It was one of the smash hits of the year, and deservedly so – one of the funniest books I read all year I read right at the start: Zara Stonely’s The Wedding Date. I wanted to be besties with protagonist Samantha because she – and the whole book – were refreshingly delightful and good for the soul. Of course, the hired boyfriend is an old trope, but you don’t care when you love the characters so much you just want them to be happy. I zoomed through the pages, literally LOL-ing (quite rare for me). As sweet and moreish as the cake on the cover.
On a bright morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought on Trinity Avenue. Nothing strange about that. Except it’s your house. And you didn’t sell it. Thus is the set-up for Our House by Louise Candlish, a twisty-turny, dense-and-tense thriller, where the truth of the situation – and the marriage that lies behind it – is painstakingly laid bare through the alternating POVs of husband and wife.
The Man Who Didn’t Call (also known as Ghosted in the States) was Rosie Walsh’s debut, however I had already read and loved (and listed on these best of year lists…) novels that Rosie had ghostwritten under other names. So with my own personal hype, plus industry hype, I went into this read heavy with expectation. Luckily, it was so good. A thoroughly modern romance – or perhaps I should say more of a psychological suspense. Perfectly structured and paced. Although the plot of the story does require a certain level of “instalove”, I felt the connection between Sarah and Eddie was always sweet and sincere. Compulsively readable, with a couple of thoroughly satisfying “!!” moments.
Possibly the most ‘marmite’ book of my year, I absolutely fall down on the ‘loved it’ side for Dawn O’ Porter’s The Cows (not for marmite though, hate that jarred yeasty evil). Sharp and no-holds barred. I was already a fan of Dawn, but haven’t yet read her YA books, so this was my introduction to her as a writer. The book follows the lightly interweaving stories of a collection of approaching middle-age women – all very different, but on the same journey to finding comfort in their lives and their own skin. Frank and forthright (a bit like Dawn herself, I think) the book deals confidently with issues with abortion, cancer, one-night-stands and masturbation (obviously, as this is famously the “wanking on a train” book). Trigger warnings if you are a bit sensitive, but as I am definitely not I laughed, cringed and welled-up and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
I can’t remember how I came across it, it was probably an impulse 99p-on-Kindle buy. And I think it sat on said Kindle for a while. But I finally picked it up, and I barely put it down until I was finished: Calling Major Tom by David M. Barnett. Following Thomas Major, thoroughly sick of all earthlings, who as luck would have it is about to be the first (and only) human being on Mars, until a wrong number snaffu entwines his fate with the charming Ormeroyd family, who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads with the father in prison. Through them, Thomas is given a final chance to reconnect with the human race. Adorably quirky, quirkily adorable.
It seemed like everyone read this book in 2018, and most of them felt the same as me, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris had me in pieces. I know what you’re thinking – a tear-jerker set in Auschwitz is an easy sell, but it is truly a wonderful book. Based on the true story of a Slovakian Jew who was held in the infamous Auschwitz prison camp and worked as the tattooist forced to mark each prisoner with one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust – the numbers scored into their flesh.
Ten-year-old Zac has never met his dad, who allegedly did a runner before he was born. But when his mum lets slip that he’s the only man she’s ever loved, Zac turns detective and, roping in his best friend, hatches a plan to find his father and give his mum the happy-ever-after she deserves. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that sometimes people have good reasons for disappearing… Little Big Man by Katy Regan tells this somehow timeless, somehow modern story through alternating views of Zac, his mother and his grandfather.
I’m quite often asked that difficult question – what’s your favourite book? And I tend to answer with a torrent, trying to get five – or ten – titles out of my mouth before I have to stop talking. But one that’s always present in the torrent is Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles; I will talk all day long about how much I love that book if someone lets me. So let’s just say I expected great things from her follow-up, Circe. I studied Classics at university, which means that anything based off Classical Literature butts up against a) my overwhelming self-hype… I am so desperate to love it… but also b) me being extremely difficult to please.
Well, this book pleased me. I inhaled it in a desperate greedy gulp, and then had to stop myself starting it from the beginning all over again. Circe, perhaps better known as the ‘witch’ from The Odyssey who turns men into pigs, who falls in love with Odysseus and wickedly keeps him there with her for years, is the minor daughter of a Titan – but with no great godly power, she develops her own, drawing strength from nature. This is the ‘life story’ of this immortal, and onto her stage march a chain of familiar gods, heroes and monsters. Yes, I loved it especially because I know and love these old tales, but if you do not, absolutely do not let that put you off. This book should be read and enjoyed by everyone.
That I love the work of Taylor Jenkins Reid is no secret – I think she’s probably featured on each of these lists since the very first time I ever read her. I parceled out her back catalogue to myself for years, like little treats, because I couldn’t bear the thought I wouldn’t have one in reserve. So imagine my excitement when there was actually a new release! The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo follows the eponymous Evelyn, a now aging and reclusive Hollywood icon, who has mysteriously chosen Monique – an unknown magazine reporter – to ghost-write her biography for her. Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds it reveals a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. As with everything Taylor Jenkins Reid writes, it was pitch-perfect. I am so jealous of readers yet to discover the joy of her writing.
“Turning thirty is like playing musical chairs. The music stops, and everyone just marries whoever they happen to be sitting on.” Well. You know you’re in for something a bit blistering when you read that on the back cover. Luckily How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne had the perfect amount of bite. Following Tori, a celebrate self-help author who can’t take her own advice, this book was an unflinching look in the mirror for me, a 30-something who’s not quite sure she’s enough of a grown up yet. I found myself sending pictures of giant chunks to my friends via WhatsApp and we all groaned about how true it was. But I think whatever your age, this book will speak to you. It’s fun, feminist – a little bit frightening – and should be considered required reading.
The Day We Met by Roxie Cooper was going to be a hard sell to me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on with protagonists who flirt with marital infidelity. The book is, in essence, about two people who are married elsewhere, but feel a connection and so contrive to keep meeting up, once a year. Luckily, Stephanie and Jamie are fantastic characters, and instead of thinking they were cheating twats, I just wanted them to come good. That says a lot about Roxie’s talent for characterisation and pacing. I loved the slightly mad structure of the book – jumping forward a year at a time in places, swapping between Stephanie and Jamie’s POVs, without ever leaving the reader feeling lost or rushed.
Joanna Bolouri has featured on this list before. I usually describe her books as “snort” funny. In December I like to ramp up the festive feeling and try and cram in a couple of ‘Christmassy’ books, so I picked up The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. It starts off pretty standard – recently dumped Emily is so concerned about her judgey family that she agrees to pay her party boy neighbour Evan to come with her for a family Christmas and pretend to be madly in love with her. Naturally hi-jinks ensue. Sounds cliche so far, I know, but Joanna’s usual razor-sharp characters, hilarious dialogue and complete fearlessness of madness makes for a laugh-out-loud read.