Top Ten Books of 2013: Leesa Cross-Smith

Top Ten Books of 2013: Leesa Cross-Smith

2013 is quickly coming to a close, which means “top ten” lists abound. I’ve asked a number of writers to come up with their top ten books of 2013–pretty straightforward, I suppose. The books themselves may or may not have been published in 2013–when the books were published was irrelevant to me; books–as you probably know–have a strange way of showing up in a person’s life at the right time, no matter the publication date.

Today, we start our brief series (and the reboot of our Specter Blog) with Leesa Cross-Smith, whose debut short story collection, Every Kiss a War, will be published early 2014 by Mojave River Press. She and her husband run a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Find more @


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Time travel! Romance! Historical fiction! This book is enthralling and such a lovely escape. Plus, Gabaldon has a hundred-million different ways of describing Jamie’s red hair and it’s so lovely. This is the first book in the series and I stayed up many a night reading and reading because I couldn’t stop.

Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

Dang, Mary Gaitskill. This collection is easily one of the best short story collections I’ve read and I loved every one of the stories, which rarely happens to me. “Daisy’s Valentine,” “Trying To Be,” “Secretary” and “Heaven” are my favorites.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I love YA fiction and this one was listed as the #1 YA book of the year over at Goodreads. It’s romantic and sweet and sad. Lines like “The front seat was almost as big as Eleanor’s bed and the backseat was an Erica Jong novel just waiting to happen” melt the worlds of young adult/adult and as a thirty-five year old woman I enjoyed it from both sides—as a grown-up and as the teenage girl me who forever lives inside my heart.

Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

I love reading/watching documentaries on military history. This is basically a minute to minute revisiting of what happened in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 3-4, 1993.

Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise by Justin Lawrence Daugherty

I really dig Justin’s writing. I wrote this in my Goodreads review which says it all: Justin’s writing is dusty, smoky, aching. He writes simple things beautifully. In “Rebuilding, Construction” he writes “‘Going to dig up daddy,” she said as though it was a thing as normal as biting into a peach.” He writes “This guy pulled at the back of Neely’s neck and brought her close, tipping her head forward like a jug of wine, ready for a drink…” Later in another story he writes “A woman will do anything to protect all her love, she will tear down the world if that’s what it takes.” And in the title story he writes “…how we try to kill ourselves over and over but what we really want is the rushing heartbeat of near-death, the pumping, the blood.” Yes, Justin’s writing tries to rip your heart out and stomp on it but if you can wait it out, you can watch him attempt to blow it off, clean it up and put it back so he can start it all over again. These ten little stories warn that dark-dustiness and sticky blood may cover us sometimes, but there are deep, cleansing waters ahead to hope for and Justin (is a true talent who) knows how to keep us swimming for them.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

This book is crazy. It’s just completely nuts. Plot-wise it’s one of the most shocking, appalling books I’ve ever read. It’s also incredibly well-written. I will tell you I couldn’t put the danged thing down. At one point I screamed and threw it across the room, only to get up and put it back in my lap and pet the weird fuzzy cover. The last lines of this book are gut-wrenching but as a whole, the entire thing is totally worth the read if only for the excitement of being all like whuuuuuu ?!? after pretty much every line.

Savages by Don Winslow

I love the fast pace and casualness of this book. Winslow has such a gift of humor, slang and snappy dialogue. Every scene felt like something I’d see in a movie, colors all sped up and gorgeous fast-talking people doing wild things. I devoured this book.

Easy by Tammara Webber

Another YA pick. Romantic and sweet and well-written. I really don’t need much more when it comes to YA fiction, but this is a standout. It’s everything I look for in a YA novel–it’s cozy and compelling and the writing gets out the way so the reader can disappear inside.

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke

I love Jesus and I love reading chill Christian books/books about Jesus. This one is written by spoken word/YouTube phenom Jefferson Bethke and it feels like sitting across from him, having coffee, swapping stories. Bethke is as anti-legalism as I am, so I will get along with his future books just fine, especially because I know they’ll be filled with the same amounts of love and light found in this one.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

The strangest and most beautiful book I read this year, by far. Saying Bluets is a love letter to the color blue doesn’t do it justice, but it’s a start. Bluets is a book, a poem, a list, a textbook, everything. It knocked my socks off in a lot of different ways. It is gorgeous, resplendent and weird and such a little treat. I feel like the book itself should have a hazy blue-glow to it, actually light up a little bit on a bookshelf—that’s how special it is/feels.