My favorite books of 2013

2013 was a year where I spent a lot of time on a plane, with the resulting extra time to read a lot of books. I also built the first version of my experiments with blog-driven book recommendations, which generated a lot of recommendations for things to read.

This year I re-read a lot of old favorites, or works by authors I love that I’d not gotten around to. With The Hobbit Part II coming out, of course I had to re-read The Hobbit (with all 3 volumes of the Lord of the Rings thrown in for good measure). Following on the fantasy theme, I particularly enjoyed Betsy Tobin’s Ice Land, a creative re-telling of the Norse myths, in a parallel storyline to a more historical storyline of medieval Iceland. Great characters, and reasonably faithful to the old norse myths. Heart of the Ronin is a fun samurai fairy tale for adults – if you liked Across the Nightingale Floor, you’ll love Heart of the Ronin. Wrapping up the “medieval” (ok Tudor in this case) stuff, one couldn’t really get away from Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, it was in every airport, in every bit of news about books and so on. I enjoyed it, although I admit I struggled to get through the ending parts. Nevertheless her inside-out portrayal of Thomas Cromwell as “the good guy” was quite enjoyable.

In a more modern fantasy vein, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore will delight book lovers and geeks both – it combines one of the most interesting bookstores in fiction together with a girl-geek who wields the cloud-computing power of Google to solve a bookish mystery.

I did quite a bit of spy-reading this year. In addition to re-doing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy yet again, I read for the first time Le Carre’s Our Game, and I think it’s one of his most under-rated novels. In a more recent vintage, I received a copy of The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons as part of Librarything’s Early Reviewers program, and devoured it. Dan Simmons is a fine writer, who seems to tackle few things more than once. Fantasy, Horror, Spy Novels, historical fiction, crime drama…In this case Simmons isn’t channeling the supernatural, just the world of 1940s Cuba and J Edgar Hoover – and yes Nazis and Marlene Dietrich too. Oh, and Ernest Hemingway. Did you know that Hemingway was a spy? Me neither. The Crook Factory will tell you all about it. (separately, Simmon’s book Darwin’s Blade is another really fun book, worth the read). I was also introduced to the pleasures of Mick Herron’s group of loser-spys in Slow Horses, and Dead Lions. Delightfully droll.

Finally, I love reading books about the “real” Hawaii, not the picture-perfect beaches you read about in travel magazines. When The Shark Bites gives a true look into native Hawaiians and some of the history around the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

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