Our guide to the best new books and escapist reads for every mood in April 2020.
The one thing we can all do right now is find solace and stimulation in-between the pages of a good book. Sadly with cancelled events, book tours and Q&As, many writers who were expecting to see their books out in the world this April aren’t getting to meet and inspire would-be readers (although the announcement of online literary festivals BookBound2020 and Lockdown Litfest will help massively).
So, with our tricky times in mind, we’ve created a longer list of monthly reads than normal so you can pick and choose exactly what you’re in the mood for. Book lovers assemble!
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Meet the books to transport you for the next four weeks…
A Theatre For Dreamers by Polly Samson
A Theatre for Dreamers (out 2 April) is the story of relationships between Leonard Cohen before his fame, Marianne Ihlen – his muse, and the Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston on the Greek Island of Hydra, as seen from the point of view of 18-year-old Erica. Set in the 60s, it’s an insight into just how much freedom and emancipation women had at the time.
Hashim & Family by Shahnaz Ahsan
Told over two decades, Hashim & Family (John Murray, 2 April) follows the lives of two cousins, Hashim and Rofikul as they arrive in the UK in 1960 from (what was then) East Pakistan to begin a new life in Manchester. Based on writer Shahnaz’s own family’s oral histories, Hashim & Family is a personal migrant experience told with beauty and insight.
You People by Nikita Lalwani
The Pizzeria Vesuvio looks like any other Italian restaurant in London – with a few small differences. The chefs who make the pizza fiorentinas are Sri Lankan and half the kitchen staff are illegal immigrants. At the heart of the restaurant is Tuli, the charismatic proprietor who promises to help anyone in need (2 April).
No Modernism Without Lesbians by Diana Souhami
Telling the lives of the Parisian artists and creatives who moulded Modernism, this is the story of Sylvia Beach, the American who set up the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookstore in 1919, and published Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else wanted to. The shop became the unofficial meeting place of the Modernists with Gertrude Stein bringing the work of her friends Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Gauguin and Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Paul Bowles all becoming part of the world the women created (2 April).
Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught
Inspired by some of the most interesting women to have cropped up in the history of psychiatry: the Hon. Violet Gibson who shot Mussolini in 1926; ‘patient’ Lucia Joyce, daughter of James; Blanche, Queen of the hysterics in Paris and Annie O, one of Freud’s patients, this is a book that finally gives voice to the women whose minds were “shaped” by men (out 2 April).
Stim by Lizzie Huxley Jones
It’s World Autism Day on 2 April so Unbound are publishing this breakout collection of 18 original essays, works of art, fiction, and memoir, all about the autistic experience. One essay by Rachael Lucas about how a very common adult diagnosis made her look at her childhood differently; and one from Reese Piper, a stripper working in New York, about how autism affected her ability to build intimacy with both her colleagues and her clients.
Lost, Found, Remembered by Lyra McKee
This is a memorial collection of journalist Lyra McKee’s writing just ahead of the anniversary of her murder aged 29 (on 18 April while attending rioting in the Creggan area of Derry last year). As her publisher explains, “It showcases the range of her roving intelligence by bringing together unpublished material (including excerpts from her work in progress, a book of investigative journalism entitled The Lost Boys) alongside her deeply empathetic, politically urgent journalism, such as A Letter To My 14-Year-Old Self (2 April).
1234: The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown
From the writer of the exceptional Ma’am Darling comes a rollercoaster ride of history, etymology, diaries, autobiography, fan letters, essays, parallel lives, party lists, charts, interviews, announcements and stories that details The Beatles’ lives and the starry (and less-starry) lives of those who gravitated towards them (2 April).
The Portrait by Ilaria Bernardini
Love a tale of complex women and tragedy? This is a story for you. An internationally renowned writer, Valeria has dedicated her life to her work and to her married lover, Martìn. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes. Desperate to find a way to be present during his final days, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait, and insinuating herself into Martìn’s family home and life. What could go wrong…? (2 April).
Sway by Pragya Agarwal
Behavioural scientist, activist and writer Dr Pragya Agarwal unravels the way our implicit or “unintentional” biases affect the way we communicate and perceive the world, and how they affect our decision-making. It’s a timely book that reveals the truth behind our in-built and systemically created prejudices and beliefs in the most revealing of ways (2 April).
The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames
With a killer quote from Little Fires Everywhere writer Celeste Ng who describes it as: “A sharply drawn portrait of a lifelong friendship. Illuminates the ways our closest friends sustain us over the course of our lives”, The Other’s Gold is just the immersive read to lose yourself in with women behaving badly and, in ways, we all will recognise. Even the book’s publicist Poppy says, “It’s definitely one for fans of Donna Tartt (and Gilmore Girls).” (2 April)
Redhead By The Side Of The Road by Anne Tyler
Somehow Anne Tyler has the ability to take the minutiae of characters’ lives and say wise things about the human condition that other writers can only dream of. Telling the tale of middle-aged Micah who’s built himself a carefully curated life to suit himself while single-handedly avoiding anything like emotional vulnerability, this is a read that’ll underline the importance of love, family and connection. Something that’ll resonate right now (9 April).
The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous
Syrian writer Wannous’ book is translated by Lissie Jaquette and follows Suleima and Nassim who meet in their therapist’s tiny waiting room in Damascus and begin a tenuous relationship. When civil war breaks out, Nassim leaves Syria for Germany but doesn’t ask Suleima to come with him; instead he sends her a book he has written, a novel about a woman whose experiences are very close to her own. As Suleima reads, her past overwhelms her. As she attempts to solve the mystery of her lover’s manuscript, she must confront what has happened to her family, to her country, and start to make sense of who she is and what she has become (9 April).
Blueberries by Ellena Savage
The debut essay collection of 15 essays comes with praise from Booker-shortlisted author Rachel Kushner (‘savagely smart’), Jean Hannah Edelstein (‘essential’) and Axiomatic author Maria Tumarkin (‘heartstopping’). Ellena’s essays range in tone and style: in one she returns to Lisbon 11 years after she experienced an attempted rape, to find out the verdict of the trial she fled from and in another her 30th birthday prompts her to revisit her life so far through a series of very funny bullet points (9 April).
How Much Of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
A literary western with a fresh take on gender and feminism that’s been likened to Sarah Waters… Telling an untold story of the arrival of Chinese-American immigrants to the US, two siblings are on the run in an unforgiving landscape – trying not just to survive but to find a home (9 April).
Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay
Jane and Marnie have been inseparable since school but Jane never liked Marnie’s husband and as she unpicks seven increasingly catastrophic lies, she reveals her and Marnie’s shared history. Its publisher explains, “Seven Lies introduces a complicated, unpredictable female protagonist who doesn’t tiptoe around her identity, a startling flip of the traditional ‘unreliable narrator’ trope, and a devastating portrayal of toxic relationships.” We’re in (out 16 April).
Wine Girl by Victoria James
Just the light-yet-escapist read you’re in the mood for, this memoir by sommelier Victoria James unpicks the institutional misogyny of the fine dining restaurant scene that’s perfect for fans of Sweet Bitter and also reminds you of the nourishing joy of good food, good people and good wine (out 16 April).
The Dead Line by Holly Watt
Holly Watt previously worked on the MPs’ expenses and Panama Papers scandals and her first-hand experience of investigative journalism makes The Dead Line a compelling thriller that also raises real-world questions about the cost of human lives and what it means to be responsible for one another (out 16 April).
How To Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in a Lao refugee camp in Thailand and was raised and educated in Toronto. In this debut, she captures the day-to-day lives of immigrants and refugees exploring family relationships, escape from the real world and the love that binds us all (16 April).
Good Company by Julietta Dexter
Julietta Dexter, founder of the PR company The Communications Store, has written a welcome riposte to the notion that business requires tough, single-minded and aggressive thinking. Arguing that what business founders actually need are empathy, social consciousness and an understanding of diversity, this is a book that hopefully will open up people’s minds to a new way of working – and a timely reminder that money and profit is definitely not everything.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Meet the new Sally Rooney… That might sound like hyperbole but this tale of Ava caught between the financial security of banker Julian and the earnest lawyer Edith does bring fresh and on-point insights into modern love that’ll make it a hit with lovers of Normal People (16 April).
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman
If you feel like life has taken you by the scruff of the neck, given you a good shake and left you dumped on the floor… Then Separation Anxiety is for you as its hapless heroine Judy struggles with her career, family and herself but it’s written with such humour and heart that’ll make you laugh out loud and have a little sob simultaneously (16 April).
The Switch by Beth O’Leary
From the writer of the superior rom-com The Flatshare, this is the feelgood read we all need now quite frankly. Eileen, aged 79, and her overachiever granddaughter Leena who’s just blown a presentation at work decide to swap places for eight weeks. Eileen can live in London and look for love while Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. Nothing goes to plan. But we know that from real life… (16 April)
What’s Left Of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott
Set in contemporary Japan and inspired by a true-crime tale, this story is inspired by the covert industry around the wakaresaseya (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings. Dark, addictive and eye-opening, this is a brilliant debut (21 April).
The Book Of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
From The Secret Life Of Bees writer, this is the tale of Ana from a wealthy family in biblical Galilee. Rebellious and a keen writer, Ana is all set to marry an elderly widower and then she meets… Jesus. Reader, she marries him (21 April).
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
One of the most widely anticipated books of 2020 (The Observer named Mendez as one to watch), Rainbow Milk is a coming-of-age story that touches on racism, the Windrush generation, sexual identity and love. Beautifully written, this is a must for your reading list this month (23 April).
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
Six years after everyone’s minds were blown by the incredible Station Eleven (if you haven’t read it, please do but go in carefully around now), The Glass Hotel is a fascinating and affecting read that incorporates everything from a massive Ponzi scheme to a woman wrestling with grief for her mother (30 April).
The Way Back by Jamie Fewery
The three Cadogan children, Jessica, Kirsty and Patrick, all fell out after the death of their mother but when their father, Gerry, dies too they must drive his old camper van up the country to the Scottish Isle of Islay. Filled with humour, love and an understanding of what makes siblings tick, this is a lovely story (30 April).
Q by Christina Dalcher
The second dystopian novel (out 30 April) from the Vox writer, Q is about Elena, a teacher in an elite school. Her daughters are exactly like her: beautiful, ambitious, and perfect. A good thing, since the recent mandate that’s swept the country is all about perfection. Now everyone must undergo routine tests for their quotient, Q, and any children who don’t measure up are placed into new government schools so teachers can focus on the gifted. Elena tells herself it’s not about eugenics, not really, but when one of her daughters scores lower than expected and is taken away, she intentionally fails her own test to go with her.
Images: courtesy of publishers
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown