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Voice actor Isabella Star LaBlanc returns for an encore after her powerful performance of Angeline Boulley’s bestselling, award-winning debut novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter. As LaBlanc reveals in our interview for Audiobook Month, performing Warrior Girl Unearthed required a deep understanding of the Anishinaabemowin, or Ojibwe language.
Voice actor Isabella Star LaBlanc returns for an encore after her powerful performance of Angeline Boulley’s bestselling, award-winning debut novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter. As LaBlanc reveals in our interview for Audiobook Month, performing Warrior Girl Unearthed required a deep understanding of the Anishinaabemowin, or Ojibwe language.

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The True Love Experiment

Romance blooms on reality TV in Christina Lauren’s The True Love Experiment. Celebrated romance author Felicity “Fizzy” Chen is struggling with writer’s block, worrying about whether she’ll ever find love and going through a sexual drought. When she receives an offer to star on the titular dating show, she agrees, hoping to use the program as a way to present her work in a positive light. Producer Connor Prince usually makes short nature docuseries but bows to pressure from his boss to make something more profitable. Cue Fizzy and Connor trying to ignore their immediate attraction; he’s cast eight other guys for her to date, after all. Fizzy is funny, fast-talking and brash, while Connor is a half-Brit single dad whose staid side is overcome by Fizzy’s insistence that they prioritize joy. A delicious, drawn-out happy ending caps this delightful, heartwarming and sex-positive story.

The Duchess Takes a Husband

A bargain for bedsport lessons takes center stage in Harper St. George’s The Duchess Takes a Husband, in which a Gilded Age widow seizes control of her life. Camille, an American heiress who married into the British aristocracy, suffered during her marriage to her abusive husband and was never fully accepted in London society. But now that her husband has died, she’s free to pursue her attraction to Jacob Thorne, co-owner of the infamous Montague Club. He needs a fake fiancée for business reasons, and Camille will play the part if he helps her figure out whether she can enjoy sex. Soon, Jacob discovers he wants to please Camille in all things, encouraging her to assert herself in the bedroom and to explore her burgeoning interest in the women’s suffrage movement. This swoonworthy romance is filled with yearning, tender sensuality and heated love scenes that set fire to the page. The glimpses of the suffrage movement are fascinating, and Camille’s growth is especially gratifying.

The Viscount Who Vexed Me

Julia London tugs at the heart with her new Victorian romance, The Viscount Who Vexed Me. Harriet “Hattie” Woodchurch may have friends among the ton, but she doesn’t have a fortune of her own. She takes a position as secretary to the new Viscount Abbott, Mateo Vincente, who is also the duke of the fictional country of Santiava. Hattie knows he’s above her, but she can’t stifle her attraction to the reserved, quiet gentleman. For his part, Mateo finds himself most comfortable with his down-to-earth scribe, even as pressure grows for him to choose an aristocratic wife. Hattie’s resolve to earn her independence and Mateo’s unconventional interests (he bakes!) make the pair easy to root for as their mutual longing grows. A colorful cast of characters, including frenemies, wicked little brothers and a determined matchmaker, adds to the pleasures of this entertaining tale.

Christina Lauren returns! Plus, catch two heartwarming historical romances that will utterly charm you in this month’s romance column.
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The Lock-Up

John Banville’s latest Quirke/Strafford mystery, The Lock-Up, stretches the boundaries of the genre. Ostensibly a police procedural set in 1958 Dublin, The Lock-Up is far more interested in its protagonists’ inner lives than it is in their detective work, and rather than celebrate its sleuths as bringers of order and righters of wrongs, it shows how their efforts toward justice can be, ultimately, meaningless. That said, it is well worth the read, because Banville’s characters fairly leap off the page. Pathologist Quirke is irascible as ever, but also lonely and grieving: “The thing about grief was that you could press upon it at its sharpest points and blunt them, only for the bluntness to spread throughout the system and make it ache like one vast bruise.” Detective Inspector St. John Strafford is a Protestant in a Catholic country, and a cop to boot—something for everyone to loathe. Together they investigate the death of Rosa Jacobs, a young Jewish woman with possible links to Wolfgang Kessler, a German refugee who made good in postwar Ireland and now appears to be involved with some shady dealings in the newly established country of Israel. The Lock-Up is beautifully written, the sort of book that makes you pause, reread a line and chew on it for a bit before continuing. Oh, and the ending? Good luck figuring that out before the precise reveal ordained by Banville.

Beware the Woman

Megan Abbott is one of the most skilled architects of suspense alive and has won or been a finalist for just about every major crime fiction award. Her latest thriller, Beware the Woman, finds her in top form once again. As the book opens, Jed and Jacy have just discovered that they are soon to become parents. They plan a holiday in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to visit Jed’s father, Dr. Ash, who lives in a luxurious “cabin” deep in the woods. As experienced readers will know, going to visit reclusive relatives in remote forests is like opening the attic door in a horror movie: guaranteed drama. As a retired physician, Dr. Ash is solicitous to a fault about Jacy’s pregnancy. When minor complications arise, he becomes rather heavy-handed about directing her care, never mind that he has not been a practicing physician for decades. Understandably, Jacy takes some exception to this but finds, to her dismay, that her husband has aligned with his father, and she soon becomes a virtual prisoner, held incommunicado. For sheer escalating tension, Beware the Woman rates right up there with Stephen King’s Misery; it just shouts to be read in one sitting.

The Last Drop of Hemlock

Katharine Schellman’s second Vivian Kelly mystery, The Last Drop of Hemlock, is set in Prohibition-era New York City. Vivian is a seamstress and delivery girl by day but a waitress at a speak-easy by night, doing the Charleston with lonely men in return for drinks. Said speak-easy, the Nightingale, is decidedly illegal and only exists as a result of liberally greased palms. Thus, an element of criminal activity is never far from the forefront. This time out, Vivian uses her connections to take a second look at a death that was initially ruled a suicide. The victim was Uncle Pearlie, a bouncer at the Nightingale who had purportedly just made a fortune via mysterious means. But when Vivian and her band of ne’er-do-wells go to his home, they find that his secret cache of cash has been emptied. Any lingering doubts that he was murdered are erased when his pregnant girlfriend comes forward and reveals that Pearlie’s windfall involved some particularly unpleasant gangsters. In the first book in the series, Last Call at the Nightingale, Schellman introduced a large and interesting cast of characters while also spinning a consistently suspenseful yarn. That is certainly still the case in book two, as Schellman tops herself in nearly every category.

The Pigeon

Joe Brody, aka Joe the Bouncer, returns in David Gordon’s The Pigeon, the latest entertaining entry in the popular series. It should be noted that bouncer does not begin to encompass Joe’s duties. He serves as a sheriff of sorts for the criminal underworld of New York City, a mediator for organizations not exactly noted for solving disputes within the confines of the legal system. His longtime pal Gio sets him up with what should be an easy gig, and one that pays well too: recover a gangster’s stolen racing pigeon. The bird’s worth is in the neighborhood of $1 million, and Joe will collect a 5% reward upon recovery. Under normal circumstances, it would be a simple B & E—stuff the bird into a paper bag and exit stage left. But it turns out that the pricey Central Park-adjacent apartment building the bird is being kept in features one of the most sophisticated security systems this side of Fort Knox. Before Joe can snatch the pigeon, a squad of hit men is hot on his trail. He makes good his escape through a long-unused dumbwaiter, but his troubles are far from over. His FBI agent girlfriend is questioning her judgment in being associated with the criminal element, the gangster is still clamoring for his missing pigeon and the hit men know where Joe lives, works and plays. There is plenty of humor in the mix, as in an Ed McBain or Elmore Leonard novel, and plenty of action, too, realistically delivered without being egregiously graphic.

Quirke and Strafford team up again, plus Megan Abbott returns with a terrifying pregnancy thriller in this month’s Whodunit column.
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In a great book, building complexity into characters and evoking places both near and far is the job of the author. But in an audiobook, an impeccable performance can make these elements shine, so choosing the right narrator—or narrators—is of the highest importance. The narrators of these four audiobooks imbue their stories with real magic, allowing us to appreciate the commonality of our emotions even across a diversity of experiences.

Hijab Butch Blues

In her memoir in essays, Hijab Butch Blues (7.5 hours), author Lamya H shares her incredible story of growing up a queer person with a devout Muslim faith. Each chapter of the book is titled after a surah of the Quran and explores a key figure in Islamic scripture alongside moments in the author’s own life. Her story begins at 14 years old, when she found kinship in the Quranic story of Maryam, a virgin mother who very well may have been a lesbian. 

Narrator Ashraf Shirazi brings palpable sincerity and youthful energy to sections set in college and after the author’s immigration to the United States. Both author and narrator have used pseudonyms; for Lamya H, the reasons are obviously privacy and safety. The reasons may be similar for Shirazi, or perhaps her anonymity is a nod of respect to the author’s choice—bittersweet as it is, for a memoir about the perseverance to discover your identity.

Lamya H reflects on what was gained and what was lost by writing her debut memoir under a pseudonym.

The Faraway World

Patricia Engel, author of Infinite Country, sets the 10 short stories in her collection, The Faraway World (7 hours), in the not-so-faraway worlds of New York City, Cuba and Colombia. The stories and their multifarious characters are voiced by a cast composed primarily of bilingual Latinx narrators, including the author. Their performances project glimmers of light, irony and warmth into haunting stories that tread into such dark topics as kidnapping, sexual assault and bizarre familial relationships. Due to the nature of some stories, there are scenes that listeners may find disturbing. The grit of these realities will get in your eyes—and ears.

The World and All That It Holds

Bosnian American novelist Aleksandar Hemon’s The World and All That It Holds (11.5 hours) conjures up the personal odyssey of a Jewish man, Rafael Pinto, beginning with the shot that started World War I and led to his relationship with Osman, a Muslim soldier in his unit. The audiobook is performed in epic fashion by Bosnian actor Aleksandar Mikic, whose accents and syntax embody the many people Rafael meets as he journeys from Sarajevo to Shanghai in his quest to escape war and persecution. Quiet, poetic descriptions of his relationship with Osman are particularly striking. When the two men steal kisses from each other, Mikic’s timing and tone bring out the paradoxical balance of bleakness and brightness in life’s little moments.

Read our starred review of the print edition of The World and All That It Holds.

 Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers

Chinese Indonesian author Jesse Q. Sutanto (Dial A for Aunties) serves up a sleuthing Chinese mother and her suspects in Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (10.5 hours), a thoroughly charming murder mystery set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Vera Wong Zhuzhu is struggling to maintain a relationship with her uninvolved son and keep her teahouse afloat. She may be lonely, but she likes to watch the TV show “CSI” and—internet savvy as she is—frequently looks things up on “the Google.” All this comes in handy when she discovers a dead body in her teahouse, along with four murder suspects.

Eunice Wong, a Juilliard-trained Chinese Canadian voice actor, delivers a repertoire of delicious voices to celebrate the patchwork of cultures and personalities in this thoroughly moving, heartwarming story about finding friendship and creating family.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers.

Four audiobooks reveal how the right narrator can transform an excellent book into an even more absorbing listening experience.
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This Is the First Book I Will Read to You

Start off on the proverbial right foot with This Is the First Book I Will Read to You, in which a father celebrates the joys of reading with his newborn child. “I’ll be nervous,” he admits, “to share this moment that only you and I will be a part of.” As the father speaks, he gets the child ready for bed, walking through a house filled with loving family photographs. “You might not want to listen at first,” he continues. “But then we’ll find our way together.” Author Francesco Sedita’s sedate, pitch-perfect prose conveys the father’s jitters, but it’s dad’s quiet determination that rules the day.

Magenta Fox’s sweet digital illustrations are bathed in soft pinks and blues. As parent and child walk into the nursery and begin to read, Fox depicts the imaginative transformation that follows as wallpaper with a forest motif becomes an actual forest. Suddenly, father and baby are right there in a wooded clearing as an inquisitive squirrel looks on. It’s the perfect visual representation of the transportive power of books. As they keep reading, the pair ascend a hill, reach the sea and gaze up at the moon. “We have stories to discover and magical places to visit, you and I,” the father shares. “But tonight, this is the first book I’ll read to you.”

Sedita and Fox offer a gentle tribute to the strength of the parental bond and to all of the adventures, hopes and dreams that lie ahead.

★ The World and Everything in It

Kevin Henkes is widely known for his charming mouse characters, led by spunky Lilly of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, as well as numerous children’s novels, including the Newbery Honor books Olive’s Ocean and The Year of Billy Miller. However, Henkes’ less rambunctious picture books, such as Old Bear, Waiting and The World and Everything in It are treasures that shouldn’t be missed. They sparkle like little gems as they impart a deep sense of understanding and appreciation of our world.

Henkes begins with a simple idea. “There are big things and little things in the world,” he writes. On the page opposite this text, we see an illustration of a large tree trunk with a small green sprout beside it. In subsequent pages, he explores this idea systematically through spot illustrations of “little animals,” “tiny flowers” and “pebbles.” There’s even an empty space captioned “things so small you can’t see them.” Henkes next turns to big things, such as the sun, moon and sea.

After that, he helps young readers begin to grasp where they fit in among all these big and small things. For instance, he notes that “the sea is big, but you can hold some of it in your hands.” And just like that, this talented literary magician seamlessly moves from straightforward statements of fact to a series of sentences that capture sublime wonders. “Most of the things are in-between,” he explains. “Like you. And me. And just about anything you can think of.”

Henkes’ illustrations are tightly focused, economical and free of distractions—just right for the very young. He closes by repeating “Everything is in the world,” and the phrase feels like a benediction that reminds readers of the endless delights, both big and small, awaiting them.

★ The Moon Remembers

Stories about the moon are a staple for the very young, from perennial favorites like Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon and Eric Carle’s Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me to new classics such as Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr’s Owl Moon and Floyd Cooper’s Max and the Tag-Along Moon. E.B. Goodale’s exceptional The Moon Remembers deserves a place among them.

The book’s endpapers show the black-and-white phases of a friendly-faced moon, adding a nice touch of reality to this anthropomorphic fantasy. As a round, almost full, smiling moon gazes lovingly down on a nude roly-poly brown-skinned baby, we read that “when a baby is born, the moon is there. The moon remembers.” In fact, the moon remembers all babies, including your parents, and not just human babies: It shines its light down on baby crickets, rabbits, owls, flowers and trees. In a spread sure to find great favor, we learn that “even every DINOSAUR was a baby once!”

Goodale’s spare text offers comfort and reassurance as it describes how the moon “remembers where you came from . . . even when you’ve forgotten.” Her artwork is fittingly suffused with the soft glow of moonlight, which appears especially luminous in spreads that depict a dark green forest filled with ferns and undergrowth. Against this moody, arboreal backdrop, pops of pink, purple, white and yellow wildflowers feel perfectly placed. And of course the moon is omnipresent, whether it’s gleaming in the sky or reflected in a stream.

The Moon Remembers pays quiet but powerful homage to families and the promise of new life. After all, the moon remembers “every life . . . every sweet moment. And the moon will remember you, perfect you, as you go and wherever you grow.”

Awake, Asleep

Awake, Asleep chronicles a day in the lives of three young children in clever rhymes, following three families in the same neighborhood from dawn until bedtime. We meet a single-parent family, a multigenerational family with same-sex parents and a family who will soon welcome a new baby as we enjoy the beauty of an ordinary day that’s filled with rhythms—including ups and downs—that all families share.

Author Kyle Lukoff won a 2022 Newbery Honor (along with a number of other awards) for his middle grade novel Too Bright to See. Here he employs far fewer words but with just as much impact, creating strings of short noun phrases to describe the ongoing action of the day. In an early spread, for instance, we read, “A yawn, a peep, a stretch, awake!” as we watch a cat, a child and their parent wake up and get out of bed. Later, Lukoff neatly summarizes a child’s evening meltdown over putting away a train set with “a take, a pry, a scream, a cry.” The book’s genius is that because the scenes and situations are so readily identifiable, readers need no additional explanation.

Nadia Alam’s illustrations present a series of curated moments depicting, for example, a father and child putting on their pink sneakers together in the morning, and later, another child helping an older relative who uses a cane stand up from a park bench. Alam showcases myriad emotions along with the love that pours over these children no matter their mood. Young readers will identify with all of these inquisitive, happy, grumpy and, finally, sleepy faces. The book concludes with a bedtime story (“A hold, a keep, a voice, a book.”), which makes Awake, Asleep feel like a loving review of the day gone by as well as a comforting way to prepare for all the many days to come.

It’s never too early to begin raising the next generation of readers. Whether you’re off to a baby shower or building a library for your own little bundle of joy, these four picture books are perfect choices.

Our top 10 books of May 2023

Must-reads for May include the latest from bestselling historian David Grann and romance superstar Emily Henry, plus the long-awaited second novel from Abraham Verghese.

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Book jacket image for Our Migrant Souls by Hector Tobar

Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Turning the last page, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders.

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Book jacket image for Happy Place by Emily Henry
Contemporary Romance

Emily Henry’s effervescent and tender Happy Place is as expertly crafted as a perfect summer playlist.

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Gareth Hanrahan’s gritty and rousing fantasy novel The Sword Defiant explores what happens after the good guys win.

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Book jacket image for The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Family Saga

Abraham Verghese, probably the best doctor-writer since Anton Chekhov, upends all of our expectations again and again in his long awaited follow-up to Cutting for Stone.

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Book jacket image for Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley
Children's & YA

Firekeeper’s Daughter author Angeline Boulley returns to Sugar Island with a thriller that urges readers to consider: Who owns the past?

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Book jacket image for The Wager by David Grann

David Grann’s narrative nonfiction masterpiece about an 18th-century man-of-war that ran aground in South America reveals humanity at its best and worst, from heroism to cannibalism.

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Julia Lee’s piercing discussions of Asian American identity are likely to challenge readers across the ideological spectrum. In fact, she even challenges her own views.

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The Weeds requests the reader to observe and look for connections, to question structures and patterns, and to discover new ways of seeing.

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Must-reads for May include the latest from bestselling historian David Grann and romance superstar Emily Henry, plus the long-awaited second novel from Abraham Verghese.

Discover your next great book!

BookPage highlights the best new books across all genres, as chosen by our editors. Every book we cover is one that we are excited to recommend to readers. A star indicates a book of exceptional quality in its genre or category.