I read 87 General Fiction books in 2018.  These were my favorites…

1

Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe

Harley McKenna is the only child of North County’s biggest criminal. Duke McKenna’s run more guns, cooked more meth, and killed more men than anyone around. Harley’s been working for him since she was sixteen–collecting debts, sweet-talking her way out of trouble, and dreading the day he’d deem her ready to rule the rural drug empire he’s built.

Her time’s run out. The Springfields, her family’s biggest rivals, are moving in. Years ago, they were responsible for her mother’s death, and now they’re coming for Duke’s only weak spot: his daughter.

With a bloody turf war threatening to consume North County, Harley is forced to confront the truth: that her father’s violent world will destroy her. Duke’s raised her to be deadly–he never counted on her being disloyal. But if Harley wants to survive and protect the people she loves, she’s got to take out Duke’s operation and the Springfields.

Blowing up meth labs is dangerous business, and getting caught will be the end of her, but Harley has one advantage: She is her father’s daughter. And McKennas always win.

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1

Heads of the Colored People Nafissa Thompson-Spires

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

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1

Cherry by Nico Walker

Cleveland, Ohio, 2003. A young man is just a college freshman when he meets Emily. They share a passion for Edward Albee and ecstasy and fall hard and fast in love. But soon Emily has to move home to Elba, New York, and he flunks out of school and joins the army. Desperate to keep their relationship alive, they marry before he ships out to Iraq. But as an army medic, he is unprepared for the grisly reality that awaits him. His fellow soldiers smoke; they huff computer duster; they take painkillers; they watch porn. And many of them die. He and Emily try to make their long-distance marriage work, but when he returns from Iraq, his PTSD is profound, and the drugs on the street have changed. The opioid crisis is beginning to swallow up the Midwest. Soon he is hooked on heroin, and so is Emily. They attempt a normal life, but with their money drying up, he turns to the one thing he thinks he could be really good at – robbing banks.

Hammered out on a prison typewriter, Cherry marks the arrival of a raw, bleakly hilarious, and surprisingly poignant voice straight from the dark heart of America. 

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1

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadin

Dido Sylvia Jones is six years and twenty-seven days old when she moves from London squat to suburban Essex and promptly falls in love with Tom Trevelyan, the boy next door. It’s not just Tom that Dido falls for, though: it’s also his precocious sister, Harry, and their fastidious, controlling mother, Angela. Because Angela is everything that Edie—Dido’s own mother—is not. And the Trevelyans are exactly the kind of family Dido dreams of: Normal.

Dido wants to be normal more than anything else in the world. But it’s the very thing that Edie can never be, as Dido—and the Trevelyans, including Dido’s beloved Tom—will eventually learn the hard way.

Like the very best families, Joanna Nadin’s The Queen of Bloody Everything is funny, warm, tender and heartbreaking in equal measure. Part love story, it’s ultimately about mothers and daughters: about realizing, however long it takes, that family might be what you make it, but you can’t change where you come from.

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1

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton. Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.

Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenage girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.

At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

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1

Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen

The day nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events.

Now they must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, which sits just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for safe passage to Hong Kong, the government will only issue them on the condition that she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family’s intention to return.

Against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional tale follows a brother, a sister, a father, and a mother as they grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption.

***

1

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

*** 

1

We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.

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1

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

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1

Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

In this lyrical and searing debut novel written by a rising literary star and MacDowell Fellow, a young man is preparing to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.

The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where — four days after his nineteenth birthday — Jonathan stares up at the fluorescent lights of his cell, and recalls the series of events that led him there.

Two years earlier: Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state, which his grandfather — a Salonican Jew whose community was wiped out by the Nazis — helped establish. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith — the twin daughter and son of his mother’s friend.

From that winter morning on, the three become inseparable: wandering the streets on weekends, piling onto buses toward new discoveries, laughing uncontrollably. They share joints on the beach, trading snippets of poems, intimate secrets, family histories, resentments, and dreams. But with his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be proud of your heritage and loyal to your people, while also feeling love for those outside of your own tribal family. And then that fateful day arrives, the one that lands Jonathan in prison and changes his relationship with the twins forever.

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1

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building.

While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog’s care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.

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Nathan Dionne
Nathan Dionne

I quote from you opening line: “I read 87 General Fiction books in 2019.” So you really do have a blink drive! Why are you sharing your time travel secrets with the rest of us?

Ponytail
Ponytail

Thank you so much for catagorizing and sharing your expertise on all the books you have read this year!
I am missing what you are doing in Montreal. I’m missing pictures of your mama’s food, going out to eat with friends and Andria and all that fancy food, what you got for Christmas (did you get any new socks?), and how the dogs are getting along under Sergeant Suji’s rule. Did it snow?
My inquiring mind wants to know. sad

Airelle
Airelle

Thanks Joe, more books to investigate, How do you choose the books, you have probably answered before, I maybe forgot. So many .books, if you lose interest in the story at first, how do you plow thru the rest of it???