Amazon's best books of April: Today's releases

Erin Kodicek on April 07, 2020
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Amazon's best books of April: Today's releases

Today's releases include the fascinating story of a family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia; an emotional debut about three extraordinary women navigating life in the post-Civil War South; a quirky horror novel; the highly anticipated first adult fantasy from Divergent author Veronica Roth; and more.

Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.


Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

Early in Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker observes that, “For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member.” There is no greater testament to the truth of that observation than Don and Mimi Galvin’s twelve children: six of their sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia, starting with their eldest son who was diagnosed in his late teens, by which time five of his brothers were also breaking down. With six family members mentally ill with a disease about which medical opinion shifted every few years, the foundation of the Galvin family didn’t so much tilt as tip over. Kolker does an outstanding job of reportage on all fronts: the chronology of the Galvin boys’ breakdowns, the effects on their parents, and, critically, the impact on the siblings who did not become mentally ill but grew up in a household utterly defined, internally and externally, by the mental illness that rampaged through the family. Kolker also deftly weaves the history of diagnosing and treating schizophrenia into the narrative; it’s cold comfort that the Galvin family became “a monumental case study in humanity’s most perplexing disease.” Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road takes an astonishing, heartrending story and elevates it with empathy and superb storytelling. —Vannessa Cronin


Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Rue has secrets. The young midwife and all-around healer in a town of freed black slaves, Rue knows the personal stories hidden inside her neighbors’ walls, and the townspeople trust her discretion. But Rue also holds darker knowledge about the burned-out plantation that enslaved them and about Varina, the planation’s dead heiress. As Afia Atakora’s historical novel slides forward and backward in time in episodes labeled Slaverytime, Wartime, Freedomtime, or the Ravaging, Atakora juggles the puzzle pieces of Rue’s life, revealing portions here and there until finally the last few—and very dramatic—pieces click into place. Evocative and sometimes dreamlike writing, hollowing moments of crisis, and an iron-spined young woman who ignites the page make this debut novel one to savor and then pass to your favorite fellow reader. —Adrian Liang


The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Pitching a novel as ‘Steel Magnolias meets Dracula’ is a bold move, but The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires lives up to the comparison. Patricia is a Charleston housewife whose husband Carter spends more time traveling for work than he does at home. Her two teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and much of her time is spent caring for her senile mother-in-law. The only thing giving her life is her book club. So what if their typical picks, like Cry, the Beloved Country are less her speed than the true crime titles they actually discuss? One night after book club, an elderly neighbor attacks Patricia, which brings the woman’s handsome nephew into Patricia’s life, and just like that, her life takes a turn for the more interesting. James is smart, well-read, well-traveled, and attentive. But as time goes on, Patricia realizes that she is not the only one James is interested in; that she, her family, and even her beloved book club are being groomed by a man who may be a monster. The big draw here is a portrayal of the '90s—both hilarious and spot-on accurate—that manages to be both gentle satire and affectionate homage all in one, while touching on social issues like racism, sexism, classism, and feminism. Watching these friends put the steel in steel magnolias may be the funniest horror story you read all year. —Vannessa Cronin


How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

In this captivating and memorable debut, Lucy and Sam are Chinese siblings let loose into the American west. Ambition led their Ma and their father, whom they call Ba, to a western mining town. But the only thing to be mined there was coal. Once their Ma passed, it was just a matter of time before life ground down their Ba. Eventually, Lucy and Sam leave their home with Ba’s corpse and a stolen horse. They enter a splintered, raw, and sometimes dreamlike landscape—a new myth of the west and one just as viable as the myth so many generations of Americans have embraced. C Pam Zhang’s language is deft and poetic: the moon is “the rib in the sky,” and as night creeps in, the children face the jackal’s hour “when edges disappear and the line softens between the real and the not.” In How Much of These Hills Is Gold, Zhang has achieved a fine balance between poetry and grit, casting two siblings out on a journey of transformation, drawing on their family’s past and present to set Lucy and Sam on a course that—they hope—will deliver them to the place where they belong. –Chris Schluep


Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris is a highly entertaining historical thriller of espionage and political double-dealing set in the unique atmosphere of Paris during the Nazi occupation. It’s 1940, and Kate Rees is an American living with her husband and young daughter in the U.K. When tragedy strikes, the war becomes personal for this former ranch girl from Oregon, and Kate—a champion markswoman—is recruited by the British government for a clandestine mission in Paris: assassinate Hitler. With revenge on her mind, Kate is dropped into the City of Light to carry out her assignment, but things go awry and she’s suddenly on her own and on the run. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues over the next 36 hours as Kate tries to get out of the country before she’s caught by Gunter Hoffman, a methodical former policeman tasked by Hitler himself to find the would-be assassin. Black’s thriller gives readers a delightful fictional answer to the mystery of Hitler’s real-life three-hour visit to Paris in June 1940 that ended abruptly for reasons still unknown. Three Hours in Paris is an exciting page-turner that will be particularly enjoyable for readers who appreciate a heroine who defies all odds and expectations. —Seira Wilson


Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

The author behind critical and commercially successful Divergent series doesn’t disappoint with her first adult novel. The premise hooked me immediately: What happens 15 years after a group of teens save the world? It feels too good to be true: for once, the epilogue gets to languorously extend itself into a full series. While the book evokes the real world ennui of The Magicians, the political thriller element of the Themis Files, and the quantum tang of Dark Matter, the core of this relentlessly paced adventure novel is the journey of a damaged person learning she’s still capable of loving and being loved. The uncertainty threaded through each plot element and character more than the visceral violence are what make the book decidedly adult. This unique twist on the quarter-life crisis also includes clever steampunk- inspired magical technology and powerful mythical objects. A welcome diversion indeed. —Katy Ball


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