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Dive Into July

Zoomer's best July novels include a long-lost manuscript from John Oliver Killens, Vanessa Riley's 'Island Queen' and a queer retelling of Chinese history / BY Nathalie Atkinson / June 30th, 2021

From thought-provoking social satire to a nostalgia-fuelled, coming-of-age novel, we’ve got your summer reading ready. Just pop a copy of one of our top July fiction books into your beach bag, cottage duffel or park tote and you’re set!

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Shoulder Season Christina Clancy

Sherri, a successful, California, art-gallery executive, is approaching 60 when the illness of an old family friend calls her back to the small Wisconsin town where she grew up. The experience prompts her to revisit events from nearly 40 years before, when, as a shy and naive young woman, she impulsively got a job as a Bunny at the local Playboy resort. The decision dramatically altered the course of her sheltered life. With keen evocations of what it feels like to be on the cusp of adulthood, the novel thoughtfully unpacks the nostalgia of crushes, first love and the bonds of friendship sustained over a lifetime. (July 6)

2The View Was Exhausting Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta

When a fake-dating relationship that started as a publicity stunt has gone on for seven years, something’s bound to give. And it does in this clever beach read that deconstructs celebrity culture, race and modern romance in the age of Instagram. The opportunistic faux couple, British rising star Win Tagore and Leo, playboy scion of a hotelier and supermodel, are a match made in Daily Mail headline heaven. The catch is that true friendship (and maybe something more) lies beneath their carefully hash-tagged, jet set lives. When the lines between authenticity, reality and truth blur, you won’t be able to put it down. (July 6)

3Island Queen Vanessa Riley

Riley, who describes herself as a Southern, Irish and Trinidadian, is the author of historical romance novels that explore multi-culture communities and centre on marginalized characters. After reading Sanditon, Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel (which includes a biracial, West Indian heiress), she was inspired to research successful, Black historical figures during the Georgian and Regency periods. This saga, set in the West Indies in the 19th century, is based on the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a formerly enslaved biracial woman who earned the money to purchase her freedom and that of her family members. ‘Doll,’ as she’s known, was a wily entrepreneur who became one of the wealthiest women and largest landowners in the Caribbean. The tale of female ambition and success within the colonial establishment comes to life and will pique curiosity about other neglected histories that have inspired formidable characters (like Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte). (July 6)

4The Final Girl Support Group Grady Hendrix

This chilling romp goes meta on the “final girl” trope of the slasher-movie genre. The idea refers to the last character standing – usually a young woman – who confronts the killer. (Jamie Lee Curtis’s girl-next-door Laurie Strode from Halloween is the mother of them all.) In this case, the last one left to tell the story, even as it’s unfolding, is the member of a therapy group for real-life survivors of murderous rampages. They’ve become minor true-crime celebrities and are being hunted down one by one in this entertainingly wry, knowing and affectionate subversion of the genre. (July 13)

5Ghost Forest Pik-Shuen Fung

Our unnamed narrator is one of the many so-called ‘astronaut’ parents who stayed in Hong Kong to work while their families immigrated to Vancouver before the 1997 handover (when Britain returned sovereignty to China). As the character mourns the death of her father, the author – a Canadian writer and artist born in Hong Kong who now lives in New York – takes readers on a journey through family memories in vignettes about unresolved issues, cultural assimilation and grief, and explores how absence itself can be a profound influence. (July 13)


6The Startup Wife Tahmima Anam

Between Anna Wiener’s explosive memoir Uncanny Valley and Kathy Wang’s new spy tale, Impostor Syndrome, Silicon Valley has become rich fodder for an emerging sub-genre: the feminist tech takedown. Toxic bro culture and real-world boondoggles like WeWork come to bear in this novel, set in the misogynistic world of would-be app billionaires. The engrossing and often funny satire follows a genius coder in the secretive tech scene and her reversals of fortune, as hollow buzzwords (and the con of disruption) justify Silicon Valley’s unconstrained power. (July 13)


7The Bachelor Andrew Palmer

“In an era in which reality TV can make two dozen women fall in love with one man in six weeks, where does entertainment end and reality begin?” That’s the tagline of this beautifully observed, coming-of-age story about a writer who finds himself rudderless after a bad breakup. While housesitting for his mother’s friend in order to reset his life (“or retire quietly from it”), he accidentally tunes in to an episode of The Bachelor, and gets sucked in – as one does. He is gripped with dual obsessions – the emotions running high in the reality-show mansion and the poetry of John Berryman – which spurs musings on the meaning of both high- and low-brow culture and the promise of connection they offer. (July 20)

8She Who Became the Sun Shelley Parker-Chan

This literary fantasy from debut novelist Parker-Chan (an Asian-Australian former diplomat who worked on human rights, gender equality and LGBT rights in Southeast Asia) offers an inspired, queer retelling of 14th-century Chinese history, namely the rise to power of Zhu Yuanzhang, the peasant rebel who expelled the Mongols and was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. It shows how the legend of Mulan is just the beginning of the country’s stories that are lesser known in the West. (July 20)

9The Other Passenger Louise Candlish

The bonds formed during a routine, daily commute are unique, but not what you’d call friendship, exactly. After one of the regulars on their Thames river bus goes missing, Jamie discovers this when he attempts to explain the nature of their relationship to police. The psychological suspense is structured between the present (in that strange and fallow limbo between Christmas and New Year’s) and looks back on the past year’s encounters. As she did in her bestseller, Our House, Candlish brings in the income and real-estate divide of the London property market, as well as cross-generational (Gen X and millennial) differences, to enrich the many implausible twists, turns and reveal. (July 20)

10What Strange Paradise Omar El Akkad

Simultaneously a mortality and morality thriller, this moving novel by the acclaimed Egyptian-born, Canadian journalist (and writer of acclaimed Canada Reads novel American War) chronicles what went wrong during a fatal Mediterranean migrant journey from Syria, where the lone survivor is a young boy. The chapters detail the Before and After of his arrival on land amid the dehumanizing forces of tourism, violence, intolerance and capitalism. (July 20)

11The Minister Primarily John Oliver Killens

This previously unpublished novel by Killens, the influential, U.S. political activist who died in 1987, is one of the most anticipated releases of the season. A founding member of the Harlem Writers Guild and the “spiritual father” of the Black Arts Movement, his fiction was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize twice. Killens was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and mentor to writers such as Arthur Flowers, Terry McMillan and Maya Angelou.

The novel is set in the 1980s in a fictitious democratic republic in West Africa recently freed from British colonial rule and newly famous thanks to the discovery of a rare and powerful new radioactive element. The far-fetched plot (about an assassination targeting the country’s leader that leads to his impersonation during a diplomatic mission to the U.S.) becomes a brilliantly barbed satire of racial politics. (July 27)


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