RIF’s Favorite Reads of May 2016

Helping you sort out the best from the rest published this month.

Favorites of May

Ah, May…spring is beginning its end, and hot June is creeping up on us. In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare wrote, “Rough winds shake the darling buds of May,” and while it’s true that the beginning of the month is usually chilly, by Memorial Day, it’s officially grilling season and the start of summer. But before we say goodbye to this month, let’s take the time to luxuriate in the books we’ve discovered and flipped for (like burgers, get it?) during the last gasp of spring. Without further ado, here are RIF’s favorite reads of the month—hot and piping off the grill!

Click on the images of our favorites to buy them, and tell us in the comments which books were your favorite reads in May!

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Favorites of May

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An addictively thrilling debut novel, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go follows two plotlines that swerve around the same event: a hit-and-run in Bristol, England, where a five-year-old boy is killed. The two police investigators on the case toil ceaselessly, trying to find witnesses to give them clues about the killer in the runaway vehicle. Through their difficult days, the officers begin to find themselves attracted to one another, though one of the pair is married. This is one strand of the story. The other follows Jenna, a mother haunted by her child’s death to the point of needing to escape. She goes to Wales and slowly attempts to piece together a life worth living. To say anymore would be to spoil Mackintosh’s excellent plot twists and gasp-worthy moments, but since the author is a former deputy inspector and well-versed in the police procedures, fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train will find the novel arresting in the best way possible.  (Berkley)

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens 

Favorites of May

Not to be confused with the 1999 thriller by the same name, Eleven Hours does, however, also deal with a pregnant woman. Two, in fact. One, Lore, arrives at the hospital, ready to give birth as naturally as she can; the other is the Haitian nurse who cares for her, Franckline. The narratives of these women, who are in different places in pregnancy as well as in life—Lore is in labor, Franckline isn’t quite showing yet—intertwine through their interactions. Lore, alone at the hospital, and Franckline, exiled by her family, are both lonely and reaching for something, for someone, even if begrudgingly. A stunning story of labor and birth, of love and friendship and women. (Tin House Books)

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Favorites of May
Following the wonderful trend of Whaley’s writing about difficult issues, Highly Illogical Behavior deals with crippling anxiety and agoraphobia. The novel’s alternating narrators are Sol and Lisa: he hasn’t been outside in three years and she is determined to turn him into the perfect and most convincing college essay success story she can in order to get into a good psychology program. She’s determined to fix him—never a good way to start a friendship—but of course, things don’t exactly go as planned. Lisa brings her boyfriend into the mix, trying to spark a friendship between him and her new project, Sol, but what if there’s more going on there? What if there isn’t? And is it even possible to fix another human being, especially one you end up truly caring for as a friend? (Dial Books)

Desert Boys by Chris McCormick

Favorites of May
An amazing debut from Chris McCormick, this is sort of a novel and sort of a collection of linked short stories, but no matter what definition you want to put on it, it’s a total ride. Much of it is set in the real-life California Antelope Valley—which plays itself, only more so, as locations often do when they become characters—the book’s sections all center around Daley Kushner, a graduate from a school where the mascot is a Civil War rebel soldier called Rebby the Blue before it’s defamed with a Hitler mustache and replaced with an actual (live and harmless) tortoise. And that’s only the beginning of one of the book’s narrative arcs. Daley, who narrates many of the stories, though not all, takes the reader through his life in photographic moments that jump around in time, like an album you’re flipping through at random but which ends up providing a full picture of a young man coming to grips with adulthood, sexuality, and what it means to be from somewhere and not be there anymore. (Picador)

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

Favorites of May

Anton Disclafani explores a world of forbidden desire in her new novel, set in 1950s Texas, among the elite world of socialites. The narrator, a woman named Joan who goes by her middle name, Cecelia (or Cece), has subsumed her identity in worrying over another Joan, the only Joan the novel really centers around. This Joan is Cece’s unmarried and wild best friend, a woman who’s run away in the past and who yearns for a life outside of the confines of Texas society life. With desires and a mind of her own, Joan is bound to get into trouble—and she does, repeatedly, only to be fished out of muddy waters by Cece again and again. What may seem like a codependent relationship between the two women is also one of adoration and devotion, and though her involvement with Joan threatens Cece’s marriage, she continues to be there for her friend. But at what cost? (Riverhead)

