I’m generally pretty ambivalent about these types of lists. Some of the headings are instantly intimidating – 50 Books You Should Read Before You Die, 10 Must-Read Books of the Year, etc., etc. You know the kind of thing. They either make me feel incredibly smug because I’ve read or possess the majority of titles on the list, or else they make me feel utterly lacking and cause me to question whether I can really refer to myself as well read because I know so few of the listed books!! I decided that the only solution, to make ME feel okay, was to compile my own list of my top reads from this last year!

1. Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry

The front runner by a significant margin. My personal book of the year. I define it as literature as opposed to just a work of fiction. It’s a compelling story that pulls no punches. It’s chilling and gothic. It’s subtly witty. But it contains such exquisite prose it takes your breath away. And if that isn’t enough, it demands that its readers questions all things related to the human spirit, that tenuous balance between the sane and the insane.

2. A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley

A once lost book originally published in the 1960s, this is an elegant allegory of the civil rights movement that beats out a rhythm not to be forgotten once you’ve read it. Implicit as opposed to gratuitous, the conclusion stuns you. It’s a remarkable debut work that reads as fresh today as when it was first published.

3. Testament by Kim Sherwood

I have an ‘interest’ in the Holocaust. But interest seems such a wrong word. I have read many books on the subject. This novel stands out because it acknowledges the importance of history as a force within the present, within our current lives. It also examines the different attitudes of two survivors and, in spite of the subject matter, seems to offer some optimism at the end of the book. An impressive debut novel.

4. An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

A beautiful tale of time travel within a time scale we can relate to. An original premise that led to an ambitious and complex novel. Lyrical in places, informative in others. There’s something haunting about it and it begs for a reread.

5. Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale

I was almost lost for words after reading this book. I produced what Patrick Gale himself called a ‘minimalist’ review and he thought it might look good printed on a T-shirt, which thrilled me! It’s an eloquent story of self-preservation and survival from childhood onwards. Compassionate and funny.

6. In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Another debut novel that was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It tells of forty-eight hours on a London housing estate in the wake of the killing of a soldier. Although a work of fiction, there’s something of the documentary about it, so much so that I like to call it a ficumentary. Bold and substantial, it begs to be read.

7. Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards had been the mysterious background figure writing introductions to the British Library Crime Classic series whose unobtrusive yet informative beginnings I’ve come to look forward to as much as the books themselves. I was delighted to read this novel of his. It’s a treat and is truly unputdownable. The depth of the plotting is breathtaking and the reader needs to pay attention because so much is going on. There are two great characters in Jacob Flint and Rachel Savernake and a denouement you won’t second guess, I don’t think.

8. Help the Witch by Tom Cox

I’ve enjoyed Tom Cox’s non-fiction cat and nature books very much. So much so that I contributed to his crowd funding for 21st Century Yokel. I did the same again for his first foray into fiction, a collection of diverse short stories revolving around a central theme of the supernatural. And whilst such things normally spook me, they don’t here as the treatment is nonthreatening and uplifting. Great use of the short story genre.

9. She is Fierce by Ana Sampson

This is the first and, so far, the only book of poetry to appear on my blog, Bookphace. Ana is a publicist at Quercus Books and has passed some wonderful books my way. I bought a copy of this and read it almost as an intended ‘thank you’. What I didn’t realise was how it would get my poetry mojo working again! It’s a collection of poems by women about life from birth through to the ‘dying of the light’. It offers a diverse range of styles from established and well-known poets to lesser-known contemporary women. There’s also plenty of well-researched biographical material to send you scuttling off to read more.

10. The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna Marie Crowhurst

This is just such a warm, witty read that it can’t fail to bring a smile to your face. It’s an exuberant debut novel that takes the reader back to the seventeenth century and asks us to consider the place of women in the society of the day. The heroine, Ursula, is such a breath of fresh air and her zest for life and the velocity of the narrative sweep us all along together in this restoration romp.

Gill Chedgey
December 2018