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The Best Books of 2018 – Our List of True “Hidden Gems”

By: Hidden Gems on January 1, 2019

Hidden Gems Books ARC service.

By: Hidden Gems on January 1, 2019


Each and every day, subscribers to Hidden Gems get offered the chance to review the latest and most exciting books from all their favorite genres. 2018 has been an incredible year for the program; with dozens of top-ranked books and authors featured. As we wrap up the year, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the best books of 2018 as judged by our subscribers.

It was definitely not easy to select just ten from the more than 1000 different titles we’ve sent out this past year, but in addition to this list-of-the-year, you’ll also see we regularly post our recommendations from different specific genres. 


Arklight: Operation Nightfall by J.M. Myrick Arklight: Operation Nightfall by J.M. Myrick 

Author J.M. Myrick was both a former Marine and a current SWAT commander – and his breadth of military and law-enforcement experience served him well in crafting this incredible tale of a modern-day special forces unit thrust back in time to a pivotal point in World War II.

In the present day, the Arklight team uncover a one-time Nazi conspiracy; but because of the intangible nature of time travel, it means the defeated AXIS powers still possess the means to turn the tide of history and wipe the Allied victory from time itself. Only by these modern-day soldiers pairing with a team of World War II Navy operatives can they hope to prevent disaster.

In her 5-star review, reviewer Jackie writes: “This is Tom Clancy meets Dan Brown – for real. The military and tactical accuracy is worthy of the best military authors, and the pace of action and brilliantly structured tension would be enough to make this book a winner. But overlay a metaphysical mystery which will keep you guessing and Googling historical factoids (they all check out!). While clearly written by a believing warrior (TYFYS), non-Christians, don’t be deterred. The story requires no basic piety to follow, and the conclusion will blow your mind regardless of your faith tradition, or lack thereof. Strongly recommended!”

Reviewer B210v3d7 writes: “I wanted to find a book that was gripping, thought provoking and with cool and believable fight scenes. I got all of that when reading Arklight: Operation Nightfall. Because I was so hungry to dive into something out of the norm for my bookish tastes (I have been reading way too many YA Lit) I felt this book to be rather fast-paced; and indeed, it was only about 275 pages long, so the brevity of it helped a lot with flying through the book. Each chapter had an element of mystery that could only be unraveled by reading the next chapter. It had an interesting approach to military sci-fi, religious supernatural elements, time travel and historical fiction.”

Swimming Monkeys: Exodus by Steve Hadden Swimming Monkeys: Exodus by Steve Hadden 

Exodus is the third in the Swimming Monkeys series, which follows Ryan Webster as he tries to uncover a mystery that might hold the key to man’s immortality; through the DNA of a rare species of monkey. With his discovery threatening to rock religion, science and medicine to its core, there are plenty of people out to stop him; and a bullet can end the promise of immortality pretty fast.

“The entire trilogy is just splendid,” writes Mary Enck in her 5-star, verified review. “It has a rich, in-depth look at the workings of a manhunt taking place simultaneously by multiple entities. Some with good intentions and some deadly. At times, it’s difficult to determine which category they fall into. After reading the first two novels in this series, I was confident that the final book Exodus would have the same excitement for me. It did. This is one of those stories that reading the final page, leaves you staring off into space and feeling a bit lost. Where do I go now? I was so deep into the story that I wanted – actually needed – to go further with the characters. They were that real to me, and I truly felt connected with their adventures.”

Reviewer danimae writes: “This book is the thrilling conclusion to the Swimming Monkeys series and as with the other books, it did not disappoint. Exodus is packed with action, adventure and suspense, a true page-turner. I enjoyed following some of my favorite characters from the first two books, and meeting some new ones that I wasn’t even sure whether to love them or hate them. This story is filled with complicated situations that make you think, “what would I do if it were me?” I love books that make me think, and this series had me doing plenty of that.”

