Reviews of the Week with Christopher Goffard, Gregory Funaro, James Donovan, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from November 26–November 30 below.


Monday, November 26

Dirty John and Other True Stories of Outlaws and Outsiders, by Christopher Goffard

Los Angeles Times staff writer Goffard’s investigative podcast, Dirty John, found instant success when it began in 2017. This is a compilation of Goffard’s essays, including the one that launched the podcast: the true story of a con man who preys on a successful businesswoman and her family. Many of the pieces are more human interest than true crime, such as the stories of young, train-riding runaways; a soldier who has spent a lifetime trying to make up for his father’s military desertion; and a Syrian mother who found asylum in Sweden but hasn’t seen her family in years. There is also true crime, though, such as in the fascinating tale of a couple who try to frame a school volunteer and PTA mom.


Tuesday, November 27

 Watch Hollow, by Gregory Funaro

Oliver and Lucy Tinker live with their father in his clock-repair shop. As they struggle with the loss of their mother and attempt to make it through each day with the small earnings from the store, a mysterious man named Mr. Quigley arrives with an offer that sounds too good to be true: come to Watch Hollow for the summer and repair a large clock in Blackford House in exchange for a very generous amount of money. As the Tinkers arrive and get to work on the enormous cuckoo clock, they discover that the clock, which is missing animal shapes that mark the hours, provides power to the entire house and is much more difficult to repair than they imagined. When a pair of wooden animal figures come to life after midnight, Lucy befriends them—a sweet dog named Torsten and a not so trusting cat named Meridian—and discovers not only the complex history of Blackford House but also the reason why the wooden clock animals are hiding from the Shadow Woods, which seem to be getting closer to the house by the hour.


Wednesday, November 28

The Antifa Comic Book: 100 Years of Fascism and Antifa Movements, by Gord Hill

“Comic books were made for Nazi punching,” writes Mark Bray (Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook, 2017) in the foreword, acknowledging the political and often propagandistic history of comics. But Hill’s encyclopedia of worldwide fascist movements and their antifascist opponents does much more than just advance an agenda. It tells a riveting and fact-based history that feels more important than ever. Hill uses the boldness of the graphic medium to venerate the struggle against bigotry, but despite this larger than life lionization, he grounds his story in truth and fact. Fascism has a visual history—symbols that loom large as stand-ins for belief systems—and Hill’s visual representation of the uniforms, symbols, and flags of these movements serves as a reminder of the semiotics of oppression and resistance.


Thursday, November 29

Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11, by James Donovan

With NASA’s recent announcement about a planned return to the moon coupled to fiftieth anniversaries of Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 and recent release of the movie First Man, profiling the late astronaut Neil Armstrong, interest in the long-retired Apollo space program has been undergoing an overdue revival. The best-selling author of works on the Alamo and the battle of Little Bighorn, Donovan combines his masterful research skills and narrative gifts in recounting the full story of the most famous Apollo trip, the one that delivered Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface. Donovan begins with the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the tiny Soviet satellite that ignited the space race between the U.S. and Russia, and takes readers through the early days of failed rocket launches and orbiting monkeys before NASA began its Herculean efforts to realize President Kennedy’s 1961 dream of landing men on the moon by the decade’s end.


Friday, November 30

Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

NASA had its sixtieth birthday this year, and this oversize tome traces its development from Explorer I, launched back in 1958, through the Mars Rover. The narrative develops in chronological order, with numerous detours for biographical profiles, detailed photo captions, sidebars, and “Fun Facts” (Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, began her space shuttle shifts with “Hailing frequencies open,” a line made famous on Star Trek by the USS Enterprise’s communications officer Lieutenant Uhura).  Readers learn about daily life on the International Space Station, technological innovations, and international competition and cooperation, alongside reports on animal astronauts, space toys, and an entire chapter on the intersection of science fiction and hard fact (the question-and-answer format responds to queries such as, “Why is Darth Vader’s breathing so weird?”).



About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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