10 fantastic May books to whisk you away

Our 10 best picks for May celebrate lively fiction, true-life adventure, and the history of America's post-Civil War Reconstruction era.

Karen Norris/Staff

There’s something for everyone in this month’s book recommendations, whether you’re hungry for tales of political movers and shakers or would rather wander through dreamy European cityscapes. 

1. The Parisian, by Isabella Hammad

Isabella Hammad’s first novel is not a page turner. That’s not an insult. With historical sweep and sentences of startling beauty, she has written the story of a displaced dreamer, a young Palestinian whose merchant father sends him to France to study in 1914. Patient readers will be rewarded with a new voice worth listening to.

2. The Guest Book, by Sarah Blake

The Milton family is forced to address the lies buried under three generations of family lore. Sarah Blake spins a fascinating epic that touches on privilege and ambition, racism and grief, revealing as much about America’s identity as it does the Miltons’.

3. The Flatshare, by Beth O’Leary

This quirky romantic comedy has surprising depth. London book editor Tiffy is mending from an emotionally abusive relationship; devoted night nurse Leon is struggling with his own issues. They become flatmates who correspond only through sticky notes, until they bumble into each other. Colorful storylines, generous-hearted characters, and British banter make this a refreshing novel.

4. The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey

Perveen Mistry, a rare woman lawyer in 1920s India, travels to a remote princely state to resolve a dispute between a grandmother and mother about the young maharajah’s schooling. The death of the first in line to the throne was thought to be a curse, but the dauntless Perveen unravels a nasty plot. There’s a romance brewing, too.

5. Walking on the Ceiling, by Aysegül Savas

Aysegül Savas’ debut novel is a kaleidoscope of exquisite memories. Nunu, a young woman from Istanbul, moves to Paris after her mother’s death. Longing for connection, she meets a kindred spirit in a famous older gentleman British author. Their intellectual repartee as they meander through the City of Lights, visiting cafes, is engrossing. 

6. Stony the Road, by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Reconstruction saw a brief flowering of African American empowerment after the Civil War. But as Henry Louis Gates Jr. recounts, the ideals of Reconstruction were soon extinguished by Jim Crow, a system of oppression designed to preserve the South’s status quo. Gates explores how the propaganda of Jim Crow informs public discourse today.

7. A Good American Family, by David Maraniss

David Maraniss’ insightful, bighearted book centers around his father’s 1952 appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The author, contrasting his father’s story with that of committee chairman John Stephens Wood, a onetime Ku Klux Klan member, compels us to consider how “American” was defined. 

8. Our Man, by George Packer

George Packer’s biography of diplomat Richard Holbrooke, best known for brokering the Dayton Accords that ended the Balkan wars, is also an elegy for the vision of American power he represented. 

9. Top Gun, by Dan Pedersen

During the Vietnam War, Navy carrier pilots were losing air battles. To remedy this, maverick Dan Pedersen envisioned a “train the trainer” program using the best pilots to develop new tactics. He straps readers right into the cockpit of his Navy F-4 Phantom jet fighter as he chronicles the now-famous Navy Fighter Weapons School, aka “Top Gun.” His bold, white-knuckle action and passion to be the best make this an exciting book from beginning to end.

10. The Impeachers, by Brenda Wineapple

The first president that Congress attempted to remove from office was Andrew Johnson in 1868. Brenda Wineapple’s history of Johnson and the Reconstruction era’s bitter partisanship serve as a corrective to anyone mistaking the end of the Civil War as a period of calm. 

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