You asked for it! Here’s our best books of 2018.

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A Princess In Theory

by Alyssa Cole
romance

Imagine The Prince & Me with an African prince as the hero, and you might get something like this delightful, modern-day Ruritanian romance. Naledi Smith is a grad student living in NYC, unaware she’s been engaged to Prince Thabiso of Thesolo since she could walk. Then the prince in question shows up–undercover of course–and sparks fly. I loved the smart, sarcastic, tough-as-nails Naledi; and Thabiso was a mix of charming, funny, and gentlemanly. The more fantastic parts of the tale are balanced by Naledi’s childhood as a foster kid and the authentic relationships between the characters. Read it before the follow-up comes out this July!

An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones
Fiction

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are visiting family in Louisiana when their lives are changed forever and Roy is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. What follows is an examination of what it means to be married and what it means to be Black in America. Tayari Jones’ characters are flawed and nuanced. They feel like real people, and their pain feels equally real. So many scenes in this book are heartbreaking, but I couldn’t put this book down because I needed to know how these people who I’d come to care about would overcome problems that seem insurmountable. I firmly believe American Marriage will become a classic.

Aru Shah and the End of Time

by Roshani Chokshi
Fantasymiddle grade

Aru is a twelve-year-old who must journey through The Kingdom of Death, encountering figures from Hindu mythology after she wakes a demon. She’s helped by a spiritual sister, Mini, and their pigeon teacher, Subala. Aru is fierce and charming, despite her struggles with lying. And Mini and Aru are absolute friendship goals.

Chokshi joins the small canon of authors who write books that enthrall adults as well as children, further proving that great children’s books are the true pinnacle of literary greatness. I would happily pass this book to a Potterhead of any age and say, “You’ll love this.”

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

Bingo Love cover

Bingo Love

by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae
Comics

I was initially drawn to Bingo Love because it was based in the next town over from where I grew up. But then the lush artwork and the heartbreaking story — about two young women who meet at church bingo in 1963 and fall in love, only to be kept apart by both their families and by society — drew me in. Decades later, they meet again. I don’t want to give away much more than that, but I will say that this story ripped my heart to shreds and left me sobbing.

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor - Book Cover

Binti: The Night Masquerade

by Nnedi Okorafor
Science Fiction

This is the breathtaking conclusion to the Binti novella series, an Afrofuturist tale of a math genius who is pulled between the wide world of a galactic university and the close-knit Himba community that she grew up in. Okorafor’s world-building brings something entirely new to the science fiction stage, tying together wide desert skies and ancient Himba traditions with biological spaceships and math-magic. With her finale, Nnedi Okorafor smashes the rules of science fiction beneath her feet and laughs with you, forging a new world of possibilities for the writers who will come after her. This series is a must-read for all SFF fans.

blood water paint

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough
poetry

“When a woman risks
her place, her very life to speak
a truth the world despises?
Believe her. Always.”

Artemisia Gentileschi specialized in painting strong and suffering women from myths and Biblical stories. She’s now known as one of the greatest painters of her generation, but for a long time was known mostly for her 1612 rape trial, which frames this book.

This book is a beautiful gut punch. Artemesia’s story haunted me and gave me comfort all at once. It’s historical and in verse, which are not usually my things, but Joy transcended my reservations with a powerful, all-too-topical story and brilliant writing.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

by Pénélope Bagieu
ComicsNonfiction

Brazen manages to rise above the current plethora of similar offerings with a display of Bagieu’s signature playful style and profiles of 29 expectation-shattering women. The choice of subjects is surprising, yet refreshingly so. Bagieu doesn’t rely on the same tried-and-true feminist heroines. Instead, we’re presented with a truly diverse cast of, dare I say it, brazen ladies. The profiles range from 17th-century African queen Nzinga to revolutionary Dominican sisters, Las Mariposas, to contemporary rebels like Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh and are presented with wit, brevity, and charm in spades. Permanent collection material, to be sure.

Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
FantasyYoung Adult

There was so much buzz about this YA fantasy novel, inspired by West African mythology. And the book lives up to the hype! Zeli is the daughter of a maji, in a land where oppressors outlawed magic and killed her mother. In this new society, she’s a maggot: taxed unfairly and discriminated against daily. Her story begins when a runaway princess with an enchanted scroll reignites her hope of restoring the power of the maji. They go on the run from the prince determined to bring his sister back and end to magic forever. But he has a secret and in this multi-perspective book it’s hard to know where any characters’ true allegiance lies.

Circe

by Madeline Miller
Fantasy

Retellings are ubiquitous, but the way that Madeline Miller handles Greek mythology is masterful. Circe is best well known for her appearance in The Odyssey, but by telling the story from her point of view, we get to not only know her story but also her motivations and intentions and emotions. One of the many great aspects of the story is watching Circe wrestle with her identity and discover her role in a world filled with gods and goddess. The characters are full of bravery and love and anxiety and selfishness and you cannot help but want Miller to explore all of their lives.

Cult X

by Fuminori Nakamura
Mystery/Thriller

This isn’t an easy book. Swaths of it are downright disturbing. But the story of Toru Narazaki’s search for his missing girlfriend, Ryoko Tachbana, a search which leads him under the sway of two different cults, each dangerous in its own way, is so very important in the times in which we find ourselves. Narazaki’s novel shows us why it’s easier to give over free will, simpler to allow another to take the wheel of the soul, than to accept that in life which causes pain. Easier than fighting. Easier than rebelling. And why we must fight. Why we must rebel. Always.

Dread Nation

by Justina Ireland
FantasyYoung Adult

You know what you’re missing in your bookish life? A zombie-killing badass breaking stereotypes in an alternate history of the Civil War. And if you can’t tell from the cover, Jane McKeene is just such a heroine. I love Jane’s sass and humor, but the female relationships make this a standout, and the multifaceted portrayals of the ‘strong female character.’ There are many ways of being a strong woman, and it doesn’t just involve killing zombies. I love it when my SFF is both fun and complex, and if you’re the same way, you gotta read this.

Drum Roll, Please

by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
middle grade

Melly’s parents told her they were getting divorced the day before they dropped her off at music camp, which leaves her in a confusing time in her life: she’s angry at her parents, annoyed with her best friend, and questioning her orientation. She is having trouble finding her voice. This may be a tween summer camp, but the relationships involved here are complicated; Melly needs to find out how to assert herself without being cruel. It’s delicately handled, and makes for a great addition to the handful of queer middle grade books out there. Melly is still questioning, which is also underrepresented in queer lit. Plus that cover is gorgeous!

Educated

by Tara Westover
Nonfiction

I’ve been touting this book as The Glass Castle on steroids… except for the fact that Educated makes good ole Rex Walls look like a lovable scamp. As the loyal daughter of a Mormon survivalist in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover spent her days sweating away in the family scrap yard, slave to a bipolar father and abusive older brother. Westover abandoned that life for one of higher education, never having heard of basic tenants of knowledge such as the Holocaust or Napoleon Bonaparte until the moment she stepped into a classroom for the first time as a 17 year old college student. Her struggle to achieve an education while escaping the oppression of the men in her life shows a courage of character and force of will that is at once confounding and heroic.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Eloquent Rage is part memoir, part exploration of feminism—Black feminism in particular—and such an important book for our times. Brittney Cooper describes her journey toward embracing feminism and intersectionality and looks at some of the most complex issues facing women today. Cooper’s style is funny and engaging, but this is a difficult book in other ways: she has some harsh truths to share about the sexism and racism particular to the U.S. and how those two “isms” combine to make the lives of Black women much more difficult than they should be. It’s written for Black women in particular, but this is a book every American should read.

