The Best I Read in 2013

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You’d think writing a “best of” post would be pretty easy. Look at the list of sixty-four books I reviewed (I read more, of course, but as always only wrote positive reviews) and pick the titles that I enjoyed the most. But sixty-plus was large enough that I needed to do some sorting to make it a bit easier — by star rating, fiction and non-fiction, traditionally published and Indies, and even genre. By doing that I whittled the total in half, and from there it got really hard.

Really, really hard.

In the end I decided to split between publishing method — Traditional and Indie — ignore genre and simply list the ten of each I enjoyed the most. Please note, don’t get too hung up on the order: I wasn’t trying to determine the best of the best, etc.

So here they are: The Best I Read in 2013.

Indie

17187690Jungleland by Alton Bock
My review
Genre: Fiction, fantasy

It’s always a pleasure to find a story that takes an oft-told storyline, in this case time travel, and gives it a unique twist. In the excellent Jungleland by Alton Bock (@AltonBock), the music of Bruce Springsteen provides the magic that gives Danny the chance to go back to a pivotal moment in his life. You don’t have to be a fan of Springsteen, by the way, to enjoy this wonderful story.

13511739The Notice by Sean M. Chandler
My review
Genre: Fiction, Historical, fantasy

With all that has happened in the world in the past twenty years, I suspect most Americans have forgotten (assuming they ever knew) about the wars that raged in the Balkans from 1991-1995. Based on ethnic and religious hatreds spawned centuries earlier, these bitter and bloody conflicts produced the term “ethnic cleansing” as a euphemism for genocide. In The Notice, author Sean M. Chandler (@SeanMChandler) …  does an exceptional job of in turns educating, captivating and horrifying the reader. It is a powerful piece of writing about human nature, violence and bigotry.

17973147Planks by SC Harrison
My review
Genre: Horror

A series of creepy vignettes with an imaginative setting, Planks by SC Harrison (@SCHAuthor) is a short story that stuck with me long after putting my Kindle down. I read each “chapter” twice before moving on to the next; the second time through to savor the little details. As an author myself, I must admit to being terribly jealous of Ms. Harrison’s imagination and her ability to craft with relatively few words such an atmospheric and spooky setting and series of events.

Chrysopteron 625x1000Chrysopteron by Michael K. Rose
My review
Genre: Sci-Fi

Among Earth-ending alien invasions and the flaming pulse cannons of an interstellar dogfight, it is sometimes forgotten that science fiction is a wonderful medium for addressing big issues. … In Chrysopteron, author by Michael K. Rose (@MichaelKRose) sets out to examine human nature … using the fate of the titular spaceship as his canvas. Faced with diminishing resources and a burgeoning population, several Earth nations band together to send five Generation ships to distant planets deemed suitable for human colonization.

CaptureThe Creepers by Norman Dixon Jr.
My review
Genre: Horror

Twenty years after the zombie apocalypse, there are outposts where the living barely hang on amid the untold numbers of the risen dead.  … The Creepers by Norman Dixon Jr. (@normandixonjr), (is) an original and highly enjoyable action/horror story filled with interesting and well-drawn characters. … Mr. Dixon’s take on the genre is both fresh and engaging, and frighteningly realistic.

18271349Terminal Rage by A.M. Khalifa
My review
Genre: Thriller

Finally recovering from the mental toll of his disastrous last case, Alex Blackwell, once the FBI’s top hostage negotiator, is pulled back into action at the request of a man posing as an Arab prince who has taken over a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. … So begins Terminal Rage by A.M. Khalifa (@amkwriter), a layered thrill ride of a novel that moves seamlessly from inside a nerve-wracking hostage situation to far-flung locations across the United States and the world including Italy, Egypt, England and Australia.

17374199Contract of Betrayal by Tammy Salyer
My review
Genre: Sci-Fi

(W)ith the second book of the Spectras Arise Trilogy, Contract of Betrayal, author Tammy Salyer (@TammySalyer) (sticks) closely to what worked so incredibly well in her first novel, Contract of Defiance (my review here), which I consider one of The Best I Read in 2012. Just as fun and page-turningly exciting as the first book —I finished it well after midnight in a “must know what happens” marathon reading session — Betrayal is not simply more-of-the-same as the storyline and characters have developed in a realistic fashion.

51rJ5bln3RLTan by David Lawlor
My review
Genre: Historical Fiction

Wrongly accused of a heinous crime by a ruthless policeman, Liam Mannion, a young Irishman, is forced to flee everything he has ever known —  his family, town and country — in 1914. … In  Tan: A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge, author David Lawlor (@LawlorDavid) builds a wonderfully gripping fictional story against a backdrop of actual events during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), including the Sack of Balbriggan. Liam, his family and friends, and the other characters are richly drawn and complex, with ambitions and motivations that range from the most basic to the highest ideal.

12853168Sliding on The Snow Stone by Andy Szpuk
My review
Genre: Memoir

A mesmerizing, heart-wrenching memoir, Sliding on the Snow Stone by Andy Szpuk (@AndySzpuk) tells the story of Stefan Szpuk — the author’s father. Told by Stefan in prose that is simple yet wonderfully descriptive, it is an amazing tale of survival, familial love, courage and perseverance. I’m not ashamed to admit I choked up several times reading Stefan’s tale.

