Season’s Readings everyone! As we approach the end of 2018, and that time of year when the nights are longer and there really is no better way to spend an evening than with a good book, I have taken a second look at the books I’ve read over the course of the year and attempted, once again, to provide a list of what are my favorite books of 2018. Like last year, I’ve listed these books in alphabetical order, by title, until the last entry at the bottom, which is, in my opinion, the best book I’ve read in 2018. Also, like last year, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that many of the titles listed are ones for which I interviewed the authors for the LAPL Blog. (I usually only reach out to an author if I enjoyed their book!) If you haven’t yet read these titles, I highly recommend them. And I hope to provide more author interviews in 2019. Happy Holidays!
2018 Favorite Reads
A young woman living on the streets and struggling to survive, an airship Captain, and a Haitian scientist who has created a weapon that could destroy them all and the alternate New Orleans in which they find themselves. In his debut, P. Djeli Clark does in a mere 110 pages what other authors struggle to accomplish in several multiples of his page count. The Black God’s Drums has a cast of diverse, intriguing and compelling characters, two of whom are inhabited by living deities; an alternate New Orleans recovering from the Civil War, where tensions are high and the political landscape is not at all how we recall it; a liberal dose of fantasy and magic based on the lore of West Africa. All of this is infused with a strong steampunk aesthetic. The Black God’s Drums is an immersive, unrelenting read that grabs you on the first page and holds on until the end. The only possible complaint imaginable is that the story is so short and leaves the reader wanting more! This is a MUST read for those who enjoy fantasy, alternate history or simply an excellent story expertly told.
There were two books published this year that speculate about what inspired Bram Stoker to write his masterpiece, Dracula; and the novels were published within two weeks of each other. But this germ of an idea, what was Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, is as far as the similarities go. They are markedly different books and they are both brilliant. The first one of these is Dracul.
In Dracul, Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, and internationally best-selling author J.D. Barker create a classic gothic horror story that provides an enjoyable, and horrifying, backstory for Dracula. Dracul tells a story that begins while Stoker is a child, following both him and his siblings into adulthood as they investigate and expose a horror that alters their youth and will continue to affect them for the rest of their lives. This is a classic Gothic horror novel with an amazing sense of urgency and atmosphere that draws readers into a compelling set of circumstances that seem reminiscent of other like-tales while also seeming entirely new.
Almost everyone has been asked this at one point or another: name the five people, living or dead, you would invite to dinner if you could invite anyone. Now imagine what it would be like to show up for dinner to find those people, and only those people, there waiting for you. Rebecca Serle follows Sabrina Nielsen, a young woman who shows up for her 30th birthday dinner and finds her best friend Jessica; Conrad, her former philosophy professor; Robert, the father who abandoned her as a child; Audrey Hepburn; and Tobias, the on-again, off-again love of her life. As they progress through appetizers, main courses, and desserts, the dinner guests also move through regrets, resistance, revelations and, ultimately, resolution.
The Dinner List is a charming, heart-warming and heart-breaking book about how it feels to be young and what we lose, and gain, as we become adults. Serle nicely captures the transition that occurs as we lose the last vestiges of childhood in our 20s and move into adulthood and realize that not everyone we wish to will join us on our journeys.
The “girl monsters, or monstrous young women,” are back! In her sequel to last year’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, which was my favorite book of last year, Theodora Goss sends Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau and Beatrice Rappaccini on a cross-country adventure to save Lucinda Van Helsing from a fate worse than death. Like the earlier novel, this one too is a rousing adventure story filled with thrills, twists, and more than a few surprises. All of this along with the wit, charm, energy and fantastic sense of period and place that made The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter my favorite novel of 2017.
In his debut novel, Christopher Huang provides not only a top-notch mystery, but also a window into life in post-WWI London from an unexpected, but welcome, perspective: that of his half-British, half-Asian amateur sleuth Eric Peterkin.
Peterkin is challenged to solve a seemingly impossible mystery filled with twists, turns and plenty of surprises. The settings and atmosphere are captured perfectly from nearly a century ago. There are Veterans concerns that could be ripped from today's newsfeeds and characters that are wonderfully complex. A Gentleman's Murder should be on every mystery reader’s to be read list!
This is one of a number of books that were published in 2018 as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, and it is, in my opinion, the best. Thoroughly researched and incredibly readable, Making the Monster is part biography, part literary analysis and part scientific examination of the principles and theories that impacted and influenced Shelley while writing the novel. It is a fascinating and compelling exploration of the creation of one of the most important novels of the last two hundred years.
The second book this year to speculate about Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula is The Night Crossing by Robert Masello. In The Night Crossing, Masello weaves a marvelous alternate history that blends historic people and events with the fantastic. He masterfully uses the Egyptomania that was sweeping London during the late 1800s to marvelous effect, drawing fascinating connections between Egypt, London and Eastern Europe that result in an exciting, and sometimes harrowing, adventure for Stoker and a young female Archaeologist. The result is a rollicking adventure, filled with great characters and events that push just to the limit of believability. It is a page-turning novel that readers will want to believe happened—even when they know that what they are reading did not actually occur.
