SOME OF MY FAVOURITE PICKS FROM 2018
I read some truly brilliant books in 2018 and even managed to discover a handful of incredibly talented new-to-me authors along the way, but there was something that set apart every single book on this list from the rest. From the Alaskan wild to the hauntingly beautiful streets of New Orleans, from runaway brides to urban legend hunters, from jewel heists to deadly blazes—this was such an exciting reading year for me, and I hope you find YOUR next great read here.
Happy reading, book junkies! ♡
Most Unique Storyline | Shimmy Bang Sparkle by Nicola Rendell
“This is how it’s gonna be, I’m gonna drive you back to my place. I’m gonna take you like you deserve to be taken. Every second from now until you fall asleep in my arms is going to be me, doing my thing to you, and making your eyes roll back in your head again and again.”
Nicola Rendell is a master at shifting tones and keeping the reader emotionally engaged—her most erotically charged scenes always complemented by perfectly timed notes of goofy joy or moments of raw, unbridled emotion between the characters—but it is the sheer uniqueness of her storylines that truly puts her in a category all her own. Two sexy jewel thieves, a cute miniature Dachshund, an RV named ‘The Love Boat’, and one of the craziest jewel heists ever attempted—if you’re looking for a story that is truly the whole package, look no further!
The One That Made Me Ugly-Cry | All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover
“I promise that I will love you more during the storms than I will love you during the perfect days. I promise to love you more when you’re hurting than when you’re happy. I promise to love you more when we’re poor than when we’re swimming in riches. I promise to love you more when you’re crying than when you’re laughing. I promise to love you more when you’re sick than when you’re healthy. I promise to love you more when you hate me than when you love me.”
As I read the last few pages of this beautiful book, I could barely see the words through all my tears, because nothing prepared me for the sheer emotion running through this stunning, wrenching, gem of a novel. A marriage on the brink of divorce between two people who’ve forgotten how to communicate with one another, Graham and Quinn’s story is cutting and honest until the very last page, paced to perfection and incredibly relatable, and told in Colleen Hoover’s unique style, full of short, crisp sentences that pack a punch and a half. This wonderful novel will fill your heart with hope and have you dying to discuss it with someone else who’s read it. And if you’re anything like me, the ending will leave you smiling through the ugly tears.
Wittiest Dialogues | Fight or Flight by Samantha Young
“You’re going to be as good at this as you look, aren’t you?”
His answer was a devastatingly arrogant grin as he pulled me none too gently into the elevator and pushed me up against the wall as the doors closed. He pressed his long, hard body against mine. “Never fear, babe. I’m about tae ruin you.”
Let’s be honest, we’ve all had that fantasy, the one where a chance meeting with a handsome stranger on a plane turns into something more. But what if your new seat buddy is not only as insufferable as he is devastatingly good-looking, but fate also keeps throwing you together time and time again? This is the quintessential escapist read—a flirty, funny, yet incredibly emotionally resonant love story that sinks its hooks into your heart and makes you both laugh and cry. What starts off as a light-hearted, banter-filled battle of wits quickly evolves into a touching story about love, connection, and new beginnings, turning an enemies-to-lovers trope with an unrequited love twist into so much more.
Most Evocative Setting | The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
“There’s something about those guys that work up there. I can’t explain it. I mean, they’re crazy, landing on glaciers and mountain ridges, flying through whiteouts. They’re like . . . Sky cowboys.”
Some books plant themselves in your heart from the very first page, the unexpected beauty of them taking your breath away time and time again, and this book owned my heart from the get-go. An incredibly moving, exquisitely written tale of a young woman traveling to Alaska to reconnect with her estranged father, only to find true love there, too—there are so many aspects of this stellar story that moved me deeply, and it didn’t take long for me to know this would become one of my absolute favourite books ever.
Greatest Slow-Burning Romance | Luna and the Lie by Mariana Zapata
“You’re too young. You’re too sweet. You’re too good for me. But I’m done standing around trying to suck up all the goodness you make me feel without you even knowing, Luna. You are my girl. Just you. Nobody else ever has or will be.”
Because she only releases two books per year, when a new Mariana Zapata slow-burner comes out, I savour each page for as long as I can, making a conscious effort not to devour the whole book in a single sitting. Her stories are entirely character-driven, paced to perfection, and I swear each story has a unique ‘heartbeat’. Or maybe it’s my own heart that I hear happily beating while reading her books. Set in an auto body shop in Houston, Texas, this heartwarming workplace romance is the kind of book you wish you could keep reading for a straight month.
Most Poetic Writing | The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham
“I wish I had been honest.”
“And what would you have said?”
“That I was looking to marry a fortune hunter and instead I met a woman who could make forests grow indoors.”
“She sounds like a witch.”
He smiled. “It’s possible. It would explain why I stopped breathing every time she walked into a room and lost whole nights of sleep imagining her hair.”
This book completely stole my heart. It’s rare for a debut novel to leave this kind of impression on me, but Scarlett Peckham’s voice is truly exquisite—polished, incisive, yet tenderly rich in emotions—and I fell in love with her radiant prose within a matter of pages. She hits all the classic historical romance buttons—the Duke in need of a wife, the indomitable heroine set on preserving her independence, a marriage of convenience that grows into something more—but injects the story with a variety of human emotions which turn it into something rare and breathtaking. It’s the kind of romance that sweeps you off your feet and holds you hostage until the end, and then makes you wish the author had a backlist a mile long.
Greatest Plot Twist(s) | The Truth About Lies by Aly Martinez
“It’s gonna be okay, Cora. From here on out, I swear on my life, you’re gonna be okay.”
I wanted to believe him. That was the dream, right? A white knight riding into town, saving the damsel in distress. But I didn’t live in a fairytale. I lived in a world where good people died, got arrested, or just flat-out disappeared.
I read both books in this exhilarating duet one after the other and I don’t think I blinked for two days straight. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! It’s a romance full of mystery and suspense, with twists and turns that have their own twists and turns, and to say that I never saw any of it coming is the understatement of the century. Brilliantly executed, with phenomenal character development, and a plotline that remained exciting and unpredictable until the very end—not to mention downright bonkers—it scares me to admit how much I enjoyed every thrilling second of it.
Most Romantic Storyline | The Wish Collector by Mia Sheridan
“Love can’t just disappear when this life is through, can it, Jonah? Even if our bodies turn to dust, the love we feel must go somewhere.”
With an almost dreamlike, fairy-tale quality to her every word, Mia Sheridan weaves a hauntingly beautiful tapestry of darkness and light, love and loss, pain and atonement, with a tale that transports the reader to a place where true love never dies, and where a spark of hope can find its way through even the smallest of cracks in an old, stone wall. Set against the vivid background of the mystical city of New Orleans, this is the story of two lonely hearts who find safe harbour in each other’s arms, but as they work together to unlock a mystery from the past, they begin to discover that the greatest battles sometimes lie within us, and that is where they must be fought. As always, Mia Sheridan’s storytelling is exquisite, transcendent, soulful, and just stunning.
Greatest Second Chance Romance | Tattered by Devney Perry
“Do you think she’ll like me?”
The air whooshed out of my lungs and I wanted to cry again. He wanted to know her. Logan wanted Charlie. “She’ll love you.”
Devney Perry has proven time and time again that she is a great storyteller, her tender romances capturing us from the very first page, and leaving us with a heart so full, it feels like it’s overflowing. We are back in small-town Montana, with a book that combines two of my favourite romance tropes—a surprise pregnancy and a second chance romance—but this story is far more than just that. It’s complex and intense, thoughtful and heartwarming, and with a subtle thread of suspense running through it, every word was like catnip to me.
Most Compelling Characters | Of Sunlight and Stardust by Riley Hart & Christina Lee
“I read somewhere that we’re all made of sunlight and stardust. So maybe, whenever you look at the sky, from morning till nightfall, you’re connecting with them in some small way.”
