2018 in Books


Right folks, I'm back to blogging, and first up is this long overdue post which has been sitting in my drafts all year!  It includes affiliate links.

I lost my reading mojo a bit in 2017 - I didn't make much time for it, and the books I did read were either not that great, or audiobooks, which I enjoy but take much longer to get through.  After reading only 10 books in 2017, I set my Goodreads challenge for 2018 at 12, in the hopes that I could manage one book per month.  I can safely say that setting the bar low helped and I've rediscovered my voracious appetite for reading, as in 2018 I read 26 books!

The His Dark Materials trilogy is my enduring all-time favourite set of books.  I've had other favourites over the years, but these three are always right at the top of my list, and I feel the magic again every time I re-read them.  I was so excited to hear that Philip Pullman was releasing another trilogy in the same world, and requested the first one for Christmas (thanks Mum!)  I'm not generally a fan of reading hardbacks due to my feeble arms, but I'm so glad I got this one because under the dust cover, it has the most beautiful hardback cover I've ever seen, covered in golden, glittery stars, and a quote on the spine.  As for the story, this one is a prequel, when Lyra is just a baby.  Cons first: it left me with more questions than answers, it all felt a bit surface level, and towards the end it got distractingly surreal.  I think a lot of what I love about His Dark Materials is that the magical and otherworldly elements are grounded by the familiar, and by characters that feel real and relatable.  The final portion of La Belle Sauvage felt like it was written for the aesthetics, like the author had already checked out of writing a novel and straight to the film adaptation.  Pros: it was lovely to be back in Lyra's world, I got a little thrill every time a familiar character popped up, I loved spending some more time with the gypsies and witches, the antihero is perfectly sinister, and Malcolm is a worthy lead character, who I felt as instantly comfortable with as with Lyra and Will.
*3.5

After dropping it by the wayside for a couple of weeks to immerse myself in La Belle Sauvage, I finished up The Demon Cycle series, which I listened to on audiobook.  It's set in a world where demons rise out of the ground as night falls, looking for humans and animals to prey upon, and sink back into the ground before the sun rises.  Humans cower behind protective wards, and simply accept the violent end that comes to anyone foolish enough to stray outside their wards or fail to keep them in good condition.  A kid called Arlen tries to save his mother from a demon attack while his father just looks on, and Arlen decides that something has to be done.  This is a great fantasy series that gradually reveals its characters' flaws and strengths and back stories so you regularly re-evaluate your feelings about them.
*4

Esther and Nick were theatre people, and when their marriage fell apart they decided to take the rather dramatic step of moving to a piece of land in the Idaho mountains, with a whole lot of trees on it and not much else.  Nick built a yurt which they lived in for three years with their three kids, while he built their dream home.  Meanwhile, Esther shared their story and homesteading tips on their YouTube channel.  I think I only discovered this wonderful family a month or two before Esther's book came out, but I had already watched hundreds of their videos and was captivated by her honest storytelling.  What Falls from the Sky tells the story of Esther's previous dramatic experiment, when she decided to quit the internet for a year.  I was a bit cautious because the book's subtitle is How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God who Made the Clouds and it was published by a Christian publisher, but it's only religious to the extent that she rediscovered her own personal faith.  Nick isn't religious, and they both approach every topic (homesteading, carpentry, relationships, parenting) by saying that this is what works for them and how they're wired, and their aim is to help people find what works for them, not to convert them to any particular way of thinking.  As for the book - I'm not sure I'd have liked it as much if I wasn't already used to Esther's voice from YouTube, but I loved it.  It made me feel peaceful and thoughtful, and I hope there's more to come.
*4

Another book with wonderfully fleshed out characters, this was my first book club read of the year.  A suburban family is shaken up by the arrival of a nomadic artist and her teenage daughter.  The book explores family dynamics and adoption, two topics that I've always been interested in, but this year more than ever, so I read it at the perfect time and found it extremely thought-provoking.
*4.5

5, 6, 7. Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials #1, 2 and 3)
I had to have a nostalgic re-read after reading the prequel.  I adore these books.
*5

8. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #2)
James has all The Dark Tower books at his parents' house so I take one home with me every time we visit and am gradually making my way through the series.  I love Stephen King's writing but I have to take it easy, especially with the more horror-based stories (which these aren't), because they send my imagination into overdrive and I get very jumpy!  I love how some of his characters and themes appear in different books, and I'm enjoying this series, which he describes as his epic.  I think this one is probably my least favourite so far, but it was necessary for setting the scene.
*3.5

9. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - audiobook read by Cathleen McCarron
I wasn't sure on this one at first, because it's not the most comfortable read (or listen, in my case), but by the end I was completely won over.  We always round up our book club discussions by deciding whether we'd invite the author to tea, and it was a unanimous yes for not only Gail Honeyman, but Eleanor too.  It's an important book about loneliness, social norms and friendship.  I recommend the audiobook version, because Cathleen McCarron's voice is perfect for Eleanor, to the extent that it was quite spooky hearing her do a quick Q&A at the end with the author!
*4.5

10. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
A powerful feminist young adult book that I would thoroughly recommend to teenagers and adults.  A little bit tidy, but given that our only book club rule is that our choices are under 300 pages (ish), I think we maybe have to expect that we might sometimes be left wanting a bit more depth.
*4

11. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This has been on my 'to read' list for a long time, and was one of my book club suggestions.  It was right up my street, witty and atmospheric.  The member of the club who never reads thrillers absolutely loved it.  Those of us who read and watch thrillers more often worked out the twist and were a little bit more 'meh', but still really liked it.
*4

12. The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz (Millennium #4)
This book has wildly mixed reviews, which I think is largely based on the readers' expectations.  I think David Lagercrantz has done a good job of staying faithful to Stieg Larsson's originals while still making it his own.  His continuation is a little lighter than the first three books in the series, and personally I don't think that's a bad thing.
*4

13. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I loved this book, and got really emotionally invested in the characters.  It tells the stories of a blind French teenage girl and an orphaned German teenage boy during WW2.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking and I will definitely read it again.
*4.5

14. Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie (First Law #7)
Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series is one of my very favourites and I love the way he writes.  This collection of short stories felt a little bit filler at times but was also very enjoyable, both in its own right and in providing some valuable background on certain regular characters.
*4

15. The Last Romeo by Justin Myers
My 'worst read of the year' award goes to this book. 1 star for being readable enough that I finished it, and a bonus half star because I enjoyed the chapter where a satirical blogger took the mick out of the writing style of the main character *cough* author *cough*.
*1.5

16. The Waste Lands by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #3)
I was going to say that this book gets the series 'back on track' and then I realised that was a terrible pun and I'll stop there.
*4

17. Normal People by Sally Rooney
I found this novel very relatable and it was one of my favourites of the year.  One of my pet frustrations in TV particularly but also films, books, life is that half the time there wouldn't even be a problem if people would just talk to each other.  Normal People takes an in-depth look at why the characters make assumptions rather than speaking up and the long-lasting effects on their relationship of those assumptions, silences and flippant comments.  It was a wonderful read and has helped me to be more open minded and think of different reasons why people might be reacting a certain way, and to wonder whether they are actually reacting in the way I think or I'm just projecting.
*4.5

18. The Lake House by Kate Morton
One of the main characters in this book is a crime writer and there was a while there when I wished I was reading one of her books as they sounded much better than the early chapters!  Kate Morton is a master of the 'English country house, mystery in the past solved in the present' genre though and it wasn't long before I was fully engrossed and trying to puzzle it out.
*4

19. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
I loved this book: it had a very cinematic feel to it, and felt important without being heavy handed.
*4.5

20. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
After five years living an hour's flight away, my wonderful friend Erin has moved home to New Zealand (sob).  Last time I visited her in London she had a little stack of books going free to a good home, and this one caught my attention.  It's a collection of anecdotes that I never would have picked up otherwise, but it made me laugh a lot and I'm glad to have it on my bookshelf.
*4

21. The Call of the Weird by Louis Theroux
Also acquired from Erin, this is a record of Louis's return visits to some of his favourite stars of his Weird Weekends TV series.  It's more of the same and is an interesting read, but left me with even more discomfort and despair for humanity than the show!
*3

22. Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop
So, I like Victoria Hislop's novels - they're moving and it's obvious that she puts a lot of research into them.  This book is a slightly different style in that it's almost a short story collection, but with a central story scattered in between, which is much shallower as a result.  It's ok but not up to the usual standard.
3*

23. The Girl who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz (Millennium #5)
At this point I'm writing this review a year after reading, but after a quick refresh via Goodreads I remember quite a lot of it, which is a good sign.  Again, I think your enjoyment of David Lagercrantz's Millennium depends on how staunchly loyal to Stieg Larsson's you are, but I think he's done a good job and created an engaging story.
4*

24. Promising Young Women by Caroline O'Donoghue
This was a very uncomfortable read!  It was thought-provoking and dramatic and an excellent book club choice because it gave us a lot to talk about, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it.
3*

25. Animal by Sara Pascoe
There are a number of negative reviews of this book bemoaning that it oversimplifies and overemphasises things - yes ok, but it's not a scientific paper, it's a book by a comedian.  I found it interesting and funny and enjoyable.
4*

26. The Thread by Victoria Hislop
This one is set in Thessaloniki, Greece, and tells the story of two children and their families as they grow up and live through some momentous historical events.  I read it at Christmas time and I think it's perfect for that time of year when I have extra time (and bad weather!) to get engrossed in a book.
4*

Comments

  1. Nice selection of books there! I have the next book in the "Millennium" series on order - "The Girl who lived twice" - due to be released in paperback April 2020 - I'll pass that on to you once I've read it.
    I can also recommend Victoria Hislop's latest book "Those who are loved" - back to her best with this one. I didn't particularly enjoy "Cartes Postale" either - too much like a quick commercial offering.
    The one book on your list that catches my eye is no.13, "All the light we cannot see" - if you have that one at home I may just have to borrow it next time!
    Keep reading :)

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