April’s Top Picks in Fiction

This month we’re getting long-awaited sequels, the latest from a Nobel Prize-winning novelist, an ice-cold noir thriller, and a delicious contemporary reimagining of a classic Jane Austen comedy of manners. These are the books you should be pairing with your coffee, your commute, and your late-night “just one more page” protests all month long.

A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
A God in Ruins is the companion novel to Atkinson’s astonishing, award-winning Life After Life, which followed Ursula Todd from birth to death again and again, tracking the progression of her soul as she lives out her life in countless iterations. Now Atkinson turns her focus to Ursula’s beloved brother, Teddy, whose safe return from World War II was one of the first novel’s emotional high points. The focus is on his postwar life, which he, as a former RAF pilot, didn’t really expect to be granted. In telling his story, Atkinson again bends time and tests the boundaries of traditional narration; she’s a master storyteller, and A God in Ruins is not to be missed.

Early Warning

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Early Warning, by Jane Smiley
Smiley’s 2014 book Some Luck, the first in her Century Trilogy, followed Iowa farm couple Walter and Rosanna Langdon from 1920, when they’re newlyweds, to the early 1950s, each chapter covering a year in their family’s life. Book two, Early Warning, opens in 1953 just after Walter’s death. Smiley follows the lives of Rosanna, her five children, and their children over the 33 years following that death, through the social tumult of midcentury and beyond. She keeps a tight hold on her fascinating, miraculously distinct cast, through whose eyes readers experience cultural touchpoints like the Vietnam War and the 1970s boom in cult activity, as well as the more intimate triumphs and disasters of family life.

Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova, of Still Alice fame, is back with another exploration of degenerative disease’s effects on families. When respected family man and cop Joe O’Brien’s constellation of strange symptoms is diagnosed as progressive, incurable Huntington’s disease, he and his children are at a crossroads: he has to find purpose and peace despite the rapid decline of his body and mind, and they must decide whether to get tested for the genetic condition in the face of 50/50 odds. Once again O’Brien delivers an insightful, moving story of human frailty and the strength of familial ties.

Blood on Snow, by Jo Nesbø
In the latest standalone from the acclaimed author of icy Norwegian thrillers including The Son and the Harry Hole series, complicated contract killer Olav is touched by conscience at a very inconvenient moment. He’s a “fixer” for a crime lord whose latest assignment hits close to home: he wants Olav to kill his wife. But when Olav decides the wife’s crimes against her husband are less straightforward than they appear, he begins planning a double-cross, attempting to both save the wife’s skin and keep himself out of his dangerous boss’s crosshairs. Complete with a beautiful femme fatale, a dangerous yet sympathetic hero, and a world of bad choices, Blood on Snow is pitch-black noir.

Miss Julia Lays Down the Law, by Ann B. Ross
In the 17th installment of Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia series, a rude new neighbor in the steely southern belle—and sometime detective’s—beloved North Carolina town is found murdered in her home. Before her death, the victim offended a dozen members of Miss Julia’s social circle by talking trash about Abbotsville. At her pastor’s behest, Miss Julia visits in the hopes of convincing her to make peace with one of them, the pastor’s highstrung wife—and thus becomes the one to discover the body. Fans of cozy mysteries will drink up this twisty, genteel tale like sweet tea.

Emma, by Alexander McCall Smith
The Jane Austen project, kicked off in 2014 with Val McDermid’s retelling of Northanger Abbey, commissions selected authors to transpose Austen’s timeless stories to contemporary times. In McCall Smith’s retelling, Emma Woodhouse is an interior designer, her homebody father is a germaphobe, and protegé Harriet Smith is the naive daughter of a single mother and a sperm donor. McCall Smith brilliantly revives Austen’s talent for smart social commentary and ear for the ridiculous, with fun modern touches that will delight fans of both authors.

The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer
The four Blair children grew up in Portola Valley, California, under the shadow of their artist mother’s thwarted ambition, which stunted and spurred them in various ways. This epic jumps among narrators and time periods, weaving a marvelously textured family tale. The return of prodigal son James kicks off a plot thread set in the story’s present day, one that causes his siblings to reexamine what they believed to be true about their upbringing.

At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen
A woman who believes she’s lost all the things that matter most—her money, her wealthy father’s approval, her privileged place in East Coast society—finds her inner world changed forever when she’s stranded in a tiny village in the Scottish highlands. Madeline Hyde’s father cut off her and her husband, Ellis, after a public disgrace; in an effort to get them back in his father-in-law’s good graces, Ellis drags Madeline to Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster. Madeline is forced to reexamine the values she built her life on, against the stark beauty of an impoverished countryside near the end of World War II.

Beauty’s Kingdom, by Anne Rice
Twenty years after the close of Rice’s erotic Beauty trilogy, which traced the titular fairy-tale heroine from her enchanted sleep in a tower, through forced sexual imprisonment, to her eventual release, Rice delights fans with an unexpected fourth installment. As the new rulers of the kingdom of Bellavalten, Beauty and her prince make working as a pleasure slave voluntary, paving the way for more enlightened erotic adventures. A must-read for those who shelve their fairy tales right next to their copy of Fifty Shades.

God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison
Lula Ann is a dark-skinned girl born to a mother who can pass for white, and her mother’s physical distaste for her reverberates throughout her life, twisting her but also making her strong. As an adult she reinvents herself as Bride, a head-turning career woman. But the kernel of unloved Lula Ann remains, and Bride fears total reversion when the departure of her lover, and the return of a woman who signifies the deepest shame of her past, threaten to undo the life she’s built. It’s a thoughtful, often chilling addition to Nobel Prize winner Morrison’s canon.

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