RaveThe Boston GlobeWith gorgeous, often antique prose, Harding takes us into the prelapsarian world of the islanders ... Harding has a gift for using language with intense precision that evokes his characters’ points of view.
MixedThe Boston GlobeLess an exercise in nostalgia than a bid to launch the underground East Village music scene into the pantheon of fiction ... This is a great pleasure of the book — to see this long-lost low-rent world, its lousy jobs and scuzzy bedrooms, brought into being in a funny novel ... In a novel that spends so much energy coming up with stand-ins for the real thing, that Trump appears by name is a baffling choice ... He makes more than one appearance in the novel, a recurring Scooby-Doo-like villain. Maybe, to some readers, that will be a witty diminishment of Trump’s power. But to me it was disappointing — and, more importantly, not particularly funny.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesPerhaps it will not bother you as it bothers me. Must the core of this book be a love story between an older brother and his younger sister? Couldn’t a writer with McCarthy’s capacious imagination conceive of an adult, independent woman who could serve as an equally powerful lost love?
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... a brilliant book, a departure from McCarthy’s previous works that still feels of a piece. It’s set in the real world of the 20th century yet filled with the same elegiac language and drop-dead sentences of his antique Border Trilogy and the apocalyptic future of The Road ... The story of a haunted man on the run, it has McCarthy’s classic linguistic flair, plus Thomas Pynchon’s wordplay and paranoia and, last but certainly not least, a sweeping history of theoretical physics. The Passenger is a stunning accomplishment: For McCarthy to publish a work of this scope and ambition at 89 is phenomenal. But it has a tragic flaw. Is it fatal? ... Must the core of this book be a love story between an older brother and his younger sister? Couldn’t a writer with McCarthy’s capacious imagination conceive of an adult, independent woman who could serve as an equally powerful lost love? I realize he’s been here before — his 1968 novel Outer Dark was about brother-sister incest — and of course any novelist can put anything he or she likes into fiction. But it is 2022. An older brother in love with his younger sister? It’s not tragic; it’s creepy ... McCarthy turns his substantial writerly gifts upon two distinct forces: the mechanical and the theoretical. He attends to the exquisite detail of Bobby’s physical world — the sounds and feel of an oil rig in a storm, the touch and clunk of a cigarette machine in a bar, the step-by-step process of removing a bathroom cabinet or digging up and carting off buried treasure. All the while, Bobby converses with friends who riff on time or men and women or Vietnam or failure, paragraphs and pages of disquisitions that can be funny and moving and dirty and insightful. Sometimes it feels a little like being trapped in a dorm hallway at 1 a.m. with a smart sophomore who is really, really stoned ... There are oodles of passages like this, so much to puzzle over for those who like to puzzle hard while reading their fiction ... As someone who hasn’t studied any higher math or physics, I didn’t always find a foothold in the theoretical arguments here ... It’s Cormac McCarthy writing as only Cormac McCarthy can ... With its cast of ruffians, its American sins, its contemplation of quantum physics, its low life and high ideas, The Passenger is almost a perfect book. If only.
PositiveBoston GlobeCrosley skillfully crafts these stories so each relationship feels full and unique, as if each could have made a book of its own. And yet Cult Classic moves swiftly, cutting quick ... Cult Classic is a spirited, sometimes delightfully mean-spirited, occasionally weird trip through urban life and love in the 21st century.
RaveThe Boston Globe... a riveting chronicle ... Weinman, who lays out the details with a prosecutor’s care, convincingly demonstrates Smith was the killer ... As a writer, she’s more interested in the lives of the victims than Smith’s psychology ... It’s hard to imagine anyone grasping the importance of [Knopf editor Sophie] Wilkins’s role as well as Weinman does ... The relationship between Wilkins and Smith is the surprising secret heart of this book, showing how a sensitive, intelligent person might fall for a con-man. It’s a mirror for all the others who believed his claims of innocence—the people who bought Smith’s books, his wives, his mother, his friends, and defenders ... Weinman is able to tell the story in vivid detail because of letters and their permanence ... Many of these letters are excerpted to lay out the story as it moves forward in granular detail.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn Devil House, you can expect to come across terrifying paintings on walls and a murder with an oyster knife, but not without understanding the hopes and lives of everyone involved. Darnielle has a real feel for places where the action isn’t, and the people who call those towns home ... Darnielle switches stories up again and then unfolds them, basically in reverse order. After a center interlude that seems entirely separate but actually speaks to all of the narratives, including Chandler himself, we return to the stories of the devil house and the witch murders, but in ways that recast them and show the damage wrought. There’s no finger pointing, just an expanding perspective that shows that these stories, structured for our satisfaction, leave pain in their wake.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesI was prompted to ask ethical questions that Powers seemed uninterested in answering ... It’s a relief to see great novelists like Powers, Lydia Millet and Jenny Offill tackling climate change in ways that make for really good stories, brilliantly told. But there’s a key difference here. Millet and Offill, in their most recent books...are optimists. Even if the solutions their novels come up with are utopic or near-miraculous, the young people in them create something that might last. Powers cannot seem to find a way. When the plot of Bewilderment turns, it’s animated not by ethical questions but by external forces. There’s internet virality and then pushback, all under the shadow of the right-wing administration in Washington. This is fiction taking its cues from dark reality ... Powers is an essential member of the pantheon of writers who are using fiction to address climate change. Bewilderment shows how tenuous their hopes may be.
