LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2012 - Genre Edition

Yesterday we gave you our all purpose Best of 2012 LitReactor staff picks and let's be honest-- there were more gems in there than a greedy dwarf's asshole. But just in case you're looking for something a little more genre-specific, we rounded up our resident experts on comics, fantasy, and crime fiction to regale us with their favorites. Speak friend and enter!

Kelly Thompson (Comics):

Kelly Thompson'Saga' by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Easily my favorite book from the last year, Saga is the creative team and comic book series I have been waiting for most of my life. Equal parts action-based space opera and hilarious, Saga is flawlessly executed from tip to tail thanks to visionaries Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

'Hawkeye' by Matt Fraction & David Aja

While Saga may be my favorite book of the last year, a close second and easily the most unexpected book on my list is Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye. Wall to wall fun, incredibly smart, and breathtakingly beautiful, there's just not a wrong note in this entire series thus far. Go, Hawkeye, go!

'Building Stories' by Chris Ware

A book that is one part comic and one part adventure in a box, Ware's Building Stories is a comic that simultaneously delivers incredible emotional punch and solidifies every single reason why print media is and always will be important and vital.

'Conan the Barbarian' by Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan & James Harren

I'll follow Brian Wood just about anywhere. When he brings along Becky Cloonan and James Harren it's even easier to make that decision. And so it's because of Brian Wood that I find myself reading a Conan The Barbarian comic. The world is strange sometimes, and this is a fantastic comic book.

'Friends With Boys' by Faith Erin Hicks

A lot of great less mainstream creators like Hicks are producing wonderful YA work, and her graphic novel Friends With Boys was easily my favorite of 2012. Filled with wonderful characters, effortless storytelling and emotional resonance, her story hits every mark it aims for.

Rajan Khanna (Fantasy):

Rajan Khanna'Crackpot Palace' by Jeffrey Ford

The latest collection from Jeffrey Ford, perhaps the finest voice in short fantasy fiction, combines dreamlike and surreal elements with the the common and every day, resulting in a transcendent collection that still speaks with an intimate, human voice.

'The Weird' edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

A truly stunning collection of weird fantasy fiction covering over 100 years and writers of over 20 nationalities. A collection filled with authors you know, and those you should know.

'Cold Days' by Jim Butcher

The fifteenth book in the popular Dresden Files series, Cold Days is not for beginners. But Butcher's latest outing builds on the events set up in the previous books and weaves multiple plots together in one of the best installments in the series.

'The Diviners' by Libba Bray

Evie O'Neill is seventeen in 1926 and has been sent to New York to stay with her uncle. But Evie has a secret, a secret ability that could help catch a murderer. An impressive, atmospheric adventure set in the roaring 20s.

'Throne of the Crescent Moon' by Saladin Ahmed

The first in a fantasy trilogy that combines elements of epic fantasy and sword and sorcery in an Arabian-flavored world. A wonderfully creative debut that draws on what makes the field great and pushes it in interesting new directions.

Keith Rawson (Crime):

Keith Rawson'Hell On Church Street' by Jake Hinkson

I count Hinkson among the few writers of pure noir currently working, and Hell On Church Street is a near perfect noir in the same vein as Charles Willeford and Jim Thompson. A vicious one sitting read of a psychotic cop vs. a sociopathic (albeit this is merely the mask of a lazy, desperate man) youth minister, this is a relentless journey into the darkest corners of humanity. Yeah, it's your average toothy smiles and chocolate covered rainbows kinda book.

'A F*ckload of Shorts' by Jedidiah Ayres

I'm a longtime fan of Jedidiah Ayres' short fiction and I count him as one of the most innovative crime fiction writers currently on the scene, so it was great to finally have all of his stories in one twisted little gem of a collection. The book was released simultaneously with Julian Grant's noir musical (yes, you read that correctly, noir musical, and believe it or not, it works) adaptation of several of Ayres stories, A F*ckload of Scotchtape. If you're into the sick and twisted lives of lowlifes of the flyover states, this one's for you.

'The Last Kind Words' by Tom Piccirilli

I feel like Piccirilli has spent the last decade of his career working up to this novel. The Last Kind Words (which I'm hoping is the first in a new series) brilliantly follows Terrier Rand (one thing to note about the Rand family, they're all named after a dog breed) as he returns home to his family of life long criminals (think the Whites of West Virginia but more intelligent, less drug addled, and with more teeth in their heads) for the first time since his older brother went on a vicious killing spree. The novel is intelligent, at times heartbreaking, and outside of Every Shallow Cut, is Piccirilli's best novel to date.

