7 Most Favorable Reviews in August 2021

  • September 3, 2021

We came, we read, we gushed. Here’s a recap of the titles that left us especially warm and swoony last month.

7 Most Favorable Reviews in August 2021

Grant’s Tomb: The Epic Death of Ulysses S. Grant and the Making of an American Pantheon by Louis L. Picone (Arcade). Reviewed by James A. Percoco. “In Josephine Tey’s 1951 murder mystery, The Daughter of Time, the protagonist, Scotland Yard detective Alan Grant, remarks, ‘The truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time; an advertisement in a paper, the sale of a house, the price of a ring.’ Louis L. Picone has proven himself to be a detective on par with Tey’s hero. His Grant’s Tomb is deeply researched, accessible, and gets to the truth about the largest crypt in the nation and its famous occupant, the 18th president of the United States.”

Skinship: Stories by Yoon Choi (Knopf). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “The evidence of Korean influence on the American cultural landscape continues with Yoon Choi’s debut story collection, Skinship, with each of the nine stories presenting a facet of the Korean American experience, from convenience-store owners Jae and Soo Han to former piano prodigy Albert Uhm to housewife Minyoung Hwang, whose daughter scorns her for wasting her Ivy League education. In these intricate tales, characters with complicated histories navigate subtle social hierarchies, occasionally sharing subdued moments of conflict or intimacy. After the drama and adventure of emigration and immigration, the characters have settled into the routine of American life, toiling to make a living and to understand their American-born children and old-world parents.”

The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge, and the Phoenix Park Murders that Stunned Victorian England by Julie Kavanagh (Atlantic Monthly Press). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Kavanagh vividly presents the innumerable players in this saga. And she never neglects the thorny human dimension of her story: the acts of impulse, folly, and desperation, of betrayal and heroism. In a nutshell, she has built a narrative that’s faithful to the flow of events, both overt and behind-the-scenes, while never losing sight of the frailties and passionate commitments behind them.”

China Room: A Novel by Sunjeev Sahota (Viking). Reviewed by Samantha Rajaram. “The interplay between the two primary characters is, at first, challenging. Mehar’s story is so captivating that I felt briefly irritated at having to move into the secondary story of the addict. But I soon lost myself in Sahota’s compelling universe. He has particular compassion for his female characters, and I delighted in both Mehar and the modern-day character Radhika, a young doctor who befriends the addict and who insists on living on her own terms. The two become poles in the same universe — one woman flattened by poverty, history, and patriarchy, the other defying them.”

What About the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “McDermott has enjoyed the kind of writing career that every starry-eyed would-be author dreams of, including a long-term relationship with that storied publishing house known for producing some of the best literary fiction around — Farrar, Straus and Giroux, publisher of this collection — as well as a National Book Award and multiple appearances on the Pulitzer Prize shortlist. What’s more, McDermott has built that successful career through the telling of quiet stories about the lives of ordinary people, in which she returns again and again to favorite locales, time periods, and social milieu. For those of us who read her closely, trying to channel her magic, marveling, ‘How does she do that?’ it’s a delight to have the author share her insights with us directly.”

Real Estate: A Living Autobiography by Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “If a critic is fortunate, she may be asked to review the sort of book she might have chosen for herself. Such a book is Real Estate, an open-hearted examination of philosophy, relationships, and the meaning of home by British author Deborah Levy. Previously, this critic reviewed Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, a literary tour de force that challenged the convention of linear narrative and explored the simultaneity of time. In Real Estate, the challenge is more personal. And more universal. Again, the issue is time.”

First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents by Gary Ginsberg (Twelve). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “Previously, readers have been treated to books on first families, first ladies, first butlers, first chefs, first photographers, first dogs, and first cats. For his first book, Ginsberg, who served in the Clinton Administration, ingeniously presents bite-size biographies of U.S. presidents and their best friends — and how those friendships influenced presidential legacies and affected the country. The author wraps history and humanity in a sparkling package, concentrating on nine U.S. chief executives and their closest friends, from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison through Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan. It’s an inspired idea that will thrill anyone who loves life stories woven into presidential history.”

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