The Dinner List

by Rebecca Serle
First sentence: “‘We’ve been waiting for an hour.’ That’s what Audrey says.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 11, 2018
Content: There is some (tasteful) sex, and a few swear words. (I don’t remember any f-bombs, but I may be wrong). It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

We all have seen those questions: Who would you want to have dinner with, if you could have it with anyone, dead or alive?

Sabrina wrote a list, and tonight, it came true. She’s having dinner with her five people: her (dead) alcoholic father who left when she was little, her favorite professor from college, her best friend, her ex-fiance, and Audrey Hepburn. They sit down for dinner, to talk, reconnect, and (perhaps) heal. Interspersed with the dinner conversation are chapters with the story of Sabrina and Tobias’s (he’s her ex) relationship.

It’s more than a cute romance book (though it is that, since there is an element of Fate to Sabrina and Tobias’s relationship), looking at forgiveness and what it takes to keep a relationship together. The personalities of the five dinner guests meshed really well, and I liked how they each played off each other. It was a sweet story (and I didn’t mind the twist too much) and an enjoyable read.

Audiobook: Beautiful Ruins

beautiful ruinsby Jess Walter
Read by: Edoardo Ballerini
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a bit of sex, and a lot of swearing, including a bunch of f-bombs. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

It’s April 1962, and Pasquale has just returned home to his small seaside village of Porto¬†Vergogna to run his deceased father’s hotel, Hotel Adequate View. It’s a nothing of a hotel in a nothing of a village, and he pretty much feels like he’s at a dead end. Then the beautiful American actress Dee Moray shows up on Pasquale’s doorstep.

Thinking she has cancer, Dee’s¬†on leave from the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor production from Cleopatra. She takes refuge at Pasquale’s hotel while he tries to figure out who sent her and why she was there.

Flash forward fifty years, when Pasquale shows up in Hollywood at the famous producer Michael Dean’s office, looking for Dee. And in and around those two events there is a story. Between flashbacks and flash forwards and a few side trips, Walter spills out Dee and Pasquale’s story, from his affair with an older woman (that resulted in a child) to her affair with Richard Burton (that resulted in a child) and the consequences of their decisions.

It was a bit more meandering than I like my books to be. There were several sections that if I had read this in print, I would have skipped. And so, listening to it on audio, I kind of got impatient. However, the narrator was brilliant. Didn’t matter the accent, he was there and so, so good. In fact, it’s what kept me listening throughout the book. Eventually, I did bail, during the epilogue-like part because I just lost interest.

There were parts that I did enjoy, threads of the larger story that I did connect with. But mostly, other than the narrator, I wasn’t that thrilled with the book. It’s just wasn’t my sort of story.

As You Wish

Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
read by Cary Elwes (with other actors/directors/etc. reading their contributions)
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s nothing “objectionable”, though the reading level is probably that of high school. It’s in the biography and film sections of the bookstore, but I’d give it to anyone who has a interest in the movie (especially if they are big fans).

I’m late to this party, since this book came out last October. But, I’ve had my eye on it, mostly because I have loved the movie for years (and am constantly surprised how many of my regular daily sayings are actually lines from this movie) and finally got my hands on the audio book.

There’s not much to say about the content: Cary Elwes was asked at the 25th anniversary screening of the movie what he took away from the making of it. He came up with (in his words) a lame answer, and this book was born out of his desire to really detail what the experience meant to him. He got contributions from the actors who are still alive, and a book was born.

It’s not brilliant writing by any stretch of the imagination. But, it is chock-full of fun trivia (yes, I did watch the movie again, spouting out all the wonderful tidbits I’ve learned. My family was patient with me.) and delightful stories.

But, the best thing? (And the reason I’d recommend the audio over the print?) Cary Elwes is a brilliant narrator. Not just his regular voice, but he does a spot-on American accent (several, in fact), and he is just a delightful narrator to spend six hours with.

At the very least, it’ll make you smile. And that, I think, is worth it.

The Actor and the Housewife

by Shannon Hale
ages: adult
First sentence: “Becky was seven months pregnant when she met Felix Callahan.”
Release date: June 9, 2009
ARC sent to me by the publisher.

Becky is your normal, average, run-of-the mill, Mormon mother of (almost) four (she’s pregnant with her fourth when the book opens). She doesn’t work, instead focusing most of her energies on running her house and taking care of her kids and husband. She does dabble in screenwriting, and sends one off to a publishing house on a whim, not expecting much of anything. To her surprise, an agent asks to meet with her; she flies out to LA, and it’s at this meeting that her future changes: she meets, accidentally, Hollywood heart-throb Felix Callahan. When she and Felix discover they’re staying at the same hotel, and he offers to buy her dinner, Becky figures it’s a once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated experience (and will make a great story); besides, what do a Mormon mom and a British actor have in common, anyway?

Turns out that they the have formed a bond — purely platonic, of course — that keeps them connected through thick and thin. Over the course of eleven years, through good times as well as bad, Becky and Felix keep their friendship strong, and find the rewards that come from having a best friend.
Only in Hale’s adept storytelling hands can something this far-fetched become a poignant story of a Mormon woman, who in the face of a fairly prohibitive religious community (where men and women don’t usually form friendships outside of marriage) happens to have an unconventional friendship, with not only a man, but someone who is outside of the community and faith. The story becomes not one about friendship — there’s really not much given as a basis for Felix and Becky’s friendship; it’s just stipulated by Hale that they are — as it is a story about Becky, and how her friendship with Felix affects her life. There’s laughs (at least for me; Hale happens to have a sense of humor that I appreciate), there’s tears (lots and lots), there’s uncomfortable moments (especially for me, as a Mormon) as well as moments of true joy. Hale has a fascinating story here, and she knows how to milk it for all that it’s worth.
That said, I’m not sure that this book will be for everyone. It’s a very Mormon book, in the way Chaiam Potok’s are Jewish: Becky is Mormon, it permeates her life, her thinking, her being. It’s who she is. And while Hale does explain elements of the religion and culture, someone who is not familiar with it has the potential to be hanging at loose ends, wondering why this character would even begin to think this way. On the other hand, it’s not a conventional Mormon book; she doesn’t pander to traditional Mormon literature conventions, something which I greatly apprecaited. I liked Hale’s portrayal of Mormonism; she treats the religion and culture with love and good-humored ribbing. But, for a Mormon reader, who’s expecting the story to go in particular ways (it’s a book by a Mormon author with a Mormon main character, after all), they might be sorely disappointed.
Then again, it’s not a conventional chick-lit book, even though that’s the way Bloomsbury is marketing it. For one, it’s a very married book; more important than her relationship with Felix is her relationship with her husband, Mike. I liked her portrayal of them as a married couple: it’s a healthy, giving, committed relationship, one in which both partners feel loved, respected and valued. There’s very little romance, in the traditional chick-lit sense. And the ending, for better or for worse, is not a conventional ending (in any sense). I was surprised with the direction Hale took the story, but, in the end, very gratified.
I have to say, overall I adored it. I laughed, I cried, I fantasized, and it touched a place within me that I don’t often like to look at. I wondered… what if? But, then I put the book down, and looked out at my four girls playing outside with my dear husband, and was grateful for what I’ve got. And, perhaps, that’s all that Hale really wanted to do with this story.