My Favorite Reads of 2018

If you read about my literary journey in 2017, you might not expect that this year could top it, but 2018 was a great year of reads for me. The number of books I read is my second all-time high score with a whopping 95 books. (The highest number of books I read was 101 books and that was well over 25 years ago.)

It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it. ― Oscar Wilde Click To Tweet
Still that Girl - MSW in 2007

This was my 7th year completing the GoodReads Reading Challenge. I set my reading goal for 52 books each year and blew it out of the water by an extra 83% – averaging almost two books per week.

I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to audio books because I don’t spend enormous amounts of time driving anywhere and thus have no reason to listen when I can pick up a book with my own two hands, but I’d like to think my challenge would be even better if I did.

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one. ― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons Click To Tweet

Here is my completed reading challenge from 2018:

In 2017, I focused heavily on non-fiction and biographies. I switched things up in 2018 and read more science fiction and dystopian fiction than I have in a long time. I also kept up with my historical fiction because it is my favorite genre, and I read some really great non-fiction titles this year as well.

Feel free to have a look at my list of favorite reads of 2017, by the way.

My 2016 reading list is here.

I had 19 5-star reads out of 90 reads this year. That’s a fantastic statistic for me. It means I read exactly what I wanted to and enjoyed every moment of my armchair travels this year.

These were my favorite top 12 reads from 2018 out of the 90 books I read this year.

Each year, I start my year out on a new release, so the first book you see on this list is my first read of 2018. It was also my most inspiring read.

 

TOP 12 FICTION for 2018

1. Endurance by Astronaut Scott Kelly

Genres: Non-fiction, Adventure, Autobiographies, Biographies, Memoirs

Captain Scott Kelly has been on four flights to space and he is the US record holder for consecutive number of days spent in space. I don’t know of any other person who has lived a life similar to his except for his identical twin brother Mark Kelly, who is also a fighter pilot, captain, and astronaut. Both brothers are also New York Times best-selling authors.

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is a captivating memoir of Scott’s journey to space and back to Earth. It also recounts his years of work towards becoming a fighter pilot and his formative years. I loved his writing style and his simple accounts of life in Russia while he was preparing for his flights to space as well as his accounts of life aboard the International Space Station.

Continue reading my review of Endurance

Best takeaway quote:

“I’ve learned that an achievement that seems to have been accomplished by one person probably has hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people’s minds and work behind it, and I’ve learned that it’s a privilege to be the embodiment of that work.”
― Scott Kelly, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery


2. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Genres: Science fiction, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is about death, survival, lust, power, pain, hope, and hopelessness.

A woman gets sick with a high fever from an autoimmune disease, and wakes up to find the world population has been decimated. An autoimmune disease has killed 98% of Earth’s population of men and 99% of Earth’s population of women. There are very few children left.

Women who were pregnant when they got sick delivered stillborn babies and most women die during childbirth. There are only a handful of survivors left and the men hold all the power. The odds of surviving a pregnancy have gone to zero with no children being born in the year after the disease wiped everyone out. Women are scarce and those who have been found are chained and used for sex and breeding.

Amongst the chaos, an unnamed midwife who was a former nurse picks her way through the ruins of a world that is dead and in utter chaos. She knows instinctively that it is dangerous to be a woman right now. She learns to move like a man, binds her chest, lowers her voice, wears men’s clothing, darkens her jaw line, answers to many different names, and avoids as many people as possible.

I loved how we got to see how gender roles play out in this book as well, since the protagonist is constantly pretending she is a man. I loved the harsh, beautiful writing and realism presented in this novel. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is one of the scariest dystopian books I’ve read. It’s also very thought-provoking and meaningful in its stark and very dark narrative.

Continue reading my review of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

Best takeaway quote:

“Walk tall, keep hips straight. Don’t sway. Feet flat. Hunch a little, arms straight down. Don’t gesture. Stare down. Make fists while talking. Sit with knees apart. Adjust. Don’t tilt your head. Don’t bite your lip. Interrupt. Laugh low.

Rub jawline. Don’t look down. Stand in front of the mirror. Have a dick. Great big dick. Fear me. Always right. Kick your ass. No right to stand in my way. Who’s gonna stop me? Like that, bitch? Yeah.

Bitch, I am a man. Females. Talk too much. Quit crying. So emotional. Be a man. Man up. Nut up. Jump shot, gunshot, cum shot, money shot. Posing but not to be sexy. Scare me. Lean a little forward. Invade my space. Quit crying. Give you something to cry about.” ~Meg Elison


3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

The Night Circus is about a traveling night circus called Le Cirque des Rêves that has no particular plan for traveling. It arrives in locations without any sudden announcements or warnings and its black-and-white striped tents attract reveurs from all over the world – all identified by the bright red accessories they wear to mark them as regular visitors.

The story is actually about the life of this circus and the magic at the heart of it. The characters are secondary, but at the heart of this story is a living, breathing circus that seems to come alive on the pages. It’s also not a real circus that you’d expect to see today. Yes, there are all the aspects you’d find at a circus, but the real circus is actually the part of this act where magic is passed off as illusion. It looks like magic, but the magicians make it seem like it is an illusion and not real magic.

Continue reading my review of the The Night Circus

Best takeaway quote: 

“Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus


4. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson


Genres: Science Fiction

My friend and fellow badass bookworm Laura M Noggle over at Nogglization suggested Red Mars for one of our first reads together in 2018. Suffice to say, we both fan-girled over it. (Check out her list of favorite books in 2018 as well since we did a lot of buddy reads together this year.)

This book was a whopping 584 pages long, but the level of research and thought that went into it is just insane. I’m totally blown away by Robinson’s world-building skills and make it completely believable.

A group of 100 scientists land on Mars in 2026 in a completely hostile environment after enduring a long flight together to Mars as a crew in close quarters. Upon arriving on Mars, the colonists settle in and begin a massive construction project to support human life. The early days of their survival on Mars is enthralling and very well written.

John Boone, Arkady Bogdanov, Frank Chalmers, and Maya Toitavna are leading the Mars terraforming mission and this mission is not supported by a number of other colonists in the group who want to see Mars stay the way it is.

Ann Clayborne and her followers are plagued by thoughts of a not-so-distant future when Mars is ruined by the efforts being made by bothersome humans who have no respect for the natural environment of the planet.

What ensues are daring feats of accomplishment and destruction that strip Mars of its natural resources. They launch a giant satellite into the sky that reflects light onto the surface of the planet to heat things up and start working on surface techniques to create a warmer environment for things to grow in. The colonists are taking the next steps in evolution by creating their own world.

The book constantly underlines how destructive humans are as a species as well. Robinson touches upon this lightly during their first Mars year, but it really becomes evident as the terraforming debate goes on and more people start arriving on Mars after they’ve left another planet completely destroyed…

Continue reading my review of Red Mars

Best Takeaway Quotes:

“Very few people ever bother to find out what other people really think. They are willing to accept whatever they are told about anyone sufficiently distant.” 
― Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars

“But lies were what people wanted; that was politics.” 
― Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars

“In games there are rules, but in life the rules keep changing.” 
― Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars


5. FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters

Genres: Historical Fiction, LGBT, Mystery

Fingersmith has is all. History, adventure, mystery, romance, and all the characters are so utterly absorbing, I’m amazed that I liked them all – even the nasty ones were written brilliantly!

Sue Trinder is left as an orphan with Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,”. She was raised with love and tenderness amongst a den of thieves known as fingersmiths in Victorian London.

Their home is in the heart of London in a slum house. Sue has a happy childhood despite her living arrangements and she loves Mrs. Sucksby like he own mother. She is taught the way of thieves and has a merry time at home with the other fingersmiths. One day one of Mrs. Sucksbys’s favorite thieves drops by. Gentleman is a con artist and he comes with a special idea for Sue that could earn her and the family a lot of money…

Continue reading my review of Fingersmith

Best takeaway quote:

“I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart – so hard, it hurt me. A hundred times I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But every time, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn’t lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn’t have felt her breath upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn’t have kissed her, without wanting to save her.” 
― Sarah Waters, Fingersmith


6. The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

Genres: Historical fiction, Adult

I found this delightfully dark and chilling tale about a young woman in Georgian London in the summer of 1763 at my favorite book store in the world – Allison The Bookman in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. I admit, its beautiful turquoise and gold embossed cover caught my eye first, but when I saw it on the staff picks list, I knew I had to have it. What followed was a wonderful tale about an evil young woman who is unforgettable in every way.

Life for women in 1763 Georgian London is very restrictive, but not for Anne Jacob, the daughter of a wealthy merchant with nothing but time on her hands. Anne has just come of age and she has just realized she is powerless when her father sets her up to marry an old and miserable snoot named Simeon Onions.

Anne will have her way, though, and Onions isn’t part of her plans. Instead, she meets Fub, a butcher’s boy, and their wild summer romance takes off, only to end in seemed doom for the young couple. Onions is determined to have his way, but Anne has a different idea of how her future will be shaped with Fub and she will go to any lengths to get what she wants.

Keep reading my review of The Butcher’s Hook


7. A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge 3) by Ken Follett

Genres: Historical Fiction, European Literature, 16th Century Literature

In the third Kingsbridge book from Ken Follet, Kingsbridge Catheral in 1558 is a bustling little town. It has also been torn apart by religious conflict with two queens at war and all of Europe has turned against England’s young, new Protestant Queen.

This is a very different book compared to Pillars of the Earth and World Without Ends, but it is no less intriguing in storylines or in Follet’s impeccable research into this period of time in the annals of history. He provides the reader with a first eye view of what England looks like in 1558.

Some storylines are the same: There is the young, budding romance between Ned and Margery who are destined to be together, but have been separated by Margery’s family. There is the slightly shadowy and exceptionally evil bishop that is aspiring to be more than what his family provided him with and who will stop at nothing to get what he wants…. Continue reading my review of A Column of Fire.

Continue reading my review of A Column of Fire

Best takeaway quote:

“What we did in that momentous year of 1558 caused political strife, revolt, civil war, and invasion. There were times, in later years, when in the depths of despair I would wonder whether it had been worth it. The simple idea that people should be allowed to worship as they wished caused more suffering than the ten plagues of Egypt. So, if I had known then what I know now, would I have done the same? Hell yes.” ― Ken Follett, A Column of Fire

8. Ten Women By Marcela Serrano, Beth Fowler (Translator)

Genres: Fiction, Short Stories

Listening to stories gives you many lives, telling them dims loneliness.” —Marcela Serrano

I received this book in a book deal with 8 books that have been translated by authors around the world. This book is based in Chile and it’s the story of nine Chilean women, all under the care of their therapist Natasha. Natasha makes the circle of 10 complete.

In Ten Women, we learn the life stories of nine Chilean women who have all had different experiences in life and are seeking help through their therapist. From a woman who has been abandoned without notice by her husband to a famous television personality, a teenage lesbian, a housekeeper, and to women who are rich and alone and women who live in abject poverty, these tales are heart-rending and full of beauty. They also describe the cultural and social groups of modern Chile, and thus the reader learns so much about this stunning country in South America.

I am utterly astounded by Serrano’s ability to write ten different personalities into her novel, all from very different backgrounds, but all connected through their therapist. This is a beautiful read!

Continue reading my review of Ten Women…

Best Takeaway Quote:

This quote was my favorite in Ten Women because it so accurately summed up my own feelings about this period in my life.

“I recently turned forty-two, a complicated stage of life. You’re young, but not very, you’re not elderly, but you are a bit old. Neither fish nor fowl. It’s the transition from one thing to the other, the real start of deterioration. Sometimes I feel like I want to have aged already, to be an old woman who has resolved all her expectations.”
― Marcela Serrano, Ten Women

Carrie Kellenberger's favorite books of 2018

9. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Genres: Historical Fiction, Mythology, LGBT, Fantasy

Madeline Miller resurrects Greece’s Age of Heroes with this compelling tale about Achilles, half-man/half-god and his best friend Patroclus. A young prince who has been exiled from his kingdom of Phthia, Patroclus is to be raised under the patronage of Achilles’ father King Peleus.

