'Wherever I Wind' Up by R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey

Now that 37-year-old New York Met Robert Allen Dickey has won the 2012 Cy Young award as the National League's best pitcher, his inspiring life story makes better conversation fodder than ever. Dickey's improbable professional career began in 1996 as a phenom first round draft pick, fell apart when he was diagnosed with a freak anatomical anomaly that should prevent him pitching at all, limped along as he toiled for more than 10 years in the minors, and finally resurrected as he mastered the knuckleball, a pitch so enigmatic and unpredictable that he's currently the only major leaguer throwing it. His memoir bleeds authenticity, from his revelations about suffering sexual abuse to the rock bottom feelings of a minor league failure trying to support a family to almost drowning -- and re-affirming his Christian faith -- attempting to swim across the Missouri (a prelude to climbing Kilimanjaro for charity in the off season last year). If that doesn't make you a Dickey fan, you should know he named his bat Orchrist the Goblin Cleaver. -- David Katzmaier

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'Shades of Grey' by Jasper Fforde

This rather inconveniently named novel is a fabulous and funny first-in-a-series story about an inquisitive boy coming of age in a repressive, conformist society built around the Munsell color system, where status is determined by your ability to perceive color and your future determined by your performance on the Ishihara. Plus, carnivorous plants, roads that devour detritus, and darkness' death toll! One downer: the price is set by the publisher so it's pricey for an ebook. -- Lori Grunin

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'The Mongoliad (Book 1)' by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and Friends

"The Mongoliad" began as a series of iOS and Android apps (paid and free) that Stephenson called an experiment in "post-book story-telling," a collaborative story that originated as "a serial novel with a number of social media attachments." Now it's just a book, thank you very much. If you ponied up the subscription fee since the project began in 2010, you might feel a bit chagrined that the final, edited novel with a bunch of changes is now available as a "definitive edition," but everyone else will just appreciate being able to read it. Historical fiction heavy on accuracy, especially in the sword fights and martial arts as the protagonist mystics and European knights penetrate the Mongol empire, it won't satisfy Nealies expecting another "Anathem" or even "Quicksilver," but it's still pretty dang good. As a bonus, the sequel is already available and the final book will be released next February. -- David Katzmaier

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'We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance' by David Howarth

Jan Baalsrud is one of three partisans sent to infiltrate Nazi-occupied Norway in 1943. The mission goes sideways almost immediately, and what follows is a harrowing tale of survival behind enemy lines in the subzero Scandinavian hinterland. First published in 1955, this little-known gem will appeal to anyone who enjoyed such "truth is stranger than fiction" war stories as "Unbroken" or "Lost in Shangri-La." -- John P. Falcone

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'The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel' by Brandon Sanderson

Best known as the man who actually completed Robert Jordan's 11,000-page, 635 chapter, 4 million word "Wheel of Time" series by writing books 12 through 14, Sanderson's own world-building chops are just as impressive. The Mistborn novels take place in Scadrial, where the mechanism for magic is manipulated by "pushing" or "pulling" metal -- every hero or villain is a mini-Magneto. This fourth installment takes place 300 years after the conclusion of the first three, and modernity in the form of electricity, skyscrapers, and, yes, guns, makes the Allomancers and Ferromancers even more potent. Fans of high fantasy and adventure who can broaden their horizons to include a dash of actual (or at least psuedo-) science will find plenty to like here, and the prolific Sanderson has already announced the sequel. -- David Katzmaier

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'American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America' by Colin Woodward

This fascinating book tells you the story of America the way you've never heard it before. Especially riveting in light of the recent elections and continuing political fissures in American society, this compelling narrative explains where our country got its peculiar and varied personalities. As someone who was born in Southern California, has lived in New England, New York, San Francisco, and Idaho, I already knew that each place had its own way of being "American." "American Nations" breaks down why. By the time you're done with it, you'll have a better understanding of the founding of our nation -- and if you're like me, you'll have a lot more respect for the Dutch, too. -- Emily Dreyfuss

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'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

If you had told me a few years ago that there would be a book that blended a dystopian future, 1980s pop culture, and video games into a briskly paced and engaging adventure, I would've asked you what you were smoking. In fact, that's exactly what I said to my brother when he told me about this book he thought I would totally dig. And for the first time in the 30+ years I've known him, he was right. Ernest Cline took all those elements -- and more -- and made it work. -- Jeff Sparkman

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'You're Not Doing It Right' by Michael Ian Black

Known best for his roles on the cult-classic MTV sketch comedy show "The State" and films like "Wet Hot American Summer," this second book by Michael Ian Black is a memoir wherein the comedian reflects on life's uncertainties and confusions. Black's sense of humor, sometimes misunderstood, is self-deconstructed in the book -- subtitled "Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations" -- where he tells-all in shockingly honest fashion. Anyone who's a fan of his work or simply just knows him as "that Travelocity guy" should give this quick read a shot. (Disclosure: "You're Not Doing It Right" is published by Simon & Schuster, which like CNET is owned by CBS.) -- Jeff Bakalar

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'The Score' by Richard Stark

Over the course of his prolific career, Donald Westlake wrote dozens of crime novels. Among his most memorable were those of the Parker series, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark. The books were written and published over nearly a half a century -- 1962 through 2008 -- but the protagonist is just as enigmatic, laconic, and downright ruthless throughout. Parker emerges as a completely amoral criminal, ready to do anything -- and kill anyone -- who stands in the way of a good heist. The books are undeniably formulaic, but the early ones are so short and the prose is so perfectly paired down, they can often be read in just a couple of sittings. "The Score" is the fifth book in the series, in which Parker and his cronies up the ante and attempt to rob an entire Midwestern town in one night. If you find "The Score" to your liking, there are two dozen more books in the series (plus a spinoff series featuring Parker cohort Alan Grofield) -- enough hard-boiled crime to keep you reading all year. -- John P. Falcone

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'This Is How You Lose Her' by Junot Diaz

I'll admit I am completely biased when it comes to Junot Diaz -- he is my favorite living American writer. If you haven't read "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," stop what you're doing and read that first. His latest novel is similarly about a first-generation Dominican American growing up in New Jersey. And though this book is equally gut-wrenching, it's a lot more accessible (less Spanish smattered throughout, for instance, and no footnotes). It is thematically concerned with every single thing that's painful about love, but it's also a coming of age story. Diaz writes of longing and passion, regret and agony in a way that's frankly hilarious, dark, and absolutely brilliant. -- Emily Dreyfuss

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