What better way to start a new blog than with a round-up of the books I loved in 2018 and the ones I’m looking forward to in 2019?
According to Goodreads, I read 130 books in 2018, getting the 130th (The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths) in just before the cut-off. When I decided I should get back to blogging, and was wondering what I should blog about, books seemed the obvious choice - they’re my main form of entertainment, I have Opinions on them, and I’m never going to run out of things to read.
My 2018 reading resolution was to read at least one YA book every month, and I more than fulfilled it. Next year, I’m taking a less structured approach - I’ll just keep reading YA as and when I see something that looks good, blending YA more seamlessly with my adult fiction/non-fiction reading. I’m also hoping to clear some books from the SavedList on my library account, but no doubt I’ll cancel them out saving more titles ‘for later’ along the way!
I’ve summarised my year in books by picking a few titles and authors from different categories that really stood out to me. Some titles came out before 2018, but they were nonetheless ‘new to me’.
Fiction Top 5
I mostly read fiction, so this was a tough decision!
I feel as though this Top 5 represents a good spread of genres - I read so much crime fiction that it could have easily just been that. Val McDermid has long been one of my favourite authors, and Broken Ground, the fourth Karen Pirie novel, blew me away with its levels of intrigue, suspense and technical detail.
I’ve read quite a few historical crime novels this year (half of M. R. C. Kasasian’s Grice & Middleton series, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve, The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell), and The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry (Chris Brookmyre & Marisa Haetzman) was my absolute favourite. It’s really rich in historical detail, unflinchingly brutal and gory in places and snort-inducing in others, and keeps you in suspense throughout.
I adored Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl when it came out a few years ago, so of course I had to read How to be Famous. I feel as though there are at least three distinct groups it would appeal to: people who actually were in their teens/early 20s in the late ’90s, Millennials who grew up with Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson series (I’m in this group - Johanna’s voice is how I’d imagine Georgia’s if she had been allowed to grow beyond 16), and people who are teenagers/in their early 20s now. It’s a fun, bouncy read with an effervescent, fierce character on a journey of self-discovery.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is another easy read - I devoured it in just under 24 hours. It’s been nominated for, and won, awards and rightly so, as it’s gripping, uplifting, and amazing. I was a bit cautious at first as I thought it was going to be full of people being mean to Eleanor, but that’s not the case at all!
Although I like to read horror and ghost stories, they don’t really scare me - unless the protagonist is human, as is apparently the case in The Corset, by Laura Purcell. While I enjoyed her first novel, The Silent Companions, I preferred The Corset because it felt more ‘real’. Like Ambrose Parry, she doesn’t shy away from icky detail - I could barely read the birth scene because it was so graphic! I read this book in two sittings because I just had to get to the denouement.
Non-fiction Top 5
There was a time when I didn’t really read non-fiction, as it felt a lot like I should be internalising it for a test! Luckily, I’m now past that stage and picked up some books that really appealed to my interests this year.
I’m a historian of childhood and the family by training, and I think that naturally goes hand-in-hand with the history of housing - while pursuing other lines of inquiry, I’ve always been really interested in where people lived, what space they had, and how they used it. For this reason, Municipal Dreams, by John Boughton, and Ideal Homes by Deborah Sugg Ryan both really drew me in. They’re about totally different types of housing - Municipal Dreams charts ‘the rise and fall of council housing’, while Ideal Homes is about the private upper-working/lower-middle class semis that went up all over the country in 1930s, but both document an era of hope, idealism and modernism. These days, people deride council housing, and tower blocks in particular, and regard 1930s houses as generic and characterless, but when they were built, they were at the cutting edge of design, and their architects really believed in improving people’s lives. It’s so sad that council housing is now seen as ‘for the dregs’, or as a money-spinner to be sold off.
Miseducation by Diane Reay is really well-researched, and illustrated a lot of things I suspected about inequality in education. Like the books mentioned above, it was a bittersweet read, because it was so well-written and argued, but also made me a bit angry and sad. I put it to productive use and set up a donation to Arts Emergency, which supports up-and-coming artists who don’t have the funds or networks of their more fortunate peers.
Continuing the investigative/slightly gory theme, I loved All That Remains by Sue Black and Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd. Both are about their authors’ careers examining the dead - Black finds out who people were, while Shepherd finds out how they died. They’re both extremely fascinating and poignant insights into jobs I could never do myself - I can read about cutting up cadavers all day but I could never actually watch it, let alone do it myself!
I’m always editing great lists and reviews for the YA section of the Suffolk Libraries website, so this year I decided to make a concerted effort to read more YA.
A common YA theme that I absolutely love is seeing a character develop and find out who they are, and all the books I’ve chosen have this trope in one way or another. In Angie Thomas’ powerhouse novel The Hate U Give, Star’s life at her mostly-white school becomes trivial after one of her friends is shot by a cop. In Sally Nicholls’ Things a Bright Girl Can Do, events and political activism awaken the suffragette/suffragist characters to the limitations placed on them by gender and class.
It was a joy to see Kiko from Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Starfish come out of herself and follow her dreams. In Maggie Stiefvater’s All The Crooked Saints, all three of the main characters draw on their strengths and find out new things about themselves, and in Floored, a collaboration of seven authors, we watch the characters grow up over a period of years.
New favourite authors
(Yes, I know it’s all crime!)
In 2018, I experienced the joy of discovering authors with back catalogues to get stuck into on multiple occasions. I came across these brilliant writers in a variety of ways, all linked to my job in the library service really!
My interest in Mick Herron and Robert Brynzda was piqued when I was tasked with editing Meet the Author interviews. I’ve only read Brynzda’s first book, The Girl in the Ice, so far, but I read it in two sittings, and have already got the next in the series, The Night Stalker, out on loan. I discovered Belinda Bauer, as a lot of people will have done, as a result of Snap being on the Man Booker Prize longlist. M. R. C. Kasasian’s Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire was on the new fiction for July list and I found it an absolute hoot, so I’ve dived into his previous books. I came to Sarah Hilary in a more roundabout way - the library Twitter account was already following her, and her tweets persuaded me that her books were worth a read!
Coming up in 2019
Alas, eventually you do get to the end of authors’ back catalogues and have to wait for new instalments. I’m heartbroken to have recently got to the end of all Elly Griffiths’ books, but luckily I only have to wait until February for the new Dr Ruth Galloway book, The Stone Circle. The same goes for Sarah Hilary and Syd Moore, who have Never Be Broken and Strange Tombs respectively coming out early-ish in the year.
I’ve had a much longer wait for another Jackson Brodie novel from Kate Atkinson, and can’t wait to see how far along she moves the timeline, and what happens next. I’m anticipating new books from Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride too, as they’re two of my absolute favourite authors. In non-fiction, The Library Book by Susan Orlean looks to be right up my street!