Friday, January 4, 2019

Alexa & Macky's Best Reads of 2018

I hope the first few days of 2019 have been good to you so far, readers! They've been very quiet and relaxing for me, which is always a good way to start off the year (especially if you're cooking up plans or new ways to stay on top of your responsibilities, like I tend to do). 

Anyway, today's post is one of my favorites to share with all of you - a list of favorite reads! I stalk a lot of different blogs and channels to see what other folks have been loving in the last year, and it's always fun to discover new-to-me titles or authors or to be able to find more people to fangirl with about books I've loved! Before we start making a new list of novel favorites for 2019, it seems only fitting to share the 30 books (or series) that Macky & I loved in 2018. (If you're so inclined, you can also check out what books we loved in 2017, as well as my favorite YA/MG and adult/NA in 2016, and my favorites of 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.)


Personally, I always find it hard to rank my favorite reads of the year in any order because I love books for a lot of different reasons and it's hard for me to objectively give them a number. But I will tell you that my top three reads are actually my top three this time! So, the first three titles below are my top three (though technically, were we to categorize them, they'd all be number one - for series, debut and backlist, respectively).


Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas (my review) | Is it honestly a surprise to anyone who has been following this blog that this novel is my favorite read of 2018? It's the (epic, emotional, everything I didn't know I needed until I was reading it) Throne of Glass series finale, and I am head over heels in love with it. I've talked about how much this series means to me on a personal level, and that is something I'll stand by for the rest of my life and largely the reason that I loved this book so damn much. The story, the world, the characters, the relationships, the themes - it all really culminates in something extremely special, and I just have nothing but love for this book (and this series). 

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (my review) | I honestly don't know how else I can shout from the rooftops about how I much this debut contemporary romance novel, except to insist that if you like a good swoony romance, love well-written characters and character development and enjoy an entertaining and emotional story, then you must add this novel to your TBR. I fell head over heels in love with Stella and Michael (and a whole host of other characters, but specifically Quan, whose book I just need right now), and I loved seeing how their story played out. (And now, I've managed to convince myself to do a full reread of this instead of just rereading my favorite bits over and over again.)

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale | I'm still kind of kicking myself in the butt over here for waiting so long to read this one, even after having been assured multiple times that I was going to love it. I read it on Christmas Eve, and I'm so glad I hadn't worked on my best of list up until last week because it would have been a terrible tragedy not to be able to include this fairytale retelling of The Goose Girl. Shannon Hale pulls details for plot and character from the original tale, but still manages to make it feel fresh and compelling for the reader. I adored the main character Anidori, and I loved following her journey from start to finish. I would definitely recommend adding this to your TBR as well, and I'm so looking forward to diving into the companion novel Enna Burning soon.


Before I move on to the other titles I wanted to highlight for 2018, I did want to give a couple of special shout-outs to a few things that almost made the cut for this list. First, we have two 2019 books: The Wicked King by Holly Black (which was an incredible follow-up to The Cruel Prince, taking Jude's story to a whole new level of intensity and breaking all my feels along the way) and The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (it's basically Six of Crows in Paris meets National Treasure meets Indiana Jones, and I'm so in love with these characters). I did a series binge of Before She Ignites, As She Ascends and When She Reigns by Jodi Meadows (I got the chance to read the latter early, and it was soooo worth it!), which is a fantasy series I think is vastly underrated and one that tackles politics, relationships and personal beliefs for these characters in a very compelling way.


We also have a 2018 release that blew my mind: Sadie by Courtney Summers (which I'd label with content warnings for violence and sexual abuse, but which I also couldn't put down once I'd started and has a really cool format). And, I'll be finishing off this little section with a shout-out to an author duo that I fell in love with this year, Christina Lauren. Their novels are such fun romances, with excellent main characters and couples I could root for in every single one I've read (which is a total of five: Roomies, Sweet Filthy Boy, Dirty Rowdy Thing, Dark Wild Night and Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating). I can't wait to read more of their work in 2019!

Okay, back to our regular programming and the actual titles that made it onto my list of top reads for the year. Just as a reminder, these are in no particular order as I just love them all so very much.


Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa | If you enjoy anime with a fantasy bent or are looking for a fun fantasy to add to your reading list, I'd highly suggest checking out this novel. It's inspired heavily by Japanese lore and culture, and it's so dang fun! I really enjoyed being immersed in this world, getting to know main character Yumeko (and a whole host of side characters) and having the experience of reading a novel that simply felt like an anime in book form. (Seriously, there are similarities to all of my favorites - Yona of the Dawn, Fushigi Yuugi, Bleach and Naruto!) I'm dying to get my hands on book two, because I really need to know what happens next.

Wildcard by Marie Lu (my review) | Speaking of novels that read like an anime in book form, it would be extremely remiss of me not to include another of my favorite series conclusions of 2018. I fell head over heels in love with Warcross last year, and I adored this follow-up and conclusion for the duology. Once again, I was just completely sucked into this world and the story when I picked it up! I felt like it was a high intensity emotional experience for me coming off of a reread of the first, and I think it ended so, so well. There are also such excellent themes running through these two novels, and I think they'd be fun picks for a book club so you could discuss them!

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan | I feel like 2018 was year of such strong debut novels, and this one is definitely a new favorite! The world was brutal and fascinating, the story (though riddled with your fairly recognizable YA tropes) was engaging from start to finish and I adored the characters (especially Lei, who is such an interesting character to follow). Major content warnings for abuse and violence, mind you. But I really think that this debut was a strong addition to the world of diverse YA fantasy and can't wait for the next book in the series!


My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows (my review) | While I thoroughly enjoyed My Lady Jane, I can confidently say that I loved this one even more! Essentially, I've had this pitched as (and pitched it myself as) Jane Eyre meets Ghostbusters. Hilarity ensues as this author trio reveals the origins of the novel Jane Eyre through the eyes of three characters: Jane (the inspiration for the fictionalized version, of course), Charlotte (the aspiring author who writes the story) and Alexander (a very talented ghosthunter). It's tongue-in-cheek, it's clever and it was so much fun to read, and I'd highly recommend checking it out. (P.S. No need to read Jane Eyre before reading this one, though it'll make the little details they wove in funnier or more clever to you if you have.)

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo (my review) | I mentioned earlier that 2018 was full of incredible debuts, and this is another one of those titles that fits the bill! I'm always looking for retellings of The Little Mermaid, and this unique take (with a siren twist) was just as magical as I'd hoped it would be. Christo chose to tell the tale from two perspectives: Lira, the siren princess turned into a human as punishment and commanded to retrieve a certain prince's heart, and Elian, the golden pirate prince who is determined to rid the seas of the plague of murderous sirens. It's compelling, it's magical, it's written so damn well, and I absolutely loved it. Can't wait for more stories from this author!

American Panda by Gloria Chao (my review) | Here's another debut that I hold close to my heart, and it's certainly a title I wish more people would read! While the novel is specifically about the experience of a Taiwanese-American teen who is a college freshman, I found it to be so relatable on a personal level, being of Asian culture (specifically Filipino-American) myself. The way that Gloria Chao has crafted a story that's about one girl's journey towards reconciling her respect for her family and for tradition with her own dreams and beliefs was so thoughtful, and so realistic, and I can't (and won't) stop singing my praises for this novel.


Legendary by Stephanie Garber (my review) | While I absolutely loved Caraval, I'm freaking obsessed with its companion novel sequel. It was a real treat to switch over to following younger sister Tella, as she takes her turn at navigating the topsy turvy world of Caraval in order to complete a mission for her own purposes. The whimsy and wonder of Caraval, as well as the deceit and darkness lurking underneath, were certainly still present in this story. But what really shines in the tale, to me, that is, are the characters, particularly Tella and Dante. Tella is a wonderful protagonist, who is self-aware enough to recognize that things might be off but will steady herself on this course because of necessity. And Dante is just... wonderful. I'm so looking forward to a proper reread of this one in 2019 before the series finale is released!

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo (my review) | I am a big fan of YA contemporaries that take place over the course of a summer and involve the main character growing up to embrace a change of perspective - and that's precisely what this novel has to offer. I was immediately a fan of Clara, though our personalities are so decidedly different from one another. And to be able to really see how she changes over the course of a summer, embracing new attitudes and relationships, was really great! I'm especially a fan of her relationship with her dad, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young (my review) | I was highly anticipating reading this debut when I first heard that it was a Viking-inspired fantasy. Luckily, it exceeded any expectations I had for it! It's a fairly simple tale where Eelyn, shocked by the sudden reappearance of the older brother she thought had died five years ago, is captured and taken to live with her clan's enemies for a season. While she's there, her impressions of her enemies are turned on their head and when a greater enemy threatens them all, she's determined to get the clans to unite in their fight for their survival. I loved seeing Eelyn's character journey, and I enjoyed the setting and details of this tale. So excited for Adrienne's next novel, which is also set in this world!


The Darkest Legacy by Alexandra Bracken (my review) | I am a huge fan of The Darkest Minds series. Like the original trilogy and the novella collection, Alex has once again successfully made me emotional about her characters as she returns to that (brutal, harsh, terrifying, complicated) world with her latest release. The best thing about this novel is how the narrative now follows Zu, a member of the original gang who has a decidedly unique perspective on the world and the Psi situation than Ruby does. It's part mystery, part road trip adventure, part "me and my friends have to figure out what to do" and I loved every second of it. It also has one of my all-time favorite scenes in YA from 2018, just saying. 

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya | I am so happy that I took the time to binge read the heck out of the full manga series in 2018, because it just makes my heart so happy (even after all of the emotional ups and downs it put me through). The initial premise is that Tohru Honda is discovered to be living on land owned by the Sohma clan, and is invited to live in a house with a few of the family members. She learns their biggest secret: when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac. It's an outrageous beginning premise, but I promise that it just continues to get more interesting and compelling with every volume you read! I love all of these characters and their individual stories, and I also love how it all plays out by the very end. Would highly recommend this manga series! (I'm also so excited they are rebooting the anime and completing it through the end of the series in manga this time!)

Save the Date by Morgan Matson (my review) | I'm a big Morgan Matson fan, and I'm so happy that I loved her latest release (so much so that it rivals Second Chance Summer as my favorite of hers). If you like romantic comedies and family ensemble stories, then this novel is definitely going to be right up your alley! It takes place over the course of three days, during the wedding of the eldest sibling of the Grant family... and includes all of the shenanigans that occur. Narrated by youngest sibling Charlie, this story was funny and heartwarming, and I loved every second of it.


Unlike my list, Macky's list will actually be coming to you in order! He's usually pretty good at sorting out what his actual favorites are and their placement on his end of the year list. Check out his favorite reads below, beginning with his #1 and in descending order from there.


He does have a couple of special mentions that I wanted to add in before we get to his list: all of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition books, The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken and the Kushiel's Universe series by Jacqueline Carey. Okay, on to the list!


1. The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare | Popular or unpopular thought: I have found my new Golden Trio. I mean, I may love Harry, Ron and Hermione (and have lost no love at all since reading TID), but they have never made me feel the way I do for Tessa, Will and Jem. Set in old timey London, this is, by far, my absolute favorite installment of the Shadowhunters body of work and has filled that paranormal story void in my heart that no series 'til now could fill (at least since the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel). I don’t know that this can be fully appreciated without the weight of the first six Mortal Instruments books, but it’s written in a way that anyone who has never known about Shadowhunters will get a good intro through our girl Tessa who gets rope-a-doped into the world. I would say it’s my favorite series I have read for 2018, just because of ALL OF THE FEELINGS. Cannot wait for the sequel to destroy me completely in 2019!

2. Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare | I have a tendency to love side characters more than main characters, and to have a collected set of stories about everyone else outside of Jace and Clary from the Shadowhunters universe is, to me, divine. Set a few weeks (months?) after the events of the six Mortal Instruments books, the Shadowhunters are recovering from the aftermath of the most recent craziness that shook their world and this collected set of tales from the Academy’s earliest days set in parallel with the events leading up to the graduation of the first class of Nephilim is pure gold. It would have been my favorite of 2018 if it could stand alone from the series, but unfortunately you need the weight of history to really sink your teeth into these tales. They’re just yummier when you know more.

3. Shadow Magic trilogy by Joshua Khan | I have sung the praises of Joshua Khan’s trilogy up and down this blog and the YouTube channel for its memorable characters and clever plot. What’s so clever about the plots revolving around a young boy finding his purpose in life and a young girl with the weight of being a ruler thrust upon her? How about the fact that I have never read or watched anything where the main male character’s save-the-day efforts do not undermine the lead female character’s save-the-day efforts? As much of a big damn hero Thorn makes of himself, in no way does that undercut anything the great Lily Shadow has done, is doing or will do. I am captain of this ship and I swear I will go down with it, sail or fail! (Alexa's Note: It better be sailing.)


4. Red Right Hand & Black Goat Blues by Levi Black (Macky's review) | So, I went through a Cthulhu mythology phase playing games like Elder Signs and Pandemic: Cthulhu in the last year and a half. To find a gem of a series that is rooted in the mythos but tells a fresh story that is relatable, modern, accessible and well paced? Sold. Levi Black is indeed a talented writer and I got the chance to see him speak at a Panel for Booknetfest and he said he remembers the moment he lamented a not-so-great book experience thinking he could write better than that. He went out and did, and my life is the richer for it! If you like strong female characters, anything Cthulhu, and the horror/action genre? This is the series for you!

5. Alcatraz series by Brandon Sanderson (Macky's review) | This series was a wild, non-sequitur ride through clever plotting and brilliant storytelling. Also, I am extremely proud of my review for this blog because it both tells exactly how good the series is, and gives anyone a preview of what it’s like to read the books. That is all.

6. The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare | Me. Side characters. Eternal love. That’s the story of my bookish life. And for the readers of the Shadowhunter books, I cannot begin to say how much this book matters. Set within the time period of the first six Mortal Instruments, this book is best appreciated after having actually fallen in love with the series (or at least finishing it). Cassie Clare has very talented co-writers, whose love for the series shows in these vignettes. Highly recommended for fans of the series!


7. Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare | Julian Blackthorn has, arguably, the best developed Shadowhunter personal arc in the history (thus far) of Shadowhunter storytelling. This is the book that cements him as one of the greats, as his story comes to a close. It’s here because of ALL THE FEELINGS. If you have not been sold on the trilogy after reading Lady Midnight, there is no need to put yourself through Lord of Shadows to get to this one. But if you have loved Julian and Emma from the time they were tiny children, you may feel like I do, and how I owe it to them to finish their tale.

8. Twilight of the Elves by Nick Eliopulos and Zack Loran Clark | This is a great book two as far as book twos are concerned. With my newfound love for Dungeons & Dragons, I can no longer unsee the elements of the game woven (I would like to think lovingly) throughout the story. Plus, it falls square into the “me and my friends save the world” genre I live, eat and breathe forever, so what’s not to love?! Oh wait, the terrible cliffhanger that makes me NEED book three ASAP. Yeah, not too fond of that.

9. Titans Hunt and Titans:Rebirth | This is the year of the Titans! My OG Titans are finally back and have reconciled the weird stuff that happened (or rather un-happened) to their history. The way they were able to bring carrot-top Wally West back without having to “pretend” it all didn’t happen, or “erase” any new replacements was pretty smooth, all things considered. What matters more is that they are bringing the Titans forward, while grounding them in their actual OG, pre-current canon past, which to me is just, the yummiest thing. (Watch the Titans live action TV series as a chaser if you want more. Just saying.)


10. North and South (an Avatar: The Last Airbender comic) | First of all, every Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic comic (all of which are set after the events of the TV series) is absolute gold. I was only able to read one this year and it has made it to my top stories of 2018 because FEELINGS, okay? It’s set when Sokka and Katara return home to the Southern Water Tribe only to find their dad at the center of an “urbanization project” that both brings Northern Water Tribe architecture and industry to the south but also upsets some tribesmen because it seems their culture is being eroded. The siblings, in spite of being big war heroes, have to deal with this seemingly localized issue and really shine and reaffirm that they are not of small consequence and neither are their ideas, opinions and friends. SUCH. FUN.

11. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn | Arguably one of the greatest (if not the greatest) characters created within the Star Wars universes, Thrawn tells the origin story of the famed Grand Admiral who was prominent in the Legends universe as the only non-human in the Imperial army and who has now been brought back into the current canon universe via the Rebels series. This is the legendary strategist who is able to defeat enemies in combat and concoct strategies for defeat against them by studying their art and culture. The book itself (which would be fun to re-read both as a novel and as a graphic novel) reads like a masterclass in battle strategy woven into a tight, well-paced narrative. This is A MUST for any Star Wars Legends universe fans and current fans of the character. Timothy Zahn has never written Thrawn this well and I am living for it.

