Adult books! They're books . . . for adults! Not really sure what else to tell you! So here's the list!
1. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
If you've spent more than, say, half an hour in my company, you probably know that I am the hugest fan of Guy Kay. A new Guy Kay book is a matter of much rejoicing in my household, and even back when I was a poor starving newlywed I would fork over the cash for his books as soon as they came out. But it's always a little nervewracking. There's always the chance that this time, this particular book is gonna stink. It could happen to any author . . . but if it ever happens to Guy I think it might actually herald the Apocalypse. So, good news: the world isn't ending. Yet. Under Heaven is amazing, my favorite book from this year, a gorgeous, lyrical work of art. I don't care if you hate fantasy, you've never heard of Guy, you're anti-Canadian . . . you will still love this book, you have my guarantee.
2. Tooth & Claw by Jo Walton
This book is just plain cool. Based on the Victorian family sagas of Anthony Trollope, it's the story of a respectable upper middle class family reeling from the loss of their father. There are concerns about the inheritance, the marriage prospects for the younger sisters now that they are orphans, the careers of their older brothers, a lawsuit with a belligerent brother-in-law, the usual sort of thing you'd find in a Victorian novel. But they're all dragons. Yep. Dragons. It's amazingly well done. I've never been a fan of books with nonhuman main characters, I have a hard time relating to them, but not so here. I was fully invested in all the plotlines, and loved (or loved to hate) all the characters.
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
If you haven't read this book, you really, really should. A portrait of life in Mississippi at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, it's by turns heartbreaking, humorous, and dramatic. For days after I had finished it I would find myself looking forward to reading some more, and then realize I was done and be disappointed.
4. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is a big, sprawling fantasy epic that reads like the best historical fiction, or even a real life biography. The first book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, it covers the childhood and early training of Kvothe, known as the Kingkiller, and now living incognito as an innkeeper. What king did he kill? How did he come to exile himself? We don't know! And it doesn't matter! Because Rothfuss is carefully unspooling Kvothe's story, putting down layer after layer, and he hasn't gotten that far yet. But that's not to say that it's boring. Hardly! Kvothe is a fascinating character, and the story of his life is well worth reading about, in detail.
5. The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley
Written like one of the sagas, this is a fictionalized account of the final years of the Greenland colony. Settlers from Norway and Iceland lived in Greenland under an uneasy truce with the natives for many years . . . and then abruptly died out. Smiley has created a wonderful fictional cast, and then put them into a well-researched backdrop of harsh conditions, plagues, and famines that absolutely grips the reader.
6. Boneshaker/Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
It's not cheating! Sure, this is two books, but if you read one you will HAVE to read the other! Where else will you get your alternate history/steampunk/zombie/family drama/Civil war fix?! No, seriously: where else? 'Cause now I'm hooked, and I want MORE!
7. The Sookie Stackhouse Books by Charlaine Harris
Here is my weird story. I read the first of these books Dead Until Dark several years ago, when it first came out. And went, Meh. At the time I had been reading a lot of vampire books, and I was getting burned out (or so I theorize). Then I went to World Fantasy 2007, and met Charlaine, and she was lovely. And the True Blood series started, and the actors were all so PRETTY, and my sister kept telling me to read them because she absolutely loved them. Hmm. So our book club read the first one, and I decided to reread. And could. Not. Put. It. Down. And snuck into my sister's house while she was out of town to grab the rest of them. And then bought the ones she didn't have. I don't know what it is, but these books are like M&M's: I know they're bad for me, I know I shouldn't eat/read them, but I can't stop! (They are, um, very naughty.) BUT SO ADDICTIVE!
8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Not to be confused with the smutty Civil War novel by John Jakes, this is the novel of British class snobbery we're talking about. (Although I really can't point fingers at smutty Southern novels, after putting the Sookie Stackhouse books at #7.) And why are we talking about Mrs. Gaskell's novel now, in 2011? Well, let's see: I became obsessed with the miniseries, thought I'd try the book, and became obsessed with the book. For a 19th century novel, it's very readable for the modern reader, and with it's very pointed message, I can't believe that it isn't used in classrooms more. (Why, WHY do high schools assign Wuthering Heights over and over? A little variety, people!)
9. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Egad. My mother was right. This is probably her favorite book of all time, and she has been talking about it since I was a wee child. Some perversity of nature kept me from reading it until this past year, when I discovered that it was a wonderful, beautiful and unusual love story . . . just like Mother always said. Why isn't this book taught in high schools more, too?!
10. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
The late Larsson scatters his amazing cast of characters to the four winds, giving unique problems to all of them that seem to distract from the main narrative, and then he magically ropes them all back together! Gripping, intense, and yet full of wonderful little details and subplots, this is a masterful finish to the Millenium Trilogy.
11. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Oh, Jim! You're so darn hilarious! A Harry Dresden book is always a treat, and they just seem to be getting better and better. The Wizard's Council is turning on itself, Thomas has some serious issues, and Harry keeps getting his, um, rear end kicked by evil forces. So, typical day for him, really. But the combination of snarky humor, action and attitude keep me shouting for more!
Honorable Mentions go out to my buddy Larry Correia, whose Monster Hunter International and Monster Hunter Vendetta keep the ol' adrenaline pumping (as well as the snorts of laughter). I also devoured the rest of M. C. Beaton's Hamish MacBeth mysteries (I think I'm in love with Hamish. Secretly.) And I was moved to tears by David Farland's In the Company of Angels, a beautiful novelization of the harrowing Willy-Martin Handcart Company debacle.