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Reviews of the Week with John Hodgman, Holly Black, Jonathan Van Ness, 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.

Journey through secret rooms and exclusive spaces; experience the epic conclusion of a popular YA trilogy; inhabit the forest world of a precocious frog and her cacophonous drum; empathize with several characters elegantly portrayed by a lauded literary voice; revel in the self-love ardently recorded by the always exuberant Jonathan Van Ness. Explore diverse experiences and fantastic worlds in this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between September 23 and September 27, below.

Monday, September 23

Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms, by John Hodgman

Hodgman, actor, author, and contributor to The Daily Show during Jon Stewart’s era, loves his chosen airline’s frequent flier program a lot. So much so that he’s made it the title of his latest book, and he devotes several chapters to his ascension up the rungs from Gold to Platinum to, finally, the coveted highest level: Diamond Medallion Tier. As he moves up the ladder of airline benefits, Hodgman takes readers into other rarefied spaces he’s inhabited, from the swanky and storied Los Angeles hotel Chateau Marmont to the set of his FX series Married and the secret society he almost joined in college. But the journey Hodgman takes readers on doesn’t always involve elite privilege. Hodgman also walks readers through the many odd jobs he held before making it big, from digging trenches to working in a movie theater to a surprisingly well-paid gig counting traffic.

Tuesday, September 24

The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black

In this closing volume to what has been an unusually strong trilogy, Black sends Jude Duarte, who was first a human spy in a faerie court (The Cruel Prince, 2018), then a seneschal to a faerie prince (The Wicked King, 2019), and is now the exiled Queen of Faerie herself, into her most fraught mission yet. Betrayed by Cardan, the High King of Faerie, her sometimes-enemy, sometimes-lover, just as they’d reached a tenuous peace, Jude is eking out a living in the mortal world when her twin sister, Taryn—herself familiar with betrayal—finds her to beg for help. Taryn needs Jude to impersonate her in Faerie, but Jude is forbidden from returning there, and the people she’ll run into if she pretends to be Taryn are those most likely to see through her disguise. But Jude was never one to shy away from a challenge, and she has scores to settle, debts to pay, and a crown to claim in Faerie. She may be down, but Jude’s not out; she remains a wily political thinker until the bitter end.

Wednesday, September 25

Pokko and the Drum, written and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

The frog family lives a quiet, out-of-the-way existence in a peaceful forest—peaceful, that is, until they present their daughter, Pokko, with a drum. It’s a big mistake, they realize—even bigger than their previous gifts of a slingshot and llama. “We don’t like drawing attention to ourselves,” her father says, and Pokko agrees to take her drum-banging out into the woods, giving her patient parents some peace. As she walks about, drumming, different forest critters join her, their own instruments in tow, and form a boisterous musical parade. In one dicey moment, a wolf joins the throng. “No more eating band members or you’re out of the band,” Pokko admonishes the apologetic predator. The joyful cacophony resumes, eventually convincing even her quiet parents that perhaps the drum wasn’t such a mistake after all.

Thursday, September 26

Grand Union, by Zadie Smith

In cunning and mordant short stories, collected here for the first time, Smith, an empathic and sardonic global writer, inhabits the psyches of radically different characters in varied settings as she orchestrates stealthily cutting dramas of generational and societal power struggles complicated by gender and race. Brexit-era Brits float in an artificial circular waterway at a Spanish resort in “The Lazy River,” fully aware that they are drifting in a metaphor. In the sexually scorching “Sentimental Education,” a mother lounging in a London park reflects on her aggressive relationship with a college boyfriend when they were two of four black students at their school. Adept at sudden psychological pivots, Smith portrays sparring mothers and daughters, a disgraced cop, and a hilarious yet traumatized transgender woman of color, and brings together two eight-year-olds: Donovan, a white boy whose parents run a “raggedy” Greenwich Village puppet theater in the late 1950s, and Cassie, a Black chess prodigy.

Friday, September 27

Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, by Jonathan Van Ness

This memoir from Queer Eye’s grooming expert Van Ness begins with two notes: a disclaimer that some names have been “replaced with Russian aliases, because I’m obsessed with the Romanovs, thanks to the animated classic Anastasia”; and a sensitivity warning that the book contains matters of sexual abuse and addiction, along with a list of resources for fellow sufferers. These are important notes. Van Ness dubs almost every family member, friend, lover, passing acquaintance, and former workplace a Fyodor, Hethersova, or Tonia Skoekenkaya Tutberidze, an approach that takes a second to get used to but which, happily, does not get old. And there are some difficult things here that the ebullient, hilarious-catchphrase-machine of a star discusses publicly for the first time.

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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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