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Reviewer Picks Reviewers Pick Their Favorite Books of 2013

Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2013. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.


Kate Ayers

  • DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King
    A stellar follow-up to THE SHINING. Stephen King is not only outstanding in his field, but he is alone in it.
  • BELLMAN & BLACK by Diane Setterfield
    A young man kills a rook with an impossible shot, changing the course of his entire life, for rooks have long memories.
  • THE QUEST by Nelson DeMille
    I’ll read anything by Nelson DeMille and love it; simple fact. THE QUEST is a rewrite of his novel published in 1975. It shows his characteristic wit and intelligence, although it doesn’t come across quite as refined as his later writing. Still, it’s a great thriller set largely in Ethiopian jungles.
  • THE LUDWIG CONSPIRACY by Oliver Potzsch
    What if Mad King Ludwig left a diary? And it turns up in a modern-day bookstore. That’s Oliver Potzsch’s premise, and it makes for a wonderful romp around Germany, with the main characters running for their lives as they try to unravel the mystery of Ludwig’s death. Did he commit suicide, or was he murdered?
  • IDENTICAL by Scott Turow
    A complicated murder mystery involving twin brothers, one of whom spent over two decades in prison for a killing he may not have committed. Thought-provoking.
    This is one book I look forward to reading over and over. The basic premise -- if there is anything basic about it -- revolves around a  bookstore with limited patrons but ones who are ultimately trying to decode a special book that may hold the key to immortality.



Alexis Burling


Tom Callahan

  • VIETNAM: THE REAL WAR: A Photographic History by the Associated Press, introduction by Pete Hamill
    The old saying is that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. The AP won six Pulitzer Prizes covering the American War in Vietnam. As the great writer, Pete Hamill, writes in his introduction, “Say the word ‘Vietnam’ today to most people of a certain age; the image that rises is usually a photograph. An AP photograph.” This is a book that will leave you sad and angry, but these are photos every American needs to see because they tell the truth about a disaster.
  • JOYLAND by Stephen King
    Stephen King is the all-time master of pulp fiction, and it was natural that he would set a story in an amusement park at some point. But this is a poignant, brilliant coming-of-age and amateur sleuth story that just happens to have a ghost in it.
  • THE BURGLAR WHO COUNTED THE SPOONS: A Bernie Rhodenbarr Mystery by Lawrence Block
    Lawrence Block’s Christmas gift for us this year was to bring back one of his greatest series characters, Bernie Rhodenbarr, after an absence of eight years. Bernie is a bookseller by day and gentleman burglar by night. This is a delightful mystery series that you can’t help but love.
  • CATCH AND RELEASE by Lawrence Block
    This collection of 27 unpublished short works by Lawrence Block proves that Block is one of the greatest noir writers who ever lived. While Bernie will delight you, some of the characters in this collection will fill you with fear and dread.
    Hard Case Crime scored the publishing feat of the year by republishing all eight novels written by Crichton under the name “John Lange” when he was in Harvard Medical School. Besides being great mysteries and adventures that hold up well after nearly half a century, they show a young writer on the brink of greatness.
    Fifty years after Dallas, Americans are still fascinated by the death of a president, and millions of words are still being published on the subject. We will probably never know what really happened that day. But if even a third of what Lamar Waldron writes in this meticulously researched and well-documented book is true, it will change everything you think you know about America and who really runs this country. A profoundly disturbing book.


Harvey Freedenberg


Amy Gwiazdowski

  • CLOCKWORK PHOENIX 4 edited by Mike Allen
    An amazing collection of speculative, fantasy, and science fiction by some master storytellers. I know I’ll be picking these stories up again and again.
  • PALISADES PARK by Alan Brennert
    What feels like a simple tale of everyday life is really a fantastic story full of the dreams that make life wonderful. Every part of this story feels very close to home thanks to some incredible characters.
  • THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker
    Mythical creatures trying to fit into 1880s New York City become a reflection of the immigrants around them.
  • CIRCLE OF SHADOWS: A Westerman/Crowther Mystery by Imogen Robertson
    A suspense-filled historical mystery, and when you throw in a complicated relationship and some murder, you have a great story that will keep you reading.
    Wow. Mr. Gaiman is the master. Every time I pick up one of his books, I’m amazed by his ability; he weaves words like no other.
    I admired the collection he put together in CLOCKWORK PHOENIX 4 and was curious about his personal writing. He tells one dark, twisted and amazingly satisfying story. I’m looking forward to his second book.
  • MRS. POE by Lynn Cullen
    I didn’t think it was possible to be a bigger fan, but MRS. POE did it for me. Lynn Cullen tells one entertaining and slightly dark story that is amazing to the last page.
    The third book in the Gentleman Bastards series, and it was so worth the wait. If you aren’t familiar with the series, start with THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, and you’ll soon find out why Lynch fans are so loyal.
  • FEVER by Mary Beth Keane
    A fictional characterization of the woman who becomes known as Typhoid Mary. A sad story in many ways, but I never felt sorry for the characters who were so feisty you wanted to see them fight to the bitter end.
  • THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangsze Choo
    A story of the afterlife told from the perspective of a not-yet-dead young woman faced with heartbreaking decisions. A truly fabulous story that will leave you wanting more.


Joe Hartlaub

  • NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT by Derek B. Miller
    An elderly Jewish survivor transplanted from his native New York to Norway battles dementia and a language barrier to go on the run in order to protect a young boy from a murderous war criminal. Brilliantly conceived and executed, this book will frequently bring you to laughter and tears, often within the same sentence.
  • THE FIRE WITNESS by Lars Kepler, translated by Laura A. Wideburg
    A perfect combination of plot, characterization and pacing by this Swedish husband-and-wife writing team.
  • UNSEEN by Karin Slaughter
    Please go back and read every book in the Will Trent series --- you’ll thank me, I promise --- and then read UNSEEN, the latest installment in this complex canon featuring a troubled agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
  • POLICE: A Harry Hole Novel by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett
    This is the best to date in Jo Nesbo’s long-running Harry Hole series, containing twists, turns, and an unrelenting, fascinating mystery. Particularly recommended for fans of Jeffery Deaver.
  • WAYWARD: A Wayward Pines Thriller by Blake Crouch
    The second book in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series fulfills the promise raised and met in the first and does what every good series book does: it leaves you fully satisfied while waiting for the next installment of this hybrid mystery/science fiction series.
  • THE OCTOBER LIST by Jeffery Deaver
    One of Jeffery Deaver’s best to date,  a stand-alone work that tells its story in reverse and raises a difficult narrative tool to high art.
  • CITY OF LIES by R. J. Ellory
    Originally published in England in 2006, CITY OF LIES, finally published in the United States in 2013, straddles the very narrow line between literary and crime fiction --- and raises the game of both.
  • LIGHT OF THE WORLD: A Dave Robicheaux Novel by James Lee Burke
    Whether or not this marks the end of the Dave Robicheaux canon, Burke gives us --- as always --- some of his best and most memorable prose to date.
  • RED SKY IN MORNING by Paul Lynch
    The pain and the beauty that run through this story of Ireland and the United States in the early 19th century tug you from first page to last and stay with you.
  • HEART OF ICE: A Louis Kincaid Novel by P.J. Parrish
    I would gladly sacrifice a finger if the two sisters who comprise the writing team of P.J. Parrish would write one Louis Kincaid book per month. HEART OF ICE, set in the frigid environs of Michigan’s Mackinac Island, is but one example of why.


Jamie Layton


Michael Magras


Josh Mallory

  • ELECTRICO W by Hervé Le TellierThis page-turning French novel takes a standard love triangle and turns it on its head with a manipulative narrator who admits to distorting the facts. Taking place over nine days in Portugal, the reader is left guessing as to who the real villain in this comic story is.
    David Rakoff left us far too early, and his only novel was published posthumously. It’s nothing if not ambitious, as it's entirely written in rhyming couplets and covering a century.  It’s at turns touching and sweet and darkly funny, and it became one of the most interesting reads of the year.
    Teddy Wayne gives us the story of a too-young pop star on the road. Dealing with themes of fame, isolations, self-promotion, poor parenting, adolescence and sexuality, LOVE SONG features a strong first-person narrative that keeps the reader engaged.
  • MARY AND LOU AND RHODA AND TED: And All the Brilliant Minds that Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
  • DIFFICULT MEN: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by Brett Martin
    Even with all the praise television has been generating the last few years, it’s often dismissed as a lesser medium. These two books present us with people who tried and succeeded to improve the shows we watch. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong takes us behind the scenes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the opportunities it presented for women in front of and behind the camera. Brett Martin gives us a tour of the modern anti-hero genre (“The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “The Wire”) that has revitalized television.
  • AT NIGHT WE WALK IN CIRCLES by Daniel Alarcon
    One of the most ambitious and challenging books of the year, AT NIGHT WE WALK IN CIRCLES is difficult to describe. Constructed as a journalistic discovery (not unlike the structure of Citizen Kane), the plot is dense, but teased out in just the right doses to keep the reader engaged. Taking place in an unidentified South American country recovering from a civil war, the novel follows a theatre troupe’s tour leading to a less than desirable end for most parties involved. This impending sense of dread drives the reader to discover exactly what fate awaits the colorful characters Daniel Alarcon creates.


Jennifer McCord


Bronwyn Miller


L. Dean Murphy

    In 1958 Detroit, Grace anticipates her first born. Childless Julia cares for her own twin nieces. Their community implodes when developmentally delayed Elizabeth disappears while in their care. The Alder Avenue wives fear a “colored” woman’s homicide near their husbands’ workplace portends Elizabeth’s destiny, and they fret what is to become of Julia --- the last to see Elizabeth, the metaphoric tipping point of Alder Avenue’s societal decay. Nothing will return to normal, until she comes home.
  • YESTERDAY’S ECHO by Matt Coyle
    Rick Cahill was acquitted of his wife’s homicide but not exonerated. When he meets Melody Malana, a beautiful yet secretive TV reporter, he sees a chance to love again. When she’s arrested for murder and asks Rick for help, the ex-cop says no, but a part of him says yes. Rick’s attempt to help backfires, and he becomes a suspect in the current homicide.
  • THE DEATH OF BEES by Lisa O’Donnell
    After their parents’ suspicious deaths, teen sisters Marnie and Nelly are on their own. Only they know what happened to their parents, and they won’t tell. When quirky Lennie next door realizes they are alone and need help, he takes them in, but questions from the authorities soon threaten to exhume the siblings’ dark secrets.
  • CANDLEMOTH by R.J. Ellory
    Convicted of murder, Daniel Ford exhausts all appeals and now faces execution. John Rousseau is the priest whom Ford entrusts his life and remaining days. As time runs out, Ford tells his story, his first meeting with best friend Nathan, early loves, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and finally draft-dodging the Vietnam War that ends in Nathan’s brutal murder. Each R.J. Ellory stand-alone is epic, cinematic in scope, and spans decades of characters’ lives often involving political corruption.
  • THE BURNING AIR by Erin Kelly
    The MacBride family encounters Darcy Kellaway, whose life “read like a synopsis for Dickens.” The MacBrides lead privileged lives in Saxby, England. Lydia MacBride and Darcy dance a deadly pas de deux, each intent on vilifying the other. Poetic justice serves dark karma and a double dose of irony in Erin Kelly’s latest literary coup d’éclat disguised as a psychological thriller.
  • SCREWED by Eoin Colfer
    Following PLUGGED, Irish ex-pat Dan McEvoy becomes embroiled in one --- and possibly more --- murders. As the prime suspect, he wonders if he is indeed a killer. Tell everyone you know to get SCREWED, or at least buy a copy of this latest from the creator of the bestselling Artemis Fowl series.
  • W IS FOR WASTED by Sue Grafton
    Kinsey Millhone is an average Jo, “a jeans-and-boots kind of gal.” She investigates two seemingly unrelated deaths. Kinsey opines, “Two dead bodies changed the course of my life. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.” It’s summer 1988, Kinsey is 38, and learns her family tree has gnarly branches.
  • NO ESCAPE by Mary Burton
    Everything about the investigation into serial killer Harvey Smith unnerves Jolene Granger, the psychologist asked to evaluate him --- from Harvey’s fascination with her to the fact that she works alongside Texas Ranger Brody Winchester, her ex-husband. Meanwhile, Harvey’s protégé grows bolder and more vicious every day. Soon the trail of shallow graves will lead them to the last place Dr. Granger expected, and to the most terrifying truth of all.
  • FOUND: A Matt Royal Mystery by H. Terrell Griffin
    Tranquil Longboat Key, west of Sarasota, is shattered when an old man is executed, and his murderer is killed while fleeing the police. Retired attorney Matt Royal and Detective J.D. Duncan are pursued by men who would do them harm. As “the threads of two disparate mysteries come together,” a ragtag group of dangerous characters create a havoc unusual for a sun-splashed island.
    Elle’s soon-to-be-ex is stabbed with a knife, yet she feels his presence and he accuses her of murder. Though she doesn’t believe in ghosts, she argues with him and asserts her innocence. Elle has a memory gap and can’t account for her activity at the time of his death. As Elle tries to clear herself by finding out how Charlie died, she discovers she had ample cause to kill him.


Ray Palen


Terry Miller Shannon

*In a year filled with rapt reading of truly excellent books, it is so difficult to pick my favorites. However, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS and LONGBOURN are true stand-outs. They not only tie for first place of my 2013 favorites, but belong high on my (imaginary) list of “The Best Books I’ve Ever Read in My Life.”

Stuart Shiffman

This past year was another wonderful year for book lovers. It was certainly a great year for sports books, and three are on my list for the best of 2013.

  • THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
    THE BOYS IN THE BOAT centers on the U.S. Olympic eight-man crew who won the gold medal in Munich. This is an exhilarating story about true athletes whose love of competition overcame many difficulties.
  • MONSTERS: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen
    MONSTERS is far more than the story of the Super Bowl-winning Bears. It is the story of the Chicago Bears from their birth in Decatur, Illinois, to the post-Super Bowl years when “Da Bears” became a cottage industry. Every football fan will enjoy this book.
    Ron Kaplan is a contributor to these pages, but that fact has no bearing on my recommendation of this book. He has compiled a list of great baseball books from every imaginable baseball category. Each contains a brief synopsis allowing readers to discover many new titles. I did, and have enjoyed adding them to my baseball library.
  • BORN ON A MOUNTAINTOP: On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier by Bob Thompson
    As a young boy, I recall well the television episodes chronicling the life of Davy Crockett. It was a television phenomenon that is difficult to describe in contemporary times. Walt Disney created Davy Crockett, and the legend lives on today. Bob Thompson travelled America and discovered the truth and the fables of Crockett in an entertaining and enjoyable book.


Kathy Weissman

  • BIG BROTHER by Lionel Shriver
    The subject is obesity, but there is nothing predictable or preachy about Lionel Shriver's take on family and food.
    Believe it or not, I'd never read Neil Gaiman. This, an adult fantasy, is so breathtakingly imaginative and so gorgeously written that I pretty much fell in love with him.
  • GODS AND BEASTS by Denise Mina
    Denise Mina's mysteries are technically "procedurals," and her Alex Morrow is a police officer. But they are just plain terrific novels as well: tough, incisive, sensitive, with insanely good plotting and complex characters. 
    I'm a big Maggie O'Farrell fan, and this time she outdoes herself with the tale of what happens to a strange, endearing Irish family one terribly hot summer.
  • UNEXPLODED by Alison MacLeod
    World War II novels are one of my guilty passions; this one is set on England's southern shores, where invasion was thought to be imminent. It is also an intelligent and moving romance.