RaveThe Los Angeles TimesLuckily, we [...] have Paisley Rekdal, a writing professor and poet laureate of Utah. In her new book, Appropriate, Rekdal addresses the conundrum of cultural appropriation with patience and care. She is deliberate as she picks her way through questions, focusing on literature, with close readings of poetry and prose that give heft to her case. The book’s power comes from its slow progress and occasional reversals, so a summary feels unfair, but her basic thesis is that culture is situated in its moment; careful consideration of where each of us is in that moment informs what we create, how we read, what literature is lifted up and what is left out.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesSands lays out a riveting, deeply researched case that builds chronologically to show who and what Otto was ... It’s the intimacy of Charlotte’s letters and daily diary entries that give this project its unique shape ... realized Sands was building a narrative of spycraft and power shifts so breathtaking in its twists that it requires each tiny block to resonate fully ... That the author has now spent so many years dedicated to the story of Otto — hoping to convince his son of the truth — is remarkable. Carefully, gently, meticulously, he’s engaged every protest, every excuse, every question Horst has raised to show exactly who Otto was and what he did. If he cannot break him out of his prison of belief, what hope is there for us now, in America, where we have to fight Nazis all over again?
RaveThe Boston GlobeWith exceptional empathy and care, Paul Farmer takes us through his experience with that health crisis and the difficult history that made those populations particularly vulnerable ... To really remedy what has happened to West Africa will not be cured by training more nurses or, as he does so well, telling the stories of Ebola survivors.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s not pretty, but Lavin is an entertaining Virgil for this neo-Nazi hell ... posing as the blonde, she figures out the true identity of a significant white supremacist and shares it with authorities. It’s a kind of gonzo journalism by proxy, and her most successful effort as a modern-day Nazi hunter ... She forges engaging narrative paths through the distant and near history of the alt-right, from the medieval European blood libel to Henry Ford’s mainstreaming of anti-Semitic ideas to Gamergate and the stories of a radicalized adolescent YouTuber. This combination of memoir and analysis works well. If there is a weak spot, it’s that her reporting only goes so far ... The biggest challenge that Lavin doesn’t quite meet, despite making a few gestures toward it, is connecting anti-Semitism with racism against Black and brown people ... a clear warning.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIf you’re ready for a wild ride across an America forever changed by a devastating pandemic, climb aboard ... a lot of fun ... Billie is...so awful that sometimes it’s hard to sit with her side of the story, but she can be an entrancing villain, often woozy with pain or painkillers and written in the most stylish prose ... There is so much action packed into the book that a few of its bigger ideas get left unexplored. The racial dynamics of a white mother and her mixed-race child get only glancing mention. The way that Miles/Mila is male but must perform as female isn’t much explored. And the larger question of what a world almost completely made up of women would be like, how it would be different, is mostly bypassed.
RaveLos Angeles TimesThere is always a lot of play in Mitchell’s books, and this push and pull against expectations is one way to keep things interesting ... Mitchell is particularly good at making us care about imaginary music ... Do you have to read Mitchell’s other books to get this one? No, not at all. The meta-narrative is just a slim thread in this large novel ... With his huge electric brain, Mitchell has written his own solo scenius, one that draws connections between Edo-era Japan and a distant, post-human-collapse future. It’s a grand project, brilliantly executed and deeply humanist.
Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano
PositiveThe Washington Post... a book about a California calamity that speaks to our present moment ... For those who have seen the Netflix documentary Fire in Paradise, which included cellphone video shot by fleeing residents, some of this will be familiar. But the authors do what that documentary couldn’t: They paint a picture of the lives of these people and their town before the fire came.
Sierra Crane Murdoch
RaveLos Angeles TimesIt’s Yellow Bird’s incremental fight that makes the book addictive, full of twists and turns and surprising choices ... The question of why she became interested, stayed involved and built her life around this murder underlies the entire book. In the end I don’t think Murdoch has found an answer. In some ways, Yellow Bird is a mirror of Murdoch herself ... Murdoch reports the hell out of it, digging up text messages and conversations and business dealings and shifts in tribal power. She also gets deep into personal relationships and reveals their richness from all sides. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. The book is also a little messy—sometimes the details overwhelm when what’s really needed is a better overview. But I like its sprawl, which allows this true-crime story—and it is a great true-crime story—to reach for broader horizons.
RaveThe Washington PostOne of the funniest books of the year has arrived, a delicious, ambitious Hollywood satire ... This stripped-down format is the perfect delivery system for the satire of Interior Chinatown. Ridiculous assumptions pop ... While sticking to the screenplay form, Yu bends it enough to go deeper — long descriptive passages become mini short stories ... Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Tom Stoppard’s famous play, the characters see and comment on the artifice of their creation ... It’s mind-bending storytelling, not easy to pull off. Yu does it with panache.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesYoon...is a master of subtle storytelling; he often leaves powerful emotions unexpressed, violent acts undetailed. Much happens in the empty spaces on the page. News that the prisoners have been tortured is delivered secondhand, but the pain they suffer is as indelible as the teens’ friendship once was ... These lives cast a shadow, and force a question: What is the result of American military intervention but the fracturing of a whole, injustice, erasure? For these characters, at least, there is the story. And in a story, there is comfort.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesVanderMeer, whose imaginative novels are fed by his fecund home state of Florida, wants us to inhabit the minds of his ravenous bird and the massive fish held in a tank. It’s actually not that far off from the world we know — and perhaps that’s the point. Who hasn’t wondered what it’s like to be a bird swooping from the sky? These monsters become less monstrous when we live inside their (often hungry, often angry) heads ... When writers are working in a series, there is a risk that its world will close in on itself. This world began with Borne, the story of a woman living in a broken-down apartment building in the City who finds a cuttlefish-slash-houseplant with the awareness of a little boy. With Dead Astronauts, VanderMeer has expanded to a multiverse with a poisoned past, engineered monsters and a possibly redeemable future, all from something that was merely decoration. There’s no limit to where it might go next.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesNelson weaves low culture and high culture together conversationally, so that Stephen Colbert and Bacon can appear in the same paragraph ... Divided into short, thematic chapters — on imprisonment and captivity, for example — the book dives right into discussions of successful (and less successful) artistic works that hinge on cruelty. And then it swiftly problematizes these discussions by adding contradictory thinkers and counter-examples, a clear rhetorical strategy ... Nelson brings her deepest critical faculties to bear on performance art or art that is performed and filmed ... This is criticism at its best: evocative, plainspoken, with an unwavering point of view. As Nelson darts from artwork to artwork, using the lens of cruelty to shine her own particular light, there is a joy in both her conviction and her questions ... The pleasures of The Art of Cruelty may be somewhat diminished by its looseness, by Nelson’s reluctance to provide the continuity and connection a critic can. Nonetheless, it is a vibrant and engaged work, from a writer and thinker who is worthy of our attention.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune... comes out swinging for a center spot in the literary canon ... one of the most notable novels of the year ... The book is ingeniously Gen-X in that it moves its own generation off center stage so a Millennial can take over.
PositiveNewsdayIn a bold move, there are almost two dozen voices in the book, often addressing the reader in short, confessional chapters—think reality TV contestants speaking directly to the camera. It provides insight into the private lives of people who may make only one appearance in the narrative; everyone has secrets ... Maddie’s...not a perfect person. She is headstrong and self-centered and, as one man notes, she is \'pushing forty\' with \'nothing to look forward to.\' That’s exactly what makes Maddie a riveting character; she’s reveling in her own unexpected power— to make choices, delight in her sexy boyfriend and launch a new career, writing and solving mysteries.
RaveThe Washington PostThere will, eventually, be blood. But the richness of this novel comes in spending time with the kaleidoscope of characters who spin together in the whirlwind ending ... Atkinson is so skilled at getting inside people’s heads that when she introduces a new character, it’s almost impossible to not feel at least a little sympathy for the person. As terrible as I feel typing this, it even holds true for one of the human traffickers ... Jackson appears to be aging basically in real time ... He’s still the empathetic, flawed, country-music-listening detective we first fell for.
Clarice Lispector, Trans. by Johnny Lorenz
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThe language is beautiful but abrupt, with jumps and gaps ... It is a difficult mix: text that is immediate and observational that simultaneously blurs the lines of dreams, imagination and reality. Almost exactly halfway through the book it reaches its crescendo, then swiftly turns to a more conventional narrative ... Lispector reveals her to us only inside herself and her world, present in her hometown of São Geraldo so viscerally that it’s an almost Zen-like state.
