I love looking back on what I read the past year, don’t you? This is a kind of survey that I’ve adapted a bit from where I originally found it on The Lesbrary in 2014. If you’re not following The Lesbrary, you’re missing out on a lot of rad lesbian and bisexual women’s bookish content! And without further ado, here’s a recap of my 2018 reading, including my favourite reads of the year, most memorable character, best cover, and more!
1. Best book you read in 2018
So I find it very hard to not cheat on this question a bit, because, really, who can pick just ONE favourite? In no particular order, here are my absolute favourite reads from 2018. There’s a nice mix of YA fantasy, romance, graphic novels, mystery, and lit fic. I’ll talk about all of them in more detail further down!
- In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
- Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
- My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
- Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom
- The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
- Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
- The Last Place You Look and What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka
- Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
2. Favorite new author you discovered in 2018
Okay, this is going to have to be a tie between Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan, because I really can’t choose. Both Alisha Rai and Courtney Milan are new-to-me romance authors whose work I never would have checked out if I hadn’t decided to broaden my genre horizons in 2018 (more on that in question #3). Rai writes contemporary erotic romance and Milan writes historical romance. (Actually, Milan also writes contemporary, but I haven’t read any of those yet). Both effortlessly integrate diversity into their stories, including queer characters, people of colour, and people with mental and physical illnesses. Alisha Rai’s books made me cry, and Courtney Milan’s made me laugh. Both deliver really compelling characters and interesting, complex, believable romantic plots.
I especially appreciate how Milan’s books authentically integrate interesting contexts from the past, like 19th century scientific discoveries and fights for women’s and working class rights. I especially appreciated how Rai dealt with emotional complexities that included, of course, the romantic/sexual relationship between the main characters, but also complicated family and friend relationships. I am definitely going to be reading many more books by these two women in 2019! I’m excited about Alisha Rai’s upcoming The Right Swipe. With Courtney Milan, I think I’ll try one of her contemporaries; Hold Me (the second book in her Cyclone series) looks particularly interesting—it has a bisexual hero and a trans woman heroine!
3. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read
So in 2018 I decided I wanted to do another “new-to-me” genre project. I’d never really given romance a try—despite usually being a big fan of romance subplots in other genres—so in 2018 I solicited a bunch of recommendations for romance authors and went wild! There were some definite duds that I thought were terrible and/or reinforced for me all the negative assumptions I had about romance being poorly crafted and supporting stupid sexist gender relations (sorry Sonali Dev, Beverly Jenkins, Patricia Oliveras, Laura Lee Guhrke, and others). But on the flip side, there were many books that I simply adored and thought were moving, smart, sexy, funny, and just plain great books.
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai was the first of the romances I read where I was like, wow, I might actually love this genre? It was only the second book in my romance reading project and it was a total knockout! To my admitted surprise, I ended up LOVING this book. I loved and empathized with the main characters so much. I was impressed at Rai’s talent for dealing with emotional complexities (romantic, familial, and otherwise). This book actually made me cry in TWO places! I was totally shipping these two from the beginning, and the obstacles they had to overcome were very realistic (old family business feud stuff, mostly). Both the hero and the heroine’s individual journeys dealing with old trauma were compelling stories in and of themselves too. And their relationships with other characters were multi-layered and well developed. Just all around fantastic characterization. Plus: POC heroine who has depression! Secondary queer characters! Smoking hot sex scenes! I liked this book so much I went out and bought the sequel (Wrong to Need You)) immediately. I also went out and bought my own copy later since I’d initially borrowed it from the library but felt a very strong need to own it.
4. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2018 to finally read
Since it seems like too much of a cop-out to just pick the entire genre of romance here, I think I’ll go with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. I am a MASSIVE Buffy fan, but for whatever reason—maybe that I just spend my time rewatching the series—I had never read any of the comics. This is pretty unbelievable actually, considering how long and how much I have love(d) the show.
I found them very hit or miss in seasons 8 and 9, although I did really love season 10 as a whole, which was done by a solid, consistent team of Christos Gage writing and Rebekah Isaacs drawing (with some guests). At their best, the comics really brought back the best of the show for me, especially that warm and fuzzy the gang’s all here fighting evil together and the unique combination of heart-wrenching drama (Andrew trying to bring back Tara from the dead and Willow stopping him was particularly memorable) and comedy (basically everything Spike says and does). I’m going to try and track down season 11, which for some strange reason my library doesn’t have? If you’re also a Buffy fan who’s been on the fence about reading the comics, I definitely think they’re worth the time, overall.
5. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year
Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray is the third in her Diviners series and it is, in my humble opinion, definitely the best installment so far. I really could barely put this book down; since I was listening to the audiobook, this meant I was very driven to clean my house and other usually unpleasant tasks so I could keep listening. I don’t have words for what an incredible book this was, honestly. The last time I was so enthralled by a novel was N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season; if you know my feelings about that book that says a lot. This is Bray, truly a genius storyteller, at the height of her powers, weaving a dizzying amount of plotlines featuring incredibly nuanced, diverse characters set in a wonderfully authentic and playfully recreated 1920s New York with a paranormal twist. Also: the audiobook performance by January Lavoy is, I think, the best I have EVER heard. When I say diverse characters, I mean it: this book has gay, black, Jewish, Irish, Chinese, asexual, disabled characters, and more! Starting this series at the beginning with The Diviners is definitely worth your time.
6. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2018
This is also the most unique and weirdest and most suited to the book cover of a book I read this year: Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another book cover that so strongly says QUEER TRANS HARD FEMME, just like that, in all caps. The details—check out the wrinkles on the hands, the lightning coming from her fingers, and the index finger nail ring— and the pink and purple colour tones are all just perfect.
7. Most memorable character of 2018
EVELYN MOTHERFUCKING HUGO. What a woman. The titular character of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2017 novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was definitely the most memorable, fascinating character from a book I read last year. In the present of the novel, she’s an elderly Hollywood legend who has been reclusive for years until she solicits a specific young journalist Monique who she wants to tell her life story to. The novel goes back and forth, telling Evelyn’s story as she tells it to Monique and also telling Monique’s story.
Evelyn is ambitious, hard-working, confident, and cut-throat. She describes herself in this way: “I’m cynical and I’m bossy and most people would consider me vaguely immoral.” She’s also explicitly, wonderfully BISEXUAL. I knew the book had queer content going in, but I had no idea that it tackled bisexual identity so specifically. There’s a specific scene early on in the interview process where Evelyn coolly asserts that she’s bisexual, and not gay as Monique has just assumed. Evelyn makes it clear she loved her husband and then a woman, so “don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.” It was such a perfect slap in the face of monosexism. GO EVELYN. This section, as well as more than one other part in the novel, brought me to tears.
8. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love but didn’t
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was one of those books that I had meant to read for, like, ever. It had been recommended to me by lots of people. It won both a Hugo and a Nebula award! So when I finally picked it up one day at work at the library after seeing it on the shelf dozens of time, I was pumped. But something about this feminist science fiction novel never clicked for me. I’m still now sure if there’s something I missed from the plot/characterization/etc. that’s a failure on my part or if I did get it all and it just genuinely didn’t do it for me? I do know I found Breq, the protagonist, an elusive character, which is always a hard sell for me. Oh well!
9. Most beautifully written book read in 2018
So I’m adapting this question a bit because I want to gush about how beautifully drawn this debut graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters is. I don’t even have enough extolling adjectives to describe what Emil Ferris has done. The detail and range of what she has achieved is just stunning. She draws real people, 1960s Chicago street scenes, copies of vintage horror magazine covers, reproductions of classic art, and more—all using ball point pens only!! The novel is structured as the notebook of the tween main character Karen. Check out these amazing works of art:
10. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2018
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead was also one of my favourite reads of 2018 that didn’t quite make the top ten list above. What I liked most about this debut novel was the main character’s distinctive, mesmerizing voice. It was the kind of book where I was constantly underlining Jonny’s words, which were alternately hilarious and heart-breaking. Here are some of my favourite excerpts:
“Humility is just a humiliation you loved so much it transformed.”
“I texted him back with a simple ‘No.’ I made an emphasis to punctuate my text. In the digital universe, a punctuated sentence is as powerful a slap as slamming down the landline.”
“Funny how an NDN ‘love you’ sounds more like ‘I’m in pain with you.’”
11. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2018
Roxane Weary!!! She’s the bisexual protagonist of Kristen Lepionka’s new mystery/PI series, the first book of which is The Last Place You Look and the second of which is What You Want to See. I totally fell in love with her. In the first book, Roxane is at a pretty low point: she’s been drinking too much while grieving the death of her cop father, who she had a complicated relationship with. She’s messy, she makes mistakes, and she’s got some troubles with emotional intimacy but at the same she’s really smart, persistent, compassionate, and has a big heart that loves people who perhaps don’t deserve her and wants to help people. In the second book she’s at a bit more of an emotionally healthy place, but not so much as to make her boring, you know? I was really kicking myself when I realized after I had published this article on Book Riot, 5 More Queer Book Characters I Would Totally Date (And Why), that I had failed to include Roxane. What. Was. I. Thinking. Oh well, there’s always next time.
