1 January 2019 Susannah

My 2018 Favourites

My Book Notebook

I always love looking back through my ‘Book Notebook’ to see what books read in the previous year really stand out as memorable and wonderful. Interestingly, my 2018 favourites have been mainly non-fiction, so I’ve not done a Top Ten List, but instead am giving you ‘Best of Category’ recommendations.

Best Memoirs: A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin was moving, beautifully written (what else would you expect from her?) and I didn’t want to put it down. Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan was one of those gorgeous books that makes you feel completely normal for being a book addict; and The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District took me straight to one of my favourite parts of England. It was a superb evocation of the English countryside and the life of a farmer who helps keep it rural and traditional. I totally agreed with the reviewer who described the book as “bloody marvellous” and I’m not surprised it has been a ‘surprise bestseller’ of 2018. Lastly, I loved re-reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s lyrically beautiful A Time of Gifts about a walk through a wintery Europe just before WWII.

Best Books about Art: Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King was the book I wrote about in my last newsletter, and I wrote about Stealing the Scream: The Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Monica Youn earlier this year – it concerned the theft of Munch’s famous painting. Both were excellent.

Best History: I was riveted by East West Street by Philippe Sands, about WWII and how the word ‘genocide’ came to be accepted. After reading Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway I just couldn’t stop thinking and talking about the book – grim reading but so thought-provoking and powerful. I also loved Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which was my best (but I must admit my only) science book of the year.

Best Literary: Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian by Marie Nedregotten Sǿrbǿ about the challenges of translating Jane Austen was utterly fascinating – it made me even more aware of Jane Austen’s genius as a writer. I adored Footsteps, the New York Times book about making literary pilgrimages around the world, and I recently finished Jenny Uglow’s superb biography of Edward Lear, Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense.

Best Crime: Tombland by C.J. Sansom (see below for further ravings) was best crime book and best novel of my year (please note that Jane Austen’s novels must always be taken for granted as my best books of every year). I have also really loved the crime novels by Jǿrn Lier Horst, set in Larvik, Norway and featuring a really nice detective called William Wisting. Other favourite crime writers whose series I have continued to enjoy this year include: Torquil Macleod (his novels are set in Malmo, Sweden), Jacqueline Winspear (her Maisie Dobbs novels are set in London between the wars), C.S. Harris (her gorgeous Sebastian St Cyr series is set in Regency London), Susan Elia Macneal (whose Maggie Hope solves mysteries in London during WWII), Cora Harrison (who writes about Mara, Brehon of the Burren of 15thC Ireland), Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) whose Cormoran Strike series keeps me gripped, Peter Robinson (who writes about Alan Banks and the Yorkshire Dales), Hjorth and Rosenfeldt’s highly unusual Sebastian Bergman series (Rosenfeldt wrote the fabulous TV series The Bridge), Camilla Lackberg’s excellent Swedish series featuring a married couple, Hedstrom and Falck, Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum Norwegian novels (I had the joy of meeting Gunnar on tour this year), and finally Stella Rimington’s MI5 series set in London. If you follow up all those recommendations, you should be in for an extremely bloody and murderous 2019.

What have been your favourite books this year? Tell me by leaving a comment.

   A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
   Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
   The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks
   A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
   Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King
   Stealing the Scream: The Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick
   East West Street by Philippe Sands
   One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Åsne Seierstad
   The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
   Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian by Marie Nedregotten Sǿrbǿ
   Footsteps by The New York Times
   Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow
   Tombland by C.J. Sansom
   The Katharina Code by Jǿrn Lier Horst
   books by Torquil Macleod
   books by Jacqueline Winspear
   books by C.S. Harris
   books by Susan Elia Macneal
   books by Cora Harrison
   books by Robert Galbraith
   books by Peter Robinson
   books by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt
   books by Camilla Lackberg
   books by Gunnar Staalesen
   books by Stella Rimington

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.

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Featured image credit- The Jabberwock, as illustrated by John Tenniel By John Tenniel, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20137
Body image credit- Notebook image from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/639037

Comments (23)

  1. Annmarie

    Hello Susannah, Thanks for the recommendations–always nice to have a to-read list going!

    Some favorites this year:

    A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Beautifully written (though it starts slowly).

    Speaking of USSR/Russia, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed Red Notice by Bill Browder. It was fascinating and very timely.

    We also appreciated the excellent audiobooks of Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri mysteries set in India. The narrator was incredible and added to the delightful writing.

    Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas gave me a better appreciation of the Reformation and its effects. Very accessible history and theology.

    Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann was a sobering look at the Osage Indians and a series of murders to take their oil rights, and includes the beginnings of the FBI. Well done and a movie is in the works with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Wounded Tiger by T. Martin Bennett was an amazing true story set in WWII. My husband’s family knew one of the three main characters so that made it even better.

    I always love rereading The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer.

    My book club read The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War by Denise Chong, and all thought it insightful.

    A memoir that became a favorite is Wait for Me by Deborah Mitford.

    For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton was a really interesting biography of a selfless life.


    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for your great list of best books for the year. I read and enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow, but all the others are new to me, so will add them to the ever-growing list. I was delighted to see The Grand Sophy, one of Georgette’s best. If you live in or near Sydney, do think about coming to the fabulous Georgette Heyer conference being held on 2nd March. It promises to be such a wonderful day. If you email me through my website, then I can send you all the details. There will be a new book about GH launched, exciting information about a new GH podcast, plus fabulous talks throughout the day – all for $65.
      Happy reading in 2019.

  2. Janice Gentle

    I really enjoy your newsletter, but i have difficulty reading the blue or red print. I have mentioned this to others and they agree that blue print is more difficult to read than ordinary black.
    I’m looking forward to following up some of the books you recommend!
    Thanks, Janice

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for your comments, Janice. I will discuss them with my PA and web manager and see if we can avoid the colours that are hard to read.
      Happy new Year and happy reading throughout 2019.

  3. sheila joss

    Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch, latest in the Rivers of London series and A Ceremonial Death by Dr Glyn E. Jenkins

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for the recommendation, Sheila. I don’t know either of those authors and will add their books to my ever-lengthening list. Happy New Year.

  4. One of my favourite 2018 books was Phillipe Sands’ “East West Street” which I re-read as soon as I’d read it the first time. It was absolutely brilliant and such a well told story. I wrote to the Author Phillipe Sands to congratulate him and tell how much I got out of reading his story; it was an email he replied to which made it all the more interesting. We read it for our Book Club and, as one of our members grew up in Germany and was a young girl when the war ended, during our discussion we were enthralled to hear how her family reacted with regards to Germany’s defeat. This is definitely a book I would thoroughly recommend. Such a wonderful explanation of events in history, the effects of which we are still feeling.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I totally agree Michelle. If you see my latest newsletter you’ll note that I listed it as amongst my best books, and I wrote about it at more length in a newsletter some months ago. How fabulous that you wrote to him and got a reply. I believe he came to Sydney and spoke and am so sorry I missed that event. It was such an amazing book.

  5. Hi Susannah

    This was the year that I discovered Jane Harper… Vivien and I read all three of her books this year. She was the best new Australian find for us, and we can’t agree which of the three we like the best, but everyone should start with The Dry (2016) and the latest book, The Lost Man (2018) was simply stunning. The middle book, Force of Nature (2017), was of special interest to us as it was set in a part of the Victorian High country close, to our rural farm property. All three books are murder mysteries, but are really about Australians battling with our difficult and varied climate and landscapes.

    These three books encouraged me to re-read Picnic at Hanging Rock!


    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have read her first two and really enjoyed them, though I thought the first was better than the second. I have yet to read the latest, but have it ordered at the library.

      • I do agree that Force of Nature is the least successful of the three. I have been told by a mutual friend that the reason that her second book was not quite as good as her first, The Dry, is that she was pregnant and quite unwell while writing the second book! I agree that the plotting is a bit weaker, but the description of the feel of the country is still excellent.
        I’m sure you will enjoy The Lost Man.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I didn’t know she was pregnant while writing it. I think also she must have felt under huge pressure after her first book had been such a hit. I think many authors get really stressed working on a second book when the first one has been a bestseller and raised great expectations. I’d like to have that problem!

  6. Leigh Mackay

    I was interested in the book you listed – Jane Austen speaks Norwegian. When I looked it up online via your link is was for sale at $167. Not for me.
    I have enjoyed Milkman (Booker prize winner) and the new Biography of Thomas Cromwell by Daimund McCulloch.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, it is one of those academic books that is hideously expensive. The Cromwell biography sounds interesting – I’ll look out for it. Happy New Year Leigh.

