Sue Ann, your malfeasance has inspired me. Yay: malfeasance! I'm too going to go off the reservation and list some of my favorite surprises of the past year:
1. I Am Not Sydney Poitier by Percival Everett. How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. This so-hilarious-my-guts-split novel centers around one young African-American gentleman named Not Sydney Poitier (yes, his first name is Not) who is adopted by an addled-minded billionaire in Atlanta named Ted Turner (yes, that Ted Turner) and who learns about the world through a series of misadventures which begin to echo events from the films of (yes) Sidney Poitier.
2. The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer. Confession time: I was one of the judges for this past year's Best Novel category at the International Thriller Writers Awards. Confession time part two: only one of the novels I rated highly actually made it to the final five. Anyway, my favorite of the batch of thrillers I read was this spy novel by American ex-pat Olen Steinhauer. He hits all the beats one would expect in a spy novel but does so in a way that feels both effortless and ingenuous. The protagonist, Milo Weaver, is just as world-wearing as George Smiley but he's so much more violent - and more sardonic - than Le Carre's famous creation. He's well aware he's a puppet but he's not entirely sure who's pulling his strings and then, when tasked to assassinate a young girl, poor Milo asks that most dangerous question of all: why?
3. The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. What do you get when you combine Shakespeare's The Tempest with a perfectly realized steampunk London? You get one of the most poetic, heartbreaking science fiction novels I've ever had the pleasure of encountering. Pick it up for the allusions. Stay for the crystalline prose and Palmer's bottomless imaginings. If collage truly is the artform of the future, then welcome to the future...circa 19th Century.
4. City of Secrets by Kelli Stanley. Is it cheating to mention the latest novel by our own Kelli Stanley? I hope not, because I absolutely adored this slice of San Francisco noir. Sentence to sentence, nobody today can match Kelli's precision at detail. For the verisimilitude alone, I'd highly recommend this book, but then Kelli of course goes above and beyond, weaving the 1940 World Fair with latent American antisemitism into a compelling murder mystery that only her heroine, hard-boiled former escort Miranda Corbie, can solve. I ask you - why haven't you read this yet??