Recommended Reading

Is it a crime if a boy doesn’t read the Hardy Boys?

Running a book club, always carrying a book, generally being known as a book nerd that can quote the dewey decimal system, I get asked what I’m reading and if I could recommend a book for so and so, or I just finished Book A, could you recommend something. It happens at least a couple times a month. And a lot around the holidays. Figured maybe it was time to write something up so I, while I still love talking books, I could point folks here for later reference. I’ll update, add, re-arrange frequently, so check back once in awhile.

This is the genre I read the most (and the one I write the most) and while I could go on about the genre label or even break this down into microcategories, I feel like the crime novels are where some of the best social commentary and best writing is happening today.
Mystic River
Dennis Lehane

There was a reason it was his breakout book. An all out Greek tragedy set in modern Boston. It's bleak and uncompromising, but don't let that scare you off. Others rec's: Kenzie/Gennaro series, Shutter Island
The Turnaround
George Pelecanos

Pelecanos writes about the decidedly non-tourist side of D.C. and typically takes on social issues and features fathers and sons and generally asks what it means to be a man in modern America. The Turnaround is one of his later novels. Other rec's: The Strange/Quinn trilogy, The Night Gardener
The Poet
Michael Connelly

Connelly is best known for his Harry Bosch detective series. The best way to read those is really to start at the beginning with The Black Echo. He has other smaller series and standalones if you don't want to jump in Bosch. The Poet, Void Moon and Blood Work are all worth trying.
LA Requiem
Robert Crais

Like a lot of bestselling genre author, Crais has both an ongoing series featuring PI Elvis Cole and his sidekick Pike, and standalones. Standouts include LA Requiem, The Last Detective and The Watchman. Standalone rec's: Demolition Angel or Hostage.
Killing Floor
Lee Child

Child writes the Jack Reacher series, each book is, mostly, a self-contained thriller featuring Reacher as knight errant walking into something and not stopping till he's put it right. The writing and plots are more intelligent than that description.
The Wheelman
Duane Swierczynski

Hard boiled, fast paced Philly bank robbery caper novel with a mute 'hero.'
James Sallis

Tight neo-noir about a stunt driver who moonlights as a get away driver. When the heist goes bad (as it must) the plot twists start flying.
Caught Stealing
Charlie Houston

The Hank Thompson trilogy is the inspiration/blue print for my own trilogy and features some fresh angles on the normal guy walks into trouble and can't get out situation. Also recommended: The Shotgun Rule and Mystic Arts
The Winter of Frankie Machine
Don Winslow

A retired hitman tries to live the quiet life in San Diego. He should probably know better. A familiar setup, but just well executed. Elmore Leonard-eque tale that was once supposed to star DeNiro.
The Hunter
Richard Stark

Do I need to pick one? Any Parker book is great. I will not be swayed on this one. I only regret Westlake died too soon. I really wanted to know what end he had in store. Maybe this was it. Parker always out there, always looking for another phone booth. Happy Chicago Press is re-releasing them. Slowly collecting them up. No better crime writer's manual.
Prince of Thieves
Chuck Hogan

My favorite crime book to feature Boston will now forever be known as the source for the Affleck move The Town. I'm just glad I liked the movie. Really more of a love story disguised as a crime story, it has some great set pieces and some great "tips" on armed robbery.
Random Fiction
Sea of Poppies
Amitav Ghosh

I'm not going to lie, this isn't an easy book. You need to work for the first 100 pages or so, but wow, what a pay off. Don't try to decipher all the Hindi, let it be a spice for the sprawling narrative.
The Stolen Child
Keith Donohue

I read a lot of books and one measuring stick of how good it is is how much I remember. This melancholy book has been described as a bedtime story for adults, which I guess is a way of dressing up the term fantasy, has stuck with me for years.
The Thirteenth Tale
Diane Setterfield

If Stolen Child was an adult bedtime story, this is an adult ghost story of a woman getting sucked into an old house, lies, half-truths and old family history.
Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

I think the movie may have ruined some of the surprise in this book, but it's well worth reading for the gorgeous and emotional prose about the special students of Hailsham.
Random Non-Fiction
Devil in the White City
Erik Larsson

This is the book that I give to people that say they don't like reading fiction. It's almost too wild to be true and practically begs for a screenplay. You might learn a little about the Chicago and the World's Fair to boot.
A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson

This is the book that turned me on to Bryson. Educational, conversational, anecodtal. Just a man (and his sometimes bumbling companion) rambling the Appalachian Trail.
$64 Dollar Tomato
William Alexander

Some people have a hard time with the possum chapter (it's a bit graphic), but the rest of the book is a delight and as a gardener I can relate to the author's obsession and ongoing love/hate relationship with his garden.
YA Fiction
Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Who hasn't heard of the Hunger Games by this point. I still remember pulling it out in the Philly airport during a long delay and having that wonderful feeling of just time flying by and totally going down the rabbit hole.
Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card

I still re-read this every couple years. This first one leans more towards plot than the other two in the initial trilogy. Ender Wiggin learns the ropes, then leads his team through Battle School.
The Book Thief
Marcus Zusak

Only YA in the most nominal sense, this heart rending book has Death as it's narrator and follows an orphan girl and her foster family in Germany during WWII.
The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman

Using the Jungle Book as inspiration, Gaiman tells the charming (and sometimes scary) story of a cemetary raising an orphan boy.
How to Cook Everything or Kitchen Express
Mark Bittman

Just simple recipes and simple explanations from the former Minimalist writer.
Artisan Bread in Five
Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

Bittman and Jim Lahey might have kick started the no-knead bread fad, but this book takes it to the next level with buckets of dough and bread when you feel like it. So the taste might not match up with more patient recipes, but not having to wait or plan and have fresh bread on a weeknight if a fair trade off.
The Ultimate Ice Cream Book
Bruce Weinstein

When we received an ice cream maker for our wedding, I went a bit nuts. I tried a lot of books and recipes. This is the best one. Consistent results, creative and informative. You won't be disappointed.
Graphic Novels
Y: The Last Man
Brian Vaughan

A simple concept used to explore a variety of issues, besides being a darn good yarn. One the "comic books" for people who don't read comics. Also: Ex Machina
The Sandman
Neil Gaiman

Pretty much impossible to summarize this widely acclaimed comic. A mix of fantasy, myth and legends it's well worth exploring for it's pure uniqueness.

Ed Brubaker

Tough, gritty noir that uses the form to perfection

Header image via flickr by penreyes CC attribution