Recently, I was tagged on Twitter to post my four favorite books of 2018. I didn’t do it because, well, a couple problems.
First of all, the lowest I am able to narrow my list down to is seven. Twitter only allows four pictures per Tweet. I suppose I could’ve added the other three in a thread, but then I’d have to pick favorites and not as many people would see those books.
The other problem is that it would totally spoil this blog post. I mean, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably already know which books I’m going to pick. But… still. I’ve been building up to this post all year long. I’m not going to kill all the suspense in one go.
Anyway, to make this list, I simply had to have read the book in 2018 and loved it. Though several of my selections are 2018 releases, they don’t have to be. Every single book on this list is not only a five-star read, but one that has stuck with me since I put it down.
I’ll also be discussing some honorable mentions. Though they are all also five stars, they’re missing that special something that would qualify for the list proper.
Roll out the red carpet, because it’s time to celebrate my Top 7 Books of 2018:
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Released January 25, 2005)
Historical fiction has never been my jam, but every once in a while a book from that genre gets under my skin. This year, it was The Shadow of the Wind. In 1945 Barcelona, a father takes his son Daniel to the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There, Daniel finds a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Enraptured by the story, Daniel goes in search of more of Carax’s works.
However, he soon discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every single copy of Carax’s works. Determined to find out why, Daniel spends the next ten years uncovering the secrets of Carax’s life. But Daniel is playing a dangerous game, as this story of murder, scandal, and doomed love is one Barcelona will kill to protect.
This is such a beautiful novel, filled with intriguing characters and a fascinating story. The characters are so flawed, yet you can’t help but root for them. The relationships— whether romantic, platonic, familial, or adversarial— are much the same.
This book has one of the most deftly handled plots I’ve ever read. The mystery keeps you on your toes. I thought I had it figured out, but then Ruiz Zafón ripped the rug right out from under me! The smaller mysteries along the way are equally captivating, especially in the way they slowly intertwine.
There’s an almost magical quality to the story as you watch it unfold. The parallels in this story give you a foreboding sense of deja vu. Everything in this story feels inevitable.
These parallels also enhance the themes and morals. To truly see the ugly parts of yourself, you must first recognize them in someone else. After all, the past is full of lessons. It’s best to take those lessons to heart.
Ruiz Zafón’s writing is so atmospheric and beautiful. It enhances the world-building spectacularly. Between that and the vibrant culture, I really felt like I was in Barcelona!
Some say this book is the book lover’s dream— a book about loving books. This isn’t really the case. Sure, The Shadow of the Wind (both our version and Carax’s) shows us how books can change us. But the crux of the story is on recognizing our flaws and the impact history has on the present.
Either way, this is a phenomenal novel. I haven’t decided yet if I want to continue the series, as I’ve heard mixed things. All I know is that this book lifted the shadow from my heart and changed me for good.
- If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (Released April 11, 2017)
Absolutely no one is surprised by this. I haven’t shut up about this book since I read it in April. The story follows Oliver Marks and his fellow theater majors during their senior year at an elite performing arts college. For three years, they’ve played the same roles offstage as they have onstage and have formed good-natured rivalries.
After one disastrous night, the students find themselves playing out a tragedy of their own. Now the group must convince the cops— and each other— of their innocence.
Upon his release from prison ten years later, Oliver finally decides to tell the now-retired detective who investigated the case what really happened. It’s a story of love, self-discovery, and how far we’ll go to protect the truth.
This book is So. Good. The characters, the relationships, the mystery, the ENDING?! All fantastic. This book is so addictive, I never wanted to put it down. It is dark academia at its peak.
Each character plays an archetypal role in a Shakespeare tragedy, both on and off the stage. I love how every character both plays into and opposes their assigned archetype. It really highlights how well-rounded they are. It’s an ingenious use of parallelism on Rio’s part.
In fact, the entire novel makes intentional use of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy format. It’s a motif that carries beyond characterization, seeping into every aspect of the book. A lot of the dialogue is formatted like a play. Present Day Oliver’s chapters serve as a narrator. I’d even argue that it’s a callback to the Chorus from Ancient Greek plays. This motif perfectly ties everything together.
This book is also pretty damn gay. Oliver slowly begins to realize he’s in love with his best friend and roommate, James. Their relationship is so beautiful and intricate. I’d recommend this book based on their pseudo-romance alone.
