And, here it is, the AAR staff’s picks for the very best books of 2018. We ask each reviewer to pick her favorite book of the year and then we share the compiled list with you. This list isn’t one we all agree on nor is it one that we’d argue is definitive. Our Best Lists is idiosyncratic. Each pick is a reflection of a reviewer’s druthers, experiences and expectations, and is limited by what she personally read in the past year. These are, quite simply, books we individually loved.

We’d like to know what you loved too and hope you’ll share your picks with us in the comments.

Here’s to us all reading well in 2019!

Alex A:

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

As I’m sure other people have said, pretty much any book on my Best Of list could qualify for this title, and even some off of it. But ultimately I’ve chosen Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven as my “best book.” I just couldn’t get enough of the world building, and loved seeing the main characters bond through extremely difficult circumstances. While I’ve enjoyed many books this year, Phoenix Unbound is the one I kept coming back to and reread the most.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Alex S:

Sadie by Courtney Summers

This incorporated so many of my favorite things, it inevitably had to be my top choice for 2018. If you love listening to podcasts, enjoy the story-telling platform adopted by true crime, and enjoy a young adult novel that could be read in one sitting, this is for you!

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

I didn’t think anything could live up to last year’s Unraveling Oliver, by the same author, but Liz Nugent did it again. A lovely property… A respected judge… His devoted wife… What could go wrong? Everything. Once again, a “perfect” family turns out to be more messed up than you can imagine. Twists, heartbreaking resolutions, and manipulative characters. Nugent also uses this story to explore Ireland’s recent past, and the way young girls were treated if they got pregnant out of wedlock.

Buy Now: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo


The Prince by Katharine Ashe

Detailed, researched worldbuilding, well-matched characters with strong chemistry, meticulous realism, and the most beautiful epilogue I’ve ever read.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


One-Eyed Royals by Cordelia Kingsbridge

It’s hard to play favourites, and quite honestly, any of the books on my Best of list could probably have fit in here – so in order to decide which one to choose, I asked myself “which book gave me the biggest book hangover in 2018?” – and then the answer was easy; Cordelia Kingsbridge’s One-Eyed Royals, book four in her Seven of Spades series. It was at least two days before I could bear to pick up another book after I’d finished it!  Each book in the series has been fabulous – lots of humour and action, steamy sex-scenes, high-stakes plotlines that are complex and well-executed and two utterly compelling chalk-and-cheese central characters.   Their relationship is incredibly well written and has gone from strength to strength, even though it’s taken quite the beating over the last couple of books; and the author has achieved just about the perfect balance between the romance, the overarching series plot and the individual plots in each novel.  I’ll be pouncing eagerly on book five when it comes out in the Spring and then waiting with bated breath to see what Ms. Kingsbridge comes up with next.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


My pick of the year is two books: You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue. Others at AAR have been raving about Bec McMaster’s steampunk series and, let me tell you, don’t start reading them unless you’ve the time to devour all nine books (thus far). The linked series began with Kiss of Steel (book one in the London Steampunk series) published in 2012. The most recent book, To Catch a Rogue (book four in London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy), came out in October of this year. I’ve enjoyed all the books thoroughly – my favorites are Kiss of Steel and You Only Love Twice –and I literally can’t wait for the tenth, Dukes Are Forever, which should be out sometime this year.

McMaster’s work is everything I want in a romance – inventive, thought-provoking, wildy sexy, and peopled with vivid, sympathetic characters. Her world building is detailed and apprehendable – I especially love the detail she accords to science and politics – and, at the end of each book, I feel more deeply immersed in her fabulous altered Victorian world.

Series are hard for me – I am so easily bored – and this one joins Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green and Megan Crane’s Edge as my favorites in the genre.

