Daniel Ford counts down our favorite books of 2018. Read on to find out which novel landed in our top spot!
Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Daniel Ford: There are a ton of cliché fire references I could use to describe Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, but the novel is just too damn good for that kind of nonsense. Like her debut, Everything I Never Told You, this novel proves that Ng is one of the best character builders in the business. Even the most minor players are fleshed out with backstories befitting dives down one rabbit hole after another. The main characters are birthed in gray and remain there throughout the narrative, never fitting easily into simple black-and-white judgments. You'll root and jeer for everyone in equal measure, wondering which character is going to strike the match that burns everything down (okay, I'm weak, sue me). Ng has reached Megan Abbott status with me already, which means I have to drop everything to read anything new she publishes. This sophomore effort is a winner by any measure.
The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow
Sean Tuohy: The Winter of Frankie Machine features one of the greatest opening chapters ever written. Don Winslow's thriller follows retired mafia hit man Frankie Machianno as he tries to figure out who wants him killed. What makes Winslow such an exceptional author is that he doesn’t try to be like anyone else. He simply writes with his own stellar voice, which makes every book he pens a fantastic read.
Garden of the Lost and Abandoned by Jessica Yu
Daniel: This is indeed an extraordinary story, however, its subject, Gladys, is anything but ordinary. Yu follows her as she doggedly transverses Uganda, helping as many lost and abandoned children as possible. Gladys is a larger than life personality, and Yu brings all her best sensibilities as a filmmaker and documentarian to bring every corner of this woman’s world to light. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get angry, but you’ll never lose hope while reading this book.
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
Daniel: Porter Square Book’s Josh Cook has been spending our money all year, and it seems he’s going to keep doing so until the final bell rings in 2017. He recommended this book on Twitter recently, and it arrived at Writer’s Bone HQ soon after. Damn if that man doesn’t have good taste when it comes to words. I want to keep this review brief because I feel like readers should go into the story as fresh as humanly possible, but the opening line (and, really, the opening chapter) is worth double or triple whatever money you spend on this novel. It’s that good.
Mister Monkey by Francine Prose
Caitlin Malcuit: Francine Prose's Mister Monkey is the best character novel since Olive Kitteridge. Prose masterfully hops from one subject to the next like a silhouette of Darwinian evolution, all linked by a maudlin stage production of a beloved children's book. You may not be charmed by every character, but that's human nature, after all. It's tough to tear yourself away from Mister Monkey, as each story unfolds seamlessly thanks to Prose's natural and assured voice.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Mike Nelson: Whenever someone tells you something is "the best" or changed their lives, you should always proceed with caution. But when Chris Evans told me* Siddhartha changed his life, I threw caution to the wind.
Siddhartha is beautiful, haunting, and divisive. It's 150 pages that you should read at the pace of 800. The care you put into absorbing and respecting every thought on the page will give it back to you tenfold. It's not a book to be read in between checking your friends' Insta feeds; it's a perspective to be considered with your deepest focus.
Or you can just whip through it just for the sake of getting through it and join what I assume are thousands of people who died thinking that book was useless.
(*told a reporter in an interview in a magazine I read on my toilet...most likely Rolling Stone)
The First Day by Phil Harrison
Daniel: Phil Harrison is able to pack a big punch in a short novel. A love affair between a preacher and a young woman quickly morphs into a fractured familial drama that descends to depths I never saw coming. There is real beauty in some of Harrison’s sentences and he lets readers right into the heads of all his emotional (and severely damaged) characters. The fact that the novel is set in Belfast and New York City is an added bonus.
Vacationland by John Hodgman
Gary Almeter: If you want to dislike John Hodgman for any of the panoply of reasons there might be to dislike John Hodgman (i.e., he has two vacation homes, he was on “The Daily Show” and got to hang out with Jon Stewart, he got oodles of money for being the PC Guy in the Apple commercials, and has great facial hair), then Vacationland is not the book for you. I was eager to dislike him too, but, sadly, this book makes it impossible to do so. In between the humor and the vivid descriptions of utopian Maine and Massachusetts, Vacationland is a memoir written by an extremely kind, genuinely funny, impossibly thoughtful, and anomalously caring man. It's hard to dislike a person who shares of himself so openly and while doing so weaves humor and insight into the narrative, which is really a whole big clever metaphor for living. This book is spectacular.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Daniel: I finished Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016) in late September, but I’ve had to sit with it for a while before writing a review. First of all, Moshfegh is a spectacular writer (a sentiment our London contributor Conor White-Andrews echoed in an email exchange recently). The prose here is superb. It grabs you from the get-go and doesn’t let go. You never really know where the plot is headed, but it doesn’t matter. You just want to find out as much about the main character as humanly possible without the book actually ending. Moshfegh is a Boston native, so don’t be surprised if we knock on her door in the near future for an interview.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Sean Tuohy: Unsettling, haunting, and chilling are just few ways to sum up Paul Tremblay's 2014 horror novel. A crumbling family in need of money allows television producers to film their daughter, who may or may not be possessed by a demon. Tremblay breathes fresh air into the horror genre by keeping the reader engaged in the all-too-familiar characters that populate the book. They’re people you know, like, and wish the best for. You’ll be trying to guess if the young woman is possessed or not until the last few pages of this book. Like with Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, we suggest you read this book with the lights on.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Daniel: Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele was nominated for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel, and had Steele been a real person, as opposed to a fictional character, it would have been great fun to discover the myriad ways she would have killed off the competition. Faye brilliantly borrows from Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, and gives her orphaned heroine plenty of opportunities to hone her murderous craft. Steele also has more of a heart of gold than she might like to admit… I still can’t get the line, “Reader, I murdered him,” out of my head. Odds are good that you won’t either.
Sunburn by Laura Lippman
I feel very #humblebrag-y by writing about a book that's not out yet, but this book has been buzzing around my brain for months. Lippman's latest is a powerful piece of modern noir that evokes the classics but also pushes things forward with an unforgettable protagonist and plenty of charm, allure, and twists. It’s quite possibly my favorite Lippman novel, which is saying a lot.
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
I had to keep double-checking to make sure this was, in fact, Flint's first novel because it has the poise, execution, and style of a veteran's work. A sharp, well-crafted piece of literary crime fiction that leaves you guessing and engaged throughout, Little Deaths features two compelling leads in divorced and troubled mom Ruth Malone and eager-beaver reporter Pete Wonicke. Their paths intersect after Malone faces a horrendous tragedy and the story deftly jumps from different time periods and points of view to build an irresistible mystery and a meaningful look at everyone's capacity for good—and evil.
The Castle by Jason Pinter
If you like your fiction ripped from the headlines and bursting with relevance, then The Castle's your jam. I'm biased, as Pinter is my editor at Polis Books, but that conflict of interest flew out the window a few paragraphs into The Castle, which is a high-octane rollercoaster of a read. The scary thing is just how close it veers to reality. Pinter's prose is on-target and his Trumpian villain, the bravado-filled Rawson Griggs, is as memorable as they come.
Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
Like Little Deaths, this was another jaw-dropping first novel, and a superb psychological thriller that will linger for some time after you put the book down. Haunted by the vicious murder of her sister, Nora finds herself obsessed with discovering the truth, but is forced to face not only her love for her sibling, but the baggage and pain that comes hurtling toward her from their shared past. You won't be able to put this one down.
The Cutaway by Christina Kovac
A witty, polished, and evocative mystery that explores the inner workings of TV news, the Washington D.C. political landscape and those that strive to maintain the status quo, The Cutaway introduces readers to TV producer Virginia Knightly, who finds herself dragged into the darkest corners of the nation's capitol as she investigates the case of a missing woman, and just why she's been pulled off the map. Like Little Deaths and Under The Harrow, The Cutaway is another top-flight debut novel from a writer you'll want to keep your eyes on.
Listen to Daniel Ford interview Alex Segura and Radha Vatsal earlier this year in Queens, N.Y. Blackout comes out May 18, 2018.
Author’s Out Loud
Dr. Titus Plomaritis, retired chiropractor and former Lowell, Mass. football star, reads “The Demoulas Story” from this autobiography, Titus: The Life Story of Dr. Plomaritis.
Listen to Dave Pezza and Daniel Ford’s discussion about Joe Hill’s Strange Weather.