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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 July 19 below, then dive into the week at hand with today’s Review of the Day, The Last Mona Lisa, by Jonathan Santlofer. For the full week-in-review treatment, subscribe to our newsletter, Booklist Reader Update.
Monday, July 19
★ The Waiting, written and illustrated by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and translated by Janet Hong
The book is labeled fiction, but the extraordinarily haunting narrative is inspired by Gendry-Kim’s mother and two elderly survivors of Korean War separations who were briefly allowed to meet their North Korean families; Gendry-Kim’s mother still hopes to glimpse her sister. That survivor generation is dying, Gendry-Kim warns, “and with them, the painful memories are disappearing, too. The current generation has little interest in the reunification of the two Koreas.” The critical urgency to save their stories—the same desperation for crucial preservation reflected in Gendry-Kim’s Harvey-winning Grass (2019)—again engenders spectacular results. Jina, a graphic artist with real-estate woes, reluctantly plans to move away from her elderly mother. She works furiously to record Gwija’s near-century-long odyssey, forever defined by the cleaving from her three-year-old son and husband as they fled from north to south.
Tuesday, July 20
★ Any Way the Wind Blows, by Rainbow Rowell
There is good news and bad news, readers. The good news is that Rowell’s latest Simon Snow novel has arrived, and it’s a doozy—all 592 pages of it. The bad news is that it’s the final volume in her trilogy about the erstwhile mage. More reason, then, to treasure this one, and, happily, Rowell doesn’t disappoint. The latest finds Simon and his friends—Baz, Agatha, Penelope, and Shepard, a “Normal” (i.e., non-magical) American who has a demonic curse on his head—back in England from their American sojourn. Disquieting news awaits them: since Simon is no longer the Chosen One, a pretender to that title has appeared, a man with the unlikely name of Smith Smith-Richards, who is promising his cult of followers that he’ll strengthen their magic.
Wednesday, July 21
★ Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham
It’s eighth grade, and Shannon finally has some solid friends and is doing well in school, so why doesn’t she feel happy? Hale and Pham’s third installment in their excellent graphic memoir series turns the spotlight on young Shannon’s growing anxiety, fueled in large part by her desire to be perfect. In her vivid daydreams, Shannon imagines all the things she’s sure will make her happy—winning the election for class president, catching the attention of a book agent, being a generous friend to everyone, finding a boyfriend—but when she tries to achieve those things, she not only is disheartened when they don’t work out but also perceives those failures as proof that she’s worthless, even as she unmistakably succeeds elsewhere. Pham deftly shifts art styles between Shannon’s real-life experiences and her gauzy fantasies, and subtle shifts in color and panel shape—not to mention the expressive fonts giving voice to her anxious thoughts and destructive self-criticism—powerfully signal Shannon’s gradual drift into depression.
Thursday, July 22
★ Radiant Fugitives, by Nawaaz Ahmed
This rich, unafraid debut novel offers a masterclass in perspective-taking and will leave readers deep in their feelings. Pregnant by her ex-husband, the only man she’s ever been with amongst relationships with women, Seema is visited in San Francisco by her dying mother and estranged sister, coming from Chennai and Texas, respectively, as the time of birth draws near. This Muslim Indian family struggles to close the emotional distances that have grown between them, mirroring their physical distances. Seema’s unborn child contributes to the novel’s narration as it works to understand the experiences shaping the multiple generations of humans awaiting its birth. Seema’s fracture with her family of origin, her queer community, her political work on Obama’s first election, her navigation of the United States as an Indian American woman, and her takeaways and leave-behinds from her family’s religion all impact this important moment.
Friday, July 23
★ World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, by Anthony Bourdain and read by Laurie Woolever and others
Writer, traveler, and celebrity foodie Anthony Bourdain, who died in 2018, was known for his travel/food TV series. Here, his writing provides an around-the-world journey with numerous countries visited arranged in alphabetical order, each with useful travel tips. Wherever he went, his descriptions (with occasional four-letter words) bring alive the sights from peaceful solitude to bustling urban centers, the sounds of street singers and vendors, textures of hand-woven fabrics and plants, and of course, the smells and tastes of international cuisine. The large cast is comprised of Bourdain’s familiars: his brother, collaborators, fellow chefs, and friends. Their readings are heartfelt and evocative of the varieties of experiences.
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