, the steamy parts are so steamy. Her books are effortless to read without feeling like junk food, which is the kind of reading experience I’m always looking for but rarely find. You better believe I’ve already bought the second book in the series with my Christmas money.

So there you have it! I’m thankful for the varied and beautiful reading experiences 2017 brought me, and I look forward to tons more fun and enlightening books in 2018.

Best wishes to all of you in the new year!

Prunie can't contain her excitement for all the books she's going to read next year.

Prunie can't contain her excitement for all the books she's going to read next year.

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