If We Were Villains also includes another trope I’ve always loved. Close-knit, exclusive groups of friends are endlessly fascinating to me. I’m talking friends like the Gangsey from The Raven Cycle, the Greek class from The Secret History, and the housemates from The Likeness. I am a sucker for that trope and Rio’s debut is a fabulous example.
Shakespeare is probably my favorite classic writer. His plays are mind-blowingly amazing. As such, I’m predisposed to love any book inspired by his work. While anyone can enjoy this book, I think having read a few Shakespeare plays (namely, King Lear and MacBeth) helps the reader appreciate it more.
In case I haven’t made it obvious, If We Were Villains is emphatically the best book I’ve read all year. Hell, it’s quickly become one of my favorites of all time. I cannot wait to find out what M.L. Rio’s next book is about. And hey, if it takes playing the villain to get it into my hands, I’m only happy to oblige.
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Released June 13, 2017)
As I’ve said on many occasions, Hollywood life, morally gray protagonists, and F/F romances are tropes that always tick my boxes. This book fills out my whole damn checklist. It follows virtually unknown journalist Monique Grant as she settles into life as a soon-to-be divorcee. One day she gets the opportunity to interview Hollywood legend Evelyn Hugo— the first interview she’s given in decades.
It is through this interview that we learn about the scandalous life of Ms. Hugo and the ins and outs of her former relationships. However, as the interview goes on, Monique learns that their lives may be more connected than she thought.
Much like The Shadow of the Wind and If We Were Villains, the beauty of this story is in how flawed the characters are. Out of all three books, Evelyn Hugo probably takes the cake. She’s ambitious and selfish. She uses others for her own gain.
However, she never blames anyone else for the outcome. She also loves deeply. Because she’s such a fascinating character, the reader is eager to follow her story. It’s almost disappointing when the narrative returns to the present and follows Monique again.
Despite how the title seems to frame Evelyn’s life around men, she’s unequivocally the central figure. Her marriages may cement her reputation, but they don’t dictate her story or negate her agency. They are a framework more than anything.
That said, her relationships are still important. The way she navigates each one tells us so much about who she is as a person. Her most significant relationships are born of friendship. Even at her worst, Evelyn values them deeply.
The novel tackles themes of identity vs. persona, perception, and the cost of love. It is introspective and moving. Sometimes it’s absolutely devastating. Evelyn Hugo and her fraught life are sure to leave a lasting impression.
In fact, it’s because this book has stuck with me that I consider it one of the best of the year. When I first finished it, I gave it four out of five stars. But I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I knew I’d underrated it. This is, undoubtedly, a five-star read.
If any book on this list is adapted into a film, please let it be this one. Like Ms. Hugo herself, this story was born for the silver screen. Until that day, I’ll just feel blessed by this lucky number seven.
- The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (Released November 14, 2017)
As I predicted, my first five-star read of the year made my best list. The story follows Nahri, a con artist in 18th Century Cairo who accidentally conjures a djinn during a routine ritual. He whisks her away to Daevabad, the legendary home of djinn and daeva.
Presumed to be the long-lost descendant of the former ruling family, Nahri is swept up in the dangerous politics of Daevabad. Meanwhile, Prince Ari is courting treason by helping the underground resistance. If he is caught, his life is on the line.
I cannot believe this is a debut novel. Everything about this book is immaculate. The story is action-packed, the writing vivid, and the romance swoon-worthy. Chakraborty really knocked it out of the park with this series.
An OwnVoices novel, you can rest assured that the Egyptian and Islamic culture depicted here are authentic. The remarkable world-building completely transports you. The social structure of Daevabad is intricate, yet surprisingly easy to follow. The rules and roles of this world are revealed organically, never through info-dumping. Chakraborty has truly pieced together a rich, vibrant mosaic with this novel.
The plot is woven almost like a chess match. Much of the conflict in this book is politically based, meaning it relies on characters being both proactive and reactive. Each sneaky maneuver had my heart pounding and every plot twist had me floored. This story is fake-right-attack-left fantastic.
So many fascinating characters fill up the tapestry that is The City of Brass. As I said before, they are flawed. But that just means they have room to grow. And grow they do, as their arcs send them careening toward each other.
A few character arcs— namely Nahri and Ali’s— parallel each other. This enhances the characters’ relationships to each other. But don’t get it twisted. Theirs isn’t a romance. Intriguing, but not romantic.
No, it is Nahri and Dara who form a hot and heavy sort of relationship. While they do fall in love, situations are complex and they never actually get together. Yet their emotions are palpable. I am deeply engrossed in the development of this pair, though I don’t know if I can remain their champion. Complications, you know.
The City of Brass is utterly breathtaking and put my faith back in books. Everything about this book works and works well, so potent and mesmerizing. Gold is no longer the most valuable form of metal— we’re using brass now.
Edit: I would like to make a quick correction. I said this movie is Own Voices, and it is. However, Chakraborty is not Egyptian or Middle Eastern. She is not a person of color at all. However, she did convert to Islam about fifteen years ago when she married her husband and has practiced the faith since.
- A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir (Released June 12, 2018)
This book single-handedly took An Ember in the Ashes from a series I like to a series I adore. The series follows Laia, Helene, and Elias as they fight for and against the Empire. The three find themselves in a world of violence, political intrigue, and mystique.
The third and penultimate book in the quartet, the trio finds themselves nearly in over their heads. How can they save their people? Is it possible for them all to win, even as they fall on opposing sides? Everything about this novel is absolutely riveting.
The character development in this book is fantastic. Laia, Helene, and Elias have all progressed in ways that make sense and serve the story well. They are becoming who they need to be for the final battle. Tahir makes no compromises here, even when it hurts. It really makes for some stand-out character moments.
Tahir’s world-building has become so detailed and immersive. This world isn’t just a background for these characters to exist in front of— it influences and changes them. They are intrinsic to each other.
This extends to the plot, which is largely character-driven. Laia, Helene, and Elias’ arcs are deftly interwoven, crossing their paths and their stories.
Moreover, the plot is exciting. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. The experience is enhanced by the plot twists, of which there are many. Tahir is truly the master of the plot twist because I did not see a single one coming. Honestly, this book has one of the best plots I’ve ever read.
Thematically, this book is all about what it means to be human. Each character explores this in a different way and in conjunction with their journeys. As this overarching theme is dissected, Tahir expounds on love and racism.
A Reaper at the Gates was well worth the two-year wait. Tahir’s writing has improved so much from her humble beginnings at the start of this series. It’s also her most diverse book yet, diving even deeper into different cultures and mental illness. Tahir does everything right here. This book has reaped my soul and I don’t mind if I never get it back.
- Vengeful by V.E. Schwab (Released September 25, 2018)
I think it may actually be illegal to not include a Victoria Schwab book on my year-end best list. The sequel to Vicious, this book takes place five years after the events its predecessor. The remaining members of the original villainous gaggle are still dealing with the fallout.
Meanwhile, a new threat is coming to power: former mob wife, Marcella Morgan Riggins. Destiny sends all the villains hurtling back toward Merit— and each other. But with so much darkness in one place, who will make it out alive?
My Goodreads review for this book simply reads, “Absolutely superb, you funky little villain.” Am I talking to Marcella? To Victor? To Schwab herself? I don’t know. What I do know is that I loved this book. In fact, I think it’s even better than Vicious.
This book is downright evil. Filled to the brim with morally bankrupt characters, this novel is smorgasbord of ambition and villainy. Schwab’s writing has improved greatly since Vicious came out, as has her ability to handle a large cast of characters.
Vengeful is an exploration in survival and what it means to thrive. Victor is searching for a cure; Eli is planning an escape; Sydney is trying to revive her sister; Marcella is hell-bent on domination; June longs for a place to belong. Through these arcs, Schwab espouses the moral conundrum of doing a bad thing for a good cause and vice versa.
The plot is largely character-driven, as it’s their schemes and goals that drive the story. Everyone’s desires and plans lead them to a collision in Merit. Along the way, the reader receives fresh insights into the characters we know and love and gets to know the ones we’ve just met.
The highlight of this book, for me, is none other than Marcella Morgan Riggins. She is the HBIC, her blood made of ambition and ferocity. With just a touch, Marcella can reduce a person to their fundamental parts. She ruins them. And she can ruin me any day.
Even Schwab’s critics can’t get enough of this series. If that doesn’t tell you how fantastic this book is, nothing will convince you. With marvelous character development and a new twist on the found family trope, this novel has everything. Vengeful is dark and twisted, dinner and dessert. This is Schwab’s vengeance against her detractors and she’s come for blood.
- Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (Released October 2, 2018)
As much as I love Laini Taylor’s writing, I didn’t expect this book to land a spot on this list. But I’m so pleased that it did. The series follows follows Lazlo Strange, an orphaned librarian who has been fascinated by the mysterious city of Weep for years. One day, soldiers from the lost city arrive in his town asking for help in returning the sky to Weep and removing the citadel. Lazlo is more than happy to join them.
When he gets there, he meets Sarai, a half-blood child of the gods. As Lazlo gets to know Sarai, he learns that it’s not just the citizens of Weep still living with the trauma of the Mesarthim and their demise.
Muse of Nightmares picks up right where Strange the Dreamer ends, leaving the characters in turmoil. The reader is left wondering how the protagonists can solve the conflict set before them. Before the story even really begins, the reader is devastated.
But Taylor has a solution that will take your breath away. The manner in which the conflicts are handled and the antagonists are dealt with is so beautiful. Through Sarai, the reader sees how these antagonists can learn how to escape their trauma and grow.
As such, the plot is character-driven. As Lazlo, Sarai, and the others are further developed, they find new directions in which to take the story. I can’t even put into words how well-done this character development is.
The world-building is also phenomenal. Taylor’s world-building has always been impeccable, but this novel takes it to a whole new level. Not only is it intricate, but it’s an extension of the world-building done in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.
It also delves into the history of the fearsome Mesarthim. It reveals where they came from and why they terrorized Weep for centuries. The parts of the story that take place in their world appear forced at first, but as the pieces come together you see how well it’s been foreshadowed.
Taylor’s lyrical writing is as beautiful and dreamy as ever. There’s something so alive and inherent about the way she uses metaphors. It makes the story feel like it’s been a part of you all your life.
Muse of Nightmares is moving and brutal, an absolutely life-changing experience. It stands alone in the empathetic way it overcomes its central conflicts. It’s a story of hope, even at its bleakest. The power of this story will be keeping nightmares away for a long time to come.
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (Released February 4, 2014)
The first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, this book follows a nameless biologist as she embarks on an expedition to a quarantined stretch of land known only as Area X. As she studies the wildlife, the biologist begins to uncover the terrifying secrets of Area X and how it came to be. The only question is whether she’ll make it out alive.
I did not expect to love this book as much as I do. It’s so mysterious and creepy. The balance between the suspenseful present and informative flashbacks is really well done.
I also really like how none of the characters have names and are instead defined by their professions. It forces you to consider the characters and their points of view in a different way.
This novel is genuinely fascinating. Unfortunately, its sequels are not quite as good. They’re decent, but not as effective as this installment. Because I don’t love the Southern Reach trilogy as a whole, my esteem of Annihilation has waned a little.
That said, I still highly recommend this book. Because of how the series is structured, Annihilation can be read as a standalone. It doesn’t answer all your questions, but the open-ended conclusion is still satisfying. Believe me when I say this book will annihilate you.
- Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray (Released August 25, 2015)
The Diviners series is about a group of kids in New York City, living it up during the Roaring Twenties. However, many of them have psychic powers. Each book has its own Big Bad, but it’s clearly building up to something even bigger.
This book made me love the characters more than the first one did. The relationships between each of them are developed so well in this novel. It also includes some fun tropes like the fake dating trope and really does the work to expand the world-building.
This series is incredibly diverse and handles issues such as being gay or a person of color in early 20th Century America with care. It’s very apparent Bray did her research.
This novel is smart, funny, and heartfelt all at once. It just didn’t stick with me as much as I thought it would throughout the rest of the year. Even so, this book single-handedly made The Diviners one of my all-time favorite series.
- The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco (Released March 20, 2018):
The sequel to The Bone Witch, this story finds Tea on a dual journey: in the past, she is on the run for a crime she did not commit. In the present, she is bound on a course for revenge.
Where The Bone Witch was Tea’s coming-of-age story, The Heart Forger has a much more concrete plot. It also has a lot more action.
I almost put this book on the list proper, but one issue held me back. Tea is telling her life story to a bard, so part of the book takes place after everything has happened. I don’t think this narrative tool benefits the story.
It would’ve been more effective if this tool (and thus, the bard character) were removed entirely and Chupeco made everything that happens in the “present” the last book in the series.
But, hey. It’s not my story. The Bone Witch is still one of my favorite series. And I cannot wait to see the story Rin Chupeco will forge next.
Do you agree with my list? What were your favorite books of 2018? Tell me about them in the comments!
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