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Reviewer Picks Reviewers Pick Their Favorite Books of 2018

Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2018. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with any of their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.


Cindy Burnett

  • NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA by Chanel Cleeton
    Chanel Cleeton artfully incorporates both the beauty and history of Cuba into her tale about courage in the face of family issues and loss. Her evocative and emotional tale highlights the schism that exists between those who remained in Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power and those who fled hoping to return when he was overthrown.
  • HOW TO WALK AWAY by Katherine Center
    Soon after the book opens, Margaret Jacobsen’s world changes in an instant, and she must learn to forge ahead while trying to move on from the past. The story is clever, unpredictable, devastating and ultimately unforgettable. My favorite part of the book is Katherine Center’s message that people do not always control what happens to them, but they do control how they handle the issues that arise, whether the issues are significant or simply a blip on the screen of life.
  • AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN by Susan Meissner
    This historical fiction tale chronicles the impact and horror of the Spanish Flu pandemic that tore through the U.S. East Coast in 1918-1919. It is a page turner with a fantastic ending.
  • HIGH RISERS: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing, by Ben Austen
    While this book may not sound appealing to every reader, I wish it was required reading. Austen humanizes the urban housing crisis and shows the complete and utter failure of the democratic system to represent the urban poor and the impact of the failure on our entire society as a result.
  • FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper
    This second installment in Jane Harper’s series about an Australian FBI agent is even better than her first book and can be read as part of the series or as a stand-alone. A whistleblower goes missing during a corporate retreat in the rugged Giralang Ranges, and Aaron Falk is brought in to try and locate her. The story alternates between the present and the day-by-day chronological account of the retreat, which is highly effective in this instance, and Harper’s depiction of the mountains takes the reader into the wilds of Australia.
  • THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager
    What could be better than people disappearing at a creepy summer camp? Alternating between present day and 15 years prior, Riley Sager creates a perfectly paced, highly entertaining mystery.
    THE LOST VINTAGE is a dual-timeline tale that focuses on the French Resistance during World War II and the way the French dealt with collaborators, particularly women, following the war whether proof existed or not that these individuals had in fact collaborated with the Germans. The present-day storyline involves a woman studying to pass the Master of Wine Examination, so wine lovers will revel in the discussion of various vintages and specifically the Burgundian vintages.
  • STILL LIVES by Maria Hummel
    An up-and-coming artist disappears right before the opening night of her exhibition at a fictional Los Angeles modern art museum. This book is significantly darker and grimmer than I usually tolerate, but the originality of the plot and subject matter and the glimpse into the world of modern art kept me reading at a furious pace to see what happened next.
  • ROCKET MEN: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson
    ROCKET MEN is the masterfully depicted tale of the three courageous astronauts who pioneered humankind's first trip to the moon and the NASA engineers and other employees who made such a journey possible. Set against the backdrop of a tumultuous year and the tense space race with the Soviet Union, the book beautifully captures the novelty of the mission and the importance of its success.
  • THE ECHO KILLING by Christi Daugherty
    THE ECHO KILLING is the first book in a new series set in Savannah, Georgia, centered on Harper McClain, a crime reporter for the local newspaper. McClain follows the police to the scene of a murder and discovers that the crime mimics the death of her own mother. As she continues to investigate the woman’s death, she comes to believe that the two crimes were committed by the same individual. Christi Daugherty perfectly captures the architecture, cobblestone streets, culture and beauty of the historic section of Savannah and contrasts that with the grittier sections of the city.


Megan Elliott

  • EDUCATED: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  • THE POISONED CITY: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy, by Anna Clark
  • THE MERE WIFE by Maria Dehvana Headley
  • THE GREAT BELIEVERS by Rebecca Makkai


Pauline Finch

As a freelance editor, I spend most of my working hours at a screen, reading what other people write with the purpose of returning it to them in better shape than I received it.

So when I sit down to read recreationally (less often than I’d like to), it is all about the tactile experience of picking up a physical book with manually turned paper pages, and the mentally restorative one of traveling along with a pre-edited writer, unhampered by the need to spot typos or grammatical indiscretions.

This is the main reason why I enjoy reviewing for Bookreporter. I am regularly supplied with books that meet the above criteria, but go far beyond that by stretching my mind across vast distances of time and human experience. So here are my top picks, all but the last one reviewed on this site.

