Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and The Lion is In by Delia Ephron

First, I need to post some items I've been collecting from Shelf Awareness:
I am thrilled an amazed that a new bookstore has opened in my native state of Iowa, and that it is in a place called "New Bohemia," which is hilarious if you know anything about Iowa, the least bohemian place in the US. Still, my mother is from a small town near Cedar Rapids, so I suppose a bunch of earthy hippy types could settle down there...they'd raise some eyebrows, but I imagine they will get along well with the younger generation.

Congratulations to New Bo Books, which held a grand opening last Saturday that was dubbed "an enormous success by owner Mary Ann Peters on the shop's Facebook page. A division of Iowa City's Prairie Lights, the bookshop is located in the historic New Bohemia
neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, at 1105 3rd St. SE.

Due to my husband's need to drag me into the 21st century, I own a Nook, which I don't use much, but now it appears I need not have gotten one at all, since Barnes and Noble has designed an interface for reading books on iMac computers.
Barnes & Noble has unveiled Nook for Web, a
browser-based platform that allows people to read B&N's digital titles
on their PC or Mac computers. No sign-in, software download or Nook
account is required to begin reading. The company also noted that
support would be coming this fall for Internet-enabled tablets,
smartphones and other mobile devices.

To promote Nook for Web, B&N is offering six Nook books that can be
downloaded free on any browser through July 26: Map of Bones by James
Rollins, Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, The Vow by Kim Carpenter,
The Boxcar Children Summer Special by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Brave by
Tennant Redbank and Perfect Island Getaways by Patricia Schultz.

This is such an honest quote that it reverberated through me as a truism:
It's from The Hours by Michael Cunningham,
in Virginia Woolf's first section: "It is more than the sum of her
intellect and her emotions, more than the sum of her experiences, though
it runs like veins of brilliant metal through all three. It is an inner
faculty that recognizes the animating mysteries of the world because it
is made of the same substance, and when she is very fortunate she is
able to write directly through that faculty."

This made me laugh, because I believe that independent bookstores need to be tough to survive in this terrible economy: "Badass ninjas survive. I think independent booksellers will survive and
if you don't want to help them, then that's fine. I will. And a lot of
other badass people will, too. But in case you're an author and you
never realized just how important they are... or in case you have one in
your town and you never really realized that they were helping your
community by just being there and having the gonads to operate, then I
hope this post helped you see that."

--Author A.S. King in her Writer Unboxed blog post headlined "All the
Badass Ninjas Hang Out at Planet Independent Bookstore

I read "Beautiful Ruins" over a 10 day period because it is, for all its popular contemporary fiction attributes, a densely written novel, full of sly truths and profound wisdom that isn't immediately evident, but instead sneaks up on the reader and pounces when they least expect it.
It's the story of an American starlet who gets pregnant by a famous actor during the 1960s and flees to Italy, where she meets Pasquale, the owner of the "Adequate View" hotel, and Alvis Bender, a man fleeing his memories of the war, who is attempting to write a book, but never gets farther than one excellent chapter. We also meet the other crazy Italians who live in nearby villages and we meet Michael Deane, a Hollywood film producer and his unlucky assistant, Claire. Then there is Shawn, a niave man who wants to sell a script on cowboy cannibals to Dean, and Pat, the starlet's son, who is, until the end of the book, a total junkie screw-up. Author Walter deftly weaves these people's stories together, from the cynical to the ridiculous, in a satisfying tapestry that seethes with vibrant life, crushed dreams, hopes, fears, love and redemption. Though there were some moments that dragged a bit, the book was well worth sliding over those parts to get to the good stuff, the revelations and HEAs. I'd recommend this book to anyone fascinated by Europe in the 1960s, or by what really goes on in the mind of those sleazy Hollywood producers and directors. An A-, mainly for the draggy bits.

"The Lion is In" by Delia Ephron was an amazingly fast read, a sort of "Thelma and Loiuse" meets "Water For Elephants" and any other road trip, life-changing novel you've ever read. The story is about Lana and Tracee, two best friends who've been raising one another since childhood, due to a couple of horrible absentee parents on Tracee's side, and an alcoholic absentee mother on Lana's side. Tracee becomes a kleptomaniac to deal with her abandonment, and Lana becomes an alcoholic who finally betrays the only person she loves, her father, when she steals all of his money to go on a disastrous bender. Tracee and Lana flee their small town after Tracee steals a diamond necklace and a wedding dress, and the duo encounter Rita, a ministers wife fleeing her rigidly conformist life and domineering husband, on the road to nowhere. After Lana crashes their car, the three gals find a broken-down bar that has an old, broken-down lion caged inside, and  once they decide to work at the bar to earn enough to fix the car and continue their road trip, lives begin to change as each character who interacts with the ladies comes to realizations about their lives as the ladies themselves do, as well. Delia Ephron, like her late, great sister Norah, is a divine storyteller, a writer whose prose seems to flow effortlessly into a seamless plot. In reading books from either, you don't realize you've been captivated by the characters and engrossed until you're two-thirds of the way through the novel and you look up and realize that the day is almost over, and you've done nothing but delve into the book, intending to read only a chapter or two. Like Norah, Delia has also written award-winning movie scripts, and that would account for the flawless dialog that peppers her novels, making the characters seem so real you almost feel you've met them and had a conversation with them before you picked up the book. The HEA is quite satisfying, as is the warmth and humor that pervades this enchanting novel. I'd recommend it to those who like chick lit in general and stories about women and second chances.  A solid A of a novel.

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