April’s weather can swing wildly, warm one day and cold and rainy the next. What better month to have a selection of books to fit any mood? Romance, mystery, fiction — modern and historical — and horror share shelf space with a moving memoir, a crime caper and an appealing Young Adult book that’s fun for all ages.
“Portrait of a Thief,” by Grace D. Li (Tiny Reparations Books, April 5)
With the glitz of “Crazy Rich Asians” and the suspense of “Ocean’s Eleven,” Li’s debut is a fast-paced heist novel with the attendant glamour of priceless artifacts and a $50 million dollar payout. It also asks tough questions about cultural appropriation. Western museums have steadfastly refused to return five missing statues looted from a zodiac fountain in a Qing dynasty-era imperial residence. The young Asian American crew is recruited by a mysterious Chinese billionaire, who will pay them to return the sculptures to their rightful homeland. With the stakes so high, failure feels like disappointing the previous generations who suffered colonialist crimes.
“Easy Beauty: A Memoir,” by Chloé Cooper Jones (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, April 5)
Jones, a philosophy professor, frequently presents her students with ethical conundrums, such as whether potential parents should preselect embryos with desirable traits. In doing so, she sometimes hears arguments for why she should not have been born. She has congenital sacral agenesis, meaning she was born with no sacrum. Despite doctors’ dire predictions that she wouldn’t live, walk or have children, she has done these things and more. Here, she probes the ways a culture determines a person’s value and embarks on a journey to understand the myth of beauty and her own unintentional complicity in it.
“True Biz,” by Sara Nović (Random House, April 5)
For those who loved the Oscar-winning film CODA, a boarding school for deaf students is the setting for a kaleidoscope of experiences. Charlie, born to hearing parents, never before met a deaf person. Austin, whose family celebrates deafness, is challenged by the birth of his hearing sister. February, the headmistress, battles to keep the school open and care for her ailing deaf mother while her home life starts to crumble. Nović is a thoughtful tour guide through her own deaf culture, careful to explain what people unaware of her world may be missing, and providing mini history lessons and illustrations of vocabulary words in American Sign Language.
“Four Treasures of the Sky,” by Jenny Tinghui Zhang (Flatiron, April 5)
After 12-year-old Daiyu’s parents are arrested, her grandmother sends her away, hidden in the back of a neighbor’s wagon. Her disguise as a boy doesn’t prevent her from being kidnapped, drugged and shipped overseas to work as prostitute in San Francisco, where, in the 1880s, anti-Chinese sentiment is strong. Racial tension and violence follow her as she traverses the American west, trying on new identities to stay alive in a country that doesn’t want her. Zhang’s transporting story of perseverance in the face of shocking injustice resonates across cultures, and also feels sadly relevant to today’s world.
“Pest,” by Elizabeth Foscue (Keylight Books, April 5)
These days, many people are looking to escape into a lighthearted book. Foscue delivers in her laugh-out-loud funny Young Adult novel about a girl navigating senior year in a high-achieving school where the student council room reeks of the “combined odors of Sharpies and rabid ambition.” Hallie Mayhew holds down several gigs, including spraying bugs for her dad’s pest-control company, while planning to escape from her working-class Santa Barbara upbringing by securing a highly coveted full-ride scholarship. When her plan falls into disarray, she reluctantly recruits the help of Spencer Salazar, the “Grade-A entitled trustafarian slacker” next door. Cheering for this scrappy underdog will appeal to younger and older adults alike.
“The No-Show,” by Beth O’Leary (Berkley, April 12)
If you’re a reader who loves mentally casting each character, you’ll want to get a head start with O’Leary’s latest lighthearted romantic comedy. Two of her bestsellers are heading for screens, with “Downton Abbey’s” Jessica Brown Findlay starring in “The Flatshare” television series and Mrs. Maisel herself, Rachel Brosnahan, playing the lead in a movie adaptation of “The Switch.” O‘Leary’s latest feel-good romp involves three women, each stood up by the same man on Valentine’s Day. Secrets are uncovered, relationships are tested and happiness is found in unexpected ways.
“Knock Off the Hat,” by Richard Stevenson (Amble Press, April 26)
Things are tough for private investigator Clifford Waterman in postwar Philadelphia. The fan stopped working in his soot-covered office next to the railroad tracks, and bills are piling up. He’s known around town for his dishonorable discharge for “indecency” from the U.S. Army, and helps gay men targeted by the city’s corrupt justice system. When a new client can’t afford a $500 bribe to make a “disorderly conduct” arrest at a gay bar raid go away, Waterman starts to investigate a corrupt judge, Harold “The Hat” Stetson, whose extortion racket has grown as local gay men have started disappearing. Stevenson, the pen name for the late Washington Post reviewer Richard Lipez, employs a gritty setting and zippy dialogue to evoke an era before Stonewall, when gay men were routinely prosecuted for sexual crimes, and discovery brought devastation.
“Marrying the Ketchups,” by Jennifer Close (Knopf, April 26)
Close’s newest novel about a suburban Chicago family showcases her knack for portraying humor and affection between characters afflicted by life’s dramas. In the surreal days of 2016, when the Cubs are on their way to a World Series title and Donald Trump is elected president, the Sullivan family’s patriarch — the founder of the most famous restaurant in Oak Park — drops dead. It’s up to grandson Teddy to keep the restaurant running even as his family second guesses each decision he makes. Meanwhile, his cousin Jane is starting to wonder why her husband is working out so fiendishly, and her younger sister Gretchen is questioning whether singing in a ’90s cover band at weddings is really what she wants to be doing in her 30s. This messy comedy of manners charms readers with a family adapting to change with stubbornness and love.
“The Fervor,” by Alma Katsu (Putnam, April 26)
Historical fiction meets horror in Katsu’s latest literary thriller, which adds a supernatural element to a painful part of American history. While a violent affliction spreads among guards and residents of a Japanese internment camp in Idaho, Meiko can’t help noticing that, though doctors arrive, nothing improves. She and her daughter connect with a newspaper reporter, and together they race to stop the spread of deadly contagion before it’s too late. Katsu weaves elements of Japanese folklore into a shameful period in history, drawing parallels to modern xenophobia and the demonizing of those we fear.
“Like a House on Fire,” by Lauren McBrayer (Putnam, April 26)
Raising a family with a husband she loves, Merit also feels herself disappearing into a life of chasing toddlers and perfunctory sex. Restarting her career in architecture seems like a way to reclaim part of her life that once gave her meaning. Her new boss, the self-confident Jane, is everything Merit admires. After their working relationship blossoms into a genuine friendship, Merit’s feelings develop into something more. This raw, emotional debut novel explores the disquiet of middle age, the nature of female friendships and the joy and burden of living authentically.
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