The best books I’ve read in 2018

My best reads of 2018 – a mix of literary thrillers with my two favourite non-fiction books thrown in for good measure. Enjoy! And have a wonderful Christmas!

 

Paper ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

A beautifully written Gothic road trip.

Carl Feldman is old and is suffering from dementia. One day, a young woman turns up at his retirement home, saying she’s his daughter and she’s taking him for a short holiday. She is, in fact, the sister of a girl Feldman is suspected of killing and she hopes she’s going to find out what he did to her sister as well as all the other young women’s believed to have murdered… This has the hallmarks of an all American road trip through Texas except that the two people going for a ride are a young woman hell-bent on revenge and an elderly serial killer who may or may not remember his past…

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. 

This is a wonderfully written literary thriller about motherhood…and what happens when you don’t follow the rules.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost…

 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

‘The first rule is that you don’t fall in love,’ he said… ‘There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love. No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this you will just about be okay.’

Imagine Vampire Lestat meets The Time Traveller’s Wife. A gorgeously rich and multi-layered novel about the impact of time on the human spirit.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He might look like an ordinary 41-year-old history teacher, but due to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. The only thing that might protect him from being discovered, is the one thing that could save him…

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.

Eleanor Oliphant is lonely, isolated and deeply lacking in social skills. She has no friends, and her life consists of work and phone calls with Mummy. Until, that is, she meets Raymond, a bumbling, sweet guy who works in the IT department. But while Raymond does his best to befriend Eleanor, we gradually learn the terrible truth about Mummy 

An uplifting story about the power of friendship, with a splinter of ice at its heart.

 

 The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world. Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected?

A brilliantly crafted psychological thriller, which has been made into a visually-stunning TV series.

 

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

A film noir tale of dark taboos and dangerous obsessions.

Just before Harry Ackerson’s college graduation, his beautiful step-mother, Alice, calls with shocking news. Harry’s father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, Harry returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help each other pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what really happened to his father. But who is Alice really and what is she hiding?

 

How Far We Fall by Jane Shemilt

A slow-burning Macbethian tale of revenge and betrayal.

 Beth and Albie seem to have the perfect marriage. But Beth has a dark secret – a long-running affair with Albie’s boss, Ted. Albie is blinded by ambition and his admiration for Ted, but when Ted’s patronage starts to wane, Beth sees this as the perfect opportunity to satisfy her husband’s ambitions and have her revenge on Ted in one fell swoop.

 

Old but gold

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

A powerful and haunting Gothic psychological thriller.

At first, the second Mrs de Winter cannot believe her good fortune: a lady’s maid and an orphan, she’s swept off her feet by the rich and dashing Maxim de Winter. But when she arrives at his country estate in Cornwall, she realises how large a shadow his first wife will cast over their lives…her presence seems to be a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

 

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

So here I am, upside down in a woman

So begins Nutshell, narrated by a foetus who sounds like an erudite, arrogant, aristocrat. Nearly nine months old, and fuelled by podcasts and Sancerre, our exceptionally young man is concerned because his mother and her lover are about to do something terrible to his father.

A combination of psychological thriller, treatise on modern malaise, ode to poetry and homage to Hamlet, this could be insufferable, but manages, to be wry, poignant, gripping as well as being wonderfully written.

Full review here

 

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

A domestic noir inspired by Hitchcock’s Rear View Window: psychologist Anna Fox has suffered some kind of trauma, which has left her agoraphobic and confined to her house in New York.

This is a beautifully written book, which starts gently before the stomach-clenching, jaw-dropping twists begin. The characters are brilliantly realised, the guilt, the fear and the claustrophobia are palpable.

Full review here

Non-fiction

The 7 Habits of Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey

Begin with the end in mind.

One of the most influential books I’ve ever read. 

I assumed The 7 Habits was aimed at business leaders, but the principles described – on living one’s life with fairness, integrity, dignity and compassion – are one’s that apply to all of us, both personally and professionally. I’ve read this book twice and will, no doubt, keep returning to it.

 

On writing…

Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas

Part of becoming a writer is working out which of all the strange thoughts you have in a given day are worth exploring further.

Scarlett Thomas teaches creative writing at Kent University, as well as publishing YA fiction. In Monkeys with Typewriters she shares the lessons she’s learned and the lectures she’s given on creative writing. This is a wonderful book, managing to be both academic in its analysis, as well as informal in style. Original, funny, inspiring and engaging, it’s particularly useful for beginner writers to help them get started; advanced writers will enjoy its insightful dissection of great plots from Plato to The Matrix and Tolstoy to Toy Story.

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