2018 Reflections: Novels

Here are my favourite fiction books from this year. (Note that not all of these were published this year, that’s just when I read them.)

The following are abridged reviews; where there’s a longer version on the blog, I’ve linked to it. Blurbs are either from the back of the book, or from Amazon.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

At 14, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall. She knows how to snare a rabbit, sharpen a blade and splint a bone. She knows that her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her with him.

But she doesn’t know why she feels so different from the other girls at school; why the line between love and pain can be so hard to see. Or why making a friend may be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done.

Sometimes the people you’re supposed to trust are the ones who do most harm. And what you’ve been taught to fear is the very thing that will save you.

This one has to be my book of the year.

Do you ever feel like you’re not reading a book, but having a conversation with it? Like it’s speaking to some part of you that rarely gets heard, let alone listened to, and you’re conversing about subjects other people just don’t understand?

That’s this book for me.

Full review here

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Holy fucking shit, this book. I kept stopping at various different points and wondering at Gyasi’s ability to fit so much history, so many stories, into such a slim volume.

Homegoing is an absolutely excellent book which I think (I hope) we will all still be discussing in fifty years.

Full review here

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thing left to tick off her list….

But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?

Easily one of my favourite novels this year, Am I Normal Yet? will be relatable to anyone who’s struggled with mental illness. But it’s not just a book about OCD. It’s also an important book about feminism and what that means for young women in the 21st century.

Am I Normal Yet? takes a realistic look at mental health, feminism and the intersection of the two. It’s apparently ‘The Spinster Club #1’, which I hope means there will be many more. I look forward to reading them.

Full review here

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.

You’d like to get to know Grace better.

But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.

Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.

Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie.

I wasn’t sure if I liked this book all the way through, and then I got to the ending and… wow. It hit me with a nice spooky tingly feeling: the last few lines, spoken between Grace and her friend, made my spine shudder. It’s also one of the few books I can fully remember despite having read it quite early in the year.

I’d recommend it if you enjoy being thoroughly creeped out.

Full review here

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

Jane stumbles on the rental opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to live in a beautiful ultra-minimalist house designed by an enigmatic architect, on condition she abides by a long list of exacting rules. After moving in, she discovers that a previous tenant, Emma, met a mysterious death there – and starts to wonder if her own story will be a re-run of the girl before.

As twist after twist catches the reader off guard, Emma’s past and Jane’s present become inexorably entwined in this tense, page-turning portrayal of psychological obsession.

I finished this in one sitting because the writing style is so fast-paced. I didn’t have high hopes because I’d picked it up in a twofer at the supermarket, but it was really gripping. JP Delaney writes with an intensity that borders on the sexual; the pages feel like they’re turning themselves and just taking you along for the ride.

If you’re looking for a quick read that will thrill you with every page, I’d certainly recommend The Girl Before.

Full review here

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

Pushed to breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody?

And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

The only novel I read all year that made me release a little squeaky noise on the last page, Did You See Melody? is the book for you if you like a stunningly masterful twist.

Full review here

He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack. She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, four lives change forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, she also knows that you can never see the whole picture: something is always hidden . . . something she never could have guessed.

This was an interesting thriller with an excellent twist, which I didn’t see coming until right before it happened. A mélange of interpretations and intentions, He Said / She Said will keep you guessing all the way through, and leave your mind feeling nice and dark.

Full review here

Look For Me by Lisa Gardner

Should they save her – or stop her?

Detective DD Warren and Flora Dane are in a race against time to save a young girl’s life – or bring her to justice.

A family home has become a crime scene. Four are dead, savagely murdered. One – a sixteen-year-old girl – is missing.

Did she have a lucky escape? Or is her absence evidence of something sinister?

Seeking different types of justice, Warren and survivor-turned-avenger Flora must make sense of the clues left behind by a young woman who could be victim or suspect. All they know is that the girl is silently pleading:

Look for me…

I really want to read this one again, because I read it on the plane to the USA and I was exhausted at the time. I remember thinking it was excellent and that I wanted to write down several quotes from it, but I couldn’t be bothered to pull my bag out from under the seat in front of me. When I arrived at the hotel there was no time to flick through it again: I went straight to work and didn’t stop until I got back on a plane to come home.

Nonetheless it’s one I must recommend, unless I was so delirious from exhaustion on the plane that I thought it was good when it wasn’t. That’s doubtful though. So why don’t you read Look For Me, and I’ll read it again, and then we’ll reconvene and swap notes?

Full review here

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

A local schoolgirl has been missing for weeks when Margot Lewis, agony aunt of the ‘Dear Amy’ advice column, receives a letter:

Dear Amy,

I’ve been kidnapped by a strange man.
I don’t know where I am.

Please help me,
Bethan Avery

This must be a hoax. Because Bethan Avery is another young girl, who went missing twenty years ago.

As more letters arrive, Margot becomes consumed by finding the sender and – unlike the police – convinced that the girls’ disappearances are connected.

Solving this puzzle could save someone’s life – but could it also cost Margot her own?

This was a good, gripping thriller. I had a premonition of the twist a few pages before it happened, but I think that was only because the author wanted me to.

If you’re into dark, disturbing psychological thrillers, this book is for you.

Full review here

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself.

Then young women start disappearing in his South Korean town. Whom is he hunting? And why does the answer take him back to his brother and father who lost their lives many years ago?

The Good Son is a story of betrayal of trust; of what it means to be a family. It will make you question yourself, because it’s impossible not to empathise with the murderer at certain points in the story. It will make you think about your own life and the relationships within it, and what it might take to push you onto a path darker than you could imagine.

If you enjoy a good psychological thriller, read this book. It’ll grip you right from the very beginning, and keep you caught in its web all the way through. I can’t wait to read more from You-jeong Jeong.

Full review here

Ink by Alice Broadway

Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin forever. When Leora’s father dies, she is determined to see him remembered. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all.

Noughts and Crosses for the digital age, Ink is a book every young adult should read.

Full review here

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world.
She is.

Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row.
He’s wrong.

FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming.
It is.

It would take ages to write a full synopsis – the book has its own extensive Wikipedia page (with spoilers, though) so I won’t even try. But you should read it, because it’s good all the way through and because the last line will come out of nowhere and punch you in the gut.

Full review here 

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