I read 40 books in 2018. Most were for the review site, readersfavorite.com, and a few of them were books that simply looked good so I read them. I wrote reviews for them all and my reviews can be found either at readers favorite or on amazon or both. I read some absolutely wonderful books in 2018, some that could be marketed as a suitable replacement for sleeping pills, and many books that landed somewhere in-between. Below I’ve listed my ten favorites of the year. If you’re keeping score, that means 3/4 of them were not good enough to make my list.
Normally, when I publish one of my book reviews on this blog it’s about a book that is relatively clean and free of content concerns. This is the one post per year where I’ll also mention the books that weren’t so clean. In other words, I’m not disqualifying anything simply because it deserves an “R” rating. In that case, I try not to let content concerns reflect in the rating that I give the book. If it’s a good book then it deserves a good rating. However, for this post, I’ve included a movie rating at the end of each review so my more discerning readers will know what to expect before they start reading.
I’ve listed the books in ascending order so #1 is my absolute favorite, #2 my second favorite and so on. Many of these books are brand new and relatively unknown, but all of them deserve more praise and attention. I hope you’ll pick one up or download it and check it out because I highly recommend them all. And I promise I’m not getting compensation from anyone for putting them on my list.
10. Tempered Steel – by DG Lamb
My Review – This is part three of the Driven to the Hilt series. Joshua and his tight-knit group of friends go through more skill-sharpening exercises beneath the cloud of some unseen group or person who seems to have it out for Joshua.
Although the word “spy” isn’t used very much in this book, having been replaced by the word “assassin”, the school that the story’s protagonists are in feels much like a spy school, in my opinion. As a story about teens who are being trained up to become spies, Tempered Steel succeeds tremendously. Author, DG Lamb is uniquely skilled at describing the inner ups and downs of young Joshua and his mates. In this book and its predecessor, Forging the Blade, we’re given a strong cast of characters who we grow to love and care for through the great writing of Mr. Lamb.
A storm seems to be brewing in the distance that Joshua and his friends are heading into, but it doesn’t really arrive until the last scene of the book. Therefore, in the majority of Tempered Steel, the teens remain in safety and most of the book feels light and fun. I would have liked to have seen that storm arrive earlier in the story rather than being saved for the next book. But, overall, Tempered Steel is an effective character study of a group of teens in a super-secret school for spies and well worth the read.
If it was a movie – Rated PG
9. Scion of Conquered Earth – by Michael J. Allen
My Review – A wildly imaginative ride that takes us from apocalyptic earth to the far reaches of space. The story follows a nameless young hero as he struggles to remain free in a world overrun by heartless aliens. His journey eventually leads him into space where he meets all kinds of interesting characters and gets involved in some really crazy adventures. The meandering story is a mash-up of an array of sci-fi classics including Mad Max, Star Wars, and the Firefly series, to name a few. That being said, Scion of Conquered Earth has a personality all its own. It is both amusing and exciting and, as an extra bonus, the story has lots of heart.
Author Michel J. Allen has a colorful way of telling his story that keeps it both humorous and life-threatening at the same time. Scion of Conquered Earth moves quickly from scene to scene with quick descriptions and clever comparisons between sci-fi elements and familiar items that we can all relate to. It makes for a fun read that never gets boring. On the flip side, the story was occasionally hard to follow because of a lack of explanation. However, the plethora of interesting characters, the fully developed alien worlds, and the intricate plot full of many twists and turns make up for it. I also liked that the main character has a strong moral compass. He makes mistakes along the way, but, overall, he stands out because of his fervent desire to do the right thing in a universe gone mad.
If it was a movie – Rated PG13
8. And My Father Was There – by Noah McCaffrey
My Review – A fictional story that is built around a true baseball legend. The main character is a young man named Laird Young the third. He is the son of a former baseball player/former soldier from World War One. As the story begins, Laird is bitter toward his father for going off to war when Laird was only three years old and then coming home badly wounded and unable to interact with him for the past 20 years. A special gift from Laird’s Mom sets him on a journey of personal discovery that will lead Laird in many unexpected directions.
And My Father Was There is about several very important themes. It’s about the history of professional baseball during the early part of the twentieth century. It also gives us a painful look at the devastating effects a war can have on a soldier and his family. Although both of those themes are played out beautifully throughout the story, they are not the main theme that brings this book to life. And My Father Was There is first and foremost a vivid picture of an imperfect but happy American family during the 1940s. This book is a slice of Americana that gave me a glimpse back in time and made me wish I was there.
McCaffrey’s characters are all colorful and relatable. His plot moved slowly, just as a character-driven story should, but it was still full of enough twists and turns so that I found it difficult to put down at times. And My Father Was There will have you laughing and crying and reading with wide eyes to see what will happen next to the loveable characters of this all-American portrait. I enjoyed it very much and I’m not even a baseball fan. At least I wasn’t before. Now I find myself wanting to learn more about the early days of baseball. Great book.
