The Best Books I Read in 2018

2018 was a great year for reading and one in which I read things I normally would not have, thanks to wanting more variety for this blog. There were so many great books that I read, and these are the best.

For this list, I’m only including books that I read for the first time in 2018, not favorites that I reread, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book


White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi

Read My Review
Goodreads

This novel was the first I reviewed on Read Yourself Happy, and I still find myself thinking about it regularly. I loved the unusual narration style, especially since the house narrated a few chapters. I’m looking forward to reading many more books by Helen Oyeyemi this year.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Thriftbooks


Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Read my review of Six of Crows
My review of Crooked Kingdom will be posted later this week
Goodreads

These two novels blew my mind. I’d been hearing about all the hype for ages, and I was incredibly late on this bandwagon, but these books were incredible and I flew through them in order to learn what would happen next. I wanted so much more from this world, and I’ve already reserved Bardugo’s Grishaverse trilogy at my local library.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Thriftbooks


An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night, and A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

 

Read my review of An Ember in the Ashes
Read my review of A Torch Against the Night
Read my review of A Reaper at the Gates

Goodreads

The An Ember in the Ashes series is probably my favorite series I’ve read this year, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to make it until the fourth book comes out. My co-workers and boyfriend probably got sick of me talking about these books while I was reading them. Elias and Laia are wonderfully fleshed-out characters and I enjoyed the world of these novels.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Thriftbooks


City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Read my review of City of Ghosts

Goodreads

This was the first Victoria Schwab book I ever read, although it certainly won’t be the last. The book gave me strong vibes of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which is one of my all-time favorites. I enjoyed the characters and Schwab’s writing style, and I’m excited that the sequel is going to be released next year, and that there’s going to be a television show based on the novel.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

 

Read my review of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Read my review of The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Goodreads

I first heard of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue through my favorite booktuber, Hannah at A Clockwork Reader. I tend to have a very similar reading style to her, and I will be forever grateful that I picked these books up at her recommendation. Both of these novels were well-written with loveable characters and great representation.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Thriftbooks


Trouble No Man by Brian Hart

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Read my review here
Goodreads

This novel comes out on January 29, 2019, and I’m incredibly appreciative to Harper Perennial for sending me a review copy. I rated it five stars, and it’s a great, tragic story. Set in a future where the West Coast has run out of water, the novel follows Roy Bingham through several decades of his life and is told in a non-linear format.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

A Look at the 35 Over 35 List

For the past five years, the 35 Over 35 list has been examing books written by debut authors 35 years old or older. The collection includes books that are both fiction and non-fiction.

I love that they highlight authors who published in their mid-thirties or beyond. The creators originally started the list as a response to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 list.

Here are my top five picks from their list, followed by the full list:

The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel

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Taking place during the Reagan era, this book takes place in a utopian summer camp and examines idealism and the impact it can have on someone’s life.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival by Kelly Sundberg

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This is a memoir where the author examines a loving relationship that afterwards becomes abusive. It’s important to understand how a relationship that started off fine can then become a nightmare for one of the people involved.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million


Look Big: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds by Rachel Levin

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I’m throwing this one in my top five because I spent a decade living in the Appalachian Mountains and much of that time on trails. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I saw people try to approach wild animals for photos or to attempt to feed them. I even saw one woman get out of her car to approach a black bear. If you’re going to be spending any time in the woods without an experienced guide, please read this book and others like it!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million


Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson

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Set in a mansion on the shores of Lake Ontario, this story follows three sisters facing an imminent tragedy alongside their troublesome pasts.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Thrift Books


Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

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Rachel Lyon’s debut was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. It’s about a young photographer who accidentally shoots a boy falling to his death. She’s struggling to make ends meet, and such a photo could improve her career, but the boy in the photo is her neighbor’s son. She starts to wonder if it would be ethical to use the photos to advance her career.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million


Here’s the full list:

