Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Read in 2018

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For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday: 

January 1: Best Books I Read In 2018

Happy New Year to all! Let’s kick off this year with a look at some of the great books I read last year.

  1. 41yjnrznaol-_ac_us218_Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo– This novel of tradition coming into conflict with modern values surprised me several times.  Yejide and Akin are a young Nigerian couple. They don’t have any kids yet but aren’t really worried, until immense pressure from their families causes Akin to take a second wife, despite the couple’s desire to avoid polygamy. In response, Yejide decides to do anything it takes to get pregnant. Both Yejide and Akin make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of family.  Both want to do the right thing, but each sacrifice has lasting consequences. Set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing culture and world, this story broke my heart.

2.61ciiq0YV9L._AC_US218_ Idaho by Emily Ruskovich– Years ago, Wade’s first wife, Jenny murdered their younger daughter, while their older one ran away. Now Jenny is spending the rest of her life in prison. Wade has married Ann, and is starting to lose his memory. Ann suspects that there may be more to the incident that destroyed Wade’s family than he lets on, but how will she ever know? This book unfolds from multiple points of view over the course of about thirty years. The mosaic of voices eventually comes together to suggest the truth, but that remains unsaid and ambiguous. I appreciated the craft (gorgeous prose) and the ambiguity, but I can see where some might not like it.

3. 41Q9fVyDjRL._AC_US218_ All New People by Anne Lamott– Nanny Goodman enters adolescence as America enters the 1960’s. Her father is a writer and her mother is an endless source of material. As Nanny comes of age, she sees a culture mirror her as it descends into drugs. There is a mass exodus of fathers from her town. Real estate and technological development change the landscape of the small California town where she lives. An adult Nan narrates she childhood memories with humor and emotional complexity.

4. 41Krb0iOt7L._AC_US218_The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell- Elsie thought she’d found her happily ever after when she married the wealthy Rupert Bainbridge. But when Rupert dies only a few weeks into their marriage, Elsie is stuck with Rupert’s cousin amidst resentful servants and hostile villagers. When Rupert’s cousin, Sarah,  discovers a carved figure that looks a lot like Elsie, as well as a diary, Elsie doesn’t think much of it. But when the figure’s eyes begin to follow Elsie, she starts getting nervous… This eerie, atmospheric Victorian Gothic ghost story, is wonderful tribute to the likes of Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier.

5. 51uyvcmgxil-_ac_us218_Commonwealth by Ann Patchett– When Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party and kisses her mother, he sets in motion a chain of events that breaks apart both their marriages and joins two families. Spending the summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children form a bond that is later tested when a tragedy sends shockwaves through both families. The story takes place before and after the tragedy, over the course of fifty years. We do eventually learn what , happened that changed everything (yet again) for these families, but before we do, we learn what led up to it, and what the consequences were.

6. 51W3InymdaL._AC_US218_Tangerine by Christine Mangan– I was surprised to see that  this book has a lot of negative reviews on Amazon and goodreads. I think the reason for that is that none of the characters are very likable. But if you’re OK with that, I found this atmospheric, noirish whodunnit to be a lot of fun. A British ex-pat is living in Tangier with her husband in the 1950s. When her former college roommate turns up at her door one day, memories of the past (including a violent death) begin to emerge. It turns out that both ladies have things they want to hide, and that the beautiful city of Tangier might be an exotic ground against which their struggle plays out. I think that this would appeal to fans of Patricia Highsmith.

7. 51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– Over the course of three decades we read letters to a heroine who we never meet directly. These letters come from her family: her father is a narcissistic former child prodigy. He has divorced her mother and married a traditional Chinese woman. They have a son who wears suits to bed. Her mother is a therapist who never remarried, but may be in love with her Rabbi and overshares on a regular basis. Her sister may have given up on college in order to own guns and land in Arizona. We read letters from all of these characters to our heroine, Julie. We read thank you notes, condolences, family gossip and more. Also included are gems like “The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You”, “Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality” and “Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life.” It made me snort with laughter at several points.

8. 518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn– Anna Fox is a child psychologist who suffers from Agoraphobia so debilitating that she can’t leave her Harlem townhouse. She spends her days watching old movies, interacting with people online, and spying on her neighbors (just a little!). When she sees a crime take place in a house facing hers, she calls the police. But her copious consumption of alcohol and prescription drugs means that she’s not the best witness. Anna’s fondness for old film noirs permeates this book and makes it feel like an homage. I definitely recommend this to Hitchcock fans!

51njfgrvqcl-_ac_us218_9. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden– This is the first book in Arden’s Winternight trilogy and it definitely has me interested in reading more in 2019. Vasilisa lives in the Russian wilderness with her family. When her mother dies, her father brings a new wife from Moscow. Vasilisa’s stepmother is a religious woman who forbids the family from honoring the traditional household spirits. Vasilisa fears the potential consequences of these actions as misfortune comes to the village. We see several conflicts play out in this book. Traditional religion plays out against Christianity (which was still somewhat new at the time this book was set). Vasilisa also comes into conflict with her stepmother. But really I see the primary conflict in this books as the independent, strong minded Vasilisa coming facing the limited roles that her her world offers for women. 61ftpdsyagl-_ac_us218_

10. The Changeling by Victor LaValle– When Apollo and his wife Emma have a baby boy, they’re thrilled. But soon, like many new parents, they’re exhausted and stressed. When Emma starts behaving odd, Apollo worries it’s Post Partum Depression and encourages her to see the doctor. But before that can happen, Emma commits a horrific act and then vanishes. Apollo must venture into a city that he only thought he knew, to find a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets and a forest full of legends. It’s only by working alongside a mysterious stranger whom he may not be able to trust, that Apollo can hope to regain what he thinks may be lost forever.

