Best of the Month book picks now in paperback

Adrian Liang on January 20, 2020
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Every month, the Amazon Books editors pick what we consider to be the top 10 (and occasionally 12) new books published that month. Unfortunately for the pocketbook, most of those books first reach readers as hardcovers, and it often takes a year or more for our favorites to finally hit shelves in paperback.

These 10 Best of the Month picks are now in paperback. Whether you are looking to kick-start your book club, prefer the lighter heft of a paperback, or are one of those clever people who will pinch their pennies for 40 years and then become millionaires just in time for retirement, we hope these books will delight you as much as they did us.

FICTION


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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

When a man bursts into a riverside inn on the longest night of the year, covered in blood and carrying a dead child, the patrons of the Swan are beyond thrilled to find themselves in the middle of a swiftly unfolding tale — especially when the child is determined to actually be alive. Weaving among the turmoil is a buoyant dance between science and superstition, as Darwinism, psychiatry, and scientific observation waltz with skullduggery, a curiously wise pig, and a spectral river patrol. As Diane Setterfield juggles a colorful mob of characters whose lives are upended by the mysterious young girl, the joy of storytelling permeates every moment in this lively and wise historical novel. —Adrian Liang

The Amazon Books editors named Once Upon a River not only as a best book of the month, but as one of the top 10 books of 2018.


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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Ayoola is the merriest murderer you ever did see. Young and beautiful, the favorite child. She’s on the phone to her older sister, asking her to come quick: she’s just killed her boyfriend and needs help clearing the scene. Older sister Korede, plain and overlooked, has drawn on her nursing training to clean up after two other hapless beaux. Who better to make blood disappear? And, so far, Korede’s objections have been centered on classification ("Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer") rather than, say, morality. But when the object of Korede’s desire, a doctor at the Lagos hospital where she works, becomes trapped in Ayoola’s web, loyalty collides with sibling rivalry. Calling the book “darkly comic” is a severe understatement here; this short debut packs a brutal punch, crackling with glee and sly humor. Pages never turned so fast. —Vannessa Cronin

My Sister, the Serial Killer was the second-largest vote-getter in the Mystery category of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards.


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Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Leif Enger’s latest could easily veer into saccharine territory. It’s an endearing yarn, set in a sleepy town near Lake Superior, inhabited by a quirky cast of characters (and even quirkier raccoon and sturgeon). But you quickly discover that all is not quiet on the Midwestern front. The town is in decline; the novel’s namesake has just been in a harrowing car crash; an enigmatic kite enthusiast arrives, searching for his missing son; and, unbeknownst to all, a heartbroken handyman has embarked on a sinister project. Virgil Wander reminds us that there is hope, that small acts of kindness aren’t small at all, and — coupled with the contagious joy of flying a kite — they have the power to turn a flagging town’s frown upside down (something that reading Virgil Wander will do for you). —Erin Kodicek

The Amazon Books editors also named Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander as one of the top 10 books of 2018.


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The Current by Tim Johnston

Tim Johnston’s Descent, a complex missing-person thriller set in the shadowy wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, was one of 2015’s most pleasant surprises. His follow-up, The Current, is equally, if not more, impressive. Two young women are pulled from the frigid winter waters of a Minnesota river, one dead and the other barely alive. The incident — which is no accident — recalls a similar tragedy 10 years earlier, and the survivor soon realizes their stories have deeper connections than just the river. “Small towns with secrets” is well-traveled territory, but Johnston rises above any tropes through his fully realized characters, each filled with currents of grief, regret, and especially love. And as methodical as Johnston is at unwrapping his carefully plotted story, readers will churn through The Current's 400 pages — a paradox that only the most accomplished mystery writers ever achieve. Our only complaint is that we might have to wait another three years for Johnston’s next one. —Jon Foro

The Current won a spot on the Amazon Books editors’ list of the 20 best mysteries and thrillers of 2019.


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Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty, of Big Little Lies fame, is back with another delicious page-turner. But this time her characters don't discover their lives unexpectedly transformed by a surprising event — they deliberately buy into a 10-day spa package with the hope that they will emerge different people. A few days of silence, lots of yoga and mindfulness, and absolutely no alcohol seem to be working wonders — at least for middle-aged novelist Frances Welty, who is recovering from a career crash. The other eight participants have astonishingly similar positive reactions. At least, until they discover why. Moriarty is at her best when she's diving impetuously into the heads of her characters, exposing with affection their rushes to judgment, their contradictions, and their moments of grace and generosity. In the end, it's an optimistic novel, showcasing how our shared, flawed humanity is also our greatest strength in the face of duress. As long as we can create common ground. —Adrian Liang

It was announced this month that Melissa McCarthy has been cast to play Frances Welty in Hulu’s adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers, which is expected to release in early 2021.


