What I Read In 2012


  • Not all of these books were published in 2012; they are just the books I read during 2012.
  • I wrote reviews for some these books after coming back from a review hiatus. Whenever there’s a review, I include the link. Whenever there’s not, I don’t.
  • I had a goal of reading 40 books this year. I ended up nowhere close. Oh well.
  • If you have read any of these and loved them, tell me! If you have read any of them and hated them, tell me that, too! Really. If you have any that you think are must-reads for next year, pony up! Quit being all secretive and everything. Geesh.

And here goes!

The Best Book You Aren’t Reading Because You Don’t Read YA (or Know What YA Is): If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta

A new spin on the boy-meets-girl storyline, this coming-of-age story will have you falling for sweet, flawed and insightful Jack Witcher. And don’t let the YA label (or my overuse of hyphens) deter you. The Book Babes (my book club) loved it and we are all of a “certain age” that’s probably not THAT age, but not teen, tween or even somewhere in between. My review is here.

The Best Book on Sticking By Your Brothers on the Battlefield, the Playing Field and Field of Movie Making: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

“Billy felt his stride going wonky, his arms starting to flail, but a quick glance at Dime settled him down. Shoulders square, eyes forward, head tipped six degrees as if dignity was a shot glass you balanced on your chin… Fake it till you make it, he reminds himself. This is how he’s survived Army life so far.”

It’s that kind of writing that secured a National Book Award nomination for Fountain and a spot on my Best of 2012 (okay, yes and on many other more notable lists. Minor details.) My review is here.


The Best Book on Race, Class and What it Means to be a Family: Run by Ann Patchett
You should also read Run because I met Ann Patchett this year and she’s a rock star. All her stuff is good; I shouldn’t even have to tell you that. But if you are one of those people that need details about a book before you read it, then fine. Check out my review of Run.


The Best Contemporary Love Story by a Female Writer That is Not Chick Lit:  Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel
Sybil Weatherfield is a writer. She’s a temp. She’s in a bad relationship with a good guy. She’s in a good relationship with a bad boy. She’s a wreck. But she’s endearing and funny.
“I get wind of free food at work. Actually, let me be frank: I keep a lookout for it—my ears are open; they’re burning. I’m not looking to gossip by the water cooler. I don’t care about the nitty-gritty details of the lives of these people—I am a temp. Here today, gone tomorrow. I just want to know who has the chicken wings, who brought in the cinnamon buns with the sugar-glaze frosting shit.”
And the best part? Spiegel makes you want to stick it out to see how it all turns out. My review of Love Save is here.


The Book You Will Incorrectly Judge By Its Cover and Love Even More than You Thought You Would: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
A dust jacket with a frothy beach at the base of cliff-side dwellings, swirly text and a name like Jess Walter screams summer chick lit at its best! But Jess is a guy and BEAUTIFUL RUINS is a smartly told love story that’s low on sap and high on engaging story telling with the right amount of wit. Plus, I met Jess Walter and he’s super fabulous and now I want to read everything he’s ever written. You should too. My review of Beautiful Ruins is here.


The Best Celebrity Memoir About Hitting Rock Bottom and Surviving That You Think You Have Already Read but You Really Haven’t: Guts by Kristen Johnston.
I always want to call her Kirsten and say she was on 30 Rock. Truth is, it’s Kristen and she’s most known for her role as alien Sally on 3rd Rock from the Sun. So, I’m kinda close. But let’s talk about her book, Guts. Super candid. Super funny. Super scary. All-around super duper. Seriously. I am going to have the kiddo read GUTS as part of his education about the horrors of substance abuse. But in a couple of years—not now. (Don’t want the grandparentals freaking out or anything).


The Most Creative Way to Write About a Relationship: The Lover’s Dictionary By David Levithan
I read this in two thirty-minute sittings last week. Ate. It. Up. I did. I am going to write a review, but I am still taking it all in. So for now, I will tell you that author Levithan chronicles the meet and greet, courtship, comfortable, too comfortable, and then uncomfortable world of a couple through short bursts of dictionary entries. Some are witty. Some will slay you. Some may hit really close to home. All are pitch perfect.


autonomy, n. “I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.


dispel, v. “It was the way you said, “I have something to tell you.” I could feel the magic drain from the room.”


placid, adj. “Sometimes I love it when we just lie on our backs, gaze off, stay still.”


The Best Book of Short Stories Written by Someone I Know: The Freak Chronicles by Jennifer Spiegel
Yes, she also wrote Love Slave and already appeared on my list. And who cares if The Freak Chronicles was the only book of short stories I read this year? She’s good. So good, that two of the stories are nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Don’t know what that is? I don’t really either, but it’s like an Emmy or an Oscar and it’s just a pleasure to be nominated. So read this now and you can say you read her before she got all famous and everything.


The Best Book You Feel Terribly Horrible and Sad Saying is Utterly Fascinating (in a Terribly Horrible and Sad Way): Columbine by Dave Cullen
10 years after Columbine, one of the original reporters released the book that debunks a number of original errors about the killers, the victims and the whole awful tragedy. It’s not easy reading. But, it’s fascinating and important reading. And I would recommend reading it with others and having a dialogue. The Book Babes talked about this one for hours.


Best Book by An Author I Have A Crazy, Stupid, Crush On: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A star of YA fiction, John Green has written a great book on young love in the midst of a cancer diagnosis. Total downer, right? Wrong. A little precocious at times or maybe I’m just out of touch with how smart and insightful 16 year-old kids can be… but it really is a gem amidst all the vampire teen fiction and one that I really enjoyed. Plus, John’s a total cutie and major book nerd. SWOON!


The Best Literary Romance, Coming of Age Tale Starring a Bad Boy With the Name of Grey: The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Gotcha! No BD-SM, repressed soccer mommy porn here. (The word “literary” was the giveaway). I am talking about Tinker Grey, the mysterious and handsome stranger that captures the fancy of Katey Kontent, but the heart of Eve Ross. And the writing is fantastic.
“She had changed into high heels and a tangerine-colored blouse that clashed with all her best intentions”
Set primarily in 1930s New York, The Rules of Civility takes us on a journey of three souls trying in earnest to live their most authentic lives.


The Best Inappropriate Book (and by ‘inappropriate’ I mean hilarious and you’re welcome): Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
“I’d just run into my gynecologist at Starbucks and she totally looked right past me like she didn’t even know me. And so I stood there wondering whether that’s something she does on purpose to make her clients feel less uncomfortable, or whether she just genuinely didn’t recognize me without my vagina… I don’t mean “without my vagina” like I didn’t have it with me at the time. I just meant that I wasn’t, you know… displaying while I was at Starbucks.”

 See what I mean?

The Best Reality Check and the Only Award Winner I Read this Year: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Remember Hurricane Katrina? Of course you do. Remember so many people saying, “Why didn’t those people just leave?” Yep, that too. And many of those people questioning everything were people with means. Now meet the Batiste family. A poor, motherless family with no option but to stay in harm’s way, preparing for the worst and praying for the best. My review of Salvage the Bones.

Whoops! I read a Pulitzer, too: The Best Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and One of the Few Books I’ve Ever Read Twice: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I read this first in 2011 on my own (and reviewed it here). Then it won the Pulitzer and the Book Babes selected it this year, so I read it again. Now, I am not typically a fan of the Pulitzer picks. It’s really out there or boring, or I am out there and boring, or I just don’t know. But here’s a Pulitzer that I get. It’s creative and different and good. Good enough I read it again.


Everything Else I Read This Year That Wasn’t As Good or I Just Couldn’t Come Up With a Snappy Headline, So You Will Have to Look Them Up Decide For Yourself–Or Just Ignore Them… I Don’t Mind)
Something Borrowed: Emily Giffin
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Lit: Mary Karr
The Inn at Lake Divine: Elinor Lippman
Songs for a Teenage Nomad: Kim Culbertson
Open City: Teju Cole
Fifty Shades of Grey: EL James (You know I couldda come up with a headline for this one, but it really wasn’t good. At. All. Not even a little bit.)

By |January 1st, 2013|2012|3 Comments

If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta

“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not.” ~ Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird

And if you are 13 year-old Jack Witcher, you can’t pick either.

Jack Witcher may be the smartest boy just outside of El Dorado Hills, Virginia. But Jack is poor. His alcoholic and habitually out-of-work Pop, his achingly unattractive mother and his pot smoking, bullying, brother Stan are the family he can’t shake. It’s because of this band of misfits, to which he only seems connected by DNA, that he can’t make his way or any friends.

Now add in the complications of pretty Myra Joyner, the equally smart classmate Jack has eyes for and her super-jock brother, Gaylord, who leads the call in Witcher ostracizing and you have the makings of a good story. Place Stan Witcher as the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of Gaylord Joyner and what you have is a suspenseful, page-turning novel.

