Imagine if the women forced into pregnancy in The Handmaid’s Tale were instead paid exorbitant amounts of money to play Host to wealthy women’s embryos and live on a lavish estate until they give birth. Seems aboveboard, right? Not so much. Jane, a Filipina immigrant in dire financial straits, leaves her 6-month-old daughter and community behind in order to get the Host payout. Isolated and missing her daughter, she’s desperate to communicate with the outside world, which is strictly forbidden. With the help of new friends, she just might manage—but what will they suffer as a result?
On Domenica Ruta’s version of our own dying planet, humanity gathers every May 28 to celebrate the end of the world. Each year is a new chance to atone for one’s mistakes and make amends, because every Last Day is treated as if that’s exactly what it is. This time around, teenager Sarah searches for the middle-aged tattooist she fell for last May 28, Karen finally listens to the voices pointing her toward the vestiges of her family, and three astronauts share their complicated feelings about the International Space Station.
If you, like us, cried buckets when you saw Arrival—or if you, like us, are going through the occasional existential crisis about the state of the world—this is a book you need. Ted Chiang’s marvelously imagined, deeply researched, and gloriously profound tales—of time travel in ancient Baghdad, machines raising human children, humans trying to keep sentient machines alive, other intelligent species reaching out to us—will help remind you of the wonder found in the mere fact of existence. Affirming, thought-provoking, and so welcome, Chiang’s new collection has been well worth the wait.
In a New England town around the turn of millennium, an old house in the woods has become the setting for scary stories that Jane and Henrietta’s father has been telling them for years. Over a century earlier, the house was home to Elspeth, whose out-of-wedlock pregnancy caused her parents to ship her off to the U.S., away from her beloved sister Claire. In one timeline, Henrietta disappears; in the other, Elspeth stops sending letters to Claire. What’s happened to them? How do their sisters contain the loss? And where do mythmaking and reality collide?
The Bride Test
Khai is an accountant—a good one, too—and he’s pretty content with the life he’s living. His mother has other ideas though, and once she realizes that Khai is never going to date on his own, let alone get married, she goes to her home country, Vietnam, to find a good match. Esme is a maid supporting her 5-year-old daughter and extended family, and when given the chance to fly to the U.S. and win over Khai, she jumps at it. But Khai has autism and is convinced that he simply can’t love. Will Esme prove him wrong?
No Walls and the Recurring Dream
Bisexual feminist icon Ani DiFranco is just like us—she’s lived, loved, been heartbroken, and struggled to understand where she belongs. In her new memoir, DiFranco shares her journey, from her discovery of the magic that music could bring out in her to her emancipation as a teenager to the hardscrabble years of the underground music scene and beyond. As if that weren’t enough, DiFranco also explores her induction into political activism and dedication to social justice. A gift from a now mainstream artist who still feels like an indie darling, this memoir is full of heart and fun.
The Paris Diversion
When a man unzips his windbreaker outside the Louvre to reveal a bomb strapped to his chest, everyone’s pretty sure what’s happening. But is the man really affiliated with terrorists? Is he even there by choice? And what about the CEO who’s just been disappeared across the river? Kate Moore, a deep-cover CIA operative living in Paris with her clueless husband, is going to find out. She’s been ostensibly living the housewife life, but it’s been boring her to tears, and running her network of undercover operatives is far more satisfying in this Parisian, fast-paced thriller.
Xuan Juliana Wang
In this broadly imagined short story collection, characters of all social strata—from the nouveau riche to the first Americans in a working-class immigrant Chinese family—struggle with the desire to both belong and individuate, to remember the past and also leave it behind. Featuring young Chinese divers preparing for the Beijing Olympics, an old woman taking a vacation in space and looking back on her life, and other captivating characters, these are stirring stories of love unattainable or long gone. The uncanny and surreal make an appearance, too—like through a set of clothing that seems to curse its wearers into self-destruction.
The Flight Portfolio
Varian Fry was an American journalist who traveled to France during World War II with a list of names. Intending to help the artists and writers on his list escape within a month of his arrival, Fry found himself struggling to convince them of the encroaching danger even as it grew closer by the day. In this historical novel based around Fry’s work, Julie Orringer vividly paints Fry, the European intellectual set, and the struggle to escape an increasingly violent war. With enough espionage for spy fans and enough pathos for literary readers, this is a page-turner to sink into.
Once More We Saw Stars
When Jayson and Stella’s daughter, Greta, was two years old, she was sitting on a bench with her grandmother when a freak accident occurred: a brick dislodged from the building above and struck her. In trying to cope with her death, Jayson and Stella attempted to find signs of her everywhere while also starting a new life. Embracing the full, gut-wrenching awfulness of grief and recognizing the deeply human beauty of it, the pair attended workshops, moved to a new apartment, and tried to prepare for the future without ever forgetting their beloved Greta.
Orange World and Other Stories
Karen Russell is back with a new collection, and boy, are we ready for it. In these eight stories, Russell uses her keen eye for the absurdity of life and filters it through her signature fabulist tint, introducing readers to a mother who begins breastfeeding the devil, wealthy-husband seekers who find themselves haunted by a group of men long-buried under an avalanche, a love affair between a man and a 2,000-year-old girl mummified in a bog, and other wild and wondrous characters. Moving and funny and utterly her own, these stories beg for rereading.
Where We Come From
Brownsville, Texas, is a border town, and Orly has no interest in living there for the summer. But his mom has died, his brother is at camp, and his dad wants to spend time with his new girlfriend—so here Orly is, living with his aunt Nina. Nina isn’t thrilled about the situation either, nor about the fact that the pink casita in her backyard is being used by coyotes smuggling people into the country. When a 12-year-old boy gets stuck there, Nina decides to keep him safe, and he and Orly become fast friends. But what’s next in a town full of ICE agents?
The Learning Curve
Liv and Fiona are roommates at Buchanan, a liberal arts school, and the arrival of a formerly successful and still charming professor becomes a catalyst for both young women. Fiona, still mourning the death of her younger sister, has been making bad decisions all year, so what’s one more? And Liv, well, she’s not the kind to be rash, and she loves her boyfriend, so it makes no sense that she’d act on her silly crush, right? But growing up is difficult, and charm is an alluring thing—even amidst friendship and a desire to have it all figured out.
Keep You Close
A common mistake secret-keepers make is forgetting that those closest to them may have secrets of their own. Stephanie Maddox, working for the FBI’s internal affairs, is reminded of this the hard way when she finds a loaded gun that belongs to her 17-year-old son, Zachary. Things become worse when a colleague tells her there’s serious concern over Zachary’s involvement in an anarchist group. While Stephanie knows she hasn’t been spending much time at home, she’s sure her son is being set up. But who’s behind the plot, and can she expose them in time?
Becoming Dr. Seuss
Brian Jay Jones
Still widely beloved, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, lived a more complicated life than expected, as thoroughly explored in this new biography. Geisel didn’t always plan to be a children’s book author, and his career move surprised many who never thought he had a special affinity for children. But what he did have was a sense of what might get children reading, and he planted many of his own political beliefs in his texts, hoping to pass on messages of environmentalism and anti-Cold War sentiment. A digestible, fascinating read for fans both avid and casual.
When Casey Cep traveled to Alabama to report on the controversial announcement about a posthumous new book by Harper Lee, she was eager to learn more about the beloved, fiercely private author. But what Cep wasn’t ready for was the discovery she made: Nelle Harper Lee had another book she’d started and abandoned, one that would fit right into our contemporary love of true crime. Here, Cep traces the crime that Lee found herself enthralled with—a serial killer reverend and the vigilante who shot him when the police wouldn’t—and what happened to the author’s project.
Detective Cormac Reilly’s new case is a doozy. Called to the scene of a hit-and-run, Reilly discovers that the victim is the heiress to Ireland’s largest pharmaceutical company. The victim’s notoriety and the strings that Darcy Therapeutics can pull make the case far more complicated. The company has been funding research and political parties, and while it gives generously to charity to keep its good name, there are plenty of people who dislike the giant corporation. Conflicts of interest, suspicion, and the mess only power and money can sow make for a twisted case.
Say you don’t believe in astrology but are head-over-heels in love with someone who takes it very, very seriously. That’s where Justine (Sagittarius) finds herself. She’s known Nick (Aquarius) for years, but she’s terrible at flirting and isn’t sure he likes her. But he does like the horoscopes in the magazine she writes for, and when Justine’s promoted and gets access to them, she starts to fudge the Aquarius section in the hopes of making Nick wake up and smell the love. Instead, Nick seems to be misunderstanding, while other Aquariuses are acting on her advice. Are Justine and Nick just star-crossed?
Wild and Crazy Guys
Nick de Semlyen
The 1980s were the golden age for a particular kind of comedian, many of whom are still working today. Film journalist Nick de Semlyen takes us behind movie sets starring Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, John Candy, and Rick Moranis, as well as behind the scenes of their friendships, off-screen feuds, and good-natured played-for-laughs fights. This book is a delicious look at the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll lifestyle of many of the most well-known ’80s comedians and movies, including Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and more.
Her Royal Highness
Millie may be into rocks, but her best friend and sort-of-girlfriend kissing someone else doesn’t rock her world. She sets about getting some distance—like, across-the-pond type distance. When a prestigious Scottish boarding school accepts her, Texan Millie is eager to graduate without any more drama. Except that her roommate Fiona is a spoiled princess—literally—who keeps trying to get kicked out of school. When the two get stuck in the woods one day, Millie discovers that Fiona’s gay, and they embark on a sort-of relationship. Will Millie just get her heart broken again, or a happily ever after?
Happy May, everyone, and may you read a whole bunch of books this month! (See what we did there?) As always, we want to make your bookish pursuits easy, so we’ve rounded up our favorite selections of May’s new book releases. From brilliant short story collections (new Karen Russell! new Ted Chiang!), gripping nonfiction, and novels of all stripes, we’ve got your reading enjoyment on stack. Take your picks, and see you next month!