Books of the Year

Books of the Year 2018

Gosh, is it that time of year already? With the last few pages of 2018’s books being feverishly read and the first titles of 2019 knocking at the door, it is indeed time for The Shelf’s annual Books of the Year post.

And whilst it might not have been the best year out in the big wide world (in fact, the less said about 2018 the better really), 2018 really has been an excellent year for books. I’ve read some fantastic titles – the ones selected here really had to work hard for their place on the list – and have many more 2018 publications still waiting in the TBR pile.

The books selected here then are, in my humble opinion, the best books that I read this year. They might not have necessarily been published in 2018 but I read them this year and they’ve stayed in my mind, haunting me in the way that only the very best books can do. Clicking on the title link will take you to a full review of the book in question (if available) for more information and thoughts. So, without further ado, I present to you (in no particular order), my Best Books of 2018!

ChangelingChangeling by Matt Wesolowski

As mentioned in my review, I have genuinely enjoyed every single one of Matt’s Six Stories series. Combining an addictive podcast style format with a dash of the supernatural and a drop of danger, all three books are page-turning and compelling crime thrillers. Changeling is Matt’s best work yet, combining all of the usual Six Stories elements with a profoundly relatable and relevant tale of domestic noir as podcaster Scott King struggles to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of little Alfie Marsden. To say any more would be to spoil the book but I’d urge any crime fan to read this book – in fact, go and treat yourself to all three!

28501495Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan

I do love a good book memoir and this is one of the best I’ve read. Filled with all the warmth and nostalgia that you could want from a book about childhood reading, Lucy’s story is also laugh out loud funny and incredibly relatable. I think most bookworms can relate to arguing over whether they can read at the dinner table, or wondering why reading a book in a corner is deemed unsociable at family gatherings. Lucy’s memoir covers all of the childhood favourites – Narnia, The Famous Five, Milly-Molly-Mandy – and she successfully balances a personal memoir with a nostalgic romp through childhood literature. Perfect for any reader who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book!

34536956Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung

A brilliant graphic novel that perfectly captures the experience of being an introvert in a world that won’t stop talking. Tung’s simple and effective illustrations capture everything from FOGO (Fear of Going Out) to the terror of unexpected visitors and the nervous anticipation of being made to meet new people. The black and white panels also capture the joys of simple pleasures – finding someone who understands your fears and your need for alone time, the joy of curling up with a book on a rainy day, the pleasure of coming into a quiet house when you’ve had a busy day at work. Utterly wonderful – if you’re an introvert, you need this in your life!

35103171The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower

Definitely the most sumptuous book that I read this year, The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock was a joyful romp from first page to last. Fabulously realised, the book brings Georgian London to life with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the city practically bursting off the page. Filled with colourful characters and larger-than-life events, get beneath the surface of Mermaid and you’ll find one of the most touchingly sweet love stories I think I’ve read as merchant Jonah Hancock and courtesan Angelica Neal discover their mutual appreciation. Bold, witty, funny and sweet, this is a brilliant historical novel.

SevenDeathsThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This mind-bending novel has a brilliant concept pulled off with panache: what if Quantum Leap met Agatha Christie and then experienced Groundhog Day? Sounds mad? Well, it is a bit mad – how Stuart Turton ever kept hold of the plot I’ll never know – but it’s also utterly brilliant and fiendishly clever. I raced through the pages as body-hopping protagonist Aiden relieves the same day from different perspectives, all the time trying to find the killer of beautiful, tragic Evelyn Hardcastle. A country house murder with a unique twist, this is perfect for crime fans and science fiction aficionados alike.

37780792Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain by James Bloodworth

An eye-opening piece of investigative journalism by Guardian journalist James Bloodworth, this book examines the truth of life in low-wage employment. From the Amazon warehouse that borders my hometown of Rugeley, Staffordshire to providing home care in Brighton and Uber services in London, this is a thought-provoking look at life within the workforce that supplies our cheap goods and instant services. Going undercover to live and work within these firms, Bloodworth exposes an employment system with few opportunities for progression or self-improvement, encountering employees from all walks of life including ex-miners, school leavers, students, and migrant workers. A startling examination of the labour system that props up the British economy, this book takes a long hard look at the ethics of low-wage employment and is unflinching in what it reports. A must read.

36991831The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward

Another series that just goes from strength to strength is that of Sarah Ward’s DC Connie Child. Whilst I’ve been a fan of the series ever since the publication of In Bitter Chill, which introduces intrepid Connie and her insightful, long-suffering boss Francis Sadler, The Shrouded Path is definitely the best book in the series yet. Featuring a mystery from 1957 that might be getting too close to home for one of the team, it’s a brilliantly crafted police procedural with a page-turning quality. Sarah’s writing always reminds me of P D James, with meticulous attention to detail and some wonderful psychological insights. Definitely a series to track down if you’re looking for fantastic British crime fiction in your life.