2018 Mid Year Book Freak Out

I’ve seen this tag on a lot of blogs, so I thought “why not mine?”

BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2018

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Idaho by Emily Ruskovitch– While I enjoyed the plot, this wasn’t a book to read to find out whodunnit or what happens next. If you read it for clear, unambiguous answers, you’ll be frustrated. But there are passages in this book that are so exquisitely written that I almost had to stop reading for a moment. There is ugliness in the plot. People do ugly things. But those are written about so beautifully that you almost can’t help but find something lovely in them, even when you don’t want to. The book consists of this torturous pairing of sadness and hope, and love and pain.

BEST SEQUEL YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2018

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Actually, I don’t think many of the books I’ve read in 2018 qualify as sequels. Probably one of the only ones is Messinger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear, which is the 4th in the Maisie Dobbs series. While somewhat grim (set in the aftermath of WWI and the looming shadow of WWII) the characters developed in interesting ways. One of the characters’ circumstances took a turn that I didn’t quite expect. I’m eager to see what becomes of him in the next book.

NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET BUT WANT TO

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is one that I’m very anxious to read because I’ve heard good reviews from several fairly reliable sources. The combination of fantasy and historical fiction is right up my alley.

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASES FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR

There are a lot. At the moment, the most notable are these.

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Bellwether and The Clockmaker’s Daughter are the long-anticipated new books by two of my favorite authors.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber

I think that I wanted to like this more than I did. I’m a fan of Alexandra Silber as an actress and a blogger and I wanted to love her debut novel. She played Hodel in the 2007 London production of The Fiddler on the Roof and Tzeitel in the 2016 Broadway revival of the same show. In this book, she imagined Hodel’s life after she leaves the stage (Hodel is last seen getting on a train to Siberia, where she will join her lover, Perchik in a labor camp). Tzeitel is also given a voice in letters she writes to her sister. I thought that this was a great extension of the creative process, from an actress who clearly has a strong connection to the material and the characters. Which makes my biggest problem with it surprising. An actor is supposed to show who a character is and what s/he feels by illustrating it with their body and voice. But in this book, we’re told things about the characters rather than shown. We know for example that Hodel loves Perchik because we’re told that this is the case, but not because we see it. So ultimately I liked this less than I wanted to.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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I read this because I’d seen it recommended many times, rather than any interest I may have had in a Nigerian couple struggling to conceive. But this story of the traditional culture coming into conflict with modern life drew me in right away. I found that I cared about the characters and the things that happened to them. The plot twisted in directions that I didn’t expect, but it never felt contrived.

FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR

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I look forward to reading more from Susanna Fogel, author of Nuclear Family. According to her bio she’s written a couple of screenplays and some stuff for The New Yorker. But her first novel has a really nice blend of the humor, love, and exasperation that makes family what it is. Granted, the Fellers are their own unique kind of dysfunctional, but the blend of wanting to simultaneously hug some of these people and never see or speak to them again is something that many people will understand. The chapters consist of letters that the family writes to the main character, Julie. They have names like One of the Eggs You Just Froze Has a Question, Your Mom’s Rabbi Has a Great Idea for a TV Show!, Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality, The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You, and Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life.  Yes, some of it’s weird, but Fogel pulls it off.

FAVORITE NEW CRUSH

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I haven’t really encountered any new literary crushes. I’ve recently discovered Simone St. James though, and while her books aren’t great literature, they’re good fun. Her romantic heroes tend to be compelling enough for me to fall for, for the duration of the book, even though they’re not likely to become long-term book boyfriends.

FAVORITE NEW CHARACTERS

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Probably Sir Anthony Peters, Beth Cunningham, and Alex MacGregor from The Mask of Duplicity. All three are intriguing. I’m eager to get to know them all a bit better in the next book in the series.

BOOKS THAT MADE YOU CRY

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett probably came the closest. It takes place over five decades but the events in two time periods really got to me. One is when several children in a blended family are playing one summer day. The other is when one of those children is caring for her sick father, nearly a half a century later. When she and her father are directly confronted with the events of that summer day, I got a bit of a lump in my throat. I won’t say more, because I can’t without giving away spoilers.

A BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY

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Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

The movie has always been one of my “happy movies”- something I put on to make a bad day a little bit better. I found the novel on which it was based to be even frothier and lighter than the film. In some ways, I actually wished for some of the additional weight that the film added, but the book definitely left me in a good mood.

MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOKS YOU’VE BOUGHT SO FAR THIS YEAR

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Cheerful Weather For the Wedding by Julia Strachey. Like most Persephone Classics, it’s a small work of art, as an object. Its cover features Girl Reading, a painting by Harold Knight. I like the colors in the painting and the general state of repose of the figure. The endpaper features a printed dress fabric design by Madeleine Lawrence. It’s also beautifully written.

WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR?

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The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien– I’ve never actually made it through the Lord of the Rings books. Finally, the prospect of being a fantasy writer who had never read Tolkien was too much. I’m making my way through this slowly, in between reading other things. I will finish it before the end of the year though!