There are some books that fill your heart to bursting point and every time you think of them, your heart flutters a little. They are those books that you cannot help but recommend to every one of your friends, and I’ve recommended this book to anyone willing to listen—even people I just met. A tender story of love that both heals and breaks the heart, and told through two very different narratives, braided together, but separated in time—one set in the present, and the other told through letters from many years before—a novel like this gives voice to all the forgotten love stories that could not be, and all the ones that wouldn’t have been possible had times not changed. I loved this book so much, my heart flutters a little every time I think of it.
Dirrrtiest Dialogues | Runaway Girl by Tessa Bailey
“You finally going to let me throw you up on this cock and bounce you on it until you get vocal fry?”
Tessa Bailey brings her smooth-as-silk writing style and an engaging cast of characters to a runaway-bride scenario, and if you’re anything like me and go weak at the knees at the mere mention of a dirty-talking alpha hero falling for the ‘good girl’, you’ll lose your mind over this book. The tale of a pampered Southern belle running away from her picture-perfect life in order to find herself, only to end up falling for a man her parents would never approve of, this is the kind of book you read in one enraptured sitting. And then wonder how soon you can read it again.
Most Well-Rounded Storyline | Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
“I think we’re going to be best friends. I live in Portland, you live in Portland. You have a girlfriend and I have a huge assortment of Netflix series backlogged. We both hate the word ‘glans.’ I know and love your sister. She loves me. This is the perfect setup for boy-girl bestship: I’ve already been unbearable near you, which makes it impossible to scare you away.”
A delicious case of opposites attracting, set in the prickly world of modern-day dating, where the plot takes the ‘friends to lovers’ trope and flips it on its head by telling the story of two people who remain adamant they are not dating, regardless of how much everything they do or feel says otherwise. The writing is delightful—clever and engaging—but, as always, the characters steal the show as their endearing quirks and indomitable spirits shine through on every single page. This is one of those wonderful books that will leave you sighing and swooning and smiling and cursing yourself for not being a slower reader..
Most Fascinating Storyline | A Wish For Us by Tillie Cole
“I had made many wishes in my life, but Cromwell had been the wish that I never made. The granted wish that, in the end, was the one I cherished most.”
At first glance, this might look like just another tale of opposites attracting, of a bad boy falling for the good girl, but this incredible story delves so much deeper than that. It’s an extraordinarily moving, beautifully written and, at times, almost unbearably painful tale of music, love, family, hope, and once I started reading it, I resented every single moment I had to spend away from this book and these characters. It was unlike anything I’ve ever read—filled with musical detail and infused with raw emotion—immediately earning its spot as one of my most beloved books of the year.
Greatest Sexual Chemistry | Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas
“I knew you were out there somewhere. I had started to think I had my sights set too high, and you didn’t exist. Turns out my dream girl belongs to the one person it would kill me to hurt.”
I enjoy quite a few forbidden romance tropes, but nothing has me breathlessly turning the pages like a love story with a significant age gap between the characters. And while in real life a relationship of this nature might even give me pause, age disparity in fiction is like catnip for me. I seek it, I relish it, I get high on it, and when I come across a book so well-written that the love story eventually eclipses the forbidden quality of it, I become utterly spellbound. We feel them fall in love, we watch their struggle not to succumb to their desires, we feel feverish when they finally do, we hurt for them when the author breaks them wide open, and we can’t help but love every single prickly, angst-infused second of it.
Most Heart-Warming Romance | Ever After by Riley Hart & Christina Lee
“I shall never forget this moment.” He kissed Cassius’s cheek, the corner of his mouth. “It will be with me always, and I will always long for more.”
“I will forever long for more as well, my prince.”
An exquisite, richly emotional tale of forbidden love that is perfect for anyone missing fairy tales in their life, told with heartbreakingly beautiful prose and filled with compelling characters in a vividly detailed setting, this is one of those books you wish you could re-read for the very first time and time again. Reading this book made me feel again like my twelve-year-old self who loved fairy tales above all else, and found herself escaping in them every chance she got.