'Dare Me' by Megan Abbott

Easily the most innovative novel of 2012 and the one piece of writing I've put into the hands (along with Stephen Graham Jones' Growing Up Dead in Texas) of more readers than any other, and there's reason for it. (BTW, if you haven't seen it, I wrote a fairly in depth review of Dare Me for LitReactor.) Abbott delves effortlessly into the ultra competitive world of high school cheerleading and the  bleak, highly recognizable world of high school. Simply put, Dare Me is noir for the 21st century.

'The Ninth Step' by Grant Jerkins

This one hit me like a brick shithouse propelled by a tornado. I've been a rabid fan of Jerkins since his stunning debut, A Very Simple Crime (even if you're not a  crime fiction fan, pick this one up simply so Jerkins can school you on how to write an unreliable narrator), but it's The Ninth Step where we see Jerkins come into his own as a novelist. The Ninth Step is the story of a veterinarian who also happens to be a closet alcoholic and a high school teacher whose wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident caused by the veterinarian during one of her blackouts. Feeling overwhelming guilt over the accident and her cover-up of it, she enters AA, and when she pops up at the teachers door to make amends for the accident and one lie leads to another....and, fuck, I don't want to give anything else away. The Ninth Step is a stunning new Southern Gothic.

That's a lot of wizards, warriors, gun molls, and colorful spandex undies. Thinking about picking anything up? What are some of your favorites? In these or any genre? Let us know in the comments.

Joshua Chaplinsky

Column by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read December 27, 2012 - 1:33pm

Cool post. Here’s mine, which I guess fits in with both lists. These are my top 5 reads of the year, but each at the top of a particular genre:

1. The Soul Consortium by Simon West-Bulford. (Sci-Fi, and then some). Not sure I’ve read anything quite like this before. Manages to blend the lines between a handful of genres (sci-fi, horror, crime, and sixteenth century lit to name a few), and does so in an effortless manner while presenting a highly suspenseful page-turner.

2. Vile Blood by Max Wilde. (Horror) Another page turner—straight horror, but also an engaging story that somehow feels original while presenting classic ideas through strong characters and build-ups. Great stuff. Doesn’t hold back.

3. Flashover by Gordon Highland. (Independent) This one comes from an author who some may know here at LitReactor. But a good book is a good book. Like twists and turns and original characters that aren’t so easily forgotten? This story’s for you. Odd but accessible. A true standout.

4. Camp Myth: Phoenix Watching by Chris Lewis Carter. (Fantasy) I’ve been in groups with this guy in several workshops. He’s always at the top of his game and has appeared in anthologies alongside Joe R. Landsdale and Jack Ketchum, but Camp Myth is something different—not horror—a YA tale with unique and magical world building, not to mention the story is adventurous and features a fun and energetic cast of characters.  This is CLC at his finest.

5. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz. (General Lit) Perhaps not what you'd expect from such a highly acclaimed author, which is a good thing in this case. There’s nothing safe or politically correct about it. Though the fresh factor surrounding the author’s style is waning for me a bit, this book kept my interest more than most novels I read this year. Technically a collection, but all telling the story of one central character.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones December 27, 2012 - 5:23pm

@Nathan- Great picks! I've been on a Diaz binge the past couple of weeks, and the #1 thing I love about his writing is he's always willing to take chances, and those chances usually work.

Paul D. Brazill's picture
Paul D. Brazill from Hartlepool, England. is reading The Posthumous Man by Jake Hinkson. December 28, 2012 - 3:52pm

Great to see Hell On Church Street there. Great book, deserved of a lot more attention.

Stuart Gibbel's picture
Stuart Gibbel from California is reading Angel Falls by Michael Paul Gonzalez December 29, 2012 - 2:54pm

1. The Soul Consortium by Simon West-Bulford. (Sci-Fi, and then some). Not sure I’ve read anything quite like this before. Manages to blend the lines between a handful of genres (sci-fi, horror, crime, and sixteenth century lit to name a few), and does so in an effortless manner while presenting a highly suspenseful page-turner.


Agree.  Great Sci-Fi with a little philosophy/relegion.