Most people who know me well know that I’m not a big fan of romance novels. I’ve always drifted towards thrillers, mysteries, and science fiction books. When I’m in a bookstore or browsing Amazon’s book catalogue, I usually scroll pretty quickly past anything that looks like it’s even mildly romantic. So the first time I saw the cover of Beautiful Ruins on Goodreads I wrongly assumed it was just another novel about young people in love and clicked on to the next page.
A big part of the reason I decided to set my book goal higher this year than I have in past years is to force myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to read things that were different than what I normally stick to. So when I was at the library a couple of weeks ago and happened upon a copy of Beautiful Ruins, I decided that I would redeem myself by reading it.
This book really surprised me. I didn’t read the inside cover before picking it up, so when I got home and cracked it open I was shocked to discover that it’s not really a romance story at all, but rather a sweeping, epic drama that takes place in multiple countries and over the course of a few decades. It is the story of a young many named Pasquale who, in the 1960s, is trying to turn his tiny coastal Italian village into a tourist destination. A young, mysterious American actress shows up at his hotel and he unknowingly becomes wrapped up in a drama involving a huge blockbuster movie and Hollywood legends.
If you’re thinking to yourself that the plotline sounds a little cheesy, don’t worry – you aren’t alone. I thought it was very far-fetched until I actually started reading. Jess Walter is a master of scenery and atmosphere. He beautifully describes the Amalfi Coast and creates very real, intricate characters to hinge the story on. Even his fictionalized versions of real actors and actresses were perfect.
I hate to categorize a book as a “beach read”. I think it can be a little dismissive. But with the beautiful Italian scenery and the stories of love, heartbreak, and deception laced throughout the story, this is an ideal book to read will lounging outside in the summer sun. It has made me want to pack up my belongings and move to Italy to become a writer.
What’s really wonderful about this book is how it can appeal to almost anyone. Much of the story is written from the perspective of a young man, so, while the (incorrect) notion seems to be that books about love are written for women, Beautiful Ruins is actually a great novel for men as well. The central mystery will draw in people who loves thrillers like I do, and the multiple characters and shifting points of view are ideal for anyone who likes dramas or epics.
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