12. Best worldbuilding / most vivid setting you read this year
These two books also would have been good contenders for I-can’t-believe-I-waited-until-2018-to-read. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo were just. so. good. I had very high expectations and they were absolutely met, possibly even exceeded. These two books were my introduction to Bardugo’s “Grishaverse,” the dark fantasy world she’s created. I tend to find European-inspired fantasy tired, but Bardugo’s world-building in the Grishaverse is anything but. This duology is set mostly in the city of Ketterdam, an Amsterdam-like bustling, dirty, gritty city full of the sins of sex, gambling, and thievery. (The last of which is the speciality of our rag-tag gang of characters). The city felt so alive.
But it wasn’t only Ketterdam that Bardugo brought so vividly to life: settings in other Grishaverse fictional countries were also fascinating, as was every single lovable, broken, complicated, little criminal in the group of protagonists. It’s rare to find a novel with complex, authentic characters just as vivid and sophisticated as the speculative world-building. But Bardugo has totally achieved it, with both books in this duology. (FYI: I wouldn’t recommend reading the second book in public, as I did. I cried big tears of hearbreak but also joy and it was a bit embarrassing). These books are thrilling, funny, romantic, clever, heart wrenching, healing, dark, and ultimately unputdownable. Also: thoughtful representations of disability, bisexuality, trauma, and people of colour.
13. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2018
If I’m being honest, like half of the books in my top ten picks of the year made me cry. But I’ve already talked about Crooked Kingdom, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Before the Devil Breaks You, and Hate to Want You. So I’m going to talk about In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, which was the first book I finished in 2018. I was on the YA committee of the Bisexual Book Awards last year, and I was so thrilled to get to vote for Brennan’s novel, which won in the YA category! It made me cry (sad and happy tears), true, but it also made me laugh a lot. It took me a little bit to get into this YA fantasy, but once I was on board with the dry snarky humour and understood who Elliot the main character was (obnoxious little turd that he is who has never been loved), I could not stop reading this book.
It’s a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of a bisexual boy and about a kid who goes away to a portal fantasy world that isn’t quite the idealized thing he imagined. Eliot is a kid who’s built up so many walls around him to protect himself from a world who doesn’t care about him. Just like the people around him in the book, when I first met Elliot I found him abrasive and obnoxious; but it didn’t take me long to love him. It was so amazing to watch his journey, where he gets to this point: “Elliot could not help but think of how often he had struck out wildly to defend himself, when just saying what he felt would have worked. Except it would not have worked, not on his father, or his mother, or on Jase or Adara. It only worked when someone cared how you felt. He did not know how to act, if Luke cared what he felt.” I was not expecting this book to make me cry, but that part did.
Did I mention it has an ADORABLE queer love story? Also, there are unicorns and harpies and mermaids who are also nasty but also flawed species just like humans. And the humour is great! It had me laughing out loud many, many times, most of all at Elliot’s friend Serene’s matriarchal elf speeches about protecting fair gentlemen and how women are especially suited for the battlefield. (I also loved how Brennan interrogated that matriarchal way of thinking and didn’t idealize it). Serene and all the supporting characters, especially Luke and his family, were wonderfully drawn. Do I need to gush more? Just read it!
14. Book that made you laugh out loud the most in 2018
My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris was by far the funniest book I read in 2018. I was constantly laughing out loud, like the snorting-milk-out-of-your-nose-a-la-middle-school kind of laughing. My Lady’s Choosing is a choose-your-own-adventure (hence the title) historical romance novel. From witty banter with a Darcy-esque aristocrat to pirate adventures in Egypt with your lesbian lover to do-gooding with a rogue Scotsman to paranormal intrigue with Lord Craven aka Rochester, all the plotlines were creative and most of all side-splittingly funny. It hits the perfect spot between a genuine homage to and affectionate parody of the genre. You get to choose between endings like “Upon travelling to Egypt and falling in love with the lady you are accompanying, you and she join a band of lesbian pirates” or “Co-running an orphanage with your husband Mac, a taciturn but kindly Scotsman who eschews social conventions and likes to have sex in the stables.” Or how about “The Reverend next door to the house where you work as a governess ends up being a sexy villainous vampire and you join him, becoming a vampire Queen and taking over the Lord’s mansion.” Whatever way you go, a happy ending is in store for you!
15. Best 2018 debut
Runner-ups for my favourite books of the year also include Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (full review), Little Fish by Casey Plett (full review here), All Violet by Rani Rivera (full review here), The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (probably the gayest book about a straight teen girl ever written), andWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (a really fantastic and helpful break-down of the concept for white progressives like me and maybe you!).
You’ll probably also be interested in my The 10 Best Queer Books of 2018 (that I read, at least). There’s a bit of overlap with this post, for obvious reasons but I also talk about some books there that I don’t mention here at all!