Steph Cha is the author of Follow Her Home, Beware Beware, and Dead Soon Enough. Her fourth novel, Your House Will Pay, will be out from Ecco in 2019. She’s the noir editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books and a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. She lives in her native city of Los Angeles with her husband and two basset hounds.
RaveUSA TodayThere’s an election next week that will mark the climax of an exhausting, dramatic year, but if you have the time and head space to read new-release fiction, it would be well spent on The Cold Millions ... It’s a tremendous work, a vivid, propulsive, historical novel with a politically explosive backdrop that reverberates through our own ... Walter is a Spokane native, and he captures both the depth and breadth of this moment in his hometown’s history ... gives us the grand tour, with a bounty of crime and intrigue and adventure anchored by an unforgettable ensemble cast ... About half of the novel is narrated in the third person from Rye’s point of view, but Walter brings in a multitude of first-person voices to bring the world roaring to life.
MixedUSA Today... the author’s latest treatise on malignant isolation, a rambling, close-up psychodrama that explores the mysteries of an unreliable mind ... Moshfegh is a gifted writer, with an excellent ear for rhythm and detail, and her prose, along with the promise that something interesting might happen, makes the book a quick and sometimes enjoyable read. Unfortunately, it never stops feeling like an extended writing exercise, aimless and haphazardly conceived, bloated at 260 pages with generous margins ... a high-handed spin on genre that lacks both the elegance of a successful literary experiment and the substance of the real thing.
RaveUSA Today... [a] masterwork trilogy ... The final and longest Cromwell novel lacks the blazing focus of the prior two – it’s a slower read, with more slack in the intrigue and rumination in the prose ... But every page is rich with insight, the soul-deep characterization and cutting observational skill that make Mantel’s trilogy such a singular accomplishment ... a detailed history, capturing the struggles of church and state, kings and queens, England and Europe, all through Mantel’s exquisite study of Thomas Cromwell, arcing dutifully, beautifully toward this one man’s death.
RaveUSA Today...masterful, incisive ... Price, herself a survivor, writes with marvelous clarity and acuity. Her prose is lovely and precise, reminiscent of Donna Tartt or Edward St. Aubyn. In the hands of a less observant writer, or even a clumsier stylist, Kate Quaile’s journey could have felt muddled or sentimental or boring. The story is delicately plotted and quietly piercing ... What Red Was is not a novel about how the truth will set you free. It’s uglier than that, withholding easy catharsis.
PositiveUSA TodayThe prose is assured and frequently lovely, and the characters jump off the page. He writes with a level of compassion and emotional precision that precious few can match ... Chances Are… reads like a prestige literary writer’s reluctant take on a mystery novel. But while it seems to go out of its way to be unthrilling, that isn’t the book’s primary flaw. The problem is, in fact, the gone girl: Jacy is a manic pixie dream ghost, an object of desire characterized with shorthand gestures, even when her story takes center stage during the climax of the book ... The mystery of Jacy’s vanishing is the engine of the novel, but Jacy is more device than character.
The men, on the other hand, are achingly well-defined ... Chances Are… may not be a perfect book, but there’s heart and beauty on every page.
PositiveUSA TodayIn her tender debut novel...Claire Lombardo mounts a convincing challenge to Leo Tolstoy’s famous line, depicting a happy family that is inarguably unique. The Sorensons are affluent, white and suburban — the starting point for a certain kind of literary family saga — and their relative lack of misery almost feels like a daring twist ... The novel alternates between seven points of view...and encompasses decades of family drama. This is a lot of ground to cover, and while it’s all enjoyable, The Most Fun We Ever Had seems longer than necessary, some of its storylines expanding the book’s surface area without adding much depth ... Still, it’s a pleasure spending time with the Sorensons ... Lombardo explores parenthood and resentment, sisterhood and deception, revealing the grace and grit and hard work that go into making a happy family happy.
RaveLos Angeles TimesThe novel is expansive and introspective, fragmented and dreamlike, a coming of age tale conveyed in images and anecdotes and explorations ... Just as he fuels his prose with his poetry, Vuong takes what he needs from lived experience to animate his storytelling with visceral beauty and a strain of what feels like uncut truth. This is, of course, a difficult art, and one of the chief goals of many fiction writers ... Vuong’s prose is strongest when it’s anchored to Little Dog and his family, or his relationship with his first love ... There are moments when the writing slips, becoming clumsy or cloying — just a tiny bit LiveJournal emo ... It’s impressive, though, that this doesn’t happen more often. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break ... For the duration of this marvelous novel, Vuong holds our gaze and fills it with what he wills.
Niklas Natt Och Dag
PositiveUSA Today\"... brutal and haunting and sometimes exceedingly gruesome, anchored by a powerful sense of place and a memorable cast of characters ... The Wolf and the Watchman is a bleak, miserable, compelling novel. You’ll only want to read it once, but you won’t soon forget it.\
MixedUSA TodayVox (Berkley, 324 pp., 2.5 out of 4 stars) is heavy with backstory and flashback, about a third of it spent setting the stage. The best parts of the novel are actually in this slow-moving first section, when the potential is more or less intact ... Dalcher\'s premise is intriguing, especially in the hands of a linguistics expert, and it provides a good deal of momentum ... Then, the author rushes through the interesting bits in favor of a thin, clumsily constructed thriller plot ... Not uninteresting, but ultimately unaffecting.
RaveLos Angeles Times\"... like all of [Frnech\'s] novels, [The Witch Elm] becomes an incisive psychological portrait embedded in a mesmerizing murder mystery ... The Witch Elm is over 500 pages long, and it takes a bit more patience than French’s police procedurals, which by their nature offer more suspense and intricate detective work. It’s immensely talky, the story unfolding over several long conversations without a ton of present-day action... But the dialogue is riveting, every line of it necessary, every scene just vibrant and dripping with juice. French has a deep understanding of her characters, and she doesn’t seem to have it in her to write a bad sentence. She could make a Target run feel tense and revelatory, but it’s a real gift to have such a talented, detail-oriented writer tapping into the narrative bounty of good old-fashioned murder.\
MixedUSA TodayAmber Tamblyn...prominent voice of the Me Too movement — has written a book about a female serial rapist who preys on men. Any Man is her debut novel, and it has a few interesting things to say about rape culture and social media, shame and survival. These flickers of insight are spread thin across a short, experimental novel, built with odd parts that never quite come together ... Tamblyn takes some admirable stylistic risks, but the book reads like a first draft — a handful of good ideas thrown out and left where fallen, without the rich language or disciplined structure needed to give them power.
PositiveUSA TodayIn this smart, incisive page-turner, Alger takes her precise understanding of the financial world and zooms in on the nebulous business of offshore banking ... The thriller moves swiftly as the desperation and violence escalate, gliding by on clear, competent prose that never gets in the way. Its flaws are forgivable and par for the genre: some brow-raising coincidences; a fast, tidy wind-down crammed with breathless exposition. Alger delivers an addictive dose of suspense and intrigue with a surprisingly believable plot.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesJeppesen is our guide to North Korea, and all he can really offer is a dramatic recounting of his time in the country, much of which boils down to a guided tour of a guided tour. He seems to compensate for thin material with flowery language and flagrant verbosity. There are many purple-prosed sunsets ... I found his substantive commentary quite enjoyable—he knows how to talk about art, and he comes alive in his granular analyses of what he dubs \'Norkore\' propaganda music and regime-approved \'Norkorealist\' painting ... What makes See You Again in Pyongyang worth reading is the tension between the bold explorer and the impenetrable country, the feeling of frustration in the face of lies and exclusion and petrified resistance. Jeppesen may get as deep as Pyongyang will allow, at least to an American.
