Great Reads

Towles, Amor. Rules of Civility.

In Amor Towles debut novel, 1938 New York City comes alive and two friends, Eve and Katey, are in the middle of it all. When they meet a mysterious and wealthy young man, Tinker Grey, on New Year's Eve, their lives change in ways they would never have expected and suddenly the two women are catapulted into the social jungle of the elite upper-class. However, when a horrible car crash leaves Eve disabled and badly scarred, the previously lighthearted competition between Eve and Katey for Tinker's affections turns serious. Out of guilt, Tinker becomes Eve's caretaker, leaving Katey alone and fending for herself in her new and unfamiliar circle of ever growing acquaintances. While she casually climbs the New York social ladder, she becomes more and more ambitious and independent in other areas of her life, all the while unable to forget Tinker and Eve.

The book finds a good balance between action and introspection through Katey and readers will quickly be drawn into her bittersweet story. Towles is truly gifted in the way he is able to create an authentic feeling of the thirties through his vivid detail, slang and style. Rules of Civility is not just for historical fiction lovers. It is a smart novel with plenty of drama, sure to please anyone looking for a good read.

Walton, Jo. Tooth and Claw

A noble patriarch, on his deathbed, tells his parson son make certain the unmarried children he leaves behind receive their fair share of the inheritance.  The parson assures him it will be done.  But the greedy, arrogant husband of the eldest heir bullies his way to the fore and takes much more than his due.  Now the other heirs…two sons and two daughters…must find their own way in the world.  The unmarried son wants to sue for wrongful damages. The daughters agree, but are fearful of their position in the world. One daughter will be going to live with her elder sister and the bullying husband, after all.  The other daughter, who will be living with the parson son and his wife, wishes to pursue the lawsuit, but the parson and his wife  fear losing the protection of their patron due to scandal.  Both daughters wish to find good husbands, but their dowrys are not large and the honor of one daughter has been wrongfully impugned by an impertinent neighbor.

A novel of manners à la Austen or Trollope, a novel of political intrigue, a novel of the delicate savagery of uppercrust life,  a novel of custom and tradition…a novel of a sort with which we are all very familiar.  Or are we?  All of the characters in Jo Walton’s clever, original, and quite compelling “Tooth and Claw,” you see, are dragons.

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Ritter, Josh. Bright's Passage

Henry Bright, a half-shattered young veteran of WWI, came home to rural West Virginia a changed man. With him comes the angel Bright first met in a church in France and whom Bright believes saved his life several times on the battlefield. The angel now speaks to Bright through his horse and Bright feels compelled to take its advice. The angel, foretelling the coming of the next King of Heaven, makes the young man elope with his childhood sweetheart, stealing her away from her family.  When she, the most important thing in his life, dies in childbirth, Bright doesn’t know what to do with himself. But once again, the angel steps in, telling him to burn down his cabin and head off in search of a new mother for his child, the future King of Heaven. Bright is pursued on this quest by his late wife’s brutal, psychopathic father and brothers…as well as by the hellish forest fire sparked off by his cabin. 

Lyrical, layered, and complex, Ritter’s debut novel is a moving examination of the traumas of war and a delicately limned portrait of a man attempting to move beyond his own past and find his way to a future. Beautiful and moving.

Toyne, Simon. Sanctus

A cassocked monk stands on a mountaintop. Arms outstretched, he forms a tau, the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet. Having escaped from within a cloistered Vatican-like chuch city compound called the Citadel, carved out of a mountain near the fictional Turkish city of Ruin, the escaped monk attracts media attention as he deliberately throws himself off the mountain. Brother Samuel, the escaped monk, knew a secret…a secret the monks of the Citadel have been protecting for thousands of years.

Now Liv Adamsen, an American journalist, learns that her phone number, carved into a small leather strap, has been found inside Samuel's stomach.  It turns out Brother Samuel was her long-missing and presumed dead twin brother. When she travels to Turkey to claim his remains, she finds herself the focus of three separate groups...the monks of the Citadel, who wish to cleanse the outside world of any hint of their secret; members of an equally ancient group known as the Mala, who believe Liv and her brother are the ones prophesied to break the Citadel's reign; and the police, who simply want to solve the strange mystery of her brother's very public suicide.  Enmeshed in intrigue, it isn’t long before she discovers that the monks of the Citadel will go to any length to protect their mysterious secret, known as the Sacrament, from the world...and the Mala will go to any lengths to expose that secret.

Though it draws the inevitable comparisons to Dan Brown, “Sanctus” is nevertheless a well-developed, entirely unique, and exciting debut with well-rounded characters and a plot that remains grounded despite the potential for hyperbole.  I couldn't put it down!

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King, David. Death in the City of Light

Sure to draw comparisons to Erik Larson’s masterful true-crime epic, “Devil in the White City,” King’s “Death in the City of Light” unfolds the true story of a serial killer who stalked the streets of Paris during its occupation by the Nazi regime.  A strange burning smell first alerted citizens that not all was right.  When concerned firefighters entered the building from which the smell seemed to be emanating, they were appalled to discover severed body parts burning in a large furnace.  Commisaire Georges-Victor Massu, the head of the Parisian Brigade Criminelle, was tasked by the Gestapo with bringing the murderer to justice.  The main suspect quickly became Dr. Marcel Petiot, the owner of the building and, by current accounts, a reputable man. He was known as the “Peoples’ Doctor,” with a reputation for kindness and generosity and for providing free medical care to the poor.  But when the police began digging into Petiot's background, a very different picture of the man emerged.

Petiot was soon charged with 27 murders…though authorities believed the true number of dead to be closer to 150.  But who was being killed, and why?  What Massu eventually unraveled was a plan of such deviousness and evil that it was shocking.  When Petiot was charged, the city and the police hoped for answers and closure. What they got was a circus as the trial—for all of the cases simultaneously—stumbled over Petiot’s charm and wit and the effective and aggressive defense of his lawyer. 

Gripping and detailed.

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