We review more than 8,000 books per year, and these were the 10 most-read reviews of books published in 2018.

10. Warlight

Michael Ondaatje. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-52119-8
The term warlight was used to describe the dimmed lights that guided emergency traffic during London's wartime blackouts. The word aptly describes the atmosphere of this haunting, brilliant novel from Ondaatje (The Cat's Table), set in Britain in the decades after WWII, in which many significant facts are purposely shrouded in the semidarkness of history. The narrator, Nathaniel Williams, looks back at the year 1945, when he was 14 and "our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals." Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, are stunned to discover that their mother's purported reason for leaving them was false. Her betrayal destroys their innocence; they learn to accept that "nothing was safe anymore." To the siblings' surprise, however, their designated guardian, their upstairs lodger, whom they call the Moth, turns out to be a kind and protective mentor. His friend, a former boxer nicknamed the Pimlico Darter, is also a kindly guide, albeit one engaged in illegal enterprises in which he enlists Nathaniel's help. The story reads like a nontraditional and fascinating coming-of-age saga until a violent event occurs midway through; the resulting shocking revelations open the novel's second half to more surprises. The central irony is Nathaniel's eventual realization that his mother's heroic acts of patriotism during and after the war left lasting repercussions that fractured their family. Mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje's best work yet. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (May)

9. The Laws of Human Nature

Robert Greene. Viking, $30 (624p) ISBN 978-0-525-42814-5
In this detailed and expansive guide, Greene (Mastery) seeks to immerse his audience in “all aspects of human behavior,” as represented by 18 laws created by Greene. He claims that studying these laws will transform the reader into a “calmer and more strategic observer,” immune to “emotional drama.” Those are lofty promises, but even skeptics will become believers after diving into Greene’s well-organized text. In each chapter, he describes the benefits of confronting and overcoming a different form of human fallibility. Overcoming the “law of irrationality,” for instance, leads to the ability to “open your mind to what is really happening, as opposed to what you are feeling.” For historical perspective, he highlights relevant famous figures: Howard Hughes represents the pitfalls of compulsive behavior, and Anton Chekhov embodies the benefits of overcoming self-sabotage. Greene also quotes a number of literary greats along the way, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gore Vidal, whose aphorism “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little” is applied, not surprisingly, to the chapter on envy. Throughout, Greene’s overriding message is to “step back” from the “immediate rush of events” in order to gain greater insight into one’s experiences and circumstances. Greene’s thoughtful examination of self and society will, for the committed reader, deliver a refreshing and revitalizing perspective. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell Management. (Oct.)

8. One Thousand Books to Read Before You Die

James Mustich, with Thomas Meagher and Karen Templer. Workman, $35 (960p) ISBN 978-1-5235-0445-9
This compulsively readable reference work from Mustich, cofounder of the Common Reader book catalogs, is sure to send bibliophiles hopscotching through its pages. The 1,000 entries (actually more when taking into account the book’s recommended reading lists and many sidebars), ordered alphabetically by author, include classic and contemporary works, literary and genre titles, fiction (mostly) and nonfiction, and children’s and adult reading—each fleshed out with several short but insightful paragraphs of critical commentary. Some selections are no-brainers, among them Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Others are slightly more unusual: John Updike’s The Maples Stories but not his Rabbit Angstrom novels; Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye but not The Handmaid’s Tale. There are also some surprising omissions, with no works by Joyce Carol Oates or Raymond Carver making the cut. Throughout, Mustich shows a knack for getting to the gist of his subjects, as when noting “the intense drama and disregard for orthodox morality” that distinguish Wuthering Heights, or acknowledging the myriad objections of Dan Brown’s critics but touting “the sheer energy of his invention” in The Da Vinci Code. Mustich’s informed appraisals will drive readers to the books they’ve yet to read, and stimulate discussion of those they have. Agent: Paul Feldstein, the Feldstein Agency. (Oct.)