RaveUSA Today\"Instead of sapping the story of suspense, this familiarity infuses every page with dread. And that’s before Katsu adds in a supernatural twist ... The Hunger, for all its wickedness, is somehow less of a nightmare than the actual Donner Party history, some of the darkness pushed onto external threats, or disproportionately contained in one sociopathic villain. Katsu is at her best when she forces her readers to stare at the almost unimaginable meeting of ordinary people and extraordinary desperation, using her sharp, haunting language.\
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesJoe King Oliver, the protagonist of his new novel Down the River Unto the Sea, is a black ex-cop who was framed for the rape of a white woman. The premise alone is enough fuel for hours of classroom discussion. Add in a wise teenage daughter, a devilish antihero partner and a death-row inmate inspired by Mumia Abu-Jamal, and we have a wild ride that delivers hard-boiled satisfaction while toying with our prejudices and preconceptions ... Despite its serious subject matter, Down the River Unto the Sea is an optimistic noir. A fitting work for a world riddled with dark contradictions.
Mira T. Lee
RaveUSA TodayThat’s the power of family, awful and wonderful, and this power ripples through the pages of Mira T. Lee’s extraordinary debut novel. If you love anyone at all, this book is going to get you ... The novel covers decades at a swift clip, but it never feels rushed or lightly explored. There’s a lifelike texture to the fast passage of time, each relationship painted with deep, efficient strokes. Lee is a cogent, controlled writer, hitting big themes — immigration, mental illness, romance, family — while avoiding the usual traps of mawkishness and emotional manipulation ... Everything Here Is Beautiful is no fairy tale. It springs from the rich mess of love and pain and humanity, the restlessness of real life that ensures nothing is fixed ever after.
PositiveUSA TodayThe Revolution of Marina M. does not make for quick reading. It restarts several times, following the ruptures in the protagonist’s life. So while there is plenty of action and drama, this is an epic narrative that depends very little on the traditional rewards of plot. Thankfully, Fitch is an excellent writer ... Each phase of her story builds on the last, and it’s a pleasure to see her develop, her core character strengthening as she tries on new roles, new identities, growing to adapt to her changing country.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIt’s a marvelous setting for a novel, reminiscent of the sleepy fictional villages that are forever being ravaged by murder ... The book has some serious themes, but the tone is refreshingly animated, less dependent on ennui and adultery than many of the books that have defined suburban American fiction ... Like Shaker Heights, Little Fires Everywhere is meticulously planned, every storyline and detail placed with obvious purpose. This can be overbearing at times — an on-the-nose college essay prompt comes to mind — but the overall effect is strong and thoroughly enjoyable. Ng is a confident, talented writer, and it’s a pleasure to inhabit the lives of her characters and experience the rhythms of Shaker Heights through her clean, observant prose ... Ng sets fire to Shaker Heights, and the result is both unruly and glorious, a novel that vibrates with the heat of life.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThe Son...pulses with aggressive energy and splattering ultra-violence … Like any long work of sugary entertainment, it lags in spots and performs most poorly when depth is expected. The plot is fun and often complex, but the novel is flashier than it is meaningful. Nesbø addresses good and evil, sin and redemption, and even allows for a fair amount of moral ambiguity, but his treatment of these themes often feels almost incidental … People get drugged, shot and occasionally eaten by dogs; the twists and turns are bold and surprising. Nesbø delivers a revved-up, entertaining red harvest, another guaranteed hit from a forceful thriller machine.
RaveUSA TodaySchmidt paints a picture of a house in crisis, stroke by violent stroke ... Her eerie voice makes for intense, dizzying reading, conveying the corrupt atmosphere of the house, the suffocating sense of wrongness every character seems to feel under the skin ... Schmidt inhabits each of her narrators with great skill, channeling their anxieties, their viciousness, with what comes across as (frighteningly) intuitive ease. Everything about Schmidt’s novel is hauntingly, beautifully off. It’s a creepy and penetrating work, even for a book about Lizzie Borden.
