Five good books I’ve read in 2018

I read a fair bit. Maybe 40+ books a year, two thirds of which are fiction and the other third are usually science-related non-fiction. I’ve selected five books I’ve read in 2018 so far as my favourites from the fictional part of my reading and I offer brief reviews below. Needless to say I recommend all five books.

The following a presented in reverse order of when I read them, latest first.

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Given her reasonably prodigious output (20-25 books or so), The Good Daughter is the first book I’ve read by Karin Slaughter. It’s essentially the story of two lawyerly daughters, their lawyerly father and the tragedies that befall the family and — perhaps the essence of the story — the way those tragedies affect the two daughters.

The writing is crisp and Slaughter is excellent at evoking a ‘feel’ for things — whether it’s the settings or the emotional state of the characters — and wrapping it all up in an intriguing story.

The good thing about having not read anything by Karin Slaughter before is that I now have another 20+ books on my reading list that I know I’m likely to enjoy.

The Outsider by Stephen King

This is one of the best examples of storytelling I’ve ever read. Note here I’m talking about the art of storytelling and not the story itself. That’s not to say the story isn’t good, it is, but what struck me most about this book was how it was delivered. I’ve read lots of good page-turners in my time but this is in a different league. I just couldn’t put this book down.

Without giving too much away, a man is arrested for the murder of a child and the evidence against him is so compelling that there is no doubt they’ve got the right guy. Yet the alleged murderer has a cast iron alibi. As the story unfolds we find out how these two contradictory positions are resolved.

Stephen King is a master of the art of writing and even those of his books where the story didn’t perhaps appeal to me as much as others have been enjoyable because of great characterisation and top class writing. But the story is good here and it’s a joy to read.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is another master of the art of writing. In this book he takes the raw Norse tales as they were originally told and weaves them into humorous and engaging stories. It’s an educational resource told in the style of enjoyable fiction and I can’t help wondering why more history and mythology isn’t told this way.

If you’re a fan of Marvel’s Thor then some of the Norse characters — Odin, Loki and of course Thor himself — will be familiar to you. The genuine mythology at the heart of this collection of tales takes us in a different direction to Marvel, although we end up with Ragnarok nevertheless.

I thought this was a fantastic book, which is no surprise because the rest of Neil Gaiman’s works are equally good. If you’ve never read anything by this author it’s time you did.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

This novel by Matt Haig is about people who live many hundreds of years. It’s based around the (long) life of one such person who discovers a society of people like himself but isn’t keen on the society’s rules about love, relationships and the like.

It’s a thoughtful story with many reflections on society from the point of view of such a long-lived person. Such a lifespan come with its own problems — not least that you repeatedly have to watch those you love die — and the book deals with how that affects the central character.

I suppose you could call it sci-fi but it is only such due to the extended lifespan of some of the characters. It’s basically just a good story that’s told well.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This book is hilarious. We follow the trials and tribulations of social misfit Eleanor Oliphant as she goes about her daily life and gradually breaks out of the self-imposed, isolated bubble she lives in. There is much humour but beneath that it exposes many mental health issues, particularly how one very distressing event in our lives can shape our thinking (and to damaging degrees).

Gail Honeyman won the Costa First Novel Book Award in 2017 for this book and I can see why. It’s a well-written book that strikes an excellent balance that can make you both laugh and cry. I found it a very satisfying read.