7 Most-Favorable Reviews in February 2020

  • March 5, 2020

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

7 Most-Favorable Reviews in February 2020

Shuggie Bain: A Novel by Douglas Stuart (Grove Press). Reviewed by Mike Maggio. “This is an instant classic. A novel that takes places during the Thatcher years and, in a way, defines it. A novel that explores the underbelly of Scottish society. A novel that digs through the grit and grime of 1980s Glasgow to reveal a story that is at once touching and gripping. Think D.H. Lawrence. Think James Joyce.”

The Boston Massacre: A Family History by Serena Zabin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Reviewed by Dean Jobb. “The Boston Massacre was a turning point in the march toward the War of Independence. Britain’s military might and colonists’ demands for liberty collided on Boston’s streets, with deadly results. In The Boston Massacre: A Family History, historian Serena Zabin takes a fresh look at this historic milestone by shifting the focus to the human story that lies beneath this tragic and momentous incident, a ‘forgotten world…hidden in plain sight.’ Zabin, director of the American studies program at Minnesota’s Carleton College, scoured British army records and Boston archives to peel back layers of mythology and propaganda in search of people caught up in this prelude to the Revolution.”

Highfire: A Novel by Eoin Colfer (Harper Perennial). Reviewed by Chris Rutledge. “Highfire is infused with witty touches throughout. Vern may be a dragon, but he is truly Everyman — he loves his vodka, Netflix, and the movie ‘Flashdance,’ the latter of which he commemorates by sporting a T-shirt featuring the iconic Jennifer Beals pose. (Don’t we all?) And, like most of us, Vern simply wants to be left alone with his vices.”

Show Them a Good Time: Stories by Nicole Flattery (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Emily Mitchell. “Other characters endow mundane things with great significance. The simple act of changing a lightbulb becomes the climax of the title story, in which many far more intense things have occurred. This surrealism permeates down to the sentence level, making each story delightfully surprising and unsettling to read. In these ways, Flattery’s tales are reminiscent of Donald Barthelme’s short fiction or the stories of Leonora Carrington, in which meaning and desire attach to unexpected things. They are also, like the work of both those writers, extremely funny.”

Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women’s Voices from the Gulag by Monika Zgustova; translated by Julie Jones (Other Press). Reviewed by Carrie Callaghan. “While not all Zgustova’s interviewees agree that the gulag ennobled them, they do all have something to say about human purpose in life. To distill their experiences into a single platitude would flatten this marvelous book and do it a disservice. Instead, Zgustova lets these nine women speak for themselves and the others whose paths they crossed. These straightforward interviews carry enough hints at philosophy and wisdom to keep an active mind engaged for hours. What keeps humans alive in horrific circumstances? Is it will, or having a purpose, or love? Or, simply, luck?”

The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (Knopf). Reviewed by Robert Allen Papinchak. “Despite knowing a great deal about late-19th-century France, [Barnes] admits to knowing nothing about Pozzi. Eventually, he and the reader come to learn quite a bit about the philandering physician and his circle of bon vivants. The trio of aesthetic confreres indulged in flamboyant fabrics and high-end dining and debauchery. It also immersed itself in art, politics, literature, theater, history, religion, science, and surgery. In fact, in a full lay-about of sybaritic lubriciousness.”

Interior Chinatown: A Novel by Charles Yu (Pantheon). Reviewed by Josh Denslow. “If you read Charles Yu's Interior Chinatown (and I strongly suggest you do), you’ll find that it kind of looks like a script. Indented dialogue throughout. Rampant scene headings, one of which gives us our book’s title. But it’s in the action where things are different. In these blocks of prose, Interior Chinatown reveals itself to be a stunning novel about identity, race, societal expectations, and crippling anxiety told with humor and affection and a deep understanding of human nature.”

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