Dark futures, true crimes, and love letters: the most addictive new reads of May

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Sarah Shaffi
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May is one heck of a month when it comes to books, and it was tough getting down to 10.

Family is a big theme this month. Megan Hunter’s debut The End We Start From will take your breath away with its tale of a mother and her new baby trying to survive a flood, Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done is historical fiction about a family full of suspicion and hate, and Hala Alyan’s evocative Salt Houses follows a family displaced from their home by the Six-Day War.

Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You is an unflinching look at an abusive marriage, while Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost is a love story that fans of David Nicholls will love.

In non-fiction there is the humorously titled Don’t Be a Dick, Pete by Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage, which will make you laugh and remind you of the importance of family.

If you dread picking up your phone when it beeps with a breaking news alert (understandable these days), then Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times is for you - it’s angry and passionate and inspiring.

Set in the past but referencing the very real racism and hatred troubling America at the moment is Tracy Chevalier’s Othello retelling New Boy.

If you’re in search of a thrill, Sarah Lotz’s The White Road is addictive, and slightly freaky, reading.

And finally for the month, there's Into the Water by an author you may have heard of, Paula Hawkins.

Happy reading.

  • The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

    In a future London, a mysterious environmental crisis is causing flooding. On the day a woman gives birth to her first child, Z, her home and the city is submerged, and she and her husband R are forced to leave in search of safety. In a scant 127 pages, Megan Hunter creates a powerful and painful story of love and endurance, and of the experiences of being a mother and a refugee.

    Picador, £9.99, buy it here

  • Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times edited by Carolina De Robertis

    This collection of letters is a response the election of Donald Trump. Contributors include Junot Diaz, Claire Messud and Hari Kunzru. I especially enjoyed Kate Schatz's "What I Mean", bluntly addressing white people about the responsibility she and others have to acknowledge their privilege, Karen Joy Fowler's "While You Are Standing" about how the protestors at Standing Rock have made her find her faith in society and its ability to overcome again, and Mona Eltahawy's angry yet inspiring "#FuckRacism #FuckthePatriarchy".

    Virago, RRP £14.99, buy it here 

  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

    Lizzie Borden's parents are found brutally killed in the family home on the morning of August 4, 1892. Did Lizzie commit murder? This historical novel, based on a true crime, is chilling and claustrophic, and completely addictive. Full of characters who make you uneasy - from Lizzie herself to her sister Emma, their Uncle John and Irish maid Bridget - this is a whodunnit with a difference.

    Tinder Press, RRP £12.99, buy it here

  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

    Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, this is Chevalier’s retelling of Othello. Set over the course of one day at a school in 1970s suburban Washington, this follows diplomat’s son Osei as he joins a new school where he is the only black child. He hits it off with pretty Dee, but bully Ian is jealous. Over the course of five “acts”, Chevalier explores racism and prejudice, and it doesn’t make for easy reading. I don’t know what’s scarier - the long-held racism of the adults (seen and unseen) or the cruel, unfettered racism of the children.

    Hogarth Shakespeare, RRP £12.99, buy it here

  • Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

    You might have heard about a little book called The Girl on the Train by Hawkins (if you haven’t, I welcome you to Earth), but now it’s time to start talking about Hawkins’ second novel. Into the Water features a complex web of characters in a small community, connected by the death of Nel Abbott, who died after allegedly jumping into the Drowning Pool. But is that what really happened? This is as much of a page turner as The Girl on the Train, and everyone will be talking about it in May (and for long afterwards, no doubt).

    Doubleday, RRP, £20, buy it here 

  • Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

    On the eve of Alia’s wedding, her mother Salma reads Alia’s future in the dregs of a coffee cup. She doesn't share what she sees with Alia, or with Alia’s siblings Widad and Mustafa, but soon the Six-Day War of 1967 comes to pass, and the family is uprooted. Starting in Nablus and travelling to Kuwait, Beirut, Boston and beyond over the course of 50 years, this is a story about a family that can never go home again. It’s heartbreaking, and its publication coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

    Hutchinson, RRP £12.99, buy it here

  • The Light We Lost by Jill Santpolo

    Lucy and Gabe meet at Columbia University on September 11, 2001. Over the next 13 years they are torn apart and brought back together time and time again. Told from Lucy's point of view, the lovers' tale unfolds slowly building to an event in the present day. This is a one-sitting kind of book, and an epic love story about how sometimes people just can't let go of each other. Fans of One Day by David Nicholls will love this.

     HQ, RRP £12.99, buy it here

  • Don't Be A Dick Pete by Stuart Heritage

    Don't let the abrasive title of journalist Stuart Heritage's first book put you off (although be warned the content inside is not for the faint of heart). This is an unconventional book - it's a biography of Heritage's younger brother, Pete. Heritage has always been the favourite son, and he recounts all the ways in which Pete has failed to live up to expectations. This is (very, very) funny, but it's also a story about brothers and families and home, and it's as warm as it is rude.

    Square Peg, RRP £12.99, buy it here

  • When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

    Based on the author’s own experiences, When I Hit You is the story of a woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship. The unnamed narrator, a writer, falls in love with a university professor, but soon finds herself bullied and the victim of awful violence. This is a dark book, but with moments of real humour. It’s courageous and brave and disturbing and will stay with you for a long time.

    Atlantic Books, RRP £12.99, buy it here

  • The White Road by Sarah Lotz

    If you've read The Three (or Day Four) you'll know Lotz is talented at writing scary books. Her latest, The White Road, is no different. The book begins with Simon sneaking into private land to explore a dangerous cave where four men died, with the hope that he can capture the experience for his website. The expedition goes wrong, but the video of Simon's near-death experience goes viral. Now Simon needs to defy death again, but this time his luck might run out. Deliciously chilling, just keep the lights on while you're reading. 

    Hodder & Stoughton, RRP £16.99, buy it here


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.