Stuck without a good book to read this month? The Weekly has you sorted with these nine recommendations for April.
Starting out with our top pick, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, we have something for every kind of reader, from romance to crime.
So settle in with one of these great reads, all available through Booktopia.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, Doubleday
If you read just one book this year make sure it’s Lessons in Chemistry. Clever, hilarious, thought-provoking, uplifting … I could go on. Although set in the 1960s, protagonist Elizabeth Zott is a woman for our times who challenges the status quo with the sort of resolve we all wish we had.
We first meet her as a reluctant TV star, hosting hit cooking show Supper at Six in which she presents the nightly meal prep as a chemistry lesson. Water is H2O, salt – sodium chloride … for Elizabeth’s passion isn’t cooking, she’s a scientist. The story of how she landed in this seemingly unsuitable job unfolds at a dazzling pace and is served up with a delicious side-order of kick-arse feminism.
Without giving too much away, Elizabeth’s upbringing was tough and her potentially brilliant academic career scuppered by sexual abuse. Then she falls hard for super geek Calvin Evans. He’s a genius scientist and rowing fanatic who has escaped his own dark childhood. As their souls entwine Calvin and Elizabeth look destined to set the science world on fire with their dog “Six-Thirty” by their sides. (This cheeky hound talks to the reader – trust me, it works!)
But when Calvin dies in a freak accident, Elizabeth is left grief-stricken and pregnant in an era when children out of wedlock and single mums are frowned upon.
“I purposely set the book in the ’60s because that’s when my mother was Elizabeth Zott’s age,” says Bonnie Garmus. “I wanted to salute that generation of overlooked housewives. Women spent their days cleaning, cooking, ironing, mowing the lawn – doing everything for everyone, and yet this work was completely dismissed. Now I realise so many of them had huge talents and dreams of their own.”
“My mom had been a nurse, which she’d had to give up with four daughters. I used to ask her if she’d wanted to be a doctor and she’d get a little mad and point out that nursing was an incredibly honourable and difficult profession. Then she’d add that she also wasn’t ‘smart enough’ to be a doctor. This used to worry me because my mom was the smartest woman I knew.”
As the plot swirls to its fabulous denouement you’ll find yourself jolting between tears and cheers. “Lessons in Chemistry is about finding the courage to follow our true natures rather than accepting the roles and limitations imposed by society. But it also emphasises the peril of underestimating people – and animals – while exploring the deeper meaning of family,” explains Bonnie.
The Stars are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi, Hachette
In 1941 newlyweds Elle and Simon, and Elle’s ‘cousin’ (former boyfriend) Gabriel move to Lyra, population 400, off the coast of Georgia. Her Russian mother dead, her bankrupt father struck up a deal with wealthy jewel miner Simon, who was hiding his homosexuality.
“Well, are you interested in this business of courtship?” Simon asked beautiful Elle. She does not look him in the face, but straight at the diamond ring. It’s 1998. Gabriel drowned. Elle now has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognise her children.
“The past is all shuttered,” but Gabriel is still vivid in her dreams. Hours after accepting Simon’s wedding proposal “… my legs wrapped around Gabriel, as he cycled me away from all the inevitabilities.” Triumphant.
Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens by Shankari Chandran, Ultimo
Arabian jasmine grows “obediently” at the Cinnamon Gardens nursing home, where residents remember wilder fragrance from home. Maya has been owner for 40 years; we meet her with caftan pockets stuffed with biscuits. Maya and her husband strive to save cultural customs – Polish babka at Easter, a linen cupboard converted to a Hindu shrine.
Greek welder Mr Petsas, 88, migrated at 17. “For decades he worked on Sydney bridges, canisters of liquid fire strapped to his back … a harness tethering him to a platform.” His back is a scarred map of migrant graft. But racial hatred is threatening the calm of this wonderful place. Wise and dignified.
The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs, Simon & Schuster
Eliza Acton’s poetry book sold out, but publisher Longman’s in Victorian London admonishes “poetry is not the business of a lady”. She feels “I am 36 and nothing”.
Impoverished, Ann Kirby cares for her mother and limbless soldier father. She tries roping her mother to stop her wandering naked, but the vicar says he must send Ma to an asylum. Ann feels “utterly alone”.
