Megan Clark

New Year Must-Reads: looking back at the great books of 2018

It’s a New Year, and another chance at catching up with those must-read novels of the past year! 2018 provided us with a wide range of fantastic books that cannot and must not be forgotten in the coming year! Last year’s sparklers included Turtles all the Way Down by John Green, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, and Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig, as well as the paperback release of Everywoman by Jess Phillips and the re-release of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

All of these novels have provided page-turning evenings, and eye-opening moments that have helped to shape my year, and which I hope many others will have the pleasure of enjoying in the future. So, without further ado, the books themselves…

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down is a beautifully written story of teenage romance and the pressures of trying to be the perfect human in a less than perfect world.

Protagonist Ava is caught in the controversy of a missing billionaire, and the ensuing romantic relationship that she develops with his son as a result. To make matters more complicated, do not be fooled into thinking that this is simply a tale of teenage romance. Beneath the main plot, the hidden story unravels of Ava’s own mental health battle with clinically diagnosed OCD. Ava is obsessed with cleanliness, but more precisely of the risk of infection by C. diff, causing her to continuously drain her body of all possible harmful pathogens through a permanent cut found on her finger.

What emerges from the storyline is a breath-taking and vivid portrayal of the struggles that Ava faces. It focuses on a girl who is attempting to get the ordinary and extraordinary to sit in tandem with each other, and also looks at her ability to distinguish her imagination from the realities of what she has to face.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Although this is a novel which has been around since 2014, The Miniaturist is a story which never ceases to engross its readers, old and new. Viewers were shocked and thrilled at the TV mini-series broadcast around December 2017, which led to the book’s re-release at the beginning of 2018.

The tale follows Petronella, a Dutch girl living in the 17th century who marries a wealthy Merchant from Amsterdam called Johannes Brandt, who has a secret or two of his own! Her life, and the lives of those who surround her are played out in miniature when she starts to receive tiny dolls and furniture that perfectly mimic the real world that exists around her. Surprisingly, it’s as if their mysterious creator ‘The Miniaturist’ knows more about Petronella’s life than she does.

For me, the most enthralling part of the novel is the intricately carved storyline which radiates a vast plethora of traits and emotions- love, shock, fear, anger, delicacy and callousness. A key theme in the novel is that appearance is everything, but appearances are deceptive, and the truth will always prevail.

Everywoman by Jess Phillips

Everywoman by Jess Phillips is a brilliant, hilarious and empowering book which discusses how the modern woman fits into the ever-changing world that we are living in now. One that has seen huge improvements in the way in which women can lead their lives, yet women are still surrounded by a society which is attempting to adapt to these changes, in order to work towards improvements in equality for those of all genders and backgrounds.

This book is willing women to feel strong, to rally against situations which are difficult, complex and even damn right regressive. To challenge scenarios that many may have just accepted, to take a stand in all spheres of life, from the academic, to the political, to the everyday and extraordinary.

Jess Phillips is a force to be reckoned with. As a Labour MP she certainly has a story or two to tell about her own life and the political side to it which has brought her many challenges each and every day. Jess reflects on careers, motherhood, trolling, and the importance of honesty in all aspects of her own life in this formidable debut book.

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is a powerful and evocative author, telling human stories with the keenest attention to detail. Hosseini’s previous novels And the Mountains Echoed, The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns are exquisite insights into worlds so different to our own.

Sea Prayer is no different, telling the heart-breaking story of a refugee family the night before they embark on the most dangerous journey of their lives. This story is told through a letter from a father to his three-year-old son, which provides a graphic portrayal of life in Syria and the harsh realities that this entails.

Beautiful illustrations accompany this moving letter, with illustrator Dan Williams perfectly capturing the tone of the text. The illustrations themselves are works of art which would happily grace any wall, and provide a meaningful glimpse into this poignant, yet realistic world.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

In a time when more and more people are struggling with their mental health, with over 30% of students reporting mental health problems at some stage in their university career, Matt Haig tackles this topic of anxiety and stress in our increasingly nervous planet.

The author smashes through the clichés, advocating that “words, just sometimes, really can set you free.” Both this book, and Reasons to Stay Alive, discuss one man’s own journey with his mental health and how there really can be light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the tunnel is horrendously long and treacherous!

Matt Haig offers no one solution to what others could be facing, but instead discusses how his own experiences may be applicable to all of us. From the overarching effects of technology and societies’ problem in switching off, to the pressures of daily life imposed on us all, this book covers a lot of ground when it comes to anxiety and stress in modern day life.

This book, alongside other works by this author, have stuck to me like glue. They speak to the reader with issues that are affecting huge swathes of society in a world that is becoming more and more distorted, but also hugely confusing. I would recommend this to anyone who may be struggling with stress or their mental health, but also to anyone who would like to understand more about their own mental wellbeing.

2018 was a fantastic year for books and this is only a handful of the ones that stood out for me. Other interesting titles to mention include, but are not limited to; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Dead Girls by Alice Bolin, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson, and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

All that is left to say is Happy New Year, and happy reading for the year to come!

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