Welcome to yet another edition of our monthly look at new titles we think should be on your radar for the month of May. Obviously, we can’t read every single book that comes out – contrary to popular belief, librarians can’t sit around and read books all day. (We tried that once, but then we got yelled at.) But, we do hear things, and when we hear those things, we like to pass them along to you.
First up is a literary and moving debut novel by Bryn Chancellor, Sycamore. The disappearance of a seventeen-year-old girl in a small Arizona town in 1991 seems long in the past until remains are discovered that might be her, reigniting the mystery. Jumping back and forth in time. Chancellor is absolutely sublime at getting into the head of her characters, exploring their inner lives and describing how a seemingly normal teen leaves ripples in people’s lives years later. If you read this book expecting a run-of-the-mill psychological thriller about yet another dead girl, you’ll be swept away by the language and atmosphere of the small town and the characters that inhabit it. This is a great book club pick, and perfect for those who like a novel that cuts a bit deeper than usual. Here’s hoping that this novel finds its audience.
Yet another debut author – should we have our list this month made up ENTIRELY of debut authors? Keep reading and we’ll see! – is Benjamin Ludwig, who’s novel Ginny Moon is stunningly original. The novel is told from the point of view of an autistic girl, Ginny, who is removed from an abusive home and taken in by loving, positive foster parents – but she left a very important item behind, and she wants it back with a single mindedness that surprises everyone. Compelling and engaging, full of heartwarming and even humorous twists and turns, this is a novel that seems original and fresh. Author Ludwig, himself a parent of an autistic child, takes us to the world that might remind some of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Two time-travelers are sent back to Regency England to see if they can meet Jane Austen, recover one of her manuscripts thought lost to history, and diagnose the illness that Jane died from in 1816. Kathleen A. Flynn’s delightful The Jane Austen Project (which is a debut novel! Three for three!) follows the two as they try to get into Jane’s social circle and pass themselves off as authentic nineteenth-century ladies. Of course, complications ensue. Sure to be a hit with Jane Austen fans, this is a novel that might be a perfect lead-in to summer – not too heavy, but not too light, either, as Flynn’s novel isn’t merely empty fluff, and she plays with the very large social differences between the two different time period yet weaves together elements of fantasy, romance, and historical fiction.
Next up is Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patricia Lockwood. This personal story of the upbringing of a daughter of an ordained Catholic priest (who received a special dispensation from the Vatican) is profane, moving, hysterical, and thoughtful, all at the same time. Lockwood, a poet, turns a poet’s intense and unfiltered eye on her own life, focusing not only on her youth but later as a married woman who had to move back in with her parents when she encountered financial difficulties. Even if you weren’t raised Catholic, Lockwood’s wit and insightful language will be familiar to anyone with a close-knit yet decidedly UNnormal family. (Which, honestly, is pretty much all of us.) Perfect if you like memoirs like Mary Karr’s The Liar's Club or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. (Maybe add a pinch of Augusten Burroughs, too.)
Broken River by J. Robert Lennon is an intoxicating mix of psychological thriller with a subtle underpinning of horror, set in a small town in upstate New York, where the new residents of a seemingly-normal house realize that something very strange – and horrible – happened to the previous owners. This is a strong character drama with a large, well-drawn cast of characters that we get to empathize with before the town’s secrets start to unravel. If Gillian Flynn’s characters happened to wander into a Coen Brothers movie, the results might look something like this. Sadly, we broke the debut author streak here, as Lennon is a prolific short story writer, novelist, and musician, but his mix of delightful and weird deserves a longer look from readers.
Only five books this month? I know, it seems like we only just started! But don't worry, we'll be back next month for a look at some new releases. Happy reading!