Leah’s Top Reads of 2018: Part 1!

HOW is it time for this post already?! I am so not ready for shorter days and negative temperatures. They’re creeping up – and fast. Until then, let’s take a look back on the first half of 2018 and see what books caught my attention!

Final Girls by Riley Sager | July 11, 2017
Unfortunately I didn’t listen to all the buzz (including super high praise from Stephen King) when this one first came out. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the publicist reached out to me with a softcover copy. I’m totally a mood reader and there’s no better time for a murder mystery than a snowy day. Three different attacks, three sole survivors the media branded the Final Girls. When one suddenly commits suicide, the remaining two are brought together, determined to find out exactly why Lisa took her own life – and why she emailed Quincy just before doing so.

Although the twists and turns weren’t completely shocking (to me, someone who doesn’t typically read a lot of mysteries would be more wowed), sinking into this one with a literal blizzard going on outside my window made Final Girls a perfect way to kick off the new year.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig | January 9, 2018
Forbidden romance, secret identities, a murder that occurs as a Shakespeare-inspired ball. The English Wife practically screamed my name! (I’ll be honest, I was initially drawn to it because the main character was named Bayard, Bay for short, and one of my pup’s is named Bay…well imagine my surprise when it’s Bay who gets murdered.) You know a family who rubs shoulders with Vanderbilts and Astors will have a capital s Story, and I was utterly captivated with this one.

In my review back in January I knew then and there it would make a return on my Top Reads list. I’m a total Lauren Willig newbie and was slightly intimidated by her Pink Carnations series. This standalone couldn’t have been a better introduction and before I had even finished the book I was already recommending it to friends! This one is in the running for AT LEAST my top 3 of 2018. It’s that good and just thinking about it makes me want to read it all over again!

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner | February 6, 2018
I fell hard for last year’s A Bridge Across the Ocean, and couldn’t wait for Susan’s follow-up. This 400-page book was a single-sitting read and my first 5-star read of the year. Does anything more really need to be said?

There was a LOT going on within these pages, a good portion of which made me cry. And not pretty little Disney Princess tears. No, I was in full on ugly cry mode. A family moves to Philadelphia to help run an uncle’s funeral business. Just as they unpack, the Spanish Flu touches down and soon there’s not enough room for bodies. The Great War is taking young men by the thousands. A baby is discovered along in a house, its parents having succumbed to the flu. So many layers, so many emotions. As Bright As Heaven definitely isn’t a happy, cheerful read, but oh was it incredible. It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after finishing the final pages.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen | February 20, 2018
Much like with Lauren Willig, Rhys Bowen has an incredibly lengthy series (rather, a few incredibly lengthy series). I did read a Christmas novel last year and enjoyed it enough to where I immediately leapt at the chance to review a standalone. The Tuscan Child features one of my favorite storytelling methods: the dual narrative. A young woman in the 70s returns home to clear out her father’s things after his passing and uncovers some curious items, particularly a letter – written in Italian – and the mention of ‘our boy.’ Did her father have an affair during the war? Does she have a half-brother she never knew about? Her father’s story is also played out, telling of his time in the 40s when his plane is shot down over Italy.

I was wildly impressed with this one and now I seriously want to take that stab of Rhys’s mind-boggling backlist! (Also, foodies, take note! This book is for you.)

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James | March 20, 2018
Bouncing between 2014 and 1950, The Broken Girls tells the story of an old boarding school and a journalist looking for answers to her sister’s murder. There’s an urban legend of a young woman who lost her baby and has been wandering the grounds for centuries. After years of sitting in disrepair, Idlewild Hall has been bought and renovations have begun…revealing a decades-old body stuffed in a well. Clearly this was a book written for me.

While March might not seem like the best time of the year for a spooky, horror novel, I was completely swept away by this one. The girls at the boarding school felt so real, from their friendship to the demons each one battles. The modern day mystery and the sister who wants answers. Fun fact: although I love ghost stories and general spookiness, I’m a huge baby when it comes to reading them alone. I’m a light-on-in-the-middle-of-the-day kind of horror reader, and Matt was out of the state the weekend I spent with this one. …I couldn’t stop reading and read WELL into the night!