  7. I never get tired of reading Jane Austen, I can read her books over and over. As for crime, have you read Australian author Jane Harper. Her first book The Dry so captured the Australian outback, you could feel the heat and smell the dust, the the stoic people of dying country towns will touch you. The actual crime was unique in it’s story also

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Like you, I never tire of re-reading Jane Austen, and I also love books about her books and her life.
      Yes, I have read Jane Harper’s first two books, but not her most recent. I believe they are making a film of The Dry which I’ll be keen to see.
      Happy New Year.

  8. Margi Abraham

    Apart from rereading Persuasion by Jane Austen, my favourite literary themed reads in 2018 were A Man in Parts (a novel about H.G.Well’s love life!) by David Lodge and Outsiders: Five Women Writers that Changed the World ( MaryShelley, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Wolf) by Lyndall Gordon. Hadn’t even heard of Schreiner. I also loved Michael Ondaatje’s new novel Warlight. He is such a beautiful writer and poet. And I was moved and confronted by the wonderful Only The Animals by South African/Australian writer, Ceridwen Dovey. A varied diet to go with the wine and cheese!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That is indeed a varied diet! I also loved Lodge’s book about HG Wells. I will add the Ceridwen Dovey book to my list. If you want to borrow The Story of an African Farm, I can lend it to you. It was an influential book and is an interesting read, but not one I love.
      I hope 2019 is a fabulous year for you, packed with good books. See you at JASA.

  9. Rodney Pyne

    Susannah! Enjoyed your “notes” as usual. You set me to think about how I actually choose which book to read next. Subconsciously,I try to choose fiction,then next read non-fiction and mostly this is how I progress.Not strictly,though. Yesterday I finished CD’s “American Notes” This morning I started book 3 of a “History of Egyptology” [probably not everyone’s cup of tea.} Then I think I’ll probably reread Colm Toibin’s “The Master”.Last week I was reading “To the Lighthouse”. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern here and I wonder if I should initiate a way to draw up a schedule. As it is,it’s all a bit iffy and random.I’d like to get back to some Margery Allingham after the Toibin

    I enjoyed the Dickens more than I thought and actually found myself chuckling at times. He was undone by all the spitting.I’m looking forward to hearing your talk in February.I wonder if QV ever sat down and read a Dickens from cover to cover.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I suspect that my reading choices are also pretty random. Depends on what else is happening, travel, lectures I am planning to give, but I do like to mix fiction and non-fiction so that there’s plenty of variety. I am not a huge Margery Allingham fan and feel I must be missing something, as so many good readers love her books.
      I will look forward to seeing you at the Dickens talk and do hope you can make it to some JASA meetings this year.
      Happy New Year.

  10. Rita Felton

    I didn’t subscribe to your site last year, but some of the books I most enjoyed in 2018 were:
    David Copperfield (Dickens);
    Of Mice and men (Steinbeck), which I’ve read many times but keep going back to;
    Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates);
    All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr);
    John McNabb (John Buchan) – I had not read this since I was 14, but I still found it very funny;
    The Shepherd’s Hut (Tim Winton); and my favourite non-fiction was
    James Herriot’s Dog Stories.

    I’m in the middle of the astronaut Scott Kelly’s “Endurance – a year in space; a lifetime of discovery”, but am very keen to commence Brideshead Revisited. This novel has been sitting on my shelf for years just waiting to be devoured.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t David Copperfield a wonderful novel. I also loved Anthony Doerr’s book – that was on last year’s list of top reads. And Of Mice and Men is so powerful – not sure if I could cope with all the sorrow if I read it again. I have not read the Buchan one you mentioned, though have read several of his others, so I’ll add that to my list.
      Happy New Year – I hope 2019 is packed with good books.

  11. Jenny Grebler

    Hi Susannah,

    Thanks for your reading recomendations. I will make Brideshead Revisited mt next read. I read some outstanding bios yjat I would recommend. Mr S. The Last Word on Frank Sinatra was written by his personal valet, George Jacobs. It is in the first person and shows Sinatra and his life through the eyes of this sensitive, black guy.Loved re=reading Durell, Mitford and Virginia Woolf. Also appreciated a difficult read by Caroline Moorhead titled ‘A Train in Winter’, It followed the journey of an (initally) large group of French female Resistance workers during Occupation when the Nazis inhabited Paris, through to their capture, the Concentration Camps and after the war. A non-fiction book, the author meticulously researched her material and the final chapters interviewing those still alive and the descendants was amazing. And really, it was a story of female solidarity!

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