Tag Archives: Jess Walter

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (4/5)

9 Dec

This book was a big hit a few years ago when it first made the rounds with book clubs. My group is often a bit behind and this was no exception. The beautiful cover has stuck in my mind so I was excited to finally pick it up.

Cover image via Goodreads

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Summary from Goodreads:

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 fifty 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.

You really had to pay attention to this book to keep it straight in your head. I think the audiobook was a bit of a hindrance in that respect. The time jumps were a little confusing and the number of characters was a bit higher than I was really comfortable with. Altogether, it was a fun read. I loved the setting in Italy and Claire was a fun modern character to connect with. The variety of people and times and plots kept me interested and guessing where we’d go to next and what would happen. I thought it all came together a bit too nicely in the end, but it was also good to have all the loose ends tied up.

The characters were very distinct. I’m not sure if I would call them credible, but each was memorable for one or two characteristics that helped me keep them straight in my head. Some were more believable than others. I didn’t buy that Claire’s boyfriend could turn around and be marriage material (my apologies for forgetting his name, it’s been a while). I thought Shane was a bit too much at times and his plotline tied up a bit too well for me. I’d say they all had a little bit of a caricature in them which made them a bit hard to believe but overall, they created a wonderful cast of characters.

Dee was my favorite character. We see her in many different stages of her life and she really binds the story together more than anyone else. We see her as a young woman, recently pregnant. We see her as the mother of a teenager, and we see her near the end of life, as an older woman. She’s graceful through it all, but we see her anger and resentment a bit as well. Her feelings for Richard Burton are very complex and I liked how that progressed through the story. She felt the most fleshed-out of all the characters and, to me, the most real.

I related to Pasquale’s ambition. He wanted to make something out of nothing and was very determined to do it. I think anyone who writes feels the same way. You want to create something meaningful, lasting, and beautiful, where there was nothing before. I could understand that energy and that enthusiasm. When he was put out about his tennis court, it was heartbreaking to hear because I sympathized with the pain.

Jess Walter
Image from the author’s website

My favorite plotline was the one with Dee and Pasquale in Italy when Dee is pregnant. I thought their relationship was really beautiful and I liked that instead of pushing the two together, it pushed Pasquale back to his ex. It felt very real to me that a woman like Dee and Pasquale’s attraction to her would stir memories of someone else he cared for. It was a good development for Pasquale’s character.

The ending of the book upset me. It seemed too convenient. Everyone’s story wrapped up neatly and so perfectly in the last chapter that I felt a bit slighted. Like when a parent ends a bedtime story quickly to go catch the news. It was too perfect. I can’t describe it well, but it felt ‘off.’

The audiobook was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini and he did an amazing job. His Italian seemed spot on to me, though I only took a year of Italian. He gave Dee a very whimsical voice which I think fits her character perfectly. He didn’t give women ‘silly’ voices or make them seem overly effeminate. I have no complaints.

Almost every character in this book had some idea of how their life would play out that they had to face. Dee thought she’d be an actress, Pasquale a hotelier, Pat a musician. And it didn’t work out for any of them. They had to realize what they really wanted in life and chase that instead. Dee wanted to be happy, Pasquale wanted a family, and Pat just wanted Lydia. Realizing what you really want is hard. I think I’m facing it in my career right now and it’s so difficult to struggle through. It was good to see characters struggling with this during all stages of their lives.

Writer’s Takeaway: The jumping timeline can be difficult to master and Walter did it well here. He had touchpoints at each stage of life that helped the reader know what time period we were in. The different locations were a huge help for this. Italy meant early in the timeline, Idaho and Hollywood were late. I liked knowing where in the story I was and it helped fit the whole thing together in my mind.

Overall, an enjoyable novel even though the ending was a bit off-putting. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter | Book Nook Book Reviews
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter | Dayna’s Library 220 Database
Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter | Savidge Reads
Stop what you’re doing and read Beautiful Ruins | Reading A Book A Week
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter | The Blog of Litwits

WWW Wednesday, 30-October-2019

30 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ve made good progress with Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine. The character just moved to Detroit so I’m excited to see my home town represented in a book. Obviously, I wasn’t alive and living in the same area at the time but it’s still fun to see.
I’m enjoying My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart during my lunches though I don’t think I’d classify it at all as a cookbook. Her recipes are simplified versions of the things she’s made on her channel and I’m enjoying the parts about her life and how she grew her fame with the channel and her show more. I can see her humor in this part more.
I’m listening to Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie on audio and enjoying it as I knew I would. I’ve loved this series so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Russo gets up to in this one now that he’s back in Britannia.

Recently finished: I finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and I really enjoyed it. I’m glad Walter wrapped it up as well as she did. The story was well crafted and the writing was good. I liked certain characters more than others, but there were enough that I liked that I could still enjoy each plotline.

