In 2018, I read a modest amount of books. (I'm about three-quarters of the way through my 23rd, not including any assigned for school.) A lot of them were re-reads of favorites, although I did find some new favorites along the way. And since this year I happened to start recording what I read and when here are 12 of my best 2018 reads in the order I read them.
Last Winter Break, I re-read this book for maybe the third or fourth time, and then I re-read its two sequels the next day. This criminally underrated 2010 YA novel is about the one non-magical member of a magical family with deep ties to organized crime. It takes place in a world where "curse workers" can change a person's memories, dreams, luck, and more with just a touch, and since this magic is illegal, all of its users are criminals. Cassel Sharpe tries to stay out of the family business and curse worker politics alike, but when he has reason to believe he's being conned by someone close to him, his criminal training comes in handy.
I saw Mackenzi Lee speak at the Brooklyn Book Festival this September, and she talked about combining her love of history, fandom, and underrepresented figures in history and fandom alike to create this fun, trope-y 2017 YA book, which was a Stonewall Honor winner this year. Set in the eighteenth century, this book follows the adventures of a young lord who sets off on an educational tour of Europe with his best friend (with whom he's secretly in love) and his stubborn little sister. But when he accidentally steals a valuable artifact, their tour turns into a dangerous chase across the continent.
Holly Black's newest book, published in January 2018, comes with a wicked cliffhanger, but never fear, the next installment will be published this January. This one is a return to the dark faerie stories she gained a following writing. It's the story of Jude, a girl who has been raised among faeries (think cunning tricksters entertained by the spilling of human blood, not the Tooth Fairy) after one killed her parents ten years ago. Jude, despite being human, longs to become a faerie knight, and she'll do whatever it takes to get there, including lying, spying, and defying the ruthless faerie royal family. But when court alliances shift and a rebellion looms, Jude has to side with a cause bigger than herself. If you like your female characters vicious and ambitious, this should be your next read.
This is another tragically underrated re-read, and it may have stuck in my heart even deeper this time. Fair warning: This is not a happy story. But it's such a beautiful examination of grief, love, and moving on that it's worth the tears you'll inevitably shed. It's about Sophie, who developed a painkiller addiction after being in a major car accident. Sophie's best friend Mina was killed deep in the woods by a man with a gun, and everyone believes Sophie took them there to score and that the murder was a drug deal gone bad. But Sophie was clean, and it's up to her to discover who killed Mina and why while coping with their complicated relationship and her past mistakes, including her addiction.
If you loved Harry Potter, you'll probably enjoy this funny, quasi-fanfiction version that I re-read this year. Based partially on the characters developed for Rowell's 2013 book about a fanfiction writer obsessed with a Harry Potter-ish series, this 2015 book is a funny, mostly light-hearted story featuring a bumbling Chosen One and his arch nemesis, whose feelings for each other are less straightforward loathing than they might prefer. But with a battle looming in the magical world, their bickering-slash-flirting has to take a backseat to uncovering the truth about a dastardly creature that thrives on sucking magic right out of the air. Despite this book's (very obvious, totally intentional) roots in Harry Potter, it still feels fresh, with interesting worldbuilding and a magic system all its own.
This book is a little more off the beaten path than anything else on this list, but I re-read it this summer, and it was almost as unputdownable the second time as the first. It's about Aspen Quick, whose small-town family specializes in stealing people's inner traits and memories, a ritual that keeps the cliff above their town from collapsing but that Aspen more frequently uses to manipulate his friends into doing what he wants. Aspen's a semi-unlikeable narrator who grows up a little throughout the book as he uncovers some deep-hidden family secrets about the ritual, a mystery that propels the book faster and faster the more you unearth alongside him.
If you were obsessed with the Royal Wedding, you might be interested in this fun, fluffy book, which coincidentally released around the same time as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex exchanged vows. It's about Daisy, the younger sister of perfect Ellie, who's made waves as an American engaged to the crown prince of Scotland (its own monarchy, for the purposes of not writing about real British royals). Daisy's life is turned upside down when she's dragged to Scotland and expected to handle press, paparazzi, and royal functions ahead of the wedding—not to mention the prince's wild younger siblings and their friends. Royals will be receiving some paperback repackaging to better fit with its forthcoming sequel, and it'll be out with a new cover and title (Prince Charming) soon.
I'm about three decades late to this memoir, which was originally published in 1988 and made into a movie of the same name starring Johnny Depp in 1997, but I found a very cheap copy in a library sale, so I read it this year. It's the true story of FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone, who went undercover in the Mafia as a jewel thief named Donnie Brasco, ascended high into its ranks, and only got out when he was asked to kill someone to prove himself. His testimony as a witness led to some of the biggest Mafia busts of all time, and his memoir, written with Richard Woodley, is a fascinating look at the underbelly of organized crime which manages to be a suspenseful read even though you know what ends up happening to its principle players.
I read this book by one of my favorite authors (I even more highly recommend her Shades of Magic series, starting with A Darker Shade of Magic) in preparation to go hear her speak about its long-in-the-making sequel, Vengeful, which came out this year. Vicious is a comic book hero story gone wrong, about two brilliant friends who discover how to manufacture supernatural abilities and set out to gain some for themselves at all costs. Years later, after one has spent time in prison and the other has made himself into a vigilante, they meet again. This isn't my favorite Schwab book, but I maintain that even the lesser Schwab books are significantly better than most of what I read, and I'd definitely say that's true of Vicious. Vengeful is supposedly a perfect antidote to the feminist frustrations of 2018, with brutal female villains, so I need to put that on my reading list for next year.
If you're not trying to write a novel, this one is probably not for you. If you are, however, I urge you to pick up a copy immediately. This is novelist Jessica Brody's update to Blake Snyder's famous method of screenwriting, Save the Cat, which breaks down all stories into 15 plot points. If it sounds formulaic, Brody understands, but she's not kidding when she says that almost every story ever written follows the same narrative pattern, and she has examples to prove it: From Confessions of a Shopaholic to Ready Player One to The Help, she maps out how all the stories we love fit into this template and how we, as writers, can use that information to plan and execute our own stories. I'll be outlining my novel with this book nearby.
This book is The Breakfast Club if The Breakfast Club was a murder mystery. Five kids walk into detention one afternoon, including the much-despised creator of an app that publishes schoolwide gossip—but by the end of the afternoon, the app creator has died, allegedly by poisoning. The other four students in detention have secrets that were scheduled to be posted on the app soon, so each of them—a brainiac, an athlete, a drug dealer, and the Homecoming Queen—has a motive for killing him. I predicted the ending and a few of the twists before I got to them, but the book was so well-written and relatable to the modern high school experience that I didn't mind at all. It's spent nearly seventy weeks on the New York Times bestseller list since its release in May 2017, so I'm not the only one who can vouch for it.
This is the best school-assigned book I read this year and my first introduction to famous black science fiction writer Octavia Butler. The 1979 novel follows Dana, a contemporary black woman who suddenly and inexplicably starts time traveling to the antebellum South every time her white ancestor is in mortal danger. Forced to play the part of a slave to ensure the birth of her many-times-great grandmother and therefore her own birth someday, Dana must endure the horrors of slavery alongside her ancestors. To summarize my final essay for English 101, Kindred is a fascinating and powerful examination of the lasting impacts of slavery, both within the story and beyond it, because besides depicting slavery, it also reclaims many white-washed science fiction tropes.
This was a year of great books, most of them published long before this year. For my 2019 reading list, I have a few goals, including to read more non-school books, to read more non-YA books, to read more books for the first time instead of re-reading my favorites again and again, and most importantly: to have fun.