Reviews of the Week with Eman Quotah, B. B. Alston, Sajni Patel, 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.

Dynamic debuts and fantastic tales abound in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, November 16

Bride of the Sea, by Eman Quotah

First-novelist Quotah offers a gripping story about a family split between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Saeedah and Muneer, living in Cleveland as newlywed university students, drift apart even as they deal with a pregnancy and early parenthood. Following the divorce, Muneer moves back to Jidda; Saeedah, fearing her daughter may be taken from her, chooses to run away with Hanadi and feels forced to live a nomadic life in the U.S. The impact of this choice on these three lives and the way it affects the extended family dynamics is central in Quotah’s novel spanning four decades, even as she weaves in the reality of immigrant lives, offers thoughtful observations about religious identity, and provides vignettes of Saudi culture.

Tuesday, November 17

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B. B. Alston

Ever since her big brother, Quinton, disappeared six months ago, life’s been hard for Amari—especially staying out of trouble at her fancy private school. But when a strange delivery arrives, containing a way-too-real vision of Quinton and a world more akin to a fantasy film than real life, it’s hard to tell if Amari is dreaming or straight losing her mind. As the vision comes to an end, Amari is left with an invitation to join a summer internship at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs and a glimmer of hope—crazy or not, this opportunity might be her chance to find Quinton and bring him home! Thrust into a world of magic, technology, and mysticism, the fortitudinous Amari, alongside Elsie, her new best friend and yet-to-shift dragon, leads readers through a plot to save Quinton and his partner, Marie.

Wednesday, November 18

Papaya Salad, by Elisa Macellari and translated by Carla Roncalli Di Montorio

Although Thai Italian artist Macellari’s Kusama (2020) hit U.S. shelves first, Papaya Salad is actually her debut title, originally published in 2018 in her native Italy. Introducing her tale as “a story the protagonist told me when I was a child and which I stumbled across again as an adult in the form of a diary,” Macellari takes readers on a 1985 family trip to Bangkok. When young Elisa declares her first taste of papaya salad to be “weird,” Great-Uncle Sompong recalls his own youthful encounter with the typical Thai dish. In between naming the ingredients, Sompong delights Elisa with his childhood village adventures, his Bangkok education, and his decision to join the army for the promise of scholarships abroad. Driven by his gifted passion for languages and literature, he lands in Italy in 1940 as Hitler begins to consume the European continent.

Thursday, November 19

Tales from the Hinterland, by Melissa Albert and illustrated by Jim Tierney

The plot of Albert’s brilliant debut novel (The Hazel Wood, 2018) revolved around Tales from the Hinterland, a collection of original fairy tales by the protagonist’s grandmother, Althea Proserpine. Albert has now “collected” these 12 tales in a volume with striking, unsettling illustrations by Tierney. The writing is as spare and precise as poetry, connected to the darker, edgier elements of fairy-tale conventions. There are princes, princesses, fishermen, midwives, enchanters, and merchants, and Death frequently makes an appearance. The protagonists are not the sweet, thoughtful, and kind heroines of traditional folk and fairy tales; all are brave or daring to some degree, but what they do with that bravery varies. Some give themselves up to whatever cause presents itself, while others act solely for their own interests, taking risks that benefit them alone. One heroine suffers at the hands of a selfish prince, who removes her skin and hides it away so she won’t leave him; her patience pays off in the end when she takes revenge on the prince and everyone connected to him. The eponymous protagonist of “Twice-Killed Katherine” dies from a wasting sickness, but an enchanter gives her the ability to take on another’s life force. 

Friday, November 20

The Knockout, by Sajni Patel

Thanks in part to her dedicated study of Muay Thai, 17-year-old Kareena and her family feel ostracized by their local Indian community, leading her to question her own identity and cultural validity. As Kareena pursues “passion over practicality,” she keeps her Muay Thai commitment secret; when her ill father’s relapse coincides with an important competition, she must make a difficult choice—complicated by her growing feelings for “model” Indian Amit—with $50,000, international recognition, and a chance at the Olympics on the line. This compelling #OwnVoices young-adult debut challenges gender roles and racial stereotypes through a hardworking-athlete protagonist crafted with such nuance that readers will wholeheartedly cheer for her, through trivial stressors like AP Comp-Sci II to deeper conflicts like teenage heartbreak.'

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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