If it was a movie – Rated PG
7. Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut – by Matt Leyshon
My Review – A clever combination of historical fiction, time travel, science fiction, and murder mystery. As the title suggests, the story centers around the real-life murders of Jack the Ripper back in 1888. An investigative reporter from today’s time, named Carl Axford, is given the chance of a lifetime – to go back in time and find out the identity of the infamous serial killer. As the plot unfolds, Carl gets a front row seat to some gruesome events and, as often happens in time travel tales, a simple mission becomes more complicated as the story goes on.
This book has brought a whole new perspective to the unsolved murders of Jack the Ripper. I found myself fully committed from the early pages. The idea of being able to watch how the Ripper murders took place, through the eyes of our protagonist, was thrilling to me. This book succeeds on several levels. First, it’s a well-written murder suspense novel with the extra added bonus of time travel. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what will happen next. Second, it appears to have been well researched and is packed full of interesting details about the setting and the people from 1888 and the way they lived. I also enjoyed the main character, Carl Axford. He is smart and fearless, yet caring and sensitive. Matt Leyshon has given us a thrilling account of the Jack the Ripper murders with an original twist that is great fun to read
If it was a movie – Rated R for gruesome violence and some cursing
6. The Great & the Small – by A.T. Balsara
My Review – On one level, it’s the story of intelligent rats, told from their point of view through vivid descriptions and beautiful hand-drawn illustrations. All of that, however, is on the surface. Beneath the warm and fuzzy characters, we find a story of war and the devastating effect it has on everyone involved. The story follows a young rat named Finn who has a strong moral compass. He is the nephew of Papa, the beloved leader of the rats. Papa and the council wage an all-out war on the humans to stop them from doing lab experiments on rats. Finn leads the charge against the humans until he ends up injured and nursed back to health by a young human girl named Ananda.
In the process of telling the story of The Great and the Small, author A.T. Balsara gives us many details about the real-life plague that took place in the 1300s. Rats were apparently involved in the spreading of that sickness. Having that as a foundation for the war that happens in the story added to its strong emotional impact. At the same time, the fact that 70% of the story is told from the point of view of talking rats keeps it from getting overly heavy. Some might not like the combination of the fantasy elements with the tragedy of war. But, for me, it worked brilliantly.
I would normally not read a book about the horrors of war, but I enjoyed this one. I think that is because A.T. Balsara did such a good job of bringing the rats to life. They had just the right amount of human characteristics to make them relatable, yet they still acted and behaved like rats. They live in nests instead of houses. They nuzzle each other rather than kiss, etc. I’m not sure if the main goal in writing this book was to preach a cautionary tale about war, or if it was to tell a story about cute and cuddly animal characters that talk. Whatever A.T. Balsara’s intent was doesn’t matter now. The result is an extraordinary book that is mesmerizing on every level.
If it was a movie – Rated PG
5. Courage – by Lauren H Salisbury
My Review – A science fiction re-imagining of the story of Moses from the Bible. Instead of Israelites suffering as slaves at the hands of the Egyptians, Courage gives us the human race enslaved by a more powerful alien race. Courage is book one in the Legacy Chronicles series. It covers the beginning of the story where, in the Bible, Pharaoh orders the killing of all male babies and in desperation, Moses’ mother sends her baby boy down the river in a basket, leaving him in God’s hands. That’s how it plays out in the Bible, but in Courage, the details are very different. Add in futuristic technology and an alien world with sadistic alien beings and you’ve got a story that bears little resemblance to the biblical version. Yet the heart and soul of the original story is still present in the characters that inhabit Courage.
Lauren H Salisbury’s Courage succeeds in doing a very difficult thing. It gives us a story about characters who believe in the God of the Bible that are not corny, one-dimensional, crazy, or preachy. The main characters are complex and endearing at the same time. Their belief in God is part of who they are and it sounds natural as they speak of their God as their only hope in their desperate situation. This is one of the reasons that I enjoyed reading Courage because I’ve read far too many Christian novels that seem to be written by someone who has never actually met a Christian. Ms. Salisbury, on the other hand, has a comfortable style of writing that makes her characters believable and her action exciting. The second thing I loved about Courage is that it’s a story of humans trying to free themselves from an oppressive alien race. Her handling of the sci-fi elements alone is worth the price of the book. To sum up; Courage is about great characters that have a positive view of God and they’re set in a really cool futuristic world. It doesn’t get much better than that.
If it was a movie – Rated PG
4. Heir Ascendant – by Matthew S Cox
My Review – A fascinating and fun sci-fi thriller with a unique main character. Maya Oman is the heroine’s name and she’s the nine-year-old daughter of a ruthless woman named Vanessa who controls Ascendant, the pharmaceutical company that has a choke hold on the US economy. The setting is Baltimore in the near future, a few years after World War Three. The nation is barely functioning, being helped along by the drugs of Ascendant. Through a series of wild events, Maya ends up being freed from the glamorous yet lonely lifestyle that she’d grown up in. When she is forcibly exposed to the less fortunate people of the city who have to scrape and scrounge to survive, she quickly realizes that she’d much rather live with them than in her rich penthouse prison. She bonds with a street fighting woman named Genna. When the authorities show up and take Genna away to prison, Maya is determined to find and rescue her. Did I mention that Maya is only nine?
