It’s the most wonderful time of the year…and one of the most highly anticipated times for authors and readers in the Goodreads community. The time has come to anxiously await the Goodreads voting results for the best books of the year, with the winners to be named on Dec. 4. BookTrib editors Rebecca Proulx and Jim Alkon examined the 16 finalists in 16 of the 20 categories, squared off, and cast their own votes on who they felt deserving of the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards. Here we go:
Rebecca: Nine Perfect Strangers (Flatiron Books) proves Liane Moriarty is still a reigning queen of drama. Nine individuals come to a remote health resort to seek healing in body and soul. The Tranquilium House is welcoming to all of its guests, regardless of their ailments, but something seems to be amiss with the gregarious and quirky director. The author of the blockbuster book Big Little Lies and inspiration for the hit television show has spun quiet intrigue and suspense into yet another crowd pleaser in her latest retreat based novel. This enthralling book leaves residents and readers alike wondering the whole time whether they should put their trust in the resort or make their own hasty retreats back from where they came.
Jim: With so many great choices in this category, I’m going with Killing Commendatore (Knopf) by Haruki Murakami. If you happened to read my recent review, you’ll know I’m a fan of the author who tends to place normal people in anything-but-normal situations. His latest book is no exception: the physical manifestation of a two-foot person who pops from a painting; an underworld haunted by villainous Double Metaphors, you get the idea.
Rebecca: The President is Missing (Little Brown and Company), famously co-authored by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, launches us into a cyberterror that holds the U.S. in an iron grip. Not even the President himself is safe from accusations and disappears from the public eye when the nation needs him most. Combining James Patterson’s effortless high-paced writing with Clinton’s inside perspective from his time in the oval office, this read is un-put-downable.
Jim: In Neil We Trust – top thriller editor Neil Nyren, that is, who called The 7-1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Sourcebooks Landmark) “the twistiest, most intricate crime novel you’ll read this year.” That gets my vote. The author, Stuart Turton, calls it “an Agatha Christie mystery in a Groundhog Day loop, with a bit of Quantum Leap. Others have invoked Gosford Park, Inception, and “Downton Abbey with a body count.” They are all correct. The 7-½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle opens with the narrator waking up in a remote forest, wearing someone else’s dinner jacket and, he realizes, someone else’s body.
Rebecca: I love books that pick me up and carry me places. Beatriz Williams’ The Summer Wives (William Morrow) is an enchanting read that will transport you to an elite island off the New England coast, as the protagonist Miranda grapples with the recent loss of her father in WWII, and tries to find her place among the upper crust society her mother married into. However, murder and deception boil just beneath the surface of Winthrop Island’s perfect veneer. As Miranda unravels the secrets of each entitled family, her stay at Winthrop Island is anything an easy-breezy summer retreat. Clashes of love and class make this novel a timeless and beautiful read.
Jim: I’m picking Where The Crawdads Sing (Putnam Books) by Delia Owens, which BookTrib described as “a love story, mystery and courtroom drama — all that it takes for a compelling and beautifully rich novel.” Just as Owens went way out yonder where the crawdads sing to connect with nature in her own life, her protagonist Kya becomes one with her surroundings. As each important person in her life abandons her, Kya learns to be self-sufficient and survive alone in the marsh as a very young child. With limited human contact and lack of strong friendships, her natural surroundings become her mother.
Rebecca: Spinning Silver (Random House) rebuilds an intricate world around the Rumplestiltskin fairytale. Naomi Novik creates a fierce heroine in Miryem and a seemingly impossible, though thoroughly engrossing, quest from the mystifying king. With two unlikely companions, Miryem must use her skill for collecting riches to appease the icy king and prevent a greedy Tsar from conquering all of the lands. Fans of Tolkien, Levine, and Le Guin will love this complex and fantastical world.
Jim: Ok, I’m a sucker for the big screen, but my vote goes to The Shape of Water (Feiwel & Friends) by Daniel Kraus. Elisa Esposito, a janitor at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center living a humdrum existence, sees something she was never meant to see: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, and a lover affair ensues.
Rebecca: The Wedding Date (Berkley) starts off with the kind of zany situation one would typically expect from a Hallmark movie. Alexa Monroe agrees to go to a wedding with a man she meets while stuck in an elevator. But, while Alexa and Drew are trapped, it’s clear that their simmering chemistry is something that cannot be contained. Jasmine Guillory has given us a romantic comedy that is both absorbing and plain fun to read. This book is a vacation and will have you strangely wishing more of the elevators you stepped into had whimsical mechanical problems.
Jim: Admittedly not my genre of choice, I’m picking Darker (Vintage) by E.L. James, out of respect to the mileage and mystique of this incredible brand. More power to Christian and Anastasia – the ruling family of romance.
Rebecca: Fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Bina Shah’s Before She Sleeps will absolutely adore Vox (Berkley). A timely dystopian novel on women’s rights, Christina Dalcher takes us to a world where our government restricts women to expressing a strict 100 words per day maximum. Women in this society are no longer properly educated or taken seriously in the job market. This tale portrays the ambition and sacrifices of one mother as she tries to regain her own voice, while fighting the oppression blanketing all the other females in their society. Living in a world where females are not always treated equally in the workplace and often objectified in society, this read is chilling and potent. Still curious, read our BookTrib review!
Jim: Count me in too for Vox, the debut novel of Christina Dalcher that contemplates a world in which females must wear a wrist counter that keeps track of the number of words they speak. Zapped if they go beyond the limit of 100 a day. Oh, and no non-verbal communication. Did I mention books are banned? It’s a fascinating premise and sets up for a great storyline.
Rebecca: Even immortals have their beginnings. How can you not be hypnotized into reading with a hook like that? Dracul (Putnam Books) is the haunting prequel to the vampire legend penned by an unstoppable team, deft thriller author J.D. Barker, and descendant to the creator of the classic Dracula Bram Stoker, Dacre Stoker. Using in-depth research from Bram Stoker’s original work, the two spin a tale of Gothic suspense about how a young Bram Stoker battled the undead, and the twisting story of how he got there. Dracula’s beginnings are revealed in full light, as well as the link connecting him to Bram Stoker. Truly a must-read for any classic horror fan, Dracul will fright and delight. Read our BookTrib review for more on the experience of these authors collaborating!
Jim: Any novel in which a co-author has the last name Stoker has an unfair advantage. But names aside, Dracul, a so-called prequel to Dracula, is my blood-thirsty choice hands down. Writes Nancy Bilyeau, “While it may seem that the vampire novel has been drained of every conceivable drop of blood, the truth is the Undead can rise and walk the earth, becoming more Undead than ever before—in the right authorial hands.” It’s Dracul, co-written by J. D. Barker and Dacre Stoker, infusing the classic story of fighting to defeat a terrifying vampire and drawing on little-known facts about the real Bram Stoker.
Rebecca: Fans of “Parks and Recreation” and “Will & Grace” will rally together for a couple in show business that has been kicking ass. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (Dutton) presents the hilarious and candid transcripted conversations of the dynamic duo Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally on all aspects of their relationship. As I put in my BookTrib review for this gem, the constant support Megan and Nick show for one another, as well as their playful jabs, make it clear how these two comedians were able to overcome the demanding pressures of TV production and cultivate a loving and authentic life together.
Jim: In the humor genre, if you like the comic, chances are you’ll like the book. But I’m going in a different direction: Hope Never Dies (Quirk Books) by Andrew Shaffer, in which his leading characters are Joe Biden and Barack Obama, together again in a rollicking, wise-cracking buddy caper. Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. Call in Barack, and, well, enough said.
Rebecca: Susan Orlean has crafted a moving story that pays tribute to books and libraries by revisiting a scene of tragedy for readers, the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library Fire. The Library Book (Simon & Schuster) examines the aftermath of a tragedy that caused thousands of books to go up into flames, dives into the mystery of who was responsible, and most importantly vividly portrays the role books have in our own lives. Farenheit 451-esque in its exploration of why it gives some people pleasure to burn, Orlean focuses on the emotion and devotion of the cost.
Jim: If the title of this book isn’t enough to arouse curiosity and grab you, then the concept sure is. I loved The Library Book by Susan Orlean, in which the author weaves her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library. The work tells the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.
Rebecca: There There (Knopf) presents a raw and gripping portrait of the life of urban Indians, specifically 12 of those who live in Oakland California. The consequences of the Indian Relocation Act of 1952, which encouraged Native Americans to leave their reservations and find jobs in the cities, are examined through the stories of different urban Indians, each fighting their own demons. This portion of our population is not often examined, nevermind with such heartbreaking clarity Tommy Orange dedicates to each individual. Everyone should educate themselves with this thoughtful and instantly immersive read. Check out our BookTrib review for more.
Jim: My vote goes to Tara Westover’s coming-of-age memoir Educated (Random House), which BookTrib called “incredible, tragic, praiseworthy and monumental.” From a young girl loving and believing everything her parents tell her, to questioning their logic and actively pursuing different answers and other ways of thinking, Westover’s account is reminiscent of Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle. Tara lives with her survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, and she begins to realize everything she has been told may not be the truth, and though fiercely loyal to her parents and siblings
History and Biography
Rebecca: The Good Neighbor (Abrams) is the moving story of a man that easily captivated the attention of both my sister and I growing up. Following the life of Fred Rogers, star of the television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” this biography uses original interviews, oral histories, archival documents, and his decades of work to create a holistic picture of the compassionate television icon. Maxwell King has thoroughly researched Fred Rogers through his personal and professional life and channeled his efforts into a biography, that like the star, will be loved for generations to come.
