10 best books of July: the Monitor's picks

From India's elite to French gastronomy to 19th-century Shanghai, here are the new July titles that most impressed the Monitor's book critics. 

'The Billionaire Raj' is by James Crabtree, journalist and professor at the National University of Singapore.

1.  "The Billionaire Raj," by James Crabtree
Journalist and National University of Singapore professor James Crabtree spins this examination of the rise of India’s super-elite – and the shocking distance between the nation’s wealthy and its poor – into a highly compelling read. Crabtree’s reporting is top-notch and provides plenty of insight. Welcome to India’s “Gilded Age.”

2.  "What We Were Promised," by Lucy Tan
Beyond divisions of class, culture, and background, a single African ivory bracelet connects a Chinese-American family, the staff who enable their overprivileged lives, and their left-behind Chinese families in Lucy Tan’s intriguing debut novel. Set in Shanghai, made empathic with a multigenerational family saga, embellished with timeless class conflict, this story entertains and enlightens.

3.  "A Bite-Sized History of France," by Stéphane Hénaut and Jeni Mitchell
This impressive book intertwines tales of gastronomy, culture, war, and revolution. Each amuse-bouche-sized chapter tackles a different theme, connecting revolution with potatoes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau with a search for “authentic” French food. Whatever this book lacks in focus, it more than makes up for with brisk wit, imagination, and its shotgun generalist approach to both history and gastronomy.

4.  "Indianapolis," by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
The 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis led to the greatest loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy. Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic do a fabulous job of bringing this tragedy to life and setting it in its proper context. They follow with the haunting story of the 50-year battle to exonerate the ship’s captain.

5.  "Clock Dance," by Anne Tyler
Willa Drake is caught up in a steady, secure life that offers little fulfillment. When she receives a call for help from halfway across the country, Willa surprises herself by accepting the role of temporary caregiver to a mother-daughter pair of strangers. That decision begins a transformation of Willa’s cautiously constructed life. In Anne Tyler’s effortless, uncluttered prose, the novel beautifully explores an older woman’s search for meaning and agency in her life.

6.  "Proud," by Ibtihaj Muhammad with Lori Tharps
Olympic saber fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad tells what she faced as the first Muslim American woman to compete for Team USA while wearing a hijab. As an African-American, she confronted racism along with religious bigotry. According to Muhammad, her teammates and the coach ostracized her, but she powered through and contributed to Team USA’s bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Her story is inspiring and illuminating.

7.  "Barons of the Sea," by Steven Ujifusa
In the mid-19th century, Americans were consumed with the race to build the sleekest, most advanced “90-day sailer.” These were the famous clipper ships – trim-lined vessels piled high with tall white pyramids of sails, carefully designed to slice through the sea at unprecedented speeds. These ships are the dreams floating before the eyes of all the characters in Steven Ujifusa’s fast-paced and entrancing book.

8.  "The Mere Wife," by Maria Dahvana Headley
Bestselling author Maria Dahvana Headley takes a significant gamble in recasting Old English epic “Beowulf” in the American suburbs – but the gamble pays off. She enhances the themes of the classic with contemporary and feminist accents, creating a work that is both unique and worthy.

9.  "City of Devils," by Paul French
The history of Shanghai’s Old City begins in 1843, when the Chinese city was opened as a foreign port, and comes to an abrupt end in 1932 when Japanese troops invaded. In between Shanghai was a sprawling, hyperenergetic demimonde of opium dens, gambling casinos, and illicit dance halls. Author Paul French tells the gripping story of two of the men who ran this city.

10.  "Verdi," by John Suchet
This new biography of the great Italian composer is an attempt to uncover the man behind the art. Primarily, John Suchet, a classic music host on British radio, offers an introduction to Verdi, taking great pains not to get bogged down in boring details or obscure music theory. His book is full of humorous anecdotes and observations calculated to keep operatic neophytes interested.

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