The best fiction reads of 2018: the Monitor's picks

A reimagining of 'Beowulf' and Anne Tyler's latest are two of the works of fiction that made the cut for our list.

'Clock Dance' is by Anne Tyler and 'The Map of Salt and Stars: A Novel' is by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar.

Books can be a haven, an escape, and a window into lives that are not our own. Monitor book critics were delighted by many this year, and these are the cream of the crop, perfect for a gift for a loved one or a treat for yourself. We hope you enjoy. To read the full reviews of many of these books, check out

Transcription, by Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown, 352 pp.

“Life After Life” author Kate Atkinson returns with a novel about a young woman who works during World War II to transcribe MI5’s surveillance of British fascist allies. 

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, by Sarah Bird

St. Martin’s Press, 416 pp.

This novel tells the true and almost forgotten story of Cathay Williams, a former slave who became part of a regiment of black “buffalo soldiers” after the Civil War. 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

Thomas Nelson, 432 pp.

The novel focuses on the real-life romance of authors C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, who started their relationship as pen pals and eventually married. 

The Cloister, by James Carroll

Knopf, 384 pp.

In James Carroll’s tale, a priest and a Jewish Holocaust survivor encounter each other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters in New York. As their separate tales unfold, each recognizes the need to forgive themselves for the past.

The Mere Wife, by Maria Dahvana Headley

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pp.

“Beowulf” is reimagined in Maria Dahvana Headley’s novel, which takes place in a suburb where the sons of two very different women become acquainted. 

Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper

Simon & Schuster, 336 pp.

Emma Hooper’s novel takes place in a struggling fishing village in Newfoundland. Aiden and Martha Conner have remained in the town, but they find themselves facing a difficult choice when the government says anyone remaining should go. 

Greeks Bearing Gifts, by Philip Kerr

Penguin, 528 pp.

“Greeks Bearing Gifts” is Philip Kerr’s latest (and one of his last, as Kerr died earlier this year) about Bernie Gunther, a detective working in Nazi Germany. In this story, Bernie becomes involved with a case about a former Wehrmacht soldier who may have been trafficking treasures taken from Jews. 

Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

HarperCollins, 480 pp.

Vineland, N.J., in the 19th century and in the present day are the dual settings of Barbara Kingsolver’s new work. In the present, Willa inherits an old house. In the 19th century, a couple lives in what appears to be that same house with the wife’s mother and sister. 

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Little, Brown, 400 pp.

Madeline Miller’s newest novel, following the acclaimed “The Song of Achilles,” retells the story of Circe, who meets familiar figures including Odysseus.

Gateway to the Moon, by Mary Morris

Knopf, 256 pp.

“Gateway to the Moon” charts the story of a family, from members who escape the Spanish Inquisition and travel to America to their contemporary descendant, Miguel, who is intrigued to find out that a Jewish family he works for has similar traditions to his own. 

All the Lives We Never Lived, by Anuradha Roy

Atria, 288 pp.

Anuradha Roy’s latest centers on Myshkin, who as an adult looks back on his earlier life during the late 1930s and early 1940s in India and his mother leaving the family. 

Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler

Knopf, 304 pp.

Anne Tyler’s lovely new work tells the story of an older woman who is seeking purpose in her life and becomes a temporary caregiver to a mother and daughter. 

The Map of Salt and Stars, by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Touchstone, 368 pp.

Two trips take place in this novel – one is an expedition in medieval times that aims to map the Arabic world using the stars and the other is that of 11-year-old Nour, who travels to Syria, the country of her mother’s birth. 

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