RaveUSA TodayKwan’s prose may be plain, but he accessorizes splendidly, with detailed descriptions of feasts and mansions, couture clothing and shiny, shiny jewels. Rich People Problems is a fun tabloid romp full of over-the-top shenanigans, like a society party brawl that ruins both a Ramon Orlina glass sculpture of the hostess’s breasts and 'a special pig that had only eaten truffles its entire life and was flown in from Spain.' It’s more farce than satire, with more flash than depth, but it delivers exactly what it’s supposed to — a memorable, laugh-out-loud Asian glitz fest that’s a pure pleasure to read.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesCrime fiction is a staple of L.A. literature, which is full of crooks and hustlers, fast-talking wise guys who are tough to seduce and even tougher to deceive. Petty is persistent and reasonably smart, but he’s an entirely different kind of creature, fumbling and ordinary, and this makes him refreshingly realistic even as the plot zooms forward with big twists and the customary thriller propulsion ... Tinafey is a kind, engaging character, a decisive departure from the trope of the sexual and therefore evil femme fatale, and their romance gives this hard-boiled novel a measure of earnest sweetness ... He also reconnects with Sam, with Tinafey’s urging and support, and his precarious relationship with his daughter drives both the plot and the emotional journey of the novel. None of this hokey because Lange is an expert writer, his prose exact, his narrative tightly controlled. Even his occasional excesses — there’s some heavy coincidence with Sam’s story line — are well-managed and easily justified. Petty may be a world-weary 40-year-old con man, but his character brings a fresh point of view to the world of noir L.A. Whatever he’s selling, it’s worth buying.
MixedUSA TodayIt’s a page-turner with an intriguing premise, hampered only by bad writing and a general lack of literary merit ... f all you want is an entertaining ride with the approved allotment of blood and action, Final Girls might fit the bill. The suspense is more or less constant, and there are a few sharp, unexpected, if implausible twists; the pacing is swift, with short chapters and alternating timelines, and the book is rarely boring. It is, however, terribly written, the clumsy prose distracting from the action ... Standard fare for the throwaway thriller, but unsatisfying if you want anything more.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesMeloy seems to see a particular American smugness in the sense of safety violated by the events of this cruise ... Do Not Become Alarmed is a bit glib to be an incisive social novel. With the narrative voice switching between so many characters, not all of them are fully fleshed out, and the ones who are are the white women ... the criticism of white American arrogance cuts about as deep as the usual white American self-flagellation, the apologies issued from center stage. But Meloy didn’t write a manifesto; she wrote a page-turner, prioritizing action, delivering a wild, propulsive plot with tight prose and a constant current of suspense. It’s a thrilling novel, well constructed and hard to put down, a sharp reminder that the tide can take us anywhere, even when the water looks fine.
PositiveUSA Today...a clever meditation on the whodunit genre by one of its leading experts ... Still, the book could be shorter and more incisive — it takes the span of two crime novels to make its commentary about crime novels, a commentary devoid of criticism of a traditionally white and male-dominated genre, with a middle-age female narrator who is wonderful and intelligent but nonetheless believes life has passed her by because she is unmarried and childless. But it is, ultimately, a smart, enjoyable read, with two satisfying mysteries for the price of one.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times[Doerr] builds a beautiful, expansive tale, woven with thoughtful reflections on the meaning of life, the universe and everything … Doerr never lets Werner off the hook, and Werner's arc — his increasing tolerance for ugliness and violence, ‘his ten thousand small betrayals,’ his struggle to find volition and redemption in a life that offers few apparent choices — is the most compelling part of the book. The other characters are easier to classify as good and evil. Marie-Laure's struggle for survival is captivating, but her journey is more external than Werner's — we are never forced to doubt the purity of her heart … The prose is lovely, with the sort of wondrous, magical, humor-free tone that could be cheesy in the wrong hands.
PositiveUSA Today...a sensitive, melancholy portrait of the inheritance of survival — the loss and the pain, as well as the healing ... The novel throbs with heartache, as well as with frank descriptions of cruelty and misery. It’s a harrowing, personal portrayal of a dark stain on modern history, one in which Americans played a significant part ... The pace is plodding at times, and there are some stumbles in the prose, which strives for a musicality Ratner doesn’t quite pull off. But despite its faults, Music of the Ghosts is an affecting novel, filled with sorrow and a tender, poignant optimism.
