Reviews of the Week with Eve Ensler, Leah Thomas, Laura Lippman, 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 cathartic imagined monologue told from the point of view of a prominent writer’s horrifically abusive father; a precipitous tryst between three youths with colliding pasts; a grim discovery by a budding Baltimore reporter; the fictional account of Faux Soir, an actual resistance journal published during WWII; a threatening phone call and a suspenseful spiral into dangerous territory. The shrouded and mysterious events of the past connect these Reviews of the Day from the very first week of Mystery Month, all posted between April 29–May 3, below.

Monday, April 29

The Apology, by Eve Ensler

At the molten core of Ensler’s trailblazing and empowering work as a playwright (The Vagina Monologues, 1998), nonfiction writer (In the Body of the World, 2013), and activist is the profound trauma caused by her now-long-dead father’s sexual and physical abuse. In the absence of any apology from him, Ensler has imagined one, courageously composing an explicit confessional monologue in an attempt to fathom the horrifying mystery of why a parent would deliberately try to destroy a child. We learn that as a boy he was brutally abused and always feared having children. Sure enough, he’s undone by his initial awe over his baby daughter, and, as she grows, his “tortured and angry” self, the “Shadow Man,” takes over. He graphically recounts his monstrous behavior, from the sexual violence that hurled a joyful child into the abyss of depression and self-loathing to nearly murderous attacks and diabolical psychological assaults.

Tuesday, April 30

Wild and Crooked, by Leah Thomas

Kalyn Spence’s dad is in prison for killing a man before she was born. Her tough-talking alcoholic mother has raised Kalyn to love and respect her father and to not suffer fools or hypocrites. But it’s not easy being known as the daughter of a murderer, so when Kalyn and her mom move back to Samsboro to look after Kalyn’s grandmother, Kalyn starts school under a different name and creates a new identity for herself as sweet Southern belle Rose, hiding her family’s secret and her attraction to girls. On her first day, she meets Phil and Gus, best buddies and school misfits. Phil is instantly besotted with Rose and deputizes Gus to find out if Rose will go out with him. Gus is ostracized not only because his speech and mobility are impaired due to cerebral palsy but also because his father was murdered—by Kalyn/Rose’s father, as it turns out.

Wednesday, May 1

Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman and Thomas Perry have something in common. As good as their crime series are, they both show the full range of their talents more completely in their stand-alones, as Lippman demonstrates in this riveting historical thriller set in Baltimore in the 1960s. In A Doll’s House fashion, Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz walks away from a seemingly happy marriage to carve a life for herself, landing a clerical job at a Baltimore newspaper and setting the goal of becoming a reporter. It happens, but slowly and not without causing significant injury to the lives of others in her wake. Maddie becomes obsessed with the story of Cleo Sherwood, an African American cocktail waitress whose body is found in the lake of a city park. As she jumps between Cleo’s life before her body is discovered and Maddie’s attempt to solve the crime (in which her paper has little interest), Lippman does some innovative things with narrative: not only does the ghost of Cleo speak directly to the reader, excoriating the reporter for digging into the past that Cleo wants left undisturbed, but we also hear from a Greek chorus–like assembly of voices, some fictional, some historical (including former Baltimore Oriole Paul Blair and Violet Wilson Whyte, the first black person to be appointed to the city’s police force), who add texture to the portrayal of the city’s racial politics.

Thursday, May 2

The Ventriloquists, by E. R. Ramzipoor

When the Belgian newspaper Le Soir was co-opted by the Nazis during WWII and turned into a propaganda-spewing daily, it didn’t sit well with members of the Front de l’Indépendance, especially maverick journalist and prankster Marc Aubrion, who, together with several of his fellow Resistance members, published a parody edition, Faux Soir, in 1943, which mocked Hitler and the Nazis. From these historical facts, debut novelist Ramzipoor has fashioned a compelling historical thriller that details the 18 days in which Aubrion and his team managed to write, print, and distribute their astounding parody. After being rounded up by the Nazis and told to fabricate articles for Le Soir about the evils of the Allies or face execution, Aubrion and his colleagues decided to go a different way, knowing that to do so would almost certainly mean their deaths. Mixing real-life figures and fictional characters, Ramzipoor tells the story in flashback, from the point of view of one of the troupe called Gamin, a young woman posing as a newsboy to survive on the streets of Brussels, who documents the Faux Soir story to a modern-day journalist, who has her own ties to the gang of six intrepid conspirators.

Friday, May 3

Swipe Right for Murder, by Derek Milman

The thing is, Aidan was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he trolled the DirtyPaws app, he was just looking for a hookup. Sure, the guy he ended up with (Benoît, a “Silver-Foxy-Anderson-Coopery-Roger-Sterling-y dude”) is being a little weird, but this is a sex-on-demand app. But then Aidan wakes up to find Benoît dead next to him and a threatening voice on the other end of his phone: if he doesn’t hand over the item, the mysterious caller will come after him. The only problem is that Aidan, who has a past he doesn’t want anyone digging into, has no idea what the item in question is. Then the pieces start to fall into place: he’s entangled with a terrorist organization called the Swans, an extremist group targeting those who threaten gay rights. Aidan’s conflicted—sure, the Swans are terrorists, but he understands their motives—and by the time he meets Shiloh, a guy who shows up on a train right when Aidan needs him, he’s completely turned around.

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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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