Set in 1967, If Jack’s In Love is a timeless story. Jack is like any other boy navigating life and love. Innocence is lost, lessons are learned and there’s a lot of angst. And all these little phrases I have rattled off could make If Jack’s In Love sound like something you have read before; I promise you haven’t. Author Stephen Wetta’s element of mystery breathes fresh life into the boy-meets-girl story line. It also helps that Wetta captures Jack’s persona and voice so very well. Jack is bright and insightful, unflinchingly certain about Myra, yet unsure his brother didn’t in fact murder Gaylord. He wants help with Myra, yet doesn’t know to whom he can turn.

“There didn’t seem to be a soul I could confide to. Mom had been burned too many times to think any good would come of love. Her hope was that I would find some nice, ugly girl, after I turned thirty. As for my going with Myra that would be reaching for the stars, and she’d never encourage such overweening vanity… and Pop was too manly to have much regard for feelings. So I locked up my dreams and walked alone.”

But Jack does find a confidante, in the unlikeliest of people, and his plans to win Myra’s love take shape. Meanwhile, community pressure mounts to arrest Stan and Pop’s desire to protect his son grows with a vengeance. When Jack raises even the slightest possibility that Stan was involved in Gaylord’s disappearance, he’s completely shut down. “Witchers aren’t snitchers!” Pop roars. It’s then that Pop and Stan begin an internal campaign to keep Jack quiet and now Jack is being bullied outside his home and within.

If Jack’s In Love expertly captures themes of alienation, desire for connection, and ultimately, resilience. My only complaint with If Jack’s In Love is out of Wetta’s hands. This gem of a book has been marketed as Young Adult fiction. Certainly, I love any effort to get younger folks reading! However, there seems to be a new practice of shelving books in the YA category because the protagonist is a child. This may be appropriate, yet I fear great books will miss the broader audience they deserve.

There’s a lot of great YA fiction out there that doesn’t involve vampires or sci-fi-fantasy. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and now Stephen Wetta’s If Jack’s In Love are all worthy of readership by anyone who enjoys reading.

Rating: 4 Stars
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

I acquired Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk as a free Kindle download sometime this summer. I don’t take every free book that comes my way, but this one struck me as potentially worthwhile. But due to the stack of books silently beckoning from my e-reader, my bookshelves and my nightstand, it had to wait in the wings.

Then it was nominated for the National Book Award.

And I don’t know about you, but I am a super fan of the National Book Awards. I think the NBA’s are a much better arbiter of success, accessibility and readability than those snobby Pulitzers are. Let’s just say I’ve liked a number more NBA winners than I have Pulitzer Prize winners. Yeah, I said it. So that endeared me even more and there you go… I was reading it.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk centers on Bravo Company, an Army unit being heralded for surviving an intense firefight with Iraqi insurgents at the “battle of Al-Ansakar Canal.” The battle, captured on film by an imbedded FOX news team has made the young men of Bravo national heroes and stars of their very own brief U.S. victory tour before heading back to the Gulf.

Bravo’s victory tour, and Fountains novel, takes place predominately in the stands, breezeways, and skyboxes of the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium on Thanksgiving Day in a match up against the Bears. Escorted by Hollywood movie producer Albert Ratner, the man convinced Bravo Company’s story is made for the big screen, the young soldiers are corralled through a bizarre and dizzying day of awkward fan encounters, a halftime show theatrics, physical altercations and constant negotiations.

Fountain excels crafting a wholly accurate picture of this young band of brothers. Bravo Company is what we would expect of an Army unit—brave, brash, loyal and humble. Their dialogue is sharp, witty, foul and even tender at times. In one moment these testosterone-charged men are thrilled at the prospect of meeting their halftime show partners Destiny’s Child, mingling with the Cowboy’s cheerleaders and closing in on a deal that will bring their life story to the big screen. They can go from wobbly uncertainty to a full about face at a moment’s notice. The military teaches you that.

“Billy felt his stride going wonky, his arms starting to flail, but a quick glance at Dime settled him down. Shoulders square, eyes forward, head tipped six degrees as if dignity was a shot glass you balanced on your chin… Fake it till you make it, he reminds himself. This is how he’s survived Army life so far.”

