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2010 Books: Overlooked and Overlauded

Don't miss these good reads in fiction and nonfiction

Overlooked and Overlauded

Overlauded

America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and the Flag by Sarah Palin. In her inimitably trailbreaking style, Alaska's half-term governor may have inaugurated a new literary genre: snide patriotism.
— Charlie Clark

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. Most reviewers went easy on this novel about an epic battle between angels and mortals, to which I can say only: Why? One reason, I suspect, was the strength of the author's previous book, a memoir. But to be honest? This thriller was the silliest thing I read all year.
— Wendy Smith

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (Book 1 of "The Century Trilogy"). Follett's latest blockbuster reminds me of the old joke about heaven versus hell: In heaven, the French are the cooks and the English are the police; in hell, vice versa. He combines a lover's approach to historical research with a workmanlike approach to sex scenes.
— Bethanne Patrick

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. The rave reviews for this debut novel about staffers at an English-language newspaper in Rome were bewildering. It is overwritten, and the individual stories never cohere as a whole.
— Evelyn Renold

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes. The undeclared "conflict" deserves a novel with Matterhorn's scope and Marlantes' understanding of dysfunctional chains of command. It also deserves a novel unburdened by his clunky, cliché-ridden sentences.
— Mark Athitakis

Percival's Planet by Michael Byers. The author's precise, evocative prose drew plaudits from most reviewers, as did the core of this historical fiction — the 1930 discovery of Pluto by Kansas farm boy Clyde Tombaugh. But Byers buries Tombaugh in an unwieldy and ultimately unbelievable cast of characters and subplots that exhausted my patience.
— Roberta Conlan

The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman. The author is a smart, funny critic with lots to say about literary obsession. Somebody always seems to be squirming under her bootheel, however: Her highly personal takes on Tolstoy, Pushkin and Dostoyevsky are routinely undercut by snarky swipes at nearly everyone with whom she interacts.
— Mark Athitakis

Room by Emma Donoghue. You can't help being drawn in by the novelist's 5-year-old narrator, cruelly imprisoned with his mother in the backyard shed of a psychopath. Once he escapes, however, this creepfest of a novel vainly seeks a place to go — and struggles for something to say.
— Mark Athitakis

Tinkers
by Paul Harding. When it's not being sporadically brilliant, this 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner — filled with time shifts and interior monologues — is convoluted, overwritten and willfully obscure. It's easy to simultaneously marvel at Harding's talent and grok why he struggled so hard to get this novel published.
— Julia Klein

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