RaveThe Boston Globe... delightful, ruminative ... The book’s \'living autobiography\' format makes everything immediate, like a diary — if you were a diarist with a gift for metaphor and literary references at the ready ... Her writing is elliptical and episodic, as if tracing the movement of her mind. But it’s clearly crafted, with ideas recurring and expanding as the book goes on. And for all we see of her moving through the world and her work, her discussion of the places she writes and mentions of the machines she’s written on, she doesn’t portray herself in the act of writing. The book feels as if we’re listening in on her very thoughts, and yet those thoughts are composed off-screen ... She is warm and, dare I say, likable.
RaveLos Angeles Times...delightfully funny ... With descriptions like this, Galchen efficiently drops us into 17th century Germany without elaborate scene-setting. Her acknowledgements show stacks of books she read for research, but that knowledge has been absorbed and digested. She doesn’t explain; she reveals. It’s harder than it looks ... The situation may be dire, but the novel is gosh-darn funny. Katharina is sharp and bright, and her narration sings ... Galchen has written another smart book that investigates the power of narrative, both good and bad, foregrounding a woman who’d only been a footnote to a famous man’s story, all while being funny and deceptively easy to read. It’s quite a magic trick.
RaveLos Angeles Times... a smart accompaniment to any travel, armchair or actual ... Bookstores are filled with personal essay collections; this one, by roving both farther and deeper than most, stands above ... In recent years, the production of literary essays has metastasized so that something once rare is now a vast surplus overloading online reading outlets. When Forna dips into a subject that’s been widely addressed, such as insomnia in \'The Watch\' or the male gaze in \'Power Walking,\' the pieces fall a bit flat ... Yet for the most part, she stands above the fray. She weaves in experiences that are so individual another essayist would make them the center of a piece, like the time she flew a plane on a loop-de-loop or when she had an audience with the Queen. Here they are part of the texture of her understanding of the world. Her work is intelligent, curious and broad ... This essay collection shows us, in various ways of defining home and understanding who we are, that being an anywhere is not a deficit; it’s an accomplishment.
RaveLos Angeles TimesThe terror hits again and again ... a grounded and expansive examination of the American economic divide. Whether he’s introducing an office supply entrepreneur in Texas, the leader of a Seattle gospel group or a retired Baltimore steelworker going back to work, the reader — me, you — will feel that drop in the stomach, the dread of what we know is coming. Here they are, people with dreams and families and flaws and aspirations, and something bad is going to happen to them. That bad thing is Amazon ... This is much more than a story of retail. It’s about real estate. It’s about lobbying, data centers and the CIA. It’s about revolving doors in Washington, D.C., and cardboard folders in Ohio. It’s about a social fabric disintegrating while corporations duck paying taxes. It’s about a stunning transfer of wealth into Amazon’s coffers, all before the COVID-19 pandemic began and the company reaped even more ... an indictment in fact but not in tone. I’ve been meaner to Amazon in these short paragraphs than MacGillis is in his entire book. There’s probably a reason the publishers left the word \'Amazon\' out of the title: This book is neither a hagiography nor a targeted attack. Instead, like the HBO series The Wire, it reveals the way economic, political and social systems affect individual stories. MacGillis wants readers to see how the systems Amazon both exploited and created affect so much of our economy, building the case brick by brick. In almost every instance, he finds a way in through a personal story or two. It takes a skillful journalist to weave data and anecdotes together so effectively ... Where others have written of an urban-rural economic divide, MacGillis parses it to show that wealth has been concentrated in certain cities and left others behind ... Reading these people’s stories will break your heart. But you should read them.
RaveLos 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.