May’s Best New Fiction

Beach Read Queens, assemble! May brings us fresh fare from Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Kay Andrews, and Mary Alice Monroe, aka your go-to authors for sand, surf, love, and family drama. Danielle Steel’s newest depicts a work-based family behind the scenes at a TV show, Michael Ondaatje offers up a coming-of-age mystery, and Christopher Buckley provides unexpected laughs from 1664.

Love and Ruin, by Paula McLain
After depicting the life of Hadley Richardson in her bestselling The Paris Wife, McLain sets her sights on Hemingway’s third wife, acclaimed war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Her connection to Hemingway begins in Key West, Florida, in the late 1930s and ramps up against the invigorating, terrible backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Two stars are on the rise—journalist and novelist, equal in skill—but one must eclipse the other. 

By Invitation Only, by Dorothea Benton Frank
Wedding season is upon us, and who better to enjoy it with than Dorothea Benton Frank, the queen of Lowcountry beach reads? Meet the Stiftels, peach farmers in South Carolina. They’re in for some serious culture shock when their beloved only son, Fred, becomes engaged to Shelby Cambria, the wealthy daughter of a Chicago-based private equity master of the universe.  When the two families are thrown together, first in Lowcountry and then in the Windy City, their disparate backgrounds clash, and multiple secrets come tumbling out.

The High Tide Club, by Mary Kay Andrews
New York Times bestseller Andrews delivers a tale of Southern romance and suspense that kicks off when Josephine, an eccentric, almost century-old heiress living in a Grey Gardens-esque crumbling mansion by the sea, hires lawyer Brooke to complete a mysterious task. Brooke must gather together the descendants of Josephine’s best friends for a reunion that may prove either profitable or deadly.

The Cast, by Danielle Steel
Kate Whittier, a twice-divorced magazine columnist with a robust fan base, powers through her fears of intimacy after she finds the support she needs to create a TV show based on the life of her extraordinary grandmother. And when Kait’s own life implodes unexpectedly, it’s the tightknit cast of the show she turns to for the strength to carry on.

Beach House Reunion, by Mary Alice Monroe
In the fifth book of her popular, heartwarming Beach House series, which concerns several generations of the Rutledge family living in Lowcountry, we meet Cara’s niece Linnea, a recent college grad who feels uncertain about her future and burdened by her parents’ expectations. Perhaps a summer at the Isle of Palms, rife with dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles, is in order? At Primrose Cottage, she and Cara help one another put the past to rights. Although it can be read as a standalone, series readers will be delighted by the cameos from previous characters.

The Judge Hunter, by Christopher Buckley
In this comedic, historical mystery-thriller (how often do you see that genre?), expert satirist Buckley (Thank You For Smoking) scatters real-life figures amid his own creations. A young, utterly useless layabout, Balty St. Michael, sets off for the New World in 1664, commissioned by his cousin Samuel Pepys to locate two judges who disappeared after assisting in the murder of Charles I. Helping Balty is a competent former commander with motives of his own. Adventure and hijinks ensue on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as throughout the newborn colonies.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje
From the author of The English Patient and The Cat’s Table comes a bildungsroman set in London in the immediate aftermath of World War II, as well as fourteen years later, when protagonist Nathaniel attempts to make sense of his mother’s enigmatic and disturbing behavior. Immediately following the war’s conclusion, teenage Nathan and his sister Rachel were left behind for a year with two mysterious, possibly criminal guardians while their parents traveled to Singapore. (Or did they?) In the decades to come, now working for British intelligence services, Nathan tries to piece together his mother’s secrets. The buildup to the answers he’ll find promises to be exquisitely poetic.

The High Season, by Judy Blundell
In her first book for adults (she previously won the National Book Award for her YA noir, What I Saw and How I Lied), Blundell proves once again how skilled she is at peeling back the glossy exteriors of people’s lives. Middle-aged, divorced Ruthie and her fifteen-year-old daughter are forced to abandon their beach house each summer and rent it out in order to afford living there the rest of the year. To their consternation, and despite their location in North Fork, they’re not safe from the wealthy, greedy Hamptons crowd two ferry stops away; in fact, their latest boarder exemplifies that group and seems poised to scoop up and replace Ruthie herself, starting with staking a claim on Ruthie’s ex-husband.

Adjustment Day, by Chuck Palahniuk
This dystopian-horror satire flows straight out of 2018 America. Day blends revolution, dirty politics, the worst of the internet, widespread murder (journalists and elites from a publicly voted on list are targeted), and a “Declaration of Interdependence” that results in the country being carved up into sections with names like Blacktopia, Gaysia, and (medieval) Caucasia. Heaven help you if you don’t fit the theme within your new borders: better adjust or flee. Fight Club aficionados will love the allusions to Project Mayhem.

A Shout in the Ruins, by Kevin Powers
Moving back and forth in time from the Civil War to the recent past, Shout examines the effects of slavery, segregation, and endemic violence on people from all sides of it. In the 1950s, seventysomething George Seldom decides to retrace the steps of his life, uncovering the threads that bind him to the inhabitants of the Beauvais Plantation in Richmond, Virginia. He’s joined by a young waitress whose own story (and contemplation of the past) take center stage in the 1980s. A Virginia native, Powers is an army veteran whose debut, The Yellow Birds, won the PEN/Hemingway Award.

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