Elegant prose meets wholesome country cooking when the vicar finds Ann a position in Eliza’s boarding house. Based on the true story of Britain’s first female cookery book writer, Acton. “Why not arrange ingredients in a list?” Brilliant. And give cooking times!
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher, Hachette
Based on the life of US bookseller Sylvia Beach. At 15 she moved to Paris, where her father ran a church. Fluent in French, her renowned Shakespeare and Company bookshop at 12 rue de L’Odéon, which opened in 1919, was a magnet for expatriate writers – Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce – who relied on Sylvia to recommend English language titles.
“The ruling class in the US wanted to outlaw anything that offended its sense of decorum.” Joyce’s banned Ulysses was published by Paris-Shakespeare in 1922. Being invited to the salon of Gertrude Stein was “like being called to tea by Marie Antoinette,” she notes. Sparkling, vital, overdue.
Edith Blake’s War by Krista Vane-Tempest, NewSouth
When Vane-Tempest’s grandmother died she claimed the diary of her great aunt, Edith Blake. Then her father produced a carrier bag containing three bundles of letters written by Edie between 1914 and 1918. The result is a unique history of the only Australian nurse to die in World War I.
It was February 1918, Edie, 32, was heading to France on HMHS Glenart Castle, steaming into the British Channel to pick up wounded soldiers from the Western Front. Fully lit from bow to stern, displaying the green band and red crosses on her hull denoting her to be a hospital ship, she was stalked by a German U-boat for an hour below, torpedoes ready.
“So it was, Edith’s war came to an end in the black waters of the Bristol Channel.”
Loveland by Robert Lukins, Allen & Unwin
This beautiful novel by The Everlasting Sunday author Robert Lukins opens with an almost apocalyptic scene. “Flashing gold fires” blaze across a lake as an amusement park complete with giant Ferris wheel burns, black smoke swirling into the air. Two women stand still in the shallows, the water lapping their shins as a man falls dead, his blood hardly visible at it mingles with the reflections from the flames.
From here we flip into the troubled world of May, who embarks on a life-changing trip when she hears that her late grandmother, Casey, owned a house and land in Loveland, Nebraska, that she is now to inherit. Courageously walking away from her abusive marriage back home in Australia, May heads for the US to find her house and unlock her grandmother’s darkest secrets.
The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy, Allen & Unwin
Sarayu is on a scholarship at an English university, but the meagre amount means a 50p coin phone call to her mother in southern India lasts, “For the time it takes to breathe one breath, we are together.” In the pottery studio she meets Karin Wang, who wants to be an aeronautical engineer, but is on a sports scholarship as the university wants Olympic glory.
Sarayu’s geology-loving father died at 57; Sara inheriting his love of fossils. “I think my father has gone into a different element. I will find him again in a different form.” Hindu potter Elango from Sara’s childhood village Kummarapet has fallen in love with Muslim girl Zohra. She has feelings for him, too. Elango must sculpt a deity, an honest terracotta horse, to realise his dreams. Sara’s father would say change was the result of the Earth spinning, as it always had. Exquisite.
A History of Dreams by Jane Rawson, Brio Books
Adelaide 1937. Margaret and sister Esther head to school, radical “Es” tying her shoes with manila rope to make them “interesting”. Will they go to the Hills this year for Christmas? Last year their male cousins spoiled it, demanding they make their lunch. Enter Maggie’s bestie Audrey, “her uniform … like the robes a sultan’s wife would have worn … for war against the infidel.”
Phyl[lis] could pass for a boy and thinks she may join the Foreign Legion. Margaret ‘shall’ become a famous palaeontologist and music genius. Es ‘shall’ write an opera in celebration. Accomplished witch Audrey was taught by Great Aunt Delia who “used witchcraft to enflame the suffragist impulses” of Adelaide’s women. “A university is a waste of time for girls,” announces Margaret’s father.
It’s time to form a coven. Audrey can plant nightmares in someone’s brain, change minds and actions using the power of dreams. But, as Europe falls to fascism, can the spinsters’ Maid Marion (power to the powerless) magic club still rise up? Deliciously deviant.