Reviews of the Week with David Nicholls, Nino Haratischvili, Anne Enright, 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.

We are all working from home, but the #ReviewsOfTheWeek must carry on. Check out upcoming epic family dramas, an audio mystery, and a recently released hot title. Booklist is always here for your TBR!

Monday, March 16

Sweet Sorrow, by David Nicholls

Lounging in tall grass in a quiet corner of his small, English town, certain that he failed his end-of-school exams and is headed precisely nowhere, Charlie doesn’t realize he’s trespassing on the rehearsals for a summer production of the ultimate tragic romance. Out of nowhere appears Fran, Juliet of course, who trips and falls, and that’s it. Love at first sight will make a sullen teenager do crazy things, even join a socially unacceptable theatre troupe. It would be fair to guess what happens next, right down to Charlie’s casting as Benvolio and some magnificent usage of Shakespeare’s text.

Tuesday, March 17

The Janes, by Louisa Luna and read by Tavia Gilbert

The Janes of the title are Jane Does, the bodies of two abused young Latinas who appear in the violent and unforgettable opening scenes of this thriller. The police employ PI Alice Vega to discover their names, and she and her partner, ex-policeman PI Max Caplan, not only identifythe women but also uncover a trafficking ring that involves Mexican drug lords and equally sinister and dangerous officials in the U.S. Gilbert’s expressive reading is simply splendid. The story is an action-filled page-turner, and the audio captures that. But Gilbert’s intelligent and emotional narration also immerses listeners in the characters and their fates, whether recounting events and the building tension as the plot unfolds, laying out the problematic issues of immigration and trafficking, or voicing the wide range of characters.

Wednesday, March 18

The Eighth Life, by Nino Haratischvili and translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin

This novel has generated substantial industry buzz and international critical praise. Both are justified. As the twentieth century dawns, a patriarch builds a successful confectionary business. His chocolate recipe is closely guarded; the sublime concoction in its purest form brings a curse. His daughter, Stasia, is entrusted with the recipe, but despite her warnings, family members down the generations partake and lives are upended. Like other sprawling Slavic epics, the backdrop is war, revolution, terrible repression and want. But this is not a Russian epic, it is a Georgian epic, and this distinctively flavors the narrative. As the narrator says, “I think our country can really be very funny (by which I mean not only tragic).”

Thursday, March 19

Year of the Rabbit, by Tian Veasna and translated by Helge Dascher

The U.S.’s April, 1975, withdrawal from Vietnam enabled the so-called Vietnam War to spread into Laos and Cambodia, where Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime stormed Phnom Penh and dispersed its inhabitants—mostly to brutal labor camps—eliminating 1.7 to 2 million Cambodians. Veasna was born into that hell, miraculously escaping to France in 1980 with his parents. His extended family tree appears in the opening pages and is duplicated at the end with chilling modifications: 9 of the 21 faces are greyed out to denote their deaths. In between, bolstered by years of interviews with remaining family, Veasna reveals starvation, betrayal, torture, imprisonment, and death. Unexpected kindness and uncanny coincidences help keep (some of) the family alive.

Friday, March 20

Actress, by Anne Enright

Norah recalls the behind-the-fame life of her mother, the mesmerizing star of the stage in Dublin, Broadway, and London, and of the silver screen in Hollywood, Katherine O’Dell. A quarter century after her mother’s death, 59-year-old Norah, a fatherless child, is ready to look back, hoping, at last, to understand her mother and herself. The iconic glamour, the sordid truth—the drinking, smoking, drugs, and plagues of insecurity—and the crushing physical and mental toll exacted by her mother’s alchemical talent are all here. Enright’s indelible images of the primal love between mother and daughter that ebbs, flows, and ultimately abides will stick with readers. Not knowing who her father is, which is her mother’s greatest secret, leads a twentysomething Norah to a devastating choice. Chillingly, she discovers a mirrored experience in a long-forgotten diary that contains her mother’s distraught account of an assault—the day Norah was conceived—and the sustenance she found in faith.



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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