Tuesday, December 04, 2018

best of 2018: fiction

Now that December is here (how though?!?), it's time to start posting my "best of 2018" lists!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2018, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first two books, which were definitely my favorite and second favorite novels of the year, these are in random order.
  • I know it's a little early, and I'll have plenty of reading time while I'm unemployed, so if I read something between now and the end of the month that belongs on this list, I'll update it accordingly.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary!

1. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar:  In 1785 London, wealthy merchant Jonah Hancock is horrified when the captain of one of his trading ships comes back and says that he sold the ship in exchange for a dead mermaid.  Jonah decides to try to cut his losses by exhibiting the mermaid, and it quickly becomes a sensation.  Meanwhile, a celebrated courtesan named Angelica has recently lost her patron, and when Jonah agrees to lend the mermaid to the brothel where she used to work, their lives intersect in unusual ways.  This was fantastic; if you liked The Crimson Petal and the White, I can't imagine you wouldn't like this too.

2. How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister:  Anna Crawford is a high school teacher who's just been suspended for losing her temper in class.  While she's home, she's horrified to see a news report saying that there's been a shooting at her school...and that she's the primary suspect.  Even after she's exonerated, people still don't trust her, and the town falls into chaos as people try to make sense of the tragedy.  A blistering look at our society's love affair with guns, and surprisingly funny too.

3. The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll:  Kelly and Brett are sisters on a reality show called Goal Diggers, which showcases successful businesswomen.  Kelly is older but new to the cast, with a young daughter; Brett is a tattooed lesbian who runs a successful spin studio.  We find out on the very first page that Brett is dead, but we won't find out how or why until the end.  It's a nasty, savage, catty book (I mean these adjectives as compliments) with a message, and I enjoyed it immensely.

4. Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay:  A group of three teenage boys makes a surreptitious late night trip to the titular rock, and one of them, Tommy, vanishes.  His mother Elizabeth is devastated, and then random pages from Tommy's journals begin showing up on the living room floor.  Scary and heartbreaking in equal measure.

5. Force of Nature by Jane Harper:  A group of women goes on a corporate retreat deep in the Australian wilderness, but one of them doesn't return.  Like Harper's debut The Dry, it reminded me of Tana French, and I loved it.

6. Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone:  Jane has just gotten a job at an insurance company, where she hopes to catch the interest of Steven, one of the managers.  He takes the bait, but what he doesn't realize is that Jane isn't who she says she is, and she wants revenge.  Smart and nasty.

7. The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd:  Dennis Danson has been in prison for over 20 years after being convicted of murder, but a group of true crime fanatics believe he's innocent.  Sam, a young British woman, becomes obsessed with the case and begins writing him, and soon she moves to Florida to be with him as much as possible and help a documentary crew with their film about the case.  Dennis and Sam even get married, but a series of events leads her to start doubting his innocence after all.  It's so good I had a hard time believing it was the author's first book; I'll definitely keep an eye out for her future work.

8. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough:  Lisa has a secret past that she's tried to keep hidden for many years, but seemingly random incidents start making her think everything is going to come into the light.  An engrossing psychological thriller; it's not nearly as wackadoodle batshit as Behind Her Eyes (seriously, that had one of the most astonishing endings of any book ever), or as good, but I really enjoyed it.

9. Gun Love by Jennifer Clement:  Pearl lives with her mother in a car parked next to a trailer park.  Despite their lack of money and material things, they carve out a decent life for themselves, but the prevalence of guns will lead to tragedy; as Pearl puts it, "In our part of Florida things were always being gifted a bullet just for the sake of it."  It's fairly short, but it packs more beautiful writing and emotion into its pages than books twice its length.

10. Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear:  When a woman's body is discovered, London policewoman Cat Kinsella is called to the scene.  She thinks the corpse looks familiar, but once the victim is identified as Alice Lapaine, Cat dismisses her initial reaction.  But then it turns out Alice is actually a woman named Maryanne Doyle, who had been missing for years...and Cat had always suspected her own father of having something to do with Maryanne's disappearance, which complicates the investigation.  A really enjoyable mystery that reminded me of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad novels.  (I hasten to add it's not as good as Tana French, which I don't remotely mean as an insult; that's a very high bar!)