MixedUSA TodayHalf of the novel is told from Claire’s point of view, and she’s really the main attraction — a flawed but loving woman, not above using her position as dentist to punish the occasional schoolyard bully. Despite the central crime element, Lisa Bellow is more character study than suspense novel. Unfortunately, the prose isn’t quite strong enough to make up for a languid plot. Nonetheless, Perabo makes some interesting observations about character and family life, and her book should have some emotional resonance with anyone who’s felt out of place or left behind.
Min Jin Lee
RaveUSA TodayLee is an obvious fan of classic English literature, and she uses omniscient narration and a large cast of characters to create a social novel in the Dickensian vein ... The novel is frequently heartbreaking — its scope doesn’t deter attachment to individual characters, and when bad things happen, the swift pacing and wide-angle view make them seem even more brutal, if at times too sudden. This is the rare 500-page novel that would benefit from some extra flesh, particularly in the last third.
Joyce Carol Oates
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesA Book of American Martyrs manages to cover several of our greatest hits of political controversy: not only abortion but also capital punishment, terrorism, religion, the 1st Amendment, the 2nd Amendment. Whatever your poison, this book will have something to get your blood roiling ... Oates, at least, is there for these fictional children. A Book of American Martyrs belongs to them — Naomi and Luther’s older daughter Dawn in particular — following their lives as they reckon with the assassination and its consequences over the next 12 years. These are the daughters of men fighting over women’s rights, left behind by their fathers. It seems just that they get a voice ... A Book of American Martyrs is successful because she refuses to satirize or dehumanize anyone, even murderous foes of abortion. She spends more than 100 pages in Luther’s voice, and repugnant as he is, he has the full weight of a rich, complicated character, totally seen and understood by his author. That same immersive empathy extends to all the major characters, with wonderful results ... This is a hard book to get through, even discounting its length; it’s painful and demanding and sometimes nihilistic, not exactly chicken soup for the ailing American soul. But with its wrath and violence, A Book of American Martyrs offers this teaspoon of warmth in these troubled times: that it is possible to be wrong without surrendering your humanity.
RaveUSA TodaySekaran makes no easy judgments. She does the hard work of a thorough fiction writer and presents flawed characters aching with humanity ... This novel takes its time, and it could probably be shorter without losing much of its impact. But Sekaran’s prose is swift and engaging, her storytelling confident enough to justify the scenic route. She takes us from rural Oaxaca to a Berkeley sorority house; from a Silicon Valley tech campus dripping with money to the shadowy nightmares of immigrant detention centers. There’s a rich secondary cast — Kavya’s relationship with her mother Uma could sustain a novel on its own. It’s easy to imagine the lives of these characters even off the page. Lucky Boy pulses with vitality, pumped with the life breath of human sin and love.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times\"...torturously compelling, a relentless portrait of death and agony that never lets you look away. Han’s prose — as translated by Deborah Smith — is both spare and dreamy, full of haunting images and echoing language. She mesmerizes, drawing you into the horrors of Gwangju; questioning humanity, implicating everyone ... Like The Vegetarian, Human Acts interrogates the relationship between body and soul, trying to find where, exactly, humanity resides in our animal forms. Han’s writing is literally visceral, luxuriating in the gleaming nastiness of the body ... Yet Human Acts isn’t devoid of warmth, even if almost all of its moving moments grow out of deep suffering ... Han makes extensive use of the second person — more than a third of the book is written in this mode. This is a bold choice, and it doesn’t always pay off, but the overall impact is unnerving and painfully immediate.\
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIt’s impossible to get tired of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels ... [Conway] is hard-edged and hot-tempered, smart and ambitious, with a biting sense of humor and a strong, distinctive voice — French always gets full points for style, but Conway may be her best narrator yet ... the book is pure pleasure, a fine-grained but fast-paced police procedural. French is one of the best thinkers and best plotters in the business, and she sells narrative control as a motivating force just as strong and concrete as love or greed.
PositiveUSA TodayFew books have made me laugh harder than her 2012 novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Semple's humor shines just as brightly in Today Will Be Different ... The novel, like Eleanor, is a bit messy — there’s a 50-page chunk of pure back story in the middle of this single-day tale. The comedic dialogue runs too zany now and then — but it’s unrelentingly entertaining, with some nice pathos thrown in the mix.
