I contemplated whether or not to make a video about this, but actually, this morning I thought, this lends itself far better to a blog post than a video, so here we go.
2018 has been a fantastic reading year for me. I discovered a couple of authors that have become instant favourites (I am looking at you Kate Atkinson in particular) and with regards to historical fiction in particular, I just found so many gems.
I also kept a reading spreadsheet (and almost entered all the books as well, go me) and it revealed…. not that many surprises.
About 80% of the books I read have been written by women. Historical Fiction (including both historical mysteries and histories) is by far the genre I read the most and well over 50% of my reading. I increased my reading of books authored by writers of colours significantly and this is now almost 25% of all the books I read last year, room for improvement, but still, I am pleased as the year before it was only 8 books (which roughly accounted to about 4% of my reading).
I have read well over 200 books again and before anyone says “how do you read so much”, let me just tell you that reading is (and has been) my prior form of entertainment and when people normally would spend hours watching Netflix box sets, you will find me in the corner of the sofa reading. Or in bed, I do like to read in bed.
So here are some of my favourites.
Barbara Pym has been a favourite of mine since I discovered her through a real life (I hate that expression) bookclub. She is in my mind along with Elizabeth Taylor one of the best character writers of the 20th century. Unlike Taylor though, Pym is very funny. Her characters normally attend a local church and her exploration of High Church vs. Low Church is so English, it is hard to put it in words. She makes me laugh, she also makes me think. And her characters are wonderful, that’s after all what matters.
Paperback, 277 pages
Published 2013 by Virago Press (UK) (first published 1958)
One of the best things I did in 2018, was my Harder Conversations project where I read books about what it means to be a person of colour in the UK and the publishing industry obviously found out about this and published some great books. Ok, well, maybe, they did not do it just for me, actually everyone could benefit from reading some of these books. All the books were great, but Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish) overall was the best one for me. I read it right at the beginning of the year and I followed the journey of the book and author along ever since.
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging
Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published February 1st 2018 by Vintage Digital
This year, also saw the publication of more installments in some of my favourite books series and I know that Tombland will feature heavily on all the historical mysteries lists, I though I highlight this one again, because I think if you like C.J. Sansom, you would also love S.G. MacLean. MacLean is a Scottish writere and she is a historian, which you can easily tell by the wonderfully researched books. The Seeker series (this book is the third in the series and the fourth is coming out in 2019) is set during Cromwell’s Commenwealth and the Seeker is an Officer in the New Model Army. The mysteries are clever, the depiction of the era are engaging and the Seeker is a character that I have become deeply attached too, similar to MacLean’s other series, the Alexander Seaton series set in Scotland with Charles I on the throne.
Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Published July 12th 2018 by Quercus
One of the Classics I read this year and will remember for a long time is Susan Ferrier’s Marriage. Dubbed as the Scottish Jane Austen, I expected the same level of plotting and story as in Austen book, but as so often the similarity is simply that of two women writing books at roughly the same time in history. Ferrier’s book is very different from Austen, but still wonderful. And naturally, I adored the fact that this was looking at the differences between Scottish and English folk. Not much has changed.
Paperback, 544 pages
Published December 28th 2017 by Little, Brown Book Group (first published 1818)
My favourite debut has been without a doubt, Anna-Marie Crowhurst’s The Illumination of Ursula Flight. I am still annoyed that a certain Mermaid book overshadowed this gem of a historical fiction novel, due no doubt to deeper marketing pockets. Having read both of them, I have to say that Crowhurst’s book is in my opinion the more rounded and inventive novel. Set in Restoration England, we follow Ursula from her birth into her adult years and experience England and what it was like to be a woman in that fragile period of Restoration. I really hope this book makes it on the Walter Scott longlist and shortlist next year. Either way though, Ursula and Crowhurst have a place in my heart and I shall read anything that author writes in future.
The Illumination of Ursula Flight
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 3rd 2018 by Allen & Unwin
I adore nature writing and there is always a few each year that I pick up, but I am picky with regards to nature writing. I want it poetic, but not too poetic. I don’t mind a tangent, but if there is more tangents than anything else, then I get bored. I like the personal story, but it has to be done just right. Yes, I am very picky, but this book by Neil Ansell, the Last Wilderness ticked all the boxes. I could identify with so many of his thoughts and in particular what stuck with me was the author’s admission that for him it is no longer about walking to hit certain milestones or even covering certain miles, no, it is just about being out there. In nature, rather than clocking up the miles, just so you can say that you walked 15 miles. I listened to this on audio via audible.co.uk and the audiobook is wonderful.
The Last Wilderness, A Journey into Silence by
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 8th 2018 by Tinder Press
Nora Krug’s Heimat has been a very personal read. We are off the same generation of Germans, as in that our parents were born either during the war or at the end of the war and that we felt the collective guilt over the war and the holocaust, but never really knew or found out what it was that our family had done during that time. Were they guilty and if so, to what degree. You may think that this is a book just for Germans, but it is not, this is a book for anyone who wants to understand the concept of collective guilt and lots of tidbits in this book, you probably had no idea about.
Heimat: A Memoir of History and Home
Published October 4th 2018 by Particular Books (first published October 2nd 2018)
A series discovery for me, naturally historical as this is what I like best, has been the Sir Robert Cary Mystery series. Originally published in the 1990ies, Head of Zeus has been re-issuing them with more modern covers. Again, if you like C.J. Sansom then this may be for you. Based on the very real Sir Robert Carey, it follows his life events but the mysteries are “made up” or rather, the author used events she come across in her research and used them. So the books do feel very real. I adored them and am planning on continuing with the series in 2019.
Kindle Edition, 296 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Head of Zeus (first published 1994)
It’s not all just historical fiction, I also adore fantasy and especially weird fiction and my favourite this year has been Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. I love the exploration of what it means to be a mother and mothering, the need we have to care for someone against an “end of the world” kind of scenario. Loved this book, still thinking about it although I read right at the start of the year. That’s how good it was.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by MCD / Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I re-read The Poisonwood Bible this year with a group of fellow booktubers and was very excited for Kingsolver’s new book Unsheltered. Both the re-read and the new release were wonderful. I can honestly say that I have loved all her books (and yes, I have read them all over the years since I first discovered her in the 90ies). There is some joy in re-reading a favourite and then being able to discuss it with others, even – and in a way in particular if – they don’t quite love it as much as you do. And Unsheltered just had my head nodding in agreement, it’s like she gets me.
Hardcover, 463 pages
Published October 18th 2018 by Faber Faber (first published October 16th 2018)
Thanks for reading and joining me on this reflection. For more bookish content, check out my youtube channel.