Here are my favorite books read in 2013. I don’t read a lot of current books, so only one or two of these were published during the year. Each year I look forward to attacking the piles of books here in the house and each year I am especially pleased with many of them. I read 115 books in 2013. These are the ones I enjoyed the most, in alphabetical order by title.
An Army at Dawn, The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Vol. 1 of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson
The only non-fiction book to make this favorites list, An Army at Dawn gave me insights into what happened during America’s entry into World War II that I’d not previously had. Full of fact, intelligently written and engaging, I finished the thick book in record time. I took a break after it to read genre fiction, but will return to the trilogy in 2014. Anyone who is interested in the big war will want to read this.
Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele
Many of the reviewers of this book made comparisons to Robert Heinlein’s YA science fiction novels, and rightly so. That wasn’t an effort to pigeon hole this book into a youth reader category, it just tells you the book is very readable. The plot is classic science fiction, people in a jam in space and on a planet other than Earth. There is good characterization, fast paced action, good guys, bad guys and a nice resolution to the thing. Steele has a very nice touch here, and it bears repeating that there is a resemblance to Heinlien’s juvenile novels. I really, really hope Steele makes a series out of this!
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
I’ve read every Louise Penny mystery novel, most of them more than once, and the only thing that’s bothered me even slightly was the completely up-in-the-air ending of the book before this one, The Beautiful Mystery. That was all resolved in this book, and yet when I finished it I was still not satisfied, and after a couple of weeks I figured out why. It is no fault of the author, who did a grand job with this novel. No, it was me. Have you ever read a book where the bad guy was so evil that you wanted him to be awfully, terribly, thoroughly destroyed, in agonizing detail? That’s kind of how I felt about a certain person that’s been in the last several of this series, and when the denouement did come, there just wasn’t quite enough for me. But I’m over that, and now I can barely wait for the next book from this fine author.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookshop by Robin Sloan
There was so much to like about this fantasy that I was able to pass up some of the silly bits. I’m not saying this is a really good book, just one I really enjoyed. The setting of an odd bookshop in a recognizable setting with even more odd customers who seemed to be buying, or rather checking out, books in no recognizable pattern pulled me right in, and as things began to make sense to the narrator of this tale it only got more interesting. It was only the ending that let me down, but still a fun book I enjoyed reading.
The Mystery of Ireta by Anne McCaffrey
This book is an omnibus of two short, connected McCaffrey novels, Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors. I always seem to enjoy McCaffrey, but this was one I hadn’t gotten to before so it was new. I had read another book by her with one of these characters, so that was a nice tie in. It seems I can always go to McCaffrey when I want an enjoyable reading experience, and this pair of novelettes didn’t disappoint, though why they weren’t combined in a single novel when written is a mystery.
The Black Thumb Mystery by Bruce Campbell
This is the third book in the Ken Holt mystery series, one I’d not read before. When I started reading series books I was a Hardy Boys fan, and also enjoyed Tom Swift Junior and some sports books but never encountered the Ken Holt books. I got this on eBay and quite liked it.
The Case of the Perjured Parrot by Erle Stanley Gardner
This was one of three Perry Mason novels I read in 2013, and though I always enjoy these, this is the one I enjoyed the most.
I like it when Mason gets out of the city, as he does for part of this one, and the usual twists and turns Gardner supplies seemed particularly clever, though I admit I saw part of the trick coming in the “testimony” of the parrot.
The Chinese Gold Murders by Robert Van Gulik
I read a bunch of Judge Dee novels in 2013, this was the second of them, and though I enjoyed them all, when I thought back in preparing to write this list of favorites, this is the first one that came to mind. So here it is. Honestly, they were all very good, so it’s hard to recommend any one over the others. With the Judge Dee books, it’s all about character and culture. The solving of the crime, in this case the theft of a load of gold, is almost secondary. If I were going to pick a next-favorite, it would be The Chinese Lake Mystery.
The Cobra, King of Detectives by Richard Sale
This was my favorite pulp fiction of the year. There are a lot of great pulp reprints available these days, and I have a lot of fun both buying them and reading them, though my buying got ahead of the reading, as usual.
In this set of stories, The Cobra is a private agent working to defeat smugglers and spies. Sale used a snake theme in the stories he wrote about this character, not surprising, and did a great job.
The Zebra-Striped Hearse by Ross Macdonald
It had been a few years since I’d read any Macdonald, and I realized there were a lot of his books I’d not gotten to. I picked this one to read and I enjoyed it so much reading more Lew Archer novels in 2014 is high on my reading priorities. In this one, many of the the usual Macdonald themes and the Lew Archer character meet in a story of a daughter who has run off with a man her controlling father doesn’t like, and the secrets of the family which are uncovered as Archer tries to return the daughter to her home. Many twists and turns, good mystery elements, strong sense of place all contribute to what may have been my favorite book of the year.
Wild, Delicate Seconds by Charles Finn
I’m grateful to Chris la Tray for mentioning this book on his blog. Otherwise I’d not have known of it and missed a really wonderful book. These 29 brief scenes – for want of a better noun – describe an encounter the author had with wildlife, somewhere in his travels. So artfully done, I felt I could close my eyes and nearly transport myself to the moment, I re-read many of them immediately. This is a book I’ll be keeping handy to pick up again as the mood strikes me, and one that helps me open my eyes to the world around me.
That’s it, my favorites among the many books I read in 2013. I didn’t have an easy time narrowing it down to eleven (I was aiming at ten) books.