PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... deeply intriguing ... a tense and often beautiful work of reflection on the American present ... What’s more interesting in “Little America” is an idea Kalfus repeats often: that the displaced Americans have a \'look\' and way of being that sets them apart from the locals. Nostalgic for the consumerism of home, they build crude replicas of big-box retailers, complete with their familiar color schemes. They share a passion for walking dogs. \'People wore their clothes in the American style,\' Kalfus writes, \'and their faces were recognizably American.\' But if the country they came from was a global melting pot, what does an \'American\' face look like? One wishes Kalfus had explored this idea further. Race and class conflicts are at the heart of the real-life disorder Americans are living, but Kalfus elides those differences in this work. Still, 2 A.M. in Little America is a highly readable, taut novel. It pulls the reader into its world, and suggests that many interesting human complications await us at the end of the story called the United States of America.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn Soul Full of Coal Dust, Hamby employs dogged investigative work and a deep well of empathy for his subjects to painstakingly bring this private pathos to life ... Hamby is not an elegant or emotional writer, but he does manage to capture the inner turmoil of his subjects as they get sick and realize the coal mining companies and their high-power attorneys are getting the best of them. Mostly, he accomplishes this with a blow-by-blow description of repeated doctor visits and proceedings before administrative law judges ... With thorough reporting, and boundless concern for his subjects, Hamby has created a powerful document of this drama, one that is unfolding, largely unseen, in the hills and valleys of West Virginia.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWard fills almost every page of Men We Reaped with lyrical descriptions of the people and the land, much as she did with her 2011 novel Salvage the Bones, which won the National Book Award...at once a coming-of-age story and a kind of mourning song ... Men We Reaped is filled with many such intimate and familial moments, each described with the passion and precision of the polished novelist Ward has become ... Ward is one of those rare writers who’s traveled across America’s deepening class rift with her sense of truth intact. What she gives back to her community is the hurtful honesty of the best literary art.
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"What distinguishes The Unwinding is the fullness of Packer\'s portraits, his willingness to show his subjects\' human desires and foibles, and to give each of his subjects a fully throated voice ... like a good novelist, Packer isn\'t willing to fit people into types ... in the end The Unwinding, is a book that manages to be both sad and uplifting, much like the turbulent times it describes.\
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Yellow Birds is the narrative of a soldier-witness still numbed by what he's seen. It's a beautiful and horrifying trance of a book, as Powers takes us again and again to a dream-like battlefield where unimaginable cruelties are inflicted upon combatants and civilians alike … A young man who got beat up for reading poetry in high school, Pvt. Bartle signed up for the Army to prove his courage. He finds his poetic and philosophical sensibilities put to use observing his brothers die … The Yellow Birds might just be the first American literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war, even if an imperfect one. It is, without a doubt, a powerful and disturbing statement about the brutality of that conflict, and of the deep wounds inflicted on thousands of our citizen-soldiers.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesJuan Gabriel Vásquez's deeply affecting and closely observed new novel takes up the psychic aftermath of that era [of the drug war], as residents of Colombia's capital, Bogota, struggle to make sense of the disorder and dysfunction that's enveloped their daily lives … It begins with the classic detached and dreamlike tone of the Latin American short story masters Borges and Cortázar. Our narrator is Antonio Yammara, a law professor who haunts the billiard clubs in central Bogota… Yammara is a young and handsome member of the Latin American intelligentsia, and his life has been defined by the pleasures available to such men, including the occasional affair with his students. But when he witnesses the killing of Laverde — and becomes a victim of gunplay himself — he is transported into a world of dread and emotional turmoil, a journey that Vásquez describes with appropriately Kafkaesque overtones.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesFlight Behavior has many of the trappings of a work of literary fiction. A strong female protagonist with a complicated recent past, for example, and extended, dreamy descriptions of a shifting natural landscape. But after just a chapter or two, the novel's true purpose becomes clear — it's a Blue State morality tale about Red State people and Red State thinking … Kingsolver, who was raised in nearby Kentucky, spends much of the 400-plus pages of this book wagging her finger at poor white people. Dellarobia, whose dreams of leaving Feathertown to go to college were thwarted by a teen pregnancy, is her Blue State-thinking stand-in. She's trying to shake loose from the roots of her lethargic culture.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesEverything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng's excellent first novel about family, love and ambition, opens with a death ...can't help but feel a little like a mystery, and the pages that follow do reveal, gradually, the cause of Lydia's death. At its core, though, Ng's book is a conventional, domestically centered novel about an American family ...despite the Lees' interracial status, issues of ethnic and cultural identity are largely secondary to Ng's main ambition here: probing the emotional wounds that have scarred the family ...Ng's portrait of the relationship between Lydia and Marilyn, especially, feels true and fully realized. It's also heart-wrenching ... an engaging work that casts a powerful light on the secrets that have kept an American family together — and that finally end up tearing it apart.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesRabih Alameddine's beautiful new novel is ostensibly about an elderly woman living alone in her Beirut apartment. Once married but quickly divorced, Aaliya appears to be, as the title says, An Unnecessary Woman ... Much of An Unnecessary Woman reads in this fashion, with Aaliya dialoguing with the lives and works of great writers while simultaneously recounting the events of her life, from girlhood to sunset years ...an allegory about how notions of beauty and civilization can endure in a world that periodically descends into barbarism and how women can persevere in a society that never ceases to devalue them in both war and peace ... an utterly unique love poem to the book and to the tenacity of the feminine spirit. And it's a triumph for Alameddine, who has created a book worthy of sitting on a shelf next to the great works whose beauty and power his novel celebrates.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesReading the stories in Díaz's new collection, This Is How You Lose Her, is often a three-dimensional, laugh-out-loud experience. It's the voice that transports you: erudite, Caribbean, bilingually foul-mouthed, channeling the assorted insanities of Dominicans, New Jerseyites and English professors ... It's not just Díaz's eye for the idiosyncrasies of his characters that make these stories so funny and moving: It's also his fierce wordplay and inventiveness. He's a writer who's at once disciplined and free-spirited, as comfortable in his Latin skin as he is in his English prose ... In the end, it's the voice of male-driven sex and love obsessions that makes Díaz's stories most memorable. He writes best about players. But they're guilt-ridden players, men of many foibles...there is great literature.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review“Thanks to MacFarquhar’s curiosity and insight, and her embrace of complexity and ambiguity in storytelling, these portraits don’t read at all like a secular version of Lives of the Saints.”