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The Must-Reads of May

A satire from Thomas King, an origin story about Anne Shirley's mean mom Marilla and Leonard Cohen's Greek summer are great escapes / BY Nathalie Atkinson / May 3rd, 2021

From a U.S. political thriller written by an insider to Thomas King’s scathing new satire and a story about a heroine who reaches for the skies, here are our choices of the best novels for the month ahead.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Swimming Back to Trout River Linda Rui Feng

When Junie is five, her parents send her to live with her grandparents in a small village and promise to come get her by the time she turns 12. The crisscrossing timelines tell the backstories of Junie’s father Momo and mother Cassia, who lived through the Cultural Revolution before emigrating to the U.S. It’s now the summer of 1986 and her father is trying to reunite the family. For Feng, a professor of Chinese cultural history at the University of Toronto, the story is a way of exploring concepts like yuanfen, or relationships that bring people together.

2The Son of the House Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

Nwabulu has been a housemaid since childhood and dreams of a white-collar job. Julie is an independent woman who lives alone by choice. When they’re kidnapped and held together, the two women, divided by class and social inequality, share and compare their lives in this acclaimed debut novel rooted in contemporary Nigerian reality. The author is a Nigerian health and human rights lawyer who divides her time between Halifax and Lagos.

3Great Circle Maggie Shipstead

Shipstead’s third novel is an expansive and globetrotting, beginning with the rescue of twin babies from a sinking ship through to a doomed flight to Antarctica. It’s a dual narrative of two ambitious women: one is 1930s aviatrix Marian Graves and the other is Hadley Baxter, a scandal-plagued starlet in the near-present who is cast as Graves in her biopic (providing contrasts between 1920s feminist aspirations and the predatory Hollywood machine). The novel looks at the over-simplistic way we tell other people’s life stories – or “how best to squeeze Marian’s completely unknowable existence into a neat pellet of entertainment,” as Baxter observes.

4While Justice Sleeps Stacey Abrams

In addition to being a voting-rights activist and a former long-time member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Abrams is a prolific U.S. novelist (she has previously written eight romantic suspense novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery). Scott Turow has likened her new political thriller about an auctocratic president and government corrpution to The Pelican Brief. It takes place in the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court, where a junior law clerk is given power of attorney for the judge who is her mentor and discovers a conspiracy. Write what you know, as the adage goes. (May 11)

5The Plot Jean Hanff Korelitz

From the author of many page-to-screen adaptations (including the novel that became HBO’s The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Donald Sutherland) comes a story of stolen ideas, literary fame and reckoning. Stephen King describes it as “one of the best novels I’ve ever read about writers and writing.” Cue the inevitable must-see TV series and read it here first. (May 11)

6A Theatre for Dreamers Polly Samson

In the spring of 1960, a young Montreal poet named Leonard Cohen arrives on the Greek island of Hydra and joins a bohemian group of expats. Fatefully, he also meets muse Marianne Ilhen. This historical novel is about love, ambition and ego, and is redolent with the tastes, sounds and scents of an island summer. It’s one of our books of the season – be sure to check out the feature in our June/July issue of Zoomer magazine about the genesis of this unforgettable novel. (May 11)

7SufferanceThomas King

On the heels of bestseller Indians on Vacation, this new satire from influential Indigenous writer King makes pointed social commentary (on issues ranging from reconciliation to living conditions on reserves) ridiculously entertaining. Jeremiah Camp worked as a trend forecaster of sorts for a multinational consortium, divining future economic opportunities to make the rich even richer. But he’s chucked it all to start again by going off-grid – or is trying to – until the past catches up with him. The breezy but thought-provoking plot that ensues is as over the top as it is entirely plausible. (May 18)

8Light Perpetual Francis Spufford

It’s not a spoiler to say five Londoners in this novel are killed by a German “vengeance” rocket attack in 1944. But the author of critically acclaimed Golden Hill uses Zeno’s paradox to resurrect them and imagine the lives they might have lived (poignantly, and for better or for worse). Consider it the literary version of Michael Apted’s Up docu-series, as we follow their lives at 10-year intervals and answer the what-ifs. An incredibly moving novel. (May 18)

9Unsettled Ground Claire Fuller

There are echoes of Grey Gardens in Fuller’s new novel, which looks at the lives of adult twins Julius and Jeanie. At 51, they still live in rural squalor with their mother. Their already precarious hand-to-mouth existence is upended when she dies and leaves them with no social or support network, and they discover the real reasons they lead such a bleak and isolated existence. This exploration of hardship and 21st century marginalization also just made the shortlist for Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. (May 18)


10The Sister’s Tale Beth Powning

In The Sea Captain’s Wife, Powning illuminated the lives of the women who are seldom mentioned in histories of the golden age of sailing. Here she revisits characters from that story and again situates her tale in New Brunswick to parse the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement in the Victorian-era Maritimes. It orbits around a new boarding house for women and the assorted characters who, through different circumstances, live there. Sheer tenacity, and the bonds of sisterhood, forge a way forward in spite of oppressive social norms. (May 25)

11Marilla Before Anne Louise Michalos

We’ve had origin stories of Joker and soon, Cruella de Vil, so why not CanLit icon Anne Shirley’s intimidating adoptive mother? (As Zoomer has explored before, Anne’s enduring appeal is not to be trifled with.) The debut transports readers to 1841 Halifax and Avonlea where Marilla and her best friend Rachel are rebellious teens, and the events leading up to Marilla’s 18th birthday. Similar to Budge Wilson’s Before Green Gables – the backstory of the iconic red-headed orphan’s early years – Michalos contends with some unaddressed questions in the original novel around who and what shaped Marilla into a rigid, cold and disapproving woman. (May 31)


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Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


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