Best Backlist Fiction (I Read in) 2018

2018 was a good reading year for me. I started listening to audiobooks, and it was a great surprise to me how much I loved them (good ones, that is,  I often struggled when I didn’t enjoy the narrator). It also allows me to read while I work, which is nice. Except that time I sobbed while listening to The Rules of Magic at work… Explaining to all my non-reading coworkers that I was, in fact, perfectly fine was an interesting experience.

So, in no particular order, these were my favorite books of 2018 (published prior to 2018):

10. American Elsewhere // Robert Jackson Bennett
09. Everybody’s Fool // Richard Russo
08. Christine // Stephen King
07. The Library at Mount Char // Scott Hawkins
06. Lovecraft Country // Matt Ruff
05. Euphoria // Lily King
04. Sleeping Giants/Waking Gods // Sylvain Neuvel
03. The Heart’s Invisible Furies // John Boyne
02. The Dry // Jane Harper
01. The Rules of Magic // Alice Hoffman

Did you discover any great backlist titles you had missed?


Favorite Books of 2018

This post is late. That’s not surprising, necessarily, but I definitely wanted to post it around the start of the New Year. What I find odd about it is that I’m a very punctual and organized person in my day to day life. It just doesn’t translate to the blog. Here are a few of my favorite books – in no particular order –  that I read this last year (published this last year). Better late than never*.

10. Spinning Silver // Naomi Novik
09. The Great Alone // Kristin Hannah
08. The Golden State // Lydia Kiesling
07. Foundryside // Robert Jackson Bennett
06. The Mars Room // Rachel Kushner
05. Florida // Lauren Groff
04. Foe // Iain Reid
03. The Lost Queen // Signe Pike
02. Where the Crawdads Sing // Delia Owens
01. The Line That Held Us // David Joy

One notable thing, at least to me, is that my list features more female writers than male writers. There’s also more genre diversity – short stories, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and historical fiction. Those are both firsts for me, and it makes me happy. What was your favorite novel of 2018?

*The funny-not-funny thing is that I have nothing but time right now.


Heartbreaker // Claudia Dey

“Aerial view: two thousand square miles of forest. Population: 391. We started as a single busload searching for the end of the world.”

I won’t lie to you, this is a weird book. Not quirky-cute-hipster weird, just….weird. I wasn’t going to post about it, but here I am, three months later and I’m still thinking about it. To me, that’s often indicative of a good book. This is a rare case where I’m not actually sure, but I’d like to think so.

Perhaps it’s the constant stream of ’80s rock, perhaps it’s my fascination with cults, perhaps it is simply my love of the bizarre, but Heartbreaker has stuck with me. 

Pony Darlene Fontaine. The Heavy. Supernatural. Billie Jean. Gena Rowlands. Those are the stars of this novel. They live in the year 1985, in perpetuity. Pony is 15 when her mother gets up to go to the store and doesn’t return. The novel is spent figuring the how and why of the Territory in which she lives, the how and why of being a teenager, and the mystery of Billie Jean herself.

As odd as Heartbreaker is, it’s undeniably imaginative and a fresh take on cult fiction. I haven’t read anything quite like it, and Pony’s voice is particularly compelling (as is Gena Rowlands’). While the Twin Peaks comparisons are apt, the Stranger Things comparisons are misleading. It can be hard to follow at times, but Heartbreaker is a journey worth taking. 

*I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.


Literary Gift Guide

Every year or so, or whenever I can manage, quite honestly, I like to put together a usable gift guide for the people in your life who need books (meaning everyone). I’ve seriously considered publishing this list in October, so that I don’t get lost in the very big crowd, but I think we all know I am not that on top of things. Does that stop me from making it?

Not at all.With that in mind, I’m hoping to include a few selections beyond the obvious Becoming by Michelle Obama (go read it, but you’ve probably had ten lists tell you that already) or An American Marriage (also a must read). Perhaps you love national parks? I’ve got a book for that. The ’80s? I have two for that decade! What about a quintessential, small town diner? I have one for that too. Here are a few suggestions:

What to give someone who wants to read about the (fictional, but all too real) way the oil and gas industry has changed rural America (excellent debut, too): Kickdown // Rebecca Clarren

What to give someone who wants to learn about wildfire from a personal perspective: A Song for the River // Philip Connors

What to give someone who loves the show American Gods, but has already read Gaiman’s American Gods: The Library at Mount Char // Scott Hawkins

What to give someone who loves national parks: The Wild Inside // Christine Carbo (fiction) or The Hour of Land // Terry Tempest Williams (nonfiction)

What to give someone who loves a good, old fashioned diner and karmic retribution: Everybody’s Fool // Richard Russo

What to give someone who loves fairy tales with feminist underpinnings: Spinning Silver // Naomi Novik

What to give someone who is still mourning the loss of Firefly: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe // Alex White

What to gives someone who (still) loves the ’80s: The Optimistic Decade // Heather Abel (fiction) or Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) // Hadley Freeman

If you’re unsure about buying a book, a gift card to a bookstore is always appreciated, and there are always cute items available on Etsy and from Out of Print.

What are you gifting the people in your life this year?


A Christmas Carol // Six Degrees of Separation

The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun. December’s pick is A Christmas Carol.

I never thought I would begin a post with muppets…

But now that I have, I can tell you it’s wholly satisfying in an unexpected, lovely way. It’s like a post wrapped up in the nostalgia of childhood, because I LOVED Muppets’ A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ work of the same name, when I was younger. You know what else I loved? Kermit and Tim Curry fighting in the Muppet interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Simply irresistible.

Nancy Horan takes on the life and love of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny in her novel Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The particular wording and format of that title reminds me of The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (though the similarities end there), a novel “of voyage and exile that moves between contemporary war-torn Syria and the caravansaries and khans of its lost past. Maps are mentioned on almost every page: not just making them but the decisions that making them involves, what lands they cover and what lands they leave out.”

Speaking of maps, the beautifully weird and beautifully designed Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson features detailed maps and other ephermera (and bats, and an apocalypse). Tying in to the word republic is Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love, which details the lives of a folklore researcher (she focuses on mermaids!) and a radio show host/disc jockey as they fall in love.

Love, lists, and music feature heavily in High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, which chronicles record store owner Rob’s most recent romantic failure. As Rob works through his issues, he and Laura get back together, with him agreeing to move past his career as solely a record store owner and reestablish himself as… wait for it… a disc jockey.

I made it all the way from A Christmas Carol to High Fidelity, by way of pirates, Syria, bats, muppets, mermaids, and DJs. Care to join in? Please do!

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