Literary.

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NEW BOOKS GUIDE

We read hundreds of book reviews each month to select the works to include in each issue. We seek a balance among three categories: highly-rated books that received many reviews, highly-rated books that received less comprehensive coverage, and lower-rated books that were widely reviewed and well publicized.

The collective wisdom of critics

Each critic offers an individual perspective. We quote and summarize the reviews studied to provide an informed, balanced critique and to make sure that unique insights do not get missed. We apply a rating to a book from each review we study--those ratings are assessed to provide a final rating.

Spoiler-free book descriptions

We hereby pledge not to reveal the ending or revelatory plot points when discussing a fictional work.

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APPLYING RATINGS TO WORKS OF ART IS FRUSTRATINGLY REDUCTIONIST

It is also helpful in navigating through myriad choices. As with any rating system, it is solely a guide--a summing up of several informed perspectives. There is no substitute for reading the book yourself and forming your own opinion.

RATINGS

***** CLASSIC

A timeless book to be read by all

**** EXCELLENT

One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre

** FAIR

Some problems, approach with caution

* POOR

Not worth your time

FICTION

****

Blood's a Rover

By James Ellroy

The final installment in noir master James Ellroy's Underworld USA Trilogy, Blood's a Rover (whose title is taken from a poem by A. E. Housman) follows American Tabloid (1995) and The Cold Six Thousand (2001) in its bleak reimagining of the social and political upheaval between 1968 and 1972.

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THE STORY: In 1964, an armored car heist in South Los Angeles goes terribly wrong. Four years later, this crime and its aftermath reverberate through the lives of three men poised on the brink of history: Wayne Tedrow Jr., an ex-cop-turned-hired gun; Donald Crutchfield, a voyeuristic private eye working for the Mob; and Dwight Holly, an FBI agent and a favorite of J. Edgar Hoover. As conspiracies churn around the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Howard Hughes vies for control of Las Vegas, and the government cracks down on the Black Power movement, ideologies collide, allegiances dissolve, and the gathering storm leaves no one unscathed.

Knopf. 656 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780679403937

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Dallas Morning News *****

"Blood's a Rover commands your attention from the first page and, thanks to its heft, makes reading in piecemeal fashion daunting. Ellroy's latest is American fiction at its finest, a dexterous, astounding achievement." PRESTON JONES

Denver Post ****

"The author's machine-gun style sentences and gimlet-eyed vision of the back streets, back alleys and back rooms of America hit all the right notes as he brings his underworld trilogy to a bravura ending. ... It's a high-water mark in the career of one of America's best historical novelists." DORMAN T. SHINDLER

Minneapolis Star Tribune ****

"Blood's a Rover is not for those who like their fiction--or their history--to impose an order and a moral authority on the world. Ellroy appears to decry both (as would Hammett). Instead, ellroy gives readers a view of America's immediate past--the 'dream aftershock'--that's crazy bad and, well, pretty believable." CAROLE E. BARROWMAN

Seattle Times ****

"Verdict: so absorbing and satisfying that it's exhausting. ... And even having inhaled the previous two like a paint-huffing junkie, I sometimes felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails to keep everyone and everything straight in the big cast of characters and sprawling story that spans Los Angeles, Las Vegas, chicago, Florida, Haiti and the dominican Republic." MARK RAHNER

Washington Post ****

"Ellroy's bleak, brooding worldview, his dense, demanding style and his unflinching descriptions of extreme violence will almost certainly alienate large numbers of readers. But anyone who succumbs to the sheer tidal force of these novels will experience something darker, stranger and more compelling than almost anything else contemporary fiction has to offer." BILL SHEEHAN

Los Angeles Times ****

"The characterization is thin, the conspiracy jigsaw perhaps a little too familiar by now. ... Blood's a Rover concludes an epic fictional project that has been wild and brilliant, dazzling and funny, and even, let's admit it, repetitive and hectoring." RICHARD RAYNER

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ***

"As in the earlier book, ellroy hasn't lavished enough attention on character, a deficit his stylistic razzle-dazzle can't paper over. ... The novel, which can bring on headaches because of ellroy's celebrated, but wearying, staccato style, finally becomes a largely fascinating, patchwork meditation on politics, race and gender." CARLO WOLFF