From Twinkle, With Love

by Sandhya Menon
romanceYoung Adult

From Twinkle, With Love follows an aspiring film-maker named Twinkle who has a lot of stories she wants to show the world but when she gets the opportunity to direct a film things don’t go according to plan. Twinkle is a heartwarming novel with a protagonist who is as flawed as she is relatable. Twinkle jumped off the page, her growth from beginning to end heartening to read.  The book also tackles the difficult topic of what happens in the distance that divides immigrants from their families at home. It’s a book that balances serious topics with hilarity. I both cried and laughed while reading it!

Heart Berries: A Memoir

by Terese Marie Mailhot
Nonfiction

Mailhot’s Heart Berries is a poetic memoir about trauma, about growing up Native, about surviving a dysfunctional family, and what it means to carry those wounds with you into adulthood. But, even though it’s a slim book, what it carries can’t be contained in a single sentence like that. Her book asks more from you than most reading experiences. Mailhot skillfully examines and probes what we think we know about language and memory, imagination and grief, mental health and becoming, pain and love. She asks us to do better, just as she shows herself becoming a more fully-realized version of herself through the course of her book.

In this profoundly moving collection of personal essays, Chee explores the complexities of identity–the ever-shifting constellation of experience and memory that dictates how we move through the world. Whether writing about tarot, rose gardening, or AIDS activism, Chee’s prose is flawless. Each essay is a knot of hard-fought wisdom, but the heart of the book is in the essays about writing, the murky intersections of author and character, writer and reader, fiction and truth. Chee writes with nuance and generosity about the wonder and loneliness of being a novelist. His raw honesty is a gift to anyone who has ever been moved by words a page.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

by Michelle McNamara
Nonfiction

In the 1960s and ‘70s, a serial rapist and murderer terrorized the people of southern California before suddenly disappearing. For decades, detectives and amateur true crime buffs like Michelle McNamara tried to identify the Golden State Killer, but had no luck. This book, finished by McNamara’s research assistants after her unexpected death in 2016, is one of the best works of true crime I’ve ever read. McNamara is thorough, curious, detailed, and a stellar writer – this book is genuinely creepy in some sections. She’s also empathetic, and never lets the story of the GSK get in the way of being sensitive to the victims and their families.

Junk

by Tommy Pico
poetry

Junk is “Howl” for the modern age, a long-form breakup poem by a queer Native American writer living in Brooklyn. Pico writes as his persona, Teebs, who strings thoughts and anecdotes together with pop culture and politics. He weaves seamlessly from humorous to humbling, with lines like “Yr / reputation recedes you I call it aggressive mediocrity” and “How can ‘happiness’ be / anything more than a metaphor for privilege.” This junkyard poem is full of pithy treasures that perfectly capture a unique mood and moment in time, while also wrestling with universal ideas of identity, culture, and loss.

Leah on the Offbeat

by Becky Albertalli
Young Adult

I didn’t know I needed a book about a fat, bi, Slytherin girl learning to accept the good in life and fall in love, but I really, really did. I fell completely in love with Leah. And—who am I kidding—I totally knew I would! I haven’t read a Becky Albertalli book yet that I wasn’t head over heels for, but this one is especially lovely. Getting to see the continuation of Simon and Bram’s relationship, watching a group of friends grow with each other, rooting for Leah to finally get the girl—it was everything I wanted from this book and then some.

Neverworld Wake

by Marisha Pessl
Mystery/ThrillerYoung Adult

It’s been a year since Bee saw her five former best friends from high school. Since graduation. Since her boyfriend Jim, the leader of their group, died mysteriously. Now the summer after their first year in college, they’re having a reunion, and Bee wants to find out what they know about Jim’s death. While at one of the friend’s seaside mansion, a creepy old man knocks at the door. He tells them they are stuck in time, and will relive the same day over until they decide which one of them deserves to live. This is the Neverworld Wake. Weird, mysterious, and incredibly gripping, Pessl’s YA offering is a complex story about life and death, and the secrets we keep. It’s both a time-bending thriller and a very interesting character study. I absolutely adored it.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

