“Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee,” by Casey Cep (May 7)
If you’re a Harper Lee fan, come for the juicy tale of the true-crime story she wanted to write but never did: how the Rev. Willie Maxwell murdered five family members over the course of several years for insurance money. If you’re not, come for Cep’s writing, which is so good that you won’t mind a side trip into the history of life insurance. Basically, if you love superb nonfiction, pick up a copy of “Furious Hours;” you may not put it down again for several of your own.
“Let Love Have the Last Word: A Memoir,” by Common (May 7)
Following up on his last book, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense,” the award-winning musician, actor and activist takes the love he first received in his Southside Chicago childhood and pays it forward, giving us a lesson in how compassion helps build stronger, better communities.
“Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis,” by Jared Diamond (May 7)
Diamond, who has already looked closely at societal change (“Guns, Germs and Steel”), considers the psychology of the individual and how ideas of resiliency might work for nations, too. Looking at countries that have dealt with coups, wars and the need for reconciliation, Diamond examines obstacles faced, lessons learned and progress made.
“No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir,” by Ani DiFranco (May 7)
The singer-songwriter, activist and self-described “little folk singer” galvanized a generation with her DIY movement and Righteous Babe Records. After reading this funny, honest account of her life up to age 30, it’s clear that though her choices may not be for everyone, they’re part and parcel of her integrity and creative path.
“The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” by David McCullough (May 7)
McCullough paints a picture of early American settlers moving from New England to Ohio. What today is just another trip on the interstate was a trek filled with hardship. A general, a minister, an architect and a physician were among the settlers who left behind their diaries and letters, offering incredible details that allow McCullough to bring their stories back to life.
“The Flight Portfolio,” by Julie Orringer (May 7)
Nine years after her debut, “The Invisible Bridge,” Orringer returns with a historical novel that starts at Marc Chagall’s home in France. An American journalist, Varian Fry, persuades the artist and his wife to let him help them escape the coming Nazi scourge. For 13 months Fry helped imperiled artists and writers leave France, including Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst and many others.
“The Farm,” by Joanne Ramos
At Golden Oaks in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley, you’ll have organic meals, daily massages, a personal trainer — every retreat perk you could ever want. The catch? You’ll be pregnant during your nine-month stay, and the baby you deliver already belongs to someone else. Jane, a Filipina immigrant, wants out. She also wants the life-changing fee she’ll receive. Thereby hangs a scary, too-possible tale.
“Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir,” by Jayson Greene (May 14)
Greene’s daughter Greta was on a park bench with her grandmother, sitting in the sunshine, when a brick fell from a nearby building and hit her on the head, causing trauma that led to her death. While Greene’s memoir contains much grief, it’s not so much about the terrible incident as about how Greene and his wife worked to move past it and continue their life together.
“Dawson’s Fall,” by Roxana Robinson (May 14)
Historical fact: Englishman Frank Dawson moved to South Carolina to fight for the Confederacy, believing the Civil War was a conflict over states’ rights. Later, launching his career as a newspaper publisher, Dawson attempted to live by principles of equal rights and nonviolence. Things didn’t go his way, but in his letters and journals, his great-granddaughter, novelist Robinson, has discovered a story with as much to do with America’s present as America’s past.
“Last Day,” by Domenica Ruta
In Ruta’s fiction debut, each May 28 people around the world gather to celebrate what could be the end of the world. The author chooses seven quite different characters, tied together in various ways (romantically, for one pair; orbiting Earth on a space station for three others). Her focus on individual needs and choices as disaster potentially looms gives her story emotional heft.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”