Achilles is the son of Thetis, a sea goddess who hates mortals, and he possesses all the things that ordinary men do not: He is stronger, beautiful, intelligent, faster, and impossible to beat. Achilles is everything that Patroclus isn’t, but they end up becoming the most unlikely of friends and grow up together learning battle skills and the art of medicine by studying with the wisest and justest of all the centaurs, Chiron.

When Achilles is called to war to help recover Helen of Sparta who has been kidnapped, at first he hides from his fate. But eventually he is seduced by the promise of his glorious and fated future – the best of the best – a man that no mortal can kill.

Continue reading my review of The Song of Achilles

Best Takeaway Quotes

“We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.” ― Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

“He was a marvel, shaft after shaft flying from him, spears that he wrenched easily from broken bodies on the ground to toss at new targets. Again and again I saw his wrist twist, exposing its pale underside, those flute-like bones thrusting elegantly forward. My spear sagged forgotten to the ground as I watched. I could not even see the ugliness of the deaths anymore, the brains, the shattered bones that later I would wash from my skin and hair. All I saw was his beauty, his singing limbs, the quick flickering of his feet.”― Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
― Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

10. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Genres: Historical Fiction

Orphan Train is about two orphans from different periods of time. In 2011, Molly is a 16-year-old orphan who has been in the system for years. She has bounced around foster homes and has recently settled in with two foster parents who don’t want her around. One day, she steals a book from the library because she is overwhelmed with the desire to have one thing in her possession. She is sentenced to 50 hours of community work for her transgression.

Molly’s boyfriend helps her find a local woman she can do her community hours with and soon enough she is at 91-one-year old Vivian Daly’s home, where she is to help clean out the attic. Molly doesn’t know how to relate to this rich old woman who seems to have everything.

Vivian is also an orphan, though, and Molly learns that her story began at age nine when her family immigrates to the USA from Ireland. Vivian’s home burns down in a fire in New York and she loses her family. Vivian lands in Minnesota where some truly horrible things happen to her under the ‘care’ of families that use her for labor.

This is the first time I’ve read about orphan trains and Baker does a fantastic job with her historical research. It’s appalling to think of the over 200,000 orphans that were sent out to be auctioned off under the guise of adoption. While some children found foster parents that loved them, most of them ended up as slaves with no promise of an education, a bed to sleep in, or even proper food to eat.

Continue reading my review of Orphan Train…


11. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Fantasy, Short Stories

Ursula K. Le Guin is well known for being one of the most brilliant female science fiction writers of all time. She can also write a mean short story.

The Lathe of Heaven is an unforgettable story about a man who is terrified of dreaming once he becomes aware that what he dreams of comes true. Each time he wakes up, something new has changed in the world, and George is now at the point where he is self-medicating to keep himself from falling asleep. He eventually finds himself in the office of Dr. Haber, an unethical psychiatrist who recognizes what George can do and decides to use George’s power for his own use under the guise of treatment.

When Dr. Haber’s realizes what George can do, he attempts to use George’s powers to make the world a better place. He ends up with horrifying results – as it should be when a man decides that he can play God.

Continue reading my review of The Lathe of Heaven

Best Takeaway Quotes:

“You don’t speak of dreams as unreal. They exist. They leave a mark behind them.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

“You know that you need sleep. Just as you need food, water, and air. But did you realize that sleep’s not enough, that your body insists just as strongly upon having its allotment of dreaming sleep? If deprived systematically of dreams, your brain will do some very odd things to you. It will make you irritable, hungry, unable to concentrate … liable to daydreams, uneven as to reaction times, forgetful, irresponsible, and prone to paranoid fantasies.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven


12. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Genres: Contemporary, Literature, Canadian, Newfoundland

This was a terrific read that really brought me back to my homeland – Canada. There were so many likable things about The Shipping News, I’m not even sure where to start with my review. I thought it was brilliant for Proulx to use knot techniques from The Ashley Book of Knots. Additionally, Proulx’s mastery of prose makes this tale stunning and complex. It made the book sound true and authentic in so many ways.

The Shipping News is about a man who has a cheating, ungrateful wife named Petal. She bears two children with him and continues on with her cheating ways, day by day ruining Quoyle’s confidence and sweet demeanor.