Next Year in Havana

by Chanel Cleeton
Fiction

From the first page of this book, the descriptions of 1950s and modern-day Cuba are vividly breathtaking. The beauty of this book goes beyond the colorful architecture, though, as the bonds of family are uncovered through the stories of two women. Told in dual points of view, this book introduces readers to Marisol and her Grandmother, Elisa. In 1958, readers journey with Elisa as she falls in love with a revolutionary before being forced to flee the war-torn country. In modern-day Cuba, Marisol glimpses the struggle that Cuban’s still face as she seeks to remember her Grandmother. An homage to the permanency of love in the face of adversity.

Picture Us in the Light

by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Young Adult
Set in Silicon Valley, Picture Us in the Light follows Danny Cheng as he waits on his acceptance to art school. His future and his relationship with his best friend Harry are thrown into question when he stumbles upon a family secret — just before the one-year anniversary of a tragedy. This book is so many things at once: A coming-of-age story. A queer love story. A story of immigration, family, and mental health. Somehow, it all comes together beautifully. I picked up this book because my co-worker told me to, but when I learned it was set in Cupertino (my sort-of hometown!), that sealed the deal for me. This is a must-read for 2018.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks

by Leni Zumas
Science Fiction

In a time when it feels like female reproductive rights are dangerously vulnerable and the government’s ability to dictate how families “should” be created is growing, this book cuts straight to the bone. Set in the not-so-distant future (like, this could be in the next 10 years), Zumas explores how motherhood and the ability to control when and if it happens affects a woman’s agency, identity, and freedom over her own life. Add to this beautiful writing and some interesting information about 19th -century polar exploration (just trust me on this), and you’ve got yourself a book that will stick with you long after you’ve finish

So You Want To Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo
Nonfiction

This is a timely, clear, and comprehensive guide to having difficult conversations about race. It tackles topics like, “Is it really about race?”, “Why can’t I touch your hair?”, “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” and more in a way that is concise, accessible, and backed by research. Ijeoma Oluo argues that the only way to create systemic and cultural change is to engage in difficult conversations about race, and her book will give you exactly the toolkit you need to start those dialogues. Whether you’re experienced when it comes to talking about race or new to the conversation, this book has something important to teach you.

Tess of the Road Cover

Tess of the Road

by Rachel Hartman
FantasyYoung Adult

Tess Dombegh is an offbeat outsider whose curiosity and rebellions have long embarrassed her family. Embittered and fed up at never measuring up, Tess runs away and takes to the road. Her journey illuminates a past she’s tried desperately to bury as she slowly comes to understand she is not something to be fixed, and catches a glimpse of a breathtaking future. Hartman uses the heroine’s journey as a vessel to explore important issues of independence, consent, and female empowerment, making Tess of the Road a quick-witted, adventurous, feminist, and ultimately triumphant novel that offers a cathartic and thrilling reading experience.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendships by Kayleen Schaefer

Kaylee Schaefer’s memoir-slash-cultural-examination of female friendship is a gut punch of a book for any woman that holds their girl gang close. Using her personal experience, as well as those of her friends, in combination with cultural and social examples (Parks & Rec, Sex & the City, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.), Schaefer shines a light on those female friendships that are central to our lives but which society doesn’t have a good way of describing. So often while reading, I’d stumble on a passage I had to immediately send to a friend because of how closely it spoke to us. A powerful gut-punch of a book and a must read for your whole crew.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X.R. Pan
Young Adult

This book is one of the single most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Period. I cried. I laughed. I was uplifted. After Leigh’s mother dies by suicide, she is visited by a large, strange bird. Afterwards she comes to the impossible but amazing realization: her mother isn’t dead. She’s been reincarnated into a bird. Leigh makes the trip to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents, with whom her parents had a falling out with due to their interracial marriage. Leigh sorts through her family history, all the while experiencing recurring visits from the bird she’s convinced is her mother.

