Each year, I look forward to the fall months for news about books and reading. Magazines, newspapers and trade organizations choose the fall to announce their selections for “best books” of the year. It is a good time to compare our favorite books with these lists, hoping to add undiscovered gems to our reading lists.
Many prestigious book awards also are announced in the fall. The National Book Awards were unveiled in November; the Man Booker Prize was announced in October. The publication of outstanding books and the awarding of prestigious prizes, however, are by no means limited to the fall.
Good news for those of us who care about books and reading: 2018 was a good year for publishing. The sales of print books rose by 1.3%, according to Publishers Weekly. Adult non-fiction was a significant driver of the increase. Michelle Obama’s Becoming was the runaway best seller of 2018, selling 3.4 million copies. Sales of hardcover books in general were up by 6.2%.
As a frequent user of public transportation and air traveler, I often feel like the lone person in the room carrying a hardcover book. Hopefully, the rest of you are someplace more comfortable, perhaps ensconced in an easy chair, cat in your lap, dog at your feet, fireplace blazing, with chocolate, tea, and apple slices within easy reach.
The following are some of my favorite books of 2018. While my list makes no claim to be either comprehensive or the “best books” of the year, these are some titles that I particularly enjoyed.
Fiction – Novels
War novels, following my favorite novel of 2017, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, continued to make a strong statement in 2018.
Atkinson, Kate. Transcription
Spies, double agents, and ordinary people are caught up in the fallout of espionage during World War II. Set in London, Transcription satisfies with its complex characters, intriguing plot, psychological suspense, and enlightening history.
Atkinson’s other books include Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog. (Note: a new Jackson Brodie title, Big Sky, will be released in June 2019).
Mason, Daniel. The Winter Soldier
This World War I tale of star-crossed lovers features a well-to-do Austrian medical student who, with no real experience, is thrown into a remote mountain clinic to prepare injured soldiers to return to war. Lucius’s mentor, Sister Margarete, teaches him the real-life skills he needs to perform surgeries and healing with minimal supplies. As their paths diverge, war continues to create tragedy in its wake.
I am not alone in the library world in my love for mysteries. The following are wonderfully crafted novels. While all stand within a series by the authors, each is imaginative and could easily stand on their own.
Griffiths, Elly. The Dark Angel
In this latest installment of Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, the British archaeologist finds herself unraveling a mystery in a medieval Italian town. Back in England, DCI Nelson has his own challenges, and is forced to make a choice either to follow Ruth or to discover who is threatening him and his family at home. As the story progresses, their relationship and the consequences become more complicated.
Leon, Donna. The Temptation of Forgiveness.
Hand’s down, Donna Leon is one of my favorite mystery writers. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a family man, who loves his wife and children and enjoys good food and wine. Set in Venice, Leon covers many contemporary challenges, as faced by her tender-hearted detective. In addition to crime, Guido confronts climate change, excessive tourism, pollution, rising waters, and the proliferation of drugs, supported by the strong women in his life.
Paretsky, Sara. Shell Game
Stolen artifacts, Middle Eastern politics, Russian mobsters, corporate greed, murder, undocumented workers – is there a contemporary subject that the author has overlooked? It is up to V.I. Warshawsky, Paretsky’s longtime detective heroine, to unravel the threads of this unlikely but most entertaining story.
Westover, Tara. Educated (Memoir)
In this page-turner, Westover details her years growing up in an eccentric family, in which non-conformity and family violence are normalized. For the author’s eventual awakening, education and independence come at a high cost when she leaves her remote but beautiful Idaho mountain home. Fans of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle will enjoy this book.
I once read that author Louise Penny is a favorite among librarians, so of course I had to try her. Her lead character, Armand Gamache, head of Sûreté du Québec, is a complicated person, and the stories can deal with dark subjects. Penny’s latest, Kingdom of the Blind, is no exception.
There will be many new and wonderful books published in 2019, and I look forward to many days devoted to books and reading. To quote the oft-used phrase, “so many books, so little time!”
Man Booker Prize
National Book Awards
Print Unit Sales Increased by 1.3% in 2018, by Jim Milliot. Publishers Weekly, Jan. 4, 2019