On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

The best books to give and get: Fiction picks of 2018

Share story

Fiction picks of 2018.
Fiction picks of 2018
Book covers courtesy of publishers

This week, The Thread is sharing some of our favorite books of the year.

Tell us the best book you read @TheThreadMPR.

Novels we loved

'Circe' by Madeline Miller

Circe may be the first witch in all of Western literaturcee, cirbut she was only a bit player in "The Odyssey." Now she's getting the stage to herself. Miller's novel begins with Circe's origins as the daughter of a Titan and follows her through her banishment on a deserted island, where she tames beasts, hones her powers and truly comes into her own. You don't need a background in Homer or mythology to get swept up by this beautiful and surprisingly human story of the gods.

Circe Circe

'The Overstory' by Richard Powers

In "The Overstory," Richard Powers imagines a world where only a few acres of virgin forest remain on the continent. A group of strangers band together to protect those few remaining trees, and in the process, find how the trees are communicating with each other.

Overstory Overstory

'There There' by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange's debut novel follows 12 Native Americans living in Oakland, Calif., over several decades. It traces their connections — and sometimes their collisions — as the narrative jumps from character to character. "The writing is just electric," said bookseller Matt Keliher. "It's a propulsive novel that makes the reader want to just turn the next page and keep reading."

There, There There, There

'The Maze at Windermere' by Gregory Black Smith

This tale begins with a middling tennis pro at the end of his competitive career looking for love — and maybe some money — in the arms of an heiress in a New England town. From there, it delves into other tales of intrigue from earlier decades. The parallel plots offer a great read, underlining how small towns are often more complex than they first appear.

Maze Maze

'Melmoth' by Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry's follow-up to "The Essex Serpent" begins as a contemporary ghost story and evolves into an exploration of guilt and trauma. Helen Franklin, a British ex-pat living in Prague, sees one of her friends, Karel, on the Charles Bridge. Gaunt and distracted, Karel clutches a manila folder whose contents spur Franklin onto a fearful journey into the past. "Melmoth" keeps you in suspense, with surprises all the way to the final page.

Melmoth Melmoth

'This Could Hurt' by Jillian Medoff

Why aren't there more novels set in the workplace that explore the nature of work and what it means to be a colleague? Jillian Medoff's book about a human resources director committed to supporting employees decently during rough economic times expertly mixes comedy, pathos and a gimlet-eyed critique of workplace management fads.

This Could Hurt This Could Hurt

'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones

What happens to a marriage when two people are forced apart? In "An American Marriage," a relationship is set on edge when one of the characters is sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. The novel is filled with conflict around questions of memory, loyalty, race, fatherhood, ambition and justice.

An American Marriage An American Marriage

'Washington Black' by Esi Edugyan

  Esi Edugyan's novel introduces George Washington Black, "Wash," at 11 years old, enslaved on a sugar plantation in Barbados. Cue a strange friendship, a gruesome death and a wild escape by hot air balloon. The perilous adventures are mixed with observations on cruelty, trust, race and connection. The novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, and it delivers both the thrill of exploration and the quiet workings of a watchful mind.

Washington Black Washington Black

'Red Clocks' by Leni Zumas

"Red Clocks" is a quietly explosive novel that follows in the footsteps of "The Handmaid's Tale," but tells a story all its own. It takes place in a not-so-distant future, where national laws govern all fertility matters. Abortion has been outlawed, and in-vitro fertilization is now a crime. Zumas jumps among the stories of four women navigating this reality, and all the consequences that come with motherhood.

Red Clocks Red Clocks

'Disoriental' by Negar Djavadi, translated by Tina Kover

In "Disoriental," family history mixes with political turmoil. At the center of the novel is Kimia, a woman whose family has been exiled from Iran and taken refuge in France. Kimia sits in the waiting room of a Paris fertility clinic, as we flash back through generation after generation of her family's lives. It's a tangled family epic told with sly humor and a strong dose of history. As bookseller Danny Caine said, "I think fans of Elena Ferrante would like this a lot, too, because it's a story about a very strong woman, very well told."

