It’s hard to do end of year ‘best of’ lists without making arbitrary divisions, so I did my top books that came out in 2018 already, and now it’s time for those I read in 2018 but that came out earlier (how much earlier does vary). Again, didn’t restrict numbers, so have ended up with a top seven.
Letters Written During A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark by Mary Wollstonecraft – Wollstonecraft’s account of travelling with an infant daughter on the business of a man who was ultimately to desert her, and which famously made her later husband William Godwin say “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” It covers varied topics including mocking tourists and lamenting her own mental state, as well as reflections on the self and nature.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J. Sindu – A gripping and at times heart-wrenching novel about Lucky and her husband Krishna, who are both gay but married to appease their Sri Lankan-American families. A look at families, truth, and what happens when an illusion needs to be shattered.
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho, trans. Anne Carson – One of the perks of working in a university was that I could take this out of the library just for fun. There’s not much to say about it: it’s the fragements of Sappho’s poetry, translated by Anne Carson in a punchy, Anne Carson way.
A Gothic Soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic – The first of two Czech books on this list (can you tell I went to Prague this year?), A Gothic Soul is a Czech Decadent book that is lyrical, almost without plot, and about a nihilistic protagonist seeing his situation reflected in Prague, which he calls a dead city. Even in translation, the atmosphere comes through incredibly well (and there’s a great little edition of the English translation, which is also true of the following book).
May by Karel Hynek Mácha (in translation) – I have on good authority Mácha is the Czech Romantic poet, with his dramatic life cut short, epic poetry, and liking for Byron. May (Máj in Czech) is a four canto long narrative poem with an opening that Czech schoolchildren learn to recite and it is very much worth a read for its description and Byronic narrative.
S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett – I had to have something from my favourite genre, privileged group at a university/school/similar do terrible things, on this list. This is a refreshing YA version, in which a scholarship student uncovers a sinister secret relating to a weekend of shooting and drinking that happens every year at a fancy private school. It has a good dose of mystery solving, teenage angst, and class issues.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson – I didn’t intend to end up with two Anne Carson books on here, but in that case I shouldn’t’ve read multiple Anne Carson books this year. Autobiography of Red is a poem about a modern version of an ancient Greek character, a novel in verse that plays with mythology, love, and sexuality.
Instead of narrowing them down any further, I’m just saying there’s something for everyone. Links to go my full review where they exist, mostly all on this new shiny blog except a couple the import missed that go to Goodreads.
A powerful bunch this month, which all feature memorable and distinctive characters and interesting narratives. I’ve cheated and put a graphic anthology that came out in June on the bottom of the list as I only got my copy a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to share it with more people.
Hold by Michael Donkor – A fantastic debut novel about two very different teenage girls coming of age, Hold tells the story of Belinda, who is summoned from Ghana to London to try and bring Amma out of her shell. Full of memorable characters and vividly accurate south London description.
Oreo by Fran Ross – Reissued this month but originally published in 1974, Oreo is a clever, satirical tale of a girl looking for her dad.
We Shall Fight Until We Win by 404 Ink and BHP Comics – A graphic anthology published for the centenary of the first wave of women in the UK, it tells the stories of political women, both well- and lesser- known. A powerful read and one to gift people in your life.
Only a few books this month, mostly a very modern and relevant selection, as well as one mostly set in flashback in the nineties. They all look at some intense situations in different ways and styles, making them engrossing reads for ignoring the sun/World Cup/anything else.
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton – An emphatic recommendation for anyone who likes literary thrillers like American Psycho or The Talented Mr Ripley, but wishes they were more female-led and up to date. Social Creature presents a New York millenial hell as Louise is pulled into the money- and party- filled world of Lavinia and then things start to go wrong.
Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue – Another one this month exposing the modern world, as the London workplace is dissected and its effects upon mental health and upholding a male-dominated culture are shown through Jane’s sudden promotion at an advertising job.
