Daybreak's highlights of the year: Books

Let's Pretend this Never Happened

Jenny Lawson

Many in the webiverse know Jenny Lawson as "The Bloggess," author of what is arguably one of the funniest blogs ever. She's a Texas gal with a wild imagination and a knack for storytelling, who combats depression by rendering the absurd into hilarious blog-fodder. From her I have learned the following: never volunteer to "examine" a cow at 4H Club; taxidermy is an art; and scorpions are disastrously common household pests in Texas. All of which is explained in "Let's Pretend This Never Happened," Lawson's "mostly true" memoir rendered in very, very, very funny prose. I made two other people - including my husband - read this book, and they concur that it's truly laugh-out-loud funny, so blame them too if you for some odd reason DON'T like this book. (Note: Language is not appropo for all audiences.)

-Marisa Nadolny

The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach

Before this book was even published a lot of readers were in divided camps. That's what happens when an author and a manuscript get the sort of huge advance and big hype that Harbach and "Fielding" got. It's a campus book about baseball but also about friendships and generations. As I wrote when it came out: "It's a bittersweet analysis of paradox and perception, contrasting college kids who can't wait to escape the bonds of Youth while those in late middle-age would give anything to go back and seize Time Lost." The hype, I think, was justified.

- Rick Koster

The Kings of Cool

Don Winslow

"Savages" was such an unusual book, with poetry, song lyrics and screenwriting mixed in with the narrative, that you had to wonder if Winslow could pull it off again. Well, yes, he can. In this prequel, Winslow shows us how Chon and Ben become pot dealers and best friends and how they hook up with O. And, in a finale that I didn't see coming, the parents of the trio are revealed. Winslow continues to nail the drug culture and the SoCal surf scene in a way that's fun and funny. "Savages" was the best book I read in 2010. "The Kings of Cool" makes the list two years later.

- Tim Cotter

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Ben Fountain

This book, events of which transpire during a Thanksgiving Day football game at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and through flashbacks, might be the most real and accurate novel to come out of the Iraq War era. It follows Bravo Squad and Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old grunt considered the main hero during the "Battle of the Al-Ansakar Canal," a viral video of which has catapulted the squad into national celebrity back home in the ol' US of A. The squad comes home for a nationwide, two-week "Victory Tour," with a crowning moment as featured guests at a Cowboys game.

But Lynn, a Texan, has reservations about the newfound fame and struggles with it, along with concepts of war, country and, like most 19-year-olds, the opposite sex. Fountain's second novel is an incredible look at war's effects on the young soldiers, including Lynn and the world-wise Sgt. Dime, and how it changes their outlook on life, love and liberty. A must-read from 2012.

- Sasha Goldstein

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes

Marcus Sakey

This was the year I discovered Sakey, and I can't imagine what took me so long. This book grabbed me from the opening page, where Daniel Hayes wakes up naked and cold on an abandoned beach with amnesia. He climbs into a nearby BMW, which seems like it must be his because he finds clothes that fit him. And then he, and us, are off on a wild ride, where Hayes searches for his identify, all the time wondering if he'll like what he finds. I can't even think of giving away any more, so you can fully enjoy the journey.

- Tim Cotter

Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor
of New Orleans

Ben Sandmel

No question that the late rhythm 'n' blues singer Ernie K-Doe was one of the most charmingly eccentric, larger-than-life personalities in a city where being larger-than-life and charmingly eccentric is a residency requirement. Sandmel, a fine musician (Hackberry Ramblers) and writer, eloquently and whimsically captures the essence of K-Doe - and does so in a fashion that captures the entire sorcery of life in New Orleans.

- Rick Koster

Spillover - Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

David Quammen

Nothing's more fun than a plague - at least the fake ones in movies or books. That Quammen's "Spillover" is nonfiction sort of puts a damper on the Goodtime Scare factor because this book will damned sure freak you out. Though brilliant enough to have a scholar's grasp of pandemics and zoonosis - animal infections transmitted to humans (like ebola, AIDS, monkeypox, anthrax and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, just to name a few) - Quammen writes so the layman can understand and even, occasionally, chuckle. Nervously. Massively researched and sourced, the book is quite long but irresistible as it explores not only the diseases we already know and fear, but what might be the NBOs - the next big ones. Read this with a surgeon's face mask on.

- Rick Koster

The Black Box

Michael Connelly

Twenty years ago Connelly introduced us to Harry Bosch, a driven, brilliant, troubled L.A. police detective, with "The Black Echo." Now, he brings us back to 1992, and the beating of Rodney King and ensuing rioting, for another "black" book title. Bosch defies his superiors and puts his life on the line to solve a 20-year-old cold case in one of Connelly's best books in this series. While the wars have changed - Vietnam in "The Black Echo" and the Iraq War in "The Black Box" - Connelly continues to hit all the notes like Art Pepper, one of Bosch's musical heroes. When putting together a list of the greatest mystery writers of the last 20 years, you could do worse than to start with Michael Connelly.

- Tim Cotter

The Lost Ones

Ace Atkins

Each of these novels is a spectacular achievement. "The Lost Ones" is the second in Atkins' series starring Quinn Colson, an ex-Army Ranger turned Mississippi sheriff. It's dark and evocative, beautifully written and plotted - Mexican cartels, drug-running, child-trafficking - and full of intense, amazing characters. Then there's "Lullaby." Atkins was chosen by the family of the late Robert B. Parker to continue the immortal and epic Spenser series, and "Lullaby" is the first effort. Reviews are unanimous in what seemed an impossible task. Atkins absolutely nails Parker's tone, style, Boston setting and, most of all, the myriad facets that comprise Spenser, Hawk, Susan and all the other folks readers have loved for decades. That both were published in the same year is an amazing one-two punch by a sensational writer.

- Rick Koster

Available Dark

Elizabeth Hand

This is the second in an incredibly clever and unique new crime series starring washed-up punk-photographer Cassandra Neary. Once a star of in the ultra-hip Manhattan art world, Cass is a victim of the multiple excesses - barely managing to eke out a living on the strength of her reputation for a long out-of-print photo collection called "Dead Girls." When a mysterious collector in Finland offers to pay Cass a handsome fee to evaluate some dark and underground photos, she heads to Helsinki - not so much for the work but to find a long-ago lover rumored to be in Iceland. A mutilated corpse later, Cass finds herself ensnared in the icy culture of Scandinavian black-metal, the culture of collectible murderabilia, and pagan Nordic ritual.

- Rick Koster










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