I believe that life is all about balance. I’ve heard that an occasional vegetable should be consumed to balance a diet of desserts. And relaxation is key after an epic adventure. The way I relax is by reading. I open a book (or the Kindle app on my iPad) and soon, I’m miles and decades away.
If you’re looking for a book to read on your next trip, check out what I consider to be the best books of 2018.
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As any southern girl knows, time can be marked by the flowers in the garden. And as Julie Cantrell reminds us, each flower has story to tell. Lovey leaves a life of flowers and family to pursue an advertising career in Arizona.
After spending half her lifetime away from Mississippi, running from the labels life gave her, Lovey is called home by her parents. She’ll need to face her big sister Bitsy, who is less than subtle in her constant attacks. Can the girls reconcile their differences and discover a way to put family first before it’s too late?
2. The Story Keeper
Years ago, I read The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate and fell in love with her ability to weave the foundation of faith with a really good story.
I’ve stumbled upon her again and again was blown away by her ability to suck a reader in to the point that I almost missed my train stop!
Jen works in New York at a publishing company well known for its Slush Mountain, where unpublished, unreturnable manuscripts go to die. It’s also well known that no one is to touch Slush Mountain. So when a 20-year old manuscript ends up on Jen’s desk, she wonders if someone is trying to set her up.
Instead of returning the manuscript, she reads it, and thus changes the course of her life. What she discovers in the unfinished manuscript will bring her back to Appalachia and a life she thought she left behind for good.
Wingate shares a story within a story and introduces readers to true Appalachia, a part of America most know nothing about.
3. The Life List
Lori Nelson Spielman
Fans of P.S. I Love You, this one’s for you.
Brett seems to have it all: the great boyfriend, an amazing job at the company her mother built and an amazing family.
But when her mom passes away from cancer, things don’t go exactly as she thought they would in the lawyer’s office.
Her brothers walk out as millionaires and Brett is handed a list she made as a young girl.
Brett’s Life List
1. Go to Paris
2. Perform live, on a super big stage
3. Have a baby, maybe two
4. Fall in love …
The catch? She must complete the entire list in one year to earn her inheritance. The clock is ticking and the things she thought were certain in life might not be so secure after all.
4. The Life She Was Given
Ellen Marie Wiseman
When I read a book, I devour it. I dive in quickly, fully immersed, but when I finish the last words, the cover is closed and I move on to the next book. I can’t do that with Ellen Marie Wiseman’s books.
She’s been on my top books of 2016 and 2017… and I can’t wait to see what she’s got planned for 2019! Her books cover the people most marginalized by society and wades through social justice issues that are often untouched in the realm of historical fiction.
In The Life She Was Given, Lilly is a little girl whose looks make her different. And because she’s different, her parents hide her away in the attic and Lilly peeks out at the meadows outside she’s never set foot on. One day, her hopes soar as mother takes her outside, only to be dashed when she finds she’s been sold to the sideshow at the traveling circus. Her story unfolds through the 1930s as she discovers a life of her own inside the circus tent.
Flash forward to the 1950s. Julia Blackwood inherits her family home, Blackwood Manor, where she finally has the chance to explore the whole house… even the attic, which was kept locked throughout her childhood.
5. As Bright as Heaven
As Bright as Heaven is Susan Meissner’s latest and is different than most of the dual era historical fiction she’s penned. Meissner always writes strong female leads, and this one is no different. I was several chapters in when it dawned on me that this wouldn’t be a dual era novel like some of my favorites, The Girl in the Glass and The Shape of Mercy.
Her latest novel follows the Bright family during WWI as they leave the country for the opportunities in the big city of Philadelphia when Uncle Fred asks Tom to join his mortuary business. Things seem to be looking up for the family and then the Spanish Influenza strikes.
Told from the perspective of the Bright women (mother Pauline and daughters Evelyn, Maggie and Willa), each chapter shares how their lives are changed as people around them get sick and die. One day, Maggie helps her mom deliver food to the sick around town and finds a baby in need and takes him home. Her actions will leave you wondering whether doing the wrong things for the right reasons might not be so wrong after all… or are they?