Waiting Season by Melanie LageschulteWaiting Season by Melanie Lageschulte 

Former journalist Melanie Lageschulte returned to her country roots when she began her writing career in 2014. Waiting Season is the fourth book in her catalog, and follows would-be farmer Melinda as she struggles to endure a harsh winter with the promise that her dream of owning the farm might come true when spring finally breaks. 

What’s really remarkable about Melanie’s book is how vividly in brings to life a way of life that most of us are totally unfamiliar with. As reviewer English Myst writes in her 5-star review: “When I read this book, I think of how people manage to get along with so little. I have a grocery and drugstore (among many other stores) within a five minute drive from my house. Not so in this story. The only store in town is a hardware that carries basic food, clothing, animal feed plus hardware. The city hall and library are run by one woman. There is one restaurant/bar on Main Street. Melanie, the main character, is a city girl. She takes on a very rural farm in Idaho and manages pets plus chickens and sheep through terrible snowstorms. She learns to live alone and prosper. I find comfort in her winning challenges and educating herself about life on a farm. There is a warm and fuzzy feeling in these books. ”

Zelda also left a glowing review and writes: “The characters are warm and so realistic it paints a lively picture of life in a rural community. The heroine faces doubts and challenges from the unexpected changes her life encounters with true grace. The animals play a big part in this book. Highly recommend this author her writing style is refreshing.”

The Bearer's Burden by Chad QueenThe Bearer’s Burden by Chad Queen

Kirkus Reviews describes the first book in Chad Queen’s Phantom Pact series as: “An entertaining adventure with complex characters and downright cool concepts for advanced technology and metaphysical abilities.” Written by a video-game designer, the book follows a hero filled with the memories and abilities of long-dead warriors; but at what cost does channeling the souls of the deceased come?

In her 5-star review, KarynH wrote: “I felt really connected to this book. After each line I read, there was this added desire to read on. This book is definitely recommended for lovers of sci-fi.”

Rev. Stephen R. Wilson wrote a 5-star verified review and wrote: “The setting, plot, and action of the book would be ripe for a sci-fi action movie or first-person shooter video game. The author is a video game developer, so who knows? Maybe we’ll get to play the story of this book at some point. But not only is the premise and action of this book commendable; the writing style is superb, with narration that flows smoothly and natural dialogue. The characters are memorable. I also enjoyed the quotes and references to other works in the book’s world. Special additions like that aid in giving depth to the world and making it a believable setting for the story.”

Shanghai Story by Alexa KangShanghai Story by Alexa Kang

Back in the 1940s, Shanghai was known at “The Paris of the East” – at least, before communism took over the country, and the Japanese swept in to commit their well-documented atrocities. 

Born in New York, author Alexa Kang helps paint a vividly realistic portrait of a city and time few westerners are familiar with; filled with accurate and beautifully-researched accounts of real-life events paired with the achingly human love story of a Chinese-American businessman trying to find a way to bring a fleeing Jewish refugee back with him to America.

Reviewer Joanna E.Lopez gives a nod to the Casablanca-like elements of this tale, in her 5-star review, writing: “The world will always welcome lovers as time goes by. This book kept my interest from beginning to end. I loved the characters of Eden and Clark and their forbidden love of a time of War.”

In her own 5-star review, Shirley McAllister writes: “Shanghai Story is a new and refreshing genre of the Second World War. A young westernized Chinese student (Clark) and a Jewish refugee (Eden) meet in the city of Shanghai. Together they must learn to navigate the political fractions within the city and the age old divisions of race and tradition. As they trust in each other they come to realize that they must make their own way, a new way, which defies the old and embraces a new thinking. The history is vivid and the characters are believable. The book held my interest all the way through. I highly await the second book in the series and I would recommend this book to anyone.”

Letters to Lincoln by Tracie PodgerLetters to Lincoln by Tracie Podger

British author Tracie Podger writes an achingly bittersweet story in Letters to Lincoln; in which recent widower Dani decides to try and vent her loneliness and frustration by writing a letter to her deceased husband. The disturbing part? When she receives a reply.

