Whew. It was not easy to narrow down this list of My Favorite Books of 2018. It was a really good year of reading! There were so many riveting books which grabbed my attention and then just wouldn’t let go. Some people binge watch TV (I do that too at times), but with a really gripping book, I binge read.
So, here then are the 18 books I most highly recommend from the 50+ I read last year. These are the ones that I struggled to put down, thought about even when I wasn’t reading them, talked about with others, and was always anxious to return to.
My Favorite Books of 2018
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
This book reminded me of a new take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works. I was completely enamored with it. Post- depression Manhattan and the life of cocktails and jazz clubs provides the backdrop for a look at class and privilege and those fighting against it.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
When you see that I have read books by the same author more than once, you can know that really means something. I’m not the most “author loyal” person. I tend to jump around a lot. But when I find one who truly captures my attention, I will seek out every book they have written. In A Gentleman in Moscow, Count Rostov is declared an unrepentant aristocrat and sentenced to house arrest by a Bolshevik tribunal. He is placed in an attic room of a grand hotel across from the Kremlin. He has never worked a day in life but now is left only to watch as history unfolds in front of the hotel doors. As may be imagined, his move from grandeur to humble living has a profound effect on him personally. His journey had a profound effect on me too.
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
This book just made me want to travel even more than ever. It’s a non-fictional account of Oxenreider’s trip around the world with her family. Seeing the various cultures she encounters through her eyes is enlightening and delightful. It’s not your typical travel guide, but more a view of humanity as seen through the lenses of different cultural beliefs and practices.
The Address by Fiona Davis
Fiona Davis has always written the kind of books that are so compelling that I have a hard time putting them down. This book has two intertwining story lines of love and loss – both centered on the same building in New York City, one set in 1885 and the other in 1985. The two heroines are both participants in and yet on the outside, looking in at those living opulent lives. One is the world of the Astors and Vanderbilts; the other the club scene of alcohol and cocaine.
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
As you can see, Fiona Davis is another favourite of mine. The Dollhouse, another novel rich in historical detail, is focused on the famous Barbizon Hotel for Women, a fixture in 1950’s New York City. Once again, the story is told from the perspective of the aspiring models, secretaries, and editors living there in the 1950’s determined to do whatever it takes to reach success as well as that of a journalist 50 years later who finds herself living at the Barbizon and enthralled with the stories of its past occupants.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Jean Perdu owns a bookshop on a barge. That in itself was fascinating enough for me. Then when I read that he considers his shop to be not just a bookstore but a literary apothecary, I was completely intrigued. Perdu has amazing skills when it comes to his customers. They come in and tell him their woes and he prescribes just the right books for them. The question is, will he be able to cure himself?
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Here’s another author I am completely enamored with – obviously. As with The Little Paris Bookshop, this is a story of the charms of living in France and of second chances at life. Marianne has had enough of her loveless, unhappy marriage. So, she leaves her husband of 41 years and sets out on a journey to the coast of Brittany. She learns to take delight in life’s small moments again and that it’s never too late.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Poignant story of forbidden love between a Chinese American man and a Japanese American girl in the time of World War II, the period details are so perfect that you feel a part of the story yourself. Fast forward to 1986. The Panama Hotel has been sold and the new owner has found that the belongings of Japanese families sent to the camps were being stored there in the basement. This discovery takes Henry Lee on a journey through his memories of Keiko, the young woman he loved.
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
As with Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, this book is also set in Seattle. This time though, the time period is during the Great Depression. A 12 year old Chinese American boy named William is living at an orphanage where he was placed ever since his mother’s lifeless body was carried away from their home 5 years prior. When the orphans are taken to a movie, William sees an actress named Willow Frost who looks just like his mother, Liu Song. Convinced she is alive, he escapes from the orphanage with his best friend Charlotte in search of Willow Frost.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
Have I ever mentioned how much of a Hemingway fan I am? This is a fictionalized account of his first marriage. Ambition, betrayal, 1920s Chicago and Paris? I’m all in.
Love and Ruin by Paula McClain
Still on Hemingway, but this time about a different wife. We’ve now moved forward in time to 1937 Madrid. Martha Gellhorn is a war correspondent reporting on the Spanish Civil War. While there, she meets and falls for the legendary Hemingway. They begin as equals – professionals whose careers are both taking off. But, after the publication of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway meets with incredible success and the balance has been tipped. Gellhorn now has a difficult choice to make between the man she loves and the successful writing career she so craves.
Audrey at Home by Luca Dotti
Part cookbook, part biography this book written and assembled by Luca Dotti, son of Audrey Hepburn is a delight. Of course, I’m a huge Audrey fan so I must admit some bias here but I do think the recipes and stories of her life would be appreciated by anyone. Audrey knew the importance of living your best life before that became a catch phrase. Wellness, vitality, love of every moment in your life were all very important to her and this is reflected through her favorite recipes, personal correspondence, memories, and anecdotes.
Radical by David Platt
I’m going to warn you. I know people who have read it and it made them angry. Pastor David Platt asks readers to consider – with an open mind – that Christianity and the American Dream actually don’t go together very well. He suggests that people have actually manipulated their faith and beliefs in order to fit in with the cultural norms of society. Agree or disagree, it’s an interesting, thought-provoking proposition that had me reexamining not only my faith but my entire life.
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Another book about second chances and finding that it’s never too late to embrace life and happiness. Grumpy AJ Fikry has been living a life of loneliness. Even the books in the shop he owns have stopped giving him pleasure. One day a mysterious package is left behind at Fikry’s store and with that, his life is transformed.
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
Laurent Letellier, a bookstore owner, finds a lost handbag on the streets of Paris. He is drawn to it and its contents and feels compelled to try to find its owner. The only thing inside that might give him a clue as to the person’s identity is a red notebook filled with handwritten notes and thoughts. As he reads through it, he becomes more and more attracted to its author and must find a way to meet her. A heartwarming yet offbeat romance ensues.
The Lifegiving Parent by Clay and Sally Clarkson
This parenting book is so refreshing and uplifting. Instead of providing all the rules for what to do and not to do with your children (making many of us feel inadequate as a result), this is simply Christian-based encouragement (without preaching!!!).
Jesus Prom by Jon Weece
Oh this is such a delightful book! Jon Weece posits that those who say they love Jesus surely must also love the people Jesus loves. Hint: that’s everyone. But then he takes it a step further. Church and Christian are both nouns. Nouns aren’t meant to just stand alone – they’re meant to have action verbs to go with them. Action verbs help nouns fulfill their purpose and in the case of church and Christian, that verb is love. As you learn about the Jesus Prom, you will laugh, you will cry, and you will most definitely love.
Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Laure Beausejour has been sent from Paris to New France as one of the filles du roi. Her dreams of becoming a seamstress and marrying a nobleman are put aside as she is instead expected to marry and have children with a brute of a French soldier. Laure feels trapped in this harsh new world, but a secret friendship with an Iroquois man brings her new hope and perhaps the possibility of a better life.