Last year, I declared myself done with new year’s resolutions. I’m not the kind of person who vows to exercise more, or eat better, or go on any kind of spiritual journey.
Just like life, all I want to do is read.
So I set myself up with a Goodreads challenge, with a modest goal of reading fifty new books in 2018. I knew full well I read far more than that in a year… but the problem was, I’m a chronic rereader. Case in point: I can probably do a one-woman performance of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, at least the first half of it. I find something that I love and I read it over and over and over again. I also wanted to read a bit more non-fiction; it felt a bit like my brain was being neglected and was slowly but surely turning into a puddle of mush sloshing around inside my skull.
A puddle of mush that could recite the opening paragraphs of I Capture the Castle, at any rate.
I’m pleased to announce that I did complete my challenge; in fact, I surpassed it, with 54 new books read in total. Oh, there was a lot of rereading too, something I might actually try and track this year. The vow to read a bit more non-fiction fell a bit by the wayside: out of 54 books, only 8 were non-fiction. Though, I suppose, that’s probably a step up from the year before.
Let’s have some numbers, while I’m at it. In those 54 books, there were 19.542 pages; the shortest was only 84 pages long (probably a bit of a cheat, that one) and the longest clocked in at 850 pages. I gave an average rating of 4.1 stars, but that doesn’t mean a great deal – even books I didn’t really like, I still ended up giving three stars (I’m a sucker for finding at least SOME good points). Only 8 books came from the library, 24 were on Kindle, and 24 were my own physical books (some I bought myself, some were gifts, and some had been languishing on my shelves for months). Ooh, I do enjoy a good stat. I could go on – if I’d done this at the end of the year, like proper bloggers do, I could have done a full statistical analysis…
Let’s have a look at my highs and lows of 2018!
The Best Books
nb. All the links I’ve provided are Goodreads links, because they’ll give you information and give you choices about where to buy from if you so desire, so you’re not just restricted to Amazon if you don’t want to be.
The Silence Between Breaths – Cath Staincliffe
I got this book for Christmas from my mum, and as soon as I started reading it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down until I finished. My poor child ended up sitting in front of Thomas the Tank Engine for most of the afternoon as I gobbled up this book (I don’t know why I’m saying ‘poor’, he bloody loved it). It’s not hugely literary, it’s not going to change the world, but the plot is just so compelling, you have to keep turning the pages. You even know what’s going to happen, as soon as you read the blurb on the back – a potential terrorist is on the train to London with a bag full of explosives. A whole host of random characters are thrown together in the same train carriage, and you have to wait with your breath catching in your chest to find out their fate. I cried. It felt close to home for me in so many ways.
Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling – Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen
I hate that I don’t know how to categorise this book – people would be quick to dismiss it as ‘chick lit’, a term I can’t stand, or ‘women’s fiction’. As someone who writes this kind of thing, I hate that it gets totally marginalised and, as soon as you call it ‘for women’ it gets dismissed as fluffy and pointless. This book is anything but: it’s hilarious, it’s topical, and although it’s a bit meandering and the plot kind of falls by the wayside, the absolutely stellar characters more than make up for it. Everyone knows an Aisling, after all. Its sequel came out towards the end of the year and was very nearly as good as the first one, with a much better ending as a bonus.
If you haven’t seen this in bookshops over the last year, you must have been living under a rock; and it deserves all of its hype. A damning indictment of the state of the NHS, it also manages to be gut-bustingly hilarious at the same time. Until, all of a sudden, it isn’t. Honestly, go and read this. It’s the kind of book where I kept reading bits of it out loud to my long-suffering husband while crying with laughter.
And my absolute favourite book of 2018…
Dreadful Company – Vivian Shaw
I loved the first book in the Greta Helsing series, and this one was just as good, if not better. Modern urban fantasy mixed with references to classic Gothic literature (and Victorian pulp fiction of the most fabulous sort)? What more is there to love? This installment brought in some excellent new characters, and some excellent ribbing towards clichéd vampire tropes. I can’t wait for the next book, and I’m not-so-secretly hoping this trilogy ends up being far more than three books. The next book comes out this year and the minute it hits the shelves, I’ll be ON IT.
Honourable mentions to: Lethal White (Robert Galbraith); The Book of Dust (Philip Pullman); Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill); Eliza and Her Monsters (Francesca Zappia); Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Caitlin Doughty)
…And The Worst
This is harder to do… I’m an eternal optimist and I really try to find positive things about everything I read. After all, I know what it’s like to write; I know what it’s like to put a piece of your soul into everything that comes out onto the page. Saying that, though…
How To Be Dead – Dave Turner
This was the short one I mentioned before, more of a novella. I really liked the concept, I remember that, but looking back at my list of books from 2018, I honestly can’t remember anything else about the book except feeling it was trying far too hard to be funny.
All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Controversial, perhaps, considering it’s won every award going. On paper, you’d think I’d love this. Historical fiction, WWII, set in a place I’ve visited many times (St Malo). But even though the actual written prose was beautiful, and I could appreciate the intricacy of the plot, it just left me kind of cold. I found myself skimming over bits, waiting for something interesting to happen, or to fall in love with the characters. And I’m sorry, but I just never did.
And my absolute least favourite book of 2018…
Secondborn – Amy Bartol
I pride myself on finishing books. If I start it, I’m bloody well plodding on to the end. But this one, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t. It has such a good concept – a dystopian future where society is divided along the lines of your order of birth, with families only permitted two children. But it seemed so poorly edited; no backstory, little to no character development ,and a clichéd romance that seems entirely built on a character losing her mind over a man’s arms. I paid money for this book and it’s still on my Kindle, so maybe one day I’ll bite the bullet and I’ll finish it off. I’ve certainly finished worse, before. But at the time, I was also reading the superior YA dystopian world of Ceceilia Ahern’s Flawed, and this paled in comparison.
Wow, that was hard. Not just picking the worst ones, but also picking the best: by forcing myself to read new things last year, I found some real gems by authors I’d never heard of before.
So what’s in store for this year? Well, I’ve got to say 2019 is looking good so far: it’s bang in the middle of January and I’ve already finished five books, plus I’ve got three currently in progress. One of those is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – I’ve had my friend Lee banging on about it for so many years now, I’ve finally had to give in. It’s slow going so far, but only because it’s such a huge book I can’t read it comfortably in bed without dropping it on my own head. I could do with a good long train journey, really…