10 Noteworthy books for May

With May flowers comes a bounty of wonderful books: a moving memoir about gardening, novels about colonial Jamestown, Louis XIV’s Paris, a dying shopping mall, a diabolical serial killer, a self-made pirate queen and more. Fill up your bookshelf with something you love.

‘Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden,’ by Camille T. Dungy

Tending her family’s garden for almost a decade has given spiritual sustenance to Dungy, a poet and an environmentalist. It has also provided a road map for her view on social justice: She argues that cultivating a garden is an act of political engagement. Just as plants live naturally in clusters, symbiotically working for survival, Dungy points out, people should also live in communities that support each other. Standards created through outdated norms — think of homeowners associations requiring expansive green lawns — encourage homogeneity, but in the natural world, chaos provides more opportunities for growth. Planting life in the soil and incorporating its lessons into everyday living, Dungy contends, can offer a way to protect both the environment and the people who live in it. (Simon & Schuster, May 2)

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‘The East Indian,’ by Brinda Charry

A debut novel about the first native of the Indian subcontinent to live in the American colonies, Charry’s stirring coming-of-age tale centers on Tony, whose kidnapping resulted in a voyage to England and later to the new colony of Virginia. Bound to serve a tobacco plantation owner in Jamestown, Tony endures the tribulations of his low social status and dangerous racial assumptions caused by his brown skin. As he adapts to his new environment, he develops friendships, skills and loving relationships while he dreams of becoming a healer. (Scribner, May 2)

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‘You Are Here,’ by Karin Lin-Greenberg

A mall in a small Upstate New York town has long been a haven to those who set aside big dreams: There’s the single mother who is the last remaining stylist at Sunshine Cuts, the aspiring actress who works at the food court’s Chickety Chix and the chain bookstore manager who has built a tiny house to avoid finishing his dissertation. As residents contend with the mall’s impending closure, a tragedy highlights the importance of connections to others. Like Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” the charm of Lin-Greenberg’s engaging story lies in the sweetness of the characters’ everyday lives. (Counterpoint, May 2)

‘The Midnight News,’ by Jo Baker

Twenty-year-old Charlotte, reeling from the death of her brother in the early days of World War II, endures further heartbreaking losses from bombings during London’s Blitz. Fragile and lonely, it is harder to “keep calm and carry on” when she suspects there may be more to the string of deaths than meets the eye. Her only confidant is a boy who feeds the birds in the park where she walks to work, whose life has also been overturned by the war. Baker’s intriguing historical novel explores how the strain of wartime living can tip the balance between sanity and delusion, and how forging friendships can be a lifeline. (Knopf, May 2)

‘Killing Me,’ by Michelle Gagnon

Captured by a serial killer, Amber Jamison is certain she’s about to die. Then a mysterious woman in a ski mask appears out of nowhere, slays the killer and flees the scene. The narrow escape triggers a law-enforcement search Amber can’t afford to be part of, as she is a former grifter trying to go straight. Holing up in a Vegas motel awaiting new identity papers, “Ski Mask” returns, setting off a dangerous chase with the support of her two new friends — a citizen detective and a sex worker whom she might be falling for. Gagnon’s neo-noir thriller hits all the right notes, providing an entertaining, escapist ride. (Putnam, May 16)

‘The Disenchantment,’ by Celia Bell

In Bell’s transporting novel, the unhappily married Baroness Marie Catherine finds ease in salon discussions with broad-minded thinkers and comfort in the arms of Victoire Rose de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Conti. When a shocking crime threatens to expose the illicit affair between the noblewomen, they race to stay one step ahead of the investigation that threatens not just their entanglement, but also the lives of the many others who were accused of witchcraft and poisoning, from the streets of 17th-century Paris to the gardens of Louis XIV’s Versailles. (Pantheon, May 16)

‘Women We Buried, Women We Burned: A Memoir,’ by Rachel Louise Snyder

Snyder, an award-winning writer who often spotlights stories about human rights and gender-based violence, turns her focus inward in this gripping memoir. She chronicles a childhood spent rebelling against the evangelical religion in which her father and stepmother were raising her and the subsequent years finding her way on her own. Snyder’s curiosity is matched by her own resilience; writing stories about survivors parallels her own story of overcoming trauma and finding grace. (Bloomsbury, May 23)

Vacation’s all I ever wanted. But books were all the escape I needed.

‘Homebodies,’ by Tembe Denton-Hurst

Inspired by her own layoff from a media job in 2019, Denton-Hurst’s sharply written debut novel follows ambitious young writer Mickey, who knows her employer often overlooks her contributions as a Black woman. Believing that if she just works hard enough, she can make a name for herself, Mickey’s world is thrown into a tailspin by a sudden job loss. When a cathartic letter she posted to Twitter calling out racism and sexism in the workplace goes viral, she starts to understand that confidence can only come from within. (Harper, May 2)

‘The Celebrants,’ by Steven Rowley

Just before their college graduation in 1995, one of a group of six friends died of a drug overdose. The remaining five promise to support each other through future crises by meeting for celebrations to remind them that their lives have meaning to each other. Over the following decades, as parents die and marriages flounder, their gatherings have served as beacons of light, love and laughter during difficult stretches. This time, though, is different. With a surprise announcement, their shared pact might be in jeopardy. The author of “The Guncle” brings his signature humor and warmth to life’s inevitable passages and the value of friendships over time. (Putnam, May 30)

‘Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea,’ by Rita Chang-Eppig

Becoming the leader of Chinese pirates takes fortitude, and Shek Yeung knows she must do what is needed after seeing her husband, who is also the captain, slain. Quickly marrying her spouse’s second-in-command and promising him an heir, she establishes control over her half of the fleet and sets out to take control of the entire army, seeking power while also becoming a mother. In this swashbuckling saga, the Chinese Emperor, colonial European forces and even the mythological sea goddess Ma-Zou attempt to thwart Shek Yeung’s plans at every turn, and she must battle fiercely for the world she believes in. (Bloomsbury, May 30)

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