My Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018

Another year has passed, which means another year’s worth of reading to celebrate! Yes, it’s time to share my favorite fiction reads of 2018. And let me tell you: Even though I had a pretty good idea which of the 53 fiction books I finished last year would end up on this list, I’m glad I didn’t share my list right away – because there was a last-minute shake-up!

Like with past best-of reading lists I’ve posted, this year’s showcases my 10 favorite brand new books of 2018 and 10 favorite previously published books. Unlike past years, though, I’ve made two notable changes. First, goodness, there were too many close calls when I tried ranking the books from #1 to #10! So I opted for alphabetical listing by title instead. Second, and sadly, no giveaway this year. As fun as giveaways can be, I can’t give one the attention it needs right now. So I hope you understand my need for keeping things simple, and you still enjoy reading this post regardless.

Ready to dive into the first list? 😉

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New DIY MFA Article on Friendship as a Literary Theme, Plus #WesleyWednesday on Twitter

DiyMFA

(NOTE: Due to this week’s DIY MFA post, the weekly blog post will go live on Thursday, November 3rd.)

I’ve been meaning to write a case study on friendship for my DIY MFA column for a while. And why not? Friendship has the power to change people’s lives in amazing ways – in real life, and in the stories we read. In fact, literature has shown us not only the ups and downs of these relationships, but also how they often defy boundaries such as age, race, and gender. And I couldn’t think of two better books to use as examples than Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, because both explore this theme masterfully.

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Favorite Reads of 2015, Part 1: Books Published Before 2015

Fave Reads 2015 logo cropped

Finally! It’s time to reveal some of my favorite reads of 2015! 😀

Last year I almost twice as many books as I did the year before, and a fair number of those books were published before 2015. So, I’m going to share not one year-end Top 10 list, but two!

Today’s will focus on my favorite pre-2015 books I read last year. Each entry will include my reasons for its inclusion on this list and a link to the full review. Also, since I like to keep you all in suspense, the list will go in ascending order, from #10 to #1. 😉 Here they are:

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My Nominations for The Writing Hufflepuff’s 2015 Book Awards

 

Writing Hufflepuff Book Awards

Fellow writer and blogger Michelle @ The Writing Hufflepuff is holding a special Book Awards contest. I don’t know if this is something she does annually or if it’s brand new, but I thought I’d join in and share my picks for as many categories as possible.

Normally I’d share the rules and encourage other bloggers to participate. But considering tomorrow (Sunday, March 29th, 2015) is the deadline for nominations and I’m squeaking these in at the last minute…. Oops? *blushes*

Anyways, here are my nominations for The Writing Hufflepuff’s 2015 Book Awards:

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Acts of Compassion in Literature – A Special #1000Speak Edition of “Theme: A Story’s Soul”

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On February 20, 2015, 1000 Voices For Compassion will take to the blogosphere and share their thoughts and stories about compassion in all its forms (love, kindness, understanding, empathy, mercy, etc.). Many of these “Voices” are also posting articles on the subject in advance of the big day. Since I’d been debating between two ideas I like equally, I decided, “Why not pursue both, and make one the lead-in article?” 🙂

As an avid reader and a novelist-in-progress, some of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned have come from literature. So, for my lead-in to #1000Speak, I’m doing a literary “exploration” of compassion that aligns with my DIY MFA column “Theme: A Story’s Soul.” Below are some acts of compassion from books I’ve read over the years. As you read the examples, think about what you can learn from each character, as well as the impact their decisions or actions may have on other characters, their world, and the story’s audience. Maybe you’ll want to add some of these books to your wishlist if you haven’t read them yet. Either way, I hope you’ll find this sampling of literary compassion as inspiring as I do.

NOTE: Some of the following examples contain spoilers (either major and minor) that are necessary for discussing the topic at hand. Continue reading

Recent Reads: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

Book Thief cover

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Historical Fiction / Young Adult
550 pages

Synopsis:

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the hel of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Dear Mr. Zusak,

I don’t normally write epistolary book reviews. However, in the case of your best-selling novel The Book Thief, this is the most instinctive and appropriate way of sharing my thoughts. It’s not because I’m angry, distraught, or disappointed with your work. No. In fact, it’s for the opposite reason: I want to thank you for writing the newest book to find a permanent home on my “Unforgettable Reads” shelf.

The Book Thief is one of those searing tales where the reader witnesses war through a child’s eyes. The details don’t reach graphic or gory heights, yet nothing is sugarcoated. Readers see how families are torn apart, reunited, and redefined; and how massive gaps between the wealthy and the impoverished grow wider yet can still be bridged. And thanks to the setting of Germany during World War II, we also experience the disenchantment of Hitler Youth and the dangerous decision to open one’s heart to the Jewish population – again, from a child’s perspective. Sometimes, there’s nothing more rewarding than watching young characters wrestle with complex situations and emotions, and seeing their inner goodness endure in the end.

Speaking of your characters, I adored just about everyone I met in The Book Thief. Rudy, Frau Holtzapfel, Rosa Hubermann, Max Vandenberg – each was believable and well-rounded, with flaws that coaxed smiles to my face and moments of sadness that showed a new yet realistic side to them. My two favorites are no surprise, however. Liesel has so much spirit, determination, and love in her heart. Her sassiness made me laugh, and her deep desire to sop up stories and their meanings like a sponge is mind-boggling. I wish I was reading books the way she was when I was her age. And then there’s Liesel’s foster father, Hans Hubermann. A gentle, caring, artistic soul, he wanted nothing more than to see his new daughter succeed in life and keep her safe. No one could ask for a better father, either blood-relative or adoptive.

There’s also something to be said about novels that emphasize the power of the written word. Characters reading, saving books from bonfires and stealing them from libraries, recording their own lives on paper, sharing their stories with others, reviewing dictionary definitions to fully grasp a word’s meaning… I’m sure I’m missing more examples from The Book Thief, but the point is, this book is an ode to storytelling. Even the narrative style epitomizes this idea. Everyone is touched by stories at some point in their lives; and when they truly resonate with us, we feel compelled to share them with others. (Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now….)

I have to admit, I can’t award The Book Thief a perfect grade because it took me a while to get used to Death as the narrator. I’m not a fan of third-person omniscient POVs. In my opinion, the style seems too limitless, unrestricted. Plus, I wasn’t keen on Death sometimes drawing itself out of the narrative to speak directly to the reader. It interrupted my overall experience with Liesel’s story. Notice, however, that I said “get used to” in that first sentence. By bonding with Liesel, we bond with the supporting characters, and their stories become important to us as well. Every scene has its purpose, either for character development or plot advancement. I was also intrigued when Death shared sensation reactions (flinching at certain smells) or its admiration – even pity – for certain characters. You were able to humanize a “figure” that we the living often fear, making it a more comforting presence that many would expect.

Finally, Part 10. You and I both know what happens there, so I won’t give specifics (especially since people who haven’t read The Book Thief yet are bound to see this review). I did a double-take when I finished the first chapter of Part 10. Then, I read it again, just to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Only then did I continue on with the rest of the book. And I cried. Mr. Zusak, I rarely cry when I read. Not only did I cry because the tragedy of that section broke my heart, but because it offered devastatingly beautiful closure as well as an ember of hope, both of which made sense given the external circumstances.

So, in closing, Mr. Zusak, thank you for bringing The Book Thief to the world. It took me to dark, frightening, and sorrowful places at times, but it also buoyed my spirits and gave me another reason to be grateful for reading. That’s what a great book – no, a incredible book – should always accomplish, regardless of its target audience.

All the best from a fellow “book thief,”
Sara L.

Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.