So that wraps up my Best Books of the Year! Yes I know seven is an odd number to go for but, hey, my bubble, my rules and all that! In all seriousness though, these are the seven books are the ones that really stuck with me in 2018. I read plenty of books this year that were very good – take a look over my blog tour posts and reviews, or go take a gander at my Goodreads, and you’ll find a ton of fantastic reads in there – but these were the ones that had that something special. That kept me thinking after I had turned the final page and that earned a coveted place on my ‘For Keeps’ shelf. I’d heartily recommend every single one of them.

So with that over and done with for another year, here is to 2019!! Thank you so much for sticking with The Shelf over 2018. I really appreciate every single like, comment and RT and I love my little online bookish community – Book People really are the best – so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year. I shall see you on the other side in 2019 to do this all over again! And, as always, until the next time…







Books of the Year · Reviews

REVIEW! The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

SevenDeaths‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

This last week, my reading life can best be described as sluggish, listless and lethargic . And I am entirely blaming Stuart Turton for that. His magnificent debut, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has left me with one heck of a book hangover. I’d pegged Seven Deaths as a possible 2018 favourite in my New Year, New Books Tag back in January, so my expectations for the book were high but it exceeded every single one and then some!

As you can probably tell from the blurb, the premise is somewhere between a Agatha Christie country house mystery and Quantum Leap, with a dash of Groundhog Day for good measure. Its a high concept idea and; with all the body-hopping, time-looping shenanigans, it would be really easy for the book to lose its way and become mired in plot holes and confusion. So it is massively to Stuart Turton’s credit that Seven Deaths, whilst complex, never feels confusing. Instead the plot is gripping, with plenty of twists and turns to keep both Aiden – and the reader – on their toes.

The 1920s country house setting is fabulously realised, With a house full of waspish bright young things, a family falling apart at the seems, and a kitchen full of gossiping servants, the novel is a real tribute to  the golden age of crime fiction – there’s even a butler who might have done it! As a huge fan of classic crime, I loved these nods to the genre and was, initially somewhat concerned about the way that the more science-fiction elements of the story might be incorporated. The body-swapping, time-bending elements were brilliantly interwoven however, adding an extra layer of mystery and intrigue that takes the classic country house mystery to the next level.

Because you see, body-hopping protagonist Aiden is not the only person out of place at Blackheath. Two other people are trapped within the house’s walls and competing to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle – the mysterious Anna, and the psychopathic, knife-wielding Footman. Their inclusion, and the fact that they’re competitors as opposed to allies, really ratchets up the tension as Aiden must deal with the capabilities and limitations of each of his hosts, establish the relationships and movements of the Blackheath household, gather clues to protect the endangered Evelyn and avoid being murdered by one of his rivals – all whilst remembering who he’s meant to be and why he’s even trapped in Blackheath in the first place. You really have to feel for Aiden – he has a rough ride over the novel’s 512 pages and it’s to Turton’s credit again that he manages to imbue all of his characters, including Adrian’s varied hosts, with a real sense of individuality, intention and motivation.

You might be getting the sense by now that there’s a lot going on here and it’s true – the blurb barely does justice to the ingenuity of Turton’s plotting, which manages to be intricate without ever feeling mind-boggling. It would have been so easy to fall back on a deus ex machina, or to use the complexity of the narrative to skim over the finer details of the resolution, but Turton is never that lazy. Instead the denouement is emotionally engaging, utterly thrilling and a test of the reader’s little grey cells!

Brilliantly conceived and utterly original, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has headed straight into my ‘Best Books of 2018’ list. Crime fans will love the whodunit elements, sci fi aficionados can really get their teeth into all the quirks, and literature lovers will find a startling debut from a talented new voice. Unique in concept and flawless in execution, Seven Deaths is a must read for anyone who enjoys exercising their brain and being left breathless when they’ve turned the final page.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is published by Raven Books and is available now in hardback and is available now from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon

Books of the Year · Reviews

My Best Books of 2017

2017 has been a very up and down year on the reading front. I started strong, slumped massively in the middle and then re-discovered my reading (and blogging) mojo towards the end of the year. Despite that, I have read some cracking books this year and, whilst it’s not been as challenging a task to narrow down my Best Books this year as in previous years, the quality of what is here is definitely not diminished in any way – in my opinion all of the following are brilliant, brilliant books and I would urge you to read them if you haven’t already.

The Essex SerpentEssex Serpent by Sarah Perry

A gorgeously written treat of a book, this historical novel contains multitudes within it’s pages. Sarah Perry has skillfully captured life with her pen, weaving a web of human interactions around the strange fable of a legendary serpent said to haunt the Essex coastline. Packed with characters you’ll feel like you’re friends with and luscious prose that brings Victorian England vividly to life, this is a vibrant riot of a book and perfect for anyone who has The Miniaturist cravings following the BBC adaptation! My full review of the book appeared earlier this year on the blog and can be found here.

Days Without EndDays Without End by Sebastian Barry

If you’d have told me that a literary novel about two gay men set during the American Civil War would be my bag, I’d have been a mite dubious. But Sebastian Barry has created a miniature epic in Days Without End. A beautiful love story, a sweeping historical saga, a tense description of war, a tender portrayal of family – it’s all in here and surrounded in some of the best prose I’ve read all year. The voice in this novel is so unique and so profound at times – it gave me all the feels and I’d urge anyone to go and read it so that they can have them too. Again, a full review appeared earlier this year here.

The Dark CircleThe Dark Circle by Linda Grant

Again, a novel about twins set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in post-war England didn’t, at first, sound my cup of tea but, thanks to the Women’s Prize for Fiction, I picked up and loved Linda Grant’s novel. As with the Essex Serpent, this is a novel about characters more than plot as twins Lenny and Millie meet a range of residents from across the social spectrum within the enclosed microcosm of the sanatorium walls. Combined with an interesting period of social change and some insight into the early years of the NHS, this is a meditative, layered novel that rewards patient reading.

Six StoriesSix Stories by Matt Wesolowski

I’m a huge fan of the podcast Serial so when I heard that there was a novel that purported to be Serial in book form, you’d better believe I was straight on it! Constructed around six podcasts in which an investigative journalist outlines the circumstances surrounding the death of a teenage boy at an outward-bound centre and interviews witnesses and suspects, this is a compelling page-turner with a chilling edge. With a twisty narrative and some dark psychological insights, this novel is what I’d like all thrillers to be – a page turning read with an ending that packs a punch!

Killers of the Flower MoonKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Narrative non-fiction is always a tricky thing to pull off – too much narrative and it feels like a story, too much fact and you’ve got yourself a history book. David Grann gets the balance just right in Killers of the Flower Moon, an investigation into the systematic murders of large numbers of Osage Indians in the 1920s and 30s. Subtitled Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI, the book is a fascinating account of an overlooked piece of recent American history that retains it’s relevance and still resonates today.

The White RoadThe White Road by Sarah Lotz

Another twisty psychological thriller that gave me the chills in 2017 – although this time the setting might have had something to do with it! Set largely on Everest, this part thriller, part ghost story is gripping from the off and features one of the best unlikeable narrators I’ve ever come across. Simon Newman is the worst kind of journalist – dishonest and self-serving, he and his friend Thierry are willing to go to extremes to get their click-bait website off the ground, even if that means filming the bodies of Everest’s long dead. Taut and chilling, this is a psychological thriller with a supernatural twist, made all the better for the amazing sense of place. I posted a full review of the book earlier this year here.

The Good People by Hannah Kent / Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Get me being cheeky and sneaking in two recommendations for the price of one! In all seriousness though I couldn’t choose between Hannah Kent’s two novels, both of which I read in 2017. They’re both fantastic pieces of well-realised, cleverly crafted historical fiction. Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdóttir, the last women to be executed in Iceland- perfect for anyone who has read (or watched) and adored Alias Grace. It’s dark, compelling and richly told. The Good People is a very different novel, centered around three women in early nineteenth century Ireland and their struggle to come to terms with the care of an unusual child. As with Burial Rites, the novel is based on real events but is quite different in tone and takes in a larger examination of societal attitudes and the uneasy truce between religion and folklore, modernity and tradition. I reviewed The Good People in full here and, on the basis of these two novels, I can’t wait to see what Kent produces next.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions this year have to go to:

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, which came along at just the right time and made me snort my tea due to laughing so much. It also made me realise that maybe being a bookseller wouldn’t be the best career for someone who prefers books to people most of the time!

Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas, wonderfully narrated on audio by Stephen Fry, which is a perfect alternative to A Christmas Carol and deserves to be read by adults everywhere (especially if they happen to be reading it to children). Gave me the real festive feels and has a vital message about importance of being kind.

Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a stunning graphic novel about loneliness, ghosts and a mysterious girl next door. Visually captivating, it tells it’s tale in alternating sections of narrative and pictures.

Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living is an exploration of the way in which books shape and impact our lives and an insight into why and how we read. A must for any book lovers (as is his first book, The End of Your Life Book Club).

Sarah Ward’s A Patient Fury, the third in her series of ‘Derbyshire Noir’ police procedurals. I went on blog tour with this book earlier in the year and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the whole series to crime fiction lovers.

As always, I’d love to know if you’ve read any of my books of the year and what you thought of them – or if you have any of them on your TBR pile for 2018. Do leave me a comment down below or say hello over on Twitter – if you’ve done your own Books of the Year post I’d love to read it! In the meantime, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and here’s to a bookish 2018!

Happy Reading x