I’m on a bookstreak-three really great books in a row, so I’m sharing my mojo. If you need something to help pass some down time as you fire up your summer this week, one of these might help. If you’re already in the middle of something you love, give it a shout-out in the comments.
Bull Mountain, by Brian Panowich, opens with a quote from Julius Caesar, so you know shit is about to get real. (Hint! Julius Caesar = stabby betrayals that are stabby). This story about the legacy of violence and misplaced loyalties through three generations of a North Georgia family is blunt, brutal, and rapid-fire. The insular Burroughs clan, career criminals trying to turn from locals running ‘shine to major racketeers moving meth and guns, are Olympic contenders at grumpy grudgeholding. They all made me really nervous and I found myself yelling warnings at the characters while I was reading the book: “GET OUT OF THE WAY!” “DON’T GO IN THERE!” Spoiler: None of them listened to me. This book that made me wonder–how, exactly, do sharks feel about swimming with other sharks? It is just another day in the ocean or is there an awareness that you’re in the most danger when you’re surrounded by creatures exactly like you? Just when you think you have this book figured out, it twists. And twists. And twists again. When it was over, I needed a hug, much to the chagrin of the person next to me in line at the pharmacy.
Where the Burroughs from Bull Mountain are intentional in inflicting pain and punishment, the Lee family in Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You are experts in more insidious forms of suburban torture. When your mom plays favorites. When your sister takes your stuff. Hiding failing grades from your parents. This is a family suffocating under the weight of its secrets and Ng’s shifting narrative successfully dances through multiple points of view, successfully conjuring equal parts empathy and disgust for each of the five family members. It has the atmosphere and flavor of a thriller, lending a sense of urgency that kept me turning the pages. Ng perfectly captures the slow burn of family-fueled bitterness. I could not put it down and when I was finished I needed a hug, much to the chagrin of the person next to me in the waiting room at the oil change place.
If you’re in non-fiction mood, you’re curious about one of the world’s greatest artists, and you’ve always wondered about the shenanigans that Charles I got up to before he ascended to the British throne in 1625, The Vanishing Velázquez by Laura Cumming just might fit the bill. Cumming parallels the histories of the mysterious, brilliant Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez and John Snare, a 19th-century British bookseller whose accidental acquisition of a Velázquez in 1845 turns his life upside down. Velázquez served as the court painter for Philip IV during the zenith of Spain’s power in Europe and his paintings are known for their intimate realism. 185 years after Velazquez’s death, John Snopes buys what he thinks might be an unknown painting of British monarch Charles I at an estate sale and spends the remainder of his days devoted to proving it as a Velázquez at great personal cost. I didn’t need a hug after I finished this book, but I did need a trip to Spain. I settled for going out for tapas but I’m still a little bitter.