Reviews of the Week with Erica L. Ball, Sabaa Tahir, Fareed Zakaria, 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.

We bring you discoveries in sci-tech that impact business, the post-pandemic future, and the natural world, plus a much-anticipated conclusion to an epic YA fantasy series in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, November 30

Madam C.J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon, by Erica L. Ball

This is an exhaustively detailed account of the life of Madam C.J. Walker, an early twentieth–century self-made entrepreneur who built an international conglomerate by selling beauty and hair-care products specifically designed for African American women. In the early 1900s, Walker celebrated natural beauty during a time when other companies were pushing skin lighteners and straightening lotions. Like her contemporaries Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, Walker shrouded her early life in mystery, but author Ball (To Live an Antislavery Life, 2012) combines the few known facts with political and social history to create a credible backstory. Once Walker adopts her professional moniker in her mid-thirties, Ball relies on a profusion of testimonials, company advertisements, media releases, and interviews that document her business acumen, storied philanthropy, and copious work for racial uplift.

Tuesday, December 1

A Sky beyond the Storm, by Sabaa Tahir

At last, the fourth and final volume (alas!) of Tahir’s epic An Ember in the Ashes cycle has arrived. Happily, it finds the gang all here: Laia of Serra, of course; Elias, who is now known as the Soul Catcher, his emotions and much of his memory taken away by Mauth, aka Death; and the Blood Shrike. Oh, yes, there, lurking in the darkness, are the monstrously evil Commandant and the Nightbringer, King of the Jinn. As for the story, suffice it to say, the Commandant is in league with the Nightbringer to conquer the Empire. The Blood Shrike is their sworn enemy, her infant nephew being the Emperor and her sister, the Queen Regent. Laia—seeking to destroy the Nightbringer, who is busy with world-ending plans—is also trying desperately to bring Elias back to his old self. But can she succeed?

Wednesday, December 2

A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul

Naturalist Scott Weidensaul has written a number of titles, including The First Frontier (2012) and Living on the Wind (1999), one of several books about birds, which continue to fascinate him, particularly their migration. Beginning with a tale of tagging grey-cheeked thrushes in Alaska, and being charged by an angry mother grizzly, he brings us along as he discovers how much scientists have learned about avian migration in the last few decades. We have learned to look at migratory birds not as residents of one place, but as residents of their whole range, including stopover resting sites and their wintering grounds. To keep migratory bird populations healthy,  the flocks and and the all the places they land must be protected.

Thursday, December 3

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, by Fareed Zakaria and read by the author

“The post-pandemic world is going to be, in many aspects, a sped-up version of the world we knew,” author/narrator Zakaria offers in this audio version of his far-ranging, best-selling book. “But when you put life on fast-forward, events no longer proceed naturally, and the consequences can be disruptive, even deadly.” By “post-pandemic,” he doesn’t mean that we’ve left the virus behind us, but rather that we’ve crossed a “crucial threshold” in our understanding of what it looks like and the challenges that come with it. Informed by solid research and by his uniquely global perspective, Zakaria looks at the realities of our circumstance—from Zoom work and social meetings to remote schooling, we’ve fully entered the digital age; we’re sharply divided by where we live (rural voters love Trump, city dwellers loathe him); the horribly botched early response to the virus—while finding signs of hope in who we’ve been as a nation. 

Friday, December 4

Dear Treefrog, by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Diana Sudyka

When an inquisitive, shy girl finds a treefrog in front of her new house, the quiet creature, “a tiny dollop of / frog / where before / there was only leaf,” becomes an emblem for the girl’s feelings over the course of the seasons as she faces a new school and misses an old friend. Looking for and wondering about the frog, meanwhile, becomes a grounding comfort for the girl: “I look / and breathe / and / settle / growing / calmer / steadier / a little less lonely.” As the seasons turn and the treefrog hibernates, the girl makes a friend as interested in quiet observation as she is, and they patiently wait for the return of spring when they can look for the amphibian again. In compelling contrast to Sidman’s spare verses, Sudyka’s warm, detailed paintings, dense with overlapping wide green leaves and jostling oversize, boldly colored blooms, lovingly showcase lush natural areas, with lots of other wildlife tucked into the habitat.'

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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