Some Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) included. They are marked with an *. No affiliate links used. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
A more accurate title for this post would be ‘My Favourite Books of 2018’ because not all of them were published in 2018, but I called my first yearly book round-up the ‘Best Books of’ back in 2015 and feel the need to be consistent so we’re just going to go with it.
2018 was the year I stopped rating books by stars on Goodreads. I still list the books I’ve read (you can find me here), but I realised that star ratings are not something I judge books on and, to be honest, there can be so little difference between four and five stars that they feel pointless.
It was also the year of reading to my own schedule instead of feeling that I needed to read the latest releases all the time. That said, by being more selective with the advance reader copies I accepted six of my top ten were books I was sent for review purposes (they’re marked with an * throughout the post). Turns out I quite enjoy reading new releases, even when it is at my own pace!
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein*
This Really Isn’t About You* is my sleeper hit of the year. I enjoyed it when I read it, but I wasn’t the expecting to still have a book hangover months later. After years abroad Jean Hannah Edelstein moves back to the US because her father has terminal cancer. Shortly after her return, he dies. Edelstein is faced with the possibility that she has inherited a gene that makes her more susceptible to cancer and the decision of whether or not to find out for sure.
Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber
A collection of essays about living with chronic pain, particularly the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, sounds right up my street. So much so, that I am surprised I haven’t come across Sonya Huber’s work before. No matter, I’m glad I finally have! Pain Woman Takes Your Keys struck so many chords with me that I basically highlighted the entire the book. Hearing someone else express the same frustrations I regularly experience, like struggling to rate my pain on the ridiculous scale doctors insist on using or not really knowing how to navigate talking about your chronic pain on social media, was genuinely life changing. Objectively I knew I wasn’t the only one to feel these things, but Huber writes in a way that feels like she is inside my head. I’ll be recommending this one to people with chronic pain, as well as people who want to learn more about what living with an invisible illness is like, for years to come.
The Hoarder by Jess Kidd*
The Hoarder* is a wonderfully strange tale full of secrets, betrayal and humour. Maud Drennan is a carer with a difference; she spends her days surrounded by the ghosts of saints and being far more psychic than she would like. When she meets her newest client, Cathal Flood, she finds herself drawn to the secrets his house full of junk might hold. But Cathal’s temperament mean it’s best not too ask him too many questions. So, it’s up to Maud and her agoraphobic landlady, Renata, to get to the bottom of why Cathal is living the way he is.
The Water Cure by Sophie Macintosh*
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Sophie Mackintosh’s debut The Water Cure* is a coming-of-age story with power, survival and sisterhood at its heart. Grace, Lia and Sky are sisters who are kept away from the outside world. This is for their own protection according to their mother and father, King. The world makes women physically sick and men are not to be trusted, but as long as the sisters do things their parent’s way everything will be alright. However, the arrival of a group of men will change their lives forever.
Skin Deep by Liz Nugent*
Liz Nugent’s appearance on my best of list is something of a tradition, at this stage, but she has yet to have a misstep as far as I’m concerned. Cordelia Russell is a woman who drinks too much, perhaps because her life is, to put it mildly, complicated. Throw in the dead body in her apartment and the word ‘complicated’ no longer even begins to cover it. Skin Deep* is a devilishly good read about a woman who appears not to have a caring, or a likeable, bone in her body!
Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue
There was a time when I would have described Promising Young Women as chick-lit with a difference or chick-lit but better. That is until Caroline O’Donoghue and her Sentimental Garbage podcast made me rethink why I saw chick-lit as something less than. Chick-lit is now a badge I intend to use with the pride it is intended! Promising Young Women is brilliant chick-lit. What starts as a, seemingly, familiar story about a young woman starting an ill-advised relationship with an older man from work soon takes a Gothic turn. You may not make the same choices Jane does (or, hey, maybe you would!), but there is a lot we can learn about ourselves from her mistakes.
Almost Love by Louise O’Neill*
I never did complete that review of Almost Love* that I promised back in March. I’m still gathering my thoughts about Sarah’s relationship with Matthew and the impact it has not only on her relationship with her boyfriend, Oisin, but with herself. That’s what makes it a must-read. It messes with your head and, if you’re anything like me, makes you question the narratives we are fed about obsessive love and self-worth.
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
Essays made up a not insignificant amount of the reading I did this year. I’m a huge fan of Narratively’s Memoir Monday newsletter, which makes finding the best of the best personal essays a whole lot easier. When it comes to essay collections Notes to Self left a lot for others to live up to. Ranging from her father’s alcoholism, infertility, mental ill-health, to feminism and rape culture these essays are deeply personal. Yet they strike the right tone and never feel like oversharing. Emilie Pine’s writing is honest, confronting, reflective and absorbing.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Another one from the Man Booker Prize longlist, Normal People follows Marianne and Connell from their childhood in rural Ireland to their college days in Dublin. Their relationship has always been complicated and adulthood doesn’t make it any less so. Sally Rooney has a way of writing characters that get under your skin and refuse to leave. It seems simple, but takes a great deal of skill.
People Like Me by Lynn Ruane
Senator Lynn Ruane is not what most people expect a politician to be like. That is not to do Ruane a disservice, she makes no secret of the fact that she never expected people like her to become politicians much less become a politician herself. From her experience with addiction, to becoming a mother at the age of 15, to returning to education and finding her voice through student politics People Like Me may be a personal story, but it explores issues that affect wider society. Issues around class and whose stories get to be told.
I don’t use affiliate links, but if you like what I do you can show your support by buying me a coffee here.