Top Ten Books of 2018

So that’s the end of 2018! It’s been a great year for books: I read 75 this year which I have whittled down into my top ten, plus a few special mentions. Links to my full reviews can be found by clicking the book titles.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

34068470An instant classic. This should be the new go-to book for Greek mythology.

In this fresh, authoritative version—the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman—this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

The Fifth to Die by J. D. Barker

35683027One of the best detective/crime novels I’ve ever read.

In the midst of one of the worst winters Chicago has seen in years, the body of missing teenager Ella Reynolds is discovered under the surface of a frozen lake. She’s been missing for three weeks…the lake froze over three months ago. 

Detective Sam Porter and his team are brought in to investigate but it’s not long before another girl goes missing. The press believes the serial killer, Anson Bishop, has struck again but Porter knows differently. The deaths are too different, there’s a new killer on the loose. 

Porter, however, is distracted. He’s still haunted by Bishop and his victims, even after the FBI have removed him from the case. His only leads: a picture of a female prisoner and a note from Bishop: “Help me find my mother. I think it’s time she and I talked.”

As more girls go missing and Porter’s team race to stop the body count rising, Porter disappears to track down Bishop’s mother and discover that the only place scarier than the mind of a serial killer is the mind of the mother from which he came.

Blackwing & Ravencry by Ed McDonald

36402955Books #1 and #2 in the best epic fantasy series I’ve read for a long time. Action-packed and emotional.

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

36666672.jpgFour years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic.

A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.

Home by Amanda Berriman

38457392I have never been more emotionally invested in a story.

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

39866035A fantastic re-telling of The Illiad, based on the experience of women in the Greek camp outside Troy.

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

30153285A truly delightful book with beautiful illustrations.

Sally Jones is an extraordinary gorilla and a brilliant ship’s engineer who sails the high seas on The Hudson Queen with her loyal friend the Chief. One day the shipmates are offered a mysterious job that promises to pay big bucks, but then disaster strikes, the job goes wrong and the Chief is falsely convicted of murder.

For Sally Jones this is the start of a grand adventure and a desperate quest to clear her friend’s name. By freighter, steam train and bi-plane the intrepid ape journeys from Lisbon to Bombay and beyond in search of the truth. But powerful forces are working against her, and they will do anything to protect their own secrets…

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

34731459Met my very high expectations after The Bird and the Nightingale.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

40803091A fantastic science-fiction novel, combining time travel with mystery, mental illness and characters filled with personality.

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

A Keeper by Graham Norton

39287253A deeply absorbing story.

The mystery of Elizabeth Keane’s father is one that has never been solved by the people of Buncarragh – not for lack of speculation.

Her mother Patricia had been assumed a spinster, until she began dating a mysterious man from out of town, and within months had left Buncarragh and had married. Less than two years later, Patricia was back, with a new baby in her arms, but no new husband by her side and unbendingly silent about her recent past. A secret she would take with her to her grave.

Now, as Elizabeth returns to the village after her mother’s funeral, bringing with her her own regrets and wounds, she finds a thin pile of ribbon-bound letters at the back of a wardrobe that may at last hold the key to her past.

The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle

42348486A very original horror story with themes of friendship and loss.

Oliver and his friends have returned to their hometown of Shumard, Texas for the funeral of their close friend Noah. They each grapple with the loss in their own ways, trying to understand the strange circumstances of their friend’s unexpected death.

While visiting the site where the body was found, Oliver stumbles across a chilling discovery that he knows must be related to what happened to Noah. Wanting to protect his friends from these newfound horrors, Oliver takes it upon himself to venture into the grotesque otherworld known as the Narrows to learn what happened to his friend and find a way to bring him back.

Entering the Narrows is one thing, but will whatever he finds there allow him to leave?

Finally, the books that very nearly made my top ten deserve a special mention:

No Good Brother by Tyler Keevil; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders; Hunted by G. X. Todd; Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi; Everless by Sara Holland.

The Fifth to Die – J. D. Barker


It’s a family affair.

In the second book of the 4MK series, teenage girls are going missing and turning up frozen. Detective Sam Porter and his team are brought in to investigate, and it’s not long before the murder’s are linked to none other than the notorious 4 Monkey Killer. Porter isn’t convinced, but he’s distracted. After getting so close to Anson Bishop (4MK himself) only to have him escape, Porter has never been more determined to find this cold-hearted killer. As more girls go missing and his team do their best to stop the body count rising, Porter tracks down Bishop’s mother and discovers that there is nothing scarier than the mind of a serial killer’s mother.

This book is, frankly, one of the best detective/crime novels I’ve ever read. I enjoyed it even more than book #1, The Fourth Monkey, and absolutely cannot wait for the next one to come out.

The team are fantastic and they really make this book great. Porter is a strong, complex lead, and a very convincing detective, while Clair, Nash and Kloz round out group brilliantly with their own personalities and light humour. I also really enjoyed Agent Poole with the FBI and the chapters written from the point-of-view of the girls who had been kidnapped. The story follows multiple simultaneous threads, told from the aspects of various different characters, which has the potential to be very difficult to follow. Surprisingly, the story flows exceptionally well and is an easy read (in terms of flow, not content).

The plot itself is fast-paced, well-developed and full of suspense. Every chapter is filled with drama and enough realism that it is completely believable (at least, believable for someone with no knowledge of what really happens when the police try to catch a serial killer).

There isn’t a single negative thing I can say about this book. Some of the kidnapping and torture scenes could be difficult for some readers, but for me they were an integral part of the plot and added an extra necessary darkness.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

A Keeper – Graham Norton

39287253Elizabeth Keane has never known her father, or even known who he is. Following the death of her mother, Patricia, Elizabeth heads back to her childhood home to sort through Patricia’s things and finds a pile of letters hidden away that just might hold the key to her past.

I went into this book expecting something similar to Graham Norton’s last novel, Holding. The blurb doesn’t give much away, so I didn’t really know what this book was going to be about. It started out a bit dully – I couldn’t see what direction it was going to take – and then, BAM. It unexpectedly turned into some kind of kidnapping mystery story.

The shock factor truly made this book for me, so I’ll keep things vague. Really, the plot is that of a thriller, but the writing style is quite is closer to what you’d find in a family drama or even a romance novel. This had the effect of taking away a lot of the usual tropes of the thriller genre and added an extra layer of sinisterness through how casually the kidnapping is presented.

The characters were fantastic. They were believable and well-developed, with completely realistic lives outside of the general story-line as well as within it. I really enjoyed the Irish colloquialisms in the speech to help set the scene and give the characters more personality.

A Keeper is a deeply emotive and absorbing story. A truly excellent piece of fiction.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

39866035When the Greeks sack her home, Briseis is taken as a captive to the Greek camp outside of Troy and chosen to become Achilles’ concubine – a prize of battle. She must quickly adjust from her life as a queen to that of a slave, serving the enemy. As the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans wages on, Briseis finds herself caught between two of the most powerful Greeks, and in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation.

The Silence of the Girls is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad,  told from the point of view of a woman, held captive in the Greek camp. It essentially tells the stories of the women and girls who were unwilling participants and collateral damage in the Trojan War. It’s a really interesting point of view to read from and Briseis was a fantastic narrator, but the main character of the book was really Achilles rather than Briseis, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

The story itself was not actually the most exciting. Despite there being a war (with a good amount of gory, bloody detail), the plot was not particularly action-packed or eventful. However, it was excellently written and I was completely addicted. The characters were very strong, likeable and well-developed – even Agamemnon, who plays the ‘villain’ role. The author does an outstanding job of balancing the ‘good vs. bad’ aspect of the plot, with Briseis being surrounded by her enemies and still managing to forge friendships with them, whilst remaining loyal to her people. Although the Greeks are clearly presented as the enemy, they are not made out to be negative characters and they have likeable and individual personalities.