Run, Riot by Nikesh Shukla – This is a young adult book that tells the story of twins Taran and Hari and their fight to expose the injustice in the system that is putting them, their friends, and the tower block they call home at risk. It is like a British version of The Hate U Give, showing that YA fiction can highlight racism, gentrification, and police corruption sometimes more powerfully than novels aimed at adults.
Only a few for this month, but a good bunch of fiction featuring some historical, some globe-spanning, and some very focused on the personal.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer – A bittersweet comic novel about a struggling writer who takes up invitations to strange events around the world in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
House of Gold by Natasha Solomons – Europe poised on the cusp of World War One is the setting for this historical novel, about the Goldbaum family and how rebellious Greta attempts to reclaim her own life. Mixes the personal with the large scale history surprisingly well.
We Are Young by Cat Clarke – Another tense YA novel from Cat Clarke, this one focuses on how a car accident can bring various issues in a community to the forefront, from the perspective of the girl whose new stepbrother is the sole survivor.
The Pharmacist’s Wife by Rebecca Tait – A dark historical novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, where Rebecca Palmer’s pharmacist husband tries to control her using heroin and manipulation.
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – This novel tells the story of a girl who goes missing and then is found a few days later, unwilling to discuss what happened. Told from the perspective of her mother, it looks at depression and how a biased viewpoint can lead to assumptions.
With a whole load of books out this month, it was actually hard to pick out some recommendations. These are a mixed bunch aimed at a variety of audiences, but not limited to those audiences. Click on the title links to full reviews for more details.
I Still Dream by James Smythe – A novel about a girl who builds an AI to listen to her problems and how that AI becomes so much more, but also stays as her personal friend and confidant. Proof that books about tech can also be about memory, loss, and the minutiae of people’s lives.
The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla – A story of three generations of the same family, and how their different cultural experiences in Kenya, Keighley, and beyond and their differences of opinion and life shape how they interact.
Clean by Juno Dawson – Exciting whilst also hard-hitting, Clean is a young adult novel about addiction, but also about privilege, what makes people different, and how you can have sympathy for abrasive characters. Treats the subject matter seriously, but is also witty and clever.
Circe by Madeline Miller – Miller turns from the Iliad to the Odyssey in this rewriting of the story of Circe that weaves together a great deal of stories, showing the tension between gods and mortals from the perspective of an outcast.
The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas – The next book in Thomas’ charming magical children’s series that imagines a world where electricity is no longer reliable and magic and books become crucial.
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo – The next book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series takes Macbeth and gives it a crime thriller treatment that strips that magic and retains the paranoid corruption. Undoubtably will be popular in libraries.
The weather hasn’t exactly become Spring-like yet and though I did tire of seeing endless ‘Snow day? Read one of our newly published books’ tweets (this may have been because I was at work), that was also the only idea I had for introducing this month’s new books. A rich bunch this month, with links to full reviews as usual (if you like short/flash/‘damp gothic’ fiction, I advise you to not skip past Mayhem & Death).
Sal by Mick Kitson – A different kind of wilderness survival story, this novel follows two sisters who escape their mum’s abusive boyfriend by following survival tips that Sal, the elder sister, learnt off YouTube. Powerful with a vivid voice.
The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells – Translated from German into English, this book travels across Germany, France, and Switzerland to show snapshots from the often melancholy lives of three siblings in a film-like way.
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala – A memorable and timely novel about telling the truth, friendship, race, and sexuality. Niru is a top student at his Washington D.C. school, but he’s keeping a secret from his attentive and proud parents, and when they find out he is gay, the fallout will change everything.
The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby – A literary thriller set between Oxford, Berlin, and New York, this has dashes of The Secret History, Patricia Highsmith, and the Netflix series The Good Place and will appeal to those who like dark fiction centred around intellectual obsession and twisted relationships.
Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory – A collection of short pieces of writing and one novella which are filled with mystery, sea, birds, gothic, and irregularity. Read for the atmosphere, a fantastic poem about loneliness, and the sense of short writing that is exciting and fresh.
The Trick To Time by Kit de Waal – After My Name Is Leon, it was exciting to see another novel by Kit de Waal; this one focuses on grief and life spanning across decades that will appeal to fans of everyday character-led fiction.
