Reviews of the Week with Sarah Blake, Tiffany D. Jackson, Neal Stephenson, 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.

A lavish family drama set in 1930s New England; a thrilling fantasy world in which two female pilots embark on a dangerous adventure; a pact among three loyal friends to bring their fallen companion’s words to the world; a dead man’s journey into a cyber world of his making; an important, fact-based exploration of choice. The thought-provoking and dramatic lead the way in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between April 1–April 5, below.

Monday, April 1

The Guest Book, by Sarah Blake

“One of those families who used to run the world . . . WASPs.” That’s how a man describes the Miltons as he admires the grand wreck of their Maine island estate in a brief, shivery foreshadowing. Blake’s breathtaking saga then begins in full with a lush, sweeping overture, though it carries its own kind of chilling undertow. Think Gershwin, Copeland, Ellington. It’s 1935, spring has suddenly turned Manhattan verdant and promising, and Kitty Milton, 30 and privileged, can’t help but quietly revel in her splendid good fortune. Blake sets out the silver of Kitty and her husband’s blue-blood pedigrees and Ogden’s accomplishments running the family bank. But intercut with Kitty’s satisfaction with her perfectly ordered life are scenes of shocking loss and Ogden’s business deals in Germany, which lay the foundation for long-concealed family traumas. As in her best-selling The Postmistress (2010), Blake saturates each scene with sensuous and emotional vibrancy while astutely illuminating sensitive moral quandaries. 

Tuesday, April 2

We Rule the Night, by Claire Eliza Bartlett

When Revna lost her legs, her father stole living metal to make her prosthetics. That got him arrested and their family demoted to second-class citizens; now, Revna works in a factory, harnessing a legal form of magic to aid the Union’s war effort. When she accesses the Weave, the illegal magic, and is spotted by the Union’s spy network, she never expects to be recruited. Linné’s infamous war-general father thinks she’s at school, but she’s disguised herself as a boy to join the army. When she’s caught, she’s recruited into the same program as Revna: a women’s military unit where girls use the Weave to fly two-man planes in a fight against an enemy with vastly superior weapons. When Revna and Linné are paired together, neither is thrilled; hard-edged Linné has made few friends among the girls, and she sees Revna, with her prosthetics, as a liability. But if they can’t work together, they have no chance at all.

Wednesday, April 3

Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany D. Jackson

Jackson repeatedly proves that she is a titan among her peers, and her latest novel is no exception. It whisks readers away to a 1990s Brooklyn, where hip-hop pulses through life. Quadir, Jarrell, and Stephon are the tightest of friends, and when Stephon is murdered, Quadir and Jarrell refuse to let his stunning talent for words die with him. With the help of Stephon’s younger sister, Jasmine, they embark on a mission to elevate their fallen comrade to stardom and gift the world his rhymes. Their plan involves circulating Stephon’s music under a new persona they call the Architect, not revealing that the songs are, in fact, posthumous releases. However, the trio doesn’t share the same ultimate goal. Quadir and Jarrell want to boost their dead friend to fame and, perhaps, find a way out of the projects, while Jasmine wants to discover who killed her brother.

Thursday, April 4

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson

In this supersized sequel to his best-selling technothriller Reamde (2011), speculative-fiction virtuoso Stephenson creates new challenges for his returning protagonist, computer-gaming mogul Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, including his literal transformation into a digital avatar. When a routine medical procedure goes awry, rendering Dodge brain-dead, a long-forgotten will drafted during his salad days abruptly takes effect, leaving his remains in the hands of wealthy and wily cryogenics entrepreneur Elmo “El” Shepherd. Twenty years later, his computer savvy grandniece Sophia devises a way to boot up Dodge’s digitized brain in a cyberspace realm dubbed Bitworld, where he finds himself suddenly conscious again and in charge of fashioning a new virtual universe. As the decades pass and the Bitworld population of freshly deceased and uploaded souls grows, Dodge is forced to exercise tighter control—until disenchanted, power-hungry El finally arrives on the scene and turns Dodge’s palace into a prison.

Friday, April 5

My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights, by Robin Stevenson

Reproductive rights have a long history of conflict and controversy around the globe, and this exceptional installment in the Orca Issues series (2 titles) provides an in-depth look at abortion rights and services, both historically and as they exist today. It begins by defining abortion, before presenting a comprehensive history of abortion rights in the U.S. and Canada, enriched by key pieces of legislation, stories of activism, and testimonials from women about their own abortions. Stevenson (Pride, 2016) deliberately calls attention to marginalized groups (the poor, women of color, trans or gender-nonconforming individuals, and the disabled) whose experiences and options have been, and continue to be, vastly different from those afforded to white or wealthy women. Later chapters highlight young sexual health and abortion activists from around the world. 

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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.

1 Comment on "Reviews of the Week with Sarah Blake, Tiffany D. Jackson, Neal Stephenson, and More!"

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  1. Immanuel R. says:

    Nice reviews, those seem to be really fine books and I must say We Rule the Night book cover captivated me!

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