May’s Best New Fiction

Fans of beach reads: start your engines! It may not be officially summer yet, but a pair of fresh, fabulous novels set in Nantucket and Sullivan Island will kick off the season perfectly. Add in a tear-jerker about a dog’s journey, two short story collections (courtesy of Haruki Murakami and Richard Russo), and some fascinating historical fiction, and the month of May is bursting with great books. Here’s to the change in weather, and all the sunny days of reading ahead.

Men without Women, by Haruki Murakami
A fabulous new collection of short stories—his first since Blind Willow, Sleeping Womanthese seven tales compose a sort of Greatest Hits album for Murakami. From his disappearing cats and cultural exchanges to his thoughtful reflections on both classical and popular music, it’s easy to see why his award-winning work has been translated into 50 languages from its original Japanese. As you may have guessed from its title, the common theme of this collection is men who are lonely or isolated, betrayed or abandoned.

Against All Odds, by Danielle Steel
In January, Ms. Steel kicked off the year with The Mistress, a novel of international intrigue and power struggles. For those who enjoy a more domestic setting, the family drama at the heart of Against All Odds will immediately draw you in. Widowed Kate Madison has successfully raised four children into adulthood, but now she can only watch as each of her offspring makes unusual or even risky decisions for themselves. From a flash marriage, to an ill-advised romance, to a May/December relationship, to a rush to have children, it appears to Kate as though her kids are playing against the odds. However, if she can put her judgments aside, she may just be surprised at how their lives turn out.

Same Beach Next Year, by Dorothea Benton Frank
Frank knows beaches, specifically South Carolina’s gorgeous Sullivan Island (where the author was born). The latest in her irresistible series set in Lowcountry, this appealing tale spans a few decades in the lives of two couples: Adam and Eliza; and Eve and Carl. Although their previous couplings (Adam and Eve were once an item) stir up tension at first, both sets of spouses form a bond of friendship that endures all the ups and downs of a life richly lived. Via annual reunions each summer, the relationships prove to be vital touchstones during family tragedies, financial setbacks, and newly empty nests. Readers will come to feel as though they’ve been invited on the yearly trips themselves.

Secrets in Summer, by Nancy Thayer
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and Nantucket local Darcy, having inherited her grandmother’s house on the island, is ready to enjoy the beach town where she recently secured her dream job of children’s librarian. She’s stunned when her former husband (and the women he left Darcy for, plus her teenage daughter), rent the house next door for the season.  Complicating matters further, Darcy is juggling two potential suitors of her own: sexy Nash, Nantucket’s resident handyman, and attractive out-of-towner Clive, who’s visiting family on the island and writing a book about music. Can Darcy put the past behind her and find happiness on her own terms before her summer neighbors depart for the year?

A Dog’s Way Home, by W. Bruce Cameron
The bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey is back with a new canine caper that will turn your heart to goo. Puppy Bella, whose half-pit-bull breed is banned in Denver due to BDL (Breed Discriminatory Legislation) is sent by Animal Control to a foster home far away. Devoted, loyal, and determined to return to the people she loves most, Bella sets out on a captivating, dangerous adventure. She must travel 400 miles in the wilds of Colorado to return to her family: a man named Lucas who works at a VA hospital where Bella charmed and comforted those in need. I’m already sniffling back tears.

Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan
Estranged sisters Nora and Theresa, an Irish Catholic matriarch and a cloistered nun, respectively, are forced to confront each other and the impossible choices they made long ago when Nora’s ne’er-do-well son Patrick, whom Nora adores, dies in a drunk driving accident. The story switches between present day and the late 1950s (when the sisters originally emigrated to Boston from a farm in Ireland as young women). Fans of Sullivan’s The Engagements, Maine, and Commencement (so, pretty much everybody) will want to grab this tender family saga.

Frozen Hours, by Jeff Shaara
Acclaimed for his Civil War, Great War, and World War II sagas, best seller Shaara’s latest returns readers to the field of war, this time depicting the pivotal battle of Chosin Resevoir during America’s “Forgotten War.” It’s winter, 1950, and the Korean War is five months young when American forces—mainly the 1st Marine Division—are surrounded and overwhelmed by Communist Chinese soldiers in the mountains of North Korea. The so-called “Chosin Few” must fight not only their Chinese counterparts, but the staggeringly cold temperatures during the two-week siege. Shaara’s novel focuses on the commanders of the opposing sides and seems guaranteed to provide a tense, riveting story.

Trajectory: Stories, by Richard Russo
This collection of short stories by Richard Russo (who won the Pulitzer in 2002 for his novel Empire Falls) seems cut from the same entertaining cloth as Straight Man and its collegiate setting. Two of the lead characters found in Trajectory are professors or former professors; one is a novelist; and the fourth is a realtor who fears his time on earth is coming to an end. With his skill at depicting small-town American life, his humor, and his flawed but deeply lovable characters, Russo proves once again why he’s a perennial favorite.

House of Names, by Colm Tóibín
This tantalizing, tumultuous, and accessible retelling of the Greek myth of Clytemnestra (whose narration, one of several, is partly delivered from beyond the grave), depicts a family torn apart by betrayal and ambition. When King Agamemnon proves that his obsession with winning the Trojan War overshadows his love for his daughter Iphigenia, whom he sacrifices to the gods on her wedding day to Achilles, Clytemnestra plots devious revenge on her husband. Her actions serve only to set into motion a domino effect of murder and vengeance within her other children. House of Names seems poised to become a classic in its own right.

Burntown, by Jennifer McMahon
A suspense-filled, genre-twister set in a Vermont mill town (locals call the partially abandoned area Burntown), it depicts the mysterious and possibly supernatural journey of Necco, whose young life is thrown into turmoil when Miles, her eccentric inventor father, builds a machine that can supposedly speak to the dead. Shortly afterward, Miles is killed in a flood; Necca’s boyfriend is murdered; and Necca’s mother disappears. Relying on the other odd denizens of Burntown—such as soothsayers and fire eaters—Necco seeks to make sense of her past, while not falling prey to the same sinister figures that may have caused her dad’s demise.

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