What we loved (and didn’t) in books in 2013

Posted Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Trying to decide how to spend that bookstore gift card you got for Christmas? We’re here to help with a few of our favorites (and not so favorites) from 2013. Happy reading.

Diana Andro

Books I loved

Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed — Another compelling family drama that reminds me why he’s one of my favorite writers.

Jeff Guinn’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson — Seriously the best nonfiction to come out this year; had me frightened and fascinated at the same time.

Aggie Legends, by Anthony Andro — Even this Longhorn can support her Aggie writer husband.

Wish I’d read

Leila Meacham’s Roses and Tumbleweeds — Both still sitting on my nightstand; now she has Somerset coming out next year — I may never catch up!

Big disappointment

Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father — Read this for my book club; author kills interesting and compelling topic and totally misses the mark.

Jean Marie Brown

Books I loved

David Halberstam’s The Fifties — The historian’s look at a decade that makes many Americans wistful for a simpler time reveals the complexities of those times and how they helped shape the future.

Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America — First published in the 1960s, was reprinted this past spring. Boorstin’s take on the influence of celebrity and media on America culture is unmatched 50 years later.

Best discovery

Robyn Carr — Her “Virgin River” series is being re-released, and The Chance, the latest in her “Thunder Point” series, is due out in March.

John Henry

Books I loved

A. Scott Berg’s Wilson — This is candy to history junkies, who are treated to a new portrait of the 28th president and the shadow he continues to cast on American life 100 years later.

Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed — This novelist returns to the market with another page turner about life in his Afghan homeland, revolving around a brother and sister separated at birth. Tugs at the best of human emotion.

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing Jesus — Couldn’t put down this attempt to understand the historical Jesus, and his life and times through the prism of authors who have made killings of significant historical figures a genre unto itself. This hits the mark.

David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls — Humorist strikes again with a politically incorrect and irreverent journal of one man’s walk of life.

John Ferling’s Jefferson and Hamilton — Leading professor of the American Revolution re-examines the dynamics of the personal and professional relationship of two of the most influential Founding Fathers.

Thom Hatch’s Glorious Wars: The Civil War Adventures of George Armstrong Custer — Fun, easy-to-read narrative that challenges the established history of one of America’s most notorious Army generals by examining his Civil War glory.

Wish I’d read

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit — Definitely taking on the newest prize from one of the most prodigious historians of the age.

Mark Ribowsky’s The Last Cowboy — This popular biographical tale of Tom Landry is on the New Year’s resolution list.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s Out of Order — Perspectives from the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court no doubt offer lessons no matter your gender.

Resa Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth — Jesus portrayed as a rabble-rousing revolutionary rebelling against the exploitation of the temple and people by the Jewish upper class and the Romans is intriguing.

Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock — Author of Silver Linings Playbook looks as if he’s made up for giving us one of the highest-grossing films of the year.

Looking forward to

Robert Gates’ Secretary at War — Inside the mind of the secretary of defense during one of the most tumultuous eras of the military in the past 50 years.

Jonathan Davis’ Bonnie & Clyde & Marie — Clyde Barrow’s sister gives her firsthand account of her brother and feeds this true-crime guilty pleasure.

Tom Clancy’s Command Authority — The last work of this master storyteller of espionage and military science thrillers, which was actually released in the last month of 2013, will bring in the new year.

David Martindale

Books I loved

Daniel Silva’s The English Girl — He’s the best espionage fiction writer working today — and his satisfyingly sneaky twist midway through made this Gabriel Allon tale a masterpiece.

Philip Kerr’s A Man Without Breath — When Bernie Gunther, WWII-era Berlin cop, is summoned by Goebbels to investigate a mass grave site for Nazi propaganda purposes, our hero cuts through the hypocrisy.

Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt — The fifth “Lincoln Lawyer” novel chronicles defense attorney Mickey Haller’s most compelling courtroom case yet.

Guilty pleasure

Mira Grant’s Parasite — A creepy medical-horror thriller in which everyone has genetically engineered tapeworms inside them — and the worms have started to impose their will on their human hosts.

Wish I’d read

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep I’ve got a stack of books in my office that I’m dying to read but might never get around to — and this one has been on top of the pile for months.

Big disappointment

Dan Brown’s Inferno — Not saying the latest Robert Langdon treasure hunt was a bad story, but it pales in comparison to Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code).

Looking forward to

Andy Weir’s The Martian — Debut novel, billed as a “man-vs.-nature survival thriller,” set on the planet Mars, where astronaut Mark Watney has been stranded — coming out Feb. 11.

Robert Philpot

Books I loved

Harold Bronson’s The Rhino Records Story — Written by the Rhino co-founder, it deftly balances music geekery, designed-for-the-layman business writing and miniature biographies of such underappreciated bands as the Turtles and the Knack (the story behind My Sharona alone is worth the price of admission).

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave is an oral history told by original VJs Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn, with some excerpts from old interviews with J.J. Jackson, who died in 2004. Although it’s the second MTV oral history in the past few years, this one is more VJ-focused, with tales about partying with rock stars, MTV’s very low-budget first year, and the grittiness of New York City in the early ’80s

Jennifer Keishin’s Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted — The former Entertainment Weekly writer’s history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a breezy read that makes a case for how groundbreaking the amiable comedy was and how it influenced modern TV writers such as Tina Fey.

Wish I’d read

Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In — I’ve got a couple of bookcases (and some closet shelves) full of “wish I’d read” books, but the one I most wish I’d gotten to by now is Tune In, the first volume of Lewisohn’s ambitious, exhaustive three-volume history of the Beatles.

Big disappointment

Brian Stelter’s Top of the Morning — Stelter does an excellent job covering media for The New York Times, but his book about the morning-show wars was both overwritten and thin, as if he knew he had to use hyperbolic language to try to add weight to an ultimately trivial ratings battle between the Today show and Good Morning America — giving lip service to CBS This Morning and all but ignoring morning cable shows.

Celeste Williams

Books I loved

Dave Barry’s Insane City — His first solo adult novel in a decade features a Bridezilla, a Groom Posse, Russian gangsters, high-speed chases, gunfire and general mayhem in Miami.

Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey — Careens from Key West to Miami to the Bahamas and back and is filled with twists, turns, bamboozles and, yes, a very bad monkey. Nobody does chaos — or summer reads — like Mr. Hiaasen.

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep Danny Torrance is all grown up and is forced to use his gift of “the shining” to battle the evil True Knot, led by a great villain, Rosie the Hat. Chilling.

Wish I’d read

Philipp Meyer’s The Son — Meyer’s nearly 600-page novel has landed on many “best of” lists for 2013, and it’s at the top of my long list of still-must-read books. And here’s why: It’s a multigenerational saga about the McCulloughs, a larger-than-life Texas family.

Daniel Silva’s The English Girl — I’ve been meaning to give Silva a try for a while. Why? I like spies and I like elegant writing.

Guilty pleasures

Jack Handey’s The Stench of Honolulu — The Deep Thoughts author gave me an afternoon — it’s only 240 pages with very large type — of laughter in this quirky tale that turns paradise on its head.

Dan Brown’s Inferno — Don’t know much about Dante, but I still enjoyed memory-challenged Robert Langdon’s race to crack a high-stakes code.

Looking forward to

Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice — A sequel to Fool — enough said.

Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors — The third installment of “The Passage” trilogy comes out sometime in 2014 — fully expecting apocalypse wow.

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