19 April 2019

8 April Books That Should Be on Your Radar

Today’s round-up comes in two parts: general fiction and books in translation. All the April books featured here deserve some extra buzz in the blogging world, some because of the issues they address and others because they offer insight into worlds that may be very different from our own.

The descriptions of the plots are primarily based on the publishers’ summaries, and I’ve included the first sentence of each book as well. I hope at least one of the featured titles catches your attention and sends you off to your local bookstore or library. I’m currently reading, and really enjoying, two of them (Bakhita and Feast Your Eyes), and hope to get to the others fairly soon.

Literary Fiction

summary of Feast Your Eyes by Myla GoldbergFeast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg (Scribner, April 16). This novel is told through a variety of media: catalog notes from a photography show, interviews, journal entries, and so forth. It’s the story of photographer Lillian Preston who is arrested on an obscenity charge after exhibiting partially nude photographs of herself and her daughter. The time period is the mid-1900s, and public and legal questions of art vs. pornography affect Lillian’s career and future. The book is told through the eyes of Lillian’s daughter, Samantha. Reviews: a 4.6 rating on Goodreads; star from Kirkus. Themes: women professionals, art, artists, mothers and daughters. First line: “I was ten when I saw it, Pops sitting across the breakfast table with his Daily News and his cigarette.”

summary of The Dream Peddler by Martine Fournier WatsonThe Dream Peddler by Martine Fournier Watson (April 9, Penguin). Robert Owens, a traveling salesman, offers potions that will allow his customers to control their dreams. When he arrives in a small town at the turn of the last century, many folks want to dream about love and their future spouse, but some dream of revenge. When Robert is caught up in town scandals and gossip, secrets are exposed and the bonds of the community begin to crumble. Quirky characters and a rural-America setting add charm. Reviews: a 4.1 rating on Goodreads. Themes: marriage, love, grief, finding one’s way in life. First line: “The dream peddler came to town at the white end of winter, before the thaw.”

summary of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea LawlorPaul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor (Vintage, April 23). Set in the 1990s, this is a kind of retelling of Orlando set in the queer world of university towns and pop culture. From Riot Grrrl music to women’s studies classes and gay bars, Paul is able to gender-shift his way through a variety of alternative communities across late-20th-century America. But how does his fluid gender affect his relationships, and can he/she find (or even want) intimacy? Reviews: a 4.2 rating on Goodreads; star from Kirkus. Themes: LGBTQ+, self-realization. First line: “Like a shark, Paul had to keep moving.”

summary of My Coney Island Baby by Billy O’CallaghanMy Coney Island Baby by Billy O’Callaghan (Harper, April 9). A kind of Irish twist on Same Time Next Year. A man and a woman, married to others, have had a 25-year affair, meeting at a run-down hotel on Coney Island on the first Tuesday of every month, savoring a few hours of peace and joy. When their home lives begin to intrude on their intimacy, they are forced to face the realities of their secret relationship and their futures, either together or separate. Reviews: a 3.8 rating on Goodreads; star from Kirkus. Themes: marriage, love, relationships, honesty. First line: “The air out here is mean with cold.”

Books in Translation

summary of Lie with Me by Philippe BessonLie with Me by Philippe Besson, translated from the French by Molly Ringwald (yes, the actor) (Scribner, April 30). While in Bordeaux as an adult, a novelist sees a face in the crowd that reminds him of a boy he loved when they were teens. Told as a memoir, this novel explores a secret relationship between two ill-matched boys who held on to each other at time when being gay in France was not part of the accepted social norm. Reviews: a 4.3 on Goodreads; Kirkus praised Ringwald’s translation. Themes: young love, LGBTQ+, self-acceptance. First line: “One day—I can say precisely when, I know the date—I find myself in the lobby bar of a hotel in a provincial city, sitting in an armchair across from a journalist, a low round table between us, being interviewed for my latest novel, which recently came out.”

summary of Acts of Infidelity by Lena AnderssonActs of Infidelity by Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel (Other Press, April 23). When Ester fell madly in love with Olof, she knew the actor was married. She heard him speak the words when he said he wasn’t going to leave his wife, but she was sure he’d eventually change his mind. As the years pass, however, Ester finally faces the truth: she is a permanent “other woman”—but what will this revelation lead to? Reviews: a 3.7 rating on Goodreads. Themes: marriage, affairs, self-reflection, relationships. First line: “Ester Nilsson had arrived at that point in her life when each birthday leaves its mark.”

summary of Bakhita by Véronique OlmiBakhita by Véronique Olmi, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (Other Press, April 16). This novel is based on the life of  Mother Josephine Bakhita, a Catholic nun, born in the mid-1800s, who devoted her life to serving the poor. When only 7 years old, she was kidnapped from her Sudanese village to be sold into slavery and a life of abuse, until she was bought by an Italian consul, who took her with him to Italy, where Bakhita’s spiritual transformation began. She survived unimaginable horrors before her salvation and was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000. Reviews: a 4.2 rating on Goodreads. Themes: family, slavery, religion, redemption. First line: “She does not know her name.”

summary of City of Jasmine by Olga GrjasnowaCity of Jasmine by Olga Grjasnowa, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Oneworld, April 9). Set against the backdrop of war-torn Syria, this novel focuses on the fates of an ex-pat surgeon who is detained when he tries to leave after a short visit to renew his passport and an actress and her boyfriend who conspire to escape to the safety of Europe. The surgeon is caught in a web of resistance politics and the young couple finds that life as refugees falls far short of the future they had imagined. Reviews: a 4.2 rating on Goodreads. Themes: politics, war, survival, hope. First line: “The first fields are already visible through the plane window, followed by an ocean of houses that vanishes again; then the wing slews upwards and the window reveals nothing but sky blue.”

6 comments:

bermudaonion 4/19/19, 8:30 AM  

Feast Your Eyes sounds fantastic - I love stories told in a unique way like that.

rhapsodyinbooks 4/19/19, 9:15 AM  

So interesting about Molly Ringwald!

Les in Oregon 4/19/19, 8:19 PM  

Yours is the second post that I've read in the past five minutes that mentions My Coney Island Baby. I love character-driven novels and this one sounds like a winner.

thecuecard 4/20/19, 10:35 AM  

I've only heard of the Goldberg book among these. I liked her novel Bee Season from years ago; I hope this one is good too. The Coney Island story looks a bit fetching too. thanks

JoAnn 4/20/19, 6:10 PM  

I'd like to read My Coney Island Baby...sounds good!

(Diane) bookchickdi 4/28/19, 1:08 PM  

I just put Coney Island Baby on our front counter display at the Book Cellar, I'm intrigued by it.

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