  1. The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel
  2. First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love Story by Huda Al-Marashi
  3. The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina
  4. White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswawr
  5. Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
  6. A Dirty Word: How a Sex Writer Reclaimed Her Sexuality by Steph Auteri
  7. The Shame of Losing by Sarah Cannon
  8. Kickdown by Rebecca Clarren
  9. Designer You by Sarahlyn Bruck
  10. The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan
  11. Nothing Good Can Come From This: Essays by Kristi Coulter
  12. Bone Willows by James Engelhardt
  13. Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris
  14. Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson
  15. An Untidy Life: What I Saw at the Media Revolution by Les Hinton
  16. Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
  17. Look Big: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds by Rachel Levin
  18. The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids are Less Disciplined Than Ever – And What to Do About It by Katherine Reynolds Lewis
  19. Amongst the Liberal Elite: The Road Trip Exploring Societal Inequities Solidified by Trump by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly
  20. Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon
  21. One Water by Rob McCue
  22. Big Windows by Lauren Mosely
  23. No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell L. Moore
  24. Burning Down the Haus by Tim Mohr
  25. Letters from a Young Father by Edoardo Ponti
  26. Forbidden by Faith by Negeen Papehn
  27. The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker
  28. California Calling: A Self-Interrogation by Natalie Singer
  29. There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia by Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno
  30. Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez
  31. Revolutionary Threads by Bobby Sullivan
  32. Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg
  33. The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow
  34. Tigerbelle by Wyomia Tyus with Elizabeth Terzakis
  35. Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America by Vegas Tenold

 

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir – A Review

“Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.” 

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The Book

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House
Released June 2018
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Facebook | Pinterest
Affiliate Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | ThriftBooks

Read my reviews of the first two books in this series:

Synopsis

This is the third book in the An Ember in the Ashes series, following the stories of Laia, Elias, Helene, and more. The ruthless Keris Veturia is still up to something, and the Nightbringer is getting closer to his nefarious goals.

Review (SPOILER WARNING!!!!!)

The An Ember in the Ashes series has quickly become one of my favorites. I felt the widest range of emotions possible as I read this third book in the series, and I don’t know how I’m going to survive until the fourth book is out, which doesn’t even have a release date yet!

I’m including spoilers in this review because it’s impossible not to. If you haven’t finished A Reaper at the Gates yet, or (gasp!) you haven’t read An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night, bookmark this page and come back to it once you’ve read them. This is the kind of book where you want to be surprised and shocked at the twists and turns that take place.

First of all, we have a new narrator in this book: the Nightbringer. It was fascinating seeing his side of the story, and I hope that his narratives are much more prevalent in the next book. I enjoy complex antagonists, and he’s definitely turning out to be that. In addition, it was interesting having a non-human narrator.

Since the first moment Laia and Elias met in the first book, I’ve wanted them to end up together, safe and living a sweet, quiet life. Of course, because this series is all the pain, we don’t get that. By the end of the book, Elias fully becomes the Soul Catcher, and the last encounter he and Laia have was too much for my fragile heart to take, and when she gave him back the wooden armband he made for her, my heart literally shattered into a million pieces.

The real star of this entire book is Helene, aka the Blood Shrike. I never disliked Helene as a character in the first two books, but neither did I love her; she was just sort of… there. In A Reaper at the Gates, however, she really comes into her own and shines. So much of the story is centered on the increasingly difficult choices she needs to make, and she’s torn between following Marcus’ orders to save her little sister and doing what’s best for the empire. We learn how much she cares for her people, and not just the Martials, but everyone. One of my favorite moments in the book is when she finally puts an end to Marcus – it was such a powerful scene and no one deserved to kill him as much as she did.

A criticism I had about the book was that for the first half, it can be a little disorienting. We’re constantly in different locations, with different characters, and there’s a lot going on. I’ve always been a fan of multiple narratives, but there were a few times while reading this that I felt it may be too much.

Like I’ve mentioned with the previous two books, Tahir’s writing style is quick-paced and exciting, making these relatively lengthy books easy to read. Everything flows beautifully leaves you wanting more.

Verdict

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This is definitely a five-star book, and I recommend this entire series for anyone looking for a great young adult fantasy series.

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Book

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi; great books to read; best books of 2018; read yourself happy; book review; book blog

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Amazon | Goodreads
Published by Henry Holt, part of Macmillan Publishing Group
Released: March 6, 2018
Author Links: Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

What It Is

This high fantasy novel based on West African mythology follows the story of Zelie Adebola as she tries to bring magic back for her people, the magi, or Diviners. She travels alongside her brother, Tzain, and a new friend, the princess Amari.

The land of Orisha was once full of magic. When Magi came of age, they learned to control a particular type of magic, such as life and death (Reapers), health and disease (healers and cancers), iron and earth (grounders and welders) and mind, spirit, and dreams (connectors), among many others.

One day all of the magic disappeared, and the lives of the Magi became one of terror and repression. King Saran has a personal vendetta toward the Magi, and everything changed the day of his Raid.

Many magi were murdered on that day. Magic was effectively erased. Zelie watched her own mother dragged out of their home and hung in a tree. Diviners now live in fear, walking on eggshells around the king’s soldiers. They are easily spotted by their stark white hair, making them easy targets for harassment and extortion.

One day, soldiers threaten Zelie’s family, demanding a tax much too high for them to pay. Zelie comes up with the idea of selling a prize fish her father had caught, and she and Tzain take off towards the palace despite the dangers. Everything seems to go according to plan: Zelie ends up getting much more than she was expecting for the fish, and she’s safely on her way out of the gates when a terrified girl grabs her by the arm, asking for help escaping the soldiers.

Little does Zelie know that she’s helping the King’s daughter, Princess Amari. Amari has taken one of the three necessary objects that could bring magic back, an ancient scroll. As Zelie, Amari, and Tzain flee for their lives, Amari’s brother, Inan, chases after them.

Despite making it all the way back to their village, their safety is short-lived, as Inan and his soldiers follow them to the village. Zelie, Tzain, and Amari escape into the forest, on a journey to save magic before the solstice, the last chance to give magic back to the people of Orisha.

“As it fades, I see the truth – in plain sight, yet hidden all along. We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue. This truth holds me close, rocking me like a child in a mother’s arms. It binds me in its love as death swallows me in its grasp.” 

The journey they undertake is a long and dangerous one, and full of much tragedy. The story is told through multiple narratives, passing seamlessly between Zelie, Amari, and Inan.

My Thoughts

Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Saying I loved it is an understatement – when I read the last sentence my jaw literally dropped and I needed more. There’s already a sequel (and a movie) in the works, but I don’t know how I’m going to make it that long.

More than anything, this novel is about strength. So many of the characters, despite their flaws, are strong-willed and brave. Whereas most novels portray strength as a one-dimensional attribute, Adeyemi writes about real strength; a strength that is hard, sacrificial, and requires practice.

“Like a bee to honey, my eyes find the akofena first, the crossed blades, the swords of war. Strength cannot always roar, she said that day. Valor does not always shine. My eyes drift to the akoma beside the swords next, the heart of patience and tolerance.”

One of my favorite things about this novel was the magic system. Individual magi control a single aspect of magic, each with their own deity. Our main character, Zelie, is a reaper, a member of the Iku Clan, and her particular deity is Oya. Zulaikha, or Zu, is a healer, a member of the Iwosan clan, whose diety is Babaluaye. It’s refreshing to see a system of magic where it’s broken down in that way, allowing for a wide variety of unique characters.

The way the book was written was also something I really enjoyed. Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Zelie, Amari, or Inan, though the narrative itself is continuous. I love reading each character’s thoughts, and each of them is so well-developed. They each have distinct flaws, tastes, and strengths. There are two perspectives that I would have loved to have seen alongside theirs, both Tzain and King Saran.

Tzain is Zelie’s brother and her protector. He clearly loves his family but is also quite frustrated at Zelie’s actions (particularly at her choice of love interest later in the story). I think it would have been really interested to understand his thoughts throughout their journey.

Although King Saran is a character that is very easy to despise, a part of me wishes that his own narrative had been woven into the story. I’m always intrigued by the thoughts and motivations of villains.

There’s also a note from the author at the end of the book, about Adeyemi’s motivations for writing the book.

“Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. I told myself that if just one person could read it and have their hearts or minds changed, then I would’ve done something meaningful against a problem that often feels so much bigger than myself.” 

Since finishing the book, I’ve been looking more into Tomi Adeyemi, and she seems genuinely amazing. Here’s a great, short interview with her on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

About the Author:

Tomi Adeyemi, author, Children of Blood and Bone

Tomi Adeyemi graduated from Harvard with an honors degree in English literature, and aside from being a New York Times bestselling author, is also a writing coach.

Verdict

5 out of 5 stars, easily. I want to recommend this book to absolutely everybody. My boyfriend is probably incredibly tired of hearing about it, and I’ve told pretty much everyone that sits around me at work that they should get a copy.

Buy this book. It’s the kind of book that you read many times throughout the years. I finished it two days ago, and I’m so starved for more that I’m having to force myself to read other books rather than just rereading this one.