MixedUSA TodayThese [first] hundred pages are somewhat monotonous, with lots of fist-shaking frustration and comically thorough searches for hidden food ... As she starts caring for and believing her — if not her freedom from hunger, then her belief in her freedom from hunger — the book gets a lot more interesting, plunging into a rich Irish bog of religion and duty and morality and truth ... The book takes some predictable Hollywood turns, but its dramas and details are sharply unique. Dark and vivid, with complicated characters, this is a novel that lodges itself deep.
Joe McGinniss, Jr.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesCarousel Court is a raw, close-up portrait of a married couple tormented by money problems in the midst of a national recession ... The writing is taut and swift, with spare, propulsive sentences in short chapters — 97 of them in 350 pages (with whole pages devoted to rapid-fire, soul-sucking text exchanges). The tension and misery rarely let up, and despite the relief available in not reading this book, it’s very hard to look away.
MixedUSA TodayThe plot is meandering and episodic, with some vibrant scene work — who doesn’t love a good meltdown at a fancy office party? — that doesn’t quite save it from slipping into tedium at times. Break in Case of Emergency is a comic novel with a strong dose of pointed satire, but some labored writing blunts a lot of the humor, just as it bogs down the pace. Even so, I found myself caring about Jen, turning the pages to see if she’d ever snap, or at least stand up for herself.
Donald Ray Pollack
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesPollock is a gifted writer with a unique sensibility and a captivating style. His prose is gritty, his dialogue entertaining. Sentence for sentence, he is an absolute pleasure to read. But The Heavenly Table stalls in a way that Pollock’s other books do not — it drifts far afield of its central narrative, with a huge cast of characters who get back stories and points of view ... The plot is also rather unruly, but it’s hard to begrudge Pollock his excesses when he writes violence and black humor so well ... contains enough poignant and vile humanity to leave a long impression. Even though the novel may not be his best, it’s a book that can only have come from Donald Ray Pollock, who remains one of our most intriguing working writers.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIf the Cass Neary novels are about any one thing, they're about the eerie, uncomfortable intersections of art and death ... Hand is an extraordinary writer with a strong voice and a seemingly infinite supply of well-observed, macabre details ... Hard Light threads together a lot of images and ideas to create a memorable experience. The plot is unruly and sometimes hard to follow, but it's propulsive and oddly secondary to Hand's themes and scenes.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesHomegoing covers seven generations in 300 pages and is, for the most part, a blazing success ... Homegoing is, in essence, a novel in short stories, so each chapter is forced to stand on its own, and inevitably, some chapters fare better than others ... The sum of Homegoing’s parts is remarkable, a panoramic portrait of the slave trade and its reverberations, told through the travails of one family that carries the scars of that legacy.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesA Little Life is not misery porn; if that's what you're looking for, you will be disappointed, denied catharsis. There are truths here that are almost too much to bear — that hope is a qualified thing, that even love, no matter how pure and freely given, is not always enough. This book made me realize how merciful most fiction really is, even at its darkest, and it's a testament to Yanagihara's ability that she can take such ugly material and make it beautiful.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesShelter derives almost all of its drama from family dynamics, yet it manages to read like the most suspenseful of thrillers. Yes, the family arcs involve plenty of violence — as well as a few truly jaw-dropping turns of events — but the shifts and swerves of these relationships have their own intense propulsion that compels on a purely emotional plane. None of Yun's characters are particularly likable; some of them cross lines that seem to preclude forgiveness. But even the monsters are recognizably human, and the Cho family's redemption remains worth hoping for, even when it seems impossible and undeserved.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times...even without good prose or a thrilling plot, Midnight Sun manages to be a fun read, with a likable protagonist and a brisk, page-turning pace. Nesbø is a talented storyteller and his narrative intuition is on full display, even without the usual guns and guts.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesBird is a slim novel, beautifully constructed and emotionally potent, without a word out of place.