Thursday, April 4, 2013

Beautiful Ruins - TLC Book Review

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
HarperCollins, 2012

Format? Hardback
Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours
**FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of Beautiful Ruins from the publisher in exchange for a review.  However, the review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias.

Cover? Beautiful...even though the village on the cover seems a bit larger than what I imagine Porto Vergogna would be like.  I've spent some time browsing pictures of Italian villages on the Mediterranean Coast since reading Beautiful Ruins and I have to say I am smitten.

Title? Perfect...we are who we eventually become, and the sum of our person is made up of disappointments, hardship and tragedy, probably more so than the best times of our lives.  

Reminded me? the quote from Grey's Anatomy, "We are all damaged somehow."
Seven Degrees of Separation

Why?  Italy, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra, and a host of other unforgettable characters whose lives are all tangled up together?? Bring it.  A no-brainer for this reader.

What Now?  This one's a keeper for sure.  Onto the shelves of the antique secretary it goes.

Golden Lines

"Words and emotions are simple currencies.  If we inflate them, they lose their value, just like money.  They begin to mean nothing.  Use 'beautiful' to describe a sandwich and the word means nothing.  Since the war, there is no more room for inflated language.  Words and feelings are small now - clear and precise.  Humble like dreams." (64)

"These American movie people, they are pigs."
Pasquale agreed.  "To send a woman off and then forget about her..."
"They mock true art," Tomasso said.  "They take the full sorrow of life and make a circus of fat men falling into cream pies." (111)

Afterward, she leaned forward with anticipation, feeling the buzz she always felt when one of HIS films started. (210)

Pat was sitting on a folding chair in an empty room, head in his hands, fingers lost in those currents of wavy brown hair.  He pushed his hair aside and looked up at her; those eyes.  No one understood how much they were in this together, Pat and her.  We're lost in this thing, Dee thought. (214)

Alvis stared at his one sentence, so odd and fragmented, so perfect.  Then he wrote another sentence and another, and soon he had a page, at which point he ran down the stairs and had a glass of wine with his muse, the serious, bespectacled Carlo Tursi.  This would be his reward and his rhythm: type a page, drink a glass of wine with Carlo. (227)

Liz?  Impossible to deal with.  Emotional.  Stubborn.  Contrary.  But Burton was a pro.  And this wasn't his first piece of primo tail.  Our only chance was to reason with him.  When he was sober. (243)

But other times, honestly, the whole idea of being at peace just pisses her off.  At peace?  who but the insane would ever be at peace?  What person who has enjoyed life could possibly think one is enough?  Who could live even a day and not feel the sweet ache of regret? (315)

...- and on and on it goes, in a thousand directions, everything occurring at once, in a great storm of the present, of the now -
- all those lovely wrecked lives - (329)


A beautiful lovestruck starlet, Dee Mornay, arrives in the village of Porto Vergogna, Italy to wait for her lover and inadvertently changes the life of the young Italian man Pasquale Bursi.  Each of their changed lives affect others as well, from Pasquale's former girlfriend and the child he fathered, to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who are filming Cleopatra a short boat ride away, to the movie producer and his young assistant some 50 years later.  

What I Liked

Dee - Dee/Debra is one of those characters that I will not soon forget.  Strong yet fragile.  Independent yet used.  A survivor, albeit a very tired one.  Forgiving, but not gullible.  A woman and a mother and a lover.   Hurt by many of the other characters in some way, her ability to persevere outshines them all.  

Pasquale - Pasquale wouldn't like for me to call him an honorable man...but he was.  Honorable doesn't mean we always do exactly the "right" thing.  We just have to always want or try to and then repair the messes we make, especially those messes that affect or hurt others.  We live our lives to the fullest; we expect to get knocked down, but then, we brush our britches off and try again.  That's Pasquale. 

Alvis's story, The Smile of Heaven - I love Alvis's little piece of history...where Italy stood during WWII, how the German soldiers hid in the cliffs and how Italy fared after the battles on her homeland.  Alvis is one of those characters that I wanted to be ok...but how can a man be ok after surviving all that he had?  While Beautiful Ruins is not about alcoholism, alcohol plays an important role in more than one characters' lives.   Some of them survive, some survive for a while, and some of them simply don't.  Walters' portrayal of the survivor who "on those days when he imagines getting just a wee bit higher (See: every day)," he "concentrates on the steps" (333) is spot on and just about as realistic of a portrait as I've ever read of a successfully recovering addict.  

