7 Most Favorable Reviews in December 2021

  • January 4, 2022

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


The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III by Andrew Roberts (Viking). Reviewed by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre. “Historian Andrew Roberts urges us not to think of actor Jonathan Groff’s exaggerated portrayal of George III in the musical ‘Hamilton’ when judging the monarch who was, indeed, America’s last king. Of course, given that warning, anyone who has seen the production immediately conjures up a silly, sputtering ruler who embodied all that our Founding Fathers revolted against. Aided by the opening of the Georgian Papers in Britain’s Royal Archives, Roberts states a primary aim of his massive and meticulous The Last King of America is to dispel this image for American readers. He depicts instead a thoughtful, serious ruler who, as the subtitle suggests, was misunderstood not only by his former subjects in the colonies, but also by just about everyone else around him.”

Mothertrucker: Finding Joy on the Loneliest Road in America by Amy Butcher (Little A). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “On the surface, Joy and Butcher don't have much in common. Butcher is an English professor and writer in Ohio; Joy is the only female truck driver on Alaska's Dalton Highway, the most dangerous road in the U.S. As I read, I braced myself for a feel-good Cheryl Strayed knockoff, complete with parables about “reaching across the aisle” to make friends with those different from ourselves. It might make for an excellent nightly escape, but the deepest thing I expected to find in the book was the permafrost. Instead, what I found was a meditation on what it means to be a woman in this country and a master class in the power of brutally honest writing.”

The Teller of Secrets: A Novel by Bisi Adjapon (HarperVia). Reviewed by Anne Eliot Feldman. “Bisi Adjapon’s stunning debut novel, The Teller of Secrets, offers an intimate look at a growing Ghanian Nigerian girl as she struggles to sustain her dreams and principles within the confines of a postcolonial West African society that favors men…Her overworked stepmother, Auntie, shares little of her existential interests, and Esi’s four half-sisters, twice her age, anticipate nothing more in life than finding and keeping a man. Envious of Esi’s favored status, they punish her in ways she can barely stand, even as they suffer similarly at the hands of the same father and other men.”

People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Ronald Goldfarb. “When I saw mention of Dara Horn’s People Love Dead Jews in the New York Times, I was revolted. But I was also curious enough to read the book, if only to understand what she meant by her provocative title. Her argument is that the ‘ways we commemorate antisemitism and Jewish tragedy distract from a more direct reckoning…The future was the present, which was essentially the past…People murdering Jews is a three-thousand-year-old global phenomenon.’ Egypt, Spain, Germany, Russia, Baghdad — different eras, same results. Horn’s evidence is overwhelming and scrupulously documented. She dealt with an idea I’ve thought about for nearly nine decades yet never saw from her perspective: Could it happen here? Horn demonstrates that it already has.”

An Impossible Love by Christine Angot; translated by Armine Kotin Mortimer (Archipelago). Reviewed by Amanda Holmes Duffy. “An Impossible Love is an exploration of how shame, denial, and betrayal can converge in lethal ways. Pierre’s early behavior, if not forgiven, is certainly overlooked by Rachel, and this paves the way for what happens to Christine. Rachel’s story then becomes a coming to terms with shame and her lack of self-worth. Finally, it is the story of a mother-daughter bond almost irreversibly damaged. But truth must dazzle gradually. In grappling with what cannot be said or trying to face it head-on, the truth becomes blinding.”

L.A. Weather: A Novel by María Amparo Escandón (Flatiron Books). Reviewed by Bárbara Mujica. “I left Los Angeles decades ago with no regrets, but I admit that L.A. Weather made me a little homesick. María Amparo Escandón evokes the best of the city — the vibrant ethnic communities, the diverse food cultures, the multilingualism, and the broadmindedness (although the corruption, materialism, and traffic don’t escape her attention). In the Alvarados, she portrays a strong Mexican American family in crisis — a family so invincible that even L.A. weather can’t destroy it.”

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett (Harper). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “The air of elegy captured in the title suffuses These Precious Days. Many of the most memorable essays contemplate aging and death, though in a wistful, funny, affectionate voice. That first essay describes the death of each of her three fathers but — far more importantly — also describes what each meant to her, how they influenced her, and the lessons they taught her, whether by positive or negative example.”

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