2018 has been a great year for reading; I’ve enjoyed 55 books over the past twelve months. With the birth of The Motherload Book Club at the start of the year, I’ve had recommendations galore and plenty of proofs to devour and review. January’s first book was The Power, a gutsy look at a world in which women have come to dominate men, and December closed with The Unwinding of the Miracle, a powerful memoir written in the face of imminent death.
My favourite book of 2018 was The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal, which I picked up at the start of the winter. Unusually this was a book that I bought in hardback having coveted it since publication. During a particularly difficult week, I went to visit my new local bookshop and saw it facing me from the shelf. From the first page, Kit de Waal blew me away. Split between the past and present, The Trick to Time follows Mona who has made a life for herself despite a terrible tragedy years earlier. She yearns for a love that is gone, and tries but struggles to love again. I read this novel with my heart in my mouth, felt the wind whipping at my own face and thought I could feel the sting of Mona’s tears for myself. This book will stay with me for a long time, and will no doubt be re-read. Each time I see it on my bookshelf I know that I have been irreversibly changed by the story that is now within me. The story has had a profound effect on me and weeks after reading the last sentence Mona is still at the forefront of my thoughts.
In no particular order, the following four books make up my remaining top reads of the year. Every one of them has showed me something new and left a lasting impression.
Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
At the start of the year, myself and four friends began a new book club and this novel was the first of our monthly reads. We have managed to keep the book club going and of all the books chosen, this first one has remained my favourite. Set in an unnamed town in England, somewhere off the M4 (in my head I pictured Reading), Maps for Lost Lovers follows the rumours that race around a Pakistani community when two lovers are murdered. From the beginning, we are led to believe that they were victims of an honour killing, and Aslam weaves a detailed story to reveal what happened. The views of various members of the community are brought to the fore, and I was forced to consider beliefs and values that were new to me. By the end of the novel, I felt that I had been completely immersed in a different culture, and exposed to social intricacies that I would not otherwise have understood.
How Far We Fall by Jane Shemilt
Having enjoyed Jane Shemilt’s novel Daughter, I was keen to read this sequel. How Far We Fall shows the personal and professional battles of two neurosurgeons, Ted and Albie, who will do anything to succeed. In his quest to overthrow Ted, Albie makes a disastrous decision that will cost lives and affect Ted’s reputation. Desperate to save himself, Albie makes one immoral decision after another to try to cover his tracks. A battle for power continues to rage between the two men, complicated by the presence of a lover, and with devastating consequences. Completely mesmerised by the downward spiral that Albie gets caught in, I raced through this book and plan to return to it for a second time in 2019.
Missing Pieces by Laura Pearson
Missing Pieces is Laura Pearson’s debut novel. The Sadler family are devastated by the death of their daughter Phoebe, and all struggle to cope in different ways. The first half of the book is set in the days and months following her death, and the second half is set twenty-five years later. The long lasting effects of grief and childhood trauma are delicately and honestly explored, and despite the upsetting content, the story is sensitively written.
Laura has been a great supporter of my own writing and it was an honour to be invited to her book launch party in June this year. I have been delighted that Missing Pieces has been so well received since publication. I have thoroughly enjoyed helping to run The Motherload Book Club with her, and have been delighted to see that Missing Pieces has been so popular with the group’s members.
The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech
Set between England and Zimbabwe, Andrew and Ben keep bumping into each other. Their intense relationship is both beautiful and believable, before secrets from the past threaten to destroy the future they have started to build together. This is the most believable ‘gay story’ I have read in several years. Beech has written a relationship between two men that is neither a token gesture nor a gratuitous nod to the LGBT community. I believed every part of Andrew and Ben’s relationship, and was grateful that their love was purely that, love. Beech understood the subtle frustrations of gay men and women; the hesitation in taking your partner’s hand in public and the teenagers who ruin your night out with their verbal abuse. The ending was heartbreaking whilst being perfect for the story. As upsetting as I found it, I am glad that the story ended as it did. I hope that more authors begin to include gay or lesbian characters, without the story being about their sexuality.
This year I have received a great number of novels to read and review, many of which have been pre-publication editions. I would like to thank the authors, publishers, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read such inspiring and thought-provoking novels in exchange for my review. I have already been sent some brilliant novels to start 2019 with, and I’m looking forward to many more.