  • LIFE IN THE GARDEN by Penelope Lively
    As someone who enjoys messing around in gardens, I was irresistibly drawn to this pleasantly eccentric and exquisitely written volume. There are no pictures and none needed, as the reader’s own imagination can supply them. Penelope Lively told me more about the social “backstory” of gardening than I ever knew existed.
  • THE DIARY OF A BOOKSELLER by Shaun Bythell
    Until I encountered this amiable and edgy memoir, I was woefully ignorant of the unseen and (until now) unknown world inhabited by people who choose to devote the best years of their lives to foraging, sorting, rehabilitating and retailing used books. Without them, the literary world would be a sterile and impersonal place indeed.
  • THE PERFECTIONISTS: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester
    Nothing impresses and inspires me more than those books that come out of left field and completely, unexpectedly enthrall me with knowledge I never believed I could process. Although I am very respectful of mathematics, engineering, physics, quantum mechanics and the “hard” (meaning empirical or quantifiable) sciences, I consider myself totally incompetent in those fields. But instead of dumbing me down, Simon Winchester’s fascinating account of many remarkable people and their inventions had me spellbound.
  • ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini
    I normally have mixed feelings about historical fiction. My sense of order insists that interweaving facts with imaginative suppositions can lead to confusion. But Jennifer Chiaverini’s exploration of the unconventional and too-brief life of Ada Byron King (1815-1852), the only legitimate child of poet George Gordon Lord Byron, totally broke down my resistance. This book is so well-researched that one’s aesthetic satisfaction also results in some very substantial learning about pioneering women in the sciences.
  • WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?: Essays by Marilynne Robinson
    I find essay collections a welcome change of pace from books that require (and deserve) my long-term concentration, sometimes over many hundreds of pages. These well-crafted essays by someone so masterfully competent at shaping great thoughts in short spaces shook up my preconceptions. Sometimes disturbing, sometimes hopeful, Marilynne Robinson has a knack for new and insightful approaches to timeless questions.
    This is another of those richly expressed and diligently researched books in which my non-scientist’s mind never felt overwhelmed or flustered, even though a great deal of concentrated material (much of it newly available to the public) is packed between its covers. I particularly appreciate how deftly A. N. Wilson places Charles Darwin within the broader social and political contexts of the Victorian world.
  • THE BOY ON THE BEACH: My Family's Escape from Syria and Our Hope for a New Home by Tima Kurdi with Danielle Egan
    As a Canadian, I immediately identified with the passionate advocacy of Tima Kurdi, a BC hairdresser who could not resign her beloved little nephew Alan to the anonymity of being just another Syrian child who died in his parents’ desperate bid for freedom. Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body was photographed on a Turkish beach in 2015 and viewed millions of times around the world. With the help of a superb co-writer, this book tells a deeply compelling story that connects with all displaced and refugee families.
  • OVERTIME: Portraits of a Vanishing Canada, by Karl Kessler and Sunshine Chen
    Just published this fall by The Porcupine’s Quill press in Erin, Ontario, this compelling and often poignant collection of 50 brief portraits tells in prose and pictures about jobs that are disappearing forever. Many of them have no borders and will be easily recognizable by Americans and Canadians alike --- typewriter repair, broom-making, leather cutting, harness-making, book-binding and so many more --- each a gem of brevity and remarkable substance. I found I couldn’t put the book down.


