all-this-talk

A strong, moving family drama set around an Italian-American family who has issues dealing with the outside world and with each other.

Spanning generations, the Grasso family has a lot going on amongst their own family, not to mention trying to get back to Italy for one last visit. The personalities of all of the family members are well-defined and strong in their own way and the way the characters interact with each other is timeless and is reminiscent of typical family relations. Each of the fully developed characters are realistic and engaging. Some family secrets that are hidden for years emerge and there is nothing phony or fake about the repercussions.

Not the best family drama story ever written, but a deeply-engaging story nonetheless.

The book is available for check out at the Niles Public Library!

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I love reading books set in faraway lands.  The second best thing to traveling is armchair traveling…and it’s sure cheaper!  So, if you, like me, are not finding yourself traveling to Italy this summer, travel along with Jess Walter and his fantastic book set in Italy, Los Angeles and Seattle.  Told in several different time periods, the Italy-portion of the book starts off in the early 1960s.  Pasquale, a lonely Italian innkeeper, has his world turned upside-down when a beautiful American actress comes to stay in his fledgling hotel.  The actress, as it turns out, is on a break from the Cleopatra (the 1963 film) set, which is filming in Rome.  The actress’ stay in the small hotel changes the lives of everyone involved…including some members of the Cleopatra crew, which is how some of the story ends up in present day Los Angeles. 
The Italian storyline in particular is filled with a plethora of imagery of coastal Italy.  Walter, in vivid detail, describes the dilapidated hotel and the even smaller, more pathetic village it sits in.  As I was reading, I felt transported to this village, just south of the Cinque Terre (very popular coastal resort towns in Italy) but not close enough to be part of that very prestigious tourist mecca.  Because everyone flocks to the towns of Cinque Terre, Pasquale’s village and his hotel are practically business-free and most definitely tourist-free.  With that imagery, I was able to perfectly picture the town, the hotel and the breathtaking views that the hotel overlooks. 
For a good summer, beach read, you would not go wrong with Beautiful Ruins; all of the wonders and vistas of Italy without leaving home or spending a Euro!  
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My first trip to Venice was memorable in many ways. But, I will forever remember walking past a Valentino store and just being entranced at what stood in front of me…behind a mere pain of glass. I wanted that dress behind the window. Why? Well, it was simply the most gorgeous material possession I had ever seen. And, after watching the documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, I find that I am not alone. There are people the world over that have fallen in love with Valentino’s designs and gift for creating beauty. The man, seen here as a perfectionist and a diva (if that word could be used for any man, it should be used for Valentino), just seems to know what styles, colors, fabric and design will make a woman’s beauty shine. His desire for excellence has paid off for 45 years, during which he has reigned as one of the premier (if not THE premier) woman’s fashion designer in the world. He focuses his designs on ONE thing…evening gowns…and has perfected the elegant, classic and fabulously stylish look. Any woman who possesses any imagination can visualize herself in a Valentino. And, in this movie, you get a little peek at how that international glory has not only been achieved…but been sustained for over four decades. Filmed with less of a history bent and more a “day in the life” spin, the documentary looks at Valentino’s 45th year in fashion…including the anniversary party and fashion show in Rome. His lifestyle, like his work, is the ultimate in style, but would we really expect anything else from someone who creates work that has the ability to transport us to another reality. He can be temperamental, but we expect that. He is demanding, but we understand that (could he really design the dresses he designs and NOT be showy?). He is not always gracious, but we over look that. Why? Because he is Valentino? No…there is more to him than that. As the documentary reveals, he has difficulty expressing his emotions to others, even those who are intimately close with him. We come to realize the reason Valentino is seemingly stingy on giving thanks is because, with his artistic temperament, he has trouble relaying expressions of gratitude. When he does, he gets overcome…he breaks down from all of the appreciation he has for his staff, friends and partner. He is an extravagant man on the outside, but inside, he is a sensitive soul. Anyone who is interested in fashion, interested in design or just plain interested in beauty should see this fascinating documentary.

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In rating movies about mobsters, Goodfellas is right up there with The Godfather. Martin Scorsese took everything he knew about Italians and gangsters and New York and created one of the finest pieces of American cinema ever made. Goodfellas could really be called “Everything You Wanted To Know About Being In The Mob But Were Afraid To Ask.” The main character, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, is a half-Irish, half-Italian Brooklyn kid who wants nothing more out of like than to be a gangster. He watches mobsters as a kid and knows…just knows…that one day, that will be him. And, sure enough, when he gets older, he gets in with the “right” crowd, and bada-boom, he’s a “made” man. The fascinating part is how Scorsese’s camera follows around Henry Hill, capturing his rise (where he can walk into a nightclub and get any seat he wants, etc.) to his downfall (the breakup of his marriage, etc.). It almost feels like every moment of Hill’s life is being recorded…as if this is more a documentary on Henry Hill, as opposed to a feature film with him as a character. Well, that last part might not be far from the truth…Goodfellas is based on the nonfiction book Wiseguys by Nicholas Pileggi. Yes, nonfiction. Hill is a real person. So, in a way, Scorsese making a documentary here is not that far from the truth. Though, I don’t want to give the impression that this film is a dry, boring look at one man. It most definitely is not that…it is a fast-paced, realistic look into the inner-workings of a crime organization, the men who run it, and the women who suffer the consequences. Given how common Mafia movies (and television shows) are, skip the rest and watch this one. Trust me.

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Being as big of a film fan as I am, you would think I’d seen this one long ago. But, I never did. It was not intentional…just an oversight. Recently, I made up for that by finally watching the extended edition on DVD. This is a fabulous movie that will be around forever as a testament to filmmaking and movies in general. Destined to be a timeless classic, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of a man, Salvatore, who finds out his childhood hero has passed away. We are taken into his memory and back in time to his childhood when he first meets his hero Alfredo, a movie projectionist in a small-town cinema. Then, we move into Salvatore’s adolescence where, though Alfredo is still part of his life, his romance with a lady becomes Salvatore’s consuming passion. The movie comes full circle, back where it started with Salvatore as an adult and returning home to the town he grew up in. Cinema Paradiso is a masterpiece about filmmaking, love, regret, and loss. Just when you think it’s as good as it’s going to get, it gets better. Put off seeing this one and you’ll be sorry (like I was).

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