A Malaysian woman of Chinese descent, Yangsze Choo is an enchanting storyteller, and she ably narrates her own novel, The Night Tiger, set in the melting pot of 1930s colonial Malaya. Her narration is more than a reading; Choo has a deep empathy for her characters, and these emotions come out in her telling. The book weaves together the stories of Ren, a young houseboy on a mission to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body in time for his soul to be at peace, and Ji Lin, a dressmaker’s apprentice and dance-hall girl who dreams of being a doctor and comes to possess the finger. Meanwhile, there seems to be a pattern to a series of tiger attacks. Are they magic or something else? Part mystery, part love story, The Night Tiger is draped in folklore, as traditions of the past butt up against a modern world of hot rods and tango dances. It deals with themes of death, family, marriage and ambition and questions what we owe the dead.
The New Me follows Millie, a 30-year-old temp who starts planning a whole new life for herself when she mistakenly believes she is being offered a full-time position. Her best friend barely tolerates her, and she rubs her co-workers the wrong way. She has an acerbic sense of humor but can’t gauge when to rein it in. Halle Butler narrates her own novel with a wickedly cynical tone that adds to Millie’s characterization and helps explain why the world seems to have it out for her. With glimpses from more well-adjusted characters’ perspectives that reinforce Millie’s disillusionment, The New Me is a funny, tragic portrait of an ambitionless millennial woman, as well as a dark vision of capitalism and consumerism.
Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth broke the mold in 1961 with its humor and respect for young readers’ intelligence, curiosity and playfulness. A new audiobook of the classic begins with an introduction from the now-89-year-old author, originally penned for the 50th anniversary edition. Juster shares the story behind the book, and it feels like he’s letting you in on a secret: What began as a short story inspired by a conversation with a young boy about infinity turned into the piece of literary canon we have today. The story itself—which follows a boy named Milo on an adventure through Dictionopolis and Digitopolis and over the Mountains of Ignorance to reunite the Kingdom of Wisdom—is narrated by Rainn Wilson (Dwight from “The Office”), who does a fantastic job. His original voices for each character fit perfectly, and he adroitly navigates all the wordplay to add a richness to Juster’s imagined world. This story may have been written for children, but it merits a listen at any age.