2018: The year of “only by a whisker” books.
Yes, the time has come once again for me to give you all my roundup of my favorite books published over this past year. I have to warn you however, I’m going to cheat a tiny bit with my non-fiction book this year. See, although this book was originally published in 2017 in the UK, I think it deserves to be on this list, because the majority of my readers (who live outside the UK) could only get hold of it in 2018. That said, while there were fewer books that got a full five stars from me this year, the quality of these books – be it the writing or the content of these stories – was such that it was very hard for me to rank them for this list; each one edged out the next by a whisker. So here you go, in descending order (for now. I reserve the right to change the order and/or add the book I’m reading as of this writing, if it measures up)!
Fiction Honorable Mention:
“Smash all the Windows” by Jane Davis – of all the books that didn’t get a full five stars from me, this one came the very closest to that coveted rating, particularly because of Davis’ extraordinary talent to entrance me with her artful and emotion-filled prose. Furthermore, the more time I have away from this book, the more I keep remembering bits and pieces of it, and the more I think that dropping half a star might not have been fully justified. If you decide to read this (and I think it’s on sale right now for 99p/99c on Amazon), I can assure you, it will be a book to remember (and possibly haunt you on your next trip to London, especially if you like to ride the Tube. But don’t let that stop you; there’s always all those lovely double-decker buses you can take instead).
“The Kennedy Debutante” by Kerri Maher – don’t let the romantic looking cover of this book put you off; this is a seriously well written novel about the sadly too-short life of Katherine “Kick” Kennedy, and yes, she was one of those Kennedys. The fact that this book doesn’t start from her childhood, and jumps right into her life as a young woman in London, with her entrance into society, meant that the author could concentrate on the most important years of Kick’s life. One reason I had to give this book five stars was even though I already knew that Kick’s older brother Joe was killed in WWII, when I got to that part of the novel, I cried my eyes out – that’s how well it is written!
“A Well-Behaved Woman” by Therese Anne Fowler – another biographical, historical fiction novel, this time about Alva Smith Vanderbilt, where Fowler did such an excellent job of painting a portrait of a woman who was not only strong, but also very flawed, that I couldn’t help but give this book five stars. Mind you, you might not like Alva by the end of this novel, but you’re sure to appreciate her life and the sacrifices she made for both her family and her own well-being and happiness. To tell the truth, I was a bit surprised that I liked this book so much, since early on I wasn’t sure, but after about 10-15% of reading, I was hooked, and I couldn’t put it down. That doesn’t happen to me often, since usually if a book doesn’t grab me right away, I’ll stop reading. Well, don’t stop reading this one – it will hit you soon enough!
“Vox: A Novel” by Christina Dalcher – in my review, I called this dystopian, futuristic novel “Atwood on steroids,” and if you read it, you’ll understand why. I’m not calling this science-fiction by the way, even though there’s a good deal of science here. To me, it feels seems more like speculative fiction. That’s what Atwood calls her writings, possibly because there’s practically nothing technological in these books that are so wildly beyond the abilities of humankind today, that they couldn’t actually come true within a few decades, if not a few years, under the right (or perhaps in this case, wrong) circumstances. I should warn you, however, that this book is very scary, and might be even scarier than Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale!
“Us Against You” by Fredrik Backman – what would one of my “best of” lists be without at least one entry from the amazing Backman? This year he gave us a novel which is the sequel to his book “Beartown” (that tied for my first place spot last year). What can one say about Backman and his books that hasn’t already been said? I guess the fact that he hasn’t fallen off the five-star level since I read his first book in 2013 is certainly testimony to his literary abilities (shall we call it genius? I say, why not). Of course, that he’s now an international best-seller (something I predicted after reading his first novel published in English, before it was published), says something about his talent as well. Keep them coming, Fredrik, and bravo for keeping up the quality!
“Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje – there are very few authors who can displace Backman from my first place spot on these lists. But there are also very few authors from whom I anxiously await their next works like I do Ondaatje’s, mostly because he doesn’t publish that often. There is something absolutely magical about Ondaatje’s writing style, that immediately takes me out of this world and places me safely and warmly in the world he has chosen to write about. Even when the world Ondaatje creates is far from idyllic, that kind of escape is a welcome one these days. Thank you for being there for us, Michael, even if your contributions to our imaginations are few and far between.
“I am, I am, I am: Seventeen Brushes with Death” by Maggie O’Farrell – since I don’t like to compare apples and oranges, when I read a non-fiction book that blows me away, it gets a special award from me. This is the book I’m “cheating” with, because although it was published in 2017 in the UK, audiences beyond that island could only get their hands on it in early 2018. As a lover of O’Farrell’s works for many years, I knew that this book would be special, and to tell the truth, it soared way past my expectations. This raw and emotional account of these difficult encounters across O’Farrell’s life will simply take your breath away. Equally impressive is that despite the subject matter, this was the most life-affirming work I’ve ever read. Don’t hesitate to read it, you won’t regret it!
That’s it for this year, and here’s wishing everyone a 2019 filled with as many amazing books as possible. You can find previous lists here: