Need a summer escape? Travel to coastal Maine, East Germany, occupied France.

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If you’re looking for adventure in your summer reading, we’ve got some suggestions.

The books that Monitor reviewers liked best this month run the gamut from an epic novel about women’s friendship to a history-rich spy thriller set during the Cold War. 

Why We Wrote This

Our 10 picks for July include books that affirm the vitality of friendship, celebrate leadership on a dangerous mission, and explore truth, honor, and loyalty in an ever-shifting world.

Among the nonfiction selections is a director’s memoir about the making of the baseball film “Bull Durham,” along with a biography of singer Josephine Baker, who spied on behalf of the Allies during World War II.

You’ll also find an account of an early 20th-century expedition to Greenland’s ice cap. Enjoy the adventure!

Empathy and compassion, along with honor and truth, are qualities woven throughout the books that made our list this month, along with penetrating insights and fascinating glimpses of history. 

1. Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

Alice Elliott Dark’s exquisitely written, utterly engrossing novel “Fellowship Point,” set in Maine’s gorgeous but threatened coastal landscape, explores the beauty and tensions of a lifelong friendship between two women whose choices have taken them down different paths. The result is a deftly woven narrative about caring for the places and people we love, and an affirmation that change and growth are possible at any age.

Why We Wrote This

Our 10 picks for July include books that affirm the vitality of friendship, celebrate leadership on a dangerous mission, and explore truth, honor, and loyalty in an ever-shifting world.

2. The Boys by Katie Hafner

“I’d spent a lifetime in hibernation,” muses socially anxious tech whiz Ethan Fawcett, “storing things up to share with Barb.” Barb is the psychology major and soon-to-be love of his life; together they form the emotional center of Katie Hafner’s impeccably written and surprise-fueled debut novel about empathy’s role in addressing childhood trauma.

3. Winter Work by Dan Fesperman

“In winter, the forest bares its secrets,” begins Dan Fesperman’s history-rich spy thriller set in East Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. Former Stasi spy Emil Grimm, investigating the killing of a colleague, crosses paths with agents, police, and hit men. It’s a well-crafted examination of truth, honor, and loyalty in a shifting world.

4. The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson

Jean Thompson’s novel depicts the eccentric world of poets and artists through the eyes of an insecure gardener, Carla, who finds herself a guest in their enclave. It’s a story that’s beautifully rendered with wry wit, unusual charm, and poignant insights.

5. The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley

Dr. Valery Kolkhanov is transferred from a prison in Siberia to a secret Russian territory in 1963 to study the effects of radiation on animals. Natasha Pulley builds a surreal world that slowly reveals immense dangers. It’s an absorbing Cold War thriller as well as a tribute to courage and determination.

6. How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo

“‘How to Read Now’ runs off the tongue a little easier than ‘How to Dismantle Your Entire Critical Apparatus,’” writes novelist Elaine Castillo in her debut nonfiction book, but such deconstruction is what makes for smarter, stronger readers. Boundless erudition and eloquent exasperation define her essay collection, which provokes and discomfits, but ultimately engages, edifies, and thoroughly entertains.

7. The Church of Baseball by Ron Shelton

Screenwriter and director Ron Shelton writes entertainingly about making the 1988 film “Bull Durham,” which no less than Sports Illustrated judged the best sports movie of all time. His book is a story of inspiration, talent, persistence, good fortune, and even better timing. 

8. Into the Great Emptiness by David Roberts

In 1930, a young Englishman and his crew set off on an expedition to Greenland’s ice cap, dog-sledding through blizzards and dodging crevasses. What they ultimately gained wasn’t so much an understanding of a fantastic, frozen landscape, but of life’s essentials – love, leadership, and big breaks. 

9. Agent Josephine by Damien Lewis 

Journalist Damien Lewis tells the exhilarating story of famed performer Josephine Baker’s espionage activity during World War II. Drawing on newly released historical documents, he chronicles her bravery and ingenuity on behalf of the Allies.

10. Proving Ground by Kathy Kleiman

Kathy Kleiman’s debut nonfiction is a celebratory biography of the six women who helped program ENIAC, the first general-purpose computer. In engaging prose, she describes how the women found opportunities during World War II, while many men were overseas, and overcame discrimination and harassment to accomplish their important work.

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