RaveLos Angeles Times\"... an essential, sweeping history of the American frontier ... In this book, [Grandin] moves easily between historical events and tracing the political thought that accompanied and explicated them ... Grandin offers brutal details... that illustrate the connection between violence and power ... In the book, Jackson serves to illustrate a train of American thought: that we must have freedom from restriction coupled with our freedom to settle and pursue happiness.\
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"If you, like me, care about books, reading [Orlean\'s] brilliant, awful description of the conflagration feels like watching a snuff film ... This is one of the underlying ideas of The Library Book— that books, as both objects and ideas, are essential to the human project; that libraries are a vital destination that holds them safe ... It is a fine mystery...\
MixedThe Los Angeles Times\"What Kakutani brings to the narrative is her wide literary referent and an ability to nail an opponent with flair ... These observations are not meant to convince but to create nods of assent. I’m guessing that most readers who pick up a book critical of Trump by the former New York Times book critic will have noticed that Fox News has many viewers and that they probably aren’t among them ... There is little analysis here, and the book feels thirsty for it. When Kakutani does venture political analysis, she can misstep ... She’s on much better footing when she’s looking at the world through books ... So far, Kakutani’s move from book critic to political observer is only partially successful. She’s best when she sticks to smart texts. As a person who lives inside this world of books, I had hoped her vision on the world would be clearer. Apparently, it’s not easy lifting your focus from the page.\
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIn classic Pynchon fashion, random incidents add up to conspiracy — maybe. Behind powerful figures loom shadowy, more powerful figures, and complex layers of knowledge lead to confusion as much as clarity. There is also a lot of sex (if little romance), many pop-culture allusions (one scene references at least two classic noir films), characters who cross over from Pynchon's other work (Vineland, predominantly) and silly names galore … If Inherent Vice exhibits nostalgia, it is not for the Los Angeles of yesteryear but for the days when genuine mystery was possible, when Doc's acid trip could be as relevant as Det. Bjornsen's world, when complex layers could both contradict and coexist. It's a love letter to a time when obsessives couldn't get all the answers from computers, when we might embrace the unknowable.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesIt is a testament to Miéville's skill that all these elements add up to a compelling mystery. And it is the signature delight of the book that the puzzle at the center of this vast and complex world is language. Miéville has a muscular intellect, successfully building a science fictional world around semiotics. For some readers, that will be enough. Others may notice that his characters go somewhat neglected … This is, in part, structural; for all the doubling that appears in Embassytown, and for all her various lovers, Cho remains a character who is essentially alone.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesAll of Pynchon's works are crammed with cultural references; here they seem less mysterious and significant than in previous novels. In Bleeding Edge, Pynchon seems like a kid playing in a ball pit, having an awful lot of fun tossing around whatever is brightly colored and within reach. He keeps a vast amount of ephemera — and ideas, characters, vectors and subtexts — at play simultaneously, like a Vegas gambler running multiple tables at once … It's fitting that Pynchon is tackling the near-present, because the real world has all but overtaken his elaborate, far-out fictions. Paranoia, conspiracy, electronic connection, government surveillance — there's nothing like reading a Pynchon novel while new revelations about the NSA are popping up on your cellphone.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesThe end of The Passage suggests that the sequel might continue that quest; it's here, but it's a long time coming. In fact, about 200 pages of The Twelve pass before Peter reappears. The narrative suffers from his absence, as well as from the lack of mission. The book's title implies that the 12 original vampires — all human test subjects plucked from Death Row (clearly a bad idea) — will be hunted down. Readers bringing that expectation to this book will be disappointed … The Passage created an addictive world, but in The Twelve, it's already familiar. What starts to show through, in the slower parts, are weak characterizations. The main figures carried over from the first book, including fierce Alicia, mysterious Amy and tinkerer Michael, are still robust, but others are too often clichés.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesYou don't have to read Life After Life to get A God in Ruins, and sadly, the new book doesn't live up to the promise of its predecessor. The first novel's innovative structure made it exciting, but its true charm was in the rich family life drawn by Atkinson (with no shortage of morbid wit)...Teddy is surrounded by far less appealing characters in A God in Ruins, particularly in the first half of the book … All the emotion of the novel has pooled at the end, where the significant moments of Teddy's life tumble out in a cascade: We see the end of his marriage and join him on bombing runs over Europe. Visceral and deeply researched, the passages in the planes show Atkinson at her finest. These beautifully wrought, deeply felt scenes give meaning to what came before, but with the inverted narrative, arrive too late.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIn Atwood's near-ish future, global warming has reshaped the landscape — Harvard has drowned, New York City has relocated to New Jersey, and L.A.'s Venice canals have filled with a dirty sea. The rich are ensconced in walled enclaves of plenty while everyone else is left to ‘pleeblands,’ degraded former cities and suburbs rampant with lawlessness … With puns and wordplay, Atwood pokes fun at our reality through the bleak future she's imagined. She prefers the term ‘speculative fiction’ to ‘science fiction’ … Characters that were once resourceful and desperate to survive now mill and mope. When serious conflict finally arrives, it is hidden within layers of storytelling, conveyed as a veiled, soft-focus legend.