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2013: The Year in Tweets

My Favorite Reads of 2013

It's time again for my year-end best-of reading roundup!  As usual,  I don't read a whole lot of brand new releases, so a bunch of these are not books that were published in 2013; they're just books I read in 2013.  Rather than pick an arbitrary number, I'm just going to list all the books I gave 5-star reviews to on Goodreads, presented in the order in which I read them.


The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington:

I tore through this page-turning mystery in no time. It's a compelling read, but the insights into grief and family dynamics really set it apart. The supernatural elements are that much more believable because the natural elements are grounded in reality. Definitely a fun mystery, but with additional depths that made it extra satisfying for me.

Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters:

This book completely knocked me out. A really interesting twist on the ghost story that is dark, compelling, ultimately hopeful, and at times painfully honest about grief. I kept putting it down because I wanted to savor it and then picking it up again because I had to know what happened. Oh yeah--it's also beautifully written and full of three-dimensional, believable characters.

I hope that readers who like horror novels but don't usually read YA will find this because it is an exceptional horror novel. 

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga:

An incredibly compelling story I couldn't put down, and a cool twist on the universal problem of trying to figure out how much of your identity you get from your parents and how much you get to create yourself. Also, I did not spot the twist coming a mile away, which I always appreciate. Suspenseful and thoughtful. My only real quibble is with Connie--while I see why Jazz likes her, I'm not sure why she likes him. She's just a little bit too perfect. But as I said, this is a small thing in what is otherwise a terrific and very suspenseful book.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey:

Damn. This is one hell of a book. It is perhaps a little bit less of a rollicking adventure than the previous two, but it's an even deeper look into the characters, especially Will Henry, who undergoes some pretty significant changes in the course of the novel. 

As before, the language is cool, the plot is involving, the grossness is gross (glad to see the word "suppurating" make yet another appearance), and the worst monsters are the ones we see in the mirror. 

Another tour de freakin' force I really wish I'd written. 

Read the ebook, which had format problems that would embarrass a self-publisher and are just inexcusable from a major publisher.

Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler:

I won an ARC from tor.com. Bargain! 
This is a dark, weird book that is unlike anything else I've read. I think the closest I can come to a comparison is some of the short fiction of Caitlin Kiernan. I stayed up late finishing it, and I love me some sleep. In the end, this is a book about love and friendship that raises a lot of thorny moral questions it doesn't answer. It's immersive while you're reading it and gives you a lot to chew on afterward. So, yeah, basically it's brilliant. But not necessarily for everyone. Which leads me to my only critique of this book: the marketing.
My wife spotted me reading this from across the room and said, "are you reading Eat Pray Love?" kind of derisively. So there's problem number one. Then there's the blurb, above. When I got to "in Octavius' many arms.." I nearly didn't open the book. It sounds like some cheeseball beauty and the beast love story, and while it's about love, it also features skinless witches and undead tailors and a particularly gruesome and transformative encounter with a troll. I applaud Tor for taking a chance on this book, but I'm really afraid that the promotion is going to backfire. Trying to make this look like the fantasy Eat Pray Love is going to turn off readers who would love this book, and the book itself is far too weird for people who think they're getting a gentle love story.
But the book is fantastic, and as long as you're okay with the skinless witches and grusome troll encounters and such, I highly recommend it.

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter:

I feel like a gimmick is only gimmicky if it doesn't work. If that makes sense. So doing three short novels in the style of three different crime novelists turns out in this case to work brilliantly. I haven't read Simenon, so I have no idea how close the first part is to his work, but as for the Chandler and the Thompson, I thought Winter did a great job of capturing the feel of those writers without ever straying into parody, which is, I think, a huge danger of taking on a Chandler-style novel. Each part stands on its own as a top-notch crime novel, and tracing two characters through all three is especially satisfying. 

Great stuff and highly recommended to anyone who likes crime fiction.

The Long Drunk by Eric Coyote:

A homeless alcoholic tries to solve a murder to collect reward money and save his dog. What results is a crime novel that stands up next to Charlie Huston's Hank Thompson trilogy. Which is to say, it's an involving and consistently surprising story, and it also manages to sneak in some social commentary and philosophy along the way. Highly recommended for fans of crime fiction.

Books of Blood 1 by Clive Barker:

Well, I finally understand why Clive Barker is a big deal. I tried to read Weaveworld way back when but couldn't get into it; I read his Hollywood ghost story/satire, Coldheart Canyon, which was godawful; and I always thought Hellraiser was overrated and Nightbreed was laughable. So why the hell does everybody treat Clive Barker like a big deal? Well, now I understand. I think horror always works best in the short form, and these horror stories are as good as any I've ever read. Yeah. Any. Required reading for horror fans, and I'm embarrassed that it took me this long to get to them.

Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn:

Shelve it right next to Guralnick's Elvis biographies on your "Best Music Biographies Ever" shelf. Hilburn walks a very fine line (get it?)--he never glosses over the damage Cash did with his addiction and his infidelity, but neither does he revel in these details in a prurient way. And best of all, he really keeps the focus on the music. So many music biographies focus on either the life or the art,but Hilburn does a fantastic job of weaving both together and giving us what feels like a full and authentic portrait of Cash the musician and Cash the man. Essential.

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers:

Not posting my review becuse it's rife with spoilers.  This is the rare sequel that is better than the first one, which I also read this year and which was good but not as good as this one.  If you want to read my spoilerific review, you can find it here.


Honorable Mentions: (I gave these books 4 stars on Goodreads)

The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi

Swallowing a Donkey's Eye by Paul Tremblay

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon

This City of Shadows by Melissa Griffin

A King of Infinite Space by Tyler Dilts

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers