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Editorial Reviews

Amor Towles is approaching 50 and making a living as a principal at an investment firm. One wouldn’t expect his debut novel to be told from the perspective of a wise-cracking young lady of 25, but Towles is good at surprises. Katherine Kontent (“like the state of being”) is a legal secretary trying to climb the social ladder and squeeze all the juice out of Manhattan. She is the only slightly less seductive sidekick to Eve, who leaves her wealthy family behind to act like a mash-up of Christopher Isherwood's Sally Bowles and Truman Capote's Holly Golightly. It's the Upper East Side in the winter of 1939 — ripe for ripping off F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway or whatever writer you prefer from the era of roaring alcoholism, but Amor Towles doesn’t take the bait.

Neither does narrator Rebecca Lowman, who has good fun with the zippy dinner conversations while managing to keep Kate's sporting sense of dignity intact as both lovers and day jobs threaten to collapse her up-and-comingness. Lowman, who has a long string of television series bit parts from Will & Grace to Law & Order to her credit, slips easily into the everywoman role and adds notes of believable determination to our heroine's struggle for better circumstances. Who will marry Tinker Grey and who will get the promotion at Conde Nast are interesting plots, but none of this is the surprise - the plot surprise is all the more devastating. Towles gives us some glitter, but he doesn't gloss, and that is the biggest surprise. The women in this book are fraught with the tremendous burden of appearing charming but unintelligent, and Lowman lets in enough sharp tones to give their dilemmas and revelations a substantial bite. Towles has fleshed out these familiar archetypes in a unique direction, so much more rich and thick than the flat characters with which novels of this time period are usually laden. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

The New York Times best-selling novel that "enchants on first reading and only improves on the second" (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

Features a sample chapter from A Gentleman in Moscow, the highly anticipated new audiobook from Amor Towles - available fall 2016.

This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, 25-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey into the upper echelons of New York society - where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

With its sparkling depiction of New York's social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

Hear why Rules of Civility is Our Book of the Summer.
©2011 Amor Towles (P)2011 Penguin

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  • Overall

Perfect narrator for this intriguing book.

Sometimes it is hard to follow an audiobook with a lot of different characters, but not this time. The interesting mixture of people springs to life, without the accents being overly done. The characters develop in unexpected directions, but maintain their integrity. It starts as a poor working girl falls in love with rich boy story, but it is actually a much more complex tale of human emotions. The different layers of plot keep you guessing to the very end. Well worth the read!

35 of 35 people found this review helpful

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Bright Young Things in a Dark World

My initial, but not my final, impression of this book was of a meticulously researched and carefully mannered romp. It's New York, 1938, and we start with two plucky and penurious heroines, one of whom is the narrator, making their way in the world. One finds her fortune and one finds her career, through the fulcrum of a wealthy young man who launches them into high society. (I am trying to avoid spoiling the plot, which is ingeniously constructed). For the first eighth of this book, Towles spins along on description and the introduction of characters. For a reader, the experience is like watching a black-and-white movie starring Carole Lombard AND Myrna Loy -- furs and jewels and snappy dialogue. The story deepens quite suddenly and absorbingly -- one really wants to know what happens next -- and doesn't let up until the last page. But for me, the real virtue of this book is the way the character of the narrator develops. This young woman comes into her own for the reader just as she does in her life, and proves to be both adept and charming in a completely unpretentious manner. I was very sorry to say goodbye.

54 of 55 people found this review helpful

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  • Elena
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 05-11-12

Such a pleasant surprise

I did not expect a gripping story after reading the synopsis. It surprised me with more action than I've expected. The focus of the book is still an internal life of a smart, gentle young woman and her coming of age in NYC in late 1930s.
It is beautifully written, the characters are nicely developed. You feel like you are reading one of the great classics the main heroine admires so much, but with a very modern twist to it.
If you like Jane Austin and Charles Dickens, this is a book for you.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • ray
  • ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 08-16-11

Dazzling debut!

This is a book lovers book! Listen and you will appreciate what I mean. While the narration is excellent-the writing is superb. I hope this is only the first of many to come just like it from Mr. Towles. I suspect in my listening that I got a sense of New York in mid -dpression as it really was. Thanks to Amor and Rebecca for making me fall for Gotham and for its darling Katie!

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

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Like a Country Pastoral for City Rats

Amor Towles’ debut novel turned me inside out. It was hands down my pick for best novel of 2011. I fell in love with it for so many reasons. The atmosphere that the author creates is lush and beautiful, even though it evokes a grimy and cutthroat city. The characters feel both real and relatable, yet totally unattainable. You look up to them without losing faith in them. The prose is crisp, clear, and smart. There are so many lines from this novel that have stuck with me. “Old times… if you’re not careful they’ll gut you like a fish” has been quoted on numerous occasions. But above all else this is a love letter to New York City. As a New Yorker who recently moved to the suburbs this novel made me homesick, even though I never lived in the 1930s (the era of this novel). But it captures the timeless nature of New York – all the yearning and striving, glittering and glowing. You feel your feet on the sidewalk when you listen to this book.

58 of 60 people found this review helpful

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  • Katherine
  • New Hartford, CT, United States
  • 08-08-11

unrelenting pleasure!

this is one of those transporting books that you wish would never end. The beauty of the prose is stunning - the characters fully formed and sympathetic, and there's a winner of a tale told as well. The best part of this book for me were the descriptions of New York in a time so distinctly different from our own. The narrator is pitch perfect, I'm going to seek her out again too!

37 of 40 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen
  • los angeles, CA, United States
  • 01-13-12

Great debut! This one pays off in the end!

It took a while for me to warm up to this novel, but having finished it, I've come to the conclusion that its brilliant, despite the fact that the main character does seem a bit male for a woman. It appears to me that the author made a deliberate choice not to include her feelings, but his narrative skills make up for it. He's captured a time that has great appeal and glamor, and it all ties up expertly in the end.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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Great tone, setting and characters

I really enjoyed the tone of this book. The author brougth the city to life in it's pages. You could just picture these girls out and about around town just trying to figure it all out. I love this story of just an average girl who is anything but. I also like the little attention to detail that help you to conjure what life was like in NYC during the late 30's.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Fun and Fascinating

This book conveys tone, character and mood in ways that call to mind The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. It is great fun. But deep. And an anthem to New York City in 1938. I predict that this tale of young Katy Kontent will become a best seller and a classic.
The last novel I felt this way about was "The Help".

67 of 74 people found this review helpful

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A pivotal year in 1930's Manhattan

A middle aged couple walking through a photography exhibit at MOMA in the 1960's when the wife is surprised by two photos of a friend from years ago. The rest of the book is a flashback for Katey Kontent of a golden, fast, sophisticated, pivotal year of her life.

Wonderful characters (Katey, Evelyn Ross, Tinker Grey, Wallace, Anne Grandon, and many more). This novel is fabulously visual and with a tapestry of places, characters and books.

Rebecca Lowman's narration was spot on. Many driveway moments with this book. I can't wait to see what Towles writes next.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful