Amazon's best books of July

Erin Kodicek on July 01, 2020

Amazon's best books of July

It's difficult enough narrowing the number of best books of the month selections to just 10, and occasionally there comes a month when it's impossible. These are the months we especially love. July offers an embarrassment of riches, and we're excited to share our top 12 with you.

A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper

This is a story about triumphing over adversity, of mentorship and personal investment, of sports and endurance, and of faith—in yourself, in others, and your team. Arshay Cooper was part of the first all-Black high school rowing team, a feat that landed him on the cover of the Chicago Tribune. It would also catapult his life that at one time seemed destined for destruction—“it takes a village to raise a child, and our village is gang members, drug dealers, drug addicts, and prostitutes. It’s easy to become a product of this”—to higher education and the professional world. At first the very thought of a Black rowing crew was laughable to Cooper and his friends: “you ain’t gonna get black people rowing down the lake like slaves.” But the discipline and commitment of the coaches and the opportunities they promised drew him in. “I am done with mold life. I choose rowing. I choose a future.” And so begins the pursuit of rowing in unison, which would expose Cooper and his teammates to college campuses, different states, internships and jobs. In some ways this is a memoir of underdogs fighting their way to the top, but it’s also about how an entire population is left out of the opportunity loop and how a seemingly small thing like sports can change lives.—Al Woodworth

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

The Adlers, a middle-class Jewish family who owns a local bakery, make their annual move in 1934 from their Atlantic City house to an apartment above the bakery for the summer so they can rent the house to vacationers. The apartment houses Joseph and Esther Adler, their 19-year-old daughter Florence, a Hungarian girl named Anna whose mother was a childhood friend of Joseph’s (and maybe more), and their seven-year-old granddaughter, Gussie. Gussie’s mom, Fannie, is on bed rest in the hospital, trying to safely carry a baby to full term after she recently lost a premature baby boy. The novel opens with Florence, a champion swimmer who that summer plans to attempt to swim the English Channel, drowning. Esther and Joseph decide to keep Florence’s death a secret, in fear that if Fannie found out her sister had died, she would go into premature labor and lose another baby. The family mourns in private—physically and metaphorically trapped in this small space—all while pretending with virtually everyone that Florence is alive and well. The few that are brought in on the truth—the medical staff at the hospital; Florence’s close friend and coach, Stuart; Joseph’s secretary; and Fannie’s shifty husband, Isaac—spin increasingly elaborate lies to protect Fannie. As you might imagine, it comes crashing down, but not before these characters all uncover secrets they have been hiding from each other. Beanland deftly weaves various historical events and themes: the rise of the Nazi regime, family secrets, the struggle between classes, religious tensions, sexuality, and familial love. Yet it works, and this novel is as close to unputdownable as they come. Based on a true story—beautifully described in the Author’s Note—Florence Adler Swims Forever is a memorable debut. —Sarah Gelman

Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby

On the face of it, Blacktop Wasteland is one in a long list of books riffing on a popular trope: the career criminal who wants just one last bite at the cherry, one last job to set him up for peaceful, affluent retirement. Beauregard “Bug” Montage, however, is an African-American man living in the rural south, which leaves him a few steps behind the starting line when it comes to getting ahead. He can’t afford to dream about mai tais on the beach. He needs money just to pay for his kid’s braces, to keep his mother from being evicted from her nursing home, and to pay the back rent on his auto body shop, which will be sold to the developers if he can’t catch up. There’s a part of him—driving his dad’s old racing car, the Duster—that became legendary as the best getaway driver in three states. That part knows what it wants to do: take part in a heist. But the pull between poverty, paternity, and posterity is agonizing: does he want to be Beauregard, the family man flying right, or does he want to be Bug, firing up the Duster to follow in his dad’s footsteps? Blacktop Wasteland is a slick, rural, Southern noir caper threaded with what the author has referred to as “tragic masculinity,” which means it will thrill you and break your heart all at the same time. —Vannessa Cronin

The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

The Son of Good Fortune is a novel about a mother, Maxima, and her son, Excel, who are undocumented Filipino immigrants living in California. They each do their best to make money, blend in, and not get caught by the authorities. But what they do is not what you might expect: Maxima seduces men on the internet, eventually cajoling them to wire her money, while Excel flees to a hippie commune with his girlfriend and begins to wonder if he could make it his home. Lysley Tenorio’s characters are vibrant and empathetic. Maxima is juiced up with the confidence of having been a Filipina action star in B-movies and is determined to do whatever it takes to be in America, while her son grapples with the invisible target on his back and what life could be like if he wasn’t TNT—tago ng tago, or “hiding and hiding.” The Son of Good Fortune is a bighearted novel that disguises poverty, displacement, and disenchantment with hearty laughs and wacky characters. But don’t let that fool you—Tenorio writes with gusto and compassion about the undocumented.—Al Woodworth

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

Sure, Colin Jost might have an argument for his very punchable face (pantsing people in the subway, terrorizing his younger brother, and looking like “a guy who is always on the verge of asking do you know who my father is?”), but it is also a comically endearing, self-effacing face. And, let’s be real, who would want to read a book entitled A Very Lovable Face? With ceaseless wit, relentless optimism, and a healthy dose of self-awareness, Jost recounts his childhood in Staten Island, why he loves his mother (you will too, after you read that chapter), writing for The Harvard Lampoon, interviewing for Saturday Night Live, getting thrown out of a wrestling ring, and all the sketches and "Weekend Updates" in between. Whether or not you’re an SNL fan, this feisty, funny memoir is well worth the read and the punches—I mean, the laughs. Oh, the laughs.—Al Woodworth

The Golden Cage by Camilla Läckberg

Many of the reviews for the new Camilla Läckberg thriller will reference Gone Girl and Big Little Lies, and those comparisons are apt. The Golden Cage has plot points in common with each: from a wife setting up a Byzantine revenge plot against her faithless husband, to a woman relying on the friendship and camaraderie of other women as she reels from the blow of a life-changing setback. But as Faye sheds her housewife persona and slips back into her savvy businesswoman persona—ready to wreak revenge on her smug husband, Jack, and the woman he replaced Faye with—another plot point, that of the permanent damage that domestic abuse does to women, mentally and physically, comes to a head. And gives readers one more reason to cheer a smart, sexy, indefatigable woman in a smart, sexy, full-throttle thriller. —Vannessa Cronin

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

This well-drawn domestic drama explores with verve and an almost scientific rigor how friendships form, especially across generational and socio-economic lines. Elisabeth, an accomplished author, slips into suburban malaise after having a baby and moving from New York City to Philadelphia where she hires Sam, a self-possessed college senior, to babysit. Their relationship quickly gets complicated as Sam makes her way into Elisabeth’s world. The author charts with uncommon grace how we "pick" people, that alchemical interplay of surprise and familiarity, esteem and envy, that makes us curious to know more. As the book cups hands around those first embers of connection, it’s hypnotic to watch the spark float into the open waters of real friendship where characters are as likely to be capsized by good intentions as unexpected consequences. —Katy Ball

Pew by Catherine Lacey

Pew is the moniker given to an individual found sleeping on a church bench—their age, gender, and race a mystery, one compounded by the fact that Pew chooses not to speak. The family who first comes upon Pew in the pew decides to take them in, a seemingly magnanimous gesture that becomes more conditional, and more sinister, as their house guest continues to remain silent. Unsettled and increasingly agitated by this enigma, this tight-knit community passes Pew from household to household. The less Pew reveals, the more their hosts do, and what they disclose often belies the rosier, uber-righteous renditions of themselves they portray to the world. While Pew cautions against judging a book by its cover, this is a read you should pick up whether you like its jacket or no. Catherine Lacey’s unusual, ominous, and thought-provoking morality tale holds a mirror up to readers and asks: Do you like what you see? —Erin Kodicek

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous

Fans of Duchess Goldblatt will relish Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, and for those who have not yet met “Her Grace” (as her fans call her) you will soon fall under her spell. Goldblatt is a fictional 81-year-old social-media personality and author of the best-selling Feasting on the Carcasses of My Enemies, who tweets things like "Hello, lemon-lime sourballs. It’s Transitory Saturday, when we remember that nothing is good forever, and nothing is bad forever.” Her witticisms and turns of phrases have cultivated quite a following, including Lyle Lovett and best-selling authors Celeste Ng, Alexander Chee, Lori Gottlieb, Rebecca Makkai, and so many more. Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is the memoir of her creator discovering humor, camaraderie, and community through Her Grace as she deals with the sadness and loneliness that comes from a divorce, partial custody of her kid, job annoyances, and the absence of care. Her Grace extends friendship to everyone, offering universal acceptance and encouragement. As her creator writes, “the damnedest thing was: she was better than me...Duchess has perfect compassion and grace.” This true story based in make-believe is a breath of fresh air and a lot of fun. A powerful testament to the joys of the imagination and how a simple change in viewpoint can make a more sprightly and supportive world. —Al Woodworth

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The gothic novels of today are not like those of yesteryear: Female protagonists are smart and proactive, and vaguely disquieting events become truly terrifying. Yet Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise, Gods of Jade and Shadow) cleverly doubles down on the gothic’s overwrought reputation by setting Mexican Gothic in the 1950s and putting a young socialite in the starring role. Unsettled by a strange letter, Noemí leaves cosmopolitan Mexico City to check on her newly married but naïve cousin, who now lives at a remote estate called High Place. Noemí—who smokes cigarettes, drives a convertible, and knows her mind—discovers that High Place lives in the past: mold runs across the wall paper, the electricity barely works, and the servants don’t speak. Plus the ancient English-born master of the house has a thing for eugenics, and Noemí’s cousin is clearly losing her mind. And then Noemí herself begins to hear voices.… Put plenty of me-time on your calendar, because you won’t want to stop for breaks while you race through Moreno-Garcia’s creepy, glorious read that is pitch-perfect for today’s audience. —Adrian Liang

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

When Michele Harper was in her teens, she got her first taste of the emergency room: “I marveled at the place, one of bright lights and dark hallways, a place so quiet and yet so throbbing with life.” She wasn’t there for an innocent childhood fall, but because her father had physically abused her brother, again. Growing up in Washington, DC, as part of the “Black elite,” Harper and her family never spoke about her father’s violence and the searing scars it left. Yet it was that visit to the emergency room that crystalized her desire to heal and pursue medicine—“if my brother’s body could be patched up, then certainly, in its own time, his spirit could mend, too.” The Beauty in Breaking is Dr. Harper’s story of breaks and fixes, of healing emotionally and physically. She recounts the fears of her childhood and how those same feelings of brokenness and abandonment returned when her husband left her, and how she copes as a Black female doctor. From tending to babies who were no longer breathing, to a boy who was beat up at school and vows to retaliate with a gun (the only way he knows how), to patients who have a history of sexual abuse, Dr. Harper vividly recounts what the ER is like at 3:30 in the morning. She peppers her memories with her own reflections on the racism and sexism that permeate the field of medicine and our country and what it is like to grieve and rebuild from a traumatic event, whether a cracked rib, a horrible father, or the babies she never had with her husband. Dr. Harper is determined to heal, but also to take the time necessary to understand the pain, in a page-turning memoir of hurt, diagnosis, and recovery. —Al Woodworth

The Order by Daniel Silva

Israeli spy Gabriel Allon is back in a new thriller involving the murder of a pope, dark secrets within the Vatican, and a conspiracy that could change the shape of the religious and political world. Allon’s relaxing family vacation in Italy is interrupted when he gets a call from a dear friend, Pope Paul VII’s private secretary, Archbishop Luigi Donati, who needs Allon’s help to prove that the Holy Father did not die of natural causes. Just before his death, Pope Paul VII made a remarkable discovery deep within the Secret Archives of the Vatican library: a book of gospels that would confound centuries-old beliefs about the death of Christ and heal the rift between Christianity and Judaism. But a corrupt secret society within the Vatican—the Order of St. Helena—will do anything to keep that book from coming to light. In fact, the Order has very specific plans for the papacy, and is extremely well-funded by a source with ties to the church that began in World War II. The Order dives deep into the history of the Catholic church and the corruption within its most lauded ranks, while giving readers a fast-paced, twisty novel that keeps us guessing from beginning to end. —Seira Wilson

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