Reviews of the Week with Leigh Bardugo, Yangsze Choo, Caleb Roehrig, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Explore the best science fiction of China; rejoice in the release of a long-awaited debut; uncover a mystery surrounding a mythical creature; tag along on a heist with a team of drag queens; immerse yourself in the lyrical language of friendship. The #PolarVortex2019 has not stopped our daily celebration of stellar titles! Now, it’s finally Friday and we’ve collected the Reviews of the Day from this very cold week, January 28–February 1, below.

Monday, January 28

 Broken Stars, edited and translated by Ken Liu

Liu continues to anthologize the best of the Chinese sf scene (after Invisible Planets, 2016), showcasing a diverse array of styles. Some stories are relatively straightforward sf narratives, such as Baoshu’s “What Shall in a Kinder Light Appear,” in which one man lives a reverse time line of China’s history, while others are experimental pieces like Regina Kanyu Wang’s “Brain Box,” in which a man experiences his beloved’s last moments, thanks to a brain implant. Some stories explicitly reflect the unique cultural context; for example, Zhang Ran’s “The Snow in Jinyang,” set in a strangely advanced tenth-century city that plays with the tropes of chuanyue, a genre in which a modern person is thrown back into the past.


Tuesday, January 29

 King of Scars, by Leigh Bardugo

Though the nation of Ravka survived a brutal civil war, it was left ravaged and scarred, and no one knows this better than its king. Infected with traces of dark magic at the end of Ruin and Rising (2014), the concluding volume to Bardugo’s first foray into the Grishaverse, Nikolai Lantsov weathers uncontrollable transformations in this duology starter, as he, charming king by day, becomes without warning a vicious beast in the night. With Ravka in desperate need of stabilization and delegations of princesses—potential brides—on their way, Nikolai and his Grisha general, the unshakable Zoya Nazyalensky, set off on a journey that, futile though it may be, takes them deep into the history of their country as they search for a cure. Meanwhile, in Fjerda, to the north, Grisha soldier Nina Zenik is on a mission of her own, one that’s part spy assignment on Nikolai’s orders, part a deeply personal journey through grief.


Wednesday, January 30

 The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo

weretiger is neither fully beast nor entirely human. Instead, according to Asian folklore, it wears the skin of a man but remains an animal inside, capable of appearing in either form. In The Night Tiger, a work of incredible beauty from the author of The Ghost Bride (2013), a series of unusual tiger killings in the area of the Batu Gajah district hospital have residents concerned. It is the 1930s and Malaysia, as it is known today, is under British rule. An eccentric old doctor has just died, leaving his 11-year-old Chinese servant, Ren, with a grotesque mission: recover the finger that was severed from the doctor’s hand during an expedition, and bury it with him before 49 days have passed, or his soul will never be able to rest.


Thursday, January 31

 Death Prefers Blondes, by Caleb Roehrig

Margo Manning: socialite, heiress . . . art thief? By day, she avoids the paparazzi, who have dubbed her Mad Margo. At night, she dons a platinum wig and commits heists with a group of drag queens. Margo, a consummate planner, eliminates any variables that may get them caught. Still, it’s a dangerous game they’re playing, and while Margo may not need the money, her friends do: Leif strains to pay the pricey tuition at his dance academy so he doesn’t have to return home to his deeply religious parents; mechanic Davon, essentially orphaned, makes ends meet by working at a drag club with his found family; and Margo’s best friend, Axel, and his younger brother, Joaquin, struggle to support their sick mother after their father is arrested for embezzlement. When the heist of a lifetime comes their way, the crew find themselves with difficult choices to make.


Friday, February 1

 Swing, by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess, read by Kwame Alexander

Alexander hits another one out of the park with a heartfelt performance of his newest novel in verse, written with Hess. The lyrical style—free verse and found poetry—elevates the narrative beyond typical teenage forms of expression, and Alexander’s reading of these earnest characters supporting one another and seeking love only heightens the emotional impact. Protagonist Noah’s love-lost, sometimes melancholy voice is balanced by his best friend, Walt (aka “Swing”), and his bubbly, light nature. The listener can hear Swing’s smile in almost everything he says, and his relentlessly optimistic outlook is one of the more endearing parts of this story. The push-pull dynamic of these two best friends is complemented by Noah’s love interest, Sam, and her own dating adventures. Alexander manages to let each of his characters’ voices shine through the narration, even when the three are interacting with one another.



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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