Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title:  Beautiful Ruins

Author:  Jess Walter

Narrator:  Edoardo Ballerini

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – HarperCollins

Synopsis (from the back of the ARC):  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 slender blonde 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 fifty years before.

What unfolds from there is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, teeming with Jess Walter’s trademark unforgettable characters: the Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically cynical film producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; and the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. . .

My brief take:  I enjoyed Beautiful Ruins so much I knew it would be on my 2012 Favorites list as soon as I finished reading it.  You get a sense of the novel from the synopsis but really it must be experienced. I loved how Jess Walter wove the various characters’ stories together. I wasn’t sure where they would all end up but I had faith I’d be satisfied with the conclusion. I was.

I’m so glad I decided to listen to Beautiful Ruins (I also read a print review copy) . There’s no way I could have voiced the characters’ accents, language, etc. in my mind anywhere close to the narrator. Edoardo Ballerini’s performance is perfect.

Recommend?  Yes! Read the book and if you enjoy listening, I highly recommend the audiobook.

Note:  I appreciated the Author Q&A included at the end of the audiobook.

Disclosure:  My review copy was from the publisher. I bought the audiobook. See sidebar for disclosure statement. I was not compensated for my review.

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

Title:  A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford #3)

Author:  Charles Todd

Genre:  Mystery series

Published:  January 2011 – HarperCollins

About:  (from Goodreads synopsis) When battlefield nurse Bess Crawford returns from France for a well-earned Christmas leave, she finds a bruised and shivering woman huddled in the doorway of her London residence. The woman has nowhere to turn, and, propelled by a firm sense of duty, Bess takes her in. Once inside Bess’s flat the woman reveals that a quarrel with her husband erupted into violence, yet she wants to go home—if Bess will come with her to Sussex. Realizing that the woman is suffering from a concussion, Bess gives up a few precious days of leave to travel with her. But she soon discovers that this is a good deed with unforeseeable consequences.

My take:  Charles Todd had me guessing all the way to the end of A Bitter Truth and I still didn’t figure out the murderer! Honorable Bess finds out the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. She becomes one of several suspects in the murder of a house guest at Lydia’s home in Sussex. Over the course of a few weeks more bodies turn up. Not a great way to spend her leave from her work as a nurse near the front in France.

Simon Brandon, Bess’s family friend, tries his best to help her discover what’s going on. I wonder when these two will figure out that they have true feelings for each other. Sooner than later, I hope. I also can’t help wondering if we’ll see more of  Sergeant Larimore in upcoming books. He’s a tall, handsome, charming Australian who seemed to really enjoy teasing Bess when she treated him in the medical tent and when they met up elsewhere. I enjoyed their interactions.

All in all, A Bitter Truth is another good mystery in the Bess Crawford series. I look forward to reading the next book: An Unmarked Grave.

Source:  I bought it.

I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

  • Title:  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events – the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don’t
  • Author:  Jennifer Gilbert
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  May 2012 – HarperCollins
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag is a compelling memoir that begins with a young woman just starting out in life. College is behind her and she’s ready to get out in the world and make her way. But before she can even start, a horrible event changes everything.

In May of 1991 Jennifer went into Manhattan to visit a friend and got off the subway at the wrong stop. She didn’t know someone was following her as she walked to her friend’s apartment. She was followed into the apartment building and then brutally attacked.

Jennifer Gilbert tells her story of how she climbed out of the depths of despair following the attack. It’s a journey that moved back and forth in terms of progress until she finally realized she needed to get her life going again – to not let the attacker win. She interviewed for jobs and was hired by an event-planning company. She threw herself into her job and found that not only was she good at it, she loved it. Jennifer eventually started her own company Save the Date. Over the years she dealt with trust, control issues, an eating disorder – all related to the attack.

I was glad that Gilbert’s story is not a perfect plan for surviving a horrific event. It’s a very personal account of how she made it through with determination and a lot of help from loved ones and professionals. I appreciated her honesty of how she continues to deal with life’s unplanned events. I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag is a truly inspirational memoir.

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

Bess Crawford Mystery Series #2

Published: August 2011 – HarperCollins

Goodreads synopsis: In the early summer of 1917, Bess Crawford is charged with escorting a convoy of severely wounded soldiers from the trenches of France to England. Among them is a young pilot, burned beyond recognition, who carries a photograph of his wife pinned to his tunic. But later, in a crowded railway station, Bess sees the same woman bidding a heart-wrenching farewell to a departing officer, clearly not her husband.

Back on duty in France, Bess is shocked to discover the wife’s photograph in a newspaper accompanying a plea from Scotland Yard for information about her murder, which took place on the very day Bess witnessed that anguished farewell. Granted leave to speak with the authorities, Bess very quickly finds herself entangled in a case of secrets and deadly betrayal in which another life hangs in the balance, and her search for the truth could expose her to far graver dangers than those she faces on the battlefield.

My thoughts: Although it may seem that the synopsis is a spoiler, it isn’t. We learn that information in the first few pages.

I thought the second book in the Bess Crawford series had a different feel to it than the first. Much of it centers around upper class people. There’s an underlying uneasiness that made me think that’s how Bess felt. Bess finds out that murder actually can happen to “nice people”. She’s not as insulated from the world as she once was – even though she’s a nurse on the front she’s finding out that terrible things can and do happen close to home.

As in A Duty to the Dead Charles Todd put me in the atmosphere of the novel. I was in the crowd at the train station,  the fog in a small village, the medical tent in France. It’s one of the things I love most about the series. I can see, hear and feel the setting.

