Reviews of the Week with Alexandra Chang, P. M. Freestone, 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 woman’s self-discovery in an alarmingly new environment; a fantastic world where aroma yields magical qualities; an intricate portrayal of a young man’s inner voice; a museum’s lure on a woman’s life; a spirited narration of a young girl’s flirtation with being a matchmaker. Fresh new voices are revealed in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between November 4 and November 8, below.

Monday, November 4

Days of Distraction, by Alexandra Chang

As one of the few women of color in her office, the narrator of Chang’s stunning debut struggles to feel heard. A staff writer for a tech publication, she’s often told she needs to stand out more to be noticed. Her requests for a raise remain on hold, though managers assure her that someone will take care of it. When a new executive comes in, her dissatisfaction grows as she realizes the overwhelming lack of diversity in the tech industry and the minimal efforts to correct it. Her boyfriend’s decision to attend graduate school in Ithaca gives her the perfect excuse to leave and start fresh across the country.

Tuesday, November 5

Shadowscent, by P. M. Freestone

In a society dependent on perfumes, oils, and elixirs, all Rakel wants is to use her gift for fragrances to make enough money to care for her dying father—easier said than done if you aren’t born into the right family. Ash’s only desire is to serve his best friend Nisai, the prince and heir to the empire, as his faithful Shield guard—and to protect a secret that could cost him his life. Yet somehow, when the prince is poisoned and left comatose, Rakel and Ash end up on the run to save their lives as well as Nisai’s. Journeying through the five provinces in search of a way to save him, Rakel must use her skills and Ash his swords to overcome the endless challenges before them.

Wednesday, November 6

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor

It’s a summer weekend in a Midwestern university town and biochemistry grad student Wallace is just weeks past losing his dad, and moments past losing weeks’ worth of lab data. When his friends—who are all white and mostly fellow biochem students—find out about his dad, they can’t believe Wallace is okay (he didn’t go back to Alabama for the funeral) and desperately want to comfort him. This tension, just one of the burners Taylor ignites in the slowly unfolding opening scene, simmers for the book’s duration and deepens as readers get to know Wallace and his highly honed abilities of self-preservation.

Indelicacy, by Amina Cain

Thursday, November 7

Cain’s bewitching first novel is so deeply internalized that the reader knows neither what city the solitude-loving narrator lives in nor the time frame, though candles and carriages are mentioned, nor her age and appearance. In it, the narrator reflects on her quiet life as a cleaning woman at a museum and returns home each night to her small, nearly empty apartment to write about the paintings she gazes at so intently. She doesn’t even say goodbye to Antoinette, her one friend, when she abruptly leaves her job and marries a rich man. Now she has beautiful things and the freedom to look to her heart’s content at the museum, but she is ill at ease with having a maid—a hostile one, at that—and worries about “decadence.”

Friday, November 8

A Match Made in Mehendi, by Nandini Bajpai and read by Priya Ayyar

When Simi’s habitual klutziness leads (surprise!) to the unlikely pairing of her recently single cousin with the furniture store owner’s lawyer-to-be son, her mother and masi—mother’s sister—have irrefutable proof that Simi’s inherited the family talent: matchmaking. For three generations, the women in Simi’s Indian American family have been sought-after vicholi—and, admit it or not, Simi has the gift, never mind her protestations: Simi’s an artist-in-the-making—her medium is mehendi, traditional Indian henna-inked art. As sophomores, Simi and BFF Noah find the perfect opportunity to increase their social clout with a matchmaking app Simi’s older brother has written.



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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