Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in February 2023

  • March 3, 2023

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

Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in February 2023

A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney (Spiegel & Grau). Reviewed by Holly Smith. “Infant Henry got sick during the third season of ‘Catastrophe.’ By the time the fourth and final season was shot, he was gone. Through it all, Delaney and his wife were intentional about spending time together, protecting their marriage, and holding back the ocean for as long as they could. They also laughed a lot (and readers will, too). Because death may not be funny, but life sure as hell is. And Henry was very much alive until he wasn’t — wooing his caregivers, delighting his brothers, reveling in kisses from therapy dogs, signing along to his favorite songs, and generally brightening the world the way little kids do. So in love with life was Henry that when his aggressive, hungry cancer inevitably came back, his parents made the decision to let their son die.”

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “Master Slave Husband Wife hits all the marks of a masterpiece: unforgettable characters, stirring conflicts, breathtaking courage, and a pulsating plot wrapped around an unforgiveable sin. Author Woo is a rare breed of writer — a scholar with a Ph.D. who’s nevertheless mastered the art of narrative nonfiction. She tells this story with incomparable skill, following the Crafts from Philadelphia to Boston, where they become icons of the abolitionist movement, traveling the antislavery lecture circuit. But the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forces them to keep on the run. By law, they’re still enslaved and deeply in danger, especially once Robert Collins, Ellen’s owner back in Georgia, hires bounty hunters to track them down.”

The Tudors in Love: Passion and Politics in the Age of England’s Most Famous Dynasty by Sarah Gristwood (St. Martin’s Press). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “The author traces this allegorical trail through the reigns of the four Tudor monarchs, concentrating on those of Henry and Elizabeth. She counterpoints the posturing ceremonials and royal-love propaganda with the dalliances, documented or rumored, that they apparently inspired or masked. In Henry’s case particularly, the evidentiary traces run rampant, with the king rumbling through sexual entanglements (and at least three of his six marriages) while mouthing the platitudes of female primacy. He probably believed them, at least in part, as his importuning letters to Anne Boleyn testify, until, the winds shifting, he abruptly dropped the pretense — with fatal results for Anne, and later, for Queen Katherine Howard, too.”

The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands, as Written by the People Who Lived Through It by Nina Siegal (Ecco). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “Siegal masterfully organizes her eloquent diarists to paint a holistic picture of a nation torn between collaboration and resistance. She also asks tough questions about how much ordinary people knew about the mass incarceration and slaughter of their Jewish neighbors. In the chapter ‘What Do You Have to Know to Know?’ she engages with what Holocaust scholars call “the knowledge question” and analyzes Dutch historians’ contributions on the question, contextualizing them with the diaries themselves to ‘see how people made choices that had an ethical and moral dimension, living history forward, within a vast sea of uncertainty.’”

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (MCD). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “These stories — which are so closely linked that the reader’s experience is much more that of a novel in eight parts — have the character Trelawny at their heart, with his brother, Delano, mother Sanya, and father Topper pressing in, along with cousin Cukie and an orbiting cast of others. The voices we hear are exclusively male, and the central question to be answered, asked of selves and of fathers, is, ‘What kind of man are you?’”

The McCartney Legacy: Volume 1: 1969-73 by Allan Kozinn and Adrian Sinclair (Dey Street Books). Reviewed by Michael Causey. “I particularly enjoyed the long passages devoted to Wings’ earliest live dates. In typical daft Macca fashion, he had an open-deck bus retrofitted for the occasion, brought along family members, and embarked on a series of virtually impromptu shows at colleges around the United Kingdom. It was a ramshackle, public way to whip his new band into shape. More intellectual types might say if they could go back in time, they’d want to hang with Shakespeare or warn Caesar to watch his back in mid-March. Me? I’d love to have been in a little car driving on the wrong side of the road and following Wings’ 1972 tour. Now, thanks to The McCartney Legacy, I feel like I was.”

I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War against Reconstruction by Kidada E. Williams (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre. “The harrowing title of Kidada E. Williams’ new book, I Saw Death Coming, is a quote from Abraham Brumfield of South Carolina, who was targeted, along with his wife, Emeline, because he engaged in ‘big talk’ about his civil and political rights. (Each chapter title, except for the wrap-up, directly quotes a survivor.) Williams, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University, places us inside people’s homes, alongside them in bed in some cases, as they hear men riding up on horseback and must calculate in a split second whether to fight, flee, or hide.”

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