Some Scintillating Summer Reading

Barbara Lane Articles, Arts & Ideas, Books, Featured — By on July 11, 2012 10:33 am

Every once in a while I get lucky and every new book I pick up is compelling. I truly appreciate these periods because they alternate with not finding any books that remotely hold my interest. Here are some favorites from my recent hot streak.

Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is a marvel. A multi-layered story that takes us from the Italian coastline to Hollywood to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the novel starts with an illicit romance between Richard Burton and a young actress on the set of Cleopatra…and then it really gets interesting. We meet a star-struck Italian innkeeper, a sleazy Hollywood producer, an aspiring novelist and too many other vivid characters to count. It’s a rollercoaster of a novel and , amazingly, Walters pulls it off with great charm and panache. The scenes with Richard Burton are priceless. This is the most entertaining novel I’ve read in a long time.

But don’t just take it from me: here’s a blurb from our good friend Daniel Handler: “This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in Beautiful Ruins, you’re getting thrown out of the theater.”

I didn’t think I’d have any interest in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, the story of the heroes of an Iraqi war squadron sent on a media-intensive nationwide victory tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. Both the subject matter and the title were major turnoffs. Boy was I wrong. Wildly creative, funny, and poignant, this book turns a dark mirror on the American psyche, revealing how war is bought and sold and touching on class, privilege, power and sex. But it’s also a touchingly human story; the central character, a 19 year old Texas native, is achingly vulnerable and grows wise by the story’s end. It’s not a stretch to compare this novel to Catch 22.


Mark my words: Gillian Flynn’s suspenseful psychological thriller Gone Girl will be on the best seller list for a long time. And deservedly so. When a young woman disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, her husband quickly becomes the prime suspect. Gillian Flynn tells the story from alternating points of view, keeping the reader off balance. You’ve never encountered unreliable narrators like these! Twisted, creepy and surprising, this novel will keep you up at night. Marriage has never looked so menacing.

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  1. Laura Paull Laura Paull says:

    The plot of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” sounds so familiar — I wonder how much it owes to the real life story of Modesto woman (and expecting mother) Laci Peterson, who disappeared on Christmas eve 2002, and whose husband Scott was convicted of her murder?

    • Barbara Lane says:

      Actually, if you read the book, you’ll find out it’s quite different than the Laci Peterson case. Lots of twists and turns.

  2. farzana says:

    Scintillating recommends, as always, Barbara.

  3. Lisa W says:

    I’m definitely looking forward to reading Gone Girl, and Beautiful Ruins has been on my to-read list as well! Lots of great stuff to read this summer.

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