I say this every year, but this is not a Best Of list. These are my favorite books of the year. Some of them were the very best books I read. In fact, most of them were. But I don’t like Best of lists so here we go, in no particular order:
The Killing Kind by Chris Holm
This was a book I was really looking forward to but also kind of dreading because I was afraid it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype everyone was putting on it and the incredibly high bar I had for it in my own head. I was pleasantly surprised to find it blew away all of the hype and expectations with aplomb. It at once levels up Chris’s game as an author, but also seemed to free him to have more fun as well. His Collector books have always been great, but they are weighty and chewy and complicated. The Killing Kind is fun and breezy and smart. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Hush Hush by Laura Lippman
This is the book it seems like Laura’s been heading toward for a while in her fiction and her real life. It’s a book that doesn’t necessarily level up Laura as an author in any major way, but levels up Tess a whole bunch. All of the themes and motifs and brilliance of Laura’s suburban novels are merged seamlessly with the brilliant character she’s been building in Tess. I loved every moment of it and, again, I can’t wait to see what Laura and Tess do next.
The Long And Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
Holy shit. This book. It messes with your expectations, take the hard way out of every problem and made me jealous and bitter as a novelist. While this one certainly takes Lou’s game up a hundred notches, this is one of two books this year that really inspired me to up my own game. This is almost all character based and it’s a tragedy in the best Midwestern Shakespearean tradition. Questions are raised and unanswered and happy endings are hard to find. Yet it still manages to weave a thread of hope and optimism through the entire thing that made it entertaining for all of the right reasons. I can’t wait to read this one again and steal some of his tricks.
Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler
This was the smartest book I read this year. Billed as a pulp hack piece that is nothing more than a sexy and violent romp through a far future space world, Victor Gischler, one of our best satirists, manages to weave some brilliant commentary on space exploration, politics, gender, and identity. It’s also funny as all hell. I loved this book so much and wish everyone would read it and give it the due it’s deserved.
The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes by Lawrence Block
This one was billed, much as Gestapo Mars, as a pulp throwaway novel from one of the masters of that genre. But again, Lawrence Block is smarter and more talented than that and manages to work in the beautiful melancholy of his Keller books, the tragic sense of justice from his Scudder books, and the dirty sexy fun of his erotic books. This is such a sleazy and smart book and short enough to really whack me upside the head all at once.
How To Start A Fire by Lisa Lutz
Everything I said about The Long And Faraway Gone can be said about this book as well. It’s another loosely genre book that doesn’t worship at the genre alters. It’s about the complexities of friendship, the complexities of life, and the complexities of the simple choices we make. And from the looks of what she has up next, these themes will only continue and get darker and more fun.
Hit by Delilah S. Dawson
A pre-dystopian YA hitman novel. Need I say more? The world building is great and the plot moves so fast and so perfectly without being pandering. But the characters here are what make this book special. Nobody in this book has it easy and there are no simple choices. I could care less about the story of the next book in this world, I just want to hang out with these characters some more. I also regret not getting to her other book this year, Wake Of Vultures, but fully expect that show up on next year’s list.
Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling
I loved her first non-fiction book, but it seemed a little too much of her doing her Tina Fey impression. This book was all Mindy and really showed everything she has to offer as a writer, a person, and a friend. It’s experimental in the best way and conversational and brilliant as well. I want to hang out with Mindy Kaling all of them.
Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
This is the other book that inspired me to up my game. Chuck has been doing some great work across multiple books and multiple genres, but this was his major label debut, if you will, and packed a punch worthy of the publisher push. It’s a techno-thriller and a horror novel and a mystery and a character play. He takes some very complicated and scary ideas and breaks them down so they are accessible and believable across all audiences without diluting the power of the idea. It’s also just plain creepy fun. Chuck has a wild imagination and I will follow him anywhere.
Last Words by Michael Koryta
I’ve always loved Michael’s books but I was particularly pleased this one was a return to his PI roots. This book pushed the edge of reality and the supernatural while still staying firmly grounded in the real world. the story of how a good man gets beaten down by circumstance, lies, and his own poor choices has a tragic inevitability to it, but is handled so expertly that I was still turning pages long after I knew what was going to happen just to see how it was executed. His next book is a sequel to this one that I am really looking forward to.