The Best Books I Read in 2018

The Kitchen Table

You guys ever have a week that just kind of knocks the breath out of you? It’s just been rough over here this week. Usually my posts are inspired by the stuff I’m currently sorting through in my head and heart, but this week I’ve decided to take a little break from the heaviness. I need to wade out of the broken stuff for a bit and just focus on something good. What better way to do that than to round up the best books I’ve read this year?

My absolute favorite way to escape from reality is books. It’s also my favorite way to explore the world, to learn about why things are the way they are, and to get inspired to better myself. I will read any kind of book, really, as long as it’s good. I can be a little particular—that’s the curse of a language-obsessed writer. But I love all kinds of genres and styles: fiction and truth, mysteries, romances, thrillers, character studies. Just give me a cup of coffee and a delicious piece of writing and I’m a happy girl.

So, here we go!

The Best Books I Read This Year

Top 5 Fiction Books

  1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. “I’m not sure I’d like to be burned. I think I might like to be fed to zoo animals. It would be both environmentally friendly and a lovely treat for the larger carnivores. Could you request that?” Oh my gosh, Eleanor, I love you so much. This book takes my number one spot for the year, hands down. Apparently this is a DEBUT novel, which just knocks me backwards because Honeyman is such an obviously gifted writer. Her characters are exquisite. The tenderness and care with which she paints the story is breathtaking. It’s funny and sad, mysterious and lovely. I’ll read this again and again. I’m not saying another thing about it because you just have to read it. Do it.
  2. The Trespasser by Tana French. “We watch the moment when something spired and shining explodes with a tremendous roar inside his mind, jagged shards rocketing everywhere, burrowing deep into every tender spot.” Gillian Flynn was my introduction to thrillers. I deeply adore her. But Tana French is the reason I am forever on the hunt for the next perfect thriller. She is the queen, and we are all just rookie writers in her wake. I always buy her books in Kindle so I can go in and re-read the sentences I’ve highlighted, because French’s grasp of language is utterly remarkable and enviable. French’s novels are standalone whodunnits that all take place within the Dublin Murder Squad. Each is narrated by a different detective, and the stories are all unique and compelling. I absolutely recommend The Trespasser, but I think reading her books in sequence is the best way to get into her stories. Last note on French’s books: throw out every prejudice you may have against detective novels. She will knock your socks off. This isn’t Nancy Drew #57 by a long shot.
  3. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. “Their carefully relaxed demeanors hid a fragile defensiveness, as if they expected to be criticized at any moment and they weren’t going to stand for it. They both seemed to cling so hard to their chosen personalities. ‘I am this sort of person and therefore I believe this, I think this, I do this and I am right, I’m right, I’m sure I’m right!’” So, because what I love most about novels is the tone and quality of the writing, I’m an author stalker. If I like one of your books, I’m going to read everything you ever wrote, obsessively and quickly. I started Moriarty’s books with Big Little Lies, which everyone knows is amazing. I ended up loving The Hypnotist’s Love Story the most, with What Alice Forgot taking a close second place. It was actually published in 2011, before Big Little Lies. I have a hard time explaining why I love this book so much. It lacks some of the intensity and intrigue present in some of her other novels. It’s not particularly thrilling or suspenseful. I think I love it simply because Moriarty has this unique ability to make us love characters that you would inherently think of as unlikeable. In this novel, it’s a stalker who follows around her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. What a sad, weird person—right? Moriarty reminds us that people don’t just wake up one day and start acting crazy. She’s a beautiful storyteller and a compassionate character developer, and I’ll read whatever she puts out into the world.
  4. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell. “The human memory is such a cruel, frustrating thing, the way it just discards things without asking permission, precious things.” I have similar feelings about Lisa Jewell as I do Liane Moriarty. She’s so dedicated to telling the truth about her characters, and she unfolds their stories with expertise and grace. This story revolves around a family reeling from a devastating event, with the matriarch slowly descending into her hoarding illness. It’s clear that Jewell has done her homework on the psychology behind her characters’ actions, and this is more than just another dysfunctional family saga. Note of warning: If you need your stories tied up prettily with a bow at the end, Jewell is not your girl.
  5. Beach Music by Pat Conroy. “I could bear the memory, but I could not bear the music that made the memory such a killing thing.” I debated including this book, but it had to be included. This is a 1995 novel that a friend talked me into listening to on Audible (for 27 hours. Yes, 27 hours). There were parts where I would simply have to stop listening for a few days so I could process and continue. I had to brace for several days before I could listen to Jack’s father-in-law’s story, and even then I still wasn’t ready for it. Beach Music takes you from the Holocaust to the Vietnam War, into the 90s, from Rome to Poland to South Carolina. It’s story after story woven into the tapestry of one man’s life, a reminder that each of us is shaped by what’s come before. This is the heaviest, richest, most simultaneously devastating and lovely book I’ve read this year or maybe ever.

Top 5 Nonfiction Books

  1. The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright. “See, God has this weird habit of bringing our lives around full circle, so that things we thought we’d forgotten, the stuff we thought was behind us, even the history we fear will always define us, can become the very thing we use to bring others into the fold, recycling the fabric of our lives into some form of redemption.” Ever wonder what it’s like to pack up your family and move to a foreign country to be missionaries? I’m sure there are plenty of other books with that premise, but Wright’s has got to be the most honest and realistic account. I was shocked and saddened, as Wright unveiled the (often ugly) truth about mission work. But in the midst of the snarky and somewhat cynical story of her time as a missionary, Wright pulls us in and shows us the beautiful truth that God will use whatever He pleases to complete His good work, the very worst missionary included. Note: Do not read if you are easily offended or if swear words make you squirmy. This is not a Lifeway-approved Jesus book. 
  2. Everybody Always by Bob Goff. “When we keep track of the good we’ve done or love people with an agenda, it’s no longer love; it’s just a bunch of tickets. We can either keep track of all the good we’ve done or all the good God’s done. Only one will really matter to us. In the end, none of us wants to find out we traded the big life Jesus talked about for a box full of worthless acknowledgement.” I think Bob Goff is perhaps the wisest storyteller of our generation. I can think of no other author whose love of Jesus and people comes across quite the way Goff’s does. My husband emailed him after reading his book and he emailed him back almost right away. Are you kidding me? Goff lives and loves like Jesus, and his book is a wondrous, winsome, holy call for us to do likewise. 
  3. One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella. “I didn’t believe orthodoxy was a prerequisite to giving or receiving love. The greatest expression of my Christian faith was giving my whole self to ensuring that the least of these in Africa had a chance at life. If evangelical churches saw that as less important than telling people what they ought to believe, maybe I didn’t belong in the evangelical church.” I read this right before I went to Uganda with All We Are for the first time, and the timing could not have been more impeccable. Nardella is the founder of Blood:Water, a nonprofit that was on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis and has now provided clean water to more than one million people in Africa, as well as health care for thousands in HIV-affected areas of the world. Nardella shares her story of building the organization from the ground-up, how her faith was tested and matured through her experience, and invaluable insight into how to do charity work well. 
  4. Walking the Bridgeless Canyon by Kathy Baldock. “What’s happening outside church walls is happening inside church walls. It is all part of the human experience. Ignorance and lack of education about sex, sexual orientation, gender identities, and human sexuality in general have led to harmful assumptions and poor pastoral counsel.” If you want a thoroughly—and I mean thoroughly—researched guide to understanding the struggle of the LGBTQ community, their treatment by the church, and what the Bible says about it all, this is it. This book is the result of Baldock’s firsthand experiences (as a straight, married Christian woman), 10 years of research, and serious study into the historical and cultural influences that have led us to where we are now. Baldock is full of grace for us all, even as she explores the ways in which our fears and prejudices have devastated an entire group of people. This book is a beacon of hope for the church to reconcile with those who have been abandoned, shamed and mistreated in the name of God. 
  5. The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus. “When we step out of death into life, there is no waiting for daylight. To hide what we have found, to hoard what we have been freely given, would be the greatest crime, an incurable leprosy of the soul. If for no other reason, we need to choose our most heroic lives, because a world desperately needs to see what it looks like to be fully alive.” McManus pulls no punches with this compelling book about fearlessly living our fullest, bravest lives for God. Leave nothing undone, save nothing for the next life, live as if others’ lives depend on it (because they do). This one will stay with me for a long time. I basically highlighted every other sentence.

There you have it: those are the best books I read this year. Did you read any of these? Love them? Hate them? Think I have terrible taste? Let me know! Oh, and I accept book recommendations 100% of the time. I am usually reading multiple at any given time, so recommend away! 

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