Reviews of the Week with Brittany K. Barnett, Cat Patrick, 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.

An evocative thriller, middle-grade mysteries, and books about creative self-introspection and righting legal imbalances are all in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, May 11

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom, by Brittany K. Barnett

When Sharanda Jones went to court for a sentencing hearing following her first-time drug offense, she thought she would be able to pick up her daughter from school afterwards. Instead, she received a life sentence. Years later, author Barnett, then a law student, learned of Jones’ case while researching a paper for her Critical Race Theory class and soon started on her own path to becoming an advocate for criminal justice reform. This memoir is Barnett’s moving story of growing up in East Texas and her progression from accountant to corporate lawyer to voice for those permanently incarcerated. Barnett’s mother struggled with addiction and spent two years in prison, which gave Barnett an immediate connection to Jones. Barnett worked tirelessly to request clemency for Jones as well as other clients who had received life sentences.

Tuesday, May 12

Tornado Brain, by Cat Patrick

Thirteen-year-old Frankie (don’t call her Frances) is three-times challenged: she has attention deficit disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and sensory processing disorder. She also has just one friend, Colette, whom she met in kindergarten during a tornado. But now, these seven years later, she and Colette have had a falling out, leaving Frankie friendless; well, except for her twin sister, Tess, but she doesn’t count. On top of losing this friendship, Frankie has literally lost Colette, who has seemingly vanished. Colette left behind three brief videos that Frankie thinks are clues—only they were posted two years earlier. Or were they? Clearly everything is changing, and an uneasy Frankie declares, “Change is my enemy.” But, as she continues to search for clues to her former friend’s absence, she begins to gradually transform, herself.

Wednesday, May 13

The Thirty Names of Night, by Zeyn Joukhadar

Nadir, a trans Syrian American man, mourns his mother daily. He even sees her interacting with the world around him, like a ghost. During the day, Nadir cares for his grandmother. At night, he paints murals of birds across New York City, an homage to his ornithologist mother as well as to Laila Z, an artist his mother admired and whose journals Nadir pours over. Both Nadir and Laila Z’s stories are told in the second person—Nadir to his mother, Laila Z’s as letters to “B”—lending an extra intimacy to Joukhadar’s stunning prose, which is already vivid, visceral, and urgent, as readers of The Map of Salt and Stars (2018)can attest. Nadir’s journey probes into both the fleeting nature and permanent influence of art, while also exploring the human body as limitation—because Nadir is misgendered in the first part of the novel, yes, but also because he often longs to escape into something completely other, such as a flower or a bird.

Thursday, May 14

Premeditated Myrtle, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

There is something afoot at Redgraves, the house neighboring Myrtle Hardcastle’s own, which is why the precocious 12-year-old took it upon herself to phone the police. Myrtle is quite sure that something dastardly has occurred, but she is thrilled when the crime appears to be murder—not that anyone else is calling it that, yet. After the body of cranky old Miss Wodehouse is removed from its last earthly bubble bath, the cause of death is pronounced to be heart failure; or, if you’re Myrtle, heart failure due to poisoning. Myrtle’s above-average intellect, passions for justice and science (an endearing blend of her parents’ professions), fondness for detective stories, and predilection for asking questions make her the perfect person to investigate what is obviously a crime most foul.

Friday, May 15

Cut to the Bone, by Ellison Cooper

In this third in the series (following Caged, 2018, and Buried, 2019), Sayer Altair, FBI agent and neurologist, is on a desperate search for a group of teenage girls who disappeared on a school trip. Then the body of one of the girls is found, followed by another, both posed at high-traffic Washington, DC, monuments with odd artifacts and messages referring to ancient Egyptian beliefs. Altair, a Black woman in a field where that is a rarity, must wrestle with having made missteps in tracking a killer who seems to be on the fast track to murdering the remaining girls in his grasp. Most effective here are the switches in perspective between the FBI investigation and the feisty captives, who are not sitting around waiting for their fate.

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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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