6. The Flight Attendant
A couple years ago, I read Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room. It was so twisty, I just had to read his latest. I always wonder what crime show writers and mystery novelists are like in real life… because it gets DARK sometimes.
Bohjalian’s latest will leave you wondering exactly who’s behind the cart on your next flight. After meeting the man in 2C on an intercontinental flight from New York, flight attendant Cassie ends up in bed with him shortly after touchdown in Dubai.
They share a good night and lots of alcohol, but when Cassie wakes up next to a dead man with a head full of fuzzy memories she asks herself the question: did I kill this man?
She fled the scene with uncertainty over the previous nights’ activities and as more information is revealed, Cassie learns that her life may be in danger too. One bad decision leads to another and you’ll be yelling at her through the pages until the very last chapter.
7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
When I was living and working in Melbourne, it seemed a day didn’t pass without seeing this book on someone’s desk or in someone’s hands on my morning commute. As a person who can count the number of four-letter words I’ve uttered on one hand, I was skeptical about this book. But with 3 million copies sold, I decided to jump on the bandwagon, too.
Now, I’m all about rainbows and sunshine, but I found myself nodding along to Mark Manson’s assertion that “true happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.” He calls us to view negative emotions as a “call to action. When you feel them, it’s because you’re supposed to do something.”
His sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is persona provided a much-needed lens for introspection during a crossroads in my life. I’m still figuring life out… but I’ve got one more tool in my toolkit!
8. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Li-yan is born into a family of tea farmers in a remote hill tribe in the Yunnan Province of China. As Ahka people, her family lives according to the seasons to grow and harvest tea, working long hours in exchange for a pittance.
Li-yan’s mother is the village midwife and old traditions reign supreme, including the murder of twins or babies born out of wedlock. When Li-yan finds herself unmarried and pregnant, she and her mother devise a plan to go against the cultural traditions. With her mother’s blessing, Li-yan puts the baby up for adoption, swaddled in a blanket with a tea cake.
Life takes some drastic twists and turns for Li-yan as she grieves the loss of her child. Meanwhile, baby Haley is adopted by a loving couple in the US and is given an amazing childhood. As she grows, she feels a draw to China and the tea cake turns out to be the key to her history.
I read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane just before my trip to Vietnam where I had the opportunity to hike with a group of indigenous women through the terraced rice paddies of Sapa. Echoes of this novel came back to me as we hiked alongside women whose culture seemed so similar to Li-yan’s.
9. The Window
Anna and Jess are identical twins. While they look the same on the outside, Anna is the popular, outgoing one. Jess is quiet and introverted. Despite their differences, they don’t keep any secrets from each other. Or so Jess thought.
When Anna is found dead after falling while sneaking out of her bedroom window, Jess realizes there is a lot about her sister that she doesn’t know. It seems an open and shut case, but Jess digs deeper to uncover more about Anna’s secret life.
Is Jess grasping for straws or is her twin-tuition on point?
10. The Clockmaker’s Daughter
Kate Morton is one of my all-time favorite authors and her latest is one of her best! (I say that with every one, though, so I’m sure her next one will be my favorite, too.)
When a group of young artists descend upon Birchwood Manor, they intend to spend the summer creating art and soaking in the inspiration of the countryside. That summer ends with a dead heiress, a missing muse, a stolen heirloom and a devastated artist.
What really happened that day by the Thames? In 500 pages, Morton spans more than 100 years and multiple generations who each play a part in unraveling the mystery.
11. The Tattooist of Auschwitz: A Novel
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story, with photos and commentary from the tattooist’s son at the end of the book. As an imagined novel, this would have been an incredibly moving story. Knowing its truth is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.
Lale Sokolov was given the job of tattooing the arms of other prisoners upon their arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The job gave him special perks in the camp and kept him alive, but instead of keeping those perks to himself, he constantly sought ways to help others.
