Reviews of the Week with Quraysh Ali Lansana, Amy Stewart, Kate Atkinson, 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.

Have you read Quraysh Ali Lansana’s latest poetry collection? What can you cook with yummy vegetables? When are the Kopp Sisters going to courageously save the day? Where can a Nordic girl sail? Why did it take eight years for another Jackson Brodie mystery to hit shelves? All these mysteries will be solved with the Reviews of the Day from the fourth week of Mystery Month, posted between May 20 and May 24, below.

Monday, May 20

The Skin of Dreams: New and Collected Poems, 1995-2018, by Quraysh Ali Lansana

Lansana is a bold poet who chronicles complex American experiences. The author of previous poetry collections and children’s books, Lansana has also coedited two outstanding 2017 volumes honoring his mentor, Gwendolyn Brooks: Revise the Psalm and The Whisky of Our Discontent. His new collection begins with new poems and ardently unspools backward to 1995 and his first shining book, Cockroach Children, in which hints of a pastoral spirit attempt to comprehend an urban reality as in the poem “rogers park”: “i rake the words into piles / and dive into an elusive blanket.” Death tragic and expected is a constant in life; in his compassionate and rebellious poems Lansana does not shy away from pain, but rather gives voice to a collective grieving. In “dead dead” he writes, “is there an extra dead? / what is the term for dying again / when already?”

Tuesday, May 21

Vegetables Unleashed, by José Andrés and Matt Goulding

Backed by his worldwide restaurants, reputation for humanitarianism, and many awards, Spanish-American chef Andrés (We Fed an Island, 2018) stands to change the way we eat and imagine vegetables. For this globally influenced ode to the vibrant possibilities of vegetables, he has a well-matched co-author in Goulding, who’s written food and travel books about Japan (Rice, Noodle, Fish, 2015) and Spain (Grape, Olive, Pig, 2016). Goulding’s natural affection for the infectiously enthusiastic chef comes across, while recipes reflect Andrés’ playful and ever-experimental culinary thinking. The brilliantly photographed book is divided into seasons, which are organized alphabetically by vegetable. (Ingredients can also be referenced via an index.) Various multi-page spreads break up the recipes: “Food Fighter” profiles of farmers and advocates, such as Ron Finley, who’s pioneered community gardening in South Central L.A.; “Love Letters” to ingredients like local honey; and logs of Andrés culinary journeys to places like the Chef’s Garden in Ohio, a farm where many of the vegetables that end up on fine-dining plates are grown.

Wednesday, May 22

Kopp Sisters on the March, by Amy Stewart

Adrift after being fired as deputy sheriff in Bergen County, New Jersey, Constance Kopp joins her sisters Norma and Fleurette at the newly established National Service School for women at Camp Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 1917. When the camp matron breaks her leg, Constance is persuaded to take over, and, liking nothing more than being in charge, she begins to tailor classes to resemble men’s training, including marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat for a select few. While many of the campers are young women from wealthy Manhattan families, one doesn’t fit that mold: Beulah Binford, a national symbol of moral degeneracy, views the camp as her last resort after being sacked as both an officer at a New York factory and the mistress of the factory’s owner. Claiming to be Roxanne Collins of Park Avenue, she trains lackadaisically and keeps her anonymity until provoked, in an incident that rocks the camp. As the U.S. enters WWI, Constance takes command to show what women can do.

Thursday, May 23

The Girl Who Sailed the Stars, by Matilda Woods

The northern town of Nordlor is built entirely from old ships, whose wood causes the buildings to sway as if still at sea. It’s here that 10-year-old Oona resides, unloved because a prediction promised that she would be a boy. With neglectful parents and unkind sisters, there’s something of Roald Dahl’s Matilda in Oona, who loves to read, despite not being allowed to go to school, and yearns to sail with her father aboard The Plucky Leopard. She gets her chance at the latter when she stows away on her father’s ship before it sets sail for a whaling trip in the Great Northern Sea. Oona quickly proves herself a brave and capable member of the crew, finally receiving the approval from her father she always craved. More significantly, however, she bonds with the ship’s navigator, who teaches her to read maps and the stars. Myth and reality collide in the icy waters in a wondrous encounter that opens Oona’s eyes to her father’s true nature.

Friday, May 24

Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson

It’s been eight years since Atkinson’s last Jackson Brodie mystery (Started Early, Took My Dog, 2011), and, while the three historical novels she has written since then—all with some connection to WWII—have been uniformly brilliant, fans of the ever-brooding, painfully tenderhearted private investigator will be thrilled that Brodie is finally back. He’s living in a remote cottage near the sea in Yorkshire, but somehow he still finds no shortage of troubled souls washing up around him needing help. It begins with a runaway bride and a sad sack with suicide on his mind, and, from there, Jackson’s menagerie of broken-winged creatures leads him into something much darker, something that will thoroughly reinforce his ingrained pessimism. (“Have you ever tried being an optimist?” Jackson’s former partner, actress Julia, asks him. “Once,” Jackson replies. “It didn’t suit me.”) Using her signature narrative style, Atkinson not only tells the story from multiple points of view, but also moves back and forth in time, letting us see new sides of an incident from several characters’ perspectives.

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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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