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Favorites of May

Based on letters between the author’s grandparents, the passion and violence of war, loyalty, love, and friendship come smashing together in the first three years of World War II. Three characters are at the center of this moving novel: a patriotic privileged finishing school pupil, Mary North; Tom Shaw, head of a school district where Mary finds herself teaching; and Alistair, Tom’s roommate, who enlists to fight in the war and do his part for his country on the battlefield. A love triangle, a dangerous and oft-forgotten piece of history, exploration of racial tensions in England as opposed to the U.S. at the time—all these make the novel complex, its characters engaging, and its storyline compelling. (Simon & Schuster)

This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

Favorites of May

Translated into English after its immense success abroad, This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets is a novel about a girl who loses her mother…except that girl is forty, has been twice married, twice divorced, has a lover (who is married himself), and has two children. A beach read of a whole different kind, the protagonist and narrator, Blanca, takes all these people—excluding her dead mother—on vacation with her as an attempt to learn to live without the person she loved most in the world who has had the audacity to die on her. Let’s not forget her best friends, who also come to the beach with her, and with whom she commiserates along with the rest of the pack of beloveds. Despite what on the surface may seem like a light and breezy novel, it is, after all, published in English by Hogarth, the company Virginia Woolf and her husband originally set up, which cements the fact that it has great depth. This should be a good reminder that beneath Busquets’ sunny setting is a novel about grief, love, and growing up. (Hogarth)

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

Favorites of May

More complex than it may seem at first glance, Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe is a novel about a fractured family and the troubling nature of mental illness, secrets, and shared history. Born of a teenaged love affair between her parents, Vera is a young adult not yet out of high school when she suffers a psychotic break—or, at least, that’s what the doctor has diagnosed her with—along with bipolar disorder—despite Vera believing that she’s fine. Her father is in her life now, after many years of estrangement after his love-affair-with-baby-mama fell apart, and he decides, in the spirit of fatherly involvement, to whisk Vera away to Lithuania, his own grandmother’s birthplace. the novel is narrated by both father and daughter, each preoccupied both with their own minds and with those of others—for him, his grandmother’s secrets, and for her, the reason her parents’ relationship didn’t work out—the novel’s distinctive voices are addictive. (Knopf)

A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock

Favorites of May

Another Vera, another socialite, but this book is very different than the two above that feature similar characteristics. Amber Brock’s debut takes place in the 1920s, where Vera is married to a man for whom she represents glamorous, pretty property more so than an actual person. Vera also wasn’t raised to be an empty-headed, bored housewife; she was privileged enough to have been sent to Vassar to earn a degree in art history. And it is from that world of art—as well as secret art forgeries that her then-best friend was an expert at—that Vera steps into the world of an artist, a man who has come to paint a mural in her Park Avenue apartment building. The artist, French and mysterious, carries secrets and seductions of his own, and in Jazz Age New York, Vera’s path lies rockily ahead, either continuing on as she is—safe in the lap of luxury—or risking it all to escape her dollhouse life. (Crown)

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Favorites of May

Love Orange is the New Black? What about Jane the Virgin? Both are excellent shows, and both feature Diane Guerrero, who is using her celebrity platform to discuss a serious issue: immigration. Born in the United States to foreign-born parents, Guerrero was fourteen when her parents were arrested and deported—while she was at school. Because of her own status as a born-in-the-USA citizen, she was allowed to stay in the country, depending on the kindness of friends to support her. Having grown up with loving and hardworking parents, as Diane matured, she recognized their difference from other parents was due, in part, to their fear of the authorities (a fear that eventually proved warranted). Once they were deported, it was heart-wrenching to have to continue her life without them. Diane’s relationship with her parents became more difficult over time, as did her own psyche about where she belonged. Advocating on behalf of the undocumented immigrants in our country, Guerrero’s memoir is a well-written, tell-all of a woman who traveled a difficult path to stardom, so unlike one of a standard Hollywood actress. (Henry Holt)

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Favorites of May

In today’s gentrified Brooklyn, New York, the former members of a college band all live within spitting distance of one another, having moved on from their wild, younger lives to become the grownups they never thought they’d be. Elizabeth and Andrew—two of the bandmates—are married to each other and have a son; bandmate-turned-restauranteur Zoe lives with her partner Jane, a chef, and their daughter nearby; and Lydia, the band’s fourth member, is long gone, having died of an overdose after a dramatic rise and fall of her solo career, thanks, in large part, to a song penned by Elizabeth called “Mistress of Myself.” The bandmates’ teenaged children are hormonal and discovering themselves and one another, as the once-bandmates struggle to figure out where they fit in a world that wants to remember Lydia, who co-opted Elizabeth’s song all those years ago. A beach-ready book about growing up, moving on and reflecting on moments passed. (Riverhead)

