Top 10 reads of 2018

Hugh

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That's a really interesting project, and perhaps you'd like to post some observations & reflections on it in a new thread over at the Tolkien forum ... ?
I'm afraid nothing intelligent to add to comments over the past year in various threads, particularly the monthly reading ones. I doubt that I've read anything that has not been read by yourself and others. However, I'm sure the Tolkien reading helped greatly in my appreciation when re-reading the LOTR.
 

The Big Peat

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In rough order

Age of Assassins
by RJ Barker - *This* is what I want modern trad fantasy to be. It is by turns tense, heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny, compelling, and just generally very cool. It is perhaps a bit too much on the generic side but it has enough quirks to establish itself as premise of its own; the author's voice is wonderful; the big resolution set pieces awesome.

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone - And this is how the reinvention of fantasy should be. Taking the same mix of myth and history, but mutating it into worlds that reflect our own, places where information does more damage than the sword. And incredibly readable. Fantastic taut style, interesting characters and wonderful mysteries.

The Empyreus Proof by Bryan Wigmore - The last but not least of my big three of the year; it kind of sits in the middle between trad and reinvention. I'm rereading it now, slowly and digging at details. It's a strange mix of baroque and street, of primitive shamanism and the gleaming edifices of the Edwardian era, of intellectual mystery and adolescent passion - but oh how it works.

The Poppy War by RF Kuang - I'm *still* processing how I feel about this book and its ever shifting tone. But increasingly, what it did well sticks with me while I can shrug at what felt obvious and boring. Its sense of wonder and horror are superbly executed.

Man O'War by Dan Jones - In a word, Le Carre-esque.

The Last Light of the Sun by GG Kay - Standard GG Kay in Viking age Britain

Blood of Assassins by RJ Barker - The follow up suffered from a harsher, less fun tone, but was still a very good read

The Eagle's Flight by DE Olesen - Initials galore this year. Anyway - a little stiff and slow moving, but a juggernaut of a Katherine Kurtz-esque story once it got moving.

Snakewood by Adrian Selby - Incredibly ambitious. Could have done with more depth to the world and a livelier story, but still very intriguing.

Supremacy's Shadow by TE Bakutis - Fun! The author describes it as Deadpool meets Han Solo and that's pretty much most of what you need to know.

There was quite a gap between 3 and 4, and between 5 and 6. In a better year, I'm not sure any of the latter 5 would have made my top 10 of the year list (they're good books, don't get me wrong, read and enjoy but in years gone by they wouldn't have made it), but I did a lot of re-reading and a lot of DNFs.
 

Stephen Palmer

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David Grann, Killers Of The Flower Moon
Lawrence Friedman, The Lives Of Erich Fromm
Jamie Bartlett, The People Vs Tech
Mary Aiken, The Cyber Effect
Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation
Catharine Arnold, Bedlam
Kathryn Harper, I Have Something To Say!
Dick Taverne, The March Of Unreason
Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing
Ward & Brownlee, Rare Earth
*all reviewed here.
 

Randy M.

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Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Left Hand of Darkness – deserves its reputation. In a remarkably short span Le Guin give us two well-developed, understandable characters, and an entire world.

Paretsky, Sara: Indemnity Only – I’ve wondered about this series for years, and this is quite good first novel. Using the Chandler/Hammett/Macdonald form, Paretsky manages to make her main character V. I. Warshawski act in believable ways, not like the tough Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade template.

Hendrix, Grady: My Best Friend’s Exorcism – entertaining, occasionally funny, and at times surprisingly suspenseful. The premise should be ludicrous, but Hendrix makes it plausible for the duration of the read.

Ford, Jeffrey: The Shadow Year – really entertaining coming-of-age novel, a Bradburyian premise with a somewhat earthier delivery

Ellroy, James: Hollywood Nocturnes – A collection including a good novella, “Dick Contino’s Blues”; I may like Ellroy in short form more than in novel-length. Still, I should read more by him.

Penny, Louise: The Cruelest Month – Third in the Inspector Gamache series, and very, very good, returning to scene of the first novel and really digging into the town of Three Pines and its inhabitants.

Ambler, Eric: A Coffin for Dimitrios – Terrific spy novel. Atmospheric story with believable action sequences, and in Dimitrios one of the great villains in 1940s fiction.

Nevill, Adam: Banquet for the Damned – Ghost story modeled on M. R. James type stories, but updated in content and characterization. Nevill’s writing isn’t as elegant as James’, but he deploys his story elements smoothly and effectively. It’s the sort of thing you’ll like if you like that sort of thing. I liked it.

Davis, Dorothy Salisbury: Tales for a Stormy Night – Maybe the biggest surprise in my reading year was this collection I impulsively pulled off my shelves and dug into. Fifteen crime/mystery stories from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, that were well-written and suspenseful. If you liked the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents show, these might be for you.

Cram, Ralph Adams: Black Spirits and White – Collection of ghost stories from the 1890s. I liked some stories more than others, but Cram, an architect, had a knack for describing the scenes where his action takes place that made all of them entertaining. Given that, it’s odd that arguably the strongest story, “The Dead Valley,” takes place in a barrens.


Honorable mention of two really enjoyable rereads:
Zelazny, Roger: A Night in the Lonesome October
Hammett, Dashiell: The Continental Op


Randy M.
 

soulsinging

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My most significant read of the year was Tolkien’s Silmarillion, much of which I read through gritted teeth, but this opened out whole avenues of curiosity and led me on to reading well over forty books about, by, and linked to Tolkien (some of them admittedly pretty slight) before progressing to a re-read of the LOTR. In this process I particularly enjoyed The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, and Hammond & Scull’s J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator. I thought The Annotated Hobbit was truly wonderful.
If you want to be REALLY comprehensive there's a university here in the US midwest that probably still has a token copy of my thesis on the Silmarillion. It was most definitely on the slight side. :D
 
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Ian Fortytwo

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The first half of the year was a blur of reading cheap thrillers, however as of August joining a book group things changed. Milkman, by Anna Burns, Retribution Road, can't remember the author, Rotherweird, by Andrew Caldicott, The Children Act, by Ian McEwan, The Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carre and The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. Among these I read, Rogue Male, by Geoffrey Household, The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie, The Fall of Moondust, by Arthur C. Clarke, although this was a re-read from over forty years ago and this time I was slightly disappointed as it was very dated.
 

Extollager

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Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Left Hand of Darkness – deserves its reputation. In a remarkably short span Le Guin give us two well-developed, understandable characters, and an entire world.
Most Chrons people read more sf than I do. Maybe my impression is wrong; but my impression is that nowadays, a book like this would be inflated to 600 pages or so and that would be only the first of a series of novels, at least if the author specialized in sf (or fantasy). Fooey! That is one reason I generally won't touch sf published after about 1970. Occasionally I'll try something by an author who usually writes non-sff, like the novels Never Let Me Go or When the English Fall.
 

Parson

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The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood.
This sounds interesting to me. But I do not quickly or easily lay down more than $5 on a a book about which I haven't heard. Could I bother you to comment on it? -- I have read her famous Handmaid's Tale, which I found to be equal parts brilliant and frustrating.
 

Ian Fortytwo

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This sounds interesting to me. But I do not quickly or easily lay down more than $5 on a a book about which I haven't heard. Could I bother you to comment on it? -- I have read her famous Handmaid's Tale, which I found to be equal parts brilliant and frustrating.
Blind Assassin is a hard read, I just about got through it. Not in my top hundred books.
 

soulsinging

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According to goodreads, I read 18 books last year. Not much, but my goal was 12 and I spent most of the year preparing for and then caring for my first child, so I'll happily take the over. I'll put mine in tiers:

Enjoyed:
God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut: Really enjoyed this book about a particular sum of money and a lawyer's growing concern over the "insane" ways its owner chooses to spend it (namely, on helping people).
The Hours by Michael Cunningham: Read this on a friend's persistent recommendation and am glad I did. A brief, elegant book that's much more understated than the usual crit-bait literature. Very worthwhile.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: Very impressive debut novel that's more a series of interlinked short stories tracing the descendants of two African sisters... one of whom is kidnapped and sold into slavery in America, the other remaining in Africa.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck: It was challenging but fascinating, with larger-than-life characters befitting its Biblical allusions.
Factfulness by Hans Rosling: I don't read much non-fiction, but this is a quick and accessible take on how we don't know as much as we think we do and things aren't as bad as they seem, mostly because our understanding of news and science is manipulated by bad statistics for dubious reasons.
Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Burdago: Occasionally awkwardly tethered to some YA trappings (I suspect for publishing/marketing reasons), this series was nonetheless a very fun read about a collection of criminals who are, of course, not TOO bad. The action set pieces are inventive and the crew's camaraderie is engaging even when a bit angsty.
Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley: A relatively straightforward Robin Hood retelling that was a bit slow to develop but built to an exciting ending.

Disappointed:
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut: Not every one can be a winner I guess.
The Dispossessed by Ursula leGuin: I think she's just not my cup of tea... I always walk away from her books feeling like I should know her characters better than I do after spending so much time in their head. At the end of this book, I still wasn't sure I understood anything about the main character's true beliefs and motivations.
Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey: so much style I gave up trying to find the substance.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman: The scenes in between wars where he's finding how little he recognizes the home he left are excellent. The wars themselves are terrifying and visceral. The weird military politics, not so much... especially the fixation on space army sex. I remember that from Scalzi too. Feels like wish fulfillment.
 

Phyrebrat

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I struggle to read - not in a literacy sense, but speed-wise - so I'm struggling to find ten that weren't research for my WIP.

However:

Native Son - Richard Wright (Tragic and iconic American novel).
The Goddess Project - Bryan Wigmore
The Fisherman - John Langan (a re-read)
Collected Ghost Stories of M R James - M R James (all of his shorts).
The Runaways - Victor Canning (MG/YA fiction I read for nostalgia about a boy who befriends a cheetah)
Flight of the Grey Goose - Victor Canning (sequel to the above. Tearjerker)
Moses Citizen and Me - Delia Jarret McCauley (A semi shamanic tale set around the Sierra Leonean Civil War, where the child soldiers peform a Krio version of Julias Caesar).

I'm currently a third of the way into Dan's Man o War which I started in Summer and suspect would also make it onto my list as it's so far been such an intriguing and ripping yarn.

pH
 

Bick

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David Grann, Killers Of The Flower Moon
Lawrence Friedman, The Lives Of Erich Fromm
Jamie Bartlett, The People Vs Tech
Mary Aiken, The Cyber Effect
Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation
Catharine Arnold, Bedlam
Kathryn Harper, I Have Something To Say!
Dick Taverne, The March Of Unreason
Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing
Ward & Brownlee, Rare Earth
*all reviewed here.
Oh my giddy aunt - I've heard of very few of these authors. Karen Armstrong I'm familiar with.
 

Cat's Cradle

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I'm not a great reviewer, but I love the thread, so I thought I'd give it a go. Here, my favorites of the perhaps 35 books I read last year (I say 'read', but most were experienced via Audible, and narrators can really influence the 'reading' experience).

A World Undone
The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
By GJ Meyer

History - Remarkably informative, and, I thought, beautifully paced. I’ve read a number of Antony Beevor’s books, and I thought this was right with them in quality (but maybe even a bit more of a page turner). Loved it.
#

Hex
Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Horror - This had a really unique premise/central storyline. Great set-up, wonderful opening third...it slowed a bit in the middle, but this is one of those seemingly rare horror novels with a stunner of a conclusion. Original and highly recommended.
#

Night Film, A Novel
Marisha Pessl

Horror/Thriller - With all my praise for Hex, I’ll say that I liked Night Film even better. Probably one of my three favorites for the year. Loved the idea, grew to care greatly for the characters, and the storyline thrilled me. Terrific ending, too.
#

The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker

Historical/Magical - Another favorite. Takes place mainly in a wonderfully imagined late 19th century New York City, and combines elements of magical fables, historical fiction and mythology, and a love story, to boot. Beautifully written, too. An amazing debut novel, I know I’ll read this several times over the years.

#

A Head Full of Ghosts
Paul Tremblay

Horror - Freaky good, perhaps the creepiest horror I read last year.
#

Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat
Giles Milton

History - From my November reading thread review: It's a thrilling account of a team of (mostly British) tinkerers, spies and government officials who came together to help defeat the Nazis. The book starts a bit slowly, but I was absolutely enthralled by the stories of these remarkably brave, ingenious people, and the very real contributions they made in shortening the war.
#

The Second World War
Antony Beevor

History - Well, it’s Beevor. So it’s fantastic.
#

Born A Crime
Trevor Noah

Autobiographical - Funny, chilling, uplifting. The story of Noah’s very difficult childhood in South Africa, and the remarkably strong mother who helped guide him. Amazing the things a person can overcome in a life, and still excel.
#

Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky

Science Fiction - I’ve been reading a lot of really good Grand Scale SF lately (huge ideas, huge technology, such as Alastair Reynolds), but this one really stood out for me last year. Liked it about as much as Vinge’s brilliant A Fire Upon the Deep (so, hugely). (I’m cheating, and putting in House of Suns by Reynolds here, too...it’s grand and wonderful.)
#

Empire of the Summer Moon
S.C. Gwynne

History - I’ll second Stephen Palmer's recommendation for Killers Of The Flower Moon. I also thought Empire of the Summer Moon was a great book. It’s a history of the powerful Comanche tribe, from Spanish colonialism to the end of the 19th century. And it tells the story of their most feared leader, Quanah Parker. This is a really engrossing history.

edit: Oh! I forgot East of Eden, which, of course, has to make my list.

edit 2 - I don't keep a list of books I read each year; I beta-read Bryan Wigmore's remarkable The Empyreus Proof, and I was thinking I did so in late 2017. But now I am not sure. If it was early last year that I read it, I will say that it would also be one of my favorite 2-3 books from 2018...it would be that in any year it was read.
 
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Parson

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Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Oh man! I feel seriously stupid. I read that book last year and it was seriously great. Would absolutely make my top ten of the year. Possibly #2 and were it not for Weber's ending of the Honor Harrington mega series, it would likely be #1. It's a don't miss book for really wonderful SF ideas and asking big societal questions.
 

soulsinging

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Oh man! I feel seriously stupid. I read that book last year and it was seriously great. Would absolutely make my top ten of the year. Possibly #2 and were it not for Weber's ending of the Honor Harrington mega series, it would likely be #1. It's a don't miss book for really wonderful SF ideas and asking big societal questions.
Is Children of Time a standalone? I'm intrigued and hear good things, but didn't realize it was the first in a series. If you can read each on its own but they're in the same universe that's fine, but if it's another incomplete story I've sworn off those!
 

Ian Fortytwo

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Among the cheap thrillers, I did read some Lee Child. However I was not wholly impressed with them, almost all of them had the same problem and was solved very similarly.
 

williamjm

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Is Children of Time a standalone? I'm intrigued and hear good things, but didn't realize it was the first in a series. If you can read each on its own but they're in the same universe that's fine, but if it's another incomplete story I've sworn off those!
I think it was originally intended to be a standalone, and it certainly feels like a complete story in its own right. It seems to have sold better than Tchaikovsky's other novels and won an award, so it's probably not too surprising he's now come up with a sequel, but from the description it sounds like they will be relatively loosely linked.
 

Parson

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Is Children of Time a standalone? I'm intrigued and hear good things, but didn't realize it was the first in a series. If you can read each on its own but they're in the same universe that's fine, but if it's another incomplete story I've sworn off those!
There is no doubt that Children of Time stands alone. The story had a very satisfying ending and there would be no need to read another, unless you wonder: "What happened after all the conflict was settled?" I cannot believe that Children of Time was supposed to be anything other than stand alone."
 

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