Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in September 2023

  • October 4, 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 September 2023

Washington’s Gay General: The Legends and Loves of Baron von Steuben by Josh Trujillo and Levi Hastings (Abrams ComicArts – Surely). Reviewed by Nick Havey. “As the novel progresses toward the Revolutionary War, von Steuben’s charm is amplified and complemented by the author’s. Trujillo’s fluid and dynamic writing is queer itself, offering the reader sharp bits of shade that highlight how necessary the work is — ‘While the records of mediocre heterosexual couples may live on for centuries, queer people rarely get that luxury’ — and reminding us that it was created by authentic voices. Trujillo and Hastings speak to their own experiences understanding their queerness and coming out on their own terms; von Steuben’s story stands in heroic relief.”

Budapest: Portrait of a City Between East and West by Victor Sebestyen (Pantheon). Reviewed by Anne Cassidy. “Liszt is just one of many artists, writers, and politicians whose stories are woven into the book. Another is Count István Széchenyi, who helped bring modern Budapest into being by ensuring there was a permanent bridge between Buda and Pest — according to one theory, because he had a mistress on each side. An updated version of Széchenyi’s 19th-century span contributes to contemporary Budapest’s fairytale charm. That and the Parliament Building, which has been described as a ‘Turkish bath crossed with a Gothic chapel.’ It’s the Parliament Building, in fact, that graces the cover of this volume and gives it something of a guidebook feel. Budapest is not a guidebook, though. It’s more expansive than that. But after reading it — after absorbing the tragic and inspiring history of Hungary and its capital — you’ll want a guidebook to see for yourself the city that Sebestyen so lovingly brings to life.”

Brooding Over Bloody Revenge: Enslaved Women’s Lethal Resistance by Nikki M. Taylor (Cambridge University Press). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “While not an exhaustive catalog of every instance of lethal resistance on the part of enslaved women, the book achieves Taylor’s goal of building a ‘blueprint’ for future research into this woefully understudied aspect of slavery. Buttressed with reams of powerful primary source material interpreted through the author’s penetrating lens of Black feminism, Brooding Over Bloody Revenge is a savagely brilliant look at oppressed women forced to seize justice for themselves.”

Happiness Falls: A Novel by Angie Kim (Hogarth). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “At the outset, there’s a sleepy suburban ambience about Happiness Falls, which takes place just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. A man and his 14-year-old son have set out for a morning walk in a nearby park, as they do most days. But today the boy stumbles home alone, distraught and at a hellbent run, his clothes spattered with blood. When his mom and older twin siblings question him, he’s unable to tell them what happened. The missing-person opening is a fictional commonplace, but author Angie Kim reinvigorates the formula with a host of remarkably non-standard particulars, nudging this, her second book, past the familiar whodunit drapery. The result is a challenging, thoughtful novel of ideas that nevertheless holds fast to a traditional mystery’s rhythms of sequential discovery.”

Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stalin and the Miraculous Survival of My Family by Daniel Finkelstein (Doubleday). Reviewed by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre. “The second and longest part of the book, naturally, is entitled ‘During.’ We know that Finkelstein’s parents survived the war, but how? And who else survived with them? Fraught decisions and happenstance collided to create what Finkelstein calls the miracles that benefited his parents yet could’ve just as easily led to their deaths. Finkelstein counters the misperception that Jews didn’t see the threats. The problem was what to do and where to go. As he characterizes it, ‘The right place was unknowable, even if the need to find such a place was known.’”

The Which of Shakespeare’s Why: A Novel of the Authorship Mystery Near Solution Today by Leigh Light (City Point Press). Reviewed by Marcie Geffner. “The play, for its part, is godawful to the point of hilarity. And while Harry’s ramblings might not all make sense — and certainly won’t prove that de Vere penned Shakespeare’s works — it’s fun trying to follow his twisted logic as he attempts to confirm de Vere’s authorship. What elevates The Which of Shakespeare’s Why above farce is its unsettling suggestion that it might be impossible to prove who actually wrote, well, any long-ago work. Can evidence be found in the attribution of the work to a particular author, the historical circumstances surrounding its creation, or the details of the author’s life? Maybe. Or maybe not. Either way, you’ll LOL along with the sly author of this rollicking tale, whoever they may be.”

Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close by Hannah Carlson (Algonquin). Reviewed by Yelizaveta P. Renfro. “The author examines a number of explanations for why women’s clothing has not offered pockets in such constant abundance as men’s: Women’s fashions changed rapidly (high-waisted dresses, bustles, and other features making it challenging to incorporate pockets) while men’s suits have remained relatively stable; women feared unsightly ‘bulges’ caused by pockets that could ruin a form-fitting look; industrialized production methods for manufacturing womenswear lagged behind menswear by about a hundred years; and so on. The bottom line, though, is that if pockets are a tool of preparedness and power, clothing lacking them impacts its wearers.”

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