The Belles

by Dhonielle Clayton
FantasyYoung Adult

Dhonielle Clayton creates a spun-sugar world with a poisonous centre in her debut novel The Belles. Camillia Beauregard is a Belle, a powerful magic user with the ability to change people’s appearances. She arrives at court, but soon finds herself in the middle of a vicious web of intrigue that makes Game of Thrones look like musical chairs. The Belles is a gorgeously-written novel with a cast of compelling characters and a story that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

The Comedown

by Rebekah Frumkin
Fiction

The Comedown does an incredible job of checking all my boxes: Epic family drama, the same story told from multiple perspectives, a diverse cast of characters, and slam-bam amazing writing. There are some hard-to-get-right topics covered here, from addiction to poverty, from mental illness to people making shitty decisions for seemingly no reason, and they are handled with grace, compassion, and – at times – a little righteous anger. I’ve read a lot of incredible books this year but none that combined such a meaty story with such divine writing. A+, would read again.

Book Cover Ensemble | Spring Fiction Releases Dressed in Florals | Book Riot

The Ensemble

by Aja Gabel
Fiction

The Ensemble is a novel about the power of music and the families we choose. In this novel, we meet a classical music quartet but page by page we get to know each member of the group as an individual: their hopes, fears, and regrets. Usually, when an author does this, I prefer one voice over the rest. But here, each character was so complex and fully human – I was never disappointed when the narration shifted. Gabel is able to describe music and all the processes and emotions that come with it in such a way that is not only beautiful, but sensory. No musical experience required to appreciate the genius of this book.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

In 2009, a 20-year-old American flautist studying in England was charged with stealing hundreds of old, valuable bird skins from a natural history museum so that he could continue with his obsessive hobby of Victorian salmon fly-tying. (You can’t make this stuff up.) This natural history/true crime account is truly stranger than fiction and 100% fascinating. I have little interest in birds and even less interest in fishing and fly-tying, yet I found myself completely hooked by this bizarre story. Compulsively readable nonfiction at its finest!

The Friend

by Sigrid Nunez
Fiction

This emotionally charged book packs a lot of feels into a little over 200 pages, and the home stretch will leave you ugly crying in a cleansing, beautiful way. Sigrid Nunez’s novel follows a writer who grieves the suicide of her cherished friend, a legendary Great White Male Author who faced encroaching irrelevance as a literary voice, professor, and lover. Now, the woman inherits his aging great dane, despite not being allowed to keep him in her small New York apartment. The Friend is not a “dog book,” but rather an intimate and quietly powerful study of companionship, depression, and mortality set in the cutthroat literary world.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

The Hazel Wood

by Melissa Albert
FantasyYoung Adult

After a lifetime on the run, 17-year-old Alice and her mother can finally live a normal life when her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, reclusive author of beloved cult favorite Tales From The Hinterland, dies. When Ella is kidnapped by people claiming to be from The Hinterland, Alice teams up with classmate Ellery, who claims to have actually read Hinterland, and goes on a quest to save Ella, ignoring her last words, “stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Melissa Albert’s debut novel is a tour de force of brilliant language, unlikable narrator, and layered mystery. What is the Hazel Wood? Who was Althea Proserpine? And who is Alice, really?

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

by The Kiss Quotient
romance

A romance that will make you smile through the end, quirky moments that take your breath away, and characters that stay with you forever. All of these describe Helen Hoang’s debut novel The Kiss QuotientThe romance was epic and emotional, but our protagonists’ individual stories take you places that will make your heart sing. Stella dazzled me with her math and growth, and Michael, with his charm and his personality. I swear this book should always be at the top of the list when talking about romance books.

It has #ownvoices autism and Vietnamese representation.

At Camp Forevermore, girls swim, make friendship bracelets, sing by the fire—and embark on an end-of-summer overnight kayaking trip, a Forevermore tradition. But for Nita, Kayla, Isabel, Siobhan, and Dina, the trip goes horribly wrong, and the girls are stranded with no way home. That one night has consequences that reverberate through their adult lives, consequences that only unfold as each girl’s separate story is told. Moving skilfully between the women’s lives as adults and the story of what happened on the fateful trip, Kim Fu builds a sharp, insightful novel about what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of one defining moment.

