23° Good Afternoon
23° Good Afternoon

Great books that deserved more buzz in 2017

Some books go viral, with good reviews, word of mouth and social media buoying them onto the bestseller lists. Other books — truly wonderful books — never get the buzz or the universal acclaim they deserve. As 2017 draws to a close, Newsday’s book reviewers give one last plug for some of the year’s overlooked gems.

‘The Resurrection of Joan Ashby’ by Cherise Wolas

This dazzling novel focuses on the life and
Photo Credit: Flatiron Books

This dazzling novel focuses on the life and work of a fictional genius named Joan Ashby. It opens with a wildly laudatory magazine piece that reveals that at age 13, Ashby made a list of rules for her life as a writer — among them, never marry and never have children. But after taking the world by storm with two story collections (excerpts included), Ashby married and got pregnant at 25. That was the last she was heard from for nearly three decades. The book follows her life as a spouse and a mother, up to the shocking betrayal that brings about her “resurrection.” A fascinating if highly contentious take on the relationship between motherhood and literary ambition. (Flatiron, $27.99) — MARION WINIK

‘Righteous’ by Joe Ide

Isaiah Quintabe is a cult hero waiting to
Photo Credit: Little, Brown

Isaiah Quintabe is a cult hero waiting to happen—a black 20-something genius savant collecting whatever money he can in his South Central L.A. neighborhood, finding lost items and solving crimes for various at-risk residents. In this second novel of a series that kicked off with “I.Q.,” Isaiah, with help from his short-tempered-but-loyal friend Dotson (rhymes with “Watson”), thinks and fights his way through a morass of street gangs, Chinese mobsters, sex traffickers and a seven-foot-tall Canadian hit man named Balthazar to find a pair of ill-starred young gamblers-in-love. There’s even a Moriarty in Isaiah’s life: a murderous East African refugee turned real estate magnate who may have had something to do with the murder of Isaiah’s older brother. Ide’s rollicking, harrowing carnival of mayhem updates the Victorian London atmospherics of Arthur Conan Doyle and is also redolent of such modern-day masters as Carl Hiassen and Elmore Leonard. Are you listening, Netflix? (Mulholland Books, $26) — GENE SEYMOUR

‘A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived’ by Adam Rutherford

This book by a British science writer and
Photo Credit: The Experiment

This book by a British science writer and broadcaster with a doctorate in genetics is a shining example of science writing at its best. Rutherford tells the story of how advances in genetics are altering the narrative of human history, as scientists use advanced techniques to mine the data embedded in human remains. Researchers have been able to date humanity’s migration out of Africa and around the globe with ever greater precision, subverting old assumptions. Studying the British genome, for example, researchers have detected virtually no Danish DNA, which indicates that while the island’s early Danish rulers may have pillaged, they didn’t rape. Rutherford deftly juggles pop culture references, humor and serious science in a book that will change the way you think about human evolution. (The Experiment, $25.95) — MARY ANN GWINN

‘Who Killed Piet Barol?’ by Richard Mason

The title is a wicked spoiler, but everything
Photo Credit: Knopf

The title is a wicked spoiler, but everything else about this captivating novel surprises. Piet Barol is a Dutch adventurer who has landed in colonial South Africa on the eve of World War I and set himself up as a furniture maker to wealthy English and European landowners. From Ntsina, a Xhosa tribesman, Piet learns of a stand of “ancestor trees” deep in an unexplored forest, and he leads an expedition with Ntsina and another Xhosa companion to harvest these trees for his woodworking. “Piet Barol” is a complex novel of colonialism and exploitation, where everyone has his reasons, and no one can prevent the tragedy that is destined to unfold. Mason can write from any point of view — including, fantastically, the jungle animals who observe this human folly. (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95) — TOM BEER

‘The Best We Could Do’ by Thi Bui

Following in the footsteps of landmark graphic memoirs
Photo Credit: Abrams

Following in the footsteps of landmark graphic memoirs by Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel and Roz Chast, this powerful and essential book tells the story of the author’s family’s journey from Vietnam to the United States. It moves from a hair-raising narrative of war and escape through the complicated realities of life in a new world. With equal parts compassion and candor — particularly in the portrayal of Bui’s parents — this memoir joins the work of Viet Thanh Nguyen (“The Sympathizer,” “The Refugees”) in giving us the opportunity to see the tragedy in Vietnam from the point of view of those most deeply affected by it. All this complexity is distilled in simple drawings and text that pack an unforgettable emotional punch. (Abrams ComicArts, $24.95) — MARION WINIK

‘Catapult’ by Emily Fridlund

Fridlund garnered fairy-tale raves for her first novel,
Photo Credit: Sarabande

Fridlund garnered fairy-tale raves for her first novel, “A History of Wolves,” shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. But her 11 short stories take an even sharper psychological bite, again depicting lonely characters adrift in the Upper Midwest. The sentence-level craft is near perfect in spinning tales of broken friendships and misshapen families. The only narrator with real agency is Katie, remembering being an alpha girl at 14 in the title story, “Catapult.” In “Marco Polo,” a young man describes his marriage slipping away like the children’s game. Fridlund is attuned to our animal natures, primal and rude. Fans of Flannery O’Connor will appreciate the mastery of the grotesque, even without O’Connor’s spiritual underpinnings. (Sarabande, $16.95 paper) — KAREN R. LONG

‘The Revolution of the Moon’ by Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri, best known for his Sicilian crime
Photo Credit: Europa Editions

Andrea Camilleri, best known for his Sicilian crime series starring Inspector Montalbano, brings us back to 17th century Palermo and the short tenure of Dona Eleanora di Mora as Spanish Viceroy. Inheriting the position from her dead husband, the beautiful, strong-minded woman sweeps the blue-blooded pimps, pedophiles, and peculators from power in a splendid carnival of revenge. The novel, more comedy than tragedy, is ornamented throughout with Eleanora’s Sicilian and Spanish phrases whose meanings are easily construed from their English contexts, translated by Stephen Sartarelli. (“Ese hombre es una serpiente. We must crush his head.”) Although the valiant noblewoman is unseated after 27 days (whence the title), the novel ends on a celebratory note. (Europa Editions, $16 paper) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

‘The Widow Nash’ by Jamie Harrison

In 1904, Dulcy Remfrey makes an emergency journey
Photo Credit: Counterpoint

In 1904, Dulcy Remfrey makes an emergency journey to Seattle, where her father Walton is dying of syphilis. Walton, a congenital renegade and bon vivant who made a fortune in the mining business, has forgotten where he stashed all his money. Walton’s business partner, Dulcy’s ex-fiancee Victor, is enraged and takes it out on Dulcy by raping her. Dulcy flees and resurfaces in the town of Livingston, Montana, where she tries to make a new life with a new name. Jamie Harrison, daughter of the late author Jim Harrison (“Legends of the Fall”), shares a number of traits with her father — superior storytelling skills, love of landscape, wry humor and a knack for gorgeous writing about food. “The Widow Nash” reverberates with a daughter’s affection for a larger-than-life father, surely a tribute of sorts to a real-life relationship. (Counterpoint, $26) — MARY ANN GWINN

‘Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts’ by Christopher de Hamel

An unlikely bestseller in Britain, this volume offers
Photo Credit: Penguin Press

An unlikely bestseller in Britain, this volume offers a delightful tour of 12 medieval manuscripts — and with the engaging de Hamel, a renowned manuscript expert, as a guide, it is anything but a dry and dusty exercise. He brings alive the stories of the earliest book in medieval England and the oldest manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales,” among others, writing with palpable enthusiasm in chapters that dazzle you with both erudition and down-to-earth charm. Sumptuously illustrated with color reproductions on nearly every page, it’s almost an objet d’art — you could simply marvel at the pictures. The craft of manuscript production is awe inspiring, and de Hamel exactingly reveals the subtle details and meanings of these priceless literary artifacts. (Penguin Press, $45) —MATTHEW PRICE

‘In the Name of the Family’ by Sarah Dunant

Once seen as the model of female wickedness,
Photo Credit: Random House

Once seen as the model of female wickedness, Lucrezia Borgia is now more frequently cast as both a victim of her ruthlessly ambitious family and a strong, capable woman in her own right. No one has been more convincing and enthralling in this exercise in rehabilitation than Sarah Dunant. “In the Name of the Family” is the second and concluding novel in the duo that began with “Blood and Beauty.” Among the characters who scheme, murder, and fornicate through these pages are Lucrezia’s father, Pope Alexander VI, a family man if ever there was one; her military genius brother, Cesare, ravaged by syphilis; and Niccolo Machiavelli, working out the chilly principles that saw light in “The Prince.” (Random House, $28) — KATHERINE A. POWERS 


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment