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10 books to add to your reading list in May

On the Shelf

10 May Books For Your Reading List

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Critic Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and nonfiction, to consider for your May list.

Lions and tigers and bears — all feature in our list of May’s most anticipated new books. Not to mention asps, chickadees, raptors, ingenues, con artists and magicians, as well as a wide array of genres for nearly every taste and mood: poetry, history, memoir, fantasy, literary fiction and a paean to the natural world. Happy spring reading!

FICTION

Book of Night
By Holly Black
Tor: 320 pages, $28
(May 3)

Charlie Hall tends bar at an Easthampton, Mass., dive as she puts more time and distance between herself and her history of abetting magicians in crimes. But the “gloamists” who can enchant people’s shadows are in need of her specific skills — and Charlie needs some of theirs so she can save her sister. It’s a high-stakes, high-octane fantasy thriller and the first book for adults from the bestselling YA author.

Trust
By Hernan Diaz
Riverhead: 416 pages, $28
(May 3)

We’re all familiar with the device of a story within a story; rarer is the fictional story within the true story contradicted by a back story before we get to the real story. Diaz has organized his new nesting-doll novel so ingeniously that the tricks merely thrum in the background as the intricate plot unfolds, following a tycoon couple forward to a novel about their “history,” then back and forth through diaries, recriminations and reversals. The result shouldn’t be missed.

Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance
By John Waters
FSG: 256 pages, $26
(May 3)

This debut novel from the actor-director-artist-author will feel like a divine bath if you’re a fan, and who isn’t? Waters, the freaky bard of Baltimore, has done so much to demystify camp culture; here he turns to written fiction (after several memoirs) with the story of one Marcia Sprinkle, whose life as a con artist doesn’t conflict (at least in her original mind) with a longing for love. Waters’ madcap fun travels well into a new medium.

"The Lioness" book cover showing an unhappy woman and red slash marks across the cover title and picture

The Lioness
By Chris Bohjalian
Doubleday: 336 pages, $28
(May 10)

Most recently, Bohjalian visited colonial Boston in “The Hour of the Witch” (and saw his earlier novel “The Flight Attendant” transformed into a captivating HBO Max caper). In “The Lioness,” he moves to early-1960s East Africa and a Hollywood entourage on a safari that goes horribly awry when Russian mercenaries shoot their guides and staff members. Of course, the survivors have their own back stories and intrigues, which enrich the story and complicate their alliances as they struggle to stay alive.

This Time Tomorrow
By Emma Straub
Riverhead: 320 pages, $28
(May 17)

Now is as good a time as any to remind readers that Straub is the daughter of novelist Peter Straub, because in Straub fille’s lovely new book, 40-something Alice takes an unexpected, supernatural trip into the past and finds herself amazed by her father. Back in 1995 he is no longer ailing, but hale and hearty and 40-something himself. He helps Alice gain perspective on midlife, teaching lessons on happiness at any age.

NONFICTION

Outdoor Kids in an Inside World
By Steve Rinella
Random House: 208 pages, $26
(May 3)

Rinella gained fame as a self-proclaimed “meateater” — game hunter, fisher, memoirist, cook. While his new book doesn’t shy away from the more traditionally masculine arts of outdoor play, his new guide to logging off and tuning in also encompasses gardening, camping and hiking. It’s not just about getting fresh air, Rinella reminds us — it’s about connecting with a sense of wonder and fostering stewardship of the natural world that sustains us all.

"The High Sierra: A Love Story" book cover mountains and a lake

(Little, Brown and Company)

The High Sierra: A Love Story
By Kim Stanley Robinson
Little, Brown: 560 pages, $40
(May 10)

Yes, it’s that Kim Stanley Robinson — a well-known sci-fi author (“Shaman,” “The Ministry for the Future”) who is also the 2008 Time magazine “Hero of the Environment” and a member of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. In passionate paragraphs and stunning photographs, “The High Sierra” details the mountains he’s known for nearly 50 years, into which he’s made more than 100 trips in hopes of protecting the glorious range for future generations.

The Hurting Kind
By Ada Limón
Milkweed: 120 pages, $22
(May 10)

This new collection from the award-winning poet reckons with a different kind of loss than her 2018 book “The Carrying,” which focused on fertility and miscarriage. These poems home in on how grief makes us human. In “The End of Poetry” (published in the New Yorker in 2020), Limón’s stark final line reminds readers that we are nothing without connection. If you haven’t read poetry in a while, this volume might be what you need to reconnect with the form.

River of the Gods
By Candice Millard
Doubleday: 368 pages, $33
(May 17)

Many of us have heard of Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke as discoverers of Lake Victoria, the storied source of the Nile River (and some have heard of their hideous rivalry). But far fewer know about the man who led their famous expeditions: Sid Mubarak Bombay. Millard, an acclaimed historian, recovers the story of this once-enslaved East African and his crucial role as more than a guide — a role unacknowledged in his lifetime.

"Happy-Go-Lucky" book cover of a clown and a dog and a child

Happy-Go-Lucky
By David Sedaris
Little, Brown: 272 pages, $29
(May 31)

The older Sedaris gets, the funnier he gets — if you don’t mind your LOL humor tempered with self-knowledge and compassion. Once everybody’s favorite department-store holiday elf, the champion storyteller is now a long-partnered homebody whose family losses weigh heavily against his career successes. “I cannot bear watching my sisters get old,” he writes. “It just seems cruel. They were all such beauties.” Memento mori.

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