Escape the bleakness of February with some new books. Many of my choices are tackling some hard-hitting subjects in varied and interesting ways. Titles link to full reviews as usual.
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara – A raw novel about LGBT life in NYC from the 1970s to the 1990s that weaves together characters whilst placing them firmly in real LGBT history (a good pick for February being UK LGBT History Month).
The Hoarder by Jess Kidd – The story of a woman who works as a carer for an eccentric old man and is drawn into the mystery surrounding him in his weird house.
Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan – A road trip tragicomedy about friends dealing with PTSD, war, and traumatic childhood events, which often feels like a specific kind of indie film.
Home by Amanda Berriman – This novel about the housing crisis and sexual assault told from the point of view of a four-year-old is a tough but also sweet look at life using a distinctive voice.
Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh – A quirky book about food and eating, with a style that won’t suit everyone but will appeal to Tandoh’s many Twitter fans.
We’ve all remembered that time continues to pass and prepared to blame a different numbered year for our troubles, so now it’s time for more books. The usual random mixture with some modern folk tradition reimagining, dystopian gangster noir, a painful story of trauma, and a biography of Mary Shelley for the anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication.
Swansongby Kerry Andrew – A lyrical novel about a twentysomething escaping to the Highlands from London which combines folk tradition and modern issues.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – A novel about a big family in which the youngest child is transgender, and how they all keep secrets and try to make their lives work.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – A book about hope and a couple in Nigeria who dream of having children, told from both their perspectives (full review).
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing – A multi-layered non-fiction book about art, LGBT history, and loneliness in New York City (full review).
All The Good Things by Claire Fisher – A moving and relevant novel about Beth, a young woman in prison, who is trying to document the good things in her life whilst remembering how she got where she is (full review).
A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume – In the new genre ‘millenials, mental health, and escaping to the country’ sits this novel (full review).
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel – A twisted story of a family with dark secrets that has hints of (and an epigraph from) Lolita (full review).
New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – From the Hogarth modern Shakespeare retellings series comes Othello in a single day in a Washington schoolyard, a version that gives new light to the original (full review).
Girlhood by Cat Clarke – The setting is a boarding school in the Scottish countryside, where everything feels more intense to the girls who live and study there, and a newcomer puts everyone on edge (full review).
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – The unnerving and intense story of Turtle, her apocalypse-obsessed father, and her fight for survival (full review).
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – A novel about trauma and ways of seeing the world that follows Eleanor as she tries to navigate her life according to the strict rules she has set herself (full review).
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – Frances and Bobbi are performance poets and exes who are drawn into the complicated moneyed world of an older journalist and her husband in this fresh and distinctive novel (full review).
Good As You: From Prejudice To Pride by Paul Flynn – An account of British gay culture from the 1980s until the present day and some of the milestones in music and TV that showed change and progress (full review).
The Gender Games by Juno Dawson – A funny, clever, and often informative book that is part memoir and part guide to navigating gender (full review).
Hings by Chris McQueer – Weird and hilarious Scottish short stories feat. drink, drugs, and knees on backwards (full review).
A Change Is Gonna Come by various – An anthology of diverse YA fiction written by both established and new voices (my fave is a great story about living with OCD) (full review).
English Animals by Laura Kaye – A touching and wry novel about a Slovakian woman who goes to work in a rural English country house, gets into taxidermy, and falls in love with the wife (full review).
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio – Short description: the Shakespearean Secret History (featuring a group of obsessed actors, death, and a fair amount of quotation) (full review).
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst – Hollinghurst’s new book is an expected delight, the story of complicated relationships spanning from Oxford during the war to the 21st century (full review).
The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee – My new ‘enthuse about this to everyone’ book, this is the story of a debauched young 18th century aristocrat who goes on a grand tour with his best friend Percy (who he is in love with) and his secretly rebellious sister and they get into a bunch of scrapes (full review).
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – A vital YA novel about a black girl torn between her posh school and the area in which she grew up.