Best New Books in 2013: Travis H’s Picks

I’m the manager of the Zebulon Community Library and have a long tenure with the library system. I majored in English and have had my fill of “good books.” Since then, I have read mostly nonfiction, along with techno thrillers, South Florida based detective novels, and things I find funny.  Here are my selections for Best New Books of 2013:

Who Discovered America? The Untold History of the Peopling of the Americas by Gavin Menzies
True or not, Who Discovered America brings together a boatload of historical anomalies and explains them all with the help of the Chinese. DNA, Marco Polo, Melungeons, pyramids, Mayans, Egyptians, Minoans…it is all here in the book, and were they all here in the past?  I did not know that the Chinese were all over eastern North Carolina at one point.  Menzies thinks so. Alternative histories can be good fiction. Revisionist history can really disrupt things.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
I made the mistake of trying to read this book during my lunch hour. The book is pretty gross and hard to put down. Starting with the senses of smell and taste, Roach takes us on a journey down the throat and all the way through. Along the way, she illustrates the journey with hilarious digressions about morbid things. Finally, the truth comes out about why, and how, Elvis died in his bathroom.

New Earth by Ben Bova
Ben Bova writes “hard science” fiction, wherein scientific accuracy is more important than character and often even plot. I read this type of science fiction to get a glimpse of the future.  In New Earth, old Earth is dying from climate change. The discovery of an Earthlike planet prompts an expedition. The crew awakes close to their destination after being in suspension for eighty years. They learn that their efforts have been abandoned by those back on Earth.   It is no surprise that New Earth’s inhabitants are Earth-like humanoids. This, along with the fact that New Earth is so much like old Earth, the crew begins to become suspicious of just how this might be, especially when the find the inhabitants of this new world less than forthcoming.

The Last Outlaws: the Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by Thom Hatch
Who can’t think of George Roy Hill’s incredible movie pairing Newman and Redford whenever Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are mentioned? When I came across Hatch’s The Last Outlaws I decided to view the movie once more and then read the book, hopefully to put these criminals into perspective. Most interesting to me was reading about how the progression of America’s west into the modern age, along with “coordinated law enforcement efforts,” which motivated the two to leave America for South America. Also interesting was the history of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

Dark City: A Repairman Jack Novel by F. Paul Wilson
2013’s Repairman Jack novel is the second volume of a trilogy that is a prequel to Wilson’s completed Secret History of the World. Jack gets out of the cigarette smuggling business, and uses his profits to help various characters. He reflects on the murder he committed. He makes secure his residency in the New York City of the early 1990’s.

The Repairman Jack character captivated me as Wilson started to pump out these novels. Down to earth, gritty and likable, Jack is the perfect protagonist. Subtly however, Wilson started to mix in supernatural elements into the tales. Normally this would put me off but Jack pulls it off and once a year, for 16 years or so, he reappeared in yet another book, until Wilson was able to bring the story arc to a close.  Fans were aghast, lost without the prospect of another Repairman Jack novel. After millions of words though, Wilson gives us the Early Years Trilogy, of which Dark City is the second. These books show us how Jack became Jack. Read the novels in order; Cold City is the first in this series.


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