Book Recommendations: 2018

I’m starting a new tradition in which I write a post at the end of each year and I list a bunch of the books I’ve read over the year and recommend them to you, my wonderful readers. I don’t know about you, but every time I read a new book that I love, I’m anxious to talk about it with literally anyone who will listen. Luckily, I have a blog so I finally have an outlet for all my book-related word vomit so my poor husband doesn’t have to listen to me recap every book I read.

Check out some of the books below and see if there are any that strike your fancy! Plus, if you have any bookworms on your holiday shopping list, there’s still time to pick up one of these for them. The great thing about book lovers is that we always love getting new books, never mind how many we already have in our “to read” pile–we will always take more! 

Short Story Collections

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt – Aimee Bender

This book was a 1998 New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of the best works of fiction in that same year. Weird and twisted, it will definitely be worth reading more than once. When I first read it, I felt frustrated because I felt like I didn’t “get” the stories, but when I read it again, I was entranced by the oddities in the stories and found myself completely enchanted.

From the publisher: “A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?”

Available from Amazon

The Safety of Objects – A.M. Homes

Dark and twisty and a little messed up, this short story collection has stuck with me for years. A.M. Homes has said she likes to write about things no one likes to talk about so, fair warning.

From the publisher: “Included here are ‘Adults Alone,’ in which a couple drops their kids off at Grandma’s and gives themselves over to ten days of Nintendo, porn videos, and crack; ‘A Real Doll,’ in which a girl’s blond Barbie doll seduces her teenaged brother; and ‘Looking for Johnny,’ in which a kidnapped boy, having failed to meet his abductor’s expectations, is returned home. These stories, by turns satirical, perverse, unsettling, and utterly believable, expose the dangers of ordinary life even as their characters stay hidden behind the disguises they have so carefully created.”

Available from Amazon

Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman

I have a confession to make: I’m a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan girl. I love absolutely everything he writes, and this book is one of my favorites. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, there’s a story in here written for the show’s 50th anniversary featuring the eleventh doctor, as well as a companion story to American Gods. Each story is really engaging and will leave you completely spellbound.

From the publisher: Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In ‘Adventure Story’—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience ‘A Calendar of Tales’ are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale ‘The Case of Death and Honey.’ And ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’ explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.”

Available from Amazon

Dark and Creepy

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

I remember reading this book for the first time in sixth grade and I’ve never been the same since. It is full of incredible storytelling from a master of suspense and mystery and even knowing how the story turns out, I still want to read it again and again.

From the publisher: “Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to a isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. On the island they are cut off from everything but each other and the inescapable shadows of their own past lives. One by one, the guests share the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die

…Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?”

Available from Amazon

The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

If your only knowledge of this story is that horrible Nicole Kidman remake, read this book immediately. It’s masterfully creepy, especially when you consider that this story represents an extreme response to the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. It still gives me chills when I re-read it! Written by the brilliant mind that gave readers Rosemary’s Baby, this book is a must-read.

From the publisher: “For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town’s idyllic facade lies a terrible secret — a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.”

Available from Amazon

Copycat – Alex Lake

I got this e-book for free as a daily Kindle deal, and then stayed up several hours past my bedtime reading it–and then a few more hours because it’s so creepy! If someone on your holiday list loves suspenseful, creepy thrillers, this is definitely a book for them–and they’ll never look at social media in quite the same way.

From the publisher: “When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen.

But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house.

And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own…”

Available from Amazon

There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins

This is another book I happened to get on a whim because of a sale, and I stayed up all night reading it! It focuses on a serial killer attacking teens at the local high school in a small town in Nebraska and the storytelling is so enthralling you won’t be able to stop turning the pages. Definitely read this book with the lights on!

From the publisher: “It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she’s still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii.

Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.”

Available from Amazon

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

I wanted to read this book before I watched the movie (which was a phenomenal adaptation, by the way), and I fell in love within the first few pages. Personally, I’m a huge fan of an unreliable narrator because it leaves the reader to determine what is true and what isn’t. Extremely well written and compelling, this book is amazing.

From the publisher:

“EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life–as she sees it–is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”

Available from Amazon

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

One of my favorite books of all time, I re-read it at least once a year. A zealous Biblical group overthrows the government and forces all fertile women to become handmaids for wives of wealthy men after a strain of syphilis renders most of the public infertile. It sometimes feels a little too real considering some of the people in positions of power in politics, but that, in my opinion, makes it that much more important to read this book.

From the publisher: “Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. 
The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.”

Available from Amazon

Young Adult

Sloppy Firsts – Megan McCafferty

I don’t care how old you are, you never really outgrow young adult fiction, especially a book as well-written as this one. I first read this in high school when I was 16 (the age of the protagonist, Jessica Darling) and I kind of grew up along with her through the series (five books in all). The writing is so smart and engaging and funny that even as an adult, it’s well worth a read.

From the publisher: “When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling novel, 
Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment. From the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious ‘Dreg’ who works his way into her heart, this poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.”

Available from Amazon

Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver

This was made into a movie a couple years ago starring Zoey Deutch and it’s pretty good, but the book is better (of course). A girl keeps reliving the same day over and over and over again as she tries to figure out why. It deals with teen bullying and friendships and the way we can impact so many other lives without even realizing it. The character growth of the protagonist is realistic and beautiful and so well-written that I was surprised to learn this was Lauren Oliver’s debut novel. 

From the publisher: “For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—’Cupid Day’—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.”

Available from Amazon 

The Selection – Kiera Cass

I have a confession to make: I love The Bachelor. It’s one of my favorite guilty pleasures to watch, so it’s no wonder I ended up falling in love with the book and its sequels. The Selection is The Bachelor meets a dystopian future where America has become a monarchy and women from a variety of backgrounds compete to become the next queen. It’s a compelling read and perfect for when you want to read some fluff.

From the publisher: “For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.

Then America meets Prince Maxon—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.”

Available from Amazon

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

This is such an incredible book about a kid dealing with the start of high school after the death of his aunt. It has so many good one liners in there that punch me in the gut every time I read this book, even though I know they’re coming. I’m often wary of film adaptations because I never know how books are going to translate, but this one stars powerhouses like Ezra Miller and Emma Watson and is beautifully done.

From the publisher: “The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant ‘wallflower’ Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.”

Available from Amazon

The Swingin’ Sixties

The Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann

Often dismissed because of a hot pink cover, this book has phenomenal character development while it shows the seedy underside of show business by following three women over the course of twenty years. The book was incredibly controversial at the time because it showed a realistic portrayal of women and their sexuality during a time when women weren’t allowed to do much other than stand around and look pretty. Today, it seems tame compared to what you see on TV, but at the time it shook the country to its very modest core.

However–do not watch the film adaptation, it’s completely horrible. When Jacqueline Susann saw it for the first time, she left the theater in tears because she hated it so much. After I watched it, I fully understand why she had that reaction.

From the publisher: “At a time when women were destined to become housewives, Jacqueline Susann let us dream. Anne, Neely, and Jennifer become best friends as struggling young women in New York City trying to make their mark. Eventually, they climb their way to the top of the entertainment industry only to find that there’s no place left to go but down, into the Valley of the Dolls.”

Available from Amazon

The Girls – Emma Cline

A 14-year-old girl befriends a fictionalized version of the Manson Family leading up to the Sharon Tate murders. Cline’s sensory language is amazing and the story is so engaging that I read the whole book in a day.

From the Publisher: “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.”

Available from Amazon

Drop City – T.C. Boyle

Technically, this takes place in 1970, but I’m sticking it in this category because, well, hippies. A commune in California is forced off their property and move up to Alaska, where they are entirely unprepared for the unforgiving frontier that faces them. The characters are really compelling and kept me turning the pages, even when nothing was really happening in regards to plot. After reading this, part of you will want to move into the woods and start growing your own vegetables. The other part of you will be really happy to have indoor plumbing.

From the publisher: “It is 1970, and a down-at-the-heels California commune devoted to peace, free love, and the simple life has decided to relocate to the last frontier—the unforgiving landscape of interior Alaska—in the ultimate expression of going back to the land. Armed with the spirit of adventure and naïve optimism, the inhabitants of ‘Drop City’ arrive in the wilderness of Alaska only to find their utopia already populated by other young homesteaders. When the two communities collide, unexpected friendships and dangerous enmities are born as everyone struggles with the bare essentials of life: love, nourishment, and a roof over one’s head.”

Available from Amazon

Hearts in Atlantis – Stephen King

This book is actually a series of five parts that all connect by a common thread of the Vietnam War. The first section is about a young kid named Bobby and a mysterious new neighbor who moves in upstairs and has a special gift. That segment was turned into a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Anton Yelchin and was a really awesome adaptation (although, really, with Hopkins, you can’t go wrong). This is hands down one of my favorite books of all time.

From the publisher: “In Part One, ‘Low Men in Yellow Coats,’ eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield discovers a world of predatory malice in his own neighborhood. He also discovers that adults are sometimes not rescuers but at the heart of the terror. 

In the title story, a bunch of college kids get hooked on a card game, discover the possibility of protest…and confront their own collective heart of darkness, where laughter may be no more than the thinly disguised cry of the beast. 

In ‘Blind Willie’ and ‘Why We’re in Vietnam,’ two men who grew up with Bobby in suburban Connecticut try to fill the emptiness of the post-Vietnam era in an America which sometimes seems as hollow — and as haunted — as their own lives. 

And in ‘Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling,’ this remarkable book’s denouement, Bobby returns to his hometown where one final secret, the hope of redemption, and his heart’s desire may await him. 
Full of danger, full of suspense, most of all full of heart, Stephen King’s new book will take some readers to a place they have never been…and others to a place they have never been able to completely leave.”

Available from Amazon

11/22/63 – Stephen King

Can you tell I’m a Stephen King fan? This is one of his longest books (if not the longest), but I never seem to notice because I find the world he creates to be so engrossing and I’m always sorry to reach the last page. In 11/22/63, An English teacher goes back in time via a wormhole in the back of a local diner in order to attempt to stop the Kennedy assassination. However, the wormhole spits him out in 1958 and while he waits for 1963, he heads down to Texas and falls in love.

Whatever you do, do NOT watch the Hulu miniseries adaptation. It’s a complete dumpster fire and I’m still upset about what a travesty this was. It had so much potential and then they did…that. Ugh. 

From the publisher: “It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.”

Available from Amazon

Non-Fiction

Calypso – David Sedaris

There are few authors that both inspire and intimidate the shit out of me, and David Sedaris is the epitome of both. I’ve read nearly everything he’s written (usually more than once), and his latest book is incredible. Plus, it’s pretty appropriate for the holidays as it opens with an essay about house guests that’ll leave you laughing while you hide in your closet and wait for your own guests to leave. If possible, I highly recommend enjoying this one on audiobook.

From the publisher: “When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

With 
Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny–it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.”

Available on Amazon

Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

This book from the late, great Carrie Fisher is hilarious and I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to enjoy it. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud when I read this book, and I’m pretty sure everyone around me in the dentist’s waiting room thought I was unhinged. Totally worth it.

From the publisher: “Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty—Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher—homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.”

Available from Amazon

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson

Another extremely funny book, Jenny Lawson tells snort-laugh-inducing stories about her childhood and marriage and is open and honest about her mental health struggles (and somehow makes them super funny). As someone who struggles with mental health, this book made me feel less alone while making me laugh during dark times and reminding me that things are going to be okay. Plus, how can you go wrong with a cover that features a furiously happy taxidermied raccoon?

From the author: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.’

Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between ‘surviving life’ and ‘living life.’ It’s the difference between ‘taking a shower’ and ‘teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.’ It’s the difference between being ‘sane’ and being ‘furiously happy.'”

Available from Amazon

What’s an Adult?: No One Knows Anything and We’re All Going to Die – Emily Regan

Confession: this one is mine! As my ten year high school reunion quickly approached, I found myself feeling like a huge fraud of an adult. I felt like the titular character in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and that at any moment, someone was going to point out that I wasn’t really a grown up and was instead an adolescent masquerading as someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about. If you, too, suffer from imposter syndrome, you might relate to this.

From the publisher: “Emily Regan has no idea what she’s doing. In theory, she’s supposed to be an adult but in actuality, she has no idea what that means and in light of her upcoming high school reunion, she’s pretty positive someone is going to call her out as a fraud. Whether she is speculating that Facebook is out to ruin us all, contracting food poisoning and vomiting her way across London, or just trying to figure out how to make a phone call without sounding like a complete idiot, this collection paints a portrait of someone hoping no one notices that she’s not a real grown up. 

If you also feel like a big, fat phony, Regan has included a handful of helpful tutorials to fake your way through adulthood, including:

*how to open a greeting card
*how to go grocery shopping
*how to make a doctor’s appointment
*. . . and more!

If you are one of those rare unicorns who actually has their life together, this might not be the book for you. But just in case you’re better at faking it than Emily Regan is, you should probably buy this book. You can say it’s for a friend. No one has to know.”

Available from Amazon

 


 

Have you read any of the books on this list? Are there any that you think I absolutely should have included? Let me know in the comments!

 


 

 

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Emily Regan is the author of several books, including "What's an Adult?: No One Knows Anything and We're All Going to Die." She is an avid fan of reality TV, an unironic Hanson fan, and currently resides in Arizona with her family.

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