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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Nominee, Fiction and Best Solo Narration, 2013

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot - searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning 50 years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist, and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion - along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

©2012 Jess Walter (P)2012 HarperCollins Publisher

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1st review after close to 400 books in my library.

I'm really only writing this review because of how close I came to never experiencing this marvel of a book due to some of the negative reviews. When a book has as many glowing reviews as this one, I'll go to the Amazon reviews so I can choose to only see the negative reviews. Only because wildly popular can also be a warning. I guess I read a few reviews that were convincing enough to leave it languishing in my wish list forever with other titles that may or may never make it to the library. And then, I think Audible made it a "Daily Deal" or sent me an email saying "Something in your wish list is on sale,"
and made it a buy 2 for 1 credit. Even then, it sat in my library for several months before I gave it a try. You can read hundreds of other reviews that will go into details and specifics of style and comparisons so I will only say that as a lifelong reader and now listener and reader, I've come to believe that if you read 100 books, you may be fortunate enough to come across 1 this wonderful in that 100. Not in every 100 but in this case yes. So, if this is the first time you have considered this book, or more importantly, if you have been considering it and some of those well written negative reviews have kept you from getting this title, I'll add my voice and urge you to do yourself the favor.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding in every way!!!!!

A book i could read Again & Again. So intense, light, happy, sad - you name it this book had it. Totally loved it. A hard book to write i am sure, but one a reader can totally immerse themselves in. Great narration. A must read. Thank you.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Calgon, take me away! (aka great escapist fiction)

Would you consider the audio edition of Beautiful Ruins to be better than the print version?

I love how words look on a page, so I have to think each version would have its merits

Who was your favorite character and why?

Pasquale, of course. Who else would there be?

What does Edoardo Ballerini bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

You mean other than his beautiful Italian accent? Pretty much everything else; he is an amazing narrator who brought every character to life, and he did it seamlessly. His Richard Burton was as believable as his Dee Moray (thanks to skillful diction rather than the usual falsetto)

Any additional comments?

If you're old enough to appreciate the Calgon bath reference in the headline you'll definitely love this book.
If you're not that old but have ever been to--or dreamed of going to--the Italian coast, you'll love this book.
If you're not that old and couldn't care less about the Italian coast but you like great writing and a sweet story, you'll love this book.
If you're not big on romantic escapist fiction but love Hollywood behind-the scenes stuff, you'll probably love this book too.
And if you're already a Jess Walter fan (which I have quickly become) I don't need to tell you how much you'll love this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I Hated It. Until I loved It.

At first I was completely turned way off by the - what I would consider to be - trite Italian, lusting after a Hollywood starlet. And what moniker does the author dream up? "Dee"? then "Dee Moray"? What a pedestrian run-of-the-name-generator! I would have thought Jess Walter could have done something a little more baroque than "Deborah Moore" to "Dee Moray". And then...her son is named "Pat". Pat is what you do to a dog.

So, from there, I went on to dislike the un-original and overdone paper doll characters, and especially the sincere spirit with which this book seems to have been written. Where is the guy who wrote the dark and ironic "The FInancial Lives of the Poets"? Perhaps this book is an earlier work and from a less cynical period in the author's life and mind.

But, I eventually came to appreciate the message, or one of them, anyway. I am attracted by the various personae we all inhabit as time passes, and we may think someone is 25 inside when she is actually a 60-something cancer sufferer, and the inner 25-yr-old is of no interest. The casing falls apart and I lament the death of the inner spirit that attracts others just when the outer shell, the body, becomes a barrier and a hindrance. I know, this isn't one of the primary themes but it touched me anyway. It's sad that when we are in the prime of our youth, people are interested in knowing our "inner selves" but only because the outer self beckons. Once we have no outer signs advertising our abilities to connect physically and emotionally, the social environment falls away.

The book is masterfully crafted, no doubts about that. But I'm only giving it a "4" because the female point of view is explored so infrequently. Despite its wide scope, this book is about the "big playahs" doing the "big" things.

The play at the end is a brilliant touch, and actually manages to tie together many of the emotional tangents. I actually found myself crying at the play's end, and on a lighter note - I want a designer do-over like the after-party apartment in Sand Point, Idaho.

This read is well worth a credit, but it's not nearly as interesting as "The Brave" by Nicholas Evans, which deals with a similar emotional and physical geography, the Hollywood scene, and the connections that may or may not happen along the way.

37 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • Kathy
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 04-01-13

For me, a very disappointing listen (spoilers)

With all the 5 star reviews, I felt I couldn't go wrong with this book. Much to my surprise, I did not enjoy it at all. It started out in Italy and seemed very promising. Then it began jumping back and forth in time. Then, the author added numerous unlikeable characters. Then there was the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor thread. All the while, the narrator sounded like he had taken lessons from Scott Brick. He just got carried away with himself. While he was fine with the Italian accents, I really disliked his performance with the rest of the characters and his style of speaking. I would not seek out this narrator and perhaps might even avoid him in the future.

As for the story itself, it seemed a bit farfetched to believe a woman could confuse pregnancy with stomach cancer. We heard over and over again about how beautiful she was but little else was developed about her personality, other than she raised a very disturbed son and seemed to be a basket case herself. The Hollywood characters bored me to tears. Then, there wasn't enough payoff in the end. I kept hoping the ending would redeem it for me.

All the while, I kept wondering what was wrong with me. How could I dislike a book with such consistent rave reviews? I started going back to the reviews, reading them in hopes I would find the missing element that would enhance this experience for me. It didn't work. I guess you can't please all of the people all of the time.

32 of 43 people found this review helpful

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Astounding

I am still reeling from the sheer magnitude of this novel. Beautiful Ruins SHOULD NOT WORK, but it most definitely does! Jess Walter hurtles you through different time periods and storylines whilst introducing you to a multitude of diverse characters. It is a bit like an epileptic fit, which would normally be a recipe for reader confusion, but somehow this gifted author manages to keep it all together in the most remarkable way.

The story revolves around two characters, Pasquale Trusi and Dee Moray (aka Debra Moore). Pasquale, the instantly likeable proprietor of "Hotel Adequate View", is mesmerized by the seemingly fragile Dee Moray, when she arrives at his hotel. She believes that she is suffering from stomach cancer which has forced her to abandon her supporting role in the film Cleopatra. These two characters together form the golden thread which brings together the other plots and characters in the novel. Every character, no matter how brief their appearance in the novel, is either directly or indirectly linked to Pasquale and Dee. The story spans fifty years and the journey that Walter takes us on can only be described as a rollercoaster ride of immense proportions!

Beautiful Ruins is an intricate weaving of disparate tales into one incredible story about life. The writing is witty and hard hitting, the descriptions are wonderful and the characters are captivating. To put it simply - I loved it!

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel, which was superbly narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. He made the novel come alive and my trips to and from work have been an absolute pleasure for the last couple of weeks. In fact, I feel somewhat bereft that I will not be engaging with the novel's characters tomorrow morning and welcome any suggestions on what I should be listening to next!

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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THIS IS NOT LIKE THE HELP

Would you try another book from Jess Walter and/or Edoardo Ballerini?

Yes, I'd try another book from this authors.

Was Beautiful Ruins worth the listening time?

This book was entertaining but in no way should it be compared to "The Help". It caught my attention but it wasn't a book I couldn't stop listening to. I gave it three stars because it was just alright. This is the first time I ever wrote a review and I am doing so because I was duped into listening and perhaps I can save someone else the $$$ or a credit.

19 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Literary dessert served by talented narrator

Would you consider the audio edition of Beautiful Ruins to be better than the print version?

The audio version was a better choice for me, given the dialogue and accent. Ballerini is so talented a narrator my kids thought throughout the book it was a cast of people telling the story. For this book, the audiobook is a better choice than the physical book.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Beautiful Ruins?

Any of the parts set in 1962 were so lovely. I don't typically enjoy books that skip back and forth between times, but it was flawlessly done here.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes and no. I couldn't wait to listen to more, but I also enjoyed stretching it out and enjoying it over a longer period. One thing is for sure, when it was over I was so sad.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • cristina
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 08-28-12

Beautiful.

A tour-de-force performance by both the author and the reader. Is this Great Literature? The reader is such a part of the experience that it is hard to tell what “just” the book would have been like. My vote, however, is YES! No reader could have made “just any” story this magnificent, this captivating. The plot is simply flawless. Devastating…and funny. Heartbreaking…and uplifting. Uplifting...yet crushing: “Who could live even a day and not feel the sweet ache of regret?”

I am thankful for Audible’s Listener Reviews. I would not have read it otherwise. The plot summary made it sound too maudlin. The cover illustration made it seem like not-my-kind of novel (although, after having listened to the book, I have to admit that the cover was perfect – it looks like the poster for an old Italian movie…and that’s what the book feels like. Cinema Paradiso, in audible format). I am so glad I went with the reviews!

This was most definitely worth the listen. The viewing?

“Life is a glorious catastrophe.” This novel is a glorious success.

14 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Pisa, Italy
  • 08-08-12

Worth listening to

Any additional comments?

The story is OK - a bit American, moralistic and repetitive with the themes, but it works OK. The narrator is brilliant! - he does all the accents (without overdoing them), and makes you want to hear more (despite the reserves you may have about the storyline).
All up, worth buying.

18 of 25 people found this review helpful