The best books of 2018
Attention bookworms! Muddy's books editor Kerry Potter choose her top 10 tomes of 2018. Has your favourite made the cut?
Don’t make me choose, don’t make me choo…. oh, OK, you made me choose. I’ve read a lot of brilliant books this year but, after much agonising, I give you my top 10 tomes of 2018 (they’re in no particular order, by the way).
Hopefully you’ll find my edit useful for Christmas present planning but also as a prompt to catch up on the wonderful writing you may have missed during the year, when our insane-in-the-membrane lives tend to get in the way of getting stuck into a good book. I really hope you can carve out a sliver of time over the festive period to escape your family, turn off your phone, hunker down on the sofa and get lost in another world – it really is quite the tonic.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
You know one of those books you should theoretically read because it's An Important Book but then you read it and it's not very well written? This isn't one of them. The former First Lady turns out to be a wonderful wordsmith, with her gregarious, witty memoir pulling you in from the off. She's surprisingly candid about stepping "reluctantly" into public life, her marriage (she grumbles that the President's gruelling, always-on schedule meant he became "a human blur, a pixelated version of the guy I knew”) and the challenges of living a normal family life when you live in a gaff with an in-house florist, bowling alley and ever-lurking armed secret service agents.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
I hate the word unputdownable (so basic and clunky!) but it really is the best adjective for this novel. I ripped through it in two days straight. Moriarty is the Aussie writer behind Sky Atlantic's Big Little Lies and the TV rights for her new suspense-laden thriller have already been snapped up by BLL star Nicole Kidman. It’s a compelling proposition – set in a remote, chichi Aussie wellness retreat for stressed out urbanites, those titular nine strangers arrive to ditch their phones and switch off. But things aren't quite what they seem and it all turns out to be quite the trip.
Providence by Caroline Kepnes
Jon Bronson is the classic class weirdo in small-town New Hampshire, who one day disappears leaving his only friend Chloe distraught. Four years pass before the teenager stumbles out of the basement of the local shopping mall, having been kidnapped. Cue happy ending? Not quite because Jon has changed in ways that no one quite understands, least of all him. This ambitious, genre-mashing novel from US journo Kepnes melds a coming-of-age love story, sci-fi, horror and suspense. The result is a little bit weird and a lot wonderful. Word to the wise: read this then move on to Kepnes's first book You, the chilling tale of an NYC hipster serial killer, which arrives on Netflix over Christmas as a 10-part drama.
Love & Trouble by Claire Dederer
Subtitled Memoirs Of A Former Wild Girl, Seattle writer Dederer reflects on her hedonistic, carefree youth and how far she’s come in now she’s in her 40s; a proper adult with a job, family and responsibilities. But has she changed all that much? Do any of us? Is it OK to be dissatisfied when you theoretically have it all? And why is she flirting with that guy who’s not her husband? The narrative rambles around, pin-balling between different trains of thoughts, past and present, taking in diary entries, letters and half-buried memories. Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert is a big fan of this lyrical, searingly honest dissection of a midlife crisis and I can see why.
The Discomfort Zone by Farrah Storr
A motivational tome about pushing yourself to do things that scare you, this is perfect for those who are normally allergic to earnest self-help guff - Storr is the straight-talking, wise-cracking editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine (as those of you who saw her speak at our literary salon at Henley Literary Festival will remember). The book brims with inspiring expert interviews and solid tips on how to achieve success, whatever that may look like (so not necessarily career-related). There’s loads of interesting nuggets, such how to rebrand fear as excitement. That sweaty-palmed, racing-heart feeling you get when you’re about to make a speech, run a race or start a job interview? That’s a good thing – embrace it!
The Only Girl by Robin Green
This music writer’s juicy memoir couldn’t be more up my street if it parked on my driveway with the windows down and the stereo blaring. Green was the only woman on the masthead of Rolling Stone in late ’60s San Francisco – I had the same dubious pleasure at a British music mag at the start of my career. She’s a lot cooler than me though – this was the ’60s after all, so there are tales of hanging out with Dennis Hopper and Robert Kennedy Jr before Green went on to write/produce superlative TV drama, The Sopranos. What a gal.
Calypso by David Sedaris
Someone on Twitter was recently relaying how she witnessed a girl on her train, stuck into a book, snorting with laughter throughout her entire one hour journey. When she snuck a peak at what the giggler was reading, it was a David Sedaris. I’m not surprised – the waspish veteran American writer is absolutely hilarious and Calypso is no exception; far funnier than a book dwelling on the deaths of his mother and sister should be. I loved the summery setting of his North Carolina beachside family holiday home, which he christens Sea Section and the bit about his insane obsession with his Fitbit steps counter (#metoo) had me guffawing like that girl on the train.
Anatomy Of A Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
Bored of relationship psychological thrillers? Well, you haven’t read this one yet; a fast, furious and elegantly written addition to the genre. As gripping as it is timely, it focuses on wealthy stay-at-home mother-of-two Sophie, the wife of a Bullingdon Club-type smoother operator MP, James. When he’s accused of rape by the young aide with whom he’s having an affair, Sophie’s world falls apart. Who is telling the truth? Should she stay or should she go? And why is Kate, the ambitious prosecuting lawyer, so invested in this case? If you lapped up Doctor Foster, make veteran news journalist Vaughan’s debut your new literary obsession.
Mine by JL Butler
Given that 50 per cent of the new books that land on my desk are thrillers, it feels only right to include another from the genre in my top 10 of the year. This new psych thriller, set in the London legal world, is actually by best-selling novelist Tasmina Perry, romantic fiction and bonkbuster specialist, writing under a pen name. This new darker streak certainly suits her – there’s still lots of bedroom action but with it comes myriad sinister twists and turns. It reminded me both of Anna Friel’s TV cop Marcella (our heroine Francine, a divorce lawyer who falls for one of her clients, suffers blackouts) and Apple Tree Yard (a professional woman driven to insanity by lust). The novel was optioned for a Hollywood movie adaptation before it was even finished so best get stuck in now before it bursts onto the big screen.
Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls 2 by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
I wrote about this at length here when it was published in October so I won't drone on now but I will simply say this beautifully illustrated anthology of 100 mini biographies of marvellous, maverick, game-changing women would make a brilliant Christmas present for small people. And big ones too, for that matter.