Brit Lit for your April TBR pile!

Claire Handscombe

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April is one of my favourite months, partly because it’s finally warm enough to sit and read outside.

Here’s my roundup of British books hot off the press this month, chosen because they have buzz or critical acclaim or because I find them interesting. (Descriptions are taken from online retailers.) It’s a rough time for both authors and bookshops, and I’m sure they would love your support. It’s even more important than usual to buy from independent bookshops at the moment — and Bookshop.org is a great resource for that. And for books not available in the US, the best place to go is Blackwells.com — a small and excellent UK chain which ships inexpensively worldwide. I’ve searched high and low for reliable, non-Amazon ways to get British books in the US with inexpensive postage costs and Blackwell’s is the best thing I’ve found.

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What Happened To You? by James Catchpole (UK, 1st April, US, 6th April)

What happened to you? Was it a shark? A burglar? A lion? Did it fall off?

Every time Joe goes out the questions are the same . . . what happened to his leg? But is this even a question Joe has to answer?

A ground-breaking, funny story that helps children understand what it might feel like to be seen as different.

Last Night, by Mhairi McFarlane (UK, 1st April, US, 4th May)

Eve, Justin, Susie and Ed have been friends since they were eighteen. Now in their 30s, the four are still as close as ever, Thursday pub quiz night is still sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed.

Maybe Eve should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed sometimes thinks about it too.

Then one night, in an instant, all their lives change forever. And, as Eve learns she didn’t know her friends as well as she thought, she also discovers she isn’t the only person keeping secrets…

Silence Is Not an Option, by Stuart Lawrence (UK, 1st April)

“We all want to be successful in life and to be remembered for our achievements – but how can we do that, when the world can seem so big and sometimes scary?”

From role models to self-control, failure to imagination, Stuart’s aim with this book is to use his own experience to help young people – to help all people – harness the good in themselves and in the world around them, using that fire of positivity to create change in their lives.

Watch Her Fall, by Erin Kelly (UK, 1st April)

Ava Kirilova has reached the very top of her profession. After years and years of hard graft, pain and sacrifice as part of the London Russian Ballet Company, allowing nothing else to distract her, she is finally the poster girl for Swan Lake. Even Mr K – her father, and the intense, terrifying director of the company – can find no fault. Ava has pushed herself ahead of countless other talented, hardworking girls, and they are all watching her now.

But here is someone who really wants to see Ava fall…

Fragile Monsters, by Catherine Menon (UK, 8th April)

Mary is a difficult grandmother for Durga to love. She is sharp-tongued and ferocious, with more demons than there are lines on her palms. When Durga visits her in rural Malaysia, she only wants to endure Mary, and the dark memories home brings, for as long as it takes to escape.

But a reckoning is coming. Stuck together in the rising heat, both women must untangle the truth from the myth of their family’s past. What happened to Durga’s mother after she gave birth? Why did so many of their family members disappear during the war? And who is to blame for the childhood tragedy that haunts her to this day?

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, by Paula Byrne (UK, 15th April)

She was Pym to friends. Miss Pym in her diaries. Sandra in seduction mode. Pymska at her most sophisticated. English novelist Barbara Pym’s career was deemed old-fashioned, telling stories of little English villages, unrequited love and the social dramas of vicars or academics.

This brilliant biography, brimming with Pym’s private diaries and intimate letters, offers a first full insight into Barbara Pym’s life and how it informed her writing. It gallops through her love affairs and lifelong relationships. It opens a door to the quick-draw humour which lives in her every written line. It shows how, with a little help from her most ardent fans and friends including Philip Larkin, her work eventually resurfaced, meeting new readers and bringing her sudden astounding, resounding love and acclaim – in the last years of her life.

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Barbara Throws a Wobbler, by Nadia Shireen (UK, 15th April)

Barbara is having one of those days. She has a sock problem and there’s a strange pea. Then, all of a sudden, Barbara’s Wobbler is out of control!

But what happens when a bad mood like this comes along? Barbara has a lot to learn about the ways of wobblers in this laugh-out-loud story from Nadia Shireen.

A brilliantly funny and sensitive way to understand and deal with tantrums.

A Trip of One's Own, by Kate Wills (UK, 15th April 2021)

Kate Wills wasn’t expecting to be divorced after less than a year of marriage. She hadn’t anticipated restarting a life that had, for the last 12 years with her partner, seemed so stable. Luckily, her job as a travel journalist offered her the perfect opportunity to escape from it all. But this time, her jet-setting felt different. Kate felt more alone, particularly against a backdrop of never-ending hen dos, weddings and baby showers.

So she began to search history for female travellers to inspire her. From a 4th-century nun to a globe-girdling cyclist, Kate discovers that throughout history, there have been astonishing women who’ve broken free from more burdensome expectations, clearing the path for us to do the same.

A Trip of One’s Own is a funny and heartfelt invitation to take that trip: to Paris, to Whitstable, and maybe down that street you’ve always wondered about.

Destination Anywhere, by Sara Barnard (US, 23rd February, UK, 15th April)

After five years at secondary school spent without any friends, Peyton King starts sixth form college determined that things will be different. Whatever happens, she will make friends at any cost.

When she finds the friends she’s always dreamed of, including an actual boyfriend, she’s happier than she’s ever been.
But when they let her down in the worst way, Peyton is left no better off than when she started.
Now Peyton knows the only chance she has of finding happiness is to look for it somewhere else. Her life may feel small, but it doesn’t have to be. With nothing but her sketchpad and a backpack, she buys a one-way ticket and gets on a plane. . .

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Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint (UK, 29th April, US, 4th May)

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

The Road Trip, by Beth O’Leary (UK, 29th April, US, 1st June)

Addie and her sister are about to embark on an epic road trip to a friend’s wedding in rural Scotland. The playlist is all planned and the snacks are packed.

But, not long after setting off, a car slams into the back of theirs. The driver is none other than Addie’s ex, Dylan, who she’s avoided since their traumatic break-up two years earlier.

Dylan and his best mate are heading to the wedding too, and they’ve totalled their car, so Addie has no choice but to offer them a ride. The car is soon jam-packed full of luggage and secrets, and with four-hundred miles ahead of them, Dylan and Addie can’t avoid confronting the very messy history of their relationship…

Will they make it to the wedding on time? And, more importantly, is this really the end of the road for Addie and Dylan?

Stronger, by Poorna Bell (UK, 29th April)

Now a competitive amateur powerlifter who can lift over twice her own bodyweight, Poorna Bell is perfectly placed to start a crucial conversation about women’s strength and fitness, one that has nothing to do with weight loss. In Stronger she challenges the notions taught to us as girls, and examines how all of us can tap into our reservoir of inner strength to make us our strongest selves mentally and physically. Describing taking up weightlifting after the death of her husband, she shows how discovering her own strength helped her to find the confidence that physical pursuits can amplify – the confidence that has been helping men to succeed for centuries – and that women can find too.

In these pages, Poorna tells not only her own story but those of a range of women, investigating intersections of race, age and social background. Part memoir, part manifesto, Stronger explodes old-fashioned notions and long-held beliefs about getting strong and explores the relationship between mental and physical strength.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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