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | March 31, 2018
I never got around to reviewing this one and honestly don’t plan on doing so. This one made my Top Reads list for more of a sentimental reason than anything: back in October we lost our sweet Myra. I would always house-sit for my grandparents while they spent Thanksgiving with my uncle and aunt in Denver and uninterrupted reading time means a huge stack of books. Some great books have been read over Thanksgiving and the past few years involved Illuminae (which I admittedly wasn’t a huge fan of) and Gemina (second chances, y’all). That series makes me think of Myra and when Obsidio came out, it was with a heavy heart that I sat down to read. The book itself was fun, if a bit long, but it earns a spot on my list for the memories.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu | March 6, 2018 and Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee | February 27, 2018
I’m lumping these two together (just as I did in my initial review, hence only one link) because they’re essentially the same: fantastic books about phenomenal women. Brazen offers up its bios in a graphic novel format, while Bygone features one full-page illustration for each woman. My absolute favorite part was the selection. Some of the names I had heard of, but SO many were totally new to me; these ladies weren’t your usual “great ladies” picks! Also, both books were 5-star reads for me!

Birdnote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds from the Popular Public Radio Show by Birdnote | March 20, 2018
Another 5-star read! Back in 2016 I shared 4 of my favorite podcasts and have discovered so many more since then (an updated list is in the works!) One of those new discoveries? Birdnote, a daily bird podcast with episodes maxing out around 2 minutes. This book presents 100 of those essays in a teensy bite-sized format – a handful of paragraphs for each one – along with a GORGEOUS illustration. The art alone is worth 5 stars!

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell | April 24, 2018
Ellie was the baby of the family, still doted on at 15 with her sweet demeanor and halo of blonde hair. One day she walked out of the house with a stern threat to her older sister to not touch that last piece of lasagna and headed to the library. Only Ellie never made it to the library. A decade later Laurel is finally beginning to move on from her daughter’s disappearance: moved out of the house, separated from her husband. She recently met an absolutely charming man and Floyd seems smitten with her too. Their relationship seems to be too good to be true – and when Laurel meets Floyd’s little girl, she can’t help but instantly think of her own daughter. Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie. Why? How?

Believe the hype. Then She Was Gone was GOOD and it should say something that this thriller left me sobbing. Take it from me, you’re going to want a box of tissue with you for those last pages. So, so good.

The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli | May 8, 2018
One of two school shooting novels I read back-to-back. Both books have stuck with me, especially this one. Heidi wrote one of my favorite reads of 2017 and I couldn’t wait to see where she would go next. The Hidden Side weaves the story of two women, born centuries apart, who are connected by an old diary. In 1776, Mercy Howard learns her beloved Nathan has been arrested and will be executed. Devastated, she vows revenge, and what better way to avenge her fiance’s death than to join the legendary spy ring he had been a part of? In 2016, Natalie Abbott is a popular morning show host. She knows just what to say to heal callers, yet she’s in dire need of some comfort of her own. News of a school shooting is any parent’s nightmare, but then she learns her son is the shooter.

Guilt, anger, confusion, shame, these characters go through it all and I was with them every step of the way. Heidi can write, this is a difficult read, but such a powerful one and after just two novels, I will read anything this woman releases.

Lady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson | April 1, 1985
One of the only books featured here that wasn’t released this year – and by far the oldest. If you followed me anywhere online in May, you’ve probably heard me mention this one. Or twice. Or a million times. I came across this book years ago and impulse borrowed it from the library. Best decision of the year.

This sweet historical features Lady Elizabeth, 28-years-old and considered far past her prime. That’s perfectly fine with her however, she has no time for men and would much rather devote her time to discovering comets, thank you very much. Girl, same. Then a curmudgeonly cousin inherits the Clanross title and descends upon the estate. Lady Elizabeth’s Comet was lovely and charming and an absolute delight.

Save the Date by Morgan Matson | June 5, 2018
With the exception of the two Middle Grade nonfic picks, YA and kids’ titles are missing from this list! Save the Date is a hulking behemoth of a read – and by the end I admit I was getting a little antsy for it to be over – but I’m thrilled to say I’ve finally read a Morgan Matson novel! And I’m kind of kicking myself for waiting so long!!

A big family comprised of even bigger personalities. A nationally beloved comic strip coming to an end. A wedding where nothing goes right. I was there for every bit of it, from the excellent sibling dynamics to the dry cleaner mix-up that left the groom with a bright purple suit. I had a blast with this one and would love to be a part of this family in real life.

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