CRITICAL SUMMARY

With Blood's a Rover, Ellroy completes his epic of revisionist history, and critics agreed that it is a worthy finale. Action-packed scenes, narrated in Ellroy's trademark staccato prose, hurl the reader along towards a shocking conclusion, but this is no conventional thriller. Ellroy dissects people and events familiar to history buffs and reinvents them within the sordid underbelly of the mid-20th century, interspersing the narrative with invented police statements, transcripts, and FBI reports. While some critics complained of flat characters and repetitive plot twists, nearly all enjoyed this conspiracy- and carnage-filled tale of power and corruption. Ellroy's blunt language, raw depictions of violence, and relentless pessimism may not be to everyone's taste, but those with stronger stomachs will be amply rewarded.

FIRST IN THE SERIES

AMERICAN TABLOID (1995): This first installment of the Underworld USA Trilogy examines the seedy American underworld during the Camelot years.

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****

The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis

By Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis is the author of seven short story collections, including the 2007 National Book Award finalist Varieties of Disturbance. In 2003, Davis translated Marcel Proust's classic Swann's Way and is currently working on a translation of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

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THE STORY: Davis's latest collection includes stories from four previously published works: Break It Down, Almost No Memory, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant, and Varieties of Disturbance. In "Safe Love," a lonely wife falls in love with her son's pediatrician. In "Grammar Questions," a daughter wonders how to refer to her father once he is dead (is he a "he" or an "it"?). And in "Lonely," a protagonist obsessively wills the telephone to ring. Many of the 198 tales, which range from a single sentence to multiple pages, explore how some of our most profound revelations stem from seemingly superficial or everyday situations. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 752 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780374270605

Los Angeles Times *****

In some stories, like 'Kafka cooks dinner,' it is easy to be hypnotized, dazzled, by what seems like trance writing. ... If it's any consolation, you are an instrument being played by a master." SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

New Yorker *****

"One can read a large portion of davis's work, and a grand cumulative achievement comes into view--a body of work probably unique in American writing, in its combination of lucidity, aphoristic brevity, formal originality, sly comedy, metaphysical bleakness, philosophical pressure, and human wisdom. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis will in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions, distinct and crookedly personal." JAMES WOOD

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"[The stories] are also unceasingly surprising, deeply empathic, sharply witty, often laugh-out-loud funny and really, really good. ... This is the kind of book readers will either devour in one obsessed run, or sip for months and years." CRAIG MORGAN TEICHER

NY Times Book Review ****

"Davis nervily inhabits obsessive and haunted personas, her intonation shifting with unsettling precision from the sly to the sinister. ... Davis approaches the short-story form with jazzy experimentation, tinkering with lists, circumlocutions, even interviews where the questions have been creepily edited out." JAN STUART

O, The Oprah Magazine ****

"Lydia davis is one of the best writers in America, a fact that has been kept under wraps by her specialization in short fiction rather than the novel and her discomfort with the idea of one event following another in some sensible pattern. ... She is the funniest writer I know; the unique pleasure of her wit resides in its being both mordant and beautifully sorrowful." VINCE PASSARO

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Critics unanimously praised this extraordinary (and extraordinarily hefty) collection, in which Davis masterly taps into myriad emotions--from melancholy to hilarity, empathy, and apathy. Each voice is unique; each story is equally difficult to categorize. Many of the stories lack basic names, dates, and places and are disconcerting in their brevity. Are they short stories? Flash fiction? Fables? Davis steadfastly refuses to adhere to any kind of prescribed formula, with stunning and original results. Whatever label readers decide to attach to her work, critics agreed that Davis is one of American literature's best-kept secrets.

****

The Financial Lives of the Poets

By Jess Walter

Journalist Jess Walter's most recent work of fiction, The Zero (2006), was a National Book Award nominee and explored the aftershocks of 9/11. The Financial Lives of the Poets is his fifth novel.

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THE STORY: Things aren't going so well for Matt Prior, a financial reporter for a struggling newspaper. He quit his job to launch a Web site that would supply monetary advice in verse--poetfolio.com--and lost his life savings when it flopped. Now, his unhappy wife is maxing out their credit cards and carrying on long, hushed conversations with...

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