Happy New Year, everyone!
Here I am, back again to see in the new year and round out the old one with some positive vibes. Although the year itself for us has been something of a rollercoaster, my reading year has been pretty flipping good. I managed to achieve my Goodreads goal of 100 books and I did manage to read more diversely, too. I didn’t manage to read all the books I planned on getting through in 2018, and I certainly did not reduce my TBR (oops!), but that’s all stuff to look forward to in 2019 – positive vibes!
Now let’s take a look back across the last twelve months and pull out some of my favourite books. These are in the order I read them as that’s just easiest to follow, and I don’t think there’s actually a single favourite this year – it’s just too difficult to choose!
Best of 2018
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas
My first book of 2018 was an absolute gem. I know Maas’ work divides a lot of people, but I loved the ACOTAR series and this was the star. Great character dynamics, plenty of action, romance, magic and an ending that left me screaming and reaching for the next one. It is entirely likely I will be reading them again this year…
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Sticking to the fantasy, I loved this so much. It’s a pretty weighty book, but I devoured it in just a couple of days. Kvothe is an exceptional character, and though this first book in the trilogy (let’s hope Rothfuss finishes the third one before the world ends) has the usual boy-goes-to-school trope of fantasy books, it is done with such skill and such clarity that it doesn’t feel cliche in the slightest. I love the use of music, the magic is intriguing and sophisticated, such good characters, nasty monsters to fight. Brilliant.
Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker
The book that first broke me in 2018, this is an extraordinary book following a solider before, during and after he is injured in action, as told through the objects involved – from the tourniquet that stops the bleeding, to the bicycle of a young Afghan, to the seed that causes infection. It’s stark and brutal, but by revealing the story in this non-linear, abstract way, you can get all sides of what happened without bias or prejudice, just a deeper understanding of the complexities of warfare today. It is heartbreaking but also has a note of hope about it, in spite of everything.
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
Read because of the film, because everyone was talking about the film and the book – no shame about that! And I do not regret it in the slightest. The prose is a stream-of-consciousness beauty that fills every page with longing and nostalgia. It captures a moment in a young man’s life when he is caught between pain and pleasure, of wanting and needing to be wanted but never knowing how to express it.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
A seriously well-thought out and put together YA novel. Every piece of it, from the prose and the story to the text design and cover, is constructed to heighten and deepen the reading experience. As the story and the emotions of the characters become darker and more twisted, so do the pages. The balance between reality and fantasy is done so well as the mental health of both characters starts to disintegrate, and the complexity of that with the complexity of their feelings towards each other – the slightly caustic sexuality – is stunning in what is a relatively short book.
Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman
Yes, he’s back again. Have I mentioned the gorgeous prose of this guy? The writing is, once again, gorgeous, and the explorations of sexuality, of the fluidity of feelings, is fascinating. It feels very personal, almost intrusive, and it is that balance that Aciman crafts so well. When I was fortunate enough to meet Aciman at the Hay Festival this year, he told me he actually prefers this one to Call Me By Your Name. I think I agree with him, but it’s a close call.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The only audiobook to make this list and I was crying my eyes out by the end. I was warned; I knew what I was letting myself in for. Although, I didn’t actually know anything about it going into it, only that it would make me cry, so I really am just a glutton for punishment … This is a stunning novel about Charlie, who, due to his learning difficulties, wants to be smart through a new experiment being tested. I listened to the Audible Audio version from Orion, narrated by Adam Sims and it was a fantastic narration. Sims fully captured Charlie through the language, creating a deep character you really feel for, even when you see the mistakes he’s making.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
This book hooked me instantly and I was in tears by page 90. Benjamin’s characters really lived for me, to the point I dreamed I knew them all as friends and family – very weird! It was poignant, it was intriguing; it built upon the family dynamics and the experiences of the characters to ask what we would do with our lives if we knew when we were going to die.
H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
This is probably the most ‘literary’ and certainly the most experimental of the books on this list, and I know it will not be for everyone. But I loved the cerebral play with language and emotion – how the two things are inextricably linked in the human mind; that emotion forms language and language can guide our emotions and expression of self. It’s another book of beautiful text-design to add a lushness to the complex prose. It’s definitely one of those books to go over and over again and explore, if you’re into that kind of thing!
A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman
Sarah Winman – for the second year in a row – broke me. Her quiet, simple, eloquent writing just pulls me into the lives of her characters until it becomes unbearable. Her ability to fully render nostalgia and the emotion of memory is beautiful. Marvellous Ways is a wonderful character, full of both grit and charm, and I loved it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Speaking of breaking … at some point, I will revisit the last twenty or so pages, as I couldn’t actually read them very well through the veil of ugly tears that still attack me whenever I think about this book. Again, I was warned and fully aware that my heart was going to be ripped out of my chest, but this book is so much more than that. It is a book of supreme tenderness that ripples through the story – subtle, but pervasive, and stunning. Also, Death is awesome. Best narrator.
Trysting by Emannuelle Pagano
I did not expect a collection of flash fiction/prose poetry to be one of my favourite books of the year. I absolutely adored this collection. It looks at love from every possible angle, sometimes in a few paragraphs, sometimes in a single sentence. It’s wordsmithing at the purest level. A book I will definitely be returning to again and again and again.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
And, finally, my first Steinbeck and a wonderful read. Perhaps not one of his best known works, but this short novel following a group of people in a small town in California is sublime. Steinbeck blends the lives of these characters with brief moments of pure insight into what these lives mean, what was happening during the interwar years in America. It’s honest and frank, slightly whimsical and heavy with subtle metaphor too.
So that’s my best books of the year! There are some notable omissions, I know, including Circe by Madeline Miller, and any of the Patrick Ness books I’ve read. There are plenty – plenty! – of other books I have loved this year, but going through the list of 100, I tried to focus on the ones that have really affected me; that I didn’t just enjoy, but have given me something more.
Onto 2019! I don’t really have any reading goals this year, but I am on a book buying ban (eep!) to try and get my crazy TBR down. I do have a list of books I want to read this year, so keep a look out for that in the next few days!
Here’s to the new year, and all the promise it brings ❤