The man faking it is the star of the show, Specialist and Silver Star William Lynn. The 19-year old Bravo Company member grapples with his own ‘celebrity’ while internalizing conflicting feelings of faith, family, love and his own military service. Billy isn’t old enough to vote, but he’s old enough to die defending freedom—this reality is not lost on him or the reader.

Fountain didn’t win the National Book Award for Fiction this year (it went to Louise Erdrich). That’s okay. Billy Lynn is his first novel. What he has done though, is brought to life a character that a reader can instantly identify with, connect with and root for. He’s created a story that hits close to home in an important and necessary way. Add in the expertly woven themes of patriotism, politics and propaganda and he’s created a story as funny as it is heartbreaking.

Rating: 4 stars.
Pages: 307
Genre: Fiction

Run: Family Secrets Revealed by Ann Patchett

I am going to brag for a bit. I got to meet author Ann Patchett this year. She was on a book tour for Small Wonder and talked to the riveted audience, myself included, for over an hour and then talked to us individually. I was mesmerized. I swooned. It was a pretty big deal.

She was so cool—like rock star cool. She talked about her love of books and writing. She talked about writing as a labor of love and time and you aren’t ever quite sure how it will be perceived. It’s clear she’s a lover of storytelling and the written word. So much so, that her gift back to her community was the establishment of Parnassus Books in Nashville, “An Independent Bookstore for Independent People”. She also talked about the honor she received being named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012 – not for her writing accomplishments which are many – but for opening a brick and mortar bookstore in what others have called the age of Amazon and the death of books and reading as we know it.

Books aren’t going away. Don’t let ‘they’ and ‘them’ fool you. There are too many good stories to tell, and thankfully, we have artful tellers like Patchett to share them in a great book like Run.

Run spans just 24 fateful hours in the life of former Boston Mayor and widower Bernard Doyle, a white Irish Catholic and his two adopted black sons Tip and Teddy. Bernard has failed in his relationship with his biological son, Sullivan, and feels his only chance at redemption is with the Tip and Teddy. The elder, sensitive Teddy, dreams of a life in theology and the academically minded and Thoreau-inspired Tip wants to study Ichthyology (fish). Despite these dreams, Bernard remains hopeful he can steer one of them into a life of public service by regularly exposing them to life in politics. This night, it is to hear Jesse Jackson speak at Harvard. This is the night their lives will be forever changed.

The night is cold and blustery, one of the snowiest nights on record, which could explain Tip not seeing the car coming; but single mother Tennessee Moser did. Leaving her 11-year old daughter Kenya on the sidewalk, Tennessee pushes Tip out of harm’s way (save a broken ankle), leaving herself the victim of a head-on collision.

And here’s where the story takes off running, if you will. Who is this woman? Will she survive? Why did she risk her own life for that of a stranger? What is Bernard to do with this 11-year old girl while ensuring Tip is okay? What are they to do with this 11-year old girl whose only family is the woman now lying in a hospital bed awaiting surgery?

Run challenges the reader with important issues like race, class, family and our often inherent assumptions about them. Is family a construct of blood relation, shared skin color, like beliefs and the four walls that surround us? Does it extend further to include those we allow in? What lengths will we go to in protecting our family—even those whom we love, but don’t like; those we love but don’t know?

Patchett paints a vivid picture of difference between these two seemingly disparate families. The Mosers are poor and living in a small Boston housing project that is forever dark with any views blocked by the next apartment wall. You couldn’t beg the light to come in. Just a few streets over, the Doyle’s home is spacious and open with cathedral-style windows so large the sun pours through the panes in excess.  You couldn’t keep the light out. But for all their differences, they have a number of similarities. Secrets, failures, successes, a desire to be loved and accepted. And at the end of the day, isn’t that true for all of us?

Run may give us more questions than it answers, which makes for great discussion, while leaving us with a desire for more. It helps that the characters are as interesting as the issues. I could keep reading about them and actually hope there’s another chance to do so. In fact, if Patchett returned to the Doyle men and told us more about Sullivan, the son cast aside, I would definitely pick it up. If she took us back in time to Bernard and Bernadette’s courtship, his Mayoral run and the successes and failures that are just a footnote in RUN, I would read that too. If she chose to chronicle Kenya Moser’s likely rise to meteoric running fame, and her own family challenges as further secrets are revealed, I am certain I would read that too.