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWith The Bone Clocks, Mitchell rises to meet and match the legacy of Cloud Atlas. The novel tells the story of Holly Sykes' life in six episodes while also, surprisingly, linking his books set in 20th-century England, 18th-century Japan and various far futures … As a central character, Holly is an odd amalgam. The glimpses of the supernatural universe surrounding her are effaced from her consciousness, so she has no curiosity about them, no yearning to reach or understand them, no quest. She lives a very human life, with loves, losses and achievements, which is heroic on its own … In The Bone Clocks, interconnected lives stretch across time; human contact is both frightening and vital. This novel electrifyingly unites Mitchell's fictions into one universe while telling the story of Holly Sykes, an ordinary young woman whose chance encounters give her life meaning.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesWith The Silkworm, Rowling returns to Galbraith, framing a novel about a leaked manuscript, the turmoil it creates and its author's grisly murder. If this sounds like some sort of commentary, that's part of the point, I suppose; ‘In Strike's opinion,’ Galbraith/Rowling writes, ‘the safest way of ensuring that secret information did not leak was not to tell anybody about it.’ At the same time, the strength of the novel is that this never gets in the way … Rowling is extraordinarily good at filling her mystery with fleshed-out characters. Even simple walk-ons — a nosy neighbor, Robin's mom — have dimension, oddity, nuance.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIf Eli is a little slow, he's also coming awake — compassion is unfolding in him, and he's considering the possibility of a new life. As the book follows the Sisters brothers on their quest to assassinate one Hermann Kermit Warm, it also tracks Eli's change. He starts out a brute who goes blank with murderous rage and soon becomes an equally brutish man pleased by the minty taste of the toothpowder a dentist gives him. Just how civilized will he become? … The Sisters Brothers frontier is more poetic than realistic but as easy to slip into as the old HBO series Deadwood. But where an onscreen western shows the setting, this book has few descriptions of landscape or buildings they visit. What gets described, instead, are bodily woes. Charlie's bad drunks and worse hangovers include lots of vomiting, Eli has injuries that bleed and swell, and the decline of Tub, Eli's horse, after getting swatted by a grizzly is, in the end, grisly.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesJulian, who isn't Jewish, takes the attack as a license to explore all aspects of Jewishness, which has fascinated him since childhood. It was then, thinking of his friend Sam Finkler, that he adopted Finkler's name for his own silent euphemism … Julian's greatest gift is his wry, witty perspective: He tumbles ideas over and over in his head, as if they'll somehow be polished to a conclusion when he's done (they rarely are). His path through life is knitted with switchbacks and internalizations; it takes more than 30 pages for him to replay the mugging through to the end, setting him on his quest about Jewishness … This novel-length meditation on Jewishness seems, to this American reader, to veer unfortunately close to a midcentury comic routine, sacrificing the complexity of multiple, mixed and competing identities of our moment for oversimplifications last heard in the Borscht Belt.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThere\'s a bit of Edward Gorey-esque glee in the way Kate Atkinson keeps knocking off her main character in Life After Life. And yet, she manages to invest these repeated deaths with poetry and emotion ...ingenious narrative conceit — the decision to kill her protagonist and bring her back, again and again — not only illustrates how seemingly small decisions can affect our lives; it also allows us as readers to inhabit a novelist\'s creative process ... Atkinson is a writer who likes to play with plot and structure... As one story ends and another begins, we see that Ursula\'s existence is cyclical, swinging in different directions to encompass new (and sometimes unwelcome) possibilities ...it is we, the readers, who sense the pressure of repetition, the life lived many times.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesBernadette has a problem — well, actually, she has a few ... She can be vocal, inclined toward sharing her opinions with her adolescent daughter Bee and brilliant, patient husband. Her opinions — they are the problem. In one context, they are funny riffs; taken out of context, they can look like rants. And maybe a little insane ... The story of the weeks leading to her disappearance and what happens after is told by Bee, who loves her mother, idiosyncrasies and all. Bright and endlessly curious, Bee assembles a variety of documents — emails, memos, handwritten exchanges, magazine articles, police reports — and links them with a few personal observations. It's an epistolary novel, modern style ... Semple's characters are marvelous: They have untold secrets, personalities with multiple dimensions, moments of failure and grace ...this book does not fall in my sweet spot. A warm and humorous family drama, set in an upscale suburb, narrated by an unusually intelligent teenager — all those descriptors typically would send me running.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesSalvage the Bones is an intense book, with powerful, direct prose that dips into poetic metaphor. It's told by a teenage girl, Esch, whose late-summer thoughts turn to Greek myths and her neglectful lover, Manny … That close-knit familial relationship is vivid and compelling, drawn with complexities and detail. Randall and Esch have served as Junior's default parents, raising him from a baby when they themselves were only children. Esch admires Skeetah but watches his devotion to China with unarticulated envy; the love he has for the dog is more than Manny has for her.