This has been a fantastic year for books, particularly titles from up-and-coming new authors, so let's take a look back at 31 debut novels from 2018 that are worth reading in the new year. Even if you've stayed on top of the year's new releases, it's likely you missed out on some of 2018's best reads. Don't worry: there's no time limit on catching up with the best books of the year.
This year has gone by fast, and it has been difficult to keep up with just what exactly happened in 2018. If you forgot about the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, or the suspected Golden State Killer's arrest in Sacramento County, Calif., then you might have also missed out on reading a lot of the fantastic books that hit store shelves this year, particularly the 31 debut novels I've compiled below.
If you did sleep on the books below, don't worry. No one will notice that you're reading them late, and the stories they have to tell offer up timeless entertainment. Between literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and thrillers, there's something on this list for every reader to enjoy. Check out my picks for 2018's must-read debut novels:
'Girls Burn Brighter' by Shobha Rao
Put in charge of her household in the wake of her mother's death, Poornima finds a friend in her father's employee, Savitha, who works a loom in Poornima's family's sari business. But when Savitha is driven out of her new friend's circle, Poornima will stop at nothing to retrieve her.
'Number One Chinese Restaurant' by Lillian Li
This family saga revolves around The Beijing Duck House: a Maryland Chinese restaurant owned by its founder's son, Jimmy Han. Jimmy wants out of the business, his brother's marriage is on the rocks, and his longtime employees might have something for one another. There's never a dull moment at this restaurant, and readers will love digging into the lives of Lillian Li's characters.
'Freshwater' by Akwaeke Emezi
Ada's life has been a tumultuous one, filled with her erratic and difficult behavior. Things do not improve when she leaves her native Nigeria to attend college in the U.S., as the spirits who live inside her come forward — some to guide and protect her, others to lead her astray.
'Ponti' by Sharlene Teo
Years after she made friends with Szu, a medium's lonely daughter, Circe finds herself working on a remake of Ponti, a cult-classic horror film that made Szu's mother, Amisa, a star.
'Witchmark' by C.L. Polk
In a world much like the one we lived in 100 years ago, a healer attempts to escape his family's magical legacy by working under an assumed name as a doctor. But when a suspected murder victim comes into the hospital, the doctor must risk exposure in order to discover the truth.
'White Chrysanthemum' by Mary Lynn Bracht
In 1940s Korea, a female diver named Hana rescues her sister Emi from becoming a sex slave for the Japanese army, but is taken captive herself in the process. Nearly 70 years later, Emi still wrestles with the guilt she feels about her sister's capture, and Korea's newfound peace with Japan reopens old wounds.
'The Incediaries' by R.O. Kwon
After a North Korea-linked cult commits an act of terror on their university, Will searches for Phoebe, the woman he loves, who may have been involved with the incident.
'Trail of Lightning' by Rebecca Roanhorse
Set in a post-apocalyptic version of the U.S., Trail of Lightning centers on Maggie, a Dinétah monster hunter, teams up with a medicine man named Kai to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.
'The Chalk Man' by C.J. Tudor
Three decades after Eddie and his friends discovered a dismembered corpse with the help of a chalk man — one of the glyphs the children used to send coded messages — a letter arrives bearing the image of the chalk man, and one of the old crew is found dead.
'If You Leave Me' by Crystal Hana Kim
This family saga centers on Haemi and Kyunghwan, two Korean teens driven into a refugee camp by invading communist forces, who are forced apart when Kyunghwan's wealthy cousin, Jisoo, proposes to Haemi before he can.
'Whiskey & Ribbons' by Leesa Cross-Smith
This touching debut from Leesa Cross-Smith is told in three voices: Evi, raising her son alone in the wake of her husband's death; Eamon, Evi's husband, in the moments before his murder; and Dalton, who stands in for his brother Eamon to help raise Evi's child.
'The Book of M' by Peng Shepherd
When people all across the world begin to lose their shadows and their memories, Max and Ory go into hiding, trying to avoid the plague faced by the rest of humanity. When Max's memories begin to fade, she runs away to spare Ory the pain she might cause him as one of the shadowless, but he will stop at nothing to find her.
'Brass' by Xhenet Aliu
This multigenerational novel centers on Elsie, a waitress working in a dead-end town, who finds love and excitement with Bashkim, an Albanian immigrant whose wife still lives in their home country. Almost two decades later, Elsie's daughter has been accepted to NYU, and she's anxious to know more about the father she never knew.
'Asymmetry' by Lisa Halliday
Lisa Halliday combines two narratives — one involving a young editor in a relationship with an older writer, the other centering on an Iraqi-American man detained at Heathrow on his way to visit his brother — in her engrossing debut, Asymmetry.
'Severance' by Ling Ma
This satirical debut novel follows Candance, the recently orphaned child of Chinese-American immigrants, as she weathers the apocalypse — and navigates the post-apocalypse — in New York City.
'The Poppy War' by R.F. Kuang
At an elite academy she never intended to attend, Rin discovers an innate talent for the rare magical ability known as shamanism, which might be just what's needed to save her country from war.
'The Golden State' by Lydia Kiesling
Left a single parent when her husband is unable to return home from Turkey, Daphne flees San Francisco for the desert, taking her young daughter along for the ride.
'Fruit of the Drunken Tree' by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Sheltered by her gated community, seven-year-old Chula Santiago has no idea how Pablo Escobar's Colombia looks. The family's new, live-in maid, 13-year-old Petrona, is familiar with Bogotá's slums, and she fascinates Chula. As the conflict outside the gates edges closer, the two girls become linked in an inextricable plot that will push them both toward impossible decisions.
'The Kiss Quotient' by Helen Huang
This 2018 Goodreads Choice Award-winning romance centers on Stella, a 30-year-old, autistic mathematician, who hires an escort to help her practice kissing — her aversion to which has hampered her dating life in the past. But what happens when Stella starts to fall for her kisser-for-hire?
'Where the Crawdads Sing' by Delia Owens
Set on the North Carolina coast, Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing centers on the orphaned Kya, or "Marsh Girl," failed by both her family and community, as she comes under suspicion for the death of an ex-lover.
'Everything Here Is Beautiful' by Mira T. Lee
Miranda has always had to watch over her younger sister, Lucia, and when the latter begins to hear voices that aren't there, her older sister steps in to help. But what if Lucia doesn't want to be rescued this time?
'Semiosis' by Sue Burke
Stranded on a planet that only appears hospitable, a group of human colonists discover the ruins of an alien civilization, and attempt to communicate with the native populations, which can help or harm them on a whim.
'Only Child' by Rhiannon Navin
Narrated by Zach, the six-year-old survivor of a school shooting, Only Child explores the aftermath of the traumatic event, which pushes Zach's mother into activism, and causes the boy himself to retreat into books and creative pursuits.
'Every Other Weekend' by Zulema Renee Summerfield
In 1988 California, eight-year-old Nenny adjusts to living with her new stepfather and siblings as part of a blended family in the year that follows her parents' divorce.
'The Pisces' by Melissa Broder
Burned out by a failed relationship and a stalled dissertation, Lucy finds refuge housesitting for her sister in Venice Beach. While there, she spies a sexy swimmer out on the deserted beach, and begins a life-changing love affair on the rebound.
'Neon in Daylight' by Hermione Hoby
Hermione Hoby's Neon in Daylight centers on Kate, an English woman who has left a boyfriend across the Atlantic to seek her future in NYC. While living in Manhattan, Kate becomes enamored with Bill and Inez: a cynical writer and his daughter.
'Playing With Matches' by Hannah Orenstein
When her journalism career fails to launch, NYU grad Sasha leverages her way into a job as a matchmaker with the city's hottest new service. As she sets up perfect matches and helps her clients navigate rejection, Sasha finds herself struggling to save her own relationship — and falling for a client who is 100 percent off-limits.
Disclosure: Hannah Orenstein is an editor at BDG Media group.
'What We Were Promised' by Lucy Tan
Recently returned to Shanghai after years spent in the U.S., the Zhen family is thrown into an uproar when a bracelet belonging to the young matriarch, Lina, goes missing.
'What Should Be Wild' by Julia Fine
Having grown up on the edge of a perilous forest, Maisie has always been warned to stay out of the woods, and has never been told that the other women in her family — each one the inheritor of a dangerous curse — have disappeared into its darkness for generations. When her father goes missing, Maisie, who has the power to kill with her touch, takes her first steps into the forest to find him.
'The Sisters of the Winter Wood' by Rena Rossner
When her parents leave her and her sister Laya to visit an ailing relative, Liba discovers that their family has the unique ability to shapeshift into animal forms. Left alone with this hidden knowledge, the Jewish sisters' lives are threatened after two gentiles are found dead nearby.
'The Proposal' by Jasmine Guillory
Drew is a dateless groomsman in his ex's wedding when a chance encounter in an elevator provides him with the perfect opportunity to fake a relationship. Alexa agrees to be part of his ruse, but when the two return home — one to L.A., the other to Berkeley — neither is certain that they want their "relationship" to end.