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7 great books from 2013 you might have missed

"Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti" by

"Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti" by Amy Wilentz (S&S, January 2013) Credit: Handout

Anyone who has spent time browsing the "new releases" tables of their local bookstore -- or lost an hour web-surfing -- knows just how many books are published in the course of a year: a lot. (Some might say too darn many.) Inevitably, certain titles are singled out for a chorus of praise while others quietly disappear. Before looking ahead to 2014, Newsday asked some of its regular reviewers to single out a book that deserved more acclaim than it got in the crowded literary marketplace.

1. FAREWELL, FRED VOODOO: A Letter From Haiti, by Amy Wilentz (Simon & Schuster, $16 paper)

Nearly four years after the devastating earthquake in that country, Haiti has once again slipped off the front pages. This account of life in the literal ruins of this natural disaster -- which was followed by a serious cholera outbreak -- is a vital, fascinating corrective. Wilentz, who writes for The New Yorker and The Nation, has been reporting from the island since the 1980s, and her subtle insights and complicated love for the Haitian people, culture, religion and history bring the place to life. Her pointed criticisms of international aid unsettle our notions of what it means to help the less fortunate, but they are sharp and essential. -- TOM BEER


In Matt Bell's beguiling novel, a man battles bears and squids in the wilderness as he strives to reconcile with his family. The storytelling is strange and mythical, almost hallucinogenic. But the rhythm of Bell's prose (hinted at in the title) is enchanting, and once you recognize its beat, the adventure story is both entertaining and affecting. -- MARK ATHITAKIS

3. BLUE PLATE SPECIAL: An Autobiography of My Appetites, by Kate Christensen (Doubleday, $26.95)

PEN/Faulkner-winning novelist Christensen explains that memoir intruded on her fiction "the way a cat might sit on a book you are trying to read." Food adventures and quirky recipes (Dark Night of the Soul Soup, Bean Burrito) accompany a rare, juicy, sometimes searing, study of the formation of a writer's soul and a woman's heart. -- MARION WINIK

4. THE HIVE, by Gill Hornby (Little, Brown and Company, $26)

Writing comic novels about the foibles of wealthy parents -- or, more accurately, wealthy mothers -- never seems to get old. Taking its place on a shelf that includes "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" and "I Don't Know How She Does It" is Gill Hornby's "The Hive," a sprightly send-up of the Queen Bees and Wannabes buzzing around school drop-off in a small English town. -- LAURIE MUCHNICK

5. THE DESERTERS: A Hidden History of World War II, by Charles Glass (Penguin Press, $27.95)

Amid the general flood of World II books, which continues unabated, Charles Glass' "The Deserters" stands out for its frank and clear-eyed examination of an underexplored phenomena of the Greatest Generation: soldiers who went AWOL and fled the front lines. Glass tells the story of three men -- one English, two American -- who deserted in Europe, and goes beyond opposition of cowardice versus bravery. These were battled-hardened men who had had enough. Glass tells you why in this stripped down, unromantic portrait of war. -- MATTHEW PRICE

6. STAY UP WITH ME, by Tom Barbash (Ecco, $22.99)

In these 13 stories, Barbash proves himself a crafter of gorgeous sentences and a wise, witty observer. He specializes in suffering -- especially the romantic kind -- and is brilliant at capturing awkwardness among family members. In "The Break," a woman can't cope with her college-aged son's love life: "The mother watched the hostess watching her son as he crossed the room, as though he were a chef's special she was hoping to try." These tales, populated by lonely, well-meaning people, are compassionate but wickedly funny -- no easy feat to pull off. -- CARMELA CIURARU

7. A LIFE WORTH LIVING: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning" by Robert Zaretsky (Harvard/Belknap, $22.95)

Albert Camus, the philosopher, moralist, journalist and author, would have been 100 in November. The centenary has spurred books, papers and reconsideration of his contributions to literature and his times. Robert Zaretsky's is one of the best. The Algerian-French Nobel Prize winner, known for novels such as "The Stranger" and "The Plague" and essays including "The Myth of Sisyphus" and "Reflections on the Guillotine," wrote piercingly and urgently about facing injustice, the need for revolt, confronting absurdity and the search for meaning. Zaretsky underscores why the ideas of Camus, who died in a car accident in 1960, remain important today. -- PETER M. GIANOTTI

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