Most Multilayered Storyline | Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
“Why can’t everyone be like you?”
“I can be enough of your world that it feels like everyone is.”
By weaving continuously past and present together to unfold the story slowly, gently, we become part of a young woman’s emotional journey through her most formative years, a journey marked by loss, friendship, love, heartbreak, but we also watch two young hearts claim one another before either of them knew how to recognise true love. And eventually, we see them find their way back to one another. It left me brimming with emotion, still feeling warm every time I think of this story, because have no doubt—this story will move you.
Most Anticipated Book | The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne
“I don’t know about heaven, but I know hell exists. I’ve spent most of my life there. But through all that. Through everything that’s been done to me, I’ve only ever believed in one thing.”
“What’s that?” she whispered.
“That the sun would set in the west, and that I would come for you.”
There has never been a series of books that I have loved in its entirety as obsessively as this one, and even though each instalment centres on a different couple, the entire series comes full circle with this book. The unmitigated beauty of Kerrigan Byrne’s writing is staggering, and she keeps elevating herself book after book with the quality of her storytelling, her vibrant characters, and the way she laces a stunning love story with a deliciously suspenseful tale of mystery and intrigue. I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store for us next!
Greatest Feel-Good Read | Getting Schooled by Emma Chase
“All those years, all this time, did you think of me? Because I thought of you, Callie, every fucking day. I would hear a song or pass a spot in town and some perfect memory of us would come back. And I would wonder where you were . . . how you were . . . and I would think of you . . . every single day.”
The ultimate feel-good read, this second chance romance had it all—humour, sizzle, emotion, characters you can’t help but love—and it didn’t just warm my heart, it made it smile. Infused with both humour and heart, and so much more than just a love story, this book made me laugh, cry, and swoon a whole lot, and as soon as I was done reading it, all I wanted to do was to flip back to the beginning to start again.
Greatest Character Development | Consumed by J.R. Ward
“Deep in her soul, she knew that was the last time she would see him. That it was the last memory she was going to have . . . of the only man she had ever loved.”
Part romance, part crime novel, this pacy, high-octane page-turner has everything we’ve come to expect from a J.R. Ward novel—a thick plot, suspense, a beautiful romance, well fleshed-out characters—and as we are pulled into the heroic and dangerous world of first responders, it almost feels like we’re watching an action blockbuster unfolding in our heads. The author writes with such intelligence and visual ferocity, there are times we can almost feel the heat of the flames, or smell the acrid smell of smoke, but it is the splendid love story in the midst of it all that glues the story together and keeps us on the edge of our seats until the very last page.
Greatest Banter | Melt for You by J.T. Geissinger
“Just make it easier on yourself, darlin’, and admit you’re wild for me and are dyin’ to bring a few dozen little McGregors into the world.”
“You’re massively in love with me.”
“I’m massively in dislike with you.”
“You’ve finally figured out I’m the real man of your dreams.”
“I’ve finally figured out how you got here. Someone left your cage door open.”
Achingly romantic and devastatingly sexy all at once, this book is so much more than just a heartwarming tale of two good friends falling in love—this is also the story of a woman’s quest for her own identity, and of her emotional transformation from ‘ugly duckling’ to confident, self-assertive protagonist of her own life. It’s a feel-good kind of read that cheers you up when you didn’t even know you needed cheering, deceptively lighthearted and fun, all the while painting a sensitive picture of a woman’s battle with her own demons.
Greatest Alpha Hero | Do You Feel It Too? by Nicola Rendell
“I want to take you. Right here, right now.”
My breath came out as a shudder. If he came at me again, I was going to crack like an overstuffed taco shell. Just one more scoop of Gabe and I was a goner. “Noted,” I whispered.
He hooked my chin with his brawny finger and made me raise my eyes to his. “But instead I’ll get us out of here, take you to dinner, and pretend like fucking you hasn’t been the only item on the agenda since you nearly knocked me out. We clear?”
I was stunned with desire. Shivering with need. Pulsing with please, please, please. Yet somehow, in the midst of all of it, I hung on tight to the antique doorknob and managed to whisper out the only word that was left in my head. “Crystal.”
Nicola Rendell is a rare and gifted storyteller, her stories are always so unique, so electric, so utterly satisfying in every possible way, but it is her whimsical writing style, the palpable magic between her characters, and her flair for making the ordinary extraordinary that have turned every one of her books into a treasured reading experience for me. There are about a trillion things I loved about this story—just the idea of an urban legend hunting hero had me at hello—but an African grey parrot called General totally steals the show, and I still catch myself giggling every time I think of him.
Most Heart-Clenching Scenes | Dane’s Storm by Mia Sheridan
“It’s still there between us, isn’t it?” Dane asked softly.
“That damn attraction that never went away even when we were drowning in grief, even now after so long of being apart. It’s still there as strong as it ever was, isn’t it, Audra?”
I haven’t read a Mia Sheridan novel I did not love, but this might be my fave book of hers to date. It’s the story of a couple who suffered an unimaginable loss when they were younger, a loss that eventually let to divorce and ten years of living completely apart. When they meet again, there are so many unresolved feelings between them, so when they suddenly find themselves in a situation that is extreme and dangerous, they are forced to not only face one of their most painful memories together, but also rely on one another to stay alive. Super angsty and emotional, this is the kind of second chance romance I always hope to find.
Most Thought-Provoking Story | As Dust Dances by Samantha Young
“What must it be like to be loved by him? I imagined it a heady thing, winning the love of a man who offered it so sparingly.”
I read this book while vacationing in Europe, and I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect book to forever remind me of that trip. It’s a story that is truly unlike any other I’ve ever read, but it’s a book that is hard to forget, and one I will want to revisit as often as I can. The heroine was once the lead singer of a hugely successful American pop-rock band, but when we meet her, she is homeless and barely surviving by busking on the streets of Glasgow. When a local record label executive recognises her, he tries to pull her back into the life she’s spent years trying to forget, but as they begin to fall in love, they are both faced with impossible choices. Samantha Young delivers a story that is not only infinitely romantic, but also incredibly thought-provoking as she paints before us the very stark reality of a woman sleeping rough on the streets. Just talking about this book makes me want to re-read it as soon as possible!
Most Erotic Romance | The Greatest Risk by Kristen Ashley
“I want to be your lover. I want to be your Master. I want to know all your secrets. I want to unravel the mystery that’s you and then help you keep it safe. I want you, and the way I want you is beside me, in bed, in play and in life.”
Kristen Ashley takes our breath away with one of her most erotic yet tender romances to date, the story of two broken souls who mend each other piece by piece, only to discover a love that neither of them ever expected to find in life. Through the author’s lush writing style, we watch the characters being broken wide open before they are slowly put back together in the most marvellous of ways. As always, Kristen Ashley’s consummate understanding of her characters’ every nuance pulls us into the story like a tide, delivering a story that is moving, intimate, and satisfying on every level.
Most Significant Storyline | Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
“Life isn’t a road that forks or a line of numbered sliding doors. There is no alternate universe filled with only right choices. There’s just this one—just this life, and we go where our choices take us and grow wiser from our mistakes.”
For a very long time after first reading this book, I didn’t know how to talk about it without bursting into tears, the sharp sting of some of those pages never fading, never losing its devastating bite. It was one of the most harrowing yet emotionally rewarding books to get through—parts of it incredibly painful to process, while others had me smiling through my tears—but from the very beginning, I also knew that I was holding in my hands one of the most important books I’ll ever read. Kennedy Ryan delivers a tour-de-force novel that not only showcases her knack for incorporating a subtle but persistent thread of social commentary running through her stories, but she also takes the reader on an unflinching descent into the hidden, dark reality that so many women must survive daily. A tale of hardship, endurance, rebirth, empowerment, persevering love, but above all, this is a warrior song for all women who’ve ever felt powerless, unseen, unheard, disconnected, and without a voice. And it is the kind of book that goes straight for your heart.