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21 Great Reads in 2013

Why 21 Great Reads? Why not 26 or 14  or 7 or 37 or 52? Why not even the conventional 10, 20, or 50? Well, when I looked back at the books I’d read this past year, I found 21 Great Reads.

What makes a book a Great Read? There were two criteria. One, I loved reading it, and two, it had to be a book I recommended to people after finishing.

One other thing. The books didn’t have to be published in 2013. In fact, some were and some weren’t. Also, if I re-read a book from a previous year and still loved it and recommended it, I included the book on the list. (By the way, it’s my list so I can make up the rules.)

Without further ado, fiction first and then non-fiction (Note: If the books are listed in any order, it’s the way they appeared on my Kindle. I did not rank the best of the best.):


(FYI- The fiction list leans toward Irish crime fiction this year. No particular reason other than I read some great Irish crime novels.)

1 & 2) The Cold, Cold Ground and I Hear Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty. These are the first two volumes of McKinty’s The Troubles Trilogy (the third, In The Morning I’ll Be Gone is scheduled for a Spring 2014 release). The series follows Sean Duffy, a Catholic and a detective assigned to a Protestant area in the early 1980’s. The character and the story are fascinating and superbly crafted. To say much more might spoil the story. McKinty also keeps a pretty interesting blog.

3, 4, 5, &  6) The Midnight Choir, Little Criminals, Dark Times in The City, and The Rage by Gene Kerrigan. Thanks to Amazon recommends for these four. I’d never heard of Kerrigan prior seeing them on Amazon. Again, Irish crime books. Kerrigan’s stories are independent, yet some of the characters follow over from story to story. At first, you can’t tell how all the various story strands are going to come together, but they do.

7) Purgatory by Ken Bruen. Another Irish crime novel book? Jack Taylor is back with trouble, crime, and heartache not far behind. Another wonderful book from Bruen.

8) Police by Jo Nesbo. I found Nesbo’s latest Harry Hole novel fascinating, fast-paced, and suspenseful. Highly recommended.

9 & 10) Gone Girl and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. Gone Girl is the last of Flynn’s works and it is a masterpiece. I cannot find anything comparable. The story is gripping, but the twist halfway through the book and makes you question everything you’ve just read. After reading Gone Girl, I picked up Dark Places and enjoyed as much. Twisted families, small towns, and Satanic ritual killings, what’s not to love?

11) Night Film by Marisha Pessl- This might be the most creative, imaginative efforts at storytelling I’ve come across. Pessl uses a variety of formats to tell the story of a suicide, a journalist, and a reclusive, renegade director with a fiercely protective inner circle.

12 & 13) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I first read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle when it came out in the mid-nineties and I read it again this past year. Knowing what was going to happen didn’t eliminate any of the joy of reading this book again. 1Q84 is a masterful, mysterious, thriller about power and revenge that also tells the a story of love.

14) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. In answer to the question, which book is least like the other books on the list, the answer is The Fault in Our Stars. An engaging story about teenagers with cancer. This is one great read.


1. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. A remarkable story by the woman who suffered from a rare disease that nearly killed her. You know she survives since she wrote the book, but the descent she underwent was harrowing and well told.

2. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Scwalbe tells the story of spending time with his Mother before her passing- the books they read and the conversations they enjoyed. Having lost my own Mom in 2012 and having spent four weeks with her before she passed, I identified with this book on many levels. I was enthralled by how someone else endured and described the same thing I had. And the fact that they talked books didn’t hurt either.

3. The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge. Thebarge tells the story of her extended fight with breast cancer followed by her move to Portland and unexpected encounter with a family of refugees. The chance encounter with a family of refugees attempting to assimilate into America mirrors her own struggle to discover what her life will be. There’s not many books I’ll read in one or two settings, but this one was of them.

4. The Telling Room by Michael Paternitti. A book about cheese. The greatest cheese ever made. A book about finding the man who made that cheese in a village in Spain and then telling his story of creating and losing the company. A story of betrayal and the desire for revenge.

5. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Hilarious, serious, raw, and thought-provoking. In a mixture of word and cartoon, Brosh tells these phenomenal vignettes of her life.

6. Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell. (He’s not on the list because I had the chance to interview him about writing, which you can read here. Of course, I’d love to interview all the writers on this list. ) This book is from a few years ago and I probably read it one or two or three times a year. Probably one of the best books on suffering.

7. Domestique by Charly Wegelius. Wegelius tells the story of his professional cycling career, but it’s unlike any other you’ll ever read. Most people have never even heard of Wegelius. He never won a professional race, but the reason he raced so long was his prized ability as a domestique. This books peels back the cover on what it means to be a professional cyclist. Glamorous it is not.

So there it is, my list of Great Reads for 2013.

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