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThis seems like a promising narrative tactic, empowering the reader, but instead it squelches our conversation with the book. Holland nods or says yes; she doesn't have qualms or questions. The reader must slog alone through long didactic passages about the benefits of implanting tracking devices in children and covering the globe with surveillance cameras. Eggers doesn't channel these creepy ideas enthusiastically enough to make them convincing, and they're not heightened enough to work as satire … At least The Circle is funny in its skewering of Internet culture...the ideas behind The Circle are compelling and deeply contemporary.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThe love triangle is a throwback to Austen, and Eugenides seems to be casting his lot with the classic novel … Eugenides lauds and exploits the pleasures of traditionalism while sneaking in a little postmodernism on the side … If there is a writer to whom Eugenides appears connected, it is not Wallace but Jonathan Franzen...Eugenides benefits by the comparison [to Freedom]: This book is sweeter, kinder, with a more generous heart. What's more, it is layered with exactly the kinds of things that people who love novels will love.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesAdichie finds the peculiarities of American racial politics fascinating — and also, well, hilarious … These characters are richly drawn, as are even those who make fleeting appearances in the book, from the ladies at Ifemelu's braid shop to Obinze's one kind boss in England. When parts of the plot seem familiar — the perils of emigration, the difficulties of being a foreigner in a new land — Adichie digs in deeply, finding a way to make them fresh.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesBravo Squad fought bravely in a battle that was caught on video and went viral. That's why they're back in the U.S., heroes from a war in which little has gone right … The soldiers are treated well, limo'd, fed and beveraged. But the litany of rhetoric about the war has become so familiar that Billy hears little more than phonetic buzzwords … Fountain's novel is not a work of realism; it's an über-story, defined by irony and metaphor. Texas Stadium stands in for America, where the wealthy in their special section have access and privilege completely alien to Billy and his fellow soldiers.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesJennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad is a lively novel in stories about Sasha, an assistant in the music business, and her boss, Bennie Salazar. It may be the smartest book you can get your hands on this summer.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesIt is a rare skill, crafting prose that reads like stream of consciousness, and Ben Lerner has it … He's blazingly intelligent, creative and sensitive to the world. Despite his inwardly voiced insecurities, the evidence shows he's engaging and charming … What all this knowing self-deprecation masks is the fact that he doesn't try very hard to give his Alex/Liza a voice of her own … The narrative is completely wrapped up in ersatz Lerner's perceptions, which tend to flit through ideas and then return to himself. This is the hazard of the stream-of-consciousness story, that the self overwhelms all else.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesWhen Eggers draws the present into his fiction, it’s there not just as window dressing or setting; it tells us something about ourselves ... Eggers takes a little too long before giving us the tools to understand that he’s not looking down on her, that the criticisms come from Josie. Funny, sharp and exasperated with everyone -- especially herself -- she can be a relentless narrative companion. When relief comes, it’s not really nature that’s the balm – although it helps – but a combination of solitude, other grown-ups and the act of creation.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Seven Good Years is Keret's first book of nonfiction, after five collections of surreal and wonderful short stories. The writing here reveals that some of the strangeness Keret works into his fiction comes from the unique way he sees the real world: a little bent, exasperated, amused and yet also with deep wells of kindness ... This material was originally published in magazines and newspapers and, as columns are asked to do, deal with the issues at hand. These include a new offensive toward Gaza, what his son said in the bath and flight delays while getting to far-flung literary festivals. For this reason, some of the essays that touch on Israel's political situation may feel remote, even dated — yet simultaneously the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has loomed so large for so long that Keret's politics may be important to some readers. He's an Israeli who is often critical of his nation's conservative leaders, someone who wishes there were a way toward peace; he's not writing commentary, but politics simmers in his work.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesWhen DeLillo tackled it in The Names, his efforts to use language to explore language felt like a surgeon trying to operate on his own hand. Now, he's got a lighter grip, tackling the ideas with wry humor. And maybe losing the signified for the signifier gives the novel its own totemic power. It will be able to be read by not just space aliens, but people who are unfettered by our cultural clutter, many decades hence.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesAt every turn, the book has this careful architecture, even if it feels like a strange, blind alley. Luiselli writes with a confidence that demonstrates she's going somewhere.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesTwo Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is erudite without flaunting it, an amusement park of a pulpy disaster novel that resists flying out of control by being grounded by religion, history, culture and love.