Paperback Picks – October

October was a great month for paperback releases. Here are my picks for five not to miss.

A WALK ACROSS THE SUN by Corban Addison

4 stars

Addison took my breath away with this unflinching look at human sex trafficking. Be warned: the tsunami that wipes out Ahlaya and Sita’s entire family and leaves them homeless orphans is not the most tragic thing that happens in this story. In fact, that happens in the first chapter. What follows is a downward spiral of kidnapping, rape, smuggling and terror as these girls are “trafficked” from person to person, country to country. But don’t let any of that scare you away. Corban Addison has also written something beautiful and touching and honest. The inner strength present in these characters is inspiring. Plus, Addison does an admirable job of drawing the truth out without preaching. Addison does not shy away from the graphic or gruesome details of this atrocity, but somehow he never pushes too hard or too far.

“Hope may vanish, but can die not.”

STAY AWAKE by Dan Choan

4 stars

“It is the worst sound Gene can imagine, the sound of a young child dying violently…” Any story collection with this line in its opening paragraph is not for the faint of heart. Dan Chaon‘s characters are dark and twisted. This is not bedtime reading, but I love his writing. Like any short story collection, some are better than others. Each piece is haunting but “I Wake Up” and “Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow” stand out as the best. A few stories crossed into a territory too dark for my taste and the final piece was just plain confusing, but overall I find Chaon’s writing brilliant.

“This is one of those things that you can never explain to anyone; that’s what I want to explain – one of those free-association moments with connections that dissolve when you start to try to put them into words.”

SACRE BLEU: A COMEDY D’ART by Christopher Moore

4 stars

Moore is smart-assed hilarious, definitely irreverent, and sometimes brilliant. He reimagines art history in 19th century Paris, mixing together all the masters of the time, and traveling back far enough to throw in Michelangelo as well. The cast of characters is at once familiar (van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet) and unusual (each intimately connected to the next). The plot centers around a murder/suicide, a mysterious color man, the enchanting Juliet and a baker/painter named Lucien. Throw in some politics, magic, curious inventions, cave paintings and whores and you get a mess of book that delighted me just the same. I was completely taken in by Moore’s language and satire. For all the bouts of uproarious laughter, he scratched at deeper truths.

“They are between. Not what they used to be, and not what they have become. In those times, they are nothing. And I am invisible, and I am nothing too. That is the true demimonde, Lucien, and the secret is, it is not always desperate and dark. Sometimes it is just nothing. No burden of potential or regret. There are worse things than being nothing, my friend.”

RUNNING THE RIFT by Naomi Benaron

4 stars

The choice to set a love story amid the genocide in Rwanda does not immediately seem wise, but Naomi Benaron handles this story with such tenderness and sincerity that she succeeds in creating something both beautiful and horrific. Jean Patrick is a young Tutsi man coming of age in a large, loving family. While poor in material wealth, his natural talent and strong determination to become and Olympic runner drive him toward success even in the face of Tutu discrimination.Benaron’s choice of running as an extended metaphor works beautifully as Jean Patrick struggles with ambition, trust and pride. Benaron sets a strong pace and the novel’s start and knows just when to make her surge. Hard to believe she is a first-time author herself.

“Your hope is the most beautiful and the saddest in the world.”

CARRY THE ONE by Carol Anshaw

3 stars

Carol Anshaw creates a brilliant premise for her latest novel.. A group of “friends” leave a wedding, all drunk, stoned or high and kill a 10 year-old girl. Each in his or her way must carry that weight forever. I appreciated the skill with which Anshaw drew the similarities and differences in the other characters’ reactions to the trauma. All of these men and women are seriously screwed up to begin with, so heaping on guilt and sorrow leads to some really bad behavior. She shifts perspective often, giving us a glimpse into each character’s soul. I flew from storyline to storyline always wanting a little bit more and wishing Anshaw could have shown a little more trust in her readers. But still, a worthwhile read.

“Carmen could see the women gathering, clutching the Instamatics, tears already pooling in the corners of their eyes, tourists on an emotional safari, eager to bag a bride.”

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