In 2013, more than 400 e-book singles were published. So what were the best of the bunch that hit digital retail shelves over the past 12 months?
Here's Thin Reads' take on how the year shaped from a critical point-of-view. We've broken down this list into two categories: fiction and nonfiction. Our criteria were simple. To be eligible to be considered for this list, all e-book singles had to be:
• Published sometime during calendar 2013.
• Published for the first time in 2013. This eliminated outstanding candidates for the list like John Grisham's Fetching Raymond and Robert Caro's Dallas: November 22, 1963.
• An approximate length no shorter than 20 pages and no longer than 100 pages.
FICTION (ranked in order)
#1. This Would Drive Him Crazy: A Phony Oral History of J.D. Salinger, by Tom Ruprecht (Tom Ruprecht's Publishing Empire). Easily the funniest e-book single of the year. Phony Oral History skewers J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye who achieved perhaps even greater fame as a world-class recluse. Ruprecht, an Emmy-award-nominated writer for Late Night with David Letterman, concocts fake interviews with the likes of Paul McCartney, Steven Spielberg and other celebrities he imagines had dealings with Salinger. The result is smart, sassy and utterly memorable. (Pub date: August 26. Pages: 76)
#2. The Wanderer in Unknown Realms, by John Connolly (Atria/Emily Bestler Books). This meaty tale of terror reads like a blend of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. A World War I combat veteran returns to London where he is hired to find a wealthy loner who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. During an unsettling night at the man's spooky mansion, the veteran encounters several strange monsters and he is soon on the trail of a rare volume of the occult that apparently has a mind of its own and designs on taking over the world. The writing in this inventive story bristles with originality.
(Pub date: June 25. Pages: 96)
#3. Ajax Penumbra, by Robin Sloan (Farrar Straus and Giroux). As a standalone, Ajax Penumbra 1969 is a terrific gothic Kindle Single, set against the backdrop of San Francisco in 1969. Ajax Penumbra is a Junior Acquisitions Officer for the Occult Library at Galvanic University in search of a particularly notable work that may or may not be located underneath San Francisco. (Pub date: September 24. Pages: 61)
#4. High Heat, by Lee Child (Delacorte Press). In this prequel of sorts to the author's popular Jack Reacher novels, our hero is a mere teenager of 17 when finds himself in New York City during the summer of 1977 (aka "The Summer of Sam," when serial killer prowled the mean streets). Oh, and it's also the night of the famous blackout. Child scores big points with this imaginative set-up. And he kicks it up several notches as Reacher encounters a female undercover agent, an attractive older woman (she's in college) and assorted bad guys. This ain't literature, but it's damn fine entertainment. (Pub date: August 6. Pages: 73)
#5. False Economies, by Gordon Haber (Amazon Digital Services). This expertly crafted story centers on 24-year-old David Bergmann, a lovable loser of an American ex-pat adrift in London during the early Thatcher years. He's marginally employed, lives in squalor, lacks any long-term ambition, and naturally falls for a slighter older woman with a young child. Anyone who's had a few lost years will relate quickly to Bergmann's plight. It's easy to root for Bergmann to succeed. It's easier to see why he fails. (Pub date: April 29.)
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order)
Other commendable works of fiction e-book singles that just missed being in the top 10 but deserve recognition for outstanding achievement.
#Berlin45, by Philip Gibson; Busted, by Karin Slaughter; The Handle and the Hold, by David Mamet; Fox 8, by George Saunders; Nada, by Mike Heppner; Phoenix, by Chuck Palahniuk; Wilderness, by Dean Koontz.
#1. The Secret Agent: In Search of America's Greatest World War II Spy, by Stephan Talty (Amazon Digital Services). A dazzling work of narrative nonfiction about Eric Erickson, an American oilman based in Sweden, who provides critical information about Nazi oil refineries to the Allies. After conducting some lucrative business deals with the Nazis, he pivots dramatically, becomes an American spy and falls into an illicit love affair with an international beauty. Not only is this story a superior spy thriller, but also it has a strong, underlying theme - the quest for oil to keep a great industrial power humming. That message still resonates today. (Pub date: August 20, 66 pages.)
#2. Attempted Hippie, by David Noonan. In 1972, David Noonan made the seemingly rash decision to drop out of Syracuse University where he had good friends and a respected position as an editor on the school newspaper. He worked for a while in a New Jersey gas station before hitchhiking across the country with just $100 to connect with his elusive Kerouac-esque brother John, a natural born hippie. Noonan, a former senior editor at Newsweek, has written a hilarious, touching and perceptive account about the tail end of the 60s and his attempt to become a full-fledged hippie. He may have failed at that effort, but he has succeeded brilliantly as a writer and a sharp observer of life on the road at the frayed edges of society. (Pub date: December 17. Pages 50)
#3. Coronado High, by Joshuah Bearman (Atavist). Another strong nonfiction story set in the late 60s/early 70s. In the tiny beach town of Coronado, Calif., literally a swim away from the Mexican border, a group of hippie surfer buddies from Coronado High School and their disillusioned former Spanish teacher and swimming coach formed a pot-smuggling operation. Quicker than we can say Cheech and Chong, a fairly sophisticated Mexico-to-California pot smuggling operation blossomed to life. The group got more sophisticated. They got greedy. And then they got caught. Author Joshuah Bearman, who wrote the Wired magazine article that was the basis for the film Argo, does a masterful job pulling the reader into the story and keeping the narrative moving at a quick pace. No wonder why George Clooney is has been reported to be interested in producing the story as a film. (Pub date: July 10. Pages: 75)
#4. The Devil of Williamsburg, by Allison Yarrow (Amazon Digital Services). The chilling story of Nechemya Weberman, a revered and respected counselor of the Satmar Hasidim sect of Williamsburg, NY. He is also a sexual predator, the "devil" in this riveting story. Yarrow's first-rate reporting elevates the tale, and it's especially noteworthy because she covered a highly sealed religious community. It's also a first-rate, page-turning exploration of true evil and the circumstances that allow it to flourish. (Pub date: August 6. Pages: 47)
#5. Finding Shakespeare, by Daniel Fromson. (Atavist). How was English spoken during the Shakespearean era? That's spine of this spellbinding story, which blends literary scholarship with dogged reporting. The surprise of Finding Shakespeare is learning that the spoken English of the 15th century was much more contemporary and accessible that the stilted oratory we've come to associate with typical Shakespearean productions. (Pub date: August 26. Pages: 59)
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order)
Other commendable works of nonfiction e-book singles that just missed being in the top 10 but deserve recognition for outstanding achievement.
The Dead Girl in the Bathtub, by Lisa DePaulo; Firestorm: Surviving the Tasmanian Brushfire, by Jon Henley; Got That Something: How the Beatles 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' Changed Everything, by Allan Kozinn; Gosnell's Babies: Inside the Mind of America's Most Notorious Abortion Doctor, by Steve Volk; Guns, by Stephen King; The Kennedy Baby, by Steven Levingston; Murder in the Yoga Store, by Peter Ross Range; Stray Bullet, by Gary Rivlin; and Three Days in Gettysburg, by Brian Mockenhaupt.
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