Reviews of the Week with Haruki Murakami, Corey Ann Haydu, Kate Reed Petty, and More!

The Review of the Day has always been a brief, early way to spotlight exceptional upcoming titles on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Surreal and magical fiction, an interplanetary odyssey on audio, illustrated journalistic endeavors, and fantastic literary adventures are offered in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, February 8

First Person Singular, by Haruki Murakami and translated by Philip Gabriel

Whether in his epic-scale novels or in his shorter works, much of Murakami’s appeal has always come from the beguiling way in which his characters react to wildly fantastical events in the most matter-of-fact manner, ever ready to accept how the twists and turns of everyday life can blend into more audacious alternate realities. In these eight stories, we see that phenomenon most disarmingly in “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” in which a monkey strides into a sauna at a remote hotel and asks the narrator if he would like to have his back scrubbed, speaking “in the alluring voice of a doo-wop baritone.” It is the doo-wop note that pulls us into the story, somehow making this tale of a monkey looking for love utterly believable and all the more poignant. Similarly, in “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova,” the narrator begins by recounting how he once wrote a story positing that bebop pioneer Parker recorded a bossa-nova album (an impossibility for multiple reasons), but then the story changes direction when the fantasy album turns up in a record shop decades later, and Parker makes a dream cameo.  

Tuesday, February 9

One Jar of Magic, by Corey Ann Haydu

Magic has always been part of life in Belling Bright, where residents keep jars of it for uses both practical and frivolous. Though everyone uses magic to one degree or another, Wendell Anders is renowned for his extraordinary abilities with it, and everyone assumes that his daughter, Rose, will be just as proficient. She’s about to turn 12, which means she can finally participate in the annual capturing of magic and prove to everyone that she is just as remarkable as they hope. After all, as her father insists, people only attract the magic they deserve. When things don’t turn out as she hoped, though, Rose’s father fumes, and she’s despondent. What does it say about her worth in a magical town if she can barely capture a jar of the stuff?

Wednesday, February 10

The Lion of Mars, by Jennifer L. Holm and read by Maxwell Glick

Set in 2090, this compelling cautionary science-fiction tale stars an 11-year-old named Bell, who lives with a small number of people (and a cat named Leo) on Mars’ U.S. settlement. Due to international tensions on Earth, Bell’s group avoids contact with those residing in the other countries’ settlements, going it alone even as they struggle to maintain supplies. Holm’s adventure deftly mixes humor with horror and heartbreak with hope, and the gifted narrator Glick handles each change in tone with ease. He lends a youthful energy to Bell’s first-person narration, convincing the listener that he is a frustrated kid who wishes others would see him as brave and resourceful. Glick shows impressive versatility when playing others who live in the settlement, giving each character, regardless of age or gender, a distinct voice.

Thursday, February 11

The Leak, by Kate Reed Petty and illustrated by Andrea Bell

When Ruth, a 13-year-old aspiring journalist, stumbles upon some strange black goo at her local lake, she’s sure she has a story. After some investigating, she lands on a culprit: the lake-adjacent country club that’s already been cited for EPA violations. But is she right? Amid the tension of Ruth’s investigation and classic middle-school experiences, like dealing with a new crush and the pressures of fitting in, Petty folds in a thorough exploration of key journalistic concepts. Ruth consults with experts, interviews sources, faces pushback, and—this is key—makes some instructive mistakes along the way, all of which help her recognize the dangers of confirmation bias and rushing a story. As her newsletter gains some notoriety, she starts to recognize her responsibility to be accurate and fair, especially when powerful adults push her to change her story. The lessons of her investigation nicely parallel some of her friendship troubles, and the emphasis on water pollution, politics, and propaganda will strike a chord with kid activists.

Friday, February 12

The Absolute Book, by Elizabeth Knox

On the surface, The Absolute Book is a contemporary quest fantasy mixed with a conspiracy thriller, as multiple characters hunt for a legendary scroll box known as the Firestarter, which has the uncanny ability to survive the burning of every library in which it is housed. This search ranges from England to New Zealand and through magical Gates to other worlds, from fairyland to purgatory. Taryn, author of a popular academic book about the multiple threats to libraries (including their flammability), has a connection to the scroll box through the library of her grandparents’ home—which, yes, burned. Taryn becomes key to the search through a labyrinthine series of events, which starts with the murder of her sister, followed by the murder of her sister’s murderer. Also involved in the kaleidoscopic swirl around Taryn: an obsessive cop, a killer-for-hire, a fey made of stories, several demons, two talking ravens, and more.'

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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