Our staff pick their favourite fiction titles from 2018. Sink into a chair and revel in some of the best fiction we've come across so far. For nonfiction staff picks, award winners and more, head over to our Recommended Reads page.
What were your favourite books of the year? Shout it out! Add your picks to our website reviews.
The merry spinster
I loved this wickedly dark collection of short stories, which all offer horrifying and inventive updates of beloved children’s classics such as the Little Mermaid, the Velveteen Rabbit and the Wind in the Willows. Most of the horror here is psychological, taking the threads of each story and twisting them just enough to send shivers up your spine. Perfect for Hallowe’en, these are stories to savour on grey days and to keep you awake through pitch-black nights. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 23/10/18
Part spy thriller, part historical fiction and entirely engrossing, Kate Atkinson’s latest novel focusses on Juliet, a young secretary who transcribes audio surveillance for MI5 during WWII. As she listens to the secret conversations of ordinary British subjects who are betraying their country to the Nazis, she becomes entangled in a deeper mystery, one that seeps into her life after the war. As always, Atkinson has an eye for period details and builds complex, likable characters. If you liked her first foray into historical drama, “Life after Life”, I anticipate you will also enjoy this one. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 25/10/18
I adored this gothic tour-de-force which seamlessly weaves together different characters and timelines into a story that resonates through the ages. The story begins in the hauntingly beautiful city of Prague, when a young Czech scholar receives a mysterious letter from an old man who claims to be followed by an immortal woman in a black robe known as Melmoth the Witness. This atmospheric tale unwinds with plenty of intrigue…don’t be surprised if you stay up late turning the pages. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 13/11/18
This prescient novel features a multi-generational family live together in a heritage house that's falling apart – much like their economic stability. At the same time, it tells the story of the house’s previous occupants, a family living in a 19th century utopian community called Vineland, who struggle to reconcile interest in Darwinian evolution with the religious beliefs of their neighbours. This is literature that isn’t afraid to be divisive and delves unabashedly into contemporary politics in a way that’s reminiscent of the crusading Victorian novelists such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Some readers may find this social consciousness a mite preachy, while others may find it refreshing and a case of literature speaking truth to power. In other words, this novel is perfect for book clubs that enjoy a spirited debate! Personally, I couldn’t put it down and I’m still rolling the novel’s ideas through my mind. Meghan Casey (Queen's Square Library) 06/12/18
Setterfield, Diane .
Once Upon a River
An enchanting tale about family ties and the power of stories. “Once Upon a River” begins at a nineteenth-century inn along the River Thames, where the regulars and innkeepers all specialize in storytelling. On a dark and stormy midwinter’s night, a story falls into their laps: a man bursts into the inn, cradling a drowned girl … who promptly comes back to life. Everyone is fascinated by the mute child, but to whom does she belong? The inn’s storytellers are captivated as the mystery surrounding the girl takes several twists and turns, connecting a large cast of memorable characters, until all the disparate stories come together in an utterly satisfying ending. Perfectly plotted with an ethereal quality to the storytelling, this book is really something special. Highly recommended! Jessica (Staff) (Preston Library) 31/07/18
Finn, A. J.
The woman in the window
The main character in this compelling psychological thriller is a former psychologist herself. She is now a recluse but is she delusional? This book reminded me of Hitchcock’s films with a modern twist. I was intrigued from beginning to end! Tina (Staff) (Preston Library)
My year of rest and relaxation
This dark satiric take on the culture of wellness and self-care made me literally laugh out loud. It features one of the most deranged depictions of a psychiatrist I've ever seen in a book, in the character of Dr. Tuttle, a neck brace-wearing, cat-worshipping "shaman" who gives out pharmaceutical sleep aids like Hallowe'en candy. Of course, all the characters in this novel are a little unusual, from the protagonist, who seems to have it all, but just wants to nap her life away in between '80s movies to the calculating art world provocateur who may turn her quest for sleep into his latest project. Deeply weird, but strangely resonant and definitely memorable. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
The red word
This coming-of-age story is set on an Ivy League campus back in the '90s, but the issues it explores related to feminism and the "Me Too" movement are very much of the moment. The framing device comparing Greek mythology to the social dynamics in modern-day "Greek" fraternities and sororities was both funny and insightful. The characters were memorable and often relatable, even when they were up to some very questionable things. Overall, this book manages to succeed both as literary fiction and as a page-turning potboiler, a rare feat! Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
This is an engaging and beautifully written story of five childhood friends who reunite to attend the funeral of another member of their group who mysteriously stopped talking to them in high school. They've all undergone major changes in the decade since graduation, but questions still linger about why the deceased friend cut them out of her life. It's this central mystery that pushes the narrative forward and leads all of the group members to make life-changing decisions.The characters manage to be both quirky and true-to-life and by the end of the book, you'll feel as if you might've known them all a long time. This is a gem of a book and qualifies as one of my favourite stories of 2018. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
Girls burn brighter
This debut novel lives up to all the hype it's been earning in the publishing world, delivering an amazing story about the redemptive power of friendship. The protagonists, Poornima and Savitha, are two friends growing up in a village in India, where they struggle with being poor, family expectations and the diminished opportunities that come with being born a daughter rather than a prized and beloved son. When they are separated by a brutal act of betrayal, Poornima runs away to find Savitha, travelling across oceans, learning new skills and discovering her courage in the process. Both women face incredible hardships and adversity, but their friendship and their will to survive are inspiring and burn brighter than a bonfire. Worth reading! Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
Perfect little world
Wilson’s unique and thought-provoking novel sheds light on what being a family truly means. Izzy has just graduated from high school when she discovers she’s pregnant with her unstable art teacher’s baby. With no help, no money and no prospects, she reluctantly agrees to be a part of a utopian experiment of the communal nature of child raising called “The Infinite Family Project”. For the next ten years, she and her baby will live at a state-of-the-art facility (with nine other couples and their children) run by idealistic child psychologist Dr. Preston Grind (sponsored by an eccentric billionaire). Wilson creates some truly memorable characters and delves into what motivates human behaviour. Leah (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
The great alone
Hannah does it again with her new book about a troubled family trying to start over. Alaska in the 1970s comes alive in almost cinematic detail and is filled with a fascinating cast of larger than life survivors, crackpots and adventurers. The Allbrights have inherited land in Alaska and move there pretty much on a hope and a dream. Wife Cora and daughter Leni hope that the wild land calms the nightmares, drinking and aggression of their husband and father Ernt, a Vietnam vet/ex-POW. But while the hard work hones and strengthens the women, things start to unravel in the long brutal winters. Leah (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
Seven days of us
The Birches, a posh British family, have not all spent Christmas together in ages and being forced to celebrate while quarantined together is a recipe for disaster. Secrets and lies abound. Olivia, the doctor who could have been exposed to a virus, has a possibly deadly secret. Her sister Phoebe is engaged to someone she’s not sure she should be. Her dad Andrew has a letter that could destroy his marriage. And her mom has the scariest secret of all. Witty, clever writing and spot-on observations make this page-turner totally unputdownable! Leah (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
This gorgeously lyrical novel tells the story of the enchantress, Circe, who magically transformed Odysseus’ crew into pigs to punish their boorish behaviour in The Odyssey. The daughter of a Titan and a sea nymph, Circe dislikes the company of deities, who tend to be callous and cruel. Instead, she is attracted to the fragile beauty of the mortal world, where time is precious and her gift of sorcery can bloom. Author Madeleine Miller weaves threads of myth and history together into a mesmerising tapestry, depicting legendary heroes and heroines as vital, passionate and human. Newcomers to Greek mythology will find this a fascinating introduction to its wealth of stories. Those more familiar with demi-gods and gorgons will appreciate Miller’s skill in adapting a classic tale to modern sensibilities. The ideal place to read this book would be on a beach in the Greek islands, with dawn rising over the ocean, but wherever you pore over these pages, you’re certain to find yourself transported to a world of ancient wonders. Meghan (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)
Benedict explores the fallout on a town and in particular the Drummond family after a devastating hurricane. It's also about the long reach of war, as the main character Rin Drummond is a war widow and Iraq war veteran raising a blind daughter. Several other characters are impacted by the war(s) in the Middle East as they come together to deal with both the psychic trauma of war and physical trauma of the hurricane. Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 16/02/18
The heart's invisible furies
I could not put this book down! The characters and the injustices done to them drew me in from the beginning when a young girl is literally tossed out of her church and small Irish home town because she was pregnant. The story follows her son’s intriguing life from 1945-2015. Tina (Staff) (Preston Library) 28/02/18
A gentleman in Moscow
There is something profoundly reassuring in reading about a protagonist who can stay calm and collected even in the most tumultuous times, when others are (sometimes quite literally) losing their heads. The dignity and humanity of this novel's protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, stand out at Moscow's Metropole Hotel in the early 20th century, as he weathers a house arrest that extends through the end of the Russian Revolution, Stalinist purges and the beginning of the Cold War. Although Rostov cannot leave the hotel on pain of death and he is seemingly exiled from the world, he keeps in touch with the changing times through the fascinating guests who dine and sleep in the luxurious Metropole suites. His gentlemanly aloofness is challenged, however, when he unexpectedly becomes the ward of an orphan girl and must guard her future from the interference of the KGB - at which point, this deft character study takes on elements of a fast-paced spy thriller. Chock full of allusions to the golden age of Russian literature, this novel manages to combine wit and heart, showing that good manners and good friends can overcome the banality of evil. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 28/02/18
Even if you’ve never read Sci-Fi before, I bet you’ll love this book! It is incredibly fast-paced with a relentless main character. The plot carries you along for an out-of-this-world trip! Tina (Staff) (Preston Library) 21/03/18
On a whim, four preteen siblings visit a notorious mystic who tells them each, one by one, the date of their death. What captivated me most about this story was how profoundly the prophecy affects each character and informs the choices they all make over the course of their lives. Can they escape fate? Do they see their destiny as fixed or one they can change? This is a fascinating page-turner that will leave you asking what you would do if you knew what life had in store for you. Laura (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 24/03/18
Levine, David D.