Shane's idea for Donner! - Of course, this was not a piece of history I had never heard of, but for the first time I thought about the events of the Donner Party tragedy from another perspective other than horror.  The state of mind, the experience, the will to live and then the aftermath...could life ever be normal again?  I also appreciated Walters' ability to bring in a seemingly unimportant character such as Shane and then make the connections so far down the line.  I would love to see Walters' notes on how this all comes together or to hear/read an interview in which he discusses the crux of the story.  Sheer genius.  

What I Didn't Like

Michael Deane - how much time do you have for me to tell you just how much I despised this character?  A snake in the grass, selfish, nasty, no honor or ideas of truth or any concern whatsover for anyone else but himself and the almighty dollar.  
The kicker is that I'm sure Walters' planned my disdain from his first description of Deane.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor - Now, let me explain myself.  As years go by, I think we all  fall into that romanticized notion of these Hollywood icons...Burton and Taylor's romance and subsequent marriages are considered one of the greatest love stories of all time.  In reality, they were a train wreck...fueled by alcohol, drugs, affairs, fighting, selfishness, and the list goes on and on.  Did they love each other?  They both said they did...for the rest of their lives...but geez, what an existence.  It really made me sad more than anything else.  And, then I got angry at all the other lives around them that they crushed in their wake.  I doubt I'll look at them the same way ever again.

Overall Recommendation

If you like history, old Hollywood, love stories that aren't all ooey gooey and/or Cinderella-ey, and especially if you love the smaller villages in Italy along the Mediterranean Sea, you will love Beautiful Ruins

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, April 2nd: The Blog of Lit Wits
Wednesday, April 3rd: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, April 4th: Peppermint PhD
Friday, April 5th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, April 8th: As I turn the pages
Tuesday, April 9th: Book Dilettante
Wednesday, April 10th: Great Imaginations
Thursday, April 11th: BookNAround
Friday, April 12th: 5 Minutes For Books
Saturday, April 13th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, April 16th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, April 17th: Speaking of Books
Thursday, April 18th: she treads softly

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Swoon by Betsy Prioleau - TLC Book Review and Giveaway

Swoon by Betsy Priloeau
Norton, 2013

Format? Hardback
Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours
**FTC Disclaimer:  the publisher provided me a complimentary copy of Swoon in exchange for a review.  However, the review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias.

Title? Meh :/
Cover? Nope...wouldn't have enticed me at a matter of fact, I normally stay away from covers that look like this.

What I Was Reminded Of? Janice Radway's Reading the Romance, the movies, "What Women Want" and "Hitch"

Why?  the promise of an academic look at what makes women fall for certain men

What Now? While not actually a favorite that will move in with the other keepers in my antique secretary, I will keep this one close by, shelved right next to Radway and other books from my feminist literary behavioral studies.


The publisher via TLC Book Tours has generously offered a copy of Swoon to one of my readers.  Just leave your name, blog address, and email should you be interested in this fabulous academic read.

Golden Lines

Romantic love is one of the most extreme human experiences.  As philosophers say, love is "strong stuff."  Under a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, passionate love looks like a lightening strike; centers deep in the midbrain flare up and release a torrent of dopamine and norepinephrine.  It's so close to what happens when we're angry or afraid that psychologists believe any intense feeling, in a "spillover effect," can ignite desire. (37)

In studies, women seem to be of two minds about virtuous partners.  On the one hand, say researchers, they want a nice guy, with "that old-fashioned quality: integrity"; on the other they want a fun, bold, bad boy.  (63)

Studies show that Americans tend to defer fun and enjoyment; we work longer hours and work at play and relationships.  Which isn't how eros operates.  As Johnny Depp's character in the movie Don Juan DeMarco explains, "I give women pleasure if they desire.  It is of course the greatest pleasure they will ever experience." (86)

Love stories are storehouses of gastronomic seductions.  Drouet captures Sister Carrie of Theodore Dreiser's novel with a mushroom and steak dinner, and Robert beguiles Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's Awakening over a shared roast chicken on an excursion to Grand Isle. (130-131)

Psychoanalyst Eric Fromm compares listening to poetry interpretation, an intuitive and creative art.  Rather than a passive, laid-back enterprise, it's as demanding as talk.  A man has to be fully present, his mind cleared of distractions, and his brain and emotions engaged.  A hint of insincerity and a woman's superior bullshit detector will find him out. (168-169)

"The art of love," instructs Havelock Ellis, "is even more the art of retaining love than of arousing it," and he cites dozens of works since antiquity on the subject. (193)

The ladies' man, though, shouldn't bring more pressure to bear on distressed men, more impossible sexual standards to meet, more stage fright.  Instead, the great seducer and his arts can be a male liberation movement, a release from the stranglehold of games, bogies, inertia, and ignorance, and a recovery of erotic empowerment, passion, and joy. (245)


Covering the anatomy of a "great seducer," including charisma and character and following up with sections including:
 Lassoing Love: The Senses
Lassoing Love: The Mind
Locking in Love
Torching Up Love
The Great Seducer Now...
Betsy Prioleau provides the reader with much to think about along the lines of what makes women fall for certain who may or may not be the person they end up spending the rest of their lives with

What I Liked

For a seemingly sappy topic, Prioleau takes quite an academic perspective when looking at the "ladies' man"...who he was, is and even will be in the future.  This saved the book for me...I have to admit when I first sat down to read Swoon, I was afraid I'd made a mistake.  I soon found out I was wrong indeed.

Examples, examples, and more examples...from Casanova to memorable literary characters to politicians, actors, musicians, and even just regular guys, Prioleau seeks a pattern in their behavior, conquests, attitudes, etc.

Ahem, Joe Morelli, Stephanie Plum's love interest in the Janet Evanovich's series, is one of the examples in the category of **cough, cough** Sex Drive.  Oh my.
I feel a little faint. 

The expectation and the assumption that men and women can live, exist, love, and still be their own person...while at the same time planning, thinking, and spending quality time with one and out of the bedroom.

The very realistic look at how we (men and women) spend so much more time on things other than our partners, and how that's affected the quality of relationships between men and women in the 21st century.

The Notes section of Swoon is 75 pgs. long...I'm literally drooling.  I read stuff like that with as much fervor as some people read romance...I'm a "recovering academic"; what did you expect??

My favorites were the men who really loved women but found one particular woman with whom he chose and keeps choosing each and every day to spend his life with.  Hugh Jackman, for example, as a "great seducer" now because he still "actively courts his wife of 16 years."  There are definitely some lessons to learn here for men and women.  

What I Didn't Like

Even though Prioleau doesn't try to push a prescription of any kind on the reader, there were a few examples I really disagreed with...Ashton Kutcher, for one, doesn't strike me as an example of a man who is good to women.  While we obviously don't know the whole story behind his or anyone's break-up in Hollywood, I think we can all agree that Demi Moore was not and still is not exactly ok after the fact.  
Um, Bill Clinton? Just because he can play the sax? Nope, nuh-uh...I bet Bill doesn't make Hillary "purr"...of course, she is still married to him after all his ridiculousness.

"Women are fools for flattery." (143) and "There's no end to what a woman will do for male intimacy." (151)
While Prioleau is using these statements as attention getters and very possibly I read entirely too much into these statements (and a few others like them), they rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall Recommendation

Don't pick up Swoon if you're looking for your next fast, romantic, bodice bursting read.  Even though the cover may lead you to believe that, you will quickly be disappointed.  However, if like me, you enjoy brain exercise while you read, and a book that provides you with tidbits to look up, poetry to read, other books to read, psychology to consider and compare with previous notes, etc, then go for it.  :)

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

Monday, March 4th:  Scandalous Women
Tuesday, March 5th:  Enchanted by Josephine
Thursday, March 7th:  A Bookish Affair
Monday, March 11th:  The Blog of Litwits
Tuesday, March 12th:  In the Hammock
Wednesday, March 13th:  Staircase Wit
Thursday, March 14th:  Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, March 15th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, March 19th:  Book Addict Katie
Thursday, March 21st:  Unabridged Chick
Friday, March 22nd: Books a la Mode - guest post “Heartbreakers in History that were Ugly”
Monday, March 25th:  Man of La Book
Tuesday, March 26th:  Literally Jen
Thursday, March 28th:  Tiffany’s Bookshelf 
Wednesday, April 3rd:  Peppermint Ph.D.