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Best new books to read this May

Best new books to read this May

The joys of gardening, classic Nordic Noir and Nazi wives among May's exciting literary offerings. What will you read next? 

Natural Selection

by Dan Pearson 


This life-affirming, pleasurable collection of gardening columns from one of the most celebrated gardeners of our time, Dan Pearson, will inspire both avid gardeners and those who have never even tried it. Meticulously moving through each month of the year, Pearson admires the detailed skeletons of the winter garden, the rush of green in the spring, the symphonies of smell of summer’s bud break and the stunning colours of autumn.

In the process, he compares the rhythms and pleasures of the garden to everything from the process of writing to human life itself. It’s a meditative, joyous work that offers a unique perspective on the passage of time and the circle of life. 

Published by Guardian Faber



Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins 


It’s almost impossible not to use the phrase “eagerly-awaited” here. In 2015, Paula Hawkins’s debut thriller The Girl on the Train became a huge global best-seller—and it’s remained one ever since, transforming her from unknown author to multimillionaire. In the circumstances, she’d have been well within her rights to provide a perfectly solid follow-up, simply giving us more of the same. 

Instead, Into the Water is far more ambitious than its predecessor, juggling several plots from the perspectives of no fewer than 12 of its characters. The setting is a north-eastern village with a nearby stretch of water known as “The Drowning Pool” that’s just claimed the latest two of its many female victims. The inevitable question, though, is did they jump or were they pushed? Hawkins is in no hurry to tell us, but gradually the different narratives are all brought together. Yet, while there’s no doubting her talent, at times the book perhaps feels a bit too ambitious—not always avoiding the boundary between the satisfyingly complicated and the rather unwieldy.

Published by Doubleday 




by Patrick Ness 


Adam Thorn sits in his car looking at the single rose on the seat next to him. As his phone buzzes with texts from his boyfriend Linus, he wonders what the rules are. Can a man give another man a rose? Or is that—say it quietly—altogether too gay?

Constantly told by his conservative religious family that homosexual relationships aren’t worth as much as straight ones, Adam is left to question what that means for the people he deems worthy of love.

Two-time Carnegie Medal winner (A Monster Calls, Monsters of Men) Patrick Ness navigates these questions with a tender eye, carefully buffeting his hero through this transformative day, all the while interweaving his story with that of the other-worldly Katherine, a local girl who drowned in the lake and has mysteriously returned with questions of her own.

It’s a beautiful novel, and a striking achievement of form, that pays capable homage to its touchstones, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever.  

Published by Walker 



The Last Painting of Sara de Vos 

by Dominic Smith 


This deep, cleverly constructed novel revolves around one mysterious, quietly unsettling painting. Its story is told over three different time periods, each revealing how it affected the lives of people whose paths it crossed centuries and countries apart: 17th-century Holland, 1950s Manhattan and 2000s Sydney.

Dominic Smith possesses an incredibly incisive, hard-hitting voice which he uses here to deliver uncompromising, penetrating character studies. He scrutinises each of his protagonists with an unprejudiced eye, not afraid to bring the ugliest of their traits and thoughts to the foreground, humanising them in the process.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is an elegant and refined page-turner that Smith was clearly destined to write.  

Published by Allen & Unwin UK 



The Queen of Wishful Thinking 

by Milly Johnson 


Bonnie Brookland's life isn't going well. She's married to a cold-hearted man, she's just been unfairly dismissed from her job and she has a huge secret hanging over her. However, the introduction of Lewis Hartley and his charming antiques shop start to turn things around. When Bonnie begins to work for him, she glimpses a new life and the possibility of finding joy once more. But can she really make it happen?

The latest novel from romantic fiction doyenne Milly Johnson (whose books have sold more than a million copies), much of The Queen of Wishful Thinking sticks to formula: the subtly beautiful heroine, the faultless hero, the caricature-like secondary characters. But the plot does take some unexpected turns so (despite the many stereotypes) it holds your attention. What's more, Johnson is adept at creating a sympathetic but not sickly portrait of her leads—and you find yourself really rooting for them.

Incidentally, the novel also paints a rather enchanting picture of running an antiques shop; it seems to constitute a continual supply of biscuits, friendly customers and unexpected windfalls. All in all, this is escapism as its finest.

Published by Simon & Schuster 



Scribbles in the Margins 

by Daniel Gray 


“Our eyes are bigger than our bedside tables.”

This adorable collection of bite-sized chunks of joy will instantly whet your appetite for a good book. Describing the different kinds of delights involved in reading, buying, smelling, discovering or borrowing (the list goes on, by the way) books, Scribbles in the Margins will allow you to recognise yourself in many scenarios, such as buying a luxury volume that doesn’t fit on a shelf, snooping through other people’s book collections or discovering a breathtaking new author with a hefty back catalogue to catch up on. 

The perfect gift for any book lover, this vintage-looking little tome feels as timeless as the message it carries: reading is simply unbeatable as one of the greatest simple pleasures in life. 

Published by Bloomsbury 




by Kjell Ola Dahl 


The immensely popular “godfather of Nordic Noir”, Kjell Ola Dahl, returns with the new instalment of his internationally renowned, award-winning series, featuring Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich.

What begins as a simple surveillance operation, becomes an increasingly complicated and dangerous situation when a scalded body of a woman is found in a dumpster. What makes matters even more disturbing is that Frølich knows her—and their recent meetings might hold a clue to her murder. This forces him to look into his own past to find the answers—and the killer—before he strikes again.

Dark, stylish and suspenseful, Faithless is the perfect example of why Nordic Noir has become such a popular genre. 

Published by Orenda Books 




by Jane Thynne 


Jane Thynne’s Clara Vine novels must be among the most reliably enjoyable reads around. And in the fifth stand-alone book of the series, all the familiar virtues are again in place. Clara herself remains an extremely likeable heroine, as she negotiates the tricky business of working in Nazi Germany as both an actress and a British spy. The sense of place is as thrillingly vivid as ever—Thynne has clearly done her homework—yet she drops in the telling details with a casualness that only makes them more devastating. (The children in an orphanage cheerfully sing a nursery rhyme about “staying away from every Jew”.) 

Possibly best of all, she still ingeniously combines her fictional characters with factual ones. Clara continues to mingle with the wives of the Nazi leaders: women often forgotten about now, but who were, at the very least, a fascinatingly weird bunch. During a trip to Lisbon in 1940, she also meets the deeply sinister Edward and Mrs Simpson, along with a British intelligence officer who introduces himself as “Fleming. Ian Fleming”—and later orders martinis, stirred not shaken. 

Published by Simon & Schuster 


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