The Orenda by Joseph Boyden was overlooked by too many readers this year. This book is terrific. Three lives--a Jesuit priest, a warrior and leader of his tribe, and a captive woman from a rival tribe--intersect. It's a time of unrest in 17th Century Canada as the Iroquois and Huron tribes have fought for generations. Both groups, though, now confront the invasion of white people onto their lands. This novel is unapologetically violent, but it's also a great war novel, a great adventure novel, and a really intelligent analysis of conflicting cultures.
The Lost Book of Mormon by Avi Steinberg. I admit it; most of my knowledge of the Book of Mormon comes from the Broadway musical. I was close friends with a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when I was in high school, even going to some church potlucks as his guest. I never actually read the Book of Mormon, though, and I'm going to guess that you haven't either. Avi Steinberg isn't Mormon either, but he's fascinated by communities of faith and the uniquely American nature of the LDS church. To be a believer of any religion (or at least the Abraham-based ones), you have to believe that the book at its center is true, be it the Torah or Bible or Quran. Steinberg thus starts with the premise that the Book of Mormon is true and from there begins an exploration and travel narrative following the course of events as outlined in the book. Along the way he meets Mormons on pilgrimages to Central America, and actors reenacting Joseph Smith's journey from average Joe to founder of a new religion. Steinberg also argues that the Book of Mormon should be considered a great work of American literature along the lines of Moby-Dick, an important work in the history and evolution of this country. The Lost Book of Mormon is intriguing, compelling, informative reading.