BITRBlue Into the Rip by Kev Heritage
My review
Genre: Sci-Fi

A fun, addictive read from page 1. Various genres and sub-genres — Young Adult, time-travel, adventure, sci-fi, dystopian, political thriller — are expertly blended to make a truly unique story that I enjoyed immensely. There is much about Blue Into the Rip that is familiar and handled differently this debut novel  from Kev Heritage (@KevHeritage) might quickly fade from memory. I’m very pleased to report several days after finishing (it) that I’m still thinking about this wonderful story and how Mr. Heritage takes tropes and turns them upside down

Just missing the cut (reviews elsewhere on this blog) were: Eleven Town by John-Paul Cleary, Contact by AFN Clarke, any of the Blood Skies Series books by Steven Montano, Dangerous Games by Paul A. Rice, and Behead the Serpent by Paul Anthony.

Traditional

18836911Police by Jo Nesbo
My review
Genre: Crime Thriller

A densely plotted thriller that doesn’t disappoint, Police is the tenth book by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo to feature Inspector Harry Hole. … There are plots and sub-plots that twist and turn throughout the book, frights, heartbreaking deaths amid some unexpected happiness, new and memorable characters and the return of familiar faces who have become like family.

13648678Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
My review
Genre: Fiction

A biting and quite funny satire that delivers a punch made more powerful because there is an utter believability to most of the story — you can just see a lot of events depicted happening “for real” — Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain is one of the best novels I read this year, or ever for that matter.

6452798Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, And The Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

Eric Schlosser’s excellent book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety uses a deadly 1980 incident at a Titan-II missile silo in Arkansas as the entry point to examine the history of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project to post-9/11. Highly readable, the narrative frightens, astonishes and angers in turns.

17666501Drunk on Sports by Tim Cowlishaw
My review
Genre: Memoir

Sportswriter Tim Cowlishaw details in this candid and highly readable memoir his thirty-five year affair with alcohol ended in 2009 after a tumultuous couple of years that included a DUI and two trips to the hospital emergency room, the first with a blood alcohol level of .266. Although the subject matter is serious, and treated as such, this is not a doom-and-gloom tale filled with horror stories of blackouts and embarrassing social situations. Like many, Cowlishaw was adept at hiding his drinking in plain sight and his book is filled with self-deprecating humor.

13542947Human Game by Simon Read
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

Simon Read’s Human Game: The True Story of the “Great Escape” Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen tells the often amazing story of the British government’s investigation into the murder of British prisoners of war who took part in the “Great Escape,” a probe that ended with seventy-two Germans on trial and twenty-one were executed for their roles.

17707527The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

Meticulously researched by authors Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Siege: 68 Hours Inside The Taj Hotel is a riveting account of the Nov. 26, 2008, terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, by ten young Pakistani men affiliated with the group Lashkar-e-Toiba. The narrative is gripping, filled with tension and stories of heroism and heartbreak. In turns the reader will experience dread, triumph, tragedy and simmering frustration

16158491The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army and A War At The Ends Of The Earth by Mark Mazzetti
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

Few today remember it, but as the sun rose over the eastern seaboard on September 11, 2001, it was understood that the Central Intelligence Agency spied on our nation’s enemies and the Department of Defense waged war on them. Flash forward a dozen years to today, and those roles have to a large extent switched. This evolution is studied in The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth by Mark Mazzetti (@MarkMazzettiNYT), an excellent book filled with fascinating details that in turns may anger, amaze or amuse the reader.

5624896Loon: A Marine Story by Jack McLean
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

Adjectives such as “exceptional” and “sublime” are accurate enough, and yet somehow do not convey the depth of my enjoyment and admiration for this memoir of a young man who left a life of comfort and privilege to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at a time when combat duty in Vietnam was all but certain. With engaging and fluid prose, McLean brings the reader along step-for-step on his journey to becoming a Marine, from enlisting through basic training at the famed Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island and then on to Vietnam where he survived a bitter three-day fight with the North Vietnamese Army at  Landing Zone (LZ) Loon.

16157481The Generals by Thomas E. Ricks
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

A clear-eyed, sobering look at the decline of a critically important part of the U.S. Army, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today by Thomas E. Ricks pulls no punches. Names are named and costly mistakes by both those wearing the suits of politicians and uniforms of high rank are pulled under the bright light for thorough examination as Ricks attempts to identify how the world’s most powerful military in 1945 became “hollow” less than thirty years later and technically without peer but strategically shortsighted another thirty years after that.

Layout 1Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges
My review
Genre: Non-fiction

In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges writes about his anger at the decline of America. Hedges writes that the country he “loved and honored” was at once imperfect and sometimes cruel, and yet always a land where workers were paid fairly; decent public education was available; human rights, democratic values and the rule of law — including international law — were respected and upheld, and above all else where these things did not exist there was hope that someday they would.

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