…about the top five books i read in 2018.

This summer, when my anxiety hit a new peak, I began searching earnestly for coping strategies that would work for me. One of the most fulfilling and most distracting activities that I found would calm my nerves is reading fiction.

While I’ve long been a reader (I was an English major in college, after all, and I hold a M.A. degree in literature), prior to this past summer, I typically found myself drawn to symbolism-packed, each-word-needs-dissecting literature by new modern writers. Other times, I’d crave real stories, so I turned to memoirs, mostly those written by women. And when I wanted more glimpses of reality, I’d read blog posts! In other words, it had been quite a long time since I cracked the binding of a fictional novel. But that all changed this past summer.

Out of all of the books I read in 2018, and there were quite a few, the following five sit atop the list of favorites for me. P.S. Follow me on Goodreads, and I’d love to follow you, too – feel free to leave your username in the comments below!

Honorary Mention: The Bride Quartet Series by Nora Roberts

The Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Nora Roberts cordially invites you to meet childhood friends Parker, Emma, Laurel, and Mac—the founders of Vows, one of Connecticut’s premier wedding planning companies.

After years of throwing make-believe weddings in the backyard, flowers, photography, desserts, and details are what these women do best: a guaranteed perfect, beautiful day full of memories to last the rest of your life.

My Take:

My mama has been a voracious Nora Roberts reader for as long as I can remember. When I was on the hunt for a work of fiction that would suck me into another world AND speak to my hopeless romantic heart, this series definitely delivered. Favorite Book of the Series: Savor the Moment, Book #3

05. Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

The Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.

Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him…even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know?

A tour de force of psychological suspense, Bring Me Back will have you questioning everything and everyone until its stunning climax.

My Take:

This thriller of a novel was recommended on Young House Love Has a Podcast (sidebar: if you aren’t listening to John and Sherry, do yourself a favor and start now! One of my favorite episodes is #79: A Dateline-Worthy True Crime at the Beach House?!). While I wouldn’t consider myself a thrill-seeking lady (see my general fear of pretty much EVERYTHING), I couldn’t get enough of this story, so much so that after reading it, I tracked down the rest of Paris’ novels and purchased them all. What I Can’t Stop Thinking About: The Russian Dolls!

04. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My Take:

This book recommendation came from Emily Ley of Simplified Planner fame. I love Emily, so I figured I’d give one of her favorite authors, Liane Moriarty, a go. This was before I learned that this novel was adapted into a show on HBO, but when I saw the blurb on the book cover advertising this dramatic TV series starring some of my favorite female actresses, I was ALL. IN. I literally took this book EVERYWHERE with me as I read it. I’d steal away at my son’s baseball games to read a couple of pages. I’d set up the sprinkler outside for the kids and the dog, and I’d get sunburned legs while watching them play and simultaneously reading on the deck. When I wasn’t upset about the sunburn – not even a little bit – I knew that this book was GOOD. What I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Kindergarten moms are NO. JOKE.

03. Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts

The Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Sometimes, there is nowhere safe to hide.

It was a typical evening at a mall outside Portland, Maine. Three teenage friends waited for the movie to start. A boy flirted with the girl selling sunglasses. Mothers and children shopped together, and the manager at the video-game store tended to customers. Then the shooters arrived.

The chaos and carnage lasted only eight minutes before the killers were taken down. But for those who lived through it, the effects would last forever. In the years that followed, one would dedicate himself to a law enforcement career. Another would close herself off, trying to bury the memory of huddling in a ladies’ room, hopelessly clutching her cell phone–until she finally found a way to pour her emotions into her art.

But one person wasn’t satisfied with the shockingly high death toll at the DownEast Mall. And as the survivors slowly heal, find shelter, and rebuild, they will discover that another conspirator is lying in wait–and this time, there might be nowhere safe to hide.

My Take: 

The character development that Nora Roberts is known for is what drew me in and kept me reading this novel. I came to love Simone and Reed, but the character that I couldn’t stop thinking about and worrying about was Cici Lennon, Simone’s grandmother. The timeliness and the terror of the book’s crisis – a mass shooting – only made the novel a faster read for me, if only to discover what happened in the end to these characters I came to care for. Favorite Quote: “CiCi Lennon lived life by her own rules. Two of the top rules—Try Not to Hurt Anybody, and Have the Balls to Say What You Think—often clashed, but the results blended with her Be An Asshole When Necessary rule, so it worked for her.”

02. Kitchens of the Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

The Synopsis (From Goodreads):

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life–its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

My Take:

This was my first fiction read of the year, and it was the best. (SPOILER ALERT: #1 below is a memoir.) The character of Lars was masterfully developed, and his love for Eva was present on each page of the novel. I was fascinated by the gumption and the unbelievable experiences that Eva had throughout the course of her young life, and as a Midwesterner and a daughter, I couldn’t love this novel more. Fun fact: I had the pleasure of meeting J. Ryan at a writing workshop on Orcas Island, and he is just as kind as he is humorous. I’d still recommend his novel even if he wasn’t a delight; his work is just that good.

01. Becoming by Michelle Obama

The Synopsis (From Goodreads):

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. 

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Take:

This was the last book I read in 2018, and not surprisingly, it was the best memoir I’ve read in quite some time. I actually got myself in a bit of trouble with this one, because I purchased it for myself right before Christmas, thus ruining my father’s biggest and best idea to gift me this memoir under the tree. It was totally worth it, though – I couldn’t have waited a second more to dive into Michelle’s story.

My favorite quote from the book is about Michelle’s feelings of lack, of not being good enough or educated enough to achieve her dreams. She says, “The noise doesn’t go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals.” This quote struck a chord with me because I couldn’t believe that an amazingly gifted woman, wife, and mother would EVER question her worth. And then I realized it: ALL women, at some point in their lives, question their worth, myself included. And knowing that, realizing that just endeared me more to Michelle and, remarkably, allowed me to better accept my own gifts and to recognize, at least for that moment, that I too am enough, despite what the noise might say or how the noisemakers may make me feel. What I Said to My Husband While Reading: “Jordan! Barack Obama doesn’t put his laundry in the laundry basket, either! You guys have that in common! MEN!”

NOTE: Affiliate links are used in this post, meaning that if you purchase a book through the link provided, I will earn a small commission. Thank you for supporting the content on What Sara Said!

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