7. Whiskey in a Teacup

Reese Witherspoon. Touchstone, $35 (304p) ISBN 978-1-50116-627-3
Actress and book club host Witherspoon pays tribute to her Southern roots in this charming collection of recipes, how-to’s, and personal stories. She draws heavily on life lessons learned from her grandmother, including how to be a good hostess (“Serve dinner about one hour after the start time on the invitation”) and guest (“When in doubt about how fancy it is, dress up”). Recipes are grouped by events with suggestions for what to serve at, say, a book club meeting (red and white wine, baked brie, hot spinach-artichoke dip, olive medley, cheese and fruit) or a pre-concert gathering (smoked pecans, crab puffs, champagne and ginger ale cocktail). Almost without exception, recipes are emblematic of country fare and feature classics including fried okra, creamy gravy, and shrimp and grits. Fried chicken, ribs (in her brother’s Tennessee barbecue sauce), and pulled pork sliders with bourbon sauce are highlights among the many enticing dishes. The book’s scope is wide and ranges from Southern expressions (“madder than a wet hen”) and must reads by Southern authors (Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer) to Witherspoon’s love of Dolly Parton and monograms. Readers looking to make a foray into Southern cooking and etiquette will find Witherspoon an enthusiastic guide. (Sept.)

6. Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens. Putnam, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1909-0
In Owens’s evocative debut, Kya Clark is a young woman growing up practically on her own in the wild marshes outside Barkley Cove, a small coastal community in North Carolina. In 1969, local lothario Chase Andrews is found dead, and Kya, now 23 and known as the “Marsh Girl,” is suspected of his murder. As the local sheriff and his deputy gather evidence against her, the narrative flashes back to 1952 to tell Kya’s story. Abandoned at a young age by her mother, she is left in the care of her hard-drinking father. Unable to fit in at school, Kya grows up ignorant until a shrimper’s son, Tate Walker, befriends her and teaches her how to read. After Tate goes off to college, Kya meets Chase, with whom she begins a tempestuous relationship. The novel culminates in a long trial, with Kya’s fate hanging in the balance. Kya makes for an unforgettable heroine. Owens memorably depicts the small-town drama and courtroom theatrics, but perhaps best of all is her vivid portrayal of the singular North Carolina setting. (Aug.)

5. Flight or Fright

Edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent. Cemetery Dance, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-58767-679-6
This entertaining anthology of horror, mystery, and literary tales about aircraft (most reprinted) will have the reader thinking twice about flying. The stories span the entire century of human flight, beginning with Arthur Conan Doyle’s riveting “The Horror of the Heights,” in which a pilot attempts to discover what lurks in the clouds. Most of the tales tend to skew toward horror. In E. Michael Lewis’s “Cargo,” the crew of a plane bringing bodies back from Jonestown start hearing noises coming from the cargo bay. In Cody Goodfellow’s “Diablitos,” an art smuggler gets more than he bargained for when he tries to bring a tribal mask to the U.S. Others take a different approach, such as Ray Bradbury’s “The Flying Machine,” which sees a Chinese emperor realizing the risk that flight poses to the Great Wall. Standouts include the two original stories: King’s “The Turbulence Expert,” a perfectly tense tale about a mysterious group that prevents aircraft crashes though unusual means, and Joe Hill’s “You Are Released,” made terrifying by its proximity to reality: it follows the crew and passengers on a 777 en route to Boston, who learn that North Korea has just nuked Guam and other countries are retaliating. This is a strong anthology full of satisfying tales. (Sept.)

4. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other

Kate Bowler. Random House, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-399-59206-5
With grace, wisdom, and humor, Bowler (Blessed), a divinity professor at Duke University, tells of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment in a way that pierces platitudes to showcase her resilience in the face of impending death. At 35 years old, after months of enduring stomach pains and visiting specialists who had conflicting suggestions, Bowler was rushed into emergency surgery for stage IV colon cancer. Surrounded by her husband, very young son, and a host of supportive friends, she faces down the likelihood that she will not live a year. As she responds well to treatment, she enters a period of uncertainty, hoping to survive and maximize her time with her family. Throughout her account of weekly flights to Atlanta from North Carolina for experimental therapy and realizations that each holiday might be her last, she relates her suddenly terrifying life to her academic work on the prosperity gospel—a peculiarly American belief in deserved success and control that is at odds with her current life. Bowler’s lovely prose and sharp wit capture her struggle to find continued joy after her diagnosis. This poignant look at the unpredictable promises of faith will amaze readers. (Feb.)

3. The Man I Never Met

Adam Schefter, with Michael Rosenberg. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-250-16189-5
ESPN sports analyst Schefter’s thoughtful though peculiar memoir tells his story of falling in love with the widow of a 9/11 victim, marrying her, and moving into her house. In part, Schefter’s memoir is a tribute to that man, Joe Maio, a Cantor Fitzgerald executive who died in the World Trade Center attacks. In 2005, Schefter, then a sports writer for the Denver Post, took a job with the NFL Network and relocated to New York City; he had a great job, but, at almost 40, he was “single, childless, and lost.” Over Memorial Day weekend in 2006, a mutual friend suggested Schefter call Sharri Maio, who had a six-year-old son; uncertain that he wanted to date a 9/11 widow, he nevertheless called Sharri and they went on their first date. In a short time they fell in love, got married, and Schefter moved into a “house in the suburbs with a wife, a child, and the memory of Joe.” Living in and working on the house, Schefter learned that Joe was a good father who set high professional goals for himself. In what at first comes across as a bizarre concept for a memoir, Schefter successfully communicates his joy in finding love and family, and in a friendship with a man he never knew. (Sept.)

2. Girl, Wash Your Face

Rachel Hollis. Thomas Nelson, $22.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4002-0165-5
Hollis asks female readers to find their inner truths in this witty guide to healthy living. Hollis, founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and married mother of four, is a self-proclaimed recovering workaholic who suffered from erroneous beliefs instilled in childhood: “When I succeeded, I got praise and attention; I felt liked and accepted. But the moment the audience stopped clapping, it all went back to the way it was before. What this taught me... is the belief that in order to be loved, I felt I needed to produce something.” Hollis implores readers to stop worrying about external pressures to always do more and, instead, to find fulfillment by getting in touch with their own desires and feelings. Readers will find hope and humor in Hollis’s stories as she challenges them to take control of their physical, mental, and spiritual health through regulating habits, resisting unhelpful comparisons, and embracing changes such as marriage and motherhood. Opening up about her now-husband and their rough first year of dating, Hollis reveals she was trying too hard to make something work that didn’t fit, and admonishes other women not to do the same by making any single person their purpose for living. Throughout, she pairs biblical lessons with personal anecdotes to make her points. Hollis’s dynamic book is filled with inspiration for women who feel stuck on the path to realizing their dreams. (Feb.)

1. What if It’s Us?

Becky Abertalli and Adam Silvera. HarperTeen/Balzer + Bray, $18.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-279525-0
Authors Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) and Silvera (They Both Die at the End) team up for a charming, sweet-natured love story between two very different boys. Arthur (written by Albertalli) is in New York for the summer while his lawyer mother works a big case. His family’s affluent and Jewish, and he’s a Broadway geek and a virgin with good grades. Native New Yorker Ben (Silvera) is Puerto Rican. His family’s on a tight budget, he’s just out of a relationship, and he’s stuck in summer school. Arthur believes in love at first sight; Ben’s not even sure he believes in love. After they bump into each other at a post office, then are separated by a flash mob, Arthur searches the New York haystack to find one adorable high school junior. But the course of meet-cute never did run smooth: complications include friends, Ben’s ex, cultural differences, and the difficult and confusing nature of love. The authors—one known for happy endings, the other for breaking hearts—split the difference believably, and it’s impossible not to root for Arthur and Ben and their many do-overs. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brooks Sherman, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Oct.)