With so many great books published in 2018, it’s no surprise some slipped through the cracks. While these books might not have made the bestseller list, they are certainly worthy of an all-night reading session. This list is a round-up of our favorite under-the-radar books of 2018.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
A short, darkly funny, hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends. (Summary from Amazon)
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love, the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today. When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan. Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi, and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come. Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed and award-winning author Rebecca Makkai In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
A sharp, biting, and irresistible debut about parties and ambition in New York City–introducing a talented Mr. Ripley for the digital age, with all the glitz and grit of Bright Lights, Big City. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Louise Wilson is an expert at just barely making it. She’s mastered the tricks and shortcuts that a penniless small-town girl needs to survive in New York City. When she meets the beautiful, wealthy, eccentric, and aimless Lavinia Williams, she thinks her dreams of a cosmopolitan existence may be coming true. Lavinia introduces her to a rarified life of beauty and indulgence: private opera boxes, secret bookstores in brownstones, Shakespearean masked balls, underground cabarets, closets full of hundreds of dresses, and the finest champagne money can buy. The more Louise tastes, the more she wants. Could she ever truly be a part of this world? She can speak with the right affectation, wear the best makeup, drop the appropriate references, but she is always afraid people can see her true nature, which is darker than anyone can imagine. She finds herself haunted by the disparity between them. Lavinia has so much, and Louise so little, despite her yearning. Nightlife–the music, the buzz, the dim lights–is the great equalizer. But morning always comes, and Louise will do whatever it takes to keep the party going. This delicious debut takes a classic tale of obsession and makes it undeniably modern.
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself. One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears–an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories. Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too. Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless. As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure. Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.
Brass by Xhenet Aliu
A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind. Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.
Family Trust by Kathy Wang
Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Meet Stanley’s family: son Fred, frustrated that his years of academic striving (Harvard MBA!) haven’t protected him from career stagnation; daughter Kate, balancing a capricious boss, a distracted husband, and two small children; ex-wife Linda, familiar with and suspicious of Stanley’s grandiose ways; and second wife Mary, giver of foot rubs and ego massages. For years, Stanley has insistently claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. Now, as the Huangs come to terms with Stanley’s approaching death, they are also starting to fear that Stanley’s “small fortune” may be more “small” than “fortune.” A “study in the difference between expectation and reality” (npr.org), a bittersweet rumination on what we owe our families, and a sharp-eyed look at Silicon Valley’s culture of excess, Family Trust is a “dryly cynical” (Globe and Mail) satire of the American dream.
How to be Safe: A Novel by Tom McAllister
Recently suspended for a so-called outburst, high school English teacher Anna Crawford is stewing over the injustice at home when she is shocked to see herself named on television as a suspect in a shooting at the school where she works. Though she is quickly exonerated, and the actual teenage murderer identified, her life is nevertheless held up for relentless scrutiny and judgment as this quiet town descends into media mania. Gun sales skyrocket, victims are transformed into martyrs, and the rules of public mourning are ruthlessly enforced. Anna decides to wholeheartedly reject the culpability she’s somehow been assigned, and the rampant sexism that comes with it, both in person and online. A piercing feminist howl written in trenchant prose, How to Be Safe is a compulsively readable, darkly funny expose of the hypocrisy that ensues when illusions of peace are shattered.
The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette
A new arrival at an isolated school for orphaned boys quickly comes to realize there is something wrong with his new home. He hears chilling whispers in the night, his troubled classmates are violent and hostile, and the Headmaster sends cryptic messages, begging his new charge to confess. As the new boy learns to survive on the edges of this impolite society, he starts to unravel a mystery at the school’s dark heart. And that’s when the corpses start turning up. A coming-of-age tale, a Gothic ghost story, and a murder mystery all in one, The Job of the Wasp is a bloodcurdling and brilliantly subversive novel about paranoia, love, and the nightmare of adolescence.
North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah
A Somalian couple’s tranquil life abroad in Oslo is irrevocably transformed by the arrival of their jihadist son’s widow and children, who respectively retreat into strict religion and hunger for freedoms in a new homeland.
The Husband Hour by Jamie Brenner
Lauren Adelman and her high school sweetheart, Rory Kincaid, are a golden couple. They marry just out of college as Rory, a star hockey player, earns a spot in the NHL. Their future could not look brighter when Rory shocks everyone-Lauren most of all-by enlisting in the U.S. Army. When Rory dies in combat, Lauren is left devastated, alone, and under unbearable public scrutiny. Seeking peace and solitude, Lauren retreats to her family’s old beach house on the Jersey Shore. But this summer she’s forced to share the house with her overbearing mother and competitive sister. Worse, a stranger making a documentary about Rory tracks her down and persuades her to give him just an hour to talk about her husband.One hour with filmmaker Matt Brio turns into a summer of revelations, surprises, and upheaval. As the days grow shorter and her grief changes shape, Lauren begins to understand the past-and to welcome the future.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
A frank, smart and captivating memoir by the daughter of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents–artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs–Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he’d become the parent she’d always wanted him to be. Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.
And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell
O’Connell is a smart twentysomething who treats her pregnancy like a new project, researching and planning. She envisions a natural birth and a year of wholesome breast feeding. But things do not go as she expects. Life throws curveballs, and after 40 hours of contractions, she opts for a C-section. She manages to nurse for a year but resents her baby’s control over her body. This is not a book about the wonders of motherhood but about the tension between culturally inherited ideals and the realities of lived, bodily experience.
Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold
Tells the story of the energy boom’s impact on a small town at the edge of Appalachia–and one woman’s transformation from a struggling single parent to an unlikely activist. Stacey Haney is a local nurse working hard to raise two kids and keep up her small farm when the fracking industry comes to her hometown of Amity, Pennsylvania. Intrigued by reports of lucrative natural gas leases in her neighbors’ mailboxes, she strikes a deal with a Texas-based energy company. Soon trucks begin rumbling past her farm, a fenced-off drill site rises on an adjacent hilltop, and domestic animals and pets start to die. When mysterious sicknesses begin to afflict her children, she appeals to the company for help. Its representatives insist that nothing is wrong. Alarmed by her children’s illnesses, Haney joins with neighbors and a committed husband-and-wife legal team to investigate what’s really in the water and air. Against local opposition, Haney and her allies doggedly pursue their case in court and begin to expose the damage that’s being done to the land her family has lived on for centuries. Soon a community that has long been suspicious of outsiders faces wrenching new questions about who is responsible for redressing their ills. The faceless corporations that are poisoning the land? The environmentalists who fail to see their economic distress? A federal government that is mandated to protect but fails on the job? Drawing on seven years of immersive reporting, Griswold reveals what happens when an imperiled town faces a crisis of values–and a family wagers everything on an improbable quest for justice.
The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife … But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less. A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose. Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead-and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.