Buy You Only Love Twice at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Buy To Catch a Rogue at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


Salt Magic Skin Magic by Lee Welch

Romantic, suspenseful and wonderful, Salt Magic Skin Magic is my favorite novel of 2018.  Soren, Lord Thornby, is trapped on his father’s estate and is slowly going mad.  He’s close to giving in to his father’s demands that he marry to earn his freedom, when John Blake, an industrial magician, pays a surprise visit at Raskhelf Hall.  Mr. Blake immediately takes a dislike to the the haughty, snobbish (handsome) Lord Thornby; at the behest of a friend, he’s come to spy on Lord Thornby and ferret out just why the supercilious Lord Thornby is tormenting poor Lady Dalton…except it soon becomes clear that his assumptions about Soren are all wrong, and that no one and nothing about the estate is quite what it appears to be.  The pairing of Soren and John – initially adversaries and opposites who soon become each other’s most trusted, fiercest champion – is electric.  Working together they slowly uncover just what binds Soren to the estate and why his father has kept him prisoner for the past eighteen months.  The romance – slightly wicked and intense – is lovely, and the underlying mystery is clever and compelling.  I never knew what to expect from this story and it alternately charmed and thrilled me as its secrets were revealed.  Surprising, delightful and excellent in every way, Salt Magic Skin Magic is MAGICAL; it’s the best historical/queer/fantasy romance of the year.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I was lucky to read several books I could have chosen for my Best Of in 2018, but I think The Kiss Quotient nudges the others out of the top spot because it was the title I most wanted to run out and recommend to other people. I really loved how much this felt like a sexy, fun contemporary romance while also bringing something new to the table.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan

A grieving journalist (she lost her husband and toddler daughter to a freak accident) is assigned to cover the trial of a woman accused of murdering her toddler daughter. It’s an almost unbearable assignment. Trust Me examines how we arrive at truths, the nature of facts and memory, and how conclusions and judgments are made. Are facts immutable? In the hands of a skillful practitioner, how prone could anyone be to gaslighting? Hank Phillippi Ryan will have readers torn between stopping because the suspense is unbearable, and staying up all night to finish. Why? Because the suspense is unbearable!

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is my Book of 2018 because it was so surprisingly immersive. I had almost zero expectations about it, and I’m so glad I was completely blind going in. While we certainly prize the HEA/HFN in romance (as we should!), I also love the version of HEA that comes when a person gets to live life on their own terms, completely comfortable in their own skin. That version is, for me, what I need the most to see this year and I’m thankful to Ms. Reid that she gave me Evelyn this year.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


From Twinkle with Love by Sandhya Menon

Trying to pick a best book of the year is difficult as hell for me this year.  In contemporary romance it’s easily A Duke by Default or the Kiss Quotient; in historicals, Band Sinister.   In YA I could name at least four books that made an impression on me.   But I didn’t have a better time this year with any other book than I did with Menon’s story of Twinkle Mehra and her filmmaking aspirations, secret admirer and struggles to become her authentic self.  It’s magnificent and still a great read months later.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


Belleweather by Susanna Kearsley

As always, Kearsley’s writing is strong and evocative, but Bellewether stood out to me for a number of reasons. First of all, I found both the present-day and past-day stories satisfying. The romance in the 18th century plotline was a special favorite for me and I loved its resolution. The ending on that tale managed to be both beautifully romantic, and it also makes the reader think. So much of this book reinforced that the historical record is not always what we have assumed it to be, and this book both tells a good romantic story and encourages readers to reexamine assumptions.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


Spinning Silver Naomi Novik

I rarely read a book that transcends genre but this one does. It is not just a fantastic fantasy novel, but a lovely, unique historical and a great women’s fiction story with romance.  A retelling of Rumpelstiltskin that captures all that is best about fantasy, fairy tales and dark love stories:. Miryem faces a cruel Ice King, Irina squares off against a dangerous Tsar and Wanda must battle a vicious father to build a life for herself and her brothers. Three women show themselves more than ready for the challenges of a hard world in this richly imagined fable.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Maria Rose:

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This is my favorite romance novel of 2018 and I suspect there will be many a reader who says the same! What makes it stand out from a crowded field? Well, if the saying is write what you know, then the author has certainly taken that to heart and given the reader a glimpse into her own daily challenges and successes in living a life on the autism spectrum. Even though it’s a fictional story, the authenticity of her voice shines through not just in Stella’s mood, behavior and actions but also in her vibrant showcasing of Vietnamese culture through her relationship with fashion designer and escort Michael. Stella is a math whiz and STEM heroines (those in science, technology, engineering and math fields) are personal favourites as my own background is chemistry. You can’t get much better than this for a debut romance.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I loved absolutely everything about Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone. The story is as starkly beautiful as the Alaskan wilderness in which it is set. The heroine is instantly relatable, even if your life circumstances are different than the ones she faces. I hated to put this down, and I know I’ll be returning to this lovely romance again and again.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

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