My Favorite Books Of 2018

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2018 was an incredible year for books. I had set a goal of 80 books, based on my 2016 and 2017 tally. But with the advent of my newfound love of audiobooks, I was able to read 100 books this year. Because I had so many more books to choose from, my list of favorites is a bit longer than normal. But there were SO MANY great books!

Audiobooks are marked with an asterisk...

Tied for 1st… THE WINTERS and CIRCE

THE WINTERS by Lisa Gabriele

This is sheer and utter perfection. A modern retelling of Rebecca, with incredible writing, character development, and a modern edge. I loved it, and you will too. This is tied with CIRCE as my favorite novel of the year.


*CIRCE by Madeline Miller

I listened to this one, and let me tell you, there was something magical about hearing Circe’s story told in such an inventive new way.  It was like taking class in mythology, with all my favorites mentioned and explored. This is tied with THE WINTERS as my favorite novel of the year.


I MISS YOU WHEN I BLINK: ESSAYS by Mary Laura Philpott

Many of you know Mary Laura as my cohost for A Word On Words, but she is so much more. This incredible essay collection, out in February 2019, will cement her alongside Elizabeth Gilbert, Dani Shapiro, and Anne Lamott, the writers I turn to for help tapping into the female/writer experience.


HUNTING ANNABELLE by Wendy Heard

Dynamic, compelling, and totally twisted...What a mind Wendy Heard has. What a debut! It is so bloody unique!!


ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen 

Anna Quindlen has always been a favorite of mine, and this book doesn't disappoint. I absolutely love her newest, and the Upper West Side setting is exactly what I needed. I miss New York!


SORORITY by Genevieve Sly Crane

It’s very fitting that this author’s middle name is Sly, because that’s the perfect description of this book. A series of conjoined vignettes, it tells the story of a sorority from the inside out, the good, the bad, and the ugly – and wow is there a lot of ugly. The writing though – it is perfect, sparse, descriptive, incredible. I haven’t been this excited about a debut author’s possibilities since SWEETBITTER. I’ll be watching for Crane’s work in the years ahead. 


TWO DARK REIGNS by Kendare Blake

Oh, how many good things can I say about this series? I love it, love the inventiveness, and the direction it’s heading. These books are spectacular, and this latest installment in the series is especially wonderful.


THE THREE BETHS by Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott has turned his considerable skill to the domestic suspense genre and THE THREE BETHS is the epitome of what a suspense novel is supposed to be. You’re going to love this!


ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman 

Simply brilliant. Heartbreaking. A lovely story, full of everything you need to have all the feels. I cried twice. Amazing.


*THE BROKEN GIRLS by Simone St. James 

I listened to THE BROKEN GIRLS and it’s fabulous – dark, sinister, haunted – and has rekindled my love of the boarding school mystery. I blame Simone for my 2019 offering…


THE LOST QUEEN by Signe Pike

I had the joy of meeting Signe Pike at SIBA 2018 and found a Scottish sister. This incredible tale of Merlin’s sister is brilliant and an instant classic.


NINE PERFECT STRANGERS by Liane Moriarty

NINE PERFECT STRANGERS is a fantastic book and it relaunched one of the greatest book clubs to grace the online world: She Reads. You should definitely check them out and join the conversation! I was lucky enough to see Liane Moriarty in person and she was simply magnificent - so self-deprecatingly funny.


RUSH by Lisa Patton

A thoughtful look at the southern Greek system, and also wickedly funny. Lisa Patton tackles a tough subject—the lack of benefits and job opportunities for the sorority housemothers—with grace, and hope. This story is a must read.


BECOMING MRS. LEWIS by Patti Callahan

I’m so incredibly delighted to see this book finally out for you to read! BECOMING MRS. LEWIS is a labor of love. It is a joy and a seminal moment for a really incredible team of women: my friend Patti Callahan Henry and Joy Davidman. I think you’re going to love it!


*YEAR ONE by Nora Roberts 

YEAR ONE is super storytelling, inventive and scary. I loved the new direction in Nora’s writing, the apocalyptic world building, and the appreciation of magic.


SOUTHERN LADY CODE by Helen Ellis

This wonderful essay collection from the sharp-witted Helen Ellis (author of one of my all-time favorite novels, EATING THE CHESHIRE CAT) is a perfect look at how ladies can navigate this modern age with a dose of southern graciousness thrown in. Plus, learn the real meaning of Bless Your Heart. Available April 2019.


