May is here, and everything’s coming up books! And that is indeed a wonderful thing. There’s lots of variety, meaning there should be something for everyone this month.
Titles To Pick Up Now
Dear Lucy by the extraordinarily talented Julie Sarkissian is available now. I loved Sarkissian’s debut and feel fiercely protective of her main character, Lucy, who is developmentally delayed. If you are a fan of Gothic tales, this will be perfect for you. I spotlighted the book and interviewed Sarkissian. Book review is coming soon.
I go down the stairs quiet like I am something without any weight. I open the door in the dark and the cold sucks my skin towards it. It is the morning but there is no sun yet, just white light around the edges. It is the time to get the eggs. Time for my best thing. The eggs they shine with their white and I do not need the light to find them. The foxes need no light either. I am a little like the fox, he is a little like me.—From Dear Lucy
Dear Lucy is a very unique book, one that you will be sorry you missed.
Another recently-released debut that I am enjoying is Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley. Check out my spotlight on the novel.
A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, AMITY & SORROW is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.
Riley’s tale is gripping, even from the first page when she introduces readers to sisters who are tied together at the wrist. Amity & Sorrow is an unflinching, timely, and intriguing look at a fundamentalist cult and a mother who will do anything to save her daughters.
Claire Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children, returns with a new novel called The Woman Upstairs.
Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others’ achievements. Then into her classroom walks a new pupil, Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents–dashing Skandar, a half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History born in Beirut, and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist–have come to America for Skandar to teach at Harvard. But one afternoon, Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who punch, push and call him a “terrorist,” and Nora is quickly drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora’s happiness explodes her boundaries–until Sirena’s own ambition leads to a shattering betrayal. Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill–and the devastating cost–of giving in to one’s passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.
I’m so proud of debut novelist Julie Wu. Her dazzling historical epic, The Third Son, was featured in May’s O, The Oprah Magazine and chosen as one of Amazon’s best books of May. The Third Son is a rich debut featuring a character who I came to see as family. Saburo is a very special character, one who will steal your heart. Wu’s story is perfect for fans of Samuel Park, Jamie Ford, Janice Y.K. Lee, and Lisa See. I spotlighted the book and interviewed Wu. A review is coming soon.
It’s 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival.
Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history—as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both. In Saburo, author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character, a gentle soul forced to fight for everything he’s ever wanted: food, an education, and his first love, Yoshiko. A sparkling, evocative debut, it will have readers cheering for this young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.
On May 7, Bloomsbury USA will publish the latest novel from bestselling author Gail Godwin.
Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen’s decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II.At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died.A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories.Flora, her late mother’s twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen.Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.
This darkly beautiful novel about a child and a caretaker in isolation evokes shades of The Turn of the Screw and also harks back to Godwin’s memorable novel of growing up, The Finishing School. With its house on top of a mountain and a child who may be a bomb that will one day go off, Flora tells a story of love, regret, and the things we can’t undo.It will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
Caroline’s Leavitt’s tenth novel, Is This Tomorrow, comes out May 7 from Algonquin Books.
In 1956, when divorced working-mom Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a Boston suburb, the neighborhood is less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood in the era of the Cold War, bomb scares, and paranoia seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son.Lewis never recovers from the disappearance of his childhood friend. By the time he reaches his twenties, he s living a directionless life, a failure in love, estranged from his mother. Rose is now a schoolteacher in another city, watching over children as she was never able to watch over her own brother. Ava is building a new life for herself in a new decade. When the mystery of Jimmy s disappearance is unexpectedly solved, all three must try to reclaim what they have lost.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra will be released on May 7 by Hogarth. A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.
Also on May 7 comes Daniel Wallace’s latest yarn, The Kings and Queens of Roam, from Touchstone.
From the celebrated author of Big Fish, an imaginative, moving novel about two sisters and the dark legacy and magical town that entwine them. Helen and Rachel McCallister, who live in a town called Roam, are as different as sisters can be: Helen older, bitter, and conniving; Rachel beautiful, naïve – and blind. When their parents die an untimely death, Rachel has to rely on Helen for everything, but Helen embraces her role in all the wrong ways, convincing Rachel that the world is a dark and dangerous place she couldn’t possibly survive on her own … or so Helen believes, until Rachel makes a surprising choice that turns both their worlds upside down. In this new novel, Southern literary master Daniel Wallace returns to the tradition of tall-tales and folklore made memorable in his bestselling Big Fish. The Kings and Queens of Roam is a wildly inventive, beautifully written, and big-hearted tale of family and the ties that bind
Unbridled Books will publish River of Dust by Virginia Pye on May 14. On the windswept plains of northwestern China, Mongol bandits swoop down upon an American missionary couple and steal their small child. The Reverend sets out in search of the boy and becomes lost in the rugged, corrupt countryside populated by opium dens, sly nomadic warlords and traveling circuses. This upright Midwestern minister develops a following among the Chinese peasants and is christened Ghost Man for what they perceive are his otherworldly powers. Grace, his young ingénue wife, pregnant with their second child, takes to her sick bed in the mission compound, where visions of her stolen child and lost husband begin to beckon to her from across the plains. The foreign couple’s savvy and dedicated Chinese servants, Ahcho and Mai Lin, accompany and eventually lead them through dangerous territory to find one another again. With their Christian beliefs sorely tested, their concept of fate expanded, and their physical health rapidly deteriorating, the Reverend and Grace may finally discover an understanding between them that is greater than the vast distance they have come.
On May 14, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Americanah, hits shelves from Knopf. From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home. As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives. Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.
Patricia Beard’s A Certain Summer will be ready for your beach bag on May 21. The publisher is Gallery Books. “Nothing ever changes at Wauregan.” That mystique is the tradition of the idyllic island colony off the shore of Long Island, the comforting tradition that its summer dwellers have lived by for over half a century. But in the summer of 1948, after a world war has claimed countless men—even those who came home—the time has come to deal with history’s indelible scars. Helen Wadsworth’s husband, Arthur, was declared missing in action during an OSS operation in France, but the official explanation was mysteriously nebulous. Now raising a teenage son who longs to know the truth about his father, Helen turns to Frank Hartman—her husband’s best friend and his partner on the mission when he disappeared. Frank, however, seems more intent on filling the void in Helen’s life that Arthur’s absence has left. As Helen’s affection for Frank grows, so does her guilt, especially when Peter Gavin, a handsome Marine who was brutally tortured by the Japanese and has returned with a faithful war dog, unexpectedly stirs new desires. With her heart pulled in multiple directions, Helen doesn’t know whom to trust—especially when a shocking discovery forever alters her perception of both love and war. Part mystery, part love story, and part insider’s view of a very private world, A Certain Summer resonates in the heart long after the last page is turned.
Also published on May 21 is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo from Reagan Arthur. Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.
But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.
Riverhead releases what may well be another bestseller for author Khaled Hosseini on May 21, And the Mountains Echoed. Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.
Who doesn’t love a good thriller? While I was no fan of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, I am looking forward to the release of Inferno, out May 14 from Knopf Doubleday. As The Lost Symbol showed me, Robert Langdon works best in Europe, and not in America.
In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.
In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.
If you didn’t catch these amazing reads last year, they are either now available in paperback or are coming out this month. Don’t miss them!
The Yellow Birds is unlike other Iraq War novels. Powers actually fought in combat so he knows his stuff. This is fiction, but there are kernels of truth within these pages. He drives home the point that the War in Iraq has irrevocably changed a whole generation and our country will not ever be the same. The Yellow Birds is penetrating, poignant, and deeply personal for Powers. I can’t stop thinking about Bartle and Murph. This is the debut of the year. —Bookmagnet’s review
Hig is an “old man at forty” who lost his wife and their unborn child to the flu. Hig’s narrative is unconventional as Heller uses flashbacks and sometimes strange streams of consciousness to tell us his story. After the flu struck, encephalitis felled Hig. “Two straight weeks of fever, three days 104 to 105,” Hig explains, “I know it cooked my brains.” There is no pattern to Hig’s thoughts. They are often jumbled and mish-mashed, often without segue from one thought to the next. He begins many of his sentences with “and” or “so” and most of his thoughts are fragments. What Hig has lived through and what he has lost speak to us from the page. Heller uses a very powerful device, and Hig just would not be Hig without it.–Bookmagnet’s review
Seating Arrangments is THE read of the summer, but this is no fluff piece. Shipstead constructs a many-layered story in the same way a baker creates a layered wedding cake or a designer sews a wedding gown. There are layers upon layers, and we must peel them back chapter by chapter. There are debut novels, and then there are debut novels. Messy, disorganized jumbles lacking cohesion. Unrealized characters with nothing to drive them. Settings that fall flat. A plot that isn’t. This is not one of those debut novels. —Bookmagnet’s review
Lance Weller’s electrifying and shocking debut Wilderness comes out May 14 from Bloomsbury USA.
I interviewed Weller and he had this to say about coming up with the story:
“Abel Truman came to me well before I had any notion whatsoever that Wilderness would become what it ended up becoming. I wanted to try and write a really excellent dog story and, to that end, started writing a short story about an old man and his dog and what became of them. Before I really knew it, they were living on the Washington State coast and the old man was an American Civil War veteran and I was beyond the point where it was a short story by a good number of pages.”
Foreshadowing is just one of the plot devices in which Miller shows off her skills. Traveling to the school with her mother, Iris notices that “the mountainous peaks resembled teeth. The road stretched between them like a black tongue. And here we were, in our small vehicle, speeding toward that awful mouth.” One cannot help but wonder if the school will swallow Iris…I recommend The Year of the Gadfly to fans of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Miller’s story is intelligent, sharp, and eye-opening. Miller shines as she describes the pain of adolescence and aptly compares high school to the political dealings of a Third World nation. “In high school,” Miller warns, “you never knew who was your enemy and who was your friend.” Keep that warning in mind as you readThe Year of the Gadfly. As in Miller’s novel, our enemies sometimes disguise themselves as our friends. Iris should be vigilant. —Bookmagnet’s review