Friends, I did it! I completed the Goodreads Choice Awards reading challenge that I set at the beginning of the year and I’m finally here to do a wrap up for it. I didn’t realize how long this wrap up was going to be until I started writing so I’ve broken it up into two parts. Part 2 is coming soonish. Definitely at some point this week. Or the weekend. It’s coming. For now, let’s get into part 1.
If you missed my announcement post at the beginning of the year with the TBR, you can check it out here.
The GR Choice Awards is a popularity contest, but I thought it would be fun little experiment to see if the books actually lived up to their hype as the “best books of 2018.” I’ll admit that I wanted to abandon the whole thing in September, but I had a come to Jesus moment with myself. I decided to keep going because I was so close to the finish line and now I feel a sense of accomplishment. Here’s what I thought of the books.
*Keep in mind that I read a few runner ups because the winners were either (1) books I’ve already read or (2) sequels. I’ll point them out. Covers are linked to Goodreads.
1. Fiction: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty*
Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever?
These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…
Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.
I skipped three books in this category (winner and two runner ups) for the reasons mentioned above. I don’t regret skipping the books I did, but man I wish Nine Perfect Strangers hadn’t been the option I was left with because this is the worst book I’ve read this year. I’m not too upset about how bad it was because it wasn’t the actual winner. However, this book was boring, nonsensical and I don’t think it belonged in this category. The mystery element was weak, but it should’ve been nominated for mystery & thriller. 1/5 stars.
2. Mystery & Thriller: The Outsider by Stephen King
An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.
An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.
Again, this award is a popularity contest and no one is more popular than Stephen King so I’m not surprised he won both categories he was nominated in. Unfortunately, I don’t think this deserved best mystery & thriller rights. The first half was great, but the second half of the story was a mess (see review here). Having read five other books that were nominated for best mystery & thriller, I think this whole category was basic AF. 3/5 stars.
3. Historical Fiction: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.
The Great Alone was the first book I read this year and *spoiler alert* you’ll see it again in another end of year list. I can’t say that this is definitively the best book in this category because I’ve only read one other book, but I enjoyed this immensely. I understand the appeal. Check out my review here. 4.5/5 stars
4. Fantasy: The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro*
It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.
Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.
The winner for best fantasy was Circe by Madeline Miller, but I really wish The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang had won. Regardless, I skipped Circe for the challenge because I read it last year. The Shape of Water came in second. I remember how popular this movie was during Oscar season, but I didn’t realize it was also a book until this little experiment. This was a strange strange book. I still don’t know how to sum up my feelings about it. I only got through because of the audiobook. 3/5 stars.
5. Best of the Best: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr *
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
All the Light We Cannot See came in second place to The Hate U Give (well deserved win, IMO) in this special 10th anniversary category. I dreaded reading this because I don’t like historical fiction set around WWII. I wish this had been shorter, but overall I enjoyed it (surprisingly) and didn’t cry (also surprising). I found the story to be engaging and quite the emotional rollercoaster. 4/5 stars.
6. Romance: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.
It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position.
Surprisingly, I’ve read three other books that were nominated for this category. Of those three, The Kiss Quotient takes the cake for me. This was steamy, fun and so freaking adorable! Goodreads voters did something right here. 5/5 stars.
Stayed tuned for part 2 where I’ll talk about books 6-12 and give you my final thoughts.