12. Fablehaven series and Dragonwatch series by Brandon Mull |  I am so glad I was able to slog through the adventures of Kendra and Seth Sorensen. From the moment they discover that their grandparents are actually “wardens” of a magical preserve (one of many in the world) earmarked for magical and fabled creatures of all kinds to dwell in, all the way to the world changing climax of the last Fablehaven book, I believe the five book setup is worth it to enjoy the Dragonwatch series (which is set right after the first series ends). The Sorenson siblings have grown up and are on a deeper journey towards being legends themselves. While the stakes may not be as high (so far… I mean we’re only at book two right now), they could very well escalate to apocalyptic proportions once again and frankly, I am down for that. Cannot wait for book three to see how the new normal unfolds!


13. Dragonrider Chronicles series and Dragonrider Legacy series by Nicole Conway | Pretty much everything is better with dragons! And I recall purchasing and preordering (at the time) every book in the series halfway through reading the first book of the Dragonrider Chronicles, because I was hooked on the story of Jaevid, the half-elf illegitimate son turned dragon-rider. The tone of the story is very accessible and is paced pretty well too. That I ate up all four books and jumped straight into the next series (Dragonrider Legacy) comes as no surprise to me. Plus, the next cycle of books features a badass princess who is also a Dragonrider. Complete win!

14. X-Men: Blue, X-Men: Gold and X-Men Red (as well as Jean Grey and All-New Wolverine) | It was a great year for reading X-men comics! My top faves are X-men Blue (about the time displaced teen versions of the OG team: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel), X-Men Gold (where Kitty Pryde is both headmistress and team leader, with her Excalibur Crew Kurt and Rachel backing her up and Storm), X-men Red (set a bit after the events of Blue and Gold and features OG Jean Grey back from the dead…. again), baby Jean Grey’s series and All-New Wolverine featuring Laura Kinney of X-23 fame sporting the Wolverine mantle. Special mention goes to Gabby Kinney (Laura’s baby sister/clone), who is the most adorable X-man this side of all X-men. ‘Nuff Said.

15. The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta | This was a fun read and frankly, it’s up here on my best of 2018 because it’s such a fresh take on Indian myths woven into a fun middle-grade adventure. I don’t know how it fares compared to the Riordan imprints but it’s got the spirit of what makes the Riordan books so lovely in that it is a blend of adventure and mythology and awesomeness. Plus it is absolutely lovely that we have a strong female character leading this story who knows how to take charge and make things happen. Totally recommend!

If you've made it all the way to the end of another massive list post, I salute you, dear reader! I hope you've enjoyed seeing what books (or series) made it to our list of our favorite 2018 reads (and maybe added some TBR books to your pile in the process). What were your favorite reads of 2018? Do we have any in common?

7 comments

  1. None of these are a surprise to me as I heard you talk about most of them in the YouTube liveshow, but I love seeing them all together on one page! I haven't read a lot of these (Roomies and The Darkest Minds being the only two) but almost all of them are on my overall TBR list! Gotta get to The Way You Make Me Feel and Save the Date asap!

    Also, not surprised in the least that Macky has included a bunch of Cassandra Clare's books :p

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  2. This list is full of books that I need to read sooner rather than later. I have to pick up Sadie soon and I've been meaning to read Kushiel's Dart for ages. I would love to finally start the Throne of Glass series in 2019. Wishing you both a wonderful reading year and here's to hoping to an even longer list!

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  3. That description of The Gilded Wolves makes me want to read it so bad!! I loved The Kiss Quotient too and really need to try Goose Girl sometime. You're one of the few people I've seen who loved My Plain Jane more than My Lady Jane, that intrigues me! I loved American Panda too. It was different than I expected but really wonderful.

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  4. I loved Dark Wild Night! I have got to pick The Kiss Quotient back up and give it another try. You've got several other books I want to read still as well. You can check out my top books of 2018 HERE.

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  5. I almost never see anyone talk about the Books of Bayern series anymore! The Goose Girl is an old favourite of mine, so I'm so happy to see it's still getting discovered by readers :)

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  6. I'm so excited to read The Goose Girl! So many of your favorites made my list as well<3 North and South is the only Avatar graphic novel I have left to read and I've been putting it off because I don't want them to be over!

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  7. Eee, this list of best books read in 2018 was so awesome :D You two are the best. <3 Love that you read so many books and loved them all so much. Sigh. I have read a bunch of these too, and they were all awesome :D Always love books by Cassandra Clare. <3 She is the best. Sigh. Sky in the Deep was also a huge favorite of mine :) I hope you are both reading a lot of great books so far this year too. <3

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Thanks for leaving a comment! I love seeing what you have to say, and will try to reply (here or on Twitter) as soon as I can :)

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