"Beautiful Ruins'' by Jess Walter
When a beautiful young American starlet arrives in 1962 at a remote Italian fishing village, young Pasquale Tursi is smitten. Dee Moray, an actress in the movie “Cleopatra’’, has been whisked away by movie publicist Michael Deane to stay at Pasquale’s humble inn. Dee has been told by the movie set doctor that she is dying, which isn’t really the case.
Fifty years later, an elderly Pasquale travels to Hollywood to find out what happened to the starlet who stole his heart so long ago. Is she alive? Is she happy? Pasquale seeks the help of the movie publicist who first brought Dee to his village. Michael Deane, now a legend in the movie industry, is in a serious slump and worried about his legacy. When the old Italian shows up, Deane feels a twinge of guilt about how he treated Dee Moray so long ago, and agrees to help find her.
Readers meet the incredibly talented but alcoholic Richard Burton, who has fallen in love with volatile co-star Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Cleopatra’’. The young Pasquale is inspired by Burton’s moral flaws to do the right thing in his own life. He remembers his mother’s advice: “Sometimes what we want to do and what we must do are not the same. Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”
Other entertaining characters along the way struggle with finding success using their artistic talents. Alvis Bender is a hard-drinking car salesman who dreams of being a great writer. Claire Silver clings to her goal of producing a truly great movie before she leaves her Hollywood aspirations behind forever. Shane Wheeler hopes his pitch about the infamous cannibalistic Donner Party will entice Michael Deane to produce a blockbuster movie. Washed-up musician Pat Bender battles his addictions while trying to make a living.
The ending of “Beautiful Ruins’’ is especially satisfying because author Jess Walter reveals what ends up happening to all these fascinating people. He effortlessly weaves the lives of a flawed cast of characters into a funny, poignant story.
"Gone Girl'' by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn’s dark portrayal of what happens when a young couple’s marriage deteriorates is both brilliant and chilling.
Amy Dunne is the beautiful wife who has gone missing from their home on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. Nick is the unhappy husband who is suspected of killing her. The story is told from the couple’s alternating viewpoints. The media frenzy portrays Nick as the likely killer, while community sentiment turns against him. The only person who thinks Nick is innocent is his twin sister Margo, although she at times is filled with doubt. While new evidence points to his guilt, Nick frantically tries to prove his innocence before ending up in jail.
Things are never what they seem, and the constant mind games will keep readers wanting desperately to find out how this story plays out. “Gone Girl’’, which would make a great Hitchcock-type film, will stay with me for some time. If you like a suspenseful tale that examines the dark side of a person’s psyche, you will want to read this novel.