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.

#WhatToReadWed

On instagram, I’ve created a book recommendation tag. Each Wednesday, I’m recommending a book.  I’m trying to suggest books that aren’t everywhere so that hopefully people will seek out some hidden gems. But I’m also not averse to raving about the latest bestseller if I think people should read it. You can check out my Instagram here. Here are the books I’ve featured so far. Please join in and tag your posts #WhatToReadWed!

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In honor of the beginning of a new school year, my #WhatToReadWedpick for today is Bel Kaufman’s Up The Down Staircase. This novel is told via letters, notes passed in class, interoffice memos, and scraps of paper taken from lockers, notebooks and trashcans. It was written in 1964 about a 1st year teacher in a NYC high school and what’s remarkable is how much (and how little!) has changed. Anyone who thinks that having summers off makes teaching an easy job needs to read this. Read it to appreciate the teachers in your life a bit more. Or just read it because it’s a fun (and funny) book.

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It’s #WhatToReadWed again. My recommendation this week is a book I’m #currentlyreading. Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Woolstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley reads like a novel. Both Marys were tough, smart, shocking and light years ahead of their time.

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Once again it’s #WhatToReadWed. This week I’m featuring Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. The title character is a retired widower who lives in a small village in the countryside. He’s conservative, opinionated and well… cranky. When he falls in love with Jasmine, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, these very different people will have to find a way to make it work. This book is about the value of culture and tradition. What is worth preserving and what should change with the times? Ultimately it’s about the ways people are different and the things that we have in common. And most importantly it proves that falling in love is just as sweet at the age of 70 as it is at 17.

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It’s #WhatToReadWed again. Today’s pick is Samantha Ellis’s memoir “How To Be A Heroine” which is one of my favorite books about books. Ellis revisits favorite books from different points in her life and evaluates them in the context of what she’s learned.

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It’s #WhatToReadWed again! My pick this week is “Idaho” by Emily Ruskovich.
If you are someone who wants everything laid out neatly, this isn’t the book for you. But if you appreciate ambiguity accompanied by gorgeous prose, give it a try. It explores an act of violence in the years before and after. We see the lead-up and the consequences from several perspectives. By the end, there are strong hints as to whodunit and why, but nothing is told to the reader outright.

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My first pick for #WhatToReadWed is “Tangerine” by Christine Mangan. This is perfect for fans of Hitchcock, film noir and whodunnits. Set in Tangier in the 1950s, it follows a British ex-pat who lives in Tangier with her husband. When her former college roommate shows up unexpectedly, memories of their past- involving a violent death- begin to surface. Through most of the book we’re not sure who we can trust, and the exotic atmosphere is palpable.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 26: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to In 2018 (These could be new releases, or books you resolve to read, ten debuts we are looking forward to, etc.)

51jc1v9sval-_ac_us218_1. Florida by Lauren Groff– I’ve been reading as much Groff as possible. Her writing is intelligent, poetic, and has flashes of humor or cruelty or love. I still haven’t read her other volume of short stories, but this is going on the TBR anyway!

 

 

51-351d21al-_ac_us218_2. Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean- We all have opinions, regardless of our gender. The women featured in this book (including Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, and Joan Didion) are notable, not for having an opinion, but for sharing it publicly in an effective way.

 

 

51ad2nbcml-_ac_us218_3. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg-  I liked Ortberg’s other book, Texts From Jane Eyre a lot. This seems very different, but still right up my alley. It’s a collection of stories based on classic fairy tales and folklore, with a feminist spin.

 

 

51owewnzcgl-_ac_us218_4. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman- In keeping with my obsession with fairy tales reimagined in interesting ways, we have a twisted take on Sleeping Beauty, about a woman who can revive herself after death.

 

 

 

51lqakfrg1l-_ac_us218_5. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig– This also seems just right for me. It’s about a man who ages really slowly and thus, has been alive for centuries. It seems like it’s in the line of Forever by Pete Hamill, Replay by Ken Grimwood,  or Time and Again by Jack Finney, all of which I enjoyed.

 

 

51kz1al5qfl-_ac_us218_6. The Lost Girls of Camp Foverevermore by Kim Fu- A kayaking trip leaves a group of camp kids stranded on an island without adults. Sounds a bit Lord of the Flies. But I recall that when we read Lord of the Flies in high school we read an interview with Golding where he said that he could have never written it about girls, because girls wouldn’t revert to savagery like boys. I’m interested to see if that’s what happens in this novel. Interestingly it also traces the lives of each of these girls after that experience to show how it shapes the people they become.

51af7lrf3gl-_ac_us218_7. Tangerine by Christine Mangan– This novel, set in Tangier, is the story of a friendship between to women that becomes obsessive. Early blurbs have compared it to everything from The Talented Mr. Ripley, to Donna Tartt and Gillian Flynn. There are also some Hitchcock references in reviews. Sign me up please!

 

 

51nxbeiodvl-_ac_us218_8. Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakour- This is a memoir of the author’s experience with chronic illness. It looks at the US’s problematic healthcare system and how untreated or improperly treated illness can have an effect on society as well as the individual. As someone with a chronic illness, I have my own experience of this, and I’m curious about how it compares to the author’s.

51lycviytl-_ac_us160_9. The 7 and 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton- A man must live the day of socialite Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder over and over again until he can solve the murder. But each day he relieves it from the body of a different guest at the event where she died. It sounds like Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap, which, to me anyway, is a good thing!

51q2yi-diil-_ac_us218_10. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin- Four children are told the day of their death by a psychic. Do they believe her? Do they share the information? How does this information impact their future decisions?  The book follows each of the children as they grow up and come to terms with their knowledge.