Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Year In Review: Keeping Up With The Penguins Recommended Reads

With the year drawing to a close, I figured I should go ahead and do the traditional book blogger Year In Review post. In 2018, I reviewed 46 books across over two dozen genres and categories, with publication dates stretching over seven centuries. I’ve read Victorian classics, contemporary best sellers, religious allegorical poetry, true crime narratives, non-fiction popular science, 20th century award winners, and everything in between. And, believe it or not, I’m not even half-way through The List! So there’s plenty more good stuff to come in 2019, folks, trust me 😉

I set the bar for my Recommended reads pretty damn high. Higher than Oprah’s Book Club. Higher than Reese’s Hello Sunshine. Higher than your bookstore’s best seller shelf. My minimum criterion is the question: “Is this a book I would recommend to absolutely anyone, even if I know nothing about their reading tastes?”. And, so far, only nine books have made the cut. Here they are: the Keeping Up With The Penguins Recommended Reads of 2018.

Year In Review - Recommended Reads - David Copperfield, In Cold Blood, Jane Eyre, To Kill A Mockingbird, and more - Keeping Up With The Penguins

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - two volume green hardcover set laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dickens once said that David Copperfield was his “favourite child”, and I can see why. It’s a sprawling biographical novel following the Cindarella-esque rise of David, a forlorn child who grows through hardship to achieve his dreams. I strongly recommend David Copperfield to anyone who likes… books. (And, even if you don’t, I hear the audio-book version is fantastic, so you should give that a go.) Read my full review of David Copperfield.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In 1959, Truman Capote read a piddly little piece in The New Yorker about the murder of a well-liked Kansas family. Over half a century later, here I am: recommending his novelistic true-crime book to anyone who will listen. Capote takes a few liberties with the truth in In Cold Blood, sure, so it’s no fun if you’re a kill-joy and you take it all too seriously… but you should read it, nonetheless. I’ll definitely read this chilling, but enthralling(!), book again. Read my full review of In Cold Blood.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is literally the most under-rated, overlooked recommended read that I’ve encountered thus far. I really drank the Kool-Aid with this one – I started recommending We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves to people I barely know, before I’d even finished it! But it is crucial that you don’t read my review before you read the book in full for yourself. You’ll kick yourself later if you spoil the “shocking plot twist”!

A Short History Of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Short History Of Nearly Everything is perfect for anyone who finds themselves in desperate need of a few fun facts that can be delivered smugly, perhaps over a water cooler or during knock-off bears. Sure, some of the science is a little outdated, but I think we can forgive Bryson for calling Pluto a planet over a decade ago. This book is accessible, engaging, and I can guarantee it’s the most fun you’ll ever have reading about science. Read my full review of A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jane Eyre was the first book from The List to truly take my breath away. It is an amazing exposition of the patriarchal and class constraints of the 19th century, as experienced by a clever, funny woman who was way beyond her years. The hot romance will make you feel like a bad feminist, but just go with it – Jane Eyre is absolutely teeming with redeeming qualities, and a highly recommended read here at Keeping Up With The Penguins. Read my full review of Jane Eyre.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Doyle once said that The Adventures of the Speckled Band, from this very collection, was his favourite Sherlock Holmes story. I, personally, couldn’t narrow it down to just one! I loved A Scandal In Bohemia (featuring the enigmatic Irene Adler), The Red-Headed League, and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Ultimately, though, the entire collection is highly readable, endlessly entertaining, and will definitely leave you wanting more. Read my full review of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It might be cliche to cite this as one of your favourite books of all time… but I don’t give a damn. I wholeheartedly recommend To Kill A Mockingbird. Read it out of curiosity. Read it for the cultural capital. Read it for the nostalgic kicks. Read it for the questions it raises. Read it for its timeliness and resonance. Whatever your reason, just read it! It is accessible, appropriate, and engaging for all readers – of any age – anywhere in the world. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird.

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

More than any other contemporary read for Keeping Up With The Penguins, Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend lives up to the hype. In fact, it exceeds it! I’ve recommended it to every single person I’ve encountered since I turned the final page (even if they didn’t ask). My recommendation goes double – triple! – if you enjoyed Looking for Alibrandi as a teenager. I am very sure that in fifty years, we will consider My Brilliant Friend a classic of our time, the same way we think of Austen or the Brontës today. Get in early, and read it! Right now! Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend.

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is definitely the most unexpected Recommended read here at Keeping Up With The Penguins. I went in expecting a really dense and heavy read, a real slog to get through… and found, instead, a hilarious, engaging, and relatable (!) story that has stuck with me ever since. I strongly recommend getting your hands on this edition, the David McDuff translation published by Penguin Classics. There have been at least a dozen other translations published since Dostoyevsky’s death, but I can’t vouch for any of those – the art of translation can really make or break your enjoyment of a book. I’m so glad I bit the bullet and gave Crime and Punishment a go; if you keep an open mind, I’m sure you’ll ultimately feel the same! Read my full review of Crime and Punishment.

What are your top recommended reads of 2018? Make sure you submit them for consideration in the compilation of The Next List! (Or you can share them over at KUWTP on Facebook!).

18 Comments

  1. Well, you’ve officially changed my mind on my Dickens choice for 2019. Guess I’ll be hitting up David Copperfield next instead of Oliver Twist. And Crime and Punishment is also making the list for 2019 thanks to you. So glad I found your blog this year! 🙂

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 21, 2018 at 2:36 PM

      Ohh, Hannah, I’m so glad too!! David Copperfield is definitely the right call 😉 your comment has made my day! Can’t wait to see what you think of them and all your other reads in 2019 ❤️

  2. This is a great list. It includes some of my favorite books. There are other books that I want to read. I hope to get to Crime and Punishment this year. Hopefully 2019 will be a good reading year!

  3. What a great year’s wrap-up. I love your criteria of being able to recommend them to anyone, and totally get why there’d be only 9 with such a requirement. I agree with the 5 I’ve read (David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, To Kill a Mockingbird, Crime and Punishment). The others are added to my own list. I definitely want to read My Brilliant Friend before we’re far into 2019 🙂 Looking forward to more recs, as you continue your own list.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 26, 2018 at 8:37 AM

      Oh thank you Paula! 😀 I’ve loved how much cross-over there’s been in our reading, reviews and tastes this year – can’t wait to see what you think of My Brilliant Friend, and all the others!

  4. Jane Eyre is an all-time favorite! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Crime and Punishment since I fully expected it to be a heavy, slog through type book. I’d have never given it a shot otherwise!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 26, 2018 at 8:39 AM

      I’m so glad I made such a persuasive case for it!! I really want to do my part to heal Crime And Punishment’s terrible reputation 😉 Thank you so much!!

  5. I do not think I’ve ever seen Crime and Punishment described as hilarious, engaging, and relatable – you make me want to read it, for sure! I’m so glad you enjoyed Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, some of my favorite books. My best of 2018 list will be up next week.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 26, 2018 at 11:18 AM

      Ha! There’s a first time for everything 😉 I think C&P gets a really bad rap, so I’ve got to do what I can to redress the balance. Make sure you try and squeeze it in for 2019, I want to see if you think it holds up. Really looking forward to seeing what you’ve loved this year too! 😀

  6. Bill Bryson is one of my favorite writers. I always imagined that if I wrote a book, it would be more like him and his style. Glad he made the cut.

    I loved following along with your blog this year–even though WP had other opinions/plans about whether it wanted to share with me or not LOL. I cannot wait to see what you write about in 2019. Thanks for being my supportive blogging buddy and for writing great bookish posts. You are one of my favs! Xxx

    • ShereeKUWTP

      January 1, 2019 at 9:53 AM

      Ha! WP can’t defeat us! Thank YOU for being such a great supporter – of me AND of the entire book blogging community! You’re killing it! Can’t wait to see what heights you reach in 2019 x

  7. What a fantastic year in reading you’ve given us Ms KUWTP! & I am so excited to see In Cold Blood on your list – makes me feel kinda warm in the cockles that I’m on the same page as one as widely read as YOU! Also, sigh, To Kill A Mocking Bird. Love this one too. Happy new year to you – & thank you for reading tirelessly for us (and ok, for yourself too) 🙂

    • ShereeKUWTP

      January 3, 2019 at 9:56 AM

      Hahahahah it’s *all* for you, Ali! Thank you so much, darling, for all of your support and love ❤️

  8. Another reader here who probably never would have picked up Crime and Punishment except for your recommendation. It’s now on my TBR list. I love Sherlock Holmes and devoured the stories years ago. The same with Jane Eyre – I’ve read it more than once. As for TKAM, someone once asked which literary characters I would like to have as friends, and I promptly said Scout Finch. I love Bill Bryson and have read many of his books; I think the one you mentioned would br perfect for my BIL. In Cold Blood and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves are already in my TBR stack. And I might pick up David Copperfield since I didn’t get much out of it when I read it in the sixth grade. My Brilliant Friend will def go on my list.

    My favorite read for 2018 is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. It is heart-wrenching one minute and comical the next. If I were to recommend a book hoping the US would become a kinder, gentler nation, this would be the one.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      January 3, 2019 at 9:59 AM

      Oh Linda, THANK YOU! It makes me feel SO great to know I make a case for a book so well that someone adds it to their TBR, your comment has made my day 😍 Please do let me know how you go with Crime & Punishment, and the others! I’ve heard great things about The Heart’s Invisible Furies, so it’s definitely a contender for my next reading list. Stay tuned, so much more bookish goodness coming this year…! 😉❤️ And thank you again!

  9. Nice list! A few favourites there and a couple that have been languishing on my tbr.

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