Harvey Freedenberg


Maya Gittelman


Joe Hartlaub

  • ROBICHEAUX by James Lee Burke
    The first book I read way back when 2018 was fresh and new remains one of the best. James Lee Burke’s prose continues to shine and sparkle, even as he approaches the climax of a brilliant and unparalleled career.
  • THE LARGESSE OF THE SEA MAIDEN: Stories by Denis Johnson
    I was afraid that this would be a posthumous collection of short stories thrown together to make a last bit of cheddar off the work of an author who is arguably a cult favorite. Fear naught. It is strong from beginning to end, containing some of Denis Johnson’s most memorable stories.
  • THE NIGHT MARKET by Jonathan Moore
    The concluding volume of Jonathan Moore’s (very) loosely connected San Francisco crime fiction triptych is the most surprising and, in many ways, the best of these very strong and unforgettable books. THE NIGHT MARKET is arguably the best, possibly for the unforeseeable wallop it features near the end. Don’t peek. It won’t make any sense if you do.
  • HELLBENT: An Orphan X Novel by Gregg Hurwitz
    Gregg Hurwitz has always seemed to be incapable of writing badly, but his Orphan X series fulfills and surpasses every literary promise he ever made. HELLBENT is the third in the series about a man trained from childhood for a secret government project who now helps those in trouble, even as he himself is hunted by those who created him. Keep your blood pressure monitor nearby as you read. You’ll need it.
  • THE LINE THAT HELD US by David Joy
    This is a fine slice of rural noir that begins with an accidental shooting, continues with a coverup, and quickly and inevitably spirals out of control. Come for the plot and stay for the characters. I don’t care who you are or where you live: you know people like this and almost undoubtedly do everything you can to avoid them. Don’t avoid this book, though, which will keep you reading deep into the night.
  • FORTUNATE SON by J.D. Rhoades
    I wish that J.D. Rhoades wrote more frequently, and books like FORTUNATE SON constitute the reason why. It will put you in the mind of, by turns, Stephen Hunter and (topically) Cormac McCarthy, but this tale of crime, family and cartels told against the backdrop of one of New Orleans’ lesser known neighborhoods will put you out of your chair in spots and cement you in place during others.
  • THE SHIMMER by Carsten Stroud
    This police procedural/time travel mashup is wonderfully conceived and beautifully written. It is surprising, suspenseful, violent (but not overly so), frightening and heartwarming, sometimes within the same page. I HATE time travel stories, but Carsten Stroud demonstrates how the job is properly done, accounting for every anomaly. His afterword to the book should be required reading for the screenwriters of "Dark" on Netflix. Note: Under the name “David Stone,” Stroud has written a quartet of espionage novels featuring Micah Dalton that are must-reads.
  • SOME DIE NAMELESS by Wallace Stroby
    The lives of a former mercenary and an investigative reporter intersect when a hired assassin goes after both of them, following the discovery of a corpse in a warehouse. This is Wallace Stroby’s most complex and ambitious book to date and, in many ways, his best, which is really saying something. A must-read for fans of noir fiction.
  • FUGITIVE RED by Jason Starr
    No one can make a character’s life unravel like Jason Starr can. Anyone who has ever entertained the idea of utilizing an online dating or hookup service will permanently and forever abandon that thought after reading FUGITIVE RED. Period. One of Jason’s best. There isn’t a worst.
  • NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney
    There is a reason that this dark, redemptive work of historical fiction is making so many “Best of” lists for 2018. This lyrical, haunting account of a hood swept up in the immediate aftermath of the JFK assassination starts strong and stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.


Rebecca Munro


L. Dean Murphy

  • WRONG LIGHT: A Rick Cahill Novel by Matt Coyle
    The sultry voice of Naomi Hendrix titillating the radio waves isn’t the only thing haunting California nights. A demented soul stalks Naomi, hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to abduct her to fulfill a twisted fantasy. When the radio station hires PI Rick Cahill to protect Naomi and track the stalker, he discovers that Naomi hides secrets about her past that could help unmask him. Before Rick can extract the truth, however, he is thrust into a missing person’s case --- an abduction he may have unwittingly caused. A cop questions Rick’s motives for getting involved and pressures him to stop meddling. While Rick pursues Naomi’s stalker, evil from his own past embroils Rick in a race to find the truth about an old nemesis. Is settling the score worth losing everything?

             - Click here to read’s exclusive interview with Matt Coyle.

  • DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH: An Inishowen Mystery by Andrea Carter
    A deconsecrated church, sitting on the wild coastline of County Donnegal’s Inishowen Peninsula, hides a skeleton in its long-forgotten crypt. Real estate attorney Benedicta (Ben) O’Keefe acting for the church’s owners finds herself immersed in a mystery with hairpin turns that lead to a shattering crescendo --- both political and personal. This modern-day Agatha Christie-like mystery in a stunning Irish setting is soon to be a major television series.
  • THE SECOND GOODBYE: A Pacific Homicide Mystery by Patricia Smiley
    Assume nothing. That’s the touchstone for every homicide investigation Detective Davina (Davie) Richards undertakes. She approaches her latest case the same way, determined to learn as much about the victim as she does about the killer. But nothing about Sara Montaine or her death makes sense. Was Sara a saint caring for her dying husband or a gold-digger with a sketchy past? Death by suicide or homicide? As Davie digs deeper, she unearths Sara’s troubled past and a nest of vipers willing to kill to keep their secrets hidden.

