Archive for April, 2013


Beautiful Ruins takes place in Italy, Hollywood, Seattle and Idaho, and alternates between 1960, 1990’s/early 2000’s and current day, with a little story of WWII thrown in the middle. Oh, and a story about a failed caravan out west that ended in cannibalism in the early 1900’s. Whew! I think that covers it!

One of the main characters of the book is Pasquale, the son of innkeepers in a tiny (really tiny) seaside village near Cinque Terre, Italy.   We meet Pasquale when he is in his early 20’s, and is taking over the inn after his father died.  It is the 1960’s, and the movie Cleopatra is filming in Rome, but Pasquale is still shocked when an American actress ends up in his inn (called The Hotel Adequate View).  The other main character of the book, an unknown actress named Dee Moray, has gotten sick and is sent away from the set to recuperate.

Beautiful Ruins alternates between the present day, when an 80-year old Pasquale comes to Hollywood to try to find Dee, and 1960, when Pasquale and Dee were still young but plenty troubled.  Mixed in with their stories are the stories of an alcoholic American writer who stays at the Hotel Adequate View once a year, Dee’s son Pat who is a failing musician with addicitions, and a Hollywood producer and his assistant.

At times laugh-out-loud funny (when it doesn’t occur to Pasquale that a cliffside tennis court might not be the best idea), and soberingly sad (when some of the characters have accidents or die), Beautiful Ruins is a pleasure to read – great for an easy spring / summer novel to pass the time.


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I loved Z just as I loved The Aviator’s Wife, The Paris Wife, and Loving Frank!  I group these all in sort of the same genre – tortured wives of artists.  I don’t know though if it’s just because Z is the most recent one I have read, but I get the feeling that Z is my most favorite so far.  I love the character of Zelda, and love even more that she is based on a real person.  Zelda first met F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1918 in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama when she was only 17.  Scott was a lieutenant at a base outside of town waiting to be shipped out to WWII.

Once Scott finally convinced Zelda to marry him, their whirlwind/ tornado of a life began.  It started first in NYC when Scott was feeling the euphoria from selling his first book, This Side of Paradise, and the fame that came with the success of that book.  The Fitzgeralds were essentially the first stars that had a “paparazzi” following – people read newspapers because they wanted to know what Scott and Zelda had been up to.  And what they had been up to undoubtedly involved loads of drinking and partying (even in Prohibition-era NY).  The Fitzgeralds then tried out Great Neck, NY – similar to the Hamptons – to try to get some work done, and just ended up bringing the parties with them.  They then tried out Paris when all the great artists of that day were descending on Paris, interspersing their time there with stays in the French Riviera.

While in Paris, the most destructive friendship that F. Scott could make was with Ernest Hemingway.  Z paints Scott as almost obsessed with Ernest, always trying to gain his approval, even though at the time, Scott was the more successful and published of the two.

There is drinking, partying, and more drinking, and worries about writing and spending and worries about money.  Who knew that Zelda was actually a painter, a writer, and a ballerina?! You will know once you read this book, I highly recommend it!

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The Painted Girls did a great job of literally painting 1878 Paris for me.  The main characters are Antonette and Marie van Goethem – sisters whose father had recently died and whose mother worked as a laundress but squandered all her money on absinthe leaving them no money for rent or food.  The two girls were left to scrounge for their living and avoid getting thrown out of their apartment and also to take care of their youngest sister.  Antoinette took on the responsibility of taking care of the two younger girls… until she met her boyfriend, Emile.

Marie, who was always the smart, uglier sister, ended up being accepted as a ballerina (little rat) at the Paris Opera and soon found herself posing for Edgar Degas in order to earn a few extra pennies for her family.  Because Marie wanted to be successful, she put everything she had into her ballet, and Antoinette helped her when she could, making sure she got some meat at meals when possible.  While posing at Degas’ studio, Marie met a wealthy patron who soon had her posing naked for him while he allegedly painted her.  The stress of earning money and uncomfortably earning additional money from her patron soon got to Marie who began to sip her mother’s absinthe.

The Painted Girls does a wonderful job of depicting Paris and the lives of the poor ballerina rats aspiring to be stage stars, and presents an engrossing story for both Antoinette and Marie.  It also made me look up a few of Degas’ ballerina paintings to think of the stories behind those stick-thin young girls.

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