Nearly two weeks into 2019, I have had finished my first two reads of the new year (reviews coming soon) and have had time to reflect on my favourites from 2018. In 2018, on Goodreads I rated 12 books as 5 stars (although actual ratings cover 4.5 and 5 stars). As such, I chose to pick my favourites out of those rated as 5 stars – I personally rate based on enjoyment rather than necessarily focusing on literary merit or writing style.
Of those 12, I did exclude my one re-read rated 5 stars in 2018 (Carry On by Rainbow Rowell; otherwise that book could possibly feature on my top 5 annually).
As such, I ultimately have selected the following novels/graphics novels as my personal favourites for 2018. Please note, the titles are not in any particular order. I would never have been able to decide on a definitive order:
1. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
I think a common feature on my favourites in 2018, will be that they were books that I had not necessarily anticipated that I would enjoy as much as I did. Out of all the books on this list, The Belles was probably the one that I had heard the most hype or buzz around (at least on Booktube), and I did purchase a copy of this young adult novel because of this. Whilst I enjoy fantasy, the more beautified element of the premise I had not expected to be as completely enthralled as I was.
The Belles are women in the world of Orleans who have the power to make the population beautiful. Their skills are highly coveted and sought after, and the highest honour for a Belle is to serve the royal palace. Camellia hopes to one day be the chosen one, and set standards for beauty for the population of Orleans.
I did have a slow start getting into the story, as there are a lot of descriptions that relate to flowers and their hues – which admittedly, involved quite a bit of googling on my part. However once the world was sufficiently built, and as the main story began to evolve the mystery and royal politics really drew me into this story. I think it managed to bring up important topics regarding image, and prejudice in an interesting way. I was gutted to reach the end (and semi-cliffhanger), as all I wanted was more. Thankfully I have pre-ordered the sequel and look forward to reading it is 2019.
2. Saga (Volume 9) by Brian K Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
Saga is a graphic novel, aimed at a mature audience (there is nudity, sex, violence, expletives, etc). Ordinarily this is one that people are either very aware of, (a very popular title amongst graphic novel readers), or have never heard of. For those who have not heard of Saga, it is beautifully illustrated space saga based on the relationship between Alana and Marco; warriors on competing sides of a war who fall in love and at the start of the series are expecting a baby. This pregnancy is seen as an abomination by both their species and a bounty hunter is sent to capture them.
The series so far has followed the journey of many different characters, from a variety of planets and species. Thankfully despite 9 existing volumes, the story has generally remained at a very high standard. And Fiona Staples fantastic illustrations has remained consistent. I cannot give much information about Volume 9 (or Volume 8 which I also rated highly in 2018) without spoiling the previous volumes, but this edition definitely packed some emotional punches. Cruelly before the author and illustrator are taking a year hiatus on the series. But I will be waiting in anticipation for the next volume whenever that may be.
3. The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
I received this novel in my Owlcrate YA subscription box, having heard absolutely nothing about it prior. In terms of titles received, Owlcrate have been knocking it out of the park for me personally in the last year, this is one of two books that appear on this list that I received from them, and there was a further 4.5 star book that they sent which is not on the list. I am hoping to catch up on some of the novels they sent last year that I haven’t read yet.
The Hearts We Sold takes place in a world where demons exist, and they may be able to offer you your greatest wish – at a price. Some demons take souls, others want a body part, but Dee makes a deal with a demon who wants her heart, to allow her the funding to escape the troubles at home.
Essentially I believe that this book boils down to how much you are invested in Dee and the other ‘heartless’ characters in the book. And I personally loved Dee and James, our main characters. I think it was also a more contemporary setting than I had anticipated, but actually it worked really well having a more recognisable world but with the addition of demons. What was lost in potential demon hunting Supernatural-esque plot was gained through a genuine examination in why people would make a deal with a demon. Some want fame and fortune, but actually in the real world, of course people would make deals to overcome a difficult home life.
4. Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Although already out in the United States, Devoted has only come out in the UK in January 2019. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this at YALC in the summer, and I loved this story so much.
Rachel is a devoted Christian, raised in a family with very conservative views of how a woman should act and behave in order to remain close to God. As such Rachel is expected to prepare for a life as a wife and mother, but she is starting to doubt her place in her community and family – especially given the return of an ex-church member to the town where she lives.
My Goodreads review definitely covers more details regarding what I loved about this story. But a contemporary that focuses on the development of the central character without a huge focus on romance?! With full disclosure, there definitely were hints at a romantic interest, but it was a minimal focus. I just felt this book handled non-romantic relationships incredibly well, I rooted for Rachel the whole way through. It was a very inspiring story of bravery, but also doubts and struggles. I also felt despite the fact it was casting a critical view on elements of religion, it didn’t completely demonise faith by offering different view points (although that is coming from an agnostic).
5. Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills/ This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Ok, so I am cheating a little by listing both. I received Foolish Hearts in an Owlcrate YA subscription box, and I didn’t know someone could make me enjoy slice of life contemporary as much as Emma Mills. I ended up reading three of her books in 2018, and I am eagerly awaiting her 2019 release.
In Foolish Hearts, Claudia has to navigate a school production (for required extra credit), feeling as though she is losing her best friend and a new ‘enemy’ after accidentally eavesdropping on her girl’s school it couple breaking up.
This Adventure Ends deals with Sloane settling into life in a new school, after her family moved to help her author father write his next novel. Sloane embarks on trying to find a painting painted by the deceased mother of a new school friend and making new friends.
It it would difficult for me to breakdown my thoughts on both stories, but Emma Mills writes very relatable characters. I could empathise with certain elements of both main characters and the challenges they are facing in their teenage years (although that was a few years back for me). Unlike a lot of young adult stories, Mills also doesn’t shy away from building a cast of family as well as friends. Overall, both these books were easy reading, enjoyable stories and left me with all the warm and fuzzies.
What were some of your favourite reads in 2018? And what back list titles do you recommend I try to pick up in 2019?