Daybreak's Best of 2013: Books

AMY FALLS DOWN by JINCY WILLETT

Amy Gallup, a reclusive writer who has stopped writing, takes a literal tumble on New Year's Day and finds herself spouting aphorisms in a newspaper interview that she quickly forgets. Soon, she's a celebrity, and she has to reckon with the real world - and start writing again. With acerbic wit, Willett nails what it means to be a writer in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

- Betty J. Cotter

AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED by KHALED HOSSEINI

A peasant farmer in Afghanistan gives away his daughter so she will have a better life, a decision that echoes down the generations.

- Betty J. Cotter

THE APEX PREDATOR by MICHAEL KORYTA

One of the side benefits to the ebook movement is while you wait for a favorite author to come out with a new novel, you can buy a short story for a buck or two.

That's what I did recently with Koryta, whose "The Prophet" is a must read. In this short - about 29 pages if it were in print - Koryta brings backs two characters, PI Lincoln Perry and Thor, from earlier books, but gives the lead role to the Russian thug. As with the excellent "The Ridge," big cats play a big role.

It was just good enough to satisfy me until Koryta's newest is released in 2014.

- Tim Cotter

BAD MONKEY by CARL HIAASEN

After Florida sheriff Andrew Yancey beats his girlfriend's husband - in spectacular fashion and for all the right reasons - he gets demoted to restaurant health inspector. However, if he can prove that the severed arm he's storing in his freezer is part of a murder, rather than a boat accident or shark attack, maybe he can get back to his old job. It's a typically brilliant set-up for the hilarious Hiaasen and, in his funniest book in years, he rocks the concept beautifully. But nothing's easy for Yancey, and so he must deal with a demonic monkey, a voodooienne, a coroner/hottie, a murderously clever health care scam - and a massive hurricane.

- Rick Koster

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by DANIEL JAMES BROWN

Brown expertly weaves together three different strands, making each as interesting as the next. One is about the scrappy underdog crew team that strived to race in the 1936 Olympics. A second is about one of those rowers, Joe Rantz, trying to overcome a hard-luck childhood. And the third is about the history of the time, especially of the Great Depression here and the rise of the Third Reich in Germany.

- Kristina Dorsey

THE BROKEN PLACES by ACE ATKINS

Atkins continues one of the most amazing juggling acts in contemporary fiction. His "Broken Places" is the second in a series starring Quinn Colson, an ex-Army Ranger serving as a smalltown Mississippi sheriff. This time out, his troubled sister has fallen in love with a born-again evangelist who happens to be a pardoned murderer - and some of the reverend's former cell mates are looking for vengeance. This book alone would be a splendid year's work, but Atkins is also the hand-picked heir to Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. Published only a month apart from "The Broken Places," his sophomore Spencerian adventure, "Wonderland," has the Boston PI, with protege Zebulon Sixkill, helping out old friend Henry Cimoli. With a beautiful, in-the-pocket sense of rhythm and character development, Atkins spins mobsters, the gaming industry, a lovely femme fatale and local thugs into a tremendous additon to the Spenser legacy.

- Rick Koster

THE BURGESS BOYS by ELIZABETH STROUT

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Strout delivers another finely wrought tale in this novel of two Maine siblings still held captive by a tragedy in their past.

- Betty J. Cotter

THE BURN PALACE by STEPHEN DOBYNS

Westerly resident Stephen Dobyns has been better known for his poetry than his novels, but that likely changed with this mix of suspense and supernatural, with a good dose of humor.

"The Burn Palace" is set in the fictional Brewster, R.I., which Dobyns places near Westerly. Those familiar with the state's south shore will enjoy the real-life and make-believe places.

The book starts with a baby in the local hospital being taken and replaced with a snake, and Dobyns throws in a pack of coyotes, some Wiccans and a 10-year-old with an unusual gift to keep readers on edge. It's the job of Detective Woody Potter to figure out who took the infant and keep this small town from turning on itself.

- Tim Cotter

GONE GIRL by GILLIAN FLYNN

This was published in 2012, but I didn't get to it until this year. I wasn't alone, as "Gone Girl" spent much of the year on the best seller's list.

When Amy Dunne disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, husband Nick becomes the number one suspect. With alternating points of view - Amy talks to us from her diary - you won't know who or what to believe. I won't say any more. Just clear your calendar, and open up this psychological thriller.

- Tim Cotter

NEVER GO BACK by LEE CHILD

The Tom Cruise movie was enough to make you want to quit reading the Jack Reacher series. I get it. But you don't want to miss "Never Go Back." The premise is simple: Reacher goes halfway across the country to his old barracks to ask a woman out to dinner. But this is Reacher, so nothing is simple or easy. If you haven't read "61 Hours," start with that and then move onto this sequel. A couple of pages in, you'll forget all about Tom Cruise.

- Tim Cotter

THE GOLDFINCH by DONNA TARTT

In the first part of this sprawling novel, Tartt evokes New York City with such a rich, loving appreciation, you'll want to catch the next train down. She sets the main character, 13-year-old Theo Decker, in the middle of this lyrical world, as the son of a wonderful, loving mother. Then, she is killed in an explosion inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Theo is spun off on a series of relocations and upheavals - into a ridiculously wealthy New York City family's home, out to his deadbeat dad's Las Vegas netherworld. Just as in her bestselling "The Secret History," Tartt writes elegantly and creates characters of depth and heart.

- Kristina Dorsey

THE OBITUARY WRITER by ANN HOOD

Vivien, shattered by the disappearance of her lover in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, works out her grief by writing obituaries for other mourners. Meanwhile, Claire, a 1960s housewife unnerved when a neighbor boy vanishes, turns to another man and then finds herself pregnant. The two stories, equally compelling, eventually intersect.

- Betty J. Cotter

THE THIRD BULLET by STEPHEN HUNTER

Hunter's endearing series of Bob Lee Swagger novels - about a former sniper - hits an amazing crescendo in this astounding alternative scenario explaining the assassination of John F. Kennedy. While Stephen King's "11/22/63," published several months earlier than "The Third Bullet," proved it was possible to give some fresh life to the JFK murder, it was grounded in time-travel. Hunter's novel provides not just a tense and infectious plot line and a wonderful continuation of the Swagger character - by now an aging lion pulled from retirement by an astounding discovery - but Hunter's "solution" to the presidential killing is damned persuasive.

- Rick Koster

VISITATION STREET by IVY POCHODA

A mystery unfolds in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn: the teenaged June is dead after an innocent night out with her best friend, Val, who remains haunted by her friend's disappearance - an incident she can't really remember but feels acutely. With Val, readers piece together the details of that fateful night through a patchwork of narrative feedback from the novel's supporting characters - including June. "Visitation Street" rings with a clear voice that is edgy, touching and fluid; Pochoda achingly illustrates the struggles of young people living in a harsher world than some and captures the essence of a neighborhood that's barely holding itself together as time stumbles on.

- Marisa Nadolny

THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS by ANTON DISCLAFANI

For reasons not immediately revealed, Theodora Atwell, 15, is banished to a North Carolina riding camp/boarding school during the Great Depression. Her crystal-clear voice will stay with you long after the last sentence of this remarkable debut novel.

- Betty J. Cotter

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