“Where do I even start with this book?” Writes 5-star reviewer Anny. “How about the beginning – where I sat in Taco Johns on my lunch break and started tearing up on the second page. Or after that when I thought I’d gained my composure enough to continue (IN PUBLIC) and had to physically put the book down 3 different times before I successfully finished the first chapter and needed to wait until I was alone in my car to continue and let the tears fall. Don’t let the crying distract you though. It has been nearly a year and almost 250 books to pull that emotion from me at the VERY beginning of a book. Tracie’s words were magic. This story of devastation, guilt, loss, betrayal, love and rediscovery is so heartbreakingly relatable I couldn’t help but be immersed into Dani’s world. Letters to Lincoln will stay with me for many many years to come.”

In her 5-star review, Karen Hrdlicka writes: “Ms. Podger’s characters are well developed and real. The feelings and circumstances are rooted deeply and are often brutal. There is so much emotion in this book, I found myself near tears on several occasions. Ms. Podger’s story is definitely a have to read. Tragedy, healing, and romance are perfectly balance in Letter to Lincoln. How would you handle the loss and the truth if you were in Dani’s shoes?”

Cyclone by Janie CrouchCyclone by Janie Crouch

Janie Crouch is a USA Today best-selling author, and if you’d read our free copy of Cyclone it’ll be very obvious why. It’s the story of a successful doctor who is forced to return to her Wyoming hometown where she feels like the shy, stuttering girl who left so many years ago. The only person who seems to notice her is Zac Mackay – the tough, alpha bad-boy who was the reason she left in the first place.

“I knew going in that this story was going to make me go through all the feels! The heroine, Anne had endured so much heartbreak in the past I was not sure how much more she could take,” writes Dora in her 5-star review. “As I read this story, I found that the hero and heroine really were destined for each other. I think Becky – the hero’s deceased wife – would have given the relationship her blessing; and there was one particular scene that really resonated this. The suspense portion of this book really kept my attention, I swore I knew who the bad guy was in this, but I was taken by surprise when the the villain was revealed. Anne comes across as weak on the outside, but she has this inner strength that shines through, especially when it is really needed.”

In her 5-star review, Pat Fordyce writes: “This is the first novel I have read by this author, and can’t wait for the next. Contemporary romance with lots of action, suspense and sizzle. I really enjoyed how the author quickly had them talking to each other, explaining each of their emotions and setting them to rest. No games. They were able to work on a relationship they both needed. But, there is a lot more action and mystery that kept me from putting the book down! I highly recommend this sexy, suspenseful romance.”

Do Bugs Wear Shoes? by Addie Broussard and Anthony PutteeDo Bugs Wear Shoes? by Addie Broussard and Anthony Puttee

Addie Broussard and Anthony Puttee team up in this highly-reviewed kids book packed with fun facts about bugs – including the titular one: Do Bugs Wear Shoes?

For kids interesting in learning about nature, this book is packed with interesting and relevant questions – plus answers that will teach even adults a thing or two! It’s brightly designed, colorful and entertaining and a delight to thumb through.

“This was an educational scientific picture book on entomology telling about the bugs and insects and different classes of insects, varieties, how bugs are different from insects, some fun facts and scientific findings,” writes Yesha in her 5-star review. “The author has collected many info in just few pages of the book starting from what is entomology to classification, importance of scientific names, and so many unbelievable facts that I didn’t know before like – strongest, smallest, loudest bug, bug dance and poops and also if bugs can survive in space and Antarctica. It was amazing to read about such interesting things that teacher can teach kids in classroom. There were activity questions at end of some chapters that kids would enjoy finding answers to. I loved all macro pictures of insects and bugs along with the illustrations in the book. There were links at the end of the book for additional information and videos on the publisher website that curious kids would love to explore. Most exciting thing is there is Bug book art pack available on publisher’s website as well that you can download for free and also Cool Halloween Art Pack.”