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror

by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Fantasy

Retellings are nothing new, and I often find that “dark” reimaginings of fairy tales are bleak and disturbing without adding anything new to the story. In this regard, Ortberg’s collection of stories stands out. Exploring gender identity, patriarchal and matriarchal worlds, self-serving and manipulative desires one would rather keep hidden in the corner, Ortberg recontextualizes beloved fairy tales, biblical stories, and children’s books. His wit and and voice are instantly recognizable to readers of The Toast, while still keeping to the original tone of many of the stories, a hard line to walk. This is truly a collection to be savored.

The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo
poetryYoung Adult

Xiomara Batista just wants to be heard. She writes poetry in her head, the words leaping and punching past the catcalling on her street, the suffocating interactions with her Mami, and the dreams she never lets herself speak out loud. But when she steps into the world of slam poetry, and her verses are infused with the kind eyes of a boy she didn’t expect to meet, Xiomara finds that her voice and her passion can be louder than anything else.

Elizabeth Acevedo has crafted a gorgeous story in The Poet X, and Xiomara leaps off the page as powerfully as her verses. Acevedo challenges readers to live in the beats of Xiomara’s words, to inhabit them as fully as Xiomara does, and to carry her honesty forward. I cannot wait to read whatever Acevedo has next in store.

Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker is the YA graphic novel that you didn’t even know you needed in your life. It’s a sweet story about a young dressmaker named Frances whose styles are visionary but a little too Avant-garde for most clientele. She meets the Prince Sebastian, who has a secret: he likes to dress up in beautiful dresses as Lady Crystallia. They team up. Frances designs astonishing dresses for Sebastian and he shows them off around town as Lady Crystallia. However, will Sebastian’s secret be uncovered? Will Frances be able to get credit for her creations? I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by this work but it’s something everyone should read. It’s about accepting yourself, the creative struggle, and family. You got to check it out!

The Wedding Date

by Jasmine Guillory
romance

Jasmine Guillory’s debut romance novel is an absolute gem, with gorgeous writing and my new favourite female lead. The romantic tension and chemistry between Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols is crackling, and the story does a beautiful job of weaving in familiar tropes of the genre that readers find comfort in, while steering clear of tired clichés. It has the classic stuck-in-an-elevator meet-cute, a sparkling attending-the-ex’s-wedding bit, and two characters whose HEA you’ll be absolutely invested in. No big deal, but this book is the new standard which all future romance novels will be measured against for me.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

There There

by Tommy Orange
Fiction

I’m gonna throw this down: There There is the most important American novel of 2018. It’s a multigenerational novel about twelve characters attending a powwow in Oakland. As the novel weaves in and out of the past and present, we learn their different reasons for attending. But at the heart of it, it’s a tremendous novel about heritage, what it means to belong, and what it means to be a Native American in the 21st century after hundreds of years of horrible treatment in America. Orange is an incredible storyteller, and this is an eye-opening novel telling hard truths that will break your heart, make you think, and then break your heart again.

Listen to an excerpt of the audiobook:

Cover of Witchmark with a person riding a bicycle on a blue background with two people reflected in the ground

Witchmark

by C.L. Polk
Fantasy

Witchmark tells the story of a quiet doctor who escaped his magical family to live a normal life until an unusual murder and an exceedingly handsome stranger force him out of hiding. I could describe Witchmark as queer, secondary-world, gaslamp fantasy. It would be accurate: the novel takes place in an almost-Edwardian world where elite families control magic (and a magical power source called aether), and a queer romance anchors the book. But that list of characteristics doesn’t quite capture the strange alchemy—and utter delight—of Polk’s debut novel. It defies easy definition but richly rewards its readers.

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