My 2018 in Books: Hits and Misses

I have read 100 books this year, of which 49 were for university (where, unsurprisingly, I study English Literature) and 51 were for pleasure. 2018 was a great year in books for me, with loads of new discoveries and enjoyable reads. It was also the year I became more comfortable rating books 2 or 3 stars, and figuring out why I wasn’t impressed with them.

According to Goodreads, my average book length was 353 pages, and I rated the books an average of 3.6 stars!

Here are some more of my 2018 book stats, and a few awards too…

I only rated 5 (non-reread) books with 5 stars this year:

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Death on the Nile and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

It goes without saying that these two Christie classics earned 5 stars each. I just love her plotting, characters, setting – and it’s so much fun trying to guess the culprit!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This book does a fantastic job of being both an important politic statement and an enjoyable, gripping story – both in equal measure. A must read.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

I recently posted a review on this blog – The Death of the Heart is certainly a book to return to many times over the course of your life. It has beautiful emotional depth, ambiguity and evocation of place and atmosphere.

Winter by Ali Smith

I just finished this two days ago, and it completely blew me away. A glowing review is on its way – as soon as I can get my thoughts into some sort of coherence! [edit: read my review here!]

Best New Discovery:

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (BOTH 4 STARS)

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When books are so well-loved, I always worry that I won’t ‘get it’; that the books will fall flat and I’ll wonder whether there’s something wrong with either the book, or me! But with these two, they thoroughly lived up to their reputations. History comes alive through Mantel’s wonderful prose, electric characterisation and vivid scene-setting. You can read my review of Bring Up the Bodies here.

Best Reread:

Apart from rereading the Harry Potter series – which is always a delight – it has to be My Cousin Rachel. I think du Maurier’s handling of tension and ambiguity is so masterful. Another must-read!

Books read in 2018 which were released in 2018:

Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh (4 STARS)

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (3 STARS)

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Yep – I only read 2 books in 2018 that were actually released in 2018: the sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the excellent food-manifesto Eat Up! (Review to coming to this blog soon!)

I’m not particularly surprised at this, because reading books as soon as they’re released isn’t really my thing; apart from my love for the older classics, I’m too busy to let my reading life be governed by publishing dates. Having said that, I was so excited to hear about Jonathan Coe’s new novel Middle England – a post-Brexit saga with characters familiar from The Rotter’s Club and The Closed Circle, released November 2018 – that I asked for it for Christmas, and I’m reading it right now! (Review also, hopefully, coming to this blog soon.)

Biggest Disappointments:

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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (2 STARS)

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel would EASILY rank highly in my Top Ten Best Books Ever, so I was very excited to read more of her work, starting with Frenchman’s Creek. It’s a pirate romance set in Restoration England (specifically, of course, Cornwall) all about a married woman discovering there’s More To Life. Action sequences aren’t my thing at all, and neither is having my feelings directed by the author in the exact opposite direction that they want to go. Her description of place and atmosphere is, as usual, excellent, but I was really disappointed at the lack of emotional depth or self-awareness of this novel.

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon (2 STARS)

A Christmas murder mystery, set in a deserted country house which the characters stumble across and take refuge in on a snowy Christmas Eve! What could go wrong… lack of suspense, huge chunks of exposition instead of clues slowly being revealed, several characters – who we are originally asked to care about – becoming complete spare parts. Not particularly well-written. I was really excited by the premise, and became more and more disappointed as I read.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2 STARS)

I posted a review on this blog, which you can read here. Similarly to Frenchman’s Creek, my main issue with the book was that the author very forcefully tried to direct my sympathies in the opposite direction to that which they wanted to go. This is particularly disappointing in a book which claims to examine the nuances between moral right and wrong.

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (2 STARS)

This rank among my disappointments because I loved the film so much. I was hoping the book would be as smouldering, gentle, atmospheric, intense and funny as the film – but it very much wasn’t. Again, I posted a review on this blog.

Honourable mention: Atonement by Ian McEwan (3 STARS)

I wrote a Goodreads review for this. Loved the storyline, the theme, the setting, the characters, the ‘message’… hated the writing style. Painful, for me.

Most Forgettable:

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GOLD: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (4 STARS)

I read this in March, rated it 4 stars and wrote on Goodreads: “Imagine The Great Gatsby crossed with A Room With A View, with the writing style of Virginia Woolf crossed with Jonathan Coe.” Writing this now in December, not only can I very much not imagine that at all – but, without exaggerating, I can’t remember a single aspect of this book, from characters or names to setting to plot to mood.

SILVER: All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan (3 STARS)

Read over April and May, and this time I can remember a few aspects – the general set-up and characters – but I haven’t the foggiest about how it ends or how it made me feel.

BRONZE: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (3 STARS)

I read this pretty recently – in August – but I can’t remember much beyond the general shape of the main plotline. I’d still recommend this book, but it’s one of those that you enjoy in the moment then don’t remember much about later.

Most Unforgettable:

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe (4 STARS)

Again, I wrote a review on my blog. This book is divided into different sections, each of which appears to be about a new character or storyline, but which are all revealed to interlock. The section entitled The Crystal Garden is easily the most beautiful, poignant, well-structured, tense and unforgettable piece of writing I’ve read in ages.

Biggest Recommendation:

Out of all the books I read in 2018, the ones I’d recommend the most would have to be My Cousin Rachel and The Hate U Give.

I’d also give an honourable mention to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as well as her other classics like Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None and my personal favourite, The ABC Murders. It sounds silly to call the best-selling novelist of all time unappreciated, but I never hear her talked about much by readers of younger generations (on Booktube etc). I also think she’s a great recommendation to those who don’t read often, with her fast pacing and tight plotting.

My reading plans for 2019

In 2019, I’d like to repeat my success of reading 100 books. I’d love to discover new authors, both those currently working and those of the past.

This is what my to-read pile currently looks like:

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Releases I’m excited for are Spring by Ali Smith, The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and (Gods be good, I have everything crossed) The Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin.

Keep up to date with my reading by following this blog (either with your WordPress blog account or via email updates) or adding me as a friend on Goodreads!

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