So, we have The Night Crossing, a wonderful historic adventure novel with supernatural thrills and/or Dracul, a classic gothic horror novel with its feet firmly planted in the “native soil” of the macabre. Both novels are brilliant! Pick one and dive in! Or, better yet, read them both and see how a similar idea can be developed so differently by gifted authors.
This is exactly what it sounds like and is far better than it has any right to be! In Pride and Prometheus, award-winning author John Kessel takes two well-known and loved stories and blends them expertly. Readers of either or both of the original novels will find interesting twists and turns to familiar plots provided by Kessel’s crafty integration of the two stories. The result is incredibly entertaining, while also maintaining a thoughtful, introspective quality about the world and culture of 19th century Europe and the issues raised in Shelley’s groundbreaking work. Pride and Prometheus is contemplative, compelling and delightful, and it is a must read for fans of Austen and Shelley.
In Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers’ third novel, she both creates and explores a microcosmic culture on an aging fleet of interstellar ships. By telling the stories of those who live there, those moving in, those planning/hoping to leave and those who have come purely to see for themselves how life there works (and doesn’t), she examines the culture from both the inside and out, providing a thought-provoking look at not only the Exodus Fleet but our world too. This is a thoughtful, engaging novel filled with likable characters, a strong sense of wonder and an incredibly hopeful outlook. Like Chambers’ previous books, this one is not to be missed!
One murder, eight days, eight hosts and one chance. In his debut novel, Stuart Turton tells a Rubik’s cube of a novel with elements from different genres where the protagonist must live the same day eight times, each time as a different person, to solve a murder. To misquote Winston Churchill, this is “a sci-fi, wrapped in a mystery, inside a thriller.” First time novelist Turton makes it look easy to seamlessly combine these disparate elements of storytelling into a novel that becomes a page-turner, regardless of which genre’s elements may have tempted you into reading the story.
Beth Bernobich, writing under the pseudonym of Claire O’Dell, takes the familiar tropes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson and transforms them into something completely new: the main protagonists are now queer women of color, their base of operations is Georgetown and the setting is a frighteningly familiar U.S. struggling to survive another civil war being fought between the extremists of the left and the right. The result is a compelling story with rich, well drawn characters in a world that is all too believable. This is a must read for both Holmes fans and anyone interested in a gripping story of self-discovery.
In Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse creates a marvelous and complex new world from the ruins of our own in combination with the traditional beliefs of the Diné. It is a powerful, page-turning fantasy filled with action and adventure, the familiar, and more than a few surprises, all infused with magic, wonder and a strong undercurrent of a malevolence lurking just beneath the surface. This is Roanhorse’s first novel and she is clearly a new fantasy author to watch.
Just after 11 a.m. on a spring morning, a woman enters a funeral parlor to set her affairs in order and plan her own funeral service. Six hours later, she is dead. Could it possibly be a coincidence that she planned her funeral the same day that such arrangements would be needed? Of course not! Enter disgraced detective Daniel Hawthorne, who is assigned to investigate the odd circumstance of the death decides to reach out to Anthony Horowitz, a writer with whom he has worked as a technical advisor on a few television programs. Hawthorne wants Horowitz to shadow him on the case and write it up as a novel once the mystery is solved, an agreement that Horowitz will question, and regret, multiple times before the case is solved.
In his latest novel, and the beginning of a new series, Anthony Horowitz, the writer, creates a memorable murder for his alter ego, Horowitz the character, to solve. The result is a gripping whodunit with marvelous characters, great writing and a page-turning resolution.
In 2013’s Vicious, V.E. Schwab told a tale of comic-book-like heroes and villains where it was difficult to determine who was who. The focus was on Eli and Victor, two pre-med college students and how they went from best friends to mortal enemies, developing superpowers along the way.
The long-awaited sequel to Schwab’s debut is now here in Vengeful, and it was well worth the wait. In Vengeful, Schwab masterfully creates a much larger stage for more involved actions and increasingly higher stakes. Readers are shown a world populated with many more EOs (ExtraOrdinaries or people that have survived a near-death experience and, as a result of the trauma, developed a special power or ability) possessing a much larger variety of abilities. And, at the center, Schwab places Marcella Riggs, a mob-wife who, after surviving an attempted murder by her hit-man husband Marcus, becomes vengeance personified. Marcella’s touch destroys, and she touches whomever and whatever she pleases, seeking revenge for years of being overlooked and underestimated by the crime syndicate because she is a woman.
Schwab fills in the five year gap between Vicious and Vengeful for the existing characters from the first novel while also telling the stories of Marcella and a small group of relatively new EOs as they slowly move toward each other for the inevitable confrontations. While the hatred between Victor and Eli has not diminished, it turns out to be simply additional fuel for Marcella’s fire, which is burning white hot. The climactic events when all of these characters finally meet up are spectacular.
Almost everything about Vengeful is larger and grander than Vicious. And, yet, nothing has been sacrificed. The story and characters are still compelling and, once begun, it is impossible to set down, making it my favorite book of 2018. If you haven’t read Vicious yet, find a copy and get started, because you will need to have read it to fully enjoy Vengeful. If you’ve read Vicious, then get your hands on a copy of Vengeful. Go! Now. Find a copy. You’ll thank me later!