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One of my favorite holiday gifts to give every year is a book—one that I’ve carefully curated with a loved one in mind. Not only is it only a thoughtful nod to their wonderful and unique tastes, but a good book also never breaks or goes out of style. Plus, it can always be enjoyed on repeat.
So in the spirit of the holidays, we’ve put together a list of the best books of 2018 to gift this season—from heartwarming reads best paired with a mug of hot chocolate to sexy page-turners sure to curl every lucky friend’s fuzzy-sock-clad toes. For snowed-in, lazy afternoons, we’ve also included the best of escapist fare—from the glamorous to the downright dark and dangerous. We’ve done the hard part, so go on and get your gift on.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
This inspiring and refreshing novel’s heroine, Stella Lane, has Asperger’s, which makes her a genius at math algorithms in her professional life—but hopeless in her personal one. So she hires a gorgeous half-Vietnamese, half-Swedish male escort to teach her all the ways of sexy time, from kissing to cowgirl and beyond. Of course, a sweet romance will also ensue.
The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
For the Housewives addict in your life, The Favorite Sister features the usual goods: bitchery and backstabbing but with a sly dose of cultural commentary. The book’s fictional show, Goal Diggers, follows five high-powered business women, minus one: a fan-favorite entrepreneur who is murdered, making everyone a suspect. For a premise this delicious, it’s no surprise that this novel’s currently being developed as a TV series.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
This memoir traces the writer’s journey of identity and discovery as a child with Korean heritage who was given up at birth and adopted by a white family in a predominantly white Oregon town. It isn’t until she’s pregnant with her first child that she seeks out her biological family and learns the heartbreaking truths about them, particularly her sister, Cindy, with whom she feels a powerful connection even if they’ve only just met.
Still Me by JoJo Moyes
Here’s the final installment in the Me Before You trilogy. If you’ve been following thus far, Louisa Clark has just landed in New York, carrying out Will-from-the-First-Book’s dying wish that she live her life to the fullest. While nurturing a long-distance relationship with Sam-from-the-Second-Book and dealing with her wealthy employer’s wife and NYC high society, Lou runs into a handsome businessman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Will—and all emotional turmoil breaks loose.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
If last year’s The Shape of Water still has your pulse racing, The Pisces is your book. A smokin’-hot surfer named Theo swims up to our sad, philosophical and lovelorn heroine one night and reveals that he’s got a fish tail and a very conveniently placed anatomy. There’s lot and lots of steamy interspecies sex here, with a lot of humor and bracing satire as well.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
For fans of dystopia lit, sci-fi and epic romances, this book has all three. In 1981, a flu pandemic has spread across the United States, so Polly signs up with a time-traveling company to travel ahead to 1993 and work as a bonded laborer so the company will pay for life-saving treatment for her boyfriend, who is infected. They’re supposed to meet up when she arrives in the future, but instead, she is sent another four years ahead to a changed and fractured country where dangerous social and bureaucratic forces prevent her from reuniting with the man she loves.
She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop
Laila Lawrence dumps her old life and moves from the Midwest to NYC, intrigued by the three wealthy cousins she recently met at her mother’s funeral. Laila establishes herself in their world, learning more about her late father’s side of the family and what caused her parents to distance themselves—and if they hadn’t, Laila would be enjoying the same decadent, glamorous lifestyle of her cousins. So she sets out to claim the money and status that she believes is rightfully hers, scheming and stumbling through familial and romantic relationships and discovering dark family secrets along the way.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Nikole Paterson’s actor boyfriend of five months proposes to her on the Jumbotron at his beloved Dodgers’ game, and she naturally refuses—much to the anger of the 45,000 fans gathered at the stadium. Her rescuer and soon-to-be rebound, Carlos, and his sister whisk her out of the park, and soon she and Carlos are enjoying a casual fling. But obviously forces beyond their control will bring them closer than they want to be—no matter how much they want to resist.
Mr. Nice Guy by Jennifer Miller and Jason Feiffer
Lucas meets Carmen at a bar and has what he thinks is a regular one-night stand, but it turns out that both work for Empire magazine: he as a fact-checker and she as a popular sex columnist. And she skewers him in her latest article, calling him Mr. Nice Guy but revealing that he’s lousy in bed. So Lucas claps back with his own viral revenge piece, and thus begins a dueling sex piece where both sleep with each other every week and then tear each other apart in print. As their fame grows, so do their feelings, even if it complicates their jobs and newfound recognition.
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Screen rights have already been snapped up for this rom-com about a meet-cute at a post office that turns into a missed connection that turns into an adorably awkward summer romance. Ben has just broken up with his boyfriend and is mailing out his things when he runs into Arthur, who’s in town only for a few months to see the sights of New York City and Broadway. Though they believe there are cosmic forces that brought them together, a series of blunders and misunderstandings will threaten to break them apart.
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Here’s a super-buzzy YA novel about a freshman at MIT whose parents have already decided her future for her: She’s on track to becoming a successful doctor and marrying the Taiwanese Ivy League boy of their choice. But now that Mei is on her own, she realizes she can’t stomach the tiring, germy demands of medical school and is falling for her classmate, a Japanese-American, who is forbidden to her. Will Mei continue to deceive her parents and give in to their plans, or will she follow her own desires to truly become her own person?
Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
Boy meets girl while having a panic attack, so she gives him a ride home and automatically becomes his emergency contact. Both Penny and Sam are lonely with fractured lives, so they find comfort in texting each other where they can fully open up and be vulnerable without fear of judgment or rejection. While their budding friendship plays out mostly through text, it evolves into a tentative romance between the white spaces of their honest and heartfelt texts to each other.
Playing with Matches by Hannah Orenstein
Sasha Goldberg seems to have it all: a recent college degree, a hot boyfriend, her bestie is her roommate and she’s just landed a job working at Bliss, a matchmaking service for the super wealthy. While a sad family secret inspires her to find her clients their perfect match, she abandons all of that when she finds out her boyfriend’s been cheating on her and sets herself up with one of her own clients because, why not? Soon Sasha’s life goes from perfect to complicated as she struggles to keep her fling a secret, even though it’s heading into serious territory, while her ex attempts everything to woo her back.
Little Fish by Casey Plett
This contemplative but ultimately uplifting novel offers a vivid portrayal of life as a trans woman. Wendy Reimer finds out eight years after transitioning that her late Mennonite grandfather might also have been trans. While Wendy is reluctant to unravel her ancestor’s mystery, she’s drawn to the past as much as she is to her imagined future, and though her journey to her own truth is at times messy and complicated, Wendy is not a tragic heroine but a determined one.
Royals by Rachel Hawkins
For those who can’t get enough of the royal family, this novel’s about a quirky Florida native whose sister has just gotten engaged to Alex, Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy ditches the paparazzi in her hometown and camps out on the private castle grounds. Soon she’s assigned to Miles, the BFF of the younger prince, Sebastian, who is meant to train her into becoming a proper lady. Sexy Scottish boys will attempt to pounce, including the roguish Sebastian, but Daisy’s not buying it as she navigates through royal wedding planning, palace intrigue and her growing attraction to her exasperated handler.