Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in July 2022

  • August 3, 2022

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 July 2022

The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World by David K. Randall (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution may have sparked a maelstrom of religious and scientific controversy, but it also ignited a furious quest among prestige cultural institutions for dinosaur fossils. The Monster’s Bones offers a vivid, propulsive account of this late-19th-century phenomenon. There was frenetic competition — institutional, interpersonal, and often cutthroat — not only in the gritty wastelands of the American West but also in the boardrooms of upstart Gilded Age museums. Its principals: stiff-collared museum directors, a raft of self-styled authorities in the new science of paleontology, and several notable robber barons, not to mention a scattering of intrepid fossil hunters.”

Mid-Air: Two Novellas by Victoria Shorr (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “Mid-Air achieves what all fine fiction must: With nary a hint of being doctrinaire, its characters’ lives unfold in the midst of history’s ebb and flow. And Victoria Shorr is subtle enough a writer to leave readers wondering if ‘To us’ is meant for the aging White brother and his spouse, or if it’s meant for all Americans, we the people, who, in the words of Woody Guthrie, live in the land stretching ‘from California to the New York island.’ Consider the possibilities.”

O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner by Mark Clague (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “In the chaotic climate of present-day America, where patriotism and protest eclipse one another at turns, the playing of our national anthem is increasingly a political act. But according to Mark Clague, professor of musicology and American culture at the University of Michigan, the anthem was always political and still poses a fundamental question: What does it mean to be American? In O Say Can You Hear?, Clague provides a nuanced response that illuminates the anthem’s legacy and its powerful ability to continually unite — and divide — Americans.”

The Precious Jules by Shawn Nocher (Blackstone Publishing). Reviewed by Anne Eliot Feldman. “The beautifully written The Precious Jules forces readers to consider the burden of secrets, the consequences of actions, and the line between what one person wants but another truly needs. Author Nocher seems to suggest that that line may be too fine to discern, but we shouldn’t stop trying. And maybe all of us should strive to be kind not just to others but to ourselves amid lives that — in the throes of being lived — never get less complicated.”

The Martins: A Novel by David Foenkinos; translated by Sam Taylor (Gallic Books). Reviewed by John P. Loonam. “If there is a weakness in the book, it is ascribable to life as much as literature. Our true stories rarely line up for satisfying endings the way great fiction does, and the action here stops with none of the storylines fully resolved. Some take surprising and funny turns, while others feel arbitrarily cut off or barely started. However, I was not disappointed. I could see the kinds of future challenges the characters will face, understand how they might face them, and sense how their outlook has been affected by being the subject, for a time, of fiction. Many novels give me something to think about only until I start the next one. With The Martins, David Foenkinos has created a work I’ll continue pondering long after I’ve picked up another book. That’s action and adventure enough to keep the pages turning.”

The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit by Ron Shelton (Knopf). Reviewed by Daniel de Visé. “The Church of Baseball should probably wind up on the syllabus of every film school in the country. In it, Shelton delivers a primer on the absurdist business of Hollywood filmmaking and on the art of narrative storytelling. His book glides along its own narrative arc as Shelton overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another, each time leaving the reader breathless at the sheer improbability that ‘Bull Durham’ got made at all. I highly recommend it for fans of the film, storytellers, and those who’ve thought of naming their children Crash and Nuke.”

The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Novel by Monique Roffey (Knopf). Reviewed by Sally Shivnan. A wealthy American and his law-student son head to the Caribbean for a little sport-fishing action and get a whole lot more than they bargained for when they snag a mermaid. This premise may sound outlandish, but the strange magic in The Mermaid of Black Conch is the best kind — wondrous, amazing to all who encounter it, but utterly real. So real that the novel’s characters have no choice but to accept it and ride the wave of trouble that it brings.”

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