Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Dan B’s Picks

As the saying goes, “so many books, so little time” – and that is why I’ll never run out of great things to read. My picks for the best new-to-me books that I discovered this year include a classic, a kids book, an Urban Fantasy novel, and two very different science fiction novels. Three of my picks were published just last year, and I’m sure there’s a few books that came out this year that I won’t get to until further down the road, ensuring my continued reading pleasure for years to come.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
I am so glad that I finally read this classic novel, which was published almost 50 years ago. It’s the story of Charlie, a mentally deficient man who is given an experimental drug to make him smart. Charlie turns into a genius very quickly, but has not developed the social skills he needs, and encounters awkward situations. The experiment was also conducted on mice, and one mouse, Algernon, is showing signs of regressing and losing his intelligence. This emotional story is made even more powerful because it is written in diary form by Charlie, and his writing and language skills tell the story as much as the events do.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
This touching kids novel is one of those books that everyone – adults included – should read. Auggie Pullman has always been homeschooled, but is about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep and he’s understandably nervous. He has a severe facial deformity and kids can be cruel, especially in middle school. Auggie says to us, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” A few kids help Auggie out as gets used to his new school, but its soon evident that most kids are uncomfortable around him, and several are downright mean. In turns funny and sad (yes, I cried), I highly recommend this poignant book!

The Taken by Vicki Pettersson
“Grif” Shaw is a Centurion, an angel who helps souls cross into the Everlast, especially those who died violently – just as he did fifty years ago. One day he comes to collect a soul and inadvertently puts another life in jeopardy. Now Grif must interfere with mortal events and help “Kit” Craig, a newspaper reporter who lives the rockabilly lifestyle. Together Grif and Kit track down who is kidnapping young women and forcing them into prostitution, and it looks like the culprits may be some of Las Vegas’ most powerful movers and shakers. Pettersson gives us a fresh, fun take on a noir mystery blended with urban fantasy and a love story.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Pratchett and Baxter have come up with an intriguing sci-fi concept: what if people were able to “step” across to innumerable, parallel Earths on which humans never developed? Now we have infinite room for humankind to spread out, to explore, and to begin again. Iron can not be stepped, so each new world has pre-industrial technology once humans settle. Some people can “step” naturally, many more can with a small machine, but some can not step at all. A great story with very real characters and truly infinite possibilities; be warned, though that it ends on a cliff-hanger and you’ll need to continue with the sequel, The Long War.

No Going Back by Mark Van Name
I don’t usually review later books in a series, and you really should start with One Jump Ahead, but this fifth novel in Van Name’s Jon & Lobo series is his best yet. Jon is a mercenary and the only survivor of an experiment infusing humans with nano-technology. His partner Lobo is an A.I. enhanced warrior class vehicle suited for space, land, or water. When a mysterious woman from Jon’s past contacts him with a job stealing from his quarantined home world, he accepts, but after this mission there truly is no going back. Jon’s secret is revealed and we learn much more about how he came to be who and what he is.

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