Now that my kids are teens (sniff) and need less handholding to get through every second of the day, I’m trying to read more books instead of spending all my “down time” reading Facebook updates or watching Netflix. So at the start of 2018, I joined Goodreads’ Annual Reading Challenge which allowed me to set a goal for the number of books I wanted to read throughout the year, and then helped me track the books I logged as complete.

Spoller: I did NOT reach my lofty goal of 52 books by the stroke of midnight on December 31st. But I did hit 39 books, which is pretty good for one year, right? That’s 30 more books than I’ve read in any other recent year. I’m proud of myself!

Want to join me in 2019? I highly recommend it! And if you need a place to start, check out 10 of my own favorite books (in no particular order) that I read last year to help get you started.

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Related: 10 diverse new books from women authors worth reading this year

Goodreads Reading Challenge: The Girl who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

1. The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clementine Wamariya
This is such a well-written memoir, capturing not only Wamariya’s horrors of living through the Rwandan genocide as a child, but her confusion of trying to find a new “home” afterward through an incredibly difficult series of events that finally lead to her resettling in Chicago and ultimately becoming successful enough to graduate from Yale. The author documents the frustrations of growing up around people who try to understand her struggles (but can’t possibly), and the tragic realization that, even after being reunited with those she loved and lost, life can never go back to being the same. Just know that the structure is a bit jumpy from time period to time period but it’s a terrific read. However it’s not a historical retelling of the Rwandan genocide, so I do think if you have some previous knowledge about this tragedy, it will help you get more out of Wamariya’s compelling memoir.

2. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
I knew this book would reduce me to a puddle of tears within the first few pages, and I was right. Monica Wood does an incredible job of weaving together complex, broken characters all brought together by one young and very special boy. There is a lot going on here, so I am glad I took my time to reread sections in order to keep everything straight. Nothing feels predictable here — the wit, the clever lists throughout the book, the overall story. Highly recommend. Just keep a box of Kleenex nearby.

Goodreads Reading Challenge: That Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

3. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I love a great collection of short stories and this one from one of the most important modern authors today does not disappoint — as evidenced by the speed in which I flew through this 200+ page book. It includes a dozen thought-provoking and often shocking stories about the complexities of living in modern-day Nigeria, or of living as a Nigerian in the very foreign country of America. I am in awe of Adichie’s ability to write in so many voices and to paint such a vivid picture of life moments so different from my own. Throughout most of the stories there is a sadness or longing that had me putting the book down at times to take a breath and clear my head. But the last story, The Headstrong Historian, ends in such quiet triumph that I finished the book with a smile.

(Next up for me is Adichie’s 2018 novel, Americanah, which made Barack Obama’s summer reading list last year.)

Related: 8 must-read summer reading books for tweens and teens who want to stay woke

4. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
This is one of those “ignore everything in your life until you’ve finished reading it” books because you just can’t put it down. This story of a broken family trying to make it in the wilds of Alaska in the 1970’s (before it became the tourist mecca it is now) is a bit of a thriller mixed with adventure novel and wrapped up in a love story. Hannah does a great job of “placing” this novel in a very specific time socially and geographically, and beautifully expresses the harsh consequences of mental illness and PTSD, in the post-Vietnam War era.

5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
How fast can I read 450 pages? Pretty darn fast, I discovered ,because I could not wait to get to the end of this “whodunit” novel full of intrigue, secrets, gossip, humor, and some surprisingly tender moments about parenting kids in today’s world. Maybe you saw the Netflix series adaptation that came out last year (season two is slated for 2019), maybe not — but either way it’s worth reading the original best-seller.  I won’t give a single thing away except to say that I did not see the ending coming and found the wrap-up fully satisfying. I love Moriarty’s the writing style that teases the ending throughout but never gives too much away. Now I’m off to check out the series!


Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2018: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

6. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Not surprisingly, one of the two brilliant brothers behind both Vlogbrothers and Crash Course History (with his brother Hank Green, author of the exquisite The Fault in Our Stars among others), would know a thing or two about the role of technology and social media in the lives of young people. In his debut novel — and yes, it’s hard to believe he hadn’t written one until now — Hank Green weaves biting commentary about the heady lure of internet fame into a story about extraterrestrials visiting this planet. Sounds weird, I know. And it is weird. But also, a delightful read with a cliff-hanger ending.

Related: 16 terrifically creepy YA novels for kids (and adults!) who dig dark themes.

7. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
After hitting her head at the gym, Alice is stunned to discover that she is no longer 29, married to the love of her life, and pregnant, but 39, bitterly divorced, and the mother of three elementary-school-aged kids she does not recognize. I loved how the reader “discovers” Alice’s truth much like she does — in snippets, series of confusing interactions, and haunting flashbacks. There are scenes that had me howling with laughter and others that were profoundly sad. Through the incident, Alice, in a way, gets a do-over; another chance to right her wrongs with the people in her life without remembering all the baggage that caused her relationships to fall apart in the first place.

8. City of Thieves by David Benioff
Set during the Nazi’s siege of Lenigrad during World War II, City of Thieves is Benioff’s 2009 coming-of-age novel about a young man on a seemingly impossible quest to save his life from both Russian and German forces, as well as guerrilla fighters and cannibals (really!) who are trying to survive in a time of famine. Brutal, funny and suspenseful, the forced friendship that blossoms between the main character and another “thief” is perfectly written with much wit and tenderness.

Oh, and if the name David Benioff sounds familiar but you can’t quite place it, he’s the co-creator of Game of Thrones on HBO. Sold yet?

Goodreads Reading Challenge: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I bought this much-lauded YA novel for my 17-year-old daughter to read in advance of the 2018 release of the movie adaptation, but I am so glad I read it myself. Through her wonderfully relatable, complex characters, Thomas brings to life so many of the real, difficult issues of the Black Lives Matter movement in a manner that is not preachy or patronizing to the audience. There are no easy answers here, no true “justice” in this novel.  But, it’s a story that will stick in your head for a long time, presenting an essential snapshot of what America looks like for far too many families and offering plenty of opportunities for parents to have good discussions with our kids — especially white kids whose eyes may be opened in a whole new way.

Related: The diversity of movie heroes and movie makers | Editors’ Top 10 of the Year

10. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Another book turned into a popular Netflix original film, this incredibly written story focuses on a white family who moves to a rustic farm to live and work with a black sharecropper family in post-WWII Mississippi. Told from the points of view of six different characters who are each going through their own struggles, I love that each character has their own distinct voice and multi-layered personality. Themes include racism, coming home after war, love, family dynamics, and the hardships of farm life, all of which are beautifully presented against the historical backdrop. if you haven’t yet seen the movie but have it added to your queue, I highly recommend reading the book first; there’s a reason it’s been an international best-seller for the past decade.

Join Goodreads’ 2019 Reading Challenge and see how many books you can read in a year. (Psst: Books you read aloud to the kids totally count in this easy-going challenge!) And if you’d like to follow along and see what I’m reading this year, feel free to add me to your friends list!