Choosing the “best” books of the year is a dangerous game to play. This year, we were faced with the task of pitting Robert Brockway’s punk rock sci-fi tale The Unnoticeables against massive literary tomes like Garth Risk Hallberg’s ultra-hyped City on Fire. Solidifying this year’s list was like apples and oranges on steroids. So why do we even bother?
The short answer is that we simply love celebrating good books. And while “good” is relative, we believe the following titles will captivate you. Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine might’ve kept us awake at night, but the redemptive qualities of Stephanie Kallos’ Language Arts soothed us. This year’s stories might be all over the map, but they have one thing in common: they’re worth sharing.
30. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
France, 1939. It would be understandable if you took one look at the setting and groaned, believing The Nightingale to be simply another story in the ever-growing line of World War II novels. But Kristin Hannah’s tale of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France is no ordinary book. Through Vianne and Isabelle, Hannah highlights the experiences of women fighting the war in their own backyards, exposing the sacrifices and indignities endured to survive. So yes, The Nightingale is a WWII story…and it’s a story worth treasuring. —Frannie Jackson
29. A Poet of the Invisible World by Michael Golding
Remember how crazy everyone was about Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist? Michael Golding may well be the new reigning champ when it comes to the spiritual self-discovery narrative. A Poet of the Invisible World tells the tale of Nouri, a boy born with four ears and a magnetic draw for bad luck, as he explores mystical religion, hedonism, love and poetry in a quest to satisfy his longings. Golding’s prose is remarkably fluid and soothing, possessing a storytelling quality which makes the novel read like a myth that’s been around for years. Regardless, we’re fortunate that we have it now. —Mack Hayden
28. Morte by Robert Repino
Morte introduces readers to the war to end all wars in the form of animals rising up to fight humans, thanks to hyper-intelligent ants that have decided to eradicate mankind from the planet. In the midst of it all is Morte, a house cat turned assassin who only wants to find his former best friend, a dog from his life before animals gained sentience. Like Animal Farm on a global scale, Morte weaves a moving and beautiful story—complete with a blend of thrills and horror. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever read, and you’ll talk about it long after you’ve closed its cover. —Eric Smith
27. Golden State by Stephanie Kegan
“I was never interested in getting inside the mind of a killer,” Stephanie Kegan told Paste. “I wanted to live in his sister’s head.” Kegan unravels protagonist Natalie’s charmed life when a bomber’s manifesto reads like a letter from the character’s estranged brother. Torn between protecting her family and sparing future victims, Natalie spirals down the rabbit hole of guilt-by-association. Golden State delivers a minefield; one misstep and the story will explode. But Kegan walks the line between sanity and chaos, writing a tale with a flawless conclusion. —Frannie Jackson
26. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
The Neil Gaimans of the past and the present coexist in Trigger Warning, a compendium of odds-and-ends stories and an original entry into the American Gods mythos. Much as he did during his post-modern residency at Vertigo comics, Gaiman shifts his lens on old fairy tales, most prominently in “Observing Formalities” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle”—gorgeous retellings of “Sleeping Beauty” that fit firmly in the legacy of the author’s recent Hansel & Gretel retelling. Though this collection may revel in the elasticity and expansion of its author, the crucial things remain: these stories patiently escort us to foreign, intoxicating planes that make the “real” world that much richer when we return. —Sean Edgar
25. Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Red Rising, Pierce Brown’s sci-fi epic of 2014, introduced readers to an interstellar caste system made of nightmares. From the all-powerful Golds who rule over the universe to the lowly Reds who toil beneath the Martian surface, everyone is born into a specific role in society. When Darrow discovers the horrifying truths behind his existence as a Red, he joins a plot to tear down the Golds’ rule. Golden Son picks up with Darrow continuing to infiltrate the world of the Golds in a story both violent and imaginative, possessing twists and turns and betrayals in practically every chapter. —Eric Smith
24. Girl at War by Sara Novi?
One of this year’s most discussed debuts comes from Sara Novi?, a former fiction editor at Blunderbuss Magazine who has documented the subject of war and its effect on children. With those contributions considered, it makes sense that Girl at War serves as a long-form meditation on the genre. The novel follows Ana Juri?, a 10-year-old girl surviving in the midst of the Yugoslav Wars. What makes young Ana’s story unique is that it’s not concerned with unmasking the horrors of war, as many have repeatedly done. Instead, this book is an exploration of how humans grow, prosper and move on from unthinkable times. —Tyler R. Kane
23. The Rocks by Peter Nichols
Unfolding backwards in time, from 2005 to 1948, Peter Nichols’ The Rocks examines how a single mistake can reverberate across decades, highlighting the lives of characters who inhabit or regularly visit the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Nichols is vivid in relating Mallorca’s exotic magnetism, with its olive and lemon groves, bougainvillea, sunshine and sea making for a “Cézanney landscape.” But the greatest strength of The Rocks is the novel’s spectacular characters, true to themselves in both faults and strengths across lifetimes. —Eric Swedlund
22. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Bestselling author Neal Stephenson returns with a thrilling answer to the question, “What would happen if the world were ending?” With Earth on the brink of catastrophe, humanity ensures its survival by embarking to outer space. Five thousand years later, its descendants attempt to return to the alien planet humankind once called home. Stephenson expertly weaves science and philosophy, technology and psychology into a stunning saga that pushes the boundaries of its science fiction label. At nearly 900 pages, Seveneves ultimately delivers an epic journey well-worth taking. —Frannie Jackson
21. The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway
This is both a horror novel for mathematicians and a sci-fi novel for punk-rockers. Scary celestial beings—think angels, only more demonic—watch our every move, meticulously picking out the repeating patterns of our day-to-day existence. They see our lives as math problems waiting to be solved, always keen to simplify these patterns and remove any redundancy. In this first installment of a planned trilogy, Robert Brockway (whom some of you will likely recognize from Cracked.com) has rendered two distinct main characters who can evade indoctrination by these “angels.” The characters are trapped in a race against time, because the angels believe a grand machine is moving the universe onward—and it needs constant maintenance. —Jeff Milo