Jim: If you’re like me and gravitate to anything you can to learn more about the misunderstood and tragic life of Robin Williams, then in this category you’ll go with Robin (Henry Holt and Co.) by Dave Itzkoff, fittingly described as the definitive biography of this incredible entertainer and his troubled life.
Science and Technology
Rebecca: To those of you like me who have never outgrown your dinosaur phase, Steve Brusatte’s book was an easy pick for this category. For dedicated fans, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World (HarperCollins) is not the book of the year, but the book of the century. Steve Brusatte-the hot paleontologist of our time who has bragging rights of naming fifteen new species around the world and conducted unprecedented fieldwork-tells the stories of dinosaurs as you have never heard them before. Using fresh research to bring new light to these mysterious ancient creatures, Brusatte uncovers their elusive origins, lush diversity, and fatal fall. Tracing evolutions from their very beginnings to the vast array that still captivate us today, this book includes over 70 original illustrations and photographs to bring these awe-inspiring species to life.
Jim: When I picked up Michio Kaku’s The Future of Humanity (Doubleday), I wasn’t sure whether I’d get some answers or more questions. Probably a bit of both. The famous physicist and futurist suggests that we must face the reality that humans will one day need to leave Earth to survive as a species. He explores the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. My bags are packed – it gets my vote.
Food and Cookbooks
Rebecca: Cooking dishes that are more sophisticated than spaghetti intimidate me. This being said, Ina Garten somehow manages to assuage my fears and bolster my confidence as we are diving into holiday entertaining. Recently featured as one of BookTrib’s best picks for holiday wining and dining, besides offering “many simple streamlined recipes and pieces of advice, in Cook Like a Pro (The Crown Publishing Group), the host of Food Network’s “The Barefoot Contessa” explains easily how to set up an elegant home bar and make a swoon-worthy Raspberry Baked Alaska that can be completely prepared ahead of time for your guests!” An invaluable resource for a chef of any experience level.
Jim: The late Anthony Bourdain called Edward Lee’s Buttermilk Grafitti (Artisan Books)“Thoughtful, well researched, and truly moving. Shines a light on what it means to cook and eat American food, in all its infinitely nuanced and ever-evolving glory.” The book’s subtitle is “A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting-Pot Cuisine,” and Lee, called a natural-born storyteller, hits the road and spends two years uncovering fascinating narratives from every corner of America.
Graphic Novels and Comics
Rebecca: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World (First Second) is an empowering graphic novel that you will want to share with many. Pénélope Bagieu provides spunky profiles of brazen ladies who have blazed trails with their rebellious spirits throughout history, some well-known and others only gaining recognition now. Brazen is a fun, inspiring tale with eye-catching drawings that make it a winner and a great gift for any gal pal.
Jim: Got to go with Sabrina, (Drawn and Quarterly) Nick Drasno’s story of a young woman’s murder, and how the crime and its aftermath rock the fragile lives of those who knew her. But more importantly, Sabrina takes its place as the first graphic novel (or comic, as its author calls it) ever to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize.
Rebecca: The Dark Between Stars (Atria) is Instagram famous Atticus‘ newest collection of poetry and focuses on the duality of existence. Exploring loneliness and connections, a life with meaning, and finding humor within serious subjects we ponder every day, The Dark Between Stars is an enchanting read. His beautifully illustrated collection preserves both fulfilling and desolate moments perfectly, achieving both the unknown depths of darkness, and the blinding light of stars. Atticus’ poetry captures ephemeral moments beautifully, but this book will stay with you for a long time.
Jim: If you are familiar with internet sensation Rudy Francisco, then you will gravitate to his debut poetry collection, Helium (Button Poetry), which includes love poems, self-reflection, and cultural critique on class, race and gender. It’s a positive and fresh message for humanity and beauty.
Rebecca: Tomi Adeyemi and her fantasy Children of Blood and Bone (Henry Holt and Co.) have earned constant buzz this year, and for a good reason. The book is phenomenal. Debut author Adeyemi effortlessly weaves a West-African inspired fantasy that combines magic with her own heritage for a lush and immersive world of danger and excitement. Love, friendship, and betrayal intermingle as the story shifts point of view among numerous characters in a quest for magic and power. This YA novel also features timely themes of discrimination and injustice that make this story a resonant and poignant one for any age group.
Jim: Once again, I’ll go with Stuart Turton and his thriller, The 7-1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Sourcebooks Landmark). In BookTrib’s review, the author says, “I wish there had been an inspiration, but this book collected in my mind like sediment over a period of about 10 years. I grew up reading Agatha Christie, and I’d always wanted to write that style of book, with the big country house and suspicious guests.” Stuart, you’re off to a great start.
There you have it. Do your tastes run parallel with Rebecca? With Jim? Somewhere in between? Be sure to see how their picks match up when Goodreads names its winners on Dec. 4.
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