I posted my review of We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix on Friday. It was an enjoyable fall book, though I’m still pretty sure horror isn’t a good genre for me. I still gave it Four out of Five stars.

Reading Next: I haven’t decided what I’ll read next. I need one more book for a reading challenge and I’m thinking of doing a buddy read and there are a few other considerations I have that are keeping me from making a decision. Maybe I’ll have an idea come next week.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 23-October-2019

23 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter has been a good listen over the past week. I’m enjoying the multiple plot lines and multiple timelines and waiting to hear them come together. The blend of history and modern is really fun and I’m enjoying the variety of characters.
I started Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine over the weekend. I’m so glad to finally have this one going after having it on my bedside table for so long. Not too far into it yet so I’ll have a better report next week.
I needed a new ebook and decided to jump into My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart. I enjoyed her YouTube series a lot and I’m interested to see how her comedy translates to a book.

Recently finished: I finished When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan finally. I’d hoped to finish it earlier but work got really crazy and ate into my lunch reading a bit. It’s going to be a while before I get to my review, though. I’m got quite the backlog.|
I work up early on Saturday to finish The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli before I left for a road trip. I didn’t want to bring it along with me again! And I need to get it back to the library so I don’t lose my ILL privileges.

I finally got some reviews up! So glad to say that. Monday I reviewed The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory. I liked this one well enough, but it wasn’t a favorite for me at all. There are other Gregory books I like much more. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.
I also reviewed A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. I was happy with the final book in this series and how it wrapped up the character progression through the series. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I haven’t thought a lot about books I’ll read next. I’m just trying to make it to NaNoWriMo. However, I’m looking forward to getting some historical fiction in and I think Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie will be my next audiobook. I need a book from that time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge and I adore the characters in this series.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 16-October-2019

16 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I thought I’d finish When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan this week, but no such luck. I had a lot of rushed lunches where I wasn’t able to get some reading in so I’ll be optimistic and say one more week on there before I finish it.
I really need to push through and finish The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli. I know the book has to be returned soon but I’m almost afraid to look up when because I know it’s coming fast and I don’t think I’m ready for it.
I’m glad to have a book I’m not afraid to listen to while running in the dark! I started Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter on audio and I’ll push to get through this one quickly as the book club meeting for it is coming up at the end of the month. I don’t think it will be too much of a struggle, though. I’ve seen a lot of good reviews.

Recently finished: I wrapped up We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix on Friday which means I got through this one in less than a week! I didn’t realize how close I was to the book club meeting for it and I’m glad I rushed through to finish because we met on Monday to talk about it!

I’d planned on a few book reviews to be posted before this went up but I’ve been so busy with things in my personal life the past two weeks that I’m taking a week to regroup. I plan to be back at it on Monday with some delayed reviews so look forward to that. Of course, I’m not going to miss a WWW Wednesday!

Reading Next: I really want to start Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine as soon as I can! I hope book club books don’t get in the way because I’m looking forward to one of my first review books in over a year and I’d like to dive in soon.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 9-October-2019

9 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I think I’ll finish When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan soon. Unless it’s Wednesday and I’m responding to comments on this post, I usually get through a few pages during my lunch and there’s not much left. I think this will come off next week!
I continue to move through The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli but no faster than I have been. I’m enjoying it, but it’s a bit dense and not gripping enough to keep me reading when I get tired. I was able to extend my time with it until the end of the month and I feel confident I’ll finish it by then.
I was able to start We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix on Saturday. So far, I like it but I’m not really feeling the horror element to it yet. I think I’ll get through this pretty quickly since I’m listening to it in my car and when I’m running/cooking/doing chores on my phone. I have a few to get through so I want to speed this one up.

Recently finished: I was happy to finish The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory the day of my Friend of the Library meeting so I could return it in the evening! I enjoyed the story and the ending was a bit of a shock to me which was a nice twist. This book will fulfill a new time period in my When Are You Reading? Challenge so I’m super excited to add it to my list!
I was able to finish A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab Saturday during a road trip! So excited to wrap up this series. I liked how it ended though I think there’s more to the story that I’d like to hear. But I always feel that way with good books. I hope more V.E. Schwab comes across my path soon, it’s been a joy.

I also posted my review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I’m always a sucker for a good memoir and this was no exception. I’ll be posting my book club reflection of the book tomorrow so more to come on this one!

Reading Next: I will start Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine as soon as I finish Travels. It will be good to have some historical fiction to motivate me as I do NaNo prep.
I already have another audiobook lined up thanks to book club commitments. I’ll be starting Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter as soon as I finish Souls. I’m really hoping to have a lot of audio time and get through these quickly! I hate feeling rushed for book club.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!