Heir Ascendant is a great book with interesting characters and a fast-moving plot with plenty of twists and turns. Author Matthew S. Cox has a free flowing writing style that keeps every scene interesting. The idea of a group of ragtag survivors fighting against those in power isn’t particularly original in itself, but Heir Ascendant works in a wonderful way for two reasons that stood out to me. First, the main character, Maya, is brilliantly written. She is smart because of her upbringing, she’s driven because she has finally found someone who loves her, and she’s also still very young. One minute she’s pretending to be a robot to trick some thugs, the next minute she’s crying because she’s scared and lonely. The other element that sets this story apart is Maya’s relationship to the story’s villain. I already mentioned that the villain is her mother but the way that plays out in the plot is intriguing.
If it was a movie – Rated R for extreme violence and extreme cursing
3. Shrinking Sinking Land – Kell Cowley
My Review – These days, young adult dystopian novels are a dime a dozen but Shrinking Sinking Land by Kell Cowley has taken the genre in a whole new direction that is both fascinating and fun. The story is set in Great Britain in the not-too-distant-future when violent weather patterns have become the enemy of mankind. The government is sending everyone underground for an enforced six-month hibernation while they do experiments on the atmosphere to get things back to normal. The plot focuses on a ragtag group of people who have no desire to go underground and are suspicious of the motives behind the enforced hibernation. The colorful cast of characters includes Dylan Moon, an internet revolution leader with only a handful of followers, and Flea, a girl from the lower class who is claustrophobic and is ready to fight off anyone who tries to force her to go underground with her trusty umbrella.
I absolutely adored this book. Shrinking Sinking Land has everything a great book should have. Its premise is original and creates a framework that puts our characters in constant suspense. The plot alone deserves a 5-star rating. It moves at a quick pace and never stays in one place for too long. It twists and turns in unexpected directions and kept me guessing right up until the last page. And then there are the characters. Author Kell Cowley has given us one of the most interesting ensemble cast of characters that I’ve ever read. If you couple that fact with the fast-moving plot, you’ll begin to see the genius of this book. Shrinking Sinking Land doesn’t slow down the story to tell us about the characters. We learn plenty about them as the action is unfolding and they interact with each other along the way. The characters all have unique personalities complete with back stories, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.
If it was a movie – Rated PG13 for violence, cursing, and talk of sexual situations
2. Oxygen – by John Olson & Randy Ingermanson
My Review – This is a science fiction suspense novel that feels akin to the movie, Apollo 13. That movie was based on a true story about a mission to the moon that went horribly wrong. Oxygen, the book, is a fictional story about a mission to Mars that went horribly wrong. Oxygen takes that story type into several unexpected directions that are thrilling and delightful. One element that added to the human drama was the fact that the crew is made up of two men and two women. This allowed for a romantic interest to weave its way through the plot causing lots of interesting plot twists. The astronauts in Oxygen are on the first manned flight to Mars, which adds an element of the unknown. The plot is also very intricate and includes a complex string of mishaps that occur during their flight, causing their trip to go from bad to worse.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Oxygen. It has the two things that any great book has, in my opinion; strong characters and a strong plot. The six main characters were all well-defined with very distinct personalities. The plot is intricate, unpredictable, and suspenseful. The story does start off a little slow as the authors take time to introduce the six main characters. But, as soon as launch day arrives the story literally takes off and I found myself completely absorbed in the lives of the four astronauts.
Another thing that I absolutely loved about Oxygen is that it includes a main character who is a Christian and she is portrayed in a positive light. Her beliefs are shown in a realistic manner, giving her depth and character rather than making her into a cut-out stereotype, as is the case in most stories that portray Christians. Well done authors on every count. Great characters, great plot, and overall one of the best books I’ve ever read.
If it was a movie – Rated PG
1. Forest Beyond the Earth – by Matthew S Cox
My Review – Forest Beyond the Earth by Matthew S. Cox is a fascinating tale of one girl’s incredible journey when her whole world is suddenly taken from her. The story is set in the future, a hundred years or so after the inhabitants of earth have just about wiped themselves out. Wisp is a twelve-year-old girl who was raised by her loving father, alone in a cabin, isolated in the woods. He is the only person she has ever known for her entire life and one night he is suddenly gone. From there, we follow Wisp as she ventures out into a world that she knows almost nothing about. It’s a world gone mad in many ways, but she will not be intimidated. Wisp’s pure heart drives her onward to find her father, regardless of the cost.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that by about the second chapter of The Forest Beyond the Earth, I was hooked. Author, Matthew S. Cox does such a fine job of telling the story from the point of view of his main character that I felt delightfully immersed in her world all the way to the last page. Her passion for those that she loves, her determination, and all her odd ways of looking at the world seemed completely real. I should also point out that the plot kept me guessing from start to finish and never became predictable. This is a well told, thought-provoking story from an author who knows how to take his reader into the head of his character. The Forest Beyond the Earth is truly a great book.
If it was a movie – Rated between PG and PG13 for some brutal violence that is depicted without much detail.