Welcome one, welcome all, to the downright obligatory Best Books of 2018. As is often the case with these ‘best books of the year’ posts of mine, the top 10 that make the list may not necessarily be the books that I gave 5-stars when I finished reading them. Because I make my ratings’ decisions immediately after finishing a book, they can be impulsive and would, on reflection, be altered. I make a point of not altering ratings once I’ve set them, but this annual best books list is a good way to “reassess” the ratings I’ve given books in the past year and decide, once and for all, which books were actually deserving of that moniker. The results is that these books are the ones that have stayed with me, for one reason or another, and were, completely subjectively, the “best books” that I read in 2018.
(If you’re looking for my more stats-based wrap up of 2018 then please do pop over to my 2018: A Bookish Year In Review post!)
Without further ado, let’s do this like the music charts, in reverse order, shall we?
Why?: This was an absolutely stunning book, externally and internally. Telling the story of the mythological figure often portrayed as a witch, Circe chronicles the eponymous enchantress’ life and lets her tell her own story from her own mouth. It’s very slowly paced, but purposely so, and the tone of it really mirrors the life of an immortal being for whom time doesn’t pass in quite the same way as it does for humans, and the book’s readers. I loved it and, it turns out, this feeling has only increased with time as I felt it well deserved a spot on this list.
“Most gods and mortals have lives that are tied to nothing; they tangle and wend now here, now there, according to no set plan. But then there are those who wear their destinies like nooses, whose lives run straight as planks, however they try to twist. It is these that the prophets may see.”
Why?: Much like with Circe, I was completely blown away by the tone of this book and that impression is what has stuck with me in the months after reading this. Given that this was based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, I was always guaranteed to enjoy it but the slow pacing of the book and its generous length allowed for the complexity of its character dynamics and relationships to be fully explored in an organic way. It helps that the audiobook, though slow and pondering in tone, was perfectly pitched for the narrative within the book and I adored listening to it.
“You won this war even before I knew there was a battle to be had.”
8. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Why?: I was immediately impressed by Sarah Perry’s mastery of words and she created an incredibly compelling story from the very first page. Telling of a mythical and deadly serpent lurking in the marshes nearby an Essex village, the story focuses on widow and amateur naturalist Cora when she moves to the area with her small son and comes up against the contrary opinion of village vicar Will who thinks the serpent is nothing more than moral panic amongst his parishioners. The evolving dynamic between the pair of them, and the questions it raises about faith vs science in the evolving Victorian age.
“Anything that was ever worth knowing began with once upon a time.“
7. Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Why?: I didn’t know that this would make my top books of the year when I started compiling this list, but the more I looked back on it, the more fondly I remember it and the more I’m certain it deserves a place on this list for that alone. It’s been a slow burner and I’m sure I’ll re-read this in 2019, if not to enjoy it all over again, certainly to refresh my knowledge of it before the sequel, Kingsbane, is released in 2019. This was compelling and complicated and I’ll definitely welcome that refresher.
“Perhaps if nothing else, what’s happened has taught you that there is more to life – and even to war – than simply staying alive.”
Why?: Elizabeth Gaskell wrote one of my favourite classics, North and South, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that another of her novels has made it onto my list of top books of the year. I’m so very glad I read this because I found the story of Molly Gibson to be so heart-breaking and hilarious, often in equal measure, and I loved her characterisation and interactions with her father in particular. I wanted to shake the characters in this book many times throughout the course of reading it, but I suppose that’s a pretty good indication of how much I was rooting for them in the end.
“Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.”
Why?:I’ve tried (and failed) to read this book previously which wouldn’t seem to suggest it would make it anywhere near the best books of any year, let alone in my top 5! However, when I was in the right mood for some alternate historical dragon fiction, I picked it back up and found I adored it because it mixed the Georgian period, specifically the Napoleonic Wars, with fantasy and I don’t see nearly enough of that in the genre. This delighted me and the eponymous dragon Temeraire is an absolute delight – I can’t wait to read more of his and Captain Laurence’s escapades in the other books in the series.
“It seems to me that if you wish to apply laws to us, it were only reasonable to consult us on them, and from what you have read to me about Parliament, I do not think any dragons are invited to go there.”
4. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Why?: It has been hard to exist in the book world in 2018 without hearing about Tomi Adeyemi’s West African inspired fantasy debut novel. For a debut it’s incredibly impressive and I loved that Adeyemi has brought a slightly different fantasy to the mainstream. I have no doubt that, if I properly looked for it, I’d find other examples of African inspired fantastical settings but this has helped to bring it to the surface and be downright unmissable and I’m grateful to this book for that. Its adventure, and the world it sets up, is stunning and I look forward to reading the sequel in 2019.
“You crushed us to build your monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive. It was thinking we’d never fight back.”
Why?: Maggie Harcourt has been a new find for this year and I thoroughly enjoyed the two books of hers which I consumed this year – Unconventional and Theatrical. The latter made this top books list simply because Harcourt’s ability to encapsulate, on the page, what makes people in the theatre world tick is… second to none (or at least that I’ve read thus far). It also inadvertently inspired by NaNoWriMo efforts this year and considering 2018 was the only year I’ve made it vaguely near the 50,000 word goal, I’m very grateful to Harcourt and the inspiration she provided for my own little story. I love this story, it’s fun and its characters are hilarious and this is a book I will undoubtedly pick up when I’m feeling low, much like Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.
“I can talk about theatre as a living, breathing machine where everyone is a cog and it’s only when the cogs are all turning together that the whole thing comes to life.”
2. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Why?: A very late contender for the title but one which I knew would likely make this list this year, since its predecessor, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, did in 2017. This story sees the return of familiar characters but I’d adored getting to know Felicity better and for it to also address some more complex and serious issues than I initially expected it to. I should expect nothing less of Mackenzi Lee’s writing but I’m thoroughly pleased I read this this year and that I waited to compile my best of 2018 list so that this could take its rightful place.
“We may have both left home. Defied our parents and our upbringings in favour of our passions. But there are rocks in my road Monty can’t understand how to navigate, or even conceive of being there in the first place.”
Why?: Given the hype that’s surrounded this book, it’s likely to appear on many best of the year lists, and for good reason. Telling the story of the retired, reclusive Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo, this story is a look at the Golden Age of Hollywood and the struggle that Hugo has to make her name in the industry that treats women who look like her in a very particular way. Unsurprisingly, this book felt timely given the prevalence of the #metoo movement and it’s downright inevitable that this book has struck a chord with so many readers in the online book community. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book so it would be wrong not to have it at the top spot for the very best book I read in 2018 and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading it for many years to come.
“I’m under absolutely no obligation to make sense to you.”
That’s all, folks – that was my Best Books of 2018!
How was your reading year? Do you have a Best Books list yourself?
Link it or comment below, I’d love to hear what your favourite books of 2018 were!