Reviews of the Week with Marlon James, Donna Leon, Julissa Arce, 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 December 3–December 7 below.


Monday, December 3

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

The first installment in the Dark Star trilogy has been touted as “an African Game of Thrones,“ and, indeed, James, author of the Man Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings​ (2014), throws pretty much every fantasy and horror creature known into this brilliantly chaotic mash-up of genres and styles. Readers will discover mermaids, vampires, zombies, and witches, along with edge-of-your-seat chills and cheeky humor. James’ tale digs its hooks in and never lets go, rather like the claws of the flesh-eating Zogbanu trolls, or the teeth of a vicious ghommid. Yet for all the fantasy and action, James never loses sight of the human story as his hero, Tracker, searches for the truth about a mysterious boy.


Tuesday, December 4

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, by Adam Frank, Read by Kevin Pariseau

Is it possible that we’re not alone in the universe? That other stars support other worlds? Frank, NPR blogger and science commentator for All Things Considered, is convinced that the search for other worlds and civilizations is not only fascinating but also essential for Earth’s survival. As the author recaps Earth’s history and speculates on its future, he touches on the discoveries made, from outer space to Greenland’s ice core. He contends that these discoveries will help Earth avoid the fate of our neighbors, like Mars and Venus. Reader Pariseau has a pleasant, steady voice that sounds confident and authoritative. Frank adds anecdotes and touches of humor to ease the load of technical information, and Pariseau ably voice these sidebars, making the complex subject surprisingly accessible.


Wednesday, December 5

Someone like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream, by Julissa Arce

If the issues Arce, a former Wall Street wonder, now social-justice advocate, addresses in her memoir seem especially topical, it is because little has changed since she came of age in Texas in the 1990s—at least for children in this country illegally. “When I thought of criminals, I didn’t think of someone like me,” she writes.  That, however, is how she soon intuited others felt about her undocumented status. As a young child, born in Mexico, she spent long periods of time separated from parents who ran an import business keeping them—legally—in the U.S. When she finally went to join them, she began life as an American child. Readers will relate to her school victories (making the cheer squad) and troubles (bullies), and tussles with an overprotective father. But her life, it is clear, became divided when she unexpectedly learned her visa had lapsed. Arce no longer felt she could open up to friends, or even, in an emergency, call the police, lest she be deported.


Thursday, December 6

Unto Us a Son Is Given, by Donna Leon

Once again, Leon transforms what might have been a straightforward mystery into something much richer and more resonant—in this case, a meditation on love, loss, family, and prejudice. When Venice police commissario Guido Brunetti is asked by his father-in-law to investigate the young man whom a close family friend, 85-year-old Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada, plans to legally adopt—and thus, according to Italian law, make the sole heir to Gonzalo’s considerable wealth—Brunetti is taken aback. What business is it of his—or anyone’s—to interfere with Gonzalo’s plans? And, yet, there are concerns that Gonzalo, who is gay, is being taken advantage of by the younger man, with whom Gonzalo appears smitten. Would Gonzalo’s friends and family make the same assumptions if Gonzalo were heterosexual, Brunetti wonders, prompting him to doubt his own assumed freedom from prejudice. When Gonzalo dies suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, and his oldest friend, in Venice to organize a memorial, is murdered shortly thereafter, Brunetti is forced to investigate the crime, knowing that even finding the killer can never lessen the human tragedy that stands behind it.


Friday, December 7

 Because, by Mo Willems

“Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music, a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.” Because people wanted to hear it, they formed an orchestra. Because the musicians had practiced their instruments since childhood, they could play it beautifully. Because workers checked lights and swept floors, the concert hall was ready. Because her uncle had a cold, a girl accompanied her aunt to the performance. And when the orchestra played Shubert’s Unfinished Symphony, it captivated the child, transported her, changed her. As she grew up, she worked hard, learning about music, playing it, and writing it, until, one day, she conducted her own piece in the same hall. And hearing it, “someone else was changed.” Writing simply but powerfully about inspiration, its links from one generation to another, and the seemingly random elements that culminate in a transformative moment, Willems creates a narrative that will resonate with both children and adults.



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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