ELON MUSK: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance 

This biography of Elon Musk is incredible. I have learned so much, both about Musk and the exciting technologies going into Space X. A must read for anyone who is curious about where the future is headed.


What are your favorite books of 2018?

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The Why Behind TEAR ME APART

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God bless National Geographic.

I have had a subscription for decades. I used to keep all the old magazines until it became an issue (stacks and stacks and stacks - all donated, finally), so I switched to the digital version. I always knew I’d find an idea in one of them that would give me the key to a really cool book. 

Enter the July 2016 issue. I was reading it on a plane, and I read a story and felt that incredible tingle all over when I see something I want to incorporate into a book. It was about a new forensic technology called phenotyping. The uses are endless — with a DNA sample, forensic analysts can generate facial features of a suspect. Eye color. Hair color. Ancestry.

I got excited by the possibilities of this new technology. To start, think of the people accused of a crime who are wrongly convicted. Phenotyping will cut down on these cases, for sure. Nothing is infallible, but it’s a cool leap forward. And there’s also a program that can take the DNA and build a 3-D face out of it. Not admissible in court…yet. We’re about to enter the brave new world of criminology, for sure.

When I read the story, I knew immediately I wanted to have a character use these skills to solve a crime. 

But what crime? How about DNA from the crime scene of a missing, day-old baby? Cool, but… What if that baby was now 17 years old and famous? OK, now we’re getting somewhere. You see how this works. This is my process. What if? How about…? Hmmm…..?

I took this concept, married it to the idea I’d been carrying around with me for years about a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice—her life—for her family, and boom—I had the beginnings of a story. 

In TEAR ME APART's first draft, the book was narrated by a dead woman in heaven. It was very cool, but it wasn’t right. Then I was challenged by one of those Facebook memes where you’re supposed to post the first seven lines of your work in progress (WIP). I took a look, and felt like my first seven lines weren’t shareable. I don’t like to discuss the WIP as it’s being created—you give away the magic when you do that, in my mind. So I cheated. I wrote something totally unrelated to my real opening. (Hey, don’t judge. People pay me to make things up for a living… 😉)

This is what I wrote, tossed off, really, just to satisfy the guilt of a meme:

I remember the day she arrived so clearly. What quirk of fate led her to me? I wondered about this for years. If only I had stepped right instead of left at the corner, or taken the stairs instead of the elevator at the hospital, perhaps ordered chicken instead of steak for my last meal with my father before his death, the principles of chaos—the butterfly effect—would have altered the course of my life enough that she wouldn’t have appeared. But I did step right, and I took the elevator, and I had the steak, and she did appear, and I will never recover from her. 

I posted it, and walked away. When I logged in again, there were a few comments from people who really liked it and wanted to see where the story went.

And I started to think. Who is she? Where DID this story go? Maybe this WAS the real opening of the book. It was a totally new voice, an undiscovered character. I knew one thing. It was a woman speaking. 

And suddenly, there it was. A new frame. A new setting. A new situation. A whole new story.

Magic. The sort of mental razzle-dazzle our creative brains do when we let them.

I love chaos theory; it’s the basis for a number of my stories. With my new frame in place, my new voice, the book… became. Without the meme challenge, would I have found my way into this story? I don’t know. But I am so grateful I did. (Thanks to fellow writers Bryon Quertermous, Allison Brennan, and Brian Tracey who all tagged me. Smooch!)

One last thing about TEAR ME APART: please read the Author’s Note. I was compelled to discuss some pretty dark, scary topics in this book, specifically depression, self-harm, and suicide. All have deeply affected my family, and I hope and pray we can have more open discussions about mental illness, remove the stigmas, and help ourselves, our family, and our friends live a better, happy, joyful, hopeful life. 

I leave you with the symbol of that movement, the humble semi-colon. Look it up. You won’t be sorry.



For every book, I create a soundtrack. This one is dark and evocative. I absolutely love it and hope you do too.

Friday Reads

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It's Friday and that means it's time to discuss books!

What are you reading this weekend?

The Perfect Porch for Reading and Sipping Tea

The perfect porch for reading and sipping tea

I bet you can imagine spending an afternoon here: feet propped up, book in hand, the perfume of fresh flowers in the breeze. Ahh...

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J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.

What are you reading this weekend?

What are you reading this weekend?

Happy Friday, gentle readers. I hope you're awash in the glow of the weekend ahead.

Speaking of the weekend, what's on top of your TBR pile?