Some of the content is pretty horrific: the women are captured, raped and brutalised. It is not pleasant to read, but these aspects are not overly visual and are, unfortunately, an unavoidable feature of Ancient Greek fiction. To take this content out of the story would be a misrepresentation of the time.

I love Greek mythology in general, and The Silence of the Girls exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Mystery of Three Quarters – Sophie Hannah

38448673In this brand new Hercule Poirot novel, four people have received identical letters accusing them of the murder of Barnabus Panby, signed by none other than Poirot himself. But Poirot never sent these letters, or has ever even heard of a Barnabus Pandy. So begins an inquiry to discover whether Mr Pandy was really murdered, and who sent the fraudulent letters?

Sophie Hannah’s revival of Hercule Poirot is difficult to criticise. I have always been a fan of the TV version of Poirot played by David Suchet, though I admit I have never actually read one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot Novels. Because of this, I can’t compare the new Poirot to the original, but I can say that he matched up to the one in my head very nicely. He is as wonderfully eccentric and self-impressed as I remembered, and I loved him.

Likewise, the other characters were exactly what you would hope for in a Poirot novel. Hercule’s trusty sidekick, Catchpool (whose viewpoint we follow throughout the book), was a particular favourite of mine. He was able to point out Poirot’s many flaws from a position that didn’t create conflict or hinder the storytelling, while his narrative voice was very likeable and strong.

It took me a while to get into both the writing style and the plot but, once I did, I really enjoyed it. The story line was quite straightforward with no particular twists, but there was a good balance between mystery and light-hearted humour, making it an entertaining read.  I wouldn’t say it grabbed me enough to make me particularly want to read more of the new Hercule Poirot mysteries, but it was very enjoyable as a one-off.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

35663816This family drama follows the live of four siblings who visit a fortune teller who tells each of them the date they will die. Burdened by this knowledge, the Gold siblings make very different decisions about how to live their lives. Simon and Klara both run away to San Francisco to follow their dreams, while Daniel becomes an army doctor and Varya turns to science.

It took me a really long time to get into the story. I found that for the whole first part, following Simon, I didn’t really care about the characters or what was going on. It wasn’t until Klara’s section that I got more interested, but then I began to lose interest again reading about Daniel and Varya.

The Immortalists is based on an interesting concept and had quite an intriguing opening, but after the first death the plot became surprisingly predictable and was pretty depressing throughout. None of the Gold children lived happy lives and it wasn’t much fun to read.

I saw so many positive reviews and comments about this book before I read it, but I was really disappointed in the end. I could just never get into it enough to enjoy the story or develop much interest in the characters.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

Vox – Christina Dalcher

40023560A new government is in power and life has changed drastically, but only if you’re a woman. They’re no longer allowed to work, to own a passport, or even to have their own bank account. But most significantly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write, and all women are permitted to speak only 100 words a day. In this terrifying dystopian future, scientist Jean is determined to reclaim her voice. For herself, for her daughter and for all women.

I loved the concept of this book. It’s along the same vein as books like The Handmaid’s Tale, but from a different angle: language. It is a truly horrifying possibility, and the slow oppression of women in this book is disturbingly believable.

I did have two main issues that hindered my full enjoyment of this book. Firstly, the main character: Jean. She was just so unlikable. She was annoying and quite aggressively opinionated, but incapable of making much of a stand, which leads on to my second issue. The author obviously finds language fascinating and has extensive knowledge on the subject, but at times this came through too heavily via the main character, making her seem like a know-it-all. I don’t begrudge her interest in language or her knowledge (I also studied English Language at university and find it fascinating), but I didn’t enjoy the preachy way it came out in her writing.

It’s difficult not to find flaws in dystopian books of this nature, and even more difficult to pick out the aspects I did enjoy. However, I got though this book in quite a short space of time because it was certainly very readable and puts forward a disturbing and thought-provoking idea.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon