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Best books of 2017 so far

Newsday’s books editor and regular reviewers select their favorite titles of the year to date.

'The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,' by Arundhati Roy

“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy
Photo Credit: Knopf

Twenty years after “The God of Small Things,” the Man Booker Prize winner returns to fiction with this dense, exhilarating novel of contemporary India. At the center of its swirl of stories are the hermaphrodite Anjum, who finds community among the transgender Hijras of Delhi, and Tilo, an unorthodox woman drawn into the struggle for independence in the disputed state of Kashmir. (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95)

'Anything Is Possible,' by Elizabeth Strout

"Anything Is Possible" by Elizabeth Strout (Random House,
Photo Credit: Random House

A sequel of sorts to “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” published last year, this new book of linked stories follows various townspeople of fictional Amgash, Illinois — the town where Lucy grew up desperately poor, made famous by her bestselling memoir. There’s plenty of unhappiness to go around there, and while some resent Lucy’s success, others find solace in her story. (Random House, $27)

'The Refugees,' by Viet Thanh Nguyen

"The Refugees" by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press,
Photo Credit: Grove Press

The Vietnamese-American author who won a Pulitzer Prize for his brilliant 2015 novel “The Sympathizer” explores the refugee experience from a different angle in this collection of eight stories — some brutal, others melancholy or ironic — about Vietnamese who have fled their homeland to make their way in America after the war. (Grove Press, $25)

'Who Killed Piet Barol?' by Richard Mason

"Who Killed Piet Barol?" by Richard Mason (Knopf,
Photo Credit: Knopf

The title is a wicked spoiler, but everything else about this captivating novel surprises. Mason brings back the protagonist of “The History of a Pleasure Seeker,” but “Piet Barol” stands on its own — a complex tale set in WWI-era colonial South Africa, taking the points of view of European settlers, Xhosa tribesman and even, fantastically, jungle animals. (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95) 

'Huck Out West,' by Robert Coover

"Huck Out West" by Robert Coover (W.W. Norton,
Photo Credit: W.W. Norton

To borrow the deathless opening line of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”: You can enjoy Coover’s new novel, “Huck Out West,” “without you have read” Mark Twain’s original masterpiece. Coover’s speculations on what happened to Huck after he broke free of his Missouri hometown make for a wildly funny, violently imaginative Western yarn with caustic humor Twain himself might have envied. (W.W. Norton and Co., $26.95)

'Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002,' by David Sedaris

Photo Credit: Little, Brown

Did we really need Sedaris’ diaries when we’ve already bought 10.5 million copies of his autobiographical books? But these unvarnished diary entries — short and long, sequenced and non sequitur — add up to something we’ve never gotten before: a big, juicy narrative arc. It makes for an essentially heartwarming success story, any potential ickiness kept in check by Sedaris’ judicious minimalism. (Little, Brown and Co., $28)

'Killers of the Flower Moon,' by David Grann

"Killers of the Flower Moon" by David Grann
Photo Credit: Doubleday

The author of “The Lost City of Z” brings his acclaimed storytelling powers to this sinister true story of corruption, death, secrets and shadows. In the early 1920s, some two dozen men and women of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma were killed. The intervention of the FBI and its new director, J. Edgar Hoover, ended the crime wave, but the author uncovers a shocking pattern of killings that were never even investigated. (Doubleday, $28.95)

'Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,' by Roxane Gay

"Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body" by Roxane
Photo Credit: Harper

In her searing, smart and readable memoir, Gay reflects on how she came, by her late 20s, to weigh 577 pounds. The author of the essay collection “Bad Feminist” as well as a novel and story collection — followed by hundred of thousands on Twitter — recounts her rape at age 12, ponders appetites physical and sexual, and interrogates the fortunes of black bodies in public spaces. (Harper, $25.99)

'Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 — A World on the Edge,' by Helen Rappaport

"Caught in the Revolution" by Helen Rappaport (St.
Photo Credit: St. Martin's

In her superbly evocative volume, Rappaport conveys the sights, sounds, textures and smells of 1917 in St. Petersburg, re-christened Petrograd. Readers experience the revolution through the words of American, British and French expatriates — diplomats, journalists, businessmen, nurses and others — who witnessed Lenin’s world-shattering Bolshevik coup. (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99)

'Richard Nixon: The Life,' by John A. Farrell

"Richard Nixon: The Life" by John A. Farrell
Photo Credit: Doubleday

This insightful and engaging biography plows familiar ground but does it vividly, shedding yet more light on one of our darkest presidencies. The biggest bombshell is Farrell’s finding that Nixon tried to sabotage Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to end the Vietnam War, prolonging the fighting for political gain. Still, this is an honest, balanced and revealing book. (Doubleday, $35)

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