Good morning, friends! Since I shall be spending my New Year’s Eve on bedrest, with a nearly bottomless cup of hot chocolate and biscuits, I thought it would be nice to share with you my favourite books from 2018! While I didn’t read nearly as many 5-star titles as I had initially desired, I’m still rather grateful for the ones I did consume because they were all utterly fantastic! All the books listed here received a 4.5 or higher rating from me.
One of the things that I began practising at the start of 2018, was actively writing down my favourites as I finished reading them. Considering that I read anywhere from one hundred to two hundred (or more) books per year on average, by keeping up with the tally, it saved me plenty of time and effort now that I’m ready to compile them into a list. I wish I thought of this years ago, or at the very least two years ago when I embarked on my blogging shenanigans. I know… it’s a bit akin to common sense. However, if you really think about it, there isn’t truly anything common about common sense. 😉
None of them are in any specific order other than the original order of which I jotted (typed) them down in my phone. If there are any relative reviews for the titles listed, I shall share those with you! I’m going to try to keep the spoiler-free synopses down to a single sentence (yay, challenge) since I have twenty-some-odd total books. Additionally, I’m not going to list my overall rating for the book; only a simple recommendation for people who enjoy those respective genres/narrative types. Alrighty, let’s go!!
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
An #OwnVoices Malaysian novel that takes place post-World War II about a woman who has a dark past filled with grief, and how she takes solace from an exiled Japanese man who used to be the Emperor’s personal gardener. This is the second-best book that I have read in 2018, no argument! It was one of the first books I read back in January, and I completely fell in love with the eloquently evocative prose and the themes of what forced assimilation does to, not only a country’s identity and culture, but that of the individuals residing in those countries. Highly, highly recommended for fans of #OwnVoices Asian literature and/or historical fiction. [Spoiler-free review.]
How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh
An #OwnVoices Indian non-fiction book that is all about fighting depression and learning to find the fortitude that is hidden within yourself, so you can conquer your every desire and aspiration. I love Lilly Singh, who is a YouTuber, and find her to be so beautifully honest and genuine, so when I saw she had written a motivational book for self-improvement, I grabbed that sucker hella fast. This is the best self-help book I’ve read about mental health and self-love. If you’re someone who is struggling with those things, and anything related to them, I highly recommend you read this book. It’s so kind and uplifting.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
An #OwnVoices Korean, historical fiction novel that follows a young girl that ends up marrying a Korean Christian pastor and moving from Korea to Japan, where she will face many hardships with being a foreigner in the country of those who colonised her home; it’s multi-generational. Pachinko is one of the more beautiful and heart-wrenching stories I’ve read about what life was like for Koreans pre- and post-colonial, and what life is still like for many of them living in Japan. It’s honest and at-times quite difficult to consume due to the subject matter, however, it’s also extremely important because there are many people in the world who can relate to what it means to be colonised so brutally, and to have your identity either ripped away, or used as a weapon for subjugation. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, multi-generational narratives, and/or cultural explorations around wartime events. [Spoiler-free review.]
Daughter of the Pirate King (Duology) by Tricia Levenseller
A young-adult high fantasy duology series about a young girl—who is half-siren and the daughter of one of the most-ruthless pirate lords around—that seeks to find her own sense of self in a vicious dog-eat-dog world that wants nothing more than to drown her down. This duology is so badass! There’s tons of action and jaw-dropping violence, strong female characters and diverse characters, a female MC who shows us growth and development as an individual, a slow-burn romance, breath-taking scenery and atmospheres, and more. I don’t say this often, but anyone—young adult or adult—can find enjoyment out of this series. Highly recommended for folks who enjoy high fantasy, badass characters, fast-paced storytelling. [Spoiler free reviews for book one and book two.]
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
A supernatural thriller about a woman still hung over her sister’s death, who ends up discovering clues twenty years later in the most unexpected of places: an old and abandoned boarding school that is being renovated after decades of being shut-down. I wasn’t expecting to find any pleasure in this, but it ended up being so great! The settings are atmospheric, the suspense builds up gradually and sort of lingers over the reader to intensify anticipation and tension, the characters are fucked-up and relatable (particularly if you’ve experienced awful grief), the writing is straightforward but so enchanting. It also alternates between two time periods, but one never detracts from the other; it’s stunningly balanced. Highly recommended for fans of supernatural elements, crime thrillers, and/or narratives about broken families. [Spoiler-free review.]
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
An #OwnVoices Japanese-American story that is told via seven to eight sections, surrounding Japanese picture brides, or women who were married to men living in America during the early 20th century via photographs and then brought over to live as their wives. This is the second book I’ve read by Otsuka, and it’s just as powerful and extraordinary as her first (When the Emperor was Divine). It’s understated yet poignant, revealing yet penetrating with its authenticity and raw, candid confessions. Highly recommend to readers interested in #OwnVoices Japanese literature, historical fiction related to Japanese Internment Camps, and/or Japanese-American social experiences.
A Place Called Hiroshima by Betty Jean Lifton & Eikoh Hosoe
A non-fiction, photographic journal of Hiroshima in Japan that outlines the lasting effects of the atomic bombing of the city that occurred on August 6th, 1945. The best way to describe this book is powerful. The monochromatic photos instantly capture the reader’s attention and draws you in with each flip of the page, showing you the remnants of a city full of life before and after a devastating atrocity. Highly, highly recommended for readers interested in non-fiction WWII world history, Japanese history, Second World War, and/or the atomic bomb droppings. [Spoiler-free review.]
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
An #OwnVoices Japanese contemporary novel about a young man who goes on a road trip with a formerly stray cat he adopted, and how they enlighten one another with the bittersweet beauty of true companionship and life’s inevitable impermanence when faced with great adversity. This is the best book I’ve ever read in my whole life! Not only that, it fucked-up me up so badly that I still can’t write a review for it without bawling my eyeballs out. It is so immensely profound and extraordinary that nothing I say here will do it justice. My favourite aspect of the book is all the Shin Buddhist motifs, as well as the message that any relationship between a human and their animal friends is never simply that of “pet/owner.” Never. Cat lovers beware, bring plenty tissues to spare! Highly recommended for lovers of Japanese fiction and/or human and animal bonds.
Erased by Kei Sanbe
A Japanese seinen, psychological thriller manga series that revolves around a young man who via unusual circumstances travels back into time by approximately 18 years to prevent a string of neighbourhood kidnappings in order to prevent his own tragedy in the future. I’m probably going to make this one of my favourite manga serials ever. It’s got perfect progression and length, brilliant artwork, some fascinating motifs, and more. Plus, nearly ever adaptation of it has been quite decent to boot! If you like seinen manga and you enjoy crime fiction, then you will probably like this series quite a bit! [Spoiler-free review.]
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
The first book in science-fiction series, Southern Reach, the tale is about a group of female scientists who are tasked with going into a cordoned off section known mysteriously as Area-X to run tests in order to unravel the enigma of this area, an area that’s already claimed numerous lives to the most unexpected of ways. My first step into the new weird subgenre of sci-fi, and I fucking loved it. It’s so unbelievably strange and even horrific that I was mesmerised by it. It’s highly intelligent and intricately contemplative, which are elements I adore in complex sci-fi storytelling. Hoping to read the next two books sometime in the first half of 2019. Recommended for people who like new weird, intellectual science-fiction, slower paced progression, and/or ambiguous plot-lines. [Spoiler-free review.]
Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation edited & translated by Ken Liu
This is an #OwnVoices Chinese anthology of science-fiction stories from various authors, some who are well-known overseas and others who are not. There is so much imagination and originality packed into this collection of tales, that I was a bit mind-blown. Many stories pertain to the political and cultural climate of China pre- and post- Cultural Revolution, while others take inspiration from current events and alternate timelines. Every sense was engaged in one shape or another, particularly my sense of thought and its reflection on the human condition. If you love science-fiction and Chinese literature that is exquisitely brilliant and multi-faceted, as well as laced with cultural inspiration, then this is a collection for you!
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
An #OwnVoices Japanese contemporary about a woman in her thirties who runs into her high school professor with whom she formulates a friendship that will then grow into a much more deeper bond. This is the 3rd best book that I have read in 2018! It’s marvellous. The main theme is loneliness and the various ways that the concept of loneliness is explored in this book is astonishing. My favourites have to do with loneliness and the fear of getting old, because whether we admit it or not, as human beings it’s inevitable for us to fear the future and unknowns that the future shall bring. This novel, and the excellent translation via Allison Markin Powell, is an absolute must-read. Highly recommended for people who enjoy Japanese literature, contemporaries, and/or stories that explore the normalcies of human psyche in unpredictable ways. [Spoiler-free review.]
American Panda by Gloria Chao
An #OwnVoices Taiwanese-American novel about a girl who has always done whatever is expected of her, at the cost of her own mental and emotional well-being and wishes, until a family secret rises to the surface to make her realise that lies and deceit will never get her the happiness she craves. This young adult book was another one I didn’t think I would like. Yet, when I finished it, I was floored by how much it represented so much of my own experiences when I was this girl’s age. That sense of comfort and empathy that I received from this book won me over and it will always hold a dear spot in my heart. Recommended to readers of diverse YA contemporaries, books about culture clashes and finding the in-between, and/or stories focusing on self-acceptance and inner growth. [Spoiler-free review.]
Confessions: A Novel by Kanae Minato
An #OwnVoices Japanese psychological thriller about a teacher named Yūko who takes revenge on the students in her class who participated in the murder of her young daughter, Manami. The best thriller I’ve read in years! When I read psychological thrillers, I want them to leave me with my jaw hanging off the hinges in shock while craving more. That’s exactly what Confessions did. The culprits and Yūko are so dynamically unforeseen. Their histories and quirks have a way of getting under the skin in the most stimulating of ways. Also, the story is fantastically intellective and is what makes this book such a 5-star read. Highly, highly recommended to fans of Japanese literature, tightly crafted psychological thrillers, crime fiction, and/or character examinations pertaining to dysfunctional family dynamics. [Spoiler-free review.]
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
A portal fantasy novella that’s the second in the Wayward Children series, the narrative is a side story to the first book that focuses on the characters Jack and Jill, the adventure they went on, and how they ultimately end up at the location that they do in the first volume. The book is so gritty and dark, which are elements that I can’t get enough of in fantasy. Toss in excellent representation of mysophobia (fear of germs), which is one of the two major phobias I suffer from, then you have one remarkable fucking book. It’s also got a sapphic romance and exploration of how some people really should never be parents. Recommended for readers of portal fantasy, urban fantasy, and/or fairy tale re-tellings. Please note that even though the series involves teens and kids, the series is an adult fantasy series. [Spoiler-free review.]
A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman & Rafael Albuquerque
A Sherlockian, Victorian fantasy graphic novel that follows two baker street investigators, The Detective and The Major, who are approached one evening with a query for an utterly cosmic sort of murder investigation. This was one of the best stand-alone graphic novels I’ve ever read! Gaiman’s flair for the strange and eccentric shines beautifully in the story as he combines a Sherlockian universe with Lovecraftian elements regarding Cthulhu mythos. Toss in some classical horror art-styles that have dark and dreary designs and shading to formulate an ominous veil that sort of hangs over the story, nudging you forward with anticipatory apprehension. I would kill for a lore book about the universe crafted in this graphic novel; it would be incredible! Highly, highly recommended for readers of graphic novels and/or fans of Sherlockian and Lovecraftian narratives. [Spoiler-free review.]
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
A psychological crime thriller about a woman who’s struggling to survive decades after the most traumatising event in her life, which only gets harder upon a violent face-off in the present time that will change everything she thought she ever knew about her past. The book was exceptionally riveting and meticulously cruel and personal. Slaughter’s examination on the various faces that trauma takes in victims and how one way of processing isn’t better/worse than others; that trauma is highly individualistic is outstanding. Highly recommended for fans of psychological stories, crime thrillers, and/or stories about overcoming and dealing with severe instances of trauma. Please note there are triggers for everything in this book. [Spoiler-free review.]
The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. Smith
A galactic empire, space opera trilogy that revolves around a woman named Mars Xi, who spent her youth in a laboratory until she escapes, and then years later the Empire decides to come searching for their lost prise. This is one of the most arse-kicking serials that I’ve read all year long, and probably in the past two years. It has wonderful world-building, a seriously fallible MC, interesting tech, and science-infused magic. Each book in the series reads very fast but never compromises the quality of the narrative in the process, which is awesome. Highly recommended to fans of space operas, brutal space battles, sassy AIs, and/or beautiful book covers. [Spoiler-free reviews for book one, book two, and book three.]
That does it for this beast of a list! As you can see, I had a nice eclectic collection of best books for 2018. I don’t have many challenges for the upcoming year except to read from more diverse genres, meaning more different genres than I did this year, as well as to try and read from some genres that aren’t necessarily ones I would turn to regularly. I feel like it’s time to step out of my comfort zone and explore a bit.
Please, let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of the books listed here, or if any of them have caught your fancy! I’d love to hear from you.
Wishing you all a beautiful 2019!! Make sure that you prioritise your own health and aspirations as much as you can. You matter and your future matters. Sending out tons of love, hugs, and happy vibes. ♥