Favorite Reads of 2018

photo: Stanislav Kondratiev

photo: Stanislav Kondratiev

I reviewed 72 books on the Cedar Park Book Blog in in the calendar year 2018, and I hosted two additional reviews by a guest blogger. The 15 selections listed here were standouts for me in a year of exceptionally fine reading. You’ll notice that these books are all fiction and are mostly historical fiction. This year, no biographies or social histories made my list of favorites.  

Bear in mind that I never review horror, science fiction, fantasy, or novels with scenes of excessive violence. I haul eight or ten books home from the library every week and reject most of them by page 50. So here are the best of the best, in alphabetical order by title. Click on the title to go to my full review.  

Freya  Anthony Quinn (2017)  HISTORICAL FICTION The friendship of two British women, traced from the end of World War II through the 1960s, with insights into feminism, marriage, and culture. 

Heart of Palm  Laura Lee Smith  (2013)  CONTEMPORARY FICTION A family tale populated with gun-totin’, hard-lovin’, rip-roarin’ Southerners—plus deftly developed story lines.  

Holding Graham Norton (2017)  MYSTERY A village in the west of Ireland, a human skeleton unearthed at a building site, gossip about old love triangles, and a bumbling local police sergeant:  all the ingredients for a classic cozy mystery, but this one goes beyond the genre. 

The Italian Party  Christina Lynch  (2018)  HISTORICAL FICTION As effervescent and rosy as the Campari-and-soda drinks that the characters order constantly, but the sunny picture darkens as we learn the many secrets of an American couple living in Siena, Italy, in 1956.  

The Italian Teacher  Tom Rachman  (2018)  CONTEMPORARY FICTION An inquiry into how to live a meaningful life, centering on the fraught relationship between a famous visual artist and one of his sons. 

Little Fires Everywhere  Celeste Ng  (2018)  HISTORICAL FICTION A story about adolescents in late-1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, tackles incendiary issues of upper-middle-class Americans: bigotry, greed, and a general disdain for those who diverge in any way from the norms set by their communities. 

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Manhattan Beach  Jennifer Egan  (2017)  HISTORICAL FICTION A noir novel with entangled plot lines, mobsters, and plenty of period detail from 1930s and 1940s New York City, especially the Brooklyn Naval Yard.  

Midwinter Break  Bernard MacLaverty  (2017)  CONTEMPORARY FICTION A masterful study, by an eminent Irish author, of the pleasures and trials of a very long marriage, set in Scotland and the Netherlands. 

The Ninth Hour  Alice McDermott  (2017)  HISTORICAL FICTION Wonderfully resonant prose about the pros and cons of being Catholic in early 20th-century Brooklyn, exploring the intersections of morality, religion, and culture.  

Peculiar Ground  Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2018)  HISTORICAL FICTION A densely layered novel set on a fictional Oxfordshire estate in 1663, 1961, 1973, and 1989, featuring walls—border walls, the Berlin Wall, walls of inclusion, walls of exclusion, and many others. 

Radio Free Vermont  Bill McKibben (2017)  CONTEMPORARY FICTION A local radio show host stumbles into becoming the leader of a movement for Vermont to secede from the United States in this uproarious fable about Trump’s America. 

The Strays  Emily Bitto  (2014/2017)  HISTORICAL FICTION Set in Australia in the 1930s and then the 1980s, a piercingly moving first-person narrative about loneliness, friendship, the art world, and the choices we make.  

Virgil Wander Leif Enger (2018) CONTEMPORARY FICTION In a dying mining town in far northern Minnesota the title character, aided by an ensemble cast, is recovering from a terrible accident. The prose of this novel is quietly dazzling.

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West  Carys Davies  (2018)  HISTORICAL FICTION Preposterous plot, peculiar characters, spare language, in a tale that’s akin to ancient myth, set on the North American continent in about 1815, a time when the lure of the western frontier was irresistible.

The World of Tomorrow  Brendan Mathews  (2017)  HISTORICAL FICTION Rollicking action at the fabulous New York World’s Fair, in June of 1939, when the Great Depression has eased and World War II is still unimaginable.

Happy reading in 2019! Keep checking the Cedar Park Book Blog for recommendations!