Our pick of the best books of 2018

The Corset by Laura Purcell

Wealthy Dorothea Truelove’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, where she meets young Ruth Butterham, awaiting trial for murder. Ruth tells Dorothea her story, attributing her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her needle and thread. Is she mad, or a murderer? This dark, atmospheric novel from the author of The Silent Companions cements Laura Purcell as one to watch in the world of historical fiction. This tale of revenge, of women fighting against the constraints placed upon them because of their gender, bewitches the senses and chills the blood.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Jane Harper’s sequel to The Dry once again has federal police agent Aaron Falk becoming tangled in an impenetrable web of friendship and betrayal. When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path. But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her colleagues tells a slightly different story about what happened. Although the plot requires a little suspension of disbelief, Harper has crafted a fantastic crime novel, and has once again proven herself a master of the thriller genre.

The House on Half-Moon Street by Alex Reeve

London, 1880. When the body of a young woman is wheeled into the hospital where Leo Stanhope works, his life is thrown into chaos. Maria, the woman he loves, has been murdered and it is not long before the finger of suspicion is turned on him, threatening to expose his lifelong secret. For Leo Stanhope was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable reverend. This thrilling historical fiction novel is the first in a new series featuring Leo Stanhope. Its incredibly vivid characters, atmospheric writing and intricate puzzle of a plot will be sure to keep you up until the early hours.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

This sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale follows young Vasya on a journey across the wintry landscape of medieval Russia, a setting that holds danger of more than one kind for a girl travelling alone. Vasya is the star of this story; strong and brave, she is nevertheless searching desperately for somewhere to fit in. Elements of the supernatural are contrasted with political machinations, and Arden writes about both with equal skill.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One September evening in 1785, merchant Jonah Hancock is told that one of his captains has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spread through the city, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel, and soon he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, a courtesan of great accomplishment. This vivid and atmospheric historical novel examines issues of femininity, sexuality, race and class whilst also being an utterly engrossing and entertaining read. Not for nothing was it picked by many as one of the most anticipated books of 2018, and anyone who hasn’t read it yet is really missing out.

Circe by Madeline Miller

This book was one of my most anticipated books of 2018 – and it didn’t disappoint. After a six-year wait, Madeline Miller, the Orange Prize-winning author of The Song of Achilles, returned with a feminist retelling inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. Circe is born in the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, but she is scorned by her kin. Turning to mortals for companionship, she discovers a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft. Miller’s evocative, precise prose spans battles at sea, the birth of a minotaur and tense arguments between powerful gods, while never losing sight of the characters at the heart of the story.

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

Jasper has synaesthesia, which paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder. He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. This wonderfully quirky debut novel focuses on a teenage protagonist with severe learning difficulties. It is a unique and fascinating mystery, an utter joy to read.

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John

In 1920s London, Henry Twist’s heavily pregnant wife is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Left alone to care for his new daughter, Henry finds comfort with a man named Jack, a man who seems to have echoes of his dead wife. Henry begins to wonder: has his wife returned to him? This wonderfully poignant novel explores love, grief and trauma, and it’s its 1920s setting and its cast of Bright Young Things are reminiscent of The Great Gatsby.

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

While war wages across Europe, the Emporium in the heart of London sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike, from patchwork dogs that seem alive to toy boxes that are bigger on the inside. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running from a shameful past. This charming, magical novel crosses so many genres – historical fiction, family drama, war novel, horror story – that it’s impossible to categorise. It is, nevertheless, utterly captivating, and a book you won’t be able to stop thinking about.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Stuart Turton’s brilliantly bonkers murder mystery tops the list of my favourite books of 2018. Its premise – main character Aiden is tasked with discovering who murdered Evelyn Hardcastle during her birthday celebrations at her family’s country manor – seems simple enough, but each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. In a race against time, Aiden must unravel the mystery if he is to escape the house. Turton’s debut novel reads like the twisted offspring of Agatha Christie and Black Mirror, and the thrilling plot and breakneck pace will leave you breathless.