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The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Some readers will be intrigued by apprentice dressmaker Ji Lin and her strongminded pursuit to achieve more with her life than her old-fashioned family will condone. Others will be hooked on the premise of a young houseboy named Ren trying to find the severed finger of his former master, who might or might not also be a weretiger. Still others will gravitate toward the mythologies, food, traditions, and culture of 1930s colonial Malaysia under British rule. Whatever your entry point to The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo will win you over with her newest historical novel, and you’ll find yourself embracing everything she hurls onto the page, including a number of curveballs that contain the perfect amount of surprise. Too often historical novels can feel overstuffed or simply stuffy. The Night Tiger is supple and powerful, like the predator that stalks the shadows of Choo’s ensnaring tale. —Adrian Liang

Read our interview with the delightful Yangsze Choo about The Night Tiger


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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Australian outback has never looked as bleak and dangerous as it does in Jane Harper’s latest thriller, The Lost Man. The stockman’s grave is a dark local landmark and now the site of another mysterious death. There is no detective chasing a killer in The Lost Man; only Nathan, the dead man’s brother, trying to work out how his sibling ended up where he did. Family history plays an important role in the story: Nathan, his brother Bub, and their now-dead brother Cam were raised in a house beset by violence. Their father is deceased, but all three brothers have stayed on to work and live in the incredibly harsh surroundings. Cam was the solid one, always responsible, the brother everyone liked. So how did he, of all people, end up dead? Deceptive twists sneak up on the reader, and with The Lost Man Harper has crafted another slow-burn mystery that catches the reader unaware right up to the surprise ending. —Seira Wilson

See what Jane Harper told us about the wide-open spaces of Australia that she conveys so convincingly in The Lost Man.


NONFICTION


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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

Although direct in his message, Frederick Douglass, like many great men, was a person of contradictions. Blight explores those contradictions in the first major biography of Frederick Douglass in more than 25 years, painting Douglass as a complete human being, even as he lays out the clear argument for his greatness. This thorough and highly readable biography traces Douglass’s entire life, starting on a plantation in Maryland, covering his education and eventual escape, his two marriages, his complicated relationship with his family, and his work as an abolitionist and orator. In the end, the reader will walk away with a better grasp of a still deeply misunderstood chapter of American history, as well as understanding, respect, and admiration for one of the county’s greatest figures. —Chris Schluep

The Amazon Books editors named Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom as one of the top 20 books of 2018, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2019.


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Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals) demonstrates how leaders are made, not born, as she thoughtfully explores the highs and lows of four U.S. presidents who faced moments of horrific national crisis. Goodwin's clean, assured sentences set the stage as each future president discovers within himself the desire to enter politics, gets knocked down by calamitous blows, and tackles the struggles tearing at the sinews of the country. Most fascinating is Goodwin's revelations about how very differently Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson approached not only their political careers but how they developed the character traits that helped them see — or make — a path toward a critical response that many of their contemporaries disagreed with. Goodwin's strength is in the rich context she provides as she shows that great leaders develop in dissimilar ways but ultimately have a vision they reach for and rely on when times are at their most turbulent. —Adrian Liang

Leadership: In Turbulent Times won a spot within the Amazon Books editors’ list of the top 10 books of 2018.


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Small Fry: A Memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

You’ll feel sorry for Lisa Brennan-Jobs when you finish her memoir of growing up as the daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs — not just because Jobs was a jerk a lot of the time, but because some readers will be too busy rubbernecking at her famous dad to notice what a great writer his daughter is. In Small Fry, Brennan-Jobs moves back and forth in time, balancing her memories of Jobs's often tough treatment of her (denying paternity, denying her adequate financial support, denying her the warmth and attention every child deserves) with his unpredictable moments of openness and generosity. This artfully constructed, self-critical memoir feels like so much more than axe-grinding, and casts a promising light on Brennan-Jobs’s future as a writer. —Sarah Harrison Smith

Read about how Lisa Brennan-Jobs and jacket designer Alison Forner tried to create a book cover to convey her story's "joy and lightness" as well as its "struggles and difficulties." 


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