Reviews of the Week with Julia Alvarez, Ilima Loomis, and More!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

As we continue to celebrate Booklist’s Spotlight on Diverse Voices (which you can check out here!), a captivating combination of #OwnVoices and genre reads are reflected in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek.

Monday, February 3

Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez

Dominican American author Alvarez’s many fans will be thrilled to see her return to adult fiction long after Saving the World (2006) to present a novel that can be read as an exploration of how the sisters in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent (1991) might have turned out. Here Alvarez creates four Vega sisters, older women wrestling with the challenges of age. The main focus is on Antonia, a retired college professor and novelist who is finding it hard to face life after her husband’s sudden death. In the tranquil Vermont college town in which she lives, Antonia’s grieving process is upended when she finds Estela, a pregnant, undocumented teenager hiding in her garage, a situation that invites comparison to her own more benign immigration experience.

Tuesday, February 4

‘Ohana Means Family, by Ilima Loomis and illustrated by Kenard Pak

Poi is made from kalo and served at an ‘ohana’s lūʻau. For cultural insiders, this is an immediately recognizable affirmation of a beloved tradition, but the rest of us will need to follow along, paying close attention to words and images as the mystery unravels one detail at a time and we learn what each of those words means. The importance of this native Hawaiian tradition is revealed through Loomis’ and Pak’s textual and visual re-creations. The wind, the rain, the sun, the “land that has never been sold,” and the wise old hands that work the land show that family is one of many interconnected parts—plant, planet, human, the elements—each as important as the other. Pak’s lovely, stylized watercolors bring readers close enough to see droplets on the roots of the kalo and then zoom out to see the whole sun-kissed island.

Wednesday, February 5

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, by Cho Nam-Joo and translated by Jamie Chang

Already an international best-seller, television scriptwriter Cho’s debut novel has been credited with helping to “launch Korea’s new feminist movement.” The fact that gender inequity is insidiously pervasive throughout the world will guarantee that this tale has immediate resonance, and its smoothly accessible, albeit British English vernacular–inclined, translation by award-winning translator Chang will ensure appreciative Anglophone audiences. Cho’s narrative is part bildungsroman and part Wikipedia entry (complete with statistics-heavy footnotes). She opens with “August, 2015,” immediately divulging the fragile mental state of her titular Kim Jiyoung, who now as a wife and mother has developed the disturbing tendency to suddenly become other people she’s known, both living and dead.

Thursday, February 6

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope, edited by Patrice Caldwell

If you’re looking for your next deep dive into sf and speculative fiction, look no further. Editor Caldwell here collects 16 stories that embrace and reimagine the histories of Black women and their resistance, hope, and liberation. Featuring an array of well-known and breakout #OwnVoices authors, this volume boasts ample variety in style, voice, and approach that ensures readers will find at least one story to enjoy (though likely many more). Standouts include Dhonielle Clayton’s “Hearts Turned to Ash,” about a girl faced with the choice of how to restore her heart after matchmaking magic goes awry. Then there’s the clever and witty “Tender-Headed” by Danny Lore, about an attitudinal hair braider who needs to have her own head “fixed up.” Ibi Zoboi offers up Caribbean folklore with a story of a skin-shedding soucouyant, calling us to question the weight of our complexion in how we value ourselves, and Amerie calls readers to reconsider the primordial soup story of humanity with her intergalactic tale.

Friday, February 7

House of Earth and Blood, by Sarah J. Maas

Acclaimed YA author Maas (A Court of Thorn and Roses, 2015) steps into urban fantasy territory in her adult debut. Bryce Quinlan is your average post-grad, if you can call being half human and half fae average. Still figuring out life, Bryce spends her days working at Griffin Antiquities and her nights partying in Crescent City with her best friend and roommate, Danika. The world is theirs . . . until the night Danika is murdered. Bryce spends the next two years in a deep fog until it is revealed that the wrong person was charged with the crime. Bryce must then work with Hunt Athalar, feared demon hunter and fallen angel, if she has any chance of finding Danika’s real killer. As the case progresses, so does a burning desire between them.

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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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