No matter how well you think you know yourself, there’s somehow always something more to discover. That’s evident in the most exciting new books coming in May. In Cleyvis Natera’s debut novel, Neruda on the Park, a family reckons with what “home” means to them. In Rachel M. Harper’s The Other Mother, a young pianist seeks out the truth about his origins—despite the ripple effects that will surely play out. And in Adrian McKinty’s taut thriller The Island, a new stepmom tests the limits of how far she’ll go to protect her kids.
Here, the 14 best new books to read in May.
Chef’s Kiss, TJ Alexander (May 3)
Simone is a pedantic pastry chef working in a Bon Appétit-style test kitchen, where she’d prefer to stay behind the scenes. But when her company decides to pivot to video, she’s forced into the spotlight—and has to deal with her unbearably chirpy colleague Ray. Eventually, the two bond, and Simone tries to be a good friend when Ray shares that they are non-binary. It’s hard to say what’s sweeter: the pair’s slow-burn romance or the drool-worthy descriptions of decadent desserts.
All the Lovers in the Night, Mieko Kawakami (May 3)
If you’ve ever caught your reflection in a storefront window and been shocked—not in a good way—by what’s staring back at you, you’ll understand Fuyoko Irie. She’s a Japanese 30-something who’s unable to form meaningful relationships, but resolves to change once she meets a man named Mitsutsuka. As she begins to knock down the protective walls she built around herself, she learns more about why she is the way she is, and who she wants to be. Kawakami—the author of titles such as Breasts and Eggs and Heaven—has crafted another atmospheric, subtly beautiful novel.
Companion Piece, Ali Smith (May 3)
Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet—composed of the novels Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer—was lauded by many as a fantastic literary feat. Her new novel Companion Piece is equally lyrical and timely. It’s about Sandy, an artist whose elderly father is in the hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. Though Sandy is careful to isolate and stay healthy, unexpected house guests disrupt her lockdown existence. Smith’s novel will push readers to consider what it means to let people into your life, even when you don’t want to.
We Do What We Do in the Dark, Michelle Hart (May 3)
When Mallory is a freshman in college, she begins an obsessive affair with an older, married woman—fueled, perhaps, by her loneliness and the void created by her mother’s death. Their relationship is complicated and life-changing. Years later, after they’ve long been apart, Mallory has to decide whether to confront the woman about how the affair affected her. Michelle Hart’s coming-of-age novel skillfully depicts forbidden romance and the shame it can foster.
Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance, John Waters (May 3)
Filmmaker John Waters—the man behind movies like Pink Flamingos, Polyester, and Hairspray—delivers his first novel: a rollicking “feel-bad romance” about Liarmouth, a woman on the run who’s universally loathed. She steals, she forges, she squats in places she doesn’t belong, and she rubs everyone she meets the wrong way. Then she encounters a man who’s determined to make her tell the truth. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Waters: weird, perverse, and gloriously fun.
The Other Mother, Rachel M. Harper (May 3)
Musical prodigy Jenry, who was raised in Miami by his mother, heads to Brown University on a scholarship, determined to uncover his own history. He begins searching for information about Jasper, the late father he never knew, but gets more than he bargained for in The Other Mother, Rachel M. Harper’s gripping follow-up to This Side of Providence. When Jenry meets Jasper’s father, he learns that the person he should really be searching for is Jasper’s sister—his mother’s ex-girlfriend. Unraveling the past and digging up old secrets soon complicates the relationships Jenry long believed he could trust.
Bitter Orange Tree, Jokha Alharthi (May 10)
Jokha Alharthi’s novel Celestial Bodies won the Booker International Prize in 2019. Now, Alharthi delivers an imaginative story about Zuhur, an Omani woman attending school in the U.K. who struggles to reconcile her past with her present. Zuhur reflects often on her relationship with her grandmother, which she hopes will help her make new friends and adapt to her new life. The slim novel is a bittersweet, non-linear exploration of social status and a young woman’s agency.
Siren Queen, Nghi Vo (May 10)
In the follow up to her 2021 novel The Chosen and the Beautiful, Nghi Vo weaves dark magic into Siren Queen, a work of speculative fiction. It’s about Luli, a Chinese American girl who’s determined to become an Old Hollywood star. This Hollywood, however, is populated with monsters and demons, and Luli has to reckon with those sinister beings as she pursues fame at any cost. Doing so might mean becoming a monster herself.
The Island, Adrian McKinty (May 17)
When Tom, a widowed doctor with two kids, marries Heather, he decides to take the new family abroad for an Australian adventure. One bad decision later, they’re running for their lives in a remote outback town in this tense, adrenaline-fueled thriller. Adrian McKinty, hot off the success of The Chain, makes the extreme weather in The Island feel like a character, and readers will root for Heather as she fights to save her family. Hulu has snapped up the rights to turn the novel into a limited series.
All the Seas of the World, Guy Gavriel Kay (May 17)
In this historical fantasy, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the Renaissance-like universe he built in A Brightness Long Ago and Children of Earth and Sky. (Reading those titles first will boost your enjoyment of All the Seas of the World, though the new novel also works as a stand-alone.) All the Seas of the World focuses on Rafel, a ship captain, and his partner, Nadia, who accept a dangerous job: assassinating an important leader. The endeavor changes them to their core. Kay’s latest is a sweeping, nearly 600-page narrative about family, fate, love, and war.
You Have a Friend in 10A, Maggie Shipstead (May 17)
Last year, Maggie Shipstead’s novel Great Circle—which made excellent book-club fodder—was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Now, she returns with You Have a Friend in 10A, her first collection of short stories. One transports readers to a love triangle playing out on a Montana dude ranch; another takes place on horseback in the backcountry; and a third tells the story of a disastrous Romanian honeymoon. The 10 pieces are introspective and layered, starring flawed, complex characters.
Translating Myself and Others, Jhumpa Lahiri (May 17)
Jhumpa Lahiri won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her debut short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. Since then, she’s established herself as both a writer and a translator. In this new collection of essays, Lahiri reflects on the art of translation—including how she translated her own work from Italian to English. Lahiri also considers other great novelists’ approach to translation, as well as the value of the process more broadly.
Neruda on the Park, Cleyvis Natera (May 24)
In her debut novel, Cleyvis Natera introduces readers to the Guerreros, a Dominican family that has lived in the same New York City neighborhood for 20 years. As gentrification creeps in, parents Eusebia and Vladimir and their daughter Luz respond in starkly different ways. Complicating matters: Luz’s boyfriend is one of the people planning to develop luxury apartments in the family’s neighborhood. The plot revolves around themes like community and survival, and Natera deftly explores what it means to call a place home—especially when that place is under threat.
How to Be Eaten, Maria Adelmann (May 31)
In this feminist reimagining of classic fairytales, six women sign up for group therapy to heal past traumas. One fell for a tech billionaire who turned out to have a penchant for locking up women in his mansion and then murdering them. Another dated a literal predator—a wolf—whose fur she now wears as a coat. Adelmann’s debut is a darkly funny, thought-provoking take on what happens after happily ever after.
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