Disoriental Disoriental

'My Sister, the Serial Killer' by Oyinkan Braithwaite

In Oyinkan Braithwaite's sassy, subversive novel, "My Sister, the Serial Killer," the title tells you everything. In this twisted tale, the beautiful, cosseted and sociopathic younger sister, Ayoola, resolves romances-gone-wrong with a knife that she carries in her designer bag. And when she needs to dispose of the evidence, her straitlaced, long-suffering, head nurse of a sister, Korede, steps in. It's a treat of a novel, with a lot to say about the relationship between sisters, even amid chaos and death.

My Sister My Sister

'The Witch Elm' by Tana French

Tana French knows how to unspool a good, gripping mystery. "The Witch Elm" is French at the height of her powers. At the center of the novel is PR wunderkind Toby Hennessy, who has good looks, close mates, a loving girlfriend and a comfortable life in Dublin subsidized by his parents. He breezes through a vapid life without noticing his unearned advantages, until his family discovers a human skull in the garden of their ancestral home. The thrill of this 500-page tome is not just Toby discovering whodunit — which is worth the long wait — but also Toby discovering Toby. 

Witch Elm Witch Elm

'The Great Believers' by Rebecca Makkai

"The Great Believers" is a devastating, engrossing novel that unfolds in two linked timelines. The first follows a close group of friends in Chicago in the 1980s, as they begin to grapple with the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. The second timeline picks up decades later, and traces the aftershocks: lost friends, lost children and buried secrets. The characters are so fully drawn, they will transfix you for an unforgettable and beautiful 400-plus pages.

Great Believers Great Believers

'Severance' by Ling Ma

"Severance" is a quiet and often darkly funny spin on the much-discussed zombie apocalypse. It unfolds when a fever sweeps across the country, causing the infected to obsess over a single habit, repeating the behavior over and over and over until their bodies give out. Candace, a 20-something with no family left when the pandemic hits, watches as New York City empties out. When she finally leaves the decaying city, she runs into a tightly controlled group of fellow survivors making their way toward The Facility — a Promised Land of safety.

Severance Severance

'Spinning Silver' by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik spins a gorgeous, fantastical web with the story of Miryem, the daughter of a moneylender unable to collect on his debts. With her family facing ruin, Miryem sets out to rectify the situation. She develops a reputation for being able to spin silver into gold — a claim that draws her into regal and dangerous circles. Novik weaves together familiar fairy tale elements with new plot twists in a marvelous, inventive final package.

Spinning Silver Spinning Silver

'The Map of Salt and Stars' by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

"The Map of Salt and Stars" tells the story of two teenage girls in Syria, separated by 800 years. In modern times, we follow the story of Nour, whose family has returned to Syria from New York after the death of Nour's father. The family returns to the city of Homs, only to face the rising conflict roiling Syria. As they flee, Nour comforts herself by retelling a story her late father told her of Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi, a 12th century mapmaker who created what was at the time the most accurate map of the world. 

Map of Salt and Stars Map of Salt and Stars

Short story collections not to miss

The Thread's favorite short story collections of 2018
The Thread's favorite short story collections of 2018
Book covers courtesy of publishers

'Friday Black' by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

These boundary-pushing, surreal and often unsettling stories magnify and riff on some of the ugliest parts of modern society to create an unparalleled read. 

Friday Black Friday Black

'The Largesse of the Sea Maiden' by Denis Johnson

This book was released after the legendary short story writer died at 67, and it is a fitting final masterpiece. Death is never far from the mind, as these stories unfold.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

'Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories' by Kelly Barnhill

Sasquatch romance. Magic gone wrong. The power of the stars. The dangers of imagination. Follow this book into the haunted woods and enjoy the trip.

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories

'The Lion's Binding Oath and Other Stories' by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

Ahmed Ismail Yusuf presents an elegant portrait of Somali life in this set of stories, from the terrors of tending the family flock when a leopard lurks nearby, to the complexities of love in a quickly modernizing world.

The Lion's Binding Oath and Other Stories The Lion's Binding Oath and Other Stories