  • GUMSHOE ON THE LOOSE by Rob Leininger
    IRS agent-turned-PI Mortimer Angel is relaxing in a Reno casino bar when an attractive young woman hires him to find out who left her a cryptic message demanding a million bucks. At her house, Mort finds the body of missing rapper Jonnie Xenon --- Jo-X to legions of fans --- hanging from the rafters, dead from bullet holes. Mort is shocked when he learns the identity of his new client’s father --- and even more shocked when the father hires him to investigate the murder. Mort, being Mort, accumulates a few felonies as he follows the clues to Las Vegas. And along the way, he picks up an alluring young assistant who changes his life --- in every conceivable way.

  • SCORPION STRIKE: A Jonathan Grave Thriller by John Gilstrap
    An island paradise held hostage. A band of dangerous killers unleashed. A sinister plot that could push superpowers to the brink of war. For Jonathan Grave and Gail Bonneville, Crystal Sands Resort has become the ultimate flashpoint. Their mission: defeat the attackers before more lives are lost. Their only hope is Grave’s partner Boxers, but he’s miles away. Grave may be without weapons, but he’s never without resources. That’s when he’s most lethal --- when he will strike fast, hard and without warning.

  • MADAGASCAR by Stephen Holgate
    An American diplomat --- reformed alcoholic, unreformed gambler and inveterate smartass --- finds himself in disgrace and a murder suspect, even as he seeks love and redemption on the strange and spirit-ridden island of Madagascar. Author Stephen Holgate brings the mystery and mysticism of Madagascar to life in his haunting and exciting second novel.

    Lisa Balamaro is an ambitious arts lawyer with a secret crush on her most intriguing client, reformed art forger Tuck Mercer. In his newfound role as an expert in Old West artifacts, Tuck gains possession of the supposedly destroyed correspondence between Doc Holliday and his cousin and sweetheart, Mattie. Given the unlikelihood the letters can ever be fully authenticated, Tuck retains Lisa on behalf of the letters’ owner, Rayella Vargas, to sell them on the black market. But the buyer Tuck finds, a duplicitous judge from the Tombstone area, has other, far more menacing ideas. As Lisa works feverishly to make things right, Rayella secretly enlists her ex-marine boyfriend in a daring scheme of her own.
  • HANGMAN by Daniel Cole
    Detective Emily Baxter still reels from the Ragdoll case, and from the disappearance of her friend William “Wolf” Fawkes. She is summoned to a meeting of an FBI/CIA/UK law enforcement task force in New York. There, she is presented with photographs of the latest copycat murder: a body contorted into a familiar pose, strung up from the Brooklyn Bridge, the word “BAIT” carved deep into its chest. Baxter is ordered to assist the investigation and attend the scene of another murder, again a victim inscribed with a word --- “PUPPET.”
  • VINDICATION: A Matt Royal Mystery by H. Terrell Griffin
    Matt Royal, retired lawyer-turned-beach-bum, returns to the courtroom to defend the aunt of his girlfriend, Detective J.D. Duncan. A bestselling author has been murdered after a book signing, and Aunt Esther has been arrested. Matt suits up for the courtroom, and J.D. takes a leave from the police department to go undercover. A bizarre specter from the past haunts their investigation every step of the way. Not until the case goes to trial and the evidence is revealed does the truth emerge --- and a strange kind of justice prevails.
  • THE WOMAN IN THE WATER: A Prequel to the Charles Lenox Series by Charles Finch
    In 1850, a young Charles Lenox struggles to make a name for himself as a detective. But when an anonymous writer sends a letter to the paper claiming to have committed the perfect crime --- and promising to kill again --- Lenox is convinced that this is his chance to prove himself. The writer’s first victim is a young woman whose body is found in a trunk floating in the River Thames. With few clues, Lenox endeavors to solve the crime before another life is lost.


Ray Palen


Norah Piehl


Benny Regalbuto

  • THE WINTER SOLDIER by Daniel Mason
    World War I often sits in the shadow of its larger cousin, but this book does an excellent job of making any sort of comparison irrelevant. The horrors of war and the lengths to which we go for love are taken to new levels as we follow the story through the eyes of a brand new field surgeon. Generic-sounding? Maybe. But you'll find that this book is far more than a checklist for tropes.
  • DEAR STUDENTS: Reading, Writing, and the Art of Smelling Books by Jennifer Gavin
    Written by my high school English teacher, it's hard to call myself unbiased when saying this book was a pure delight. Going above and beyond what the title entails, this book is chock-full of life advice of the highest order. Student or not, give it a go. It's for everyone.
  • My Hero Academia, Vol. 11-13 by Kohei Horikoshi
    What if the majority of humankind had superpowers? That is the basic premise of My Hero Academia, a manga series written and drawn by Kohei Horikoshi. Superhero stories are often written off as child's fodder (which simply isn't true, but I won't get into that), but this series digs deep and asks tough questions about what it means to be a hero. Start with the first volume if you're interested! There are currently 18, and I'm slowly but surely catching up.
  • THE ABBOT'S TALE by Conn Iggulden
    Character study. Those are the words that best fit Conn Iggulden's medieval masterwork. That is all.
  • CIRCE by Madeline Miller
    I've always had a soft spot for Greek mythology, and Madeline Miller knew just how to prod it without sounding samey. Many of us have heard these stories before, but never quite like this. The luscious prose in this book alone is worth the price.


Stuart Shiffman

Selecting my best books of the year is always a difficult task. One reason might be that I do not start compiling my list until November or December. I know I have forgotten some books I read earlier in the year, but my list is only one of many. A better title might be books I enjoyed and hope others will as well.

  • AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones
    Wrongful convictions are often in the news but are covered as real stories about actual cases. This remarkable work of fiction causes readers to think about wrongful convictions in a more thoughtful way.
  • A LADDER TO THE SKY by John Boyne
    I am just finishing this novel, anxious to see how it ends but wishing it would not. It is a book about novelists with a character so evil that you want to jump into its pages and beat the snot out of him.
  • CHURCHILL: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts
    This has been on quite a few top 10 lists of the year. I cannot add much to what has been said. Do not be put off by its heft. It is so well-written that the pages fly by quickly. And since much of Churchill’s life is already known, you can read several hundred pages and put the book aside for a while.
  • QUARTERBACK: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League by John Feinstein
    QUARTERBACK is another in a long line of great sports contemporary histories. I love sports, and John Feinstein is one of the best writers in the field. This book looks at the NFL through the careers of several quarterbacks. Along the way, there is great detail about the league and how it is run. Feinstein gives a balanced account that sports fans will appreciate.
  • NINO AND ME: My Unusual Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia by Bryan A. Garner
    You will not find NINO AND ME on many “best book” lists. It is not for everyone. It is about the late Justice Scalia and how he and Bryan Garner came to be collaborators on two books. Along the way they became great friends. This is a book about both friendship and writing. It brought me back to the best parts of lawyering and reminded me why I chose the law as a profession.


Amie Taylor


Rebecca Wasniak


Katherine B. Weissman

  • GIVE ME YOUR HAND by Megan Abbott
    What I loved about this thriller is Megan Abbott’s emphasis on women who work in what is traditionally a man’s world: hard science. Two young, brilliant chemists, friends and rivals, become caught up in a deadly spiral of secrets and violence.
    The Booker Prize-winning author of the monumentally wonderful Regeneration trilogy turns once more to wartime themes, retelling the story of The Iliad --- from the point of view of Achilles’ captured concubine.
    I hesitate to use the word delightful lest it conjure visions of canned, cutesy, sitcom-like drama. This book is way too sophisticated for that, yet it is also smart, charming, bold, hopeful and altogether unforgettable.
  • BEARSKIN by James A. McLaughlin
    The Appalachian wilderness is the star of this profoundly evocative thriller, but McLaughlin’s taut plot and lonely, gritty hero are equally memorable.
    Here, too, the strength is in the setting: the marshland of North Carolina --- no surprise, as the author of this first novel, a mystery, is a wildlife scientist and prize-winning nature writer.
  • A SPARK OF LIGHT by Jodi Picoult
    I paused before putting this on my list. While I am a fan, always impressed by how skillfully Jodi Picoult draws me into her books, I also feel that the issues she highlights tend to dominate, making her fiction a bit earnest and formulaic. This one is no exception, and yet…it zeroes in on one of the toughest controversies of our day; it is both heartfelt and page-turningly readable.
  • GRIST MILL ROAD by Christopher J. Yates
    A dark thriller whose intricacy --- multiple points of view; a kaleidoscope of past and present --- makes it unusually absorbing.
  • HIS FAVORITES by Kate Walbert
    A short, painfully acute novel of a young woman scarred by guilt and a seductive, abusive teacher.