So many great choices this month. My top 5 June paperback releases…
Cover image from Goodreads
ONCE UPON A RIVER
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
The word “savage” comes to mind in describing this book. Margo’s life on the Stark River is brutal in all ways – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The graphic depictions of animal skinning alone are enough to keep some readers away; never mind the violence that befalls Margo. But if you can get past the descriptive writing of savagery, you can appreciate the beauty of Campbell’s other writing, especially relating to river life.
She hoped Smoke was wrong about people being unknowable. She hoped that she could crack herself open like a nut and know herself, at least. Then she’d be able to start figuring out everybody else.”
She never strikes a false note during this sad tale which I so appreciate. Even the supporting characters were three-dimensional and clearly had a place in the book’s plot. I cared about each of them – even those I despised. That’s quite an accomplishment for a writer. And best of all, she writes a perfect, fitting ending. Brutal, savage and dark – but also wonderful.
THE RULES OF CIVILITY
by Amor Towles
I cannot possibly write a review that reflects the intelligence and sophistication of this book. Integrating art, photography and literature into his portrait of 1938 New York, Amor Towles also tells a great story about the choices made by one young woman — Kate/Katey/Katherine Kontent, and her friends.
Kate is smart, funny, unpredictable and determined, all qualities that make a fine heroine. But she’s also imperfect, which makes her infinitely more interesting.
The game had changed; or rather, it wasn’t a game at all anymore. It was a matter of making it through the night, which is often harder than it sounds, and always a very individual business.”
Towles kept me on my toes throughout the novel — no easy feat. Best of all, he evoked the time period seamlessly, making me feel I was on this journey along with Kate.
THE CAT’S TABLE
cover image from Goodreads
by Michael Ondaatje
When an 11 year-old sets up the story about his 3-week solo trip across the sea, readers may believe Ondaatje is writing a coming of age adventure. But this book is so much more than just that. He also deftly spins intricate character studies of the ship’s passengers from first class to the Cat’s Table (the place in the dining room where life’s “unimportants” are seated.) And, without many fussy complications, he also weaves in a haunting mystery. All of these elements could be awkward or clumsy in a lesser writer’s hands, but Ondaatje is a master.
What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power.”
All of the characters have emotional depth and the movement back and forth in time from “Mynas” 11 year-old perspective and his adult ruminations on the same events seemed effortless.
TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR: MY YEAR OF MAGICAL READING
by Nina Sankovitch
As someone committed to reading every day and writing about whatever I read (even if just for my own purposes), I get this author. Even though she undertook her book-a-day program as a way to “hold herself still” and get through her grief over her sister’s death, we see many of the same things in books, so I loved much of this memoir on a purely emotional level.
The purpose of great literature is to reveal what is hidden and to illuminate what is in darkness.
I especially like the chapter on sharing books with others. I had never thought of giving a book as “giving a piece of one’s soul,” but it makes perfect sense to me. When we open ourselves up about our passion for a certain book or writer, we are opening our hearts. And when someone does it for us, it is a gift not to be treated lightly.
It is a gift we humans have, to hold on to beauty felt in a moment for a lifetime.”
THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY
by Margot Livesey
Some books just transport me. No politics. No deep thinking. Just a well-written escape. This novel fits that bill. Based on the classic Jane Eyre, Gemma Hardy tells the tragic, yet inspiring story of a young girl struggling against all odds. Gemma Hardy just will not give up despite her parents’ deaths, her aunt’s hatred, her lover’s lies. She’s a fighter. She inspires sympathy and kindness from a few key characters, but mostly she does it alone. What is remarkable is that I never pitied her, maybe because she didn’t pity herself.
She was afraid of numbers the way some people are of spiders. The sight of them made her want to hide. What I loved about them, their clarity, was for her duplicity. Behind an innocent 2,or 5, or 9, she spied a mass of traps and pitfalls.”
I knew from the start that she wouldn’t let circumstances keep her down. This is not the sort of book that struck me with beautifully written passages or even startling revelations, but it was an extremely enjoyable read.