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.
Break In Case of EmergencyJessica Winter
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.
Hard Light: A Cass Neary Crime NovelElizabeth Hand
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.
The Heavenly TableDonald 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.
The TrespasserTana French
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.
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.
Midnight SunJo Nesbo
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.
The WonderEmma Donoghue
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.
Today Will be DifferentMaria Semple
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.
Lucky BoyShanthi Sekaran
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 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.
A Book of American MartyrsJoyce 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.
PachinkoMin 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.
The Fall of Lisa BellowSusan Perabo
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.
Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner
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.
All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr
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.
A Little LifeHanya Yanagihara
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.
Final GirlsRiley Sager
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.
Do Not Become AlarmedMaile Meloy
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.
The SmackRichard Lange
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.
Rich People ProblemsKevin Kwan
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.
Magpie MurdersAnthony Horowitz
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.
Human ActsHan Kang
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.
See What I Have DoneSarah Schmidt
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.
The Son (Jo Nesbø)Jo Nesbø
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.