We can’t believe we’re already halfway through 2018. And we can’t believe the number of incredible books we’ve already read this year—fascinating true crime, moving historical fiction, hilarious debut novels, and stunning heartbreakers. Here are 10 of the best books we’ve read in 2018 . . . so far.
You can’t help but have fun reading Jen Beagin’s brilliant debut novel PRETEND I’M DEAD. It’s heartrending, full of longing and quiet desperation—but it’s also hilarious at the same time. The novel follows Mona, a twenty-something cleaning lady, on a quest to find herself, as well as closure from a bad breakup with a guy named Mr. Disgusting (which has got to be, uncontestably, the best name for an ex-boyfriend ever). What Mona discovers as she drifts from dismal Lowell, Massachusetts, to arid Taos, New Mexico, is that no one really has it figured out—no matter how much they’d like to think so. Mona’s character infuses this novel with the pulsing life of a true original to make a story that’s unapologetically unlike anything else. —Nikki
In THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES, Dr. Perina, accused of sexually abusing his children, writes a memoir recounting his trip to a remote (fictional) Micronesian island as part of a team searching for a tribe that, at first glance, has achieved immortality. This book was all-consuming, and I read it in two breathless sittings. It’s completely original, and I will be haunted by this exploration of humanity. —Will
I totally lost myself in this historical novel inspired by true events about Rachel Rabinowitz, a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home, who realizes that her newest elderly, cancer-stricken charge is none other than Dr. Mildred Solomon, the woman who conducted disfiguring medical experiments on Rachel when she was a child living in a Jewish orphanage in the 1920s. It is an engrossing and affecting novel with much to say about revenge and mercy, coming of age, and coming to terms with one’s past. —Sarah Jane
I had to beat out several of my fellow Off-the-Shelfers to recommend this book. We all love it so much and want to make everyone we know read it. THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a stunning novel about a circle of artistic friends ravaged by the AIDS epidemic in 1985 Chicago and the few survivors who reunite 30 years later in Paris. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, empathetic, gracefully written, and one of my favorite books—not just this year, but of all time. —Taylor
Ditto! —Julianna, Stu, Wendy, and Elizabeth
Spoiler alert: in life and in love, there are no answers. Told through the lens of a “Girlfriend Experiment” and a holistic treatment known as PAKing, what Catherine Lacey delivers is a uniquely crafted, thought-provoking look at what drives us, defines us, and eludes us, reminiscent of WHITE NOISE by Don DeLillo or YOU TOO CAN HAVE A BODY LIKE MINE by Alexandra Kleeman. —Sarah
This one is an oldie, but a goodie. Jeff Guinn is the master of narrative true crime, and I didn’t think he could get any better than his stirring depictions of Jim Jones (THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN) and Charles Manson (MANSON). And then I read this book, one of his earlier titles that tells “the true, untold story” of Bonnie and Clyde. My only question is why I waited so long—it’s a rip-roaring road trip / romance-adventure starring two of the most unforgettable and enigmatic figures in American history, one that will be at the top of my favorites list for a long time. —Julianna
Bestselling author Jeff Guinn combines exhaustive research with surprising, newly discovered material to tell the real tale of two kids from a filthy Dallas slum who fell in love and then willingly traded their lives for a brief interlude of excitement and, more important, fame. Go Down Together has it all—true romance, rebellion against authority, bullets flying, cars crashing, and, in the end, a dramatic death at the hands of a celebrity lawman. This is the real story of Bonnie and Clyde and their troubled times, delivered with cinematic sweep by a masterful storyteller.
This is by far the funniest thing I’ve read all year—and by funny, I mean nonstop smirking and snorting from laughter on the subway kind of hilarity. Based on the column of the same name from the blog The Toast, this is a fictional following of eight women through the course of one year as told through their emails, texts, group threads, and Pinterest boards—all of which have the genuine-yet-forced exciting salutation of our digital age: “Hey Ladies!” Warning: you may cringe with recognition flipping through this varied group of friends’ attempts to organize brunches, book clubs, summer house rentals, bachelorette parties, a disastrous wedding, and more. Warning No. 2: flipping through will prompt buying copies for the bridesmaids, sorority sisters, and everyone else to whom you’ve written a “Hey Ladies!” note, so you might as well stock up now. —Elizabeth
Maybe you’re not someone who regularly reads YA novels—and I don’t either—but every once in a while there’s one that I fall hard for. Imagine discovering that you had half-siblings when you were a teenager. That’s what happens to Grace, Maya, and Joaquin, and it turns their worlds upside down and makes them ask what it means to be a family. If you love This Is Us; if you like nothing better than spending the afternoon with smart, honest, complicated family stories; if you were ever a teenager, then you will love FAR FROM THE TREE, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2017. The writing is superb—beautiful, emotional, real—and I cannot recommend it highly enough. —Wendy
I don’t know if you guys have heard about this book yet . . . Kidding! I know it was a huge New York Times bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick. But somehow I didn’t get around to reading it until last weekend, and I’m so glad I finally did because it’s absolutely spellbinding. THE RULES OF MAGIC is the story of three siblings struggling to come to terms with who they are and who they love. A must-read! —Taylor
Joseph Cassara’s debut novel was one of my favorites of this year, about 17-year-old Angel, who falls in love and seeks to find a family against the burgeoning ball scene of 1980s New York City and the dawn of the AIDS crisis. It’s a heartbreaking but beautiful story about love, loss, illness, ambition, and identity. If you’re a fan of the new FX show Pose, the musical Rent, or TEN THOUSAND SAINTS (one of my favorite novels), you should absolutely check this one out next. —Julianna