Quoyle’s Aunt arrives from Canada and convinces him to take his two daughters back to his ancestral home in a tiny town on the beautiful but stark and harsh coast of Newfoundland. He takes a job at a local newspaper called The Gammy Bird and is quickly assigned a column called The Shipping News. Quoyle knows nothing about boats, but he’s about to find out!

As Quoyle works to get his life back on track, he meets another woman and starts to realize that love might be possible for him again without the misery of his first marriage. Although Quoyle has never had much self-confidence and most people he knows have stepped all over him for his entire life, in Newfoundland, he starts to battle his own insecurities and learns he can’t keep running from his old life.

Continue reading my review of The Shipping News

Best Takeaway Quotes

“We face up to awful things because we can’t go around them, or forget them. The sooner you say ‘Yes, it happened, and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ the sooner you can get on with your own life. You’ve got children to bring up. So you’ve got to get over it. What we have to get over, somehow we do. Even the worst things.”
― Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

“You’ve got a chance to start out all over again. A new place, new people, new sights. A clean slate. See, you can be anything you want with a fresh start.”
― Annie Proulx, The Shipping News


TOP 2 NON-FICTION for 2018

The Lady and the Monk by Pico Iyer

Genres: Non-fiction, autobiography, cultural-Japan

Pico Iyer is my favorite travel writer because there really is no one else like him. He sees things with such clarity and insightfulness, it’s like walking right at his side as you read through his stunning prose and descriptions.

Iyer moved to Kyoto for four seasons to live in a monastery and learn about Zen Buddhism as an insider – a near impossible task for an outsider to get to know the inside of Japan’s heart when Japan is known for being such a closed off society to outsiders. He falls in love with one of the most beautiful cities in the world. He also falls in love with a woman named Sachiko – and suddenly, we have an interesting tale to add to this personal memoir – the scandal of a monk and a lady goes back centuries in Japanese culture! This story is like reliving the Japanese classical tales of love and tradition and crossing boundaries with hands held in the moonlight.

Through Sachiko, Iyer learns about the women of Japan and everything they excel at and keep hidden. Sachiko is a married woman who can recite poetry, conduct the perfect tea ceremony, knows her classical Japanese literature inside out, and she can also talk about the masters of the art world and modern rock music.

I have always been drawn to the simplicity of Japanese culture, and this book has served to heighten that curiosity. Here we see a cross-cultural passion and misunderstanding between these two unlikeliest of friends, and we have a wonderful way of examining ancient and modern Japan.

Continue reading my review of The Lady and the Monk

Best Takeaway Quote:

“When you’re hurrying around too quickly,” he had said, “there’s a part of the world you can’t see. If, for example, you’re taking a wrong direction in your life, it’s only when you stop and look at things clearly that you can revise your direction and take a more proper course. Then message of Zen is that in order to find ourselves, we’ve got to learn to stop.” 
― Pico Iyer, The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto


The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge

Genres: Non-fiction, Neuroscience, Science, Health, Medical

Norman Doidge is a Canadian psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet. He is on the Research Faculty at Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York, and the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry.

Doidge describes the most important breakthroughs of our time in understanding the brain by uncovering stories of patients who have been able to change the structure of their brain and brain function in response to mental experience – what is known as neuroplasticity.

In The Brain’s Way of Healing, Doidge highlights several stories of how neuroplastic healing works. He describes natural, non-invasive ways of using the brain by using forms of energy around us – light, sound, movement, and vibration. These forms of energy can be used to awake our brain’s own healing abilities.

Many case studies are used to illustrate and highlight Doidge’s research, in which he explores cases of patients with chronic pain or patients recovering from strokes or accidents. He also covers the story of a man who was able to improve his descent into Parkinson’s disease simply by doing one activity over and over again, creating new neural pathways for the brain to heal itself.


I am starting 2019 out on Michelle Obama’s Becoming and I can’t wait to crack it open. I made a special trip to downtown Taipei just to get a hard back copy of her book. What are you starting your year of reading out on and how did you do with good reads in 2018?

I would love to hear if you’ve ready any of these books on my list and what you thought of them in the comments section. If you’ve got book suggestions for 2019, leave a comment for me. I’d love to hear what you’re excited to read this year!

 

Carrie Kellenberger

 

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