7 Most-Favorable Reviews in July 2020

  • August 5, 2020

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 July 2020

Artifact: A Novel by Arlene Heyman (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Mariko Hewer. “When I started reading Arlene Heyman’s debut novel, Artifact, I didn’t expect to identify strongly with its heroine, Lottie Hart. Not that we don’t have things in common — Lottie, like me, has a stubborn streak a mile wide — but she is at heart a scientist, driven by a curiosity about the physical world and everything in it, while I have always turned to the arts for nourishment and inspiration. Yet since I finished the book, Lottie’s presence has stuck with me, an indelible impression made by masterful storytelling.”

Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai by James Carter (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by William Rice. “Anyone confused by the struggle over Hong Kong — the former British colony of Chinese people resisting Chinese control — could glean some insight from Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai, the story of another Sino-British enclave that eventually reverted to native rule. In it, author James Carter offers a clear-eyed, nuanced view of colonialism that’s a useful contribution to today’s long-overdue reckoning with racism.”

Make Russia Great Again: A Novel by Christopher Buckley (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Drew Gallagher. “But the author, pro that he is, manages to add near-unbelievable elements to his narrative, although these don’t include his imagined premise that Trump slept with all 18 contestants at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. (That’s entirely plausible.) Instead, the most farfetched storyline concerns Trump’s seventh chief of staff and our narrator, Herb Nutterman, actually serving prison time for his allegiance to — and nefarious actions undertaken in service of — his boss. Jail sentences, however well deserved, are rare among members of real-life Team Trump.”

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Little, Brown and Company). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “Another section of Humankind is dedicated to deconstructing the bad science and lazy reportage that has either initially driven or later misrepresented — or both — every sociological case study that we ever read about in school. Virtually all of those studies and experiments have been used in service of proving the ‘veneer’ theory, which says that civilization is but a thin coating that cracks apart under the lightest pressure, revealing our brute selves. The bad science prevails because we are all cynically quick to believe the worst in humanity, and our tendency is to glom onto and repeat endlessly every scrap of evidence to support our innate brutality. We dismiss the body of evidence demonstrating that our natural tendency is to allow our better selves to win out.”

Florence Adler Swims Forever: A Novel by Rachel Beanland (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Heath Hardage Lee. “Florence Adler Swims Forever is old-fashioned historical fiction in the best sense. It envelopes the reader in a time and place rich with detail and historical event. Atlantic City feels like a posh, insulated bubble far away from the Nazis. Nothing bad could happen here, one feels, until it does. When Esther sees her daughter’s lifeless body, the same body she bathed as a child, she says, ‘She’s twenty, my beautiful girl is just twenty.’ The reader cannot help but think simultaneously of Florence’s Jewish-German peers soon to be swept away by the waves of anti-Semitic persecution leading up to World War II.”

The Collaborator: A Novel by Diane Armstrong (HQ Fiction). Reviewed by Janet A. Martin. “Tragic World War II reminiscences can be disturbing to read, and stories about the fate of the last contingent of Jewish families in Hungary during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Budapest are no exception. However, in her fourth novel, The Collaborator, author Diane Armstrong re-knits savage history into a successful weave of heroism, betrayal, vengeance, and hope.”

The Lost and Found Bookshop: A Novel by Susan Wiggs (William Morrow). Reviewed by K.L. Romo. “This novel is an ode to books and the stories that make up our human experience. In our world of fewer and fewer physical bookstores and more and more e-books, it reminds us of the beauty of bookshops and of their struggle to stay open. There is no place enjoyed more by book-lovers than a bookstore — to walk along the aisles perusing stories that transport us to another time and place, taking down books from the shelves to read snippets of as we go, is magical.”

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