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Favorites of May

If you’re a fan of alternate realities and universes—even if you aren’t a fan of sci-fi in any way—you’re likely to fall in love with the characters and different versions of those characters in Laura Barnett’s new book. Beginning from one moment in time, when Eva and Jim meet in 1958 at Cambridge, their lives spin out into varying and almost infinite possibilities throughout this ambitious and beautiful debut. There is a love story here, but also a meditation on all the minute truths about the choices we make on a day-to-day basis and how the smallest things about us can change—or stay utterly the same—depending on all those little moments. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Favorites of May

Another debut novelist to add to our lineup, Antonia Hayes brings forth stunning and endearingly human characters in Relativity. A family torn apart long ago comes together slowly as the events of this novel unfold. Told in alternating perspectives, we get to enjoy the unique voices of Claire, a ballerina who sacrificed her career to raise her child alone; Ethan, Claire’s son, a young physics genius; and Mark, Ethan’s father and Claire’s ex-husband, living on the other side of Australia from the family of two that used to include him. As he returns to Sydney, where Claire and Ethan live, and as Ethan falls ill and Claire’s old hurt begins to surface, we see a cautious and moving reunion that is as complex as physics and as confusing as real life. (Gallery Books)

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Favorites of May

Heartrendingly astonishing, Adam Haslett’s new novel, Imagine Me Gone, explores the nuances of mental illness, from depression to anxiety, and the complications of what those actually mean in everyday life. Married couple Margaret and John have three children, but only after a choice that Margaret makes when she first checks John, her then-fiancé, into a hospital for his depression. Her choice to marry him, to have children with him, and to continue supporting him, despite his crippling mental illness, exposes the depths of her ability to empathize and her unending capacity for tenderness. Of their three children, Michael, Celia, and Alec, it seems that the firstborn has inherited something of his father’s disease. Through the voices of the different family members, readers are taken on a journey of life and love, hardship and happiness, the gallows humor of psychopathy, along with its deadly seriousness. (Little, Brown and Company)

The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley

Favorites of May

Andrew Michael Hurley has already been hailed by both Stephen King and The Telegraph as a new voice to be reckoned with, and his debut novel proves their praise. The Loney is a part of the Lancashire coastline, an eerie and bleak place that is so strongly depicted that it becomes more than a setting, but rather one of the book’s characters. The novel’s narrator, Smith, is forced to reckon with his past in this place, where his staunchly Catholic mother brought him and his older brother Hanny many years ago. Smith’s older brother didn’t talk and though Smith was able to communicate with him, he was considered mentally handicapped. Their mother prayed and fasted and made them take a pilgrimage to a shrine along this coastal stretch in search for a cure. While on the Loney as boys, Smith and Hanny end up stumbling into some sinister, spooky stuff, which Smith must reconcile forty years later when the remains of a small child wash ashore. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)


Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Favorites of May

Have you ever dreamed of having one of those wild and rebellious teenage experiences? Have you had one and regretted it? Well, characters Lacey and Dex will be cathartic or familiar—live vicariously through them or read about their hijinks and weep with relief that you’re not them. A novel of friendship going toxic fast, Girls on Fire is full of secrets untold. In the early 1990s, Lacey gives a girl named Hannah a makeover, turning her into Dex; the two are matching rebels, drinking, partying and sneaking out—all the naughty things teens dream about. But what happens when a friendship full of feats of daring-do goes too far and gets too close for comfort? (Harper)

The Yoga of Max’s Discontent by Karan Bajaj

Favorites of May

Max, a Wall Street analyst, and son of Greek immigrants to the U.S., encounters a life-changing fight in the middle of a cold New York night, which makes he rethink everything he’s done up until that point. Traveling from the sky-scraping offices of New York City to the ashrams of India to mountainsides and hostels, Max discovers a different way of living, finds his own path in the steps that others have taken before him, and discovers both internal and external adventure. Bajaj’s debut novel is a modern take on the classic tale of self-discovery and transcendence and is inspirational and thought-provoking. (Riverhead)

The Pier Falls and Other Stories by Mark Haddon

Favorites of May

From the author of three bestselling novels, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, comes a collection of tales written in varied styles and genres. From a succinct and meticulous account of a tragedy and its outcomes, to the blending of reality and dreams, from the jungles of the Amazon to a room where a boy finds a gun, the stories in this collection take us deep into different forms of empathy and loneliness. This is what Haddon does so well and has been doing wonderfully since his debut—making us feel, deeply and thoroughly. And in these stories, whether we’re on an adventure in a fairy tale or inside a soft-spoken story of real life, we’re always feeling something for the people involved. (Doubleday)

Photos by: Alicia Diamond

About Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is a queer writer of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, an interview podcast featuring fiction writers, and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers, comes out May 2020.

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