Reviews of the Week with Jeremy Robert Johnson, Cory Doctorow, Shveta Thakrar, and More!

The Review of the Day has always been a brief, early way to spotlight exceptional upcoming titles 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.

Thrilling endeavors in nature and technology—and adventures across celestial planes—take place in this week’s #ReviewsoftheDay. Add these sf/fantasy & horror genre-spinning titles to your #want list today! Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, August 10

The Loop, by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Turner Falls, Oregon is an idyllic town with a biotech company at its center and is the perfect setting for one of the best supernatural thrillers of the year. In a high school classroom, a young man snaps, violently attacking and killing the teacher with his bare hands. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. A group of outcast teens, led by the narrator, Lucy, herself a survivor of trauma, quickly comes to realize that the town’s rich kids have all been infected with an unnatural technology that wants to replicate itself at all costs. This fast-paced tale is told over one desperate night, as the protagonists try to stay alive and stop the tech before it can spread beyond Turner Falls.


Tuesday, August 11

Devolution, by Max Brooks and read by a full cast

A star-studded full cast headlines this exemplary production of the latest horror novel from World War Z (2006) author Max Brooks, framed as the author’s own investigation of a gory encounter between man and beast. Presented as a series of first-person interviews, diary entries, and newspaper clippings collected in the aftermath of the massacre, the story centers on a fateful eruption at Mt. Rainier thatcuts off the residents of remote “eco-community” Greenloop from the rest of civilization. In the wake of the eruption, the clueless residents find themselves facing off against the displaced Sasquatches who infiltrate their former oasis with ferocious precision. Comprising the bulk of the narrative are diary entries from Greenloop resident Kate, who documents the slow-burning horror with a meticulous attention to detail. Actress Judy Greer’s performance as Kate impressively conveys the woman’s transformation into budding survivalist, her tone shifting from guileless naiveté to panicked determination as the action escalates.

Wednesday, August 12

Attack Surface, by Cory Doctorow

This adult follow-up to Doctorow’s YA Little Brother novels (starting with Little Brother, 2008) shifts perspective from the idealist Marcus Yallow to his sometime antagonist, sometime friend Masha Maximow. Masha has spent her life compartmentalizing, keeping her work as a surveillance contractor to repressive regimes separate from her friendship with—and clandestine support for—people attempting to hide from said regimes. When a protest in the Eastern Bloc country Masha works in goes awry due to her interventions, she is let go from her job, and her carefully crafted internal compartments begin breaking down. The narrative leaps back and forth between Masha’s present, as she returns to Oakland and attempts to help a friend evade police surveillance, and her past as a teen wunderkind for the DHS and contractor under the chilly and possibly psychotic Carrie Johnstone.

Thursday, August 13

Star Daughter, by Shveta Thakrar

Thakrar’s mesmerizing nod to Neil Gaiman’s Stardust tells a different star story, that of 16-year-old half-star Sheetal as she follows the silver starsong of her estranged mother to Svargalok (a heavenly plane). But Sheetal’s reason for ascending doesn’t lie only in wanting to confront her mother; she needs the help of a full star to heal her mortal father, whom she put in the hospital with her undisciplined starfire. Sheetal’s family will help, of course, there’s just one caveat: she must win a celestial competition so her star family’s Pushya nakshatra (lunar mansion) is secured as the ruling house of the heavens. No biggie. Thakrar’s world building is nothing short of dazzling, alight with evocations so vivid the mind can’t help but see a kaleidoscope of twinkling shapes and colors.

Friday, August 14

The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook

In her gripping and provoking debut novel, Cook extends the shrewd and implacable dramatization of our catastrophic assault on the biosphere that she so boldly launched in her short story collection, Man v. Nature (2014). Interior designer Bea, ferociously pragmatic, is determined to save her ailing young daughter, Agnes, from the City’s toxic smog, so her professor husband signs them up for an experiment involving people living in the Wilderness State as nomadic hunters and gatherers. As they endure deprivation and terror, recreate this ancient way of life, and experience moments of transcendence in nature’s glory, Rangers police them from trucks and helicopters, making them feel like lab rats. As fiercely precise and intimate as Cook’s physical descriptions are, the novel’s edgy bewitchment is generated by her characters’ elaborately elucidated psychological struggles. Bea is admirable and monstrous. Agnes grows strong, emotionally perceptive, and precocious in the ways of the wild. Alternating as narrators, they illuminate the primal complexities of the mother-daughter bond as well as the battles for dominance within the group.

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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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