Arabella of Mars
This novel is a wonderful and improbable hybrid: a swashbuckling steampunk story that features both space exploration and the kind of Regency-era drama you'd expect from a Jane Austen novel. Our heroine, Arabella, is a clever and headstrong young woman whose adventurous upbringing on the British colony planet of Mars has left her ill-suited to re-entering conventional middle-class society back in England - nevertheless, her mother drags her back to Earth set on making a suitable match. When the life of her beloved brother Michael is threatened back on Mars, Arabella springs to the rescue and finds herself on an amazing interstellar adventure. It's a fun premise with an intriguing setting. This is the first in an ongoing series, so I'll be curious to discover where Arabella goes from here. Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 07/04/18
Her nightly embrace
A quirky and refreshing title to add to the private eye genre. Our main character Ravi finds himself working for a P.I. company after his life goes off the rails. The cases often end up in a morally gray zone which has Ravi worrying for his karma. Particularly because he often sees Hindu gods that no one else can see. They pop up in his life and judge his actions, relishing in the entertainment his cases bring. The book moves at a quick pace and Ravi is good at his job, thinking on his feet when cases get complex. He works with misfits like him and the characters are unique and fun that it makes me want to work in their office too. The book loses a star because it takes a bit to get going, but once you get into it, you won’t want to stop reading. Good news, it’s the first of a trilogy. Jessica (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 17/04/18
Only killers and thieves
A gripping portrayal of the harsh realities of life in colonial Australia. Reminiscent of Bryce Courtenay. I hope we will see more from this new author. Sue Chamberlain (Staff) (Preston Library) 15/05/18
Ocean of Minutes
In 1981, a devastating flu pandemic spreads across the United States. With few able to afford medical treatment, a private company called TimeRaiser offers a solution: if healthy people travel to the future as indentured labourers, TimeRaiser will supply medication to the loved ones they leave behind. When her boyfriend Frank comes down with the flu, Polly takes the deal and plans to meet up with Frank when she arrives in 1993. Polly will see him shortly, but Frank will have to wait twelve years. However, when Polly arrives at her destination, she discovers she has been re-rerouted to 1998 ... and Frank is nowhere to be found. This is a moving, beautifully written story of courage, memory, and the endurance of the human heart. Jessica Sheff (Staff) (Preston Library) 15/05/18
Federal agent Aaron Falk is called back to his rural Australian hometown for the funeral of his best friend, Luke, who apparently committed suicide after killing his wife and 6-year-old son; he’s also called to reckon with his own past. Falk and his father were run out of town when he was accused of killing his girlfriend. Luke gave him an alibi, but more than one person in town knows he was lying. When Luke’s parents ask Falk to find the truth, long-buried secrets begin to surface. Lucie (Staff) (Queen's Square Library) 22/05/18
Hooper, Emma .
Our Homesick Songs
When there are no more fish off the coast of their small Newfoundland fishing village, the Connor family splits up: Aidan and Martha spend alternate months working in the oil fields out west, their teenage daughter Cora spends her time dreaming of any place but Newfoundland, and their young son Finn is left all alone. With his family pulled in different directions, Finn learns the stories of his island from the village eccentric and tries to lure the fish back to Newfoundland – because if he can bring back the fish, maybe he can bring everyone else back, too. “Our Homesick Songs” is a beautifully written novel about family, the power of music and stories, and the undeniable pull of home. Jessica Sheff (Staff) (Preston Library) 23/05/18