Five Star Reads of 2018

I had a pretty great year of reading in 2018. I tend to read roughly a book a week in an average year but this year I’ve somehow read 65 books, with 22,370 pages between them. My average star rating for the year was 3.5 stars, which isn’t quite as positive as I’d have thought but still more good than bad. Out of my 65 books, I gave 9 books five stars. Five star books for me are ones that I couldn’t find fault with – books that are either new favourites or books that were just such an all-encompassingly brilliant reading experiences that even if they weren’t perhaps the most literary of books, they just had to have 5 stars.

Onto the books, ordered only by the date that I finished them:

1)  Saga: Volume 1 (Finished 27th January) and 2) Saga: Volume 2 (Finished 3rd July), both by Brian K. Vaughan

I’d had the first volume of Saga sat on my shelves for two years before I finally picked it up. Clearly I’m a fool. I don’t think the series needs much introduction or explanation at this point given how resoundingly popular it seems to be. Star crossed lovers trying to raise a child while being hunted down by various very angry leaders. It’s funny, it’s charming and it’s a real page-turner. I have volume 3 ready to go and I’m hoping it’ll be another five star read.

3) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (Finished 24th February)

Of all of these books, this is my absolute favourite. I absolutely adored it. It’s a classic, ‘Golden Age’ style mystery with a twist. The twistiest of time travel twists. The plotting is impeccable, the writing is flawless and it’s a beautiful book to own. It’s an absolute masterpiece that I can’t wait to read again one day.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time and I can’t imagine reading anything better than it for quite some time. Apparently Turton is currently writing his second book and I will be preordering that as soon as physically possible.  If it’s even half as good as Seven Deaths, I’ll be a happy reader.

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?

4) Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (Finished 31st March)

I read a lot of fantasy. Exactly 25% of what I read in 2018 was fantasy, which makes it a little strange that this is the only fantasy novel that I gave five stars to this year. A lot got 4 stars but only this one really stood out. Nevernight is about Mia Corvere, an assassin with an ability to manipulate shadows. The first of this trilogy sees Mia attending the Red Church, a school at which she must hone her abilities so that she can survive. I know that the whole ‘skilled girl goes to niche boarding school’ concept seems a bit old hat but honestly Kristoff has built such an interesting world and cast of characters that it feels new.  It’s a fair old chunkster of a book at over 650 pages but it flew by and I loved it. 

5)  If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio (Finished 28th May)

I read the second half of this in one sitting in the sun in our garden and still remember how desperate I was to find out what was going on. It has strong vibes of The Secret History by Donna Tartt (another of my favourite books) and is the story of a close knit group of seven friends all studying acting at a prestigious university.  From the beginning, you know that Oliver has served a prison sentence for the murder of another member of the group but you don’t know whether he actually did it. The novel is told both through Oliver’s present day discussions with the detective who investigated the murder at the time and wants to know the truth and part through flashbacks to the past. It’s never quite clear who’s telling the truth and who’s playing a part and the group’s secrets are revealed slowly against a backdrop of oh so much tension. Literary thriller writing at its very best.

6) Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (Finished 1st September)

There isn’t much to say about this one. It’s a poem written by Hosseini about the Syrian refugee crisis, beautifully illustrated in watercolour by Dan Williams. The poem is poignant, timely and feels very…raw.  It’s only short but it’s incredibly heartfelt and such an important book that everybody should read and cry over.

7) Gemina (Finished 12th September) and 8) Obsidio (Finished 16th September), both by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff

These fall into the ‘just couldn’t stop reading, wept over and had to give five stars just for that‘ category.  They’re hardly literary but they’re just bloody entertaining.  The final two instalments in the Illuminae trilogy, they chart an intergalactic corporate conspiracy and a few characters’ quest to survive various genocides. Each book is melodramatic, utterly bonkers and features the best AI character I’ve ever read, AIDAN. The format is a little quirky, with handwritten excerpts from journals and other documents and transcripts, and I know that isn’t for everyone but personally I think it adds to the plot and isn’t just a gimmick. Solid ‘entry level’ science fiction that is incredibly readable and had me crying into my poolside beer on holiday.

9) The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Finished 31st October)

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction so it’s no surprise that this is the only non-fiction to make my five star reads list. More of a surprise is that this made the cut at all. I always imagine that non-fiction will be too much like work and not worthy of my “downtime”. Clearly that’s stupid because I was completely gripped by The Fact of a Body and didn’t find it at all dry or heavy or whatever else I was fearing. It’s the authors account both of her own life, and the effects of abuse that she suffered as a child, and of her work investigating Ricky Langley and the murder of a six year old child, Jeremy Guillory. It delves into the death penalty and the legal issues around trials of those facing it. It’s fascinating and I loved the writing.

“What I fell in love with about the law so many years ago was the way that in making a story, in making a neat narrative of events, it finds a beginning, and therefore cause. But I didn’t understand then that the law doesn’t find the beginning any more than it finds the truth. It creates a story. That story has a beginning. That story simplifies, and we call it truth.”

And that’s it! My top books of 2018, all wrapped up. What have your favourites of the year been? What do I need to be adding to my reading list for 2019?

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