Reviews of the Week with Jim Shepard, Patrick Radden Keefe, Stacey Abrams, and More!

The Booklist Review of the Day, posted to the top of the Booklist Online home page each day of the week, spotlights exceptional upcoming titles that are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

The Reviews of the Week, posted each Monday, offers a comprehensive look at the previous week’s awardees—while also piquing interest for the week ahead. Catch up on the week of April 12 below, then dive into the week at hand with today’s Review of the Day, The Firebird Song, by Arnée Flores. For the full week-in-review treatment, subscribe to our newsletter, Booklist Reader Update.

Monday, April 12

Phase Six, by Jim Shepard

Disasters often charge Shepard’s incisive, unsettling fiction, including the historical short stories in The World to Come (2017). In his riveting and tragic eighth novel, Shepard looks ahead instead of back, dropping us into a post-COVID-19 future and onto the front lines of a new pandemic so ferocious and baffling it rates the World Health Organization’s highest risk level, Phase Six. In a small settlement in Greenland, two mischievous boys, Malik and Aleq, frolic among gruff adults living hand-to-mouth lives as the ice sheets shrink, mines pollute, and permafrost melts. By the time investigators for the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service—epidemiologist Jeannine, of Algerian descent, and white MD Danice—arrive, the death toll is horrific. The two women fall quickly in love, but Jeannine has to bring traumatized Aleq, who seems immune to this mysterious disease, to a high-security lab in Montana, while Danice stays behind.

Tuesday, April 13

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, by Patrick Radden Keefe

In the years leading up to the Great Depression, when a recent immigrant could hustle to make a living, if not gather untold riches, Isaac Sackler had but one lesson to impart to his sons Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond: “If you lose a fortune, you can always earn another. But if you lose your good name, you can never get it back.” Isaac’s sons and their children would, indeed, go on to amass several fortunes, soaring to the multiple billions of dollars. The family’s good name would adorn the world’s most venerated museums and universities, from New York to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles. But how it would have pained Isaac to see, a century after imparting his worldly wisdom, that, while the money was still there, the family’s name was no longer revered, and that the carefully curated reputation based on the Sackler family’s philanthropy would be permanently and irrevocably tarnished by their development of a drug that became a scourge. From the earliest forays into medical marketing to its final days dodging bankruptcies, the Sackler empire was founded on battling pain, first with the breakthrough drugs Librium and Valium and ending with the engine of the opioid crisis, the highly addictive OxyContin.

Wednesday, April 14

While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams

Known for her deft political organizing and passionate racial justice advocacy, Abrams is also the author of the nonfiction best-seller, Our Time Is Now (2020). She now displays her considerable talent for fiction in this gripping legal thriller. Justice Howard Wynn, an irascible lion of the Supreme Court, falls unexpectedly into a coma. His nurse fields a mysterious phone call, then disappears. Shadowy figures from Homeland Security, the FBI, and the international biotech industry confer urgently about a pending court decision with potentially earth-shattering consequences on which Justice Harris will be the swing vote. Coincidence? Not bloody likely. Yet who can untie this deadly knot of deception and global skulduggery? None other than Avery Keene, Justice Harris’ brilliant and tenacious law clerk, who knows a thing or two about impossible odds. 

Thursday, April 15

Keep the City Going, by Brian Floca

An ode to the city workers keeping New York City going during the COVID-19 pandemic, this picture book begins with a boy and girl peeking out of their apartment window. With lyrical text and exquisite, detailed illustrations, Floca reminds readers of the early days of the pandemic with an empty city street. Well, almost empty. A hint of movement in these opening scenes turns into a full-page spread with food deliverers on bikes. Of course, first responders—the fire department, police officers, ambulance drivers, and health care workers—are depicted prominently, but so too are the workers who suddenly become frontline service and care. The bus drivers, sanitation engineers, grocery-store workers, and those keeping phones and internet functioning so people can stay home for work and school. 

Friday, April 16

We Are Satellites, by Sarah Pinsker

Pinsker’s debut novel, A Song for a New Day (2019), was eerily prescient. Now, she takes an unflinching look at the impact of brain enhancement tech in a world where innovation is primarily profit-driven. David’s mothers hesitate but ultimately agree when their son asks for a Pilot, a brain implant that improves productivity and multi-tasking. But as the Pilot becomes the standard, changing everything from school curricula to job hiring practices, Val and Julie’s worries only grow. They have seen how those without the tech get left behind, and worry about their epileptic daughter, Sophie, who can’t get an implant. The last thing David wants to do is add to those worries—which is why he doesn’t tell them that something seems to be horribly wrong with his implant—something the doctors refuse to hear.

mruzicka@ala.org'

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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