1. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett: Even after almost a year no title has managed to budge The Troupe from its place on top of the growing heap of books I've read this year. Even now, more than six months later I consider the characters that became my friends and the nuance of the theme and Bennett’s prose. I haven’t recommended any book this highly since Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. And this one is even better, and I doubt there will be a sequel to tarnish its good name. Though I intend to read American Elsewhere before years end. Maybe Bennett can conquer himself.
2. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey: I don’t do sci fi often, but when I do I hope they are all as good as Leviathan Wakes. Full of complex and unexpected heroes and a heavy dose of commentary on politics and human nature told through a tense and action packed narrative. Even though it's full of battles with bullets and torpedoes alike, it's the internal struggles of the characters that elevate this above a paint by numbers space opera. This book is so good, it’s no wonder it took two guys to write it.
3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: I’m sure Gaiman will land on many “Best of” lists this year, and he deserves to. Gaiman has firmly cemented his mastery as the premier author of fables for adults and children alike. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is packed with Gaiman’s unparalleled talent for weaving modern day mythologies teeming with whimsy and insight. There is a strong sense that this is the reader’s story while also being Neil’s own, which makes this a tale with universal appeal.
No Return makes this list for some unusual reasons. Not to say it isn' an excellent novel, because it is. But it was a difficult read for me. The world, characters, and themes of Jernigan’s debut are dense, packed with layers of meaning and subtlety I didn't grasp fully in my initial reading of the novel. Later reflection shone a light on the work that only served to elevate my opinion of the novel and my critical thinking skills moving forward. Jernigan definitely has with important things to say, and he does it in a sweeping style not unlike some of the grandfathers of the genre.
5. The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig: This novel marked my first foray into the mad, profane and bombastic imagination of Chuck Wendig. If you read his excellent blog, you’ll see that the author seems much like his work. The Blue Blazes is blood spattered; noir flavored family drama in an intriguing take on urban fantasy. To sum it up, imagine the characters from Sin City battling the best of Dungeons and Dragon's Monster Manual. This book is like nothing I’d ever read and I found myself promptly reading two more of Wendig's novels in short order.
King is one of the few authors that rate a hardcover purchase with every new release. And Joyland is emblematic of all of the things that King does best. Fans of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Body shouldn't miss this story of nostalgia, growing up and growing old and the friends and lovers you make along the way.
7. The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu: Chu’s debut novel, a comical mix of spy thriller and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a heart warming coming of age story that taps into the finding yourself living a life without joy and purpose and discovering the only way to change your life is to change yourself. Add in the protagonist’s running banter with his resident alien and action sequences that could only be written by an actual stuntman, and there’s no question that Chu has a stellar career ahead of him.
8. Three by Jay Posey: Jay Posey's atmospheric post-apocalyptic adventure hit my from left field. The story of the titular Three, making his way through a futuristic wasteland with a troubled mother and her enigmatic son is full of world building and imagery as sparse and desolately beautiful as it's setting. Posey's tale of humanity lost and finally found is sure to gather plenty of jaded genre readers in its wake. The ending shocked and puzzled me, and I can't wait to see how Posey constructs a sequel from it's ashes.
9. Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson: I majored in history in college and while it has been helpful in my own attempts at writing, D.B. Jackson has certainly put his PhD to good use. Thieftaker's blend of historical fiction and urban fantasy is a breathe of fresh air and his world weary protagonist, Ethan Kaille is just the hero needed to navigate the treachery of Pre-Revolutionary Boston. Thieftaker succeeds as an exemplary novel in both of the genres it straddles.
10. Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein: With twenty years as a martial artist, I've an affinity for Japanese culture, history, and most importantly swordsmanship. Bein's blending of police procedural, historical, and subtle urban fantasy struck all the right notes with me. Using the series naming, Fated Blades as characters in and of themselves was a stroke of genius and allows readers to experience Japanese history and cultural through a variety of time periods. I'm anxious to discover what direction the series takes next.