7 Most Favorable Reviews in June 2022

  • July 6, 2022

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 June 2022

A Union Like Ours: The Love Story of F.O. Matthiessen and Russell Cheney by Scott Bane (Bright Leaf). Reviewed by Martha Anne Toll. “It is a complicated task to weave together two lives. Cheney and Matthiessen had different career trajectories, and due to their generational gap, lived in separate time periods. So, particularly impressive in Bane’s work is the thorough, 360-degree view he gives to his subjects’ lives. The author’s empathy must derive in part from the poignant personal background he provides; he and his own husband met dire health challenges sequentially over the last two decades. A Union Like Ours is an absorbing read and a significant addition to America’s sociological and intellectual history.”

City on Fire: A Novel by Don Winslow (William Morrow). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Winslow builds his novel on this Homeric foundation, the catastrophic struggle for ancient Troy triggered when Trojan prince Paris woos away the bride of Spartan king Menelaus. But Winslow’s primary model in his updated version seems not to be The Iliad but Virgil, Homer’s latter-day Roman heir, whose Aeneid describes the fraught escape of the defeated Trojans from their burning city. For this reader, a former schoolboy Latinist nurtured on Virgil, Winslow’s reanimation of these towering shades plays out as richly original, believable, and inspiring. It’s also subtly integrated into a modern-age narrative.”

I Was the President’s Mistress!! by Miguel Syjuco (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Mark Gamin. “It’s political satire by way of picaresque, and like any good picaresque (such as Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, whose titular heroine is a worthy literary progenitrix for Vita), it involves a protagonist of low birth (her Filipina mother foolishly believed the promise of Vita’s American father to take her ‘Home to Independence’ [Missouri]) and often low morals (many of Vita’s monologues include the dirty particulars — very much TMI — of her various assignations) who, through luck and pluck, outwits her enemies and trounces whatever tribulations the world throws her way.”

Kalmann: An Icelandic Mystery by Joachim B. Schmidt; translated by Jamie Lee Searle (Bitter Lemon Press). Reviewed by T.K. Thorne. “Like all of us, he finds comfort in the familiar but longs to have what he does not (in his case, a wife). We are never told his diagnosis, and the townspeople mostly accept him and his quirky behaviors. He is just Kalmann, and through his unique eyes — and those of others in the dying village — author Schmidt illuminates the complexities of humans’ relationships to one another and to the planet. Along the way, he gifts readers with insights into the culture of rural Iceland and the struggling fishing industry — all in the guise of a twisty murder mystery full of unexpected charm.”

Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair: A Novel by June Gervais (Pamela Dorman Books). Reviewed by Patricia S. Gormley. “In Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair, author June Gervais allows us to watch events unfold from Gina’s perspective, and so we are occasionally frustrated by our protagonist’s misguided attempts to reconcile all the different pieces of herself into a cohesive whole. But we’re also amused at her and Anna’s flailing, awkward attempts to move beyond friendship to something more. Throughout, the author takes the structure and tropes of a traditional bildungsroman and lovingly places them over this intimate circle of people, this single year, to show how even small conversations and experiences can shape a young life. It’s all even more beautiful when you realize the author has used a centuries-old structure to create a gentle, queer, feminist coming-of-age tale set in the little-explored world of 1980s tattooing.”

First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100, edited by Elizabeth Hightower Allen (Torrey House Press). Reviewed by Julie Dunlap. “Dry lightning sizzled over New Mexico’s Black Range when Aldo Leopold reached the Gila National Forest in 1922. The smell of burning trees must have reminded him of a federal forester’s chief duty: protecting ponderosa pine and other valuable timber. Yet even as he saddled up to organize fire crews, Leopold kept a bold new idea in mind. First & Wildest: The Gila Wilderness at 100 is a rich literary tribute to that idea’s fruition, the designation of 755,000 acres of mountains, canyons, deserts, creeks, and arroyos as permanent wilderness on June 3, 1924.”

Ordinary Monsters: A Novel by J.M. Miro (Flatiron Books). Reviewed by Chris Rutledge. “The pleasure of untangling these philosophical conundrums aside, Ordinary Monsters is strongest when the author focuses on the adventurous aspects of the plot. The battles he depicts, the conflicts he conjures, and the quests he unspools all make the novel propulsive despite its considerable length. To that end, if there’s a weakness, it’s the book’s page count and overly large cast. Often, there are simply too many threads, challenges, and locations to keep track of, and the nonlinear timeline doesn’t help. A kid on summer break might be better able than a distracted adult to give the story the hours and attention it requires, but anyone who makes the effort will be rewarded. The world created by J.M. Miro is sure to enrapture and engage.”

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