Reviews of the Week with E L James, Laurie Halse Anderson, Philip Kerr, 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 sensational author’s foray into new romantic territory; an impeccable narration from one of YA’s foremost authors, the middle-grade adventures of two sleuthing cousins on the case to repair time; the alternately voiced story of best friends discovering their authentic selves; a posthumous release from a master in crime fiction that returns a beloved character to the beginning. Noteworthy authors and strong stories are celebrated in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between April 22–April 26, below.

Monday, April 22

The Mister, by E L James

The Mister is James’ first post–Fifty Shades novel, and it will inevitably inspire comparisons to that problematic, addictive trilogy, so let’s address those comparisons right now:

• Like Christian Grey, Maxim Trevelyan (Maxim Trevelyan!) is very, very rich. Unlike Mr. Grey, whose job was vaguely “business” and maybe had something to do with Sudan at some point, Maxim is the second son of a dead earl who just inherited the title and properties from his dead brother. He is also a composer and photographer. And a DJ. And a model. These last two don’t come up much, but they help paint an initial picture of our hero as both Hot and Fairly Useless. 

• Like Ana Steel, Alessia Demachi (Alessia Demachi!) starts off as a very naïve virgin. Unlike Ana, who in the year 2011 had a flip phone and managed to graduate from college without an email address, Alessia is very naïve because she grew up in a remote village in Albania with a traditional father who betrothed her to a violent man, which is why she and her hymen high-tailed it out of there for England, where she escaped from the human traffickers who stole her passport and started a new life as one of the thousands of invisible, undocumented domestic workers in London.

Tuesday, April 23

Shout, written and read by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson’s Speak (1999) is a modern classic of YA literature and a testament to both the silencing isolation sexual violence wreaks on a survivor and the restorative power of finding—and using—one’s own voice in the healing process. In the light of the #MeToo era, Speak was clearly ahead of its time, but Shout, read by the author, arrives at the perfect moment, is carried by the perfect voice, and will inspire listeners to shout their own truths. Through poems of varying length and structure, Anderson traces the path she walked to become the author, advocate, and survivor she is, explicating the childhood and adolescent experiences that echo in the difficult truths in her books. Anderson’s voice is confident but candid, imbued with a verity that no one else could convey. Her narration of the painful moments of abuse she experienced feels tight and simmering. Scenes of reflection are voiced with an undertone informed by a lifetime of wisdom.

Wednesday, April 24

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, by Lamar Giles

The last Monday in August may not be the last official day of summer, but Otto and Sheed know it’s the last day that counts: on Tuesday, they go back to school, and their days of freedom are over. The two African American cousins, known to all in Logan County as the Legendary Alston Boys, have spent their summer solving mysteries and competing with their rivals, the Epic Ellison Girls, to win keys to the city. But their wish for more summer comes startlingly true when a man appears out of nowhere with a strange, not-quite-right camera, and with one press of a button, he mysteriously freezes time. Except for Otto and Sheed, it seems everyone in town is trapped in a single moment. But the boys are on the case, and as they investigate, they get to know some very interesting concepts, meet people from out of time, and begin to understand how deeply a single missed opportunity can alter a life.

Thursday, April 25

Birthday, by Meredith Russo

Morgan has an urgent secret that he keeps, even from his lifelong best friend Eric: he desperately wants, no, needs to be a girl. Oblivious, Eric, who is straight, only suspects Morgan might be gay, and Morgan himself wonders if he might be. Though Morgan doesn’t know it, Eric has his own secret: he can’t stop wondering what things would be like if his friend were a girl. But what could these feelings mean? Grappling with how to be his authentic self, Morgan angrily decides to deny his truth and be the most masculine boy he can, leaving Eric to feel his friend is disappearing. Will they, as they turn 18, be able to resolve their feelings about themselves and each other? Readers will gradually find out, since both’ first-person points of view are represented in alternate chapters.

Friday, April 26

Metropolis, by Philip Kerr

Fittingly, if sadly, Kerr’s final, posthumously published Bernie Gunther novel returns the Berlin detective to his beginnings. It’s 1928, and Bernie has just been promoted to the prestigious Murder Commission. Germany is just starting to emerge from the worst of the post-WWI inflation crisis, and, while the fabled decadence of the Weimar Republic remains in flower, the repressive Nazi movement is gaining strength. In the middle of that cauldron of opposites, Bernie finds himself investigating two serial killers—one who preys on prostitutes and another who targets the many disabled veterans reduced to panhandling on Berlin’s streets. Or could there be only one killer? And, worse, could he be a cop, as some witnesses have suggested? With the help of a makeup artist working on the production of a new avant-garde musical, The Threepenny Opera, Bernie goes undercover as a limbless veteran to find the answers. Harkening back to the first two novels in the series, March Violets (1990), and The Pale Criminal (1991), both set a bit later in the Weimar era, Kerr displays again his special talent for reflecting individual depravities against the broad canvas of a society collapsing upon itself.

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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.

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