Arts & Culture


By  | 
By Ryan G. Van Cleave novel

A quirky Southern novel, a fun dating-gone-wrong novel, and a historical coming-of-age novel are a terrific way to close out the summer!

Extraordinary Adventures: A Novel

By Daniel Wallace novel

First, a confession—I’m fond of stories about quirky Southern characters, and I’m super fond of Daniel Wallace’s novel Big Fish (yes, the novel, not the movie!). So it’s no shocker then that his newest novel, Extraordinary Adventures, grabbed me from the first sentence: “Bronfman won a prize.” And indeed that’s the premise—Edsel Bronfman, a junior executive shipping clerk for a Korean flatware importer—has won a seven-day vacation at a beachfront condo in Destin, Florida. The only hiccup? It’s one of those timeshare pitch deals for a couple, not a single. And poor Bronfman doesn’t have much in his life beyond work, home, and his mom’s house. So how’s he supposed to take advantage of this intriguing opportunity—in no less than 79 days—without someone to bring with him?

Sure, Bronfman is a bit socially awkward, but is this the kick in the relationship pants that he’s needed? This is a kind-hearted book about making the shift to living life from letting life live you. As Operator 61217 says when she offers him the trip, “Anything could happen in 79 days…” and in this story, it does.

Sidenote—if they make a movie out of this, I could see a younger Bill Murray playing the lead (Edsel is 34).

In short, I found this book to be charming, clever, and deceptively deep at times. Wallace’s signature wit and story pacing is again in play and will likely propel this book to the bestseller charts.


Single-Minded: A Novel

By Lisa Daily

You know Lisa Daily—she’s a Siesta Key Beach resident who’s also the love and relationships expert on the morning TV show Daytime, and she’s the author of numerous dating how-to books as well as two novels, Beauty and Fifteen Minutes of Shame. She’s at it again with a new novel that’s centered around the world she knows best—dating, romance, and love.

It all starts with a seemingly perfect marriage (Alex met her husband at the Play-Doh table in kindergarten!) with a big house on the bay and great careers, but he has a secret and it blows everything up. Now she’s back on the dating scene with a plethora of advice from unlikely (and wacky) sources, like a masochistic yogi, a foul-talking political consultant, and a weed-loving octogenarian. For Alex, the world of modern dating seems fraught with booby traps and emotionally perilous situations.

Clearly Daily knows a thing or two about how to tell compelling stories because this breezy book will have readers chuckling, cheering, and charging through the pages as they root for Alex to find that sometimes-elusive second chance at love.

The Cow in the Doorway

By Gino B. Bardi

West Coast Florida author Gino B. Bardi claims to have done pretty much every type of writing… except a novel. Now, he can check that off the list with the publication of The Cow in the Doorway, which received first prize in the Royal Palm Literary Awards by the Florida Writers Association.

The main character, Tony Vitelli, is trying to make his way at Cornell in the 1960s. Unfortunately for him—and perhaps luckily for readers—he makes most of the mistakes a first-year self-deprecating college kid can make while avoiding the Vietnam War, looking to lose his persistent virginity, and struggling with academics because it’s not his area of real interest.

The story really turns on the introduction of Melissa, Tony’s first real love interest. But I’m a bit more taken by some of the other characters, though, such as Country Bob and Steve the Freak (who I think was MY roommate in the 1990s!).

Bardi is a talented writer, and there’s much to like about this chuckle-worthy book that looks back on “simpler” times. Still, I’m probably too young to fully appreciate novels set in the 1960s, and humor is a super-subjective thing, so feel free to kick this rating up a half a latte, depending on your own taste. (I suspect Baby Boomers might push the rating up a full cappuccino thanks to the nostalgia factor.)


Read more of Ryan’s lit crit here. 

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