The truth is I would read anything by Patchett. It doesn’t hurt that when it was my turn to get my books signed and I told her that I loved her, she told me she loved me too. It doesn’t hurt that she hated the same critically acclaimed book that I loathed (and no, I will never tell which one). It doesn’t hurt that she takes her craft seriously and never sells a book before she’s written it. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s just a damn good writer.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction

Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel

I’m just going to say this right now: I know Jennifer Spiegel. I have known her for 20 something years having met in college, losing touch and reconnecting a couple of years ago via Facebook. She asked me to read her book, but she’s asking everyone. She should. If a writer can’t or won’t promote his or her own work, who will? It’s her first published novel and this is a pretty super freaking big deal if you ask… well, anyone. What she didn’t ask me to do, however, was review it. But as I read it for this month’s book club pick and talked it over with The Book Babes, I knew I would. It’s really so very good.

Semi-Spoiler Alert: Early on Love Slave’s heroine, Sybil Weatherfield, declares: I can write the pants off any man. Guess what? Jennifer Spiegel can, too.

Love Slave follows Sybil Weatherfield a writer in her early 30s as she navigates life and love in the Big Apple, circa 1995. A writer for New York Shock, Sybil heads up Abscess a column of rants and raves that generate quite a chatty and engaged readership but not enough money to keep her from temping during the day to make the ends barely meet. She’s in a relationship with financial analyst and pretty boy Jeff Simon who loves that Sybil’s life is artsy, bohemian and struggling. Sybil loves that he’s kind, smart, well put together and nice to look at. They love what they think the other represents, without actually loving each other. She celebrates her triumphs and disasters and romantic woes with gal pal Madeline, a perfect go getter to Sybil’s comfortable stay putter. And then there’s Rob, sexy, edgy, lead-singer-of-a-band Rob who’s still in love with his dead wife.

Can you see it coming? A love triangle. Every good love story has one and Love Slave is a good one for someone like Sybil, temping her way through work and life, struggling with who she wants to be versus who she actually is. Bring on the drama! Bring on the angst! Bring on a book that feels like it was written for me! And really for my generation, Generation X.

And that’s what I did. I brought Love Slave to my book club, The Book Babes, who actually read and discuss books each month and not just drink wine. But there is wine, trust me. And talked and talked we did, just like any smart women reading a smartly written book would do. The result was a lively convo that didn’t always end up in agreement—the best kind if you ask me. Here are some of the highlights.

On Sybil
We loved Sybil’s authenticity even though some of us found her insecurity irritating. “I wanted Sybil to have her life together by this point in her life,” lamented one. But so many people don’t, which was an endearment for me.

On Female Friendship
We love good female friendship in books and thought Madeline’s take-on-the-world attitude was a nice contrast to the slightly neurotic contemplator Sybil.But their relationship had some challenges, and while it added depth to the story, we were shocked by Madeline’s actions.

On Rocker Rob
We loved Rob. We hated Rob. He was passionate. He was a bit of a whore. He was probably a bit too real for us. “It’s real easy for guys to separate sex from love.”

On Resolution
We all liked how the book ended, which is a bit surprising. The Book Babe that always wants a little more, still wanted a little more. But for most of us, it ends at just the right spot in just the right way.

On What Kind of Book Is this Anyway?
We have a tendency to label books written by women, starring women and involving a love story as Chick Lit. And yet when I read Love Slave, I didn’t get a Chick Lit vibe at all. Love Slave has heart, but it also has more literary bite than typical Chick Lit fare. Spiegel has crafted a flawed, yet likeable, protagonist in Sybil Weatherfield, who is clever and witty behind her words, but a bit of a mess when she’s not. Sybil is perfectly imperfect like we all are, really. In Love Slave we get to experience writing that goes above and beyond the Top 10 Summer Beach Reads. Not that I don’t love a good beach read, but I loved this more and most were in agreement.

But there was a dissenter (there always is in good discussions). “It’s totally Chick Lit and I can see it being marketed to that group of readers. It has all the elements of Chick Lit.”

Despite some of our disagreements, we agreed on one thing: liking it. Love Slave gave us a lot to talk about, reminisce over and even shift uncomfortably as we saw some of ourselves in Sybil. But mostly, we agreed, it was refreshing to read such a smartly written contemporary love story.

On You
Now it’s your turn. Grab a copy a copy of Love Slave and form your own opinion. Take it to your book club or share it with a good friend and talk it over for yourselves. Even better? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy reading!

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 280
Genre: Fiction

This review originally appeared on www.popcultureworldnews.com on 10/17/12.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Imagine being a poor, motherless girl in rural Mississippi. Now, imagine being a poor, motherless 14 year-old pregnant girl in rural Mississippi and Hurricane Katrina is days from landfall. This is Esch, the protagonist of Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel Salvage the Bones.

This young mother-to-be lost her own mother five years ago after a complication during delivering her final child. Esch is the mother of the household to her three brothers. Randall aspires to be a basketball player, Skeetah’s sole focus is his prize-winning pit bull China, and Junior is a typical curious and rambunctious preschooler. The patriarch, known only as Daddy, is working frantically to prepare for the rapidly advancing Katrina and to protect his family despite their extremely limited resources.

With that brief introduction, Esch walks us through an eventful eleven days prior to Katrina’s landfall, the day that changed their lives forever, and one day after, offering a brief glimpse into what might become after such a horrific event. The Batiste family is preoccupied. Daddy with the storm, Randall with the basketball scouts, Skeetah with the dying litter his dog just birthed and Esch with her growing belly and how she will tell Manny. How she will tell her family.

Ward has created a complex and very real picture of poor, rural Mississippi life and the sacrifices families must make when disaster hits. Her words are rich, although a bit overwritten at times. She makes up for it with fully developed and engaging characters that sometimes make you shake your head, but that mostly you empathize for. Ward’s ability to make Katrina a character in this novel, was exceptional. The storm snuck in early on, whistling through trees, rustling through thorn-filled blueberry bushes, covering the sky in a gray haze and building a momentum that brought the story to a heart-stopping and devastating climax.

I recently read a column by magazine editor Greg Zimmerman where he wrote:

“Nothing is more real than fiction. Nothing helps us make sense of the real world more than fiction. Nothing instills in us empathy for others like fiction.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And, that’s why I would encourage you to read Salvage the Bones. It’s gritty and brutal and, at times, hard to read; but it’s important. Ward’s fictional Batiste family could be any poor, struggling family ravaged by a natural disaster that doesn’t have the luxury of leaving before landfall. They don’t have the luxury of choice. The only thing they can do is stay and hold onto each other, hoping for the best.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 273
Genre: Fiction

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Let me start in the shallow end of the pool. Summer’s wrapping up, so why not? I love the cover of Beautiful Ruins. The imagery! The colors! The font! Doesn’t it call out to your lying-by-the-pool-sipping-a-cocktail-and-diving-into-a-juicy-fun-not-oily-smoldering-Fabio-romance-sensibilities? And with a name like Jess Walter, I was picturing a sassy novelista new to the chick lit scene and I kept meaning to pick it up.

Really, I did.But I didn’t.

And then I found out Jess Walter was a dude.

And then I found out Beautiful Ruins wasn’t chick lit.

And then I found out Jess Walter was doing a reading at my local independent bookstore.

And then I was even more intrigued with Beautiful Ruins.

So, I attended the reading, without having read the book and was totally charmed. This Jess Walter, who again, is a guy, is really cool. Totally smart. Funny as hell. And easy on the eyes.Yep, ring me up cashier lady, I am officially a fan. Thank goodness the book lived up to his talk.

Speaking of the book… Beautiful Ruins is fabulous. It’s April 1962 and a dying actress has just stepped foot onto Porto Vergogna, Italy and into the heart of hotelier, Pasquale Tursi.But you know what? It’s also today, and an elderly Tursi is on the grounds of a Hollywood production lot trying to find his lost love.

Beautiful Ruins goes back in forth in time between the days of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starring in epic flop Cleopatra, and who also play minor starring roles in Walter’s tale. To the modern day challenges faced by Hollywood production assistants like Claire Silver who wants to claw her eyes out if she has to watch another pitch for reality shows like “Eat It (obese people racing to eat huge meals) and Rich MILF, Poor MILF (horny middle-aged women set up on dates with horny young men)”. How are these two eras connected? Walter’s fantastic characters and globetrotting storytelling make this story work. You are just going to have to trust me on this.

If I tell you more, I will have told you too much. I can say that I am not typically a fan of fiction that incorporates real people in the mix, but Walter has given Burton perhaps his meatiest role and I found myself enjoying the parts with his brash and bawdy character some of the best. I can also say that this book is a reflection of the times and where our society’s collective tastes have gone in terms of entertainment: “reality TV”, dumbed down storylines and movies made for shock, not awe.

I can also tell you it’s a sweet and wonderful love story—of one of the very best kinds.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction