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Reviews of the Week with Talia Hibbert, Phil Stamper, Pico Iyer, 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.

A charming enemies-to-lovers romantic coupling with a
cinnamon-roll hero (perfect for pairing with these six other dream heroes of the twenty-first century); a STEAMy love affair that blooms amidst the tech world; a lit lover’s guide to the enigmatic culture of Japan; the audio adaptation of the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, voiced by a full cast; the made-for-screen love story of two strong-willed souls. Travel the heights of romance and drama in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between September 16 and September 20, below.

Monday, September 16

Get A Life, Chloe Brown, by Talia Hibbert

After a near-death experience, self-described socially inept control freak Chloe Brown realizes she has let chronic pain prevent her from getting a life. So she does what she does best, which is make a list, then methodically ticks off each item, starting with moving out of her parents’ house. Red Morgan is a motorcycle-riding artist and the superintendent of her apartment building, and he thinks Chloe is one of the rudest, most stuck-up women he has ever met. Then he finds her stuck in a tree after an ill-advised attempt to rescue a kitten and, against his better judgment, he agrees to help Chloe with her list. Are there plot surprises in this enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy? Not really. Will readers giggle at the cuteness of the banter and weep at the emotional truths that are thrown down as Chloe realizes it’s not her list that matters, and Red realizes Chloe is helping him get a life, too? Absolutely. Is this book what the word “charming” was invented for? Probably.

Tuesday, September 17

The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper

Seventeen-year-old Cal is in the catbird seat; his broadcasts using his FlashFame app have hundreds of thousands of followers, and he has been promised an internship with BuzzFeed, no less. Unfortunately, that all gets called into question when his pilot father is selected as an astronaut for NASA’s Orpheus V project, requiring the family to move to Texas. It would seem that Cal’s journalistic ambitions and desire to report on Orpheus V would be well served by this, but a channel called Star Watch has a contract with NASA for exclusive coverage of the project. A defiant Cal broadcasts anyway, despite a cease and desist order. And then he meets Leon, the son of another astronaut, and it’s love at first sight. Their relationship is not without its glitches, however, and readers will wonder if the two teens can stay together. Ratcheting up the suspense, it appears that Orpheus V will lose its funding unless Cal and his broadcast can come to the rescue.

Wednesday, September 18

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan, by Pico Iyer

Although celebrated travel writer Iyer (Autumn Light, 2019) has lived in Japan for over three decades, he admits, “I know far less [about it] than when I arrived.” In hundreds of vignettes and several longer essays, Iyer pinpoints many ways his adopted home baffles Westerners, even as it both embraces Western culture and influences it with such phenomena as anime and Zen philosophy. He even ponders the similarities between Oscar Wilde’s wit and Japanese aphorisms. Stitching together observations, statistics, and personal encounters with meditative precision, Iyer depicts a paradoxical culture that finds communion in silence, passion in solitude, and animation in lifeless objects. People act out their fantasies in love-hotels; businesses endear themselves to the public with cartoon mascots, and deceased family members are spoken to as though they’re still alive. The longer narratives recount Iyer’s often humorous attempts to integrate into Japanese life.

Thursday, September 19

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood and read by Margaret Atwood, Ann Dowd, Mae Whitman, Derek Jacobi, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Tantoo Cardinal

In her September 16, 2019, cover article for Time magazine, Atwood recalls informing the showrunner for the Emmy-Winning Hulu adaptation of her iconic The Handmaid’s Tale, “You absolutely cannot kill Aunt Lydia, or I will have your head on a plate.” Aunt Lydia, it turns out, is one of three protagonists who impart The Testaments, Atwood’s momentously awaited sequel. This audio is an experience to savor, and celluloid groupies will be especially thrilled: Ann Dowd of the Hulu adaptation—making her audiobook debut—is Aunt Lydia all over again! The Testaments begins 15 years after Handmaid’s conclusion, with Aunt Lydia the most significant continuing character. “If you are reading,” she addresses us directly, “this manuscript at least will have survived.” As Aunt Lydia exposes the machinations of Gilead’s elite and how they engender its destruction, we are riveted by Dowd’s tense control, keeping Aunt Lydia’s frenzied desperation just in check as she plots with ruthless efficiency.

Friday, September 20

Not the Girl You Marry, by Andie J. Christopher

Dating in the twenty-first century isn’t easy. Just ask Jack Nolan and Hannah Mayfield. Both are up-and-coming professionals; he’s a journalist and she is an event planner; and both are attractive, intelligent, and single. When Hannah’s boss insists that she find a boyfriend before landing a coveted assignment, she takes the challenge as seriously as she does everything else. Jack happens to be the guy she sets her sights on, but he, too, is hiding a secret motive. He needs to win her over and then lose her in order to write an article for his wildly popular but unfulfilling series before he can write about politics as he longs to. Jack tries every dumb-guy scheme his friends suggest to lose Hannah, but she won’t be lost. She takes each move in stride, hanging onto Jack in order to please her boss.

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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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