I had two possibilities for the murderer. One was right but I still wasn’t entirely certain. I’m really enjoying the series and look forward to the next book:  A Bitter Truth.

Note: I wonder if Simon will start to play a more personal role in Bess’ life.

Source:  HarperCollins via Book Club Girl for the Bess Crawford Read-Along.

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

J’adore New York by Isabelle Laflèche

Title:  J’adore New York

Author:  Isabelle Laflèche

Genre:  Chick Lit

Published:  April 2010 – HarperCollins

About:  When Catherine Lambert accepts a transfer from the Paris office of the Edwards & White law firm to their Manhattan base she doesn’t know what she’s in for. Sure she’s used to working long hours but she wasn’t ready for the cut-throat office politics at the firm’s headquarters. Catherine aspires to be a partner in the firm but what will it take to reach her goal? And is she willing to do what it takes?

My take:  Isabelle Laflèche’s fast-paced novel is filled with entertaining characters. Some are larger than life, some are stereotypes, and a few are understated and relatable. The attorneys are type A, power hungry, ‘get out of my way’ people who pretty much make Catherine’s life a living hell. Her flamboyant assistant Rikash provides the comic relief and always has her back.

Catherine’s days are spent trying to reach her quota of billable hours, juggling contemptible clients, and if she’s lucky she may find time to sleep. A personal life? Forget about it! Unless it’s mixed with business, she rarely gets out. Catherine starts to wonder how long she can keep this up. Is this really what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

J’adore New York made me a bit anxious while reading about Catherine’s work pressures but, in the end, I enjoyed it. Most of all, I liked Catherine. She’s on a roller coaster ride to finding a fulfilling life and it was fun to be along for the ride. I look forward to more from Isabelle Laflèche.

Source:  BookSparks PR

Disclosure Policy:  see sidebar

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Title: Russian Winter

Author: Daphne Kalotay

Genre: Fiction

About: The story of a Russian ballerina who becomes a star of the Bolshoi Ballet, falls in love with a poet and tries to live the best life possible under Stalin’s rule until that is no longer possible.

My thoughts: This is one of those novels that pulled me in immediately and kept me interested throughout. Daphne Kalotay’s descriptive writing immersed me in life in post WW II Russia – especially what it was like for people in the arts.  I felt like I was in the audience watching Nina Revskaya dance in Swan Lake.  I could imagine falling asleep at the dacha listening to the nightingale sing.  I could even visualize the working crews of women smoothing asphalt on the roads.

Once Nina defects from Russia she travels to London, Paris and finally Boston.  She smuggled her jewels with her when she left and now, decades later, crippled and in a wheelchair, she has decided to have her collection auctioned with the proceeds going to the local ballet.  The jewels have stories of their own that connect several characters in the novel.

One of the characters is Grigori, a professor of Romance languages in Boston.  He has a pendant that he believes is part of Nina’s collection and is trying to find out what the connection is.  He has his own assumptions and he would like Nina to confirm them.  He has contacted her a few times over the past few decades and each time she has refused to discuss her past or the jewels.

As the auction of the jewels draws near Nina finds herself remembering her past more and more.  There are a few twists and turns near the end and  Grigori and Drew, who works for the auction house, make their own discoveries which converge in a satisfying conclusion.

Source: Dawn from She Is Too Fond Of Books sent me her review copy.  Thank you, Dawn!

Recommend? Yes, especially to fans of historical fiction.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord by Sarah MacLean

Author: Sarah MacLean

Genre: Historical Romance

About: Lord Nicholas St. John has made the list of London’s Lords to Land – a list he wishes not to be on.  Pearls and Pelisses, the ladies magazine responsible for the list, offers lessons in how to land these lords.  The ladies of London have Nick in their sights so he and his trusted friend Rock happily accept a request to find the Duke of Leighton’s sister who has gone missing.  Their search takes them to Yorkshire and ultimately Townsend Park – home to Lady Isabel Townsend.  Isabel’s only relative is her young brother, and  future earl, James.  Her father left his wife and children and went to London to live a scandalous lifestyle.  In doing so he wasted his fortune and shamed his family.  His wife took to her bed and slowly faded away.  He died penniless leaving his children only Townsend Park which is in disrepair.

Nick has occasion to save Isabel from a runaway team of horses and that leads Isabel to invite Nick and Rock to Townsend Park.  Knowing Nick is an esteemed antiquarian she wants him to see her statuary collection.  Selling the marbles is her only hope to raise funds to repair the house.  She needs the house because in addition to Isabel and her brother, there are about two dozen other young women living there.  Isabel has become a protector of sorts.  She takes in wayward girls who have nowhere else to go.  She has to keep that a secret because it could be seen as aiding and abetting these runaways.  Little does Nick know that the girl he and Rock are searching for is practically under their nose.

Descriptive Words: Romantic, amusing, steamy.

Thoughts: After reading Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake (MacLean’s previous book) I knew I’d enjoy “Ten Ways”.  I love the way she works humor into her characters.  Yes, there’s drama and romance but I find the sparkle she gives her main characters wonderful.  They are honorable, trustworthy, at times self-deprecating and at other times laugh-out-loud funny.  MacLean has a gift for writing dialogue.  I look forward to the next book in the series.

Source: HarperCollins via NetGalley

Recommend? Yes, to fans of Historical Romance and Sarah MacLean.