In her own 5-star review, judi duncan writes: “I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. First off its a very short book, about 40 pages without credits. But packed with up-close photos and information all posed around a silly question. It’s just brilliant! You can’t help but get drawn in by the question only to realize “wow, I didn’t know that!” I’ve recommended this to all the parents and teachers I know. This also has an activities download included in the book! This is really well done!”

Unholy Trinity by Marc DanielUnholy Trinity by Marc Daniel

Author Marc Daniel shared the second volume in his Michael Biörn series with Hidden Gems this summer, and it was a huge hit with our subscribers. In this installment, a thousand-year-old shape-shifter finds himself pursuing a legendary foe who has the power to transform vampires and allow them to begin walking in sunlight. When the town’s locals start disappearing at an alarming rate, it’s clear this is a situation that can’t be allowed to continue.

Reviewer Erika F. Thirkill gave the book a 5-star review, and wrote: “Unholy Trinity’s characters were well developed, and there was enough subterfuge to have me scratching my head trying to figure things out a couple of times. I found it hard to put the book down.”

Reviewer Megan V has read the previous installment in the series and recommends them both to fans of crime and fantasy: “I absolutely love this series, I have read Shadow Pack and Unholy Trinity, and have found both of these books incredibly hard to put down. I love the writing style, and how the chapters are pretty short, and change from person to person in both books. This really added to the plot for me, because you get the information from different perspectives and you are trying to put all of the pieces together. I highly recommend this series to anyone that loves paranormal, mysteries, or crime novels, both books are very fast paced and will keep you hooked.”

Courting Death by Elleby HarperCourting Death by Elleby Harper

Fans of feisty female detectives were thrilled to get a free copy of Courting Death, by British author Elleby Harper. The third in a series she calls British Crime with an American Twist, Courting Death follows a gang of brilliant female law enforcers as they try to get the bottom of a grisly murder mystery.

“The author had my attention from the very first page, as we experience the actual events that lay the foundation for the rest of the book – a double murder by a teenager who confessed to the crime without providing a motive for his defense.” So writes KRM in their 5-star review. “The book has a well-constructed plot that keeps you wondering as to where this all will lead. In the process, we get to know more fully the characters that we were introduced to in the earlier books. Although each book can be read as a stand-alone it enhances your experience to start from the beginning. I certainly look forward to developing relationships in the books to come in this series. I thought there was a good balance between the investigation and personal asides, so to speak. I was interested in the character’s lives and loved the excitement of the team getting closer to the truth. A well-written and well-developed plot makes this story a worthwhile read that holds your interest all the way through, with a surprise or two.”

In her 5-star review, Teresa Collins writes: “I’ve enjoyed each book in this series and I think this one is my favorite so far. While, like the others in the series, it’s basically a straight-forward police procedural, this story had some very unexpected twists and turns. I was never completely sure how the story was going to end; I just knew Ms Harper would do a great job of getting there. This book continues the antagonistic relationship between Bex and her second-in-command, Quinn Standing. It still feels a little strange to be wanting to throttle one of the good guys, but that is my strongest reaction to Quinn. In most suspense stories the heroine winds up in love with the man who most gets on her nerves and that’s what I expected to happen up until the middle of the second book when I realized there was no way these two could become an item. I am enjoying the change of pace. I can’t wait to get to reading the next book in the series and I hop Ms Harper doesn’t intend to end it any time soon.”

We already have hundreds of books scheduled to share with subscribers of Hidden Gems in 2019, and you don’t want to miss out. Whatever your favorite genre, you’ll be offered new books to read and review every week. Sign up today and become part of the excitement!

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  • Pingback: Critical Acclaim for The Bearer's Burden - Chad Queen
  • Thank you for featuring Letters to Lincoln in your Best Books of 2018. I thrilled that this novel was enjoyed by so many.