One day, as he was tattooing the arms of new female prisoners, a fleeting moment of contact with Gita changed the course of his life. This story is their love story.
As WWII appears further and further away in the rearview mirror of history, it’s important to seek to understand the horror and the humanness of that time in history. It’s only through knowing that we can avoid recreating past atrocities.
12. Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People
I spent months reading Bob Goff’s first book, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World. I highlighted every sentence so I wouldn’t forget anything and I had BIG hopes for his second book. He didn’t let me down.
In a world that’s charged with right and wrong, this book reminds us that we’d all be better off becoming love. Who should we love? And how long do we have to do it? Everybody Always. Grab some tissues for this one… the forecast is emotional.
13. Ghosted: A Novel
As someone who’s done her fair share of online dating, the term ‘ghosted’ is unfortunately all too real for me. For those of you lucky enough to find love in a pre-swipe world, ghosting is when a potential suitor fails to communicate after a date.
This novel follows Sarah and Eddie’s promising whirlwind romance until the day when he is to board a plane and seemingly disappears off the face of the earth. Sarah knows this is different than a typical ghosting and vows to get to the bottom of Eddie’s disappearance. What she discovers will have you flipping the page until you finish the book!
14. Into the Water
I expected twists and turns from the woman who wrote Girl on the Train, but I had no idea she’d be this twisty!
The Drowning Pool has claimed the lives of several women through the years. Some say it’s the spirit of the women tried as witches in this very same spot centuries before.
Jules has been running from the past and the secrets she thought she’d left there, but she’s called back to care for her teenage niece when her sister is found dead in the Drowning Pool. Is it a suicide or something more sinister?
From the first moment to the final three words, everyone in the town is a suspect. Lock your doors and clear your calendar. You won’t want to do anything until you solve this mystery!
15. Surprise Me
Sylvie and Dan have the perfect marriage. They finish each others’ sentences and love their twins more than anything. They’re looking forward to happily ever after… until they learn that forever could be another 68 years. Cue freak out.
In order to keep things interesting, they vow to surprise each other with gifts and experiences. And in true Sophie Kinsella fashion, it all goes horribly wrong and it’s oh-so-right for the reader!
16. Sold on a Monday
A journalist snaps a photo of two boys and a 2 CHILDREN FOR SALE sign. When the photo is damaged and a second is needed, struggling reporter Ellis Reed stages another photo with two different children. His article and the faux photo help him shoot up the rungs of the ladder at work… but what of the children?
While he’s living the high life of success, Ellis learns that the children (who were absolutely not for sale) have been sold. Partnering with Lillian Palmer, a secretary with a secret of her own, the pair risk it all to get to the bottom of the story.
17. The Masterpiece
The 1920s were a time of glitz and glamor. The constellations on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal shone over the students of the art school housed inside. Clara is a talented artist, pursuing a career as an illustrator while teaching classes at the Grand Central School of Art. Despite her talents, her work was often overlooked in favor of the men on faculty. But her talent is second only to her brazen confidence and soon she makes her own mark on the art scene.
Fifty years later, Virginia Clay is dealing with the aftermath of a divorce. When she takes a job at Grand Central Terminal, its blackened ceilings and loitering criminals are a far cry from the terminal’s sparkling heyday. When she stumbles upon the art school, abandoned during the Great Depression, she begins to unravel the mystery of Clara’s disappearance.
18. Carter Beats the Devil
Glen David Gold
As a child who was fascinated by Houdini and once begged my parents to allow me to ask David Copperfield out to dinner (didn’t happen), this historical novel was quite intriguing.
Gold takes real historical figures like magician Charles Carter and President Warren G. Harding and creates a world where Carter is accused of the President’s death. Throughout the course of the novel, I took to Google several times. I needed to find out what was actual historical fact and what was imagined historical fiction.
Tinged with mystery, deceit and a healthy dose of magic, this work of historical fiction should be on everyone’s must-read list.
Have you read an awesome book in 2018? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to my ever-growing “to read” list!