Best Books I Read 2018

This was such a strange reading year. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to compile a decent best of list, but when I went over my notes, I discovered I was wrong. I’ve read several wonderful books – mostly in the first three and last two months of 2018 though. That might explain why I thought there hadn’t been that many. Another reason might be because I only reviewed about 30% of what I read.

I didn’t try to stick to ten or twelve books for my list, I just picked a few from each category.  If available, I’m adding a link to my review. I’m still hopeful I’ll manage to review the one or the other this year.

Best novels

Anita Brookner – Hotel du Lac

Sadly I can’t remember that much of Hotel du Lac as I read it in January last year. I only know I liked it a great deal. It was my first Anita Brookner novel but it won’t be my last.

Ann Beattie – Chilly Scenes of Winter

Another book I read last January but this one has stayed with me. It has amazing dialogue and characters. Everything they say is always unexpected and interesting. It was such a pleasure to read.

Alfred Hayes – My Face for the World to See

My most recent read on the list and one I reviewed just two weeks ago.

Here’s some of what I wrote about My Face for the World to See

I think one reason I loved this so much is because it reminded me of Dorothy B. Hughes fantastic novel In a Lonely Place, which made my best of list in 2016. I’m sure Hayes knew the book and certainly knew the movie with Humphrey Bogart. Even though My Face for the World to See isn’t a crime novel, it has all the trademarks of a noir like In A Lonely Place. There’s the melancholy mood, the jaded, lonely people who try to connect but fail, love affairs that turn bitter within weeks.

Anne Brontë – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

I will write about this book some day. It isn’t on the list because I liked it but because I found it very interesting. I also found it annoying in parts and overall not what I expected. But it’s memorable and important and therefore deserves a place on this list.

Terri Windling – The Wood Wife

This was a mix of magical realism, mythology, fantasy and a very realistic story in an amazing setting. I can still visualize the book. Its imagery was so strong and has stayed with me although it’s another one I read at the beginning of 2018.

Here’s a bit of what I wrote about The Wood Wife

I enjoyed this book very much and read it very slowly. Terri Windling created a magical world that is beautiful but not cute. Life in the desert is harsh. For months it’s dry and then when it rains, everything is flooded and the people living on the mountain are trapped there. Coyotes and rabbits roam freely but they are also hunted by poachers and tourists who think it’s a fun sport. In many ways, this is a very realistic depiction of a landscape and a way of life but then the book goes deeper and uses mythology and folklore to show what a magical, powerful place the Sonora is.

Nonfiction

Katie Roiphe – The Violet Hour

I hope to still review this book because it’s so great and I know many readers of this blog would love it. Essentially it’s a series of biographies of famous writers/thinkers, starting with their final hours. It may sound morbid but it’s not. It’s just fascinating to see how each of these great minds reacts when they realize there might not be a lot of time left. I was familiar with some of the stories, like Susan Sontag’s or Freud’s, because I read their biographies, but some were new to me. The other writers/artists are Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, James Salter, John Updike. Roiphe also shares her own experiences with death and illness, why she chose to write this book and how she wrote it. Fascinating.

Cathy Rentzenbrink – A Manual for Heartache

I wish I had reviewed this beautiful memoir because it blew me away. It gives a lot of hope and solace in dark times. I’m not a rereader, especially not of nonfiction, but I think I will reread this. I loved it so much. The right book at the right time.

YA Fantasy

Annette Curtis Klause – Blood and Chocolate

I bought this book ages ago because so many people who participated in Carl’s R.I.P. and Once Upon a Time events raved about it. That always makes me a bit wary because I’m afraid that my expectations might be too high. In this case, although they were high, the book was so much better than I expected. It’s just a marvelous YA fantasy novel with a great twist and unexpected ending. While it is about a teenage werewolf girl, it’s also a wonderful exploration of what it means to stay true to who you really are. It’s never trashy, never clichéd. If you like the genre, don’t miss this.

Sci-Fi

Jeff Vandermeer – Annihilation

What a peculiar book and not at all what I expected. I expected straightforward Sci-Fi but this is actually a horror story. I was thinking the whole time – if Edgar Allan Poe wrote today, this could very well be the way he would write. Once I finished it, I started watching the movie and that spoilt the experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that took so many liberties with the source material. It was odd.

Crime

Andrea Camilleri – Montalbano series book 1 and 2

This year I discovered two new crimes series that I like so much that I want to read the whole series eventually. The first is Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano series. I’ve reviewed book one here. I liked absolutely everything about these books. The characters, the setting, the style and the stories.

Here’s what I said bout The Shape of Water

I’m so glad I finally read Camilleri because I enjoyed it so much that I have already started book two. This is such a perfect series for so many reasons. It paints an accurate, if somewhat embellished and exaggerated, picture of Sicily, its people, and customs. And its food. Montalbano enjoys good food, and for many readers, discovering all the dishes he eats in the books, is part of the appeal. While the descriptions of the place and its mores is part of the success of the series, the biggest reasons for loving it, is the character of Montalbano. He’s unorthodox, funny, dry, doesn’t suffer fools but has a big heart when it comes to “little people”. Montalbano’s name is an homage to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. It’s no surprise then, that the inspector reads one of Montalban’s detective novels in this book.

Susan Hill Simon Serrailler Series book 5 and 1

The second series is Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series. While I loved the two books I’ve read, I still find something to criticise. I think she’s too much in love with her own writing and that’s why the books are a bit too long. There’s an almost Dickensian feel to these novels. That aside, it’s a great series that has a lot to offer.

Here’s what I wrote about The Shadows in the Streets

As far as crime novels go, this isn’t the tightest but I didn’t mind because I enjoyed reading it. There’s suspense and the ending is not obvious, but at the same time it has a leisurely pace and takes a lot of time to show the characters and explore its main theme – prostitution. Susan Hill is famous for her ghost stories. Ghost stories need strong atmosphere and since she excels in the genre, it’s not surprising that this book is atmospheric too.

 

45 thoughts on “Best Books I Read 2018

    • Happy New Year, Annabel. Don’t bother with the film, it’s infuriating. I. Ishtar read the sequels. I’m sure you’d like both of the nonfiction books. I can’t imagine one wouldn’t.

  1. I’m so delighted to see Alfred Hayes on your list – what a writer! I think My Face id the best of the three I’ve read, but the others (Girl on the Via Flaminia and In Love) are definitely worth reading too. Lovely to see the Montalbanos here as well. A wine friend recommended them to me several years ago, and I’ve yet to encounter a dud.

    Happy New Year to you, Caroline. I look forward to seeing what you’ll be reading in 2019!

    • Happy New Year, Jacqui.
      His place in the list is more than deserved.
      I’m so glad you say that about the Montalbano series. Sometimes they get weaker and weaker.
      I’m also looking forward to discovering what you’ll read.

  2. I haven’t heard of many of these – except for the novels of which I’ve heard or or read of most. I became a big Brookner fan in the 1980s and 1990s but haven’t read her for a long time. I’d love to – if only to have her appear on my blog! I hate that some favourite writers from my past aren’t there yet.

    We have some friends who love reading the Montalbano books, but I tend not to find time to read series books. I’d love more time in my life.

    • That’s a perfectly good reason for a reread.
      I feel that hardly any of my favourites feature on my blog.
      I know what you mean about series but when it’s a good one it is so enjoyable.

      • What on earth did that first sentence mean – “I haven’t heard of many of these – except for the novels of which I’ve heard or or read of most.” This basically says that I haven’t heard of many of these except for the ones I’ve heard of?? I have no idea what I was meaning. The first part is right – I haven’t heard of many – but the rest is absolute nonsense! I was clearly distracted when I wrote it! I don’t believe I have dementia but you could be excused for thinking so.

  3. Thus is really fascinating list of books.

    I also loved Annihilation. The book had so much atmosphere.

    Your commentary on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is intriguing . I hope top get to that book sometime over the next few months.

    Have a Happy New Year’s!

    • Happy New Year, Brian.
      Annihilation is such a special book. I expected something different and it was a pleasant surprise.
      I’m looking forward to discussing The Tenant if Wildfell Hall with you.

  4. A real variety of books there. Hotel du Lac was my first Brooker, several years ago. Sorry you didn’t completely love The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, I think, for its time particularly, it’s an astonishing book. I can also understand your getting annoyed with it though. 😊
    Happy New year.

    • Happy New Year.
      I’m looking forward to reading more of Brookner.
      I guess fir it’s time The Tenant is important but I didn’t like the structure nor did I understand why she would choose another really terrible husband.

  5. The Roiphe book sounds really interesting – I bought her first, about marriages, and didn’t get very far with it. But if I had different expectations of what her writing would be like, I might enjoy her more this time around. And I bought the Hayes a while ago, so I’m pleased to see it’s a good’un!

  6. Hotel du Lac is one of my favorites. It’s one of the few books I’ve read twice. And Chilly Scenes of Winter is on my wishlist because it is on Erica Jong’s list of op 100 20th Century Novels by Women, one of the lists I’m working on.

    You and others prompted my to do a Top 10 list for the first time on my Rose City Reader blog. I always make a year-end list of the books I read in the past year, but I’ve not done a favorites list in the 10+ years I’ve had my blog. A first! Thanks for the motivation.

    • That sounds like an interesting list. I’ll have to look it up. I used to love Erica Jong. I hope you’ll enjoy Chilly Scenes. I find i5 terrific. Hotel du Lac is special. Unfortunately, I watched the movie before reading it and now they are mixed up in my memory.
      I’m glad to hear we inspired you fir a list. I’ll have to check it out.

    • It wasn’t bad at all, with hindsight.
      I think you’ll really like Brookner, Resh Susan. It’s very nuanced, very subtle writing. I just read your post too but ran out of time. I’ll be commenting later.

    • Thanks, Ian. Maybe I would have been impressed with the movie as well but they took too many liberties and I had just read the book. I lied it visually but not the rest.

  7. Beautiful post, Caroline! I loved Andrea Camilleri’s ‘The Shape of Water’. I think I have also read the second part ‘The Terracotta Dog’. I love reading your end-of-year favourites list, because I like choosing one or two books from them to read. I loved your description of Cathy Rentzenbrink’s ‘A Manual for Heartache’ – the title is so beautiful and your thoughts on it make me want to read it now. Adding it to my TBR. Thanks so much for sharing your favourites list.

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