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Beautiful Ruins [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...

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Beautiful Ruins

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Overview

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. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
As with any story that relies on scrambled chronology, it's worth wondering how Beautiful Ruins would work as a straightforward narrative. Not as well. Moments of confusion would vanish, but so would the magic. Mr. Walter…has always been more intuitive than linear, a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor. The deeply romantic heart of Beautiful Ruins is better expressed by constant circling than it would by any head-on approach.
—Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
With lively prose, sharp transitions and an entertaining cast of characters, Walter constructs a lemon meringue pie of a novel, crisp and funny on top, soft and gooey in the middle…Adept at mixing flavors and textures, Walter whips together dying beauty, enduring love, war-shadowed Italy, haunting landscapes, veiled identity.
—Allegra Goodman
The New York Times Book Review
…Walter is simply great on how we live now, and—in this particular book—on how we lived then and now, here and there. Beautiful Ruins is his Hollywood novel, his Italian novel and his Pacific Northwestern novel all braided into one: an epic romance, tragicomic, invented and reported…magical yet hard-boiled…His balanced mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel. Any reservations the reader might have about another book about Hollywood, about selling one's soul (or someone else's, and pocketing the change) will probably be swept aside by this high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. Walter is a talented and original writer.
—Helen Schulman
Huffington Post
“A marvel, an absolute gem of a beach read that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.”
Interview
“Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win.”
Kansas City Star
“Lyrical, heartbreaking, and funny . . . Walter closes the deal with such command that you begin to wonder why up till now he’s not often been mentioned as one of the best novelists around. Beautiful Ruins might just correct that oversight.”
New York Times
“A monument to crazy love . . . Walter [is] a believer in capricious destiny with a fine, freewheeling sense of humor.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Expertly scratches the seasonal itch for both literary depth and dazzle.”
Boston Globe
“A novel with pathos, piercing wit and, most important, the generous soul of a literary classic. . . . Walter has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors.”
The Plain Dealer
“Beautiful . . . A shining, imaginative tale . . . Beautiful Ruins shows novelists how it is done.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“His [Walter’s] characters are long-suffering, prone to failure and sometimes at death’s door. But the verve and enthusiasm of this novel, from its let’s-go-everywhere structure to the comedy in the marrow of its sentences, are wholly life-affirming.”
People
“A great getaway of a novel.”
The Stranger
Beautiful Ruins is satisfying and delicate, a spectacular story of love, frustration, selfish intent, and the patience of the human heart.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A] high-wire feat of bravura storytelling. . . . [Walter’s] mixture of pathos and comedy stirs the heart and amuses as it also rescues us from the all too human pain that is the motor of this complex and ever-evolving novel.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“A beautiful narrative . . . This writer is a genius of the modern American moment.”
Salon
“His masterpiece . . . an interlocking, continent-hopping, decade-spanning novel with heart and pathos to burn, all big dreams, lost loves, deep longings and damn near perfect.”
Newsday
“Walter is a very, very funny writer and can do Hollywood satire with the best of them. But this is also a novel with a live, beating heart, full of sympathy for its characters and agut wisdom…You’ll want to explore these Ruins.”
Richard Russo
“Why mince words? Beautiful Ruins is an absolute masterpiece.”
Daniel Handler
“This is a blockbuster, with romance, majesty, comedy, smarts, and a cast of thousands. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s action. If you want anything more from a novel than Jess Walter gives you in Beautiful Ruins, you’re getting thrown out of the theater.”
Ben Fountain
“[N]othing less than brilliant, a tour de force that crosses decades, continents, and genres, to powerful and often hilarious effect....A masterful novel of love, loss, and hard-won hope that satisfies on every level.”
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
“Within a page-turner of a plot, these triumphantly vulnerable characters leap off the page to take up permanent residence in your inner life. The effect is so powerful that to be untouched by Beautiful Ruins might well be like having no inner life at all.”
Maureen Corrigan
“A literary miracle.”
Selman Blair
"It is a powerful and lush book."
People Magazine
"Entrancing novel…Walter’s turns of phrase are as brilliant as his plot twists, making for a compelling, fun read."
Selma Blair
“It is a powerful and lush book.”
Nashville Scene
Beautiful Runs is itself a showcase for Walter’s outrageous literary gifts in virtually every genre and style. . .No wonder critics have been outdoing each other with superlatives. . .”
Paula McLain
“[An] enchanting novel. . . Sweeping effortlessly back and forth between Italy and current-day Hollywood, and between various modes of storytelling, Walters builds a world that won’t soon let you go.”
Becky Aikman
“Combines satisfying, old-fashioned storytelling with a modern sensibility.”
Publishers Weekly
“Well-constructed…quirky and entertaining tale of greed, treachery, and love.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter’s prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that’s life-affirming but never saccharine.”
People
“A great getaway of a novel.”
Interview
“Walter vividly draws a world both tender and cutthroat, where ambition battles reality, daydreams fight doldrums and sometimes win.”
Library Journal
Take one part sun-drenched Italian coastal village and mix in two parts Hollywood studio back lot. Add a larger-than-life cast of characters and cameo appearances by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Stir in unbearable sadness tempered with a sprinkling of hilarity, then whisk in sharp observations about human nature shared via a piercing wit and lush turns of phrase. Bake in an oven set to span 50 years. The result is Jess Walter’s wonderful Beautiful Ruins (Harper: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061928123. $25.99), which delightfully captures the heartbreak and joy of fascinating and flawed people experiencing love and loss through life’s fleeting moments.

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Hollywood operators and creative washouts collide across five decades and two continents in a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. The sixth novel by Walter (The Financial Lives of the Poets, 2009, etc.) opens in April 1962 with the arrival of starlet Dee Moray in a flyspeck Italian resort town. Dee is supposed to be filming the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton costume epic Cleopatra, but her inconvenient pregnancy (by Burton) has prompted the studio to tuck her away. A smitten young man, Pasquale, runs the small hotel where she's hidden, and he's contemptuous of the studio lackey, Michael Deane, charged with keeping Dee out of sight. From there the story sprays out in multiple directions, shifting time and perspective to follow Deane's evolution into a Robert Evans-style mogul; Dee's hapless aging-punk son; an alcoholic World War II vet who settles into Pasquale's hotel to peck away at a novel; and a young screenwriter eagerly pitching a dour movie about the Donner Party. Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from watching Walter ingeniously zip back and forth to connect these loose strands, but it largely succeeds on the comic energy of its prose and the liveliness of its characters. A theme that bubbles under the story is the variety of ways real life energizes great art--Walter intersperses excerpts from his characters' plays, memoirs, film treatments and novels to show how their pasts inform their best work. Unlikely coincidences abound, but they feel less like plot contrivances than ways to serve a broader theme about how the unlikely, unplanned moments in our lives are the most meaningful ones. And simply put, Walter's prose is a joy--funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He's taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that's life-affirming but never saccharine. A superb romp.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Jess Walter's sixth novel combines black comedy and two love stories in such a devious, time-hopping way that coming to understand what's going on in Beautiful Ruins brings the thrill of epiphany. This is partly a narrative ploy for creating mystery and suspense, and partly a reflection of what I take to be Walter's view of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a world in which reality, so-called, is expertly manipulated by powerful interests. Walter conveyed this pervasive and insidious control most brilliantly and disturbingly in The Zero, and she does so again here, though with more of an eye to laughter than horror.

We begin — though of course it is not the beginning — in 1962, in a tiny, isolated Italian fishing village, a place so quiet that "only death was quieter." Here Pasquale Tursi is trying, with unwarranted optimism, to create a sandy beach and tennis court to attract tourists to his family's little pensione, the unpresumptuously named Hotel Adequate View. To his and the village's astonishment, a young and impossibly beautiful American woman arrives, ferried in on a boat. She is dying, she has been told, of cancer. Her story and Pasquale's make up two of the book's intermittently surfacing threads.

Meanwhile — though of course it's not meanwhile but next up — twenty- eight-year-old Claire Silvers is in present-day Hollywood, steeling herself to dump a deadbeat boyfriend and to quit her job as assistant to producer Michael Deane. The latter, once a major figure in Hollywood, is now reduced to producing a "reality" show called Hookbook, twinned to a dating site called Hookbook.net in "a steaming pile of TV/Web synchronicity." He is a shuffling, seventy-year-old man to whom the dark arts of cosmetic surgery have given "the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl." A miracle of crassness and opportunism, he brings perfect joy to the reader every time he appears.

While Claire gets on with thinking about her future, Shane Wheeler, a veteran loser, is preparing to fly from Beaverton, Oregon, to Hollywood to pitch his screenplay to Claire, hoping Deane will produce it. It concerns a member of the Donner Party and his efforts to save his family; a synopsis of it makes up part of the novel, thus hurling us back to 1846.

Also cropping up now and again is Alvis Bender, a writer who visits the Hotel Adequate View every year to work on his novel about his experiences in the Second World War. Over the years, he has come up with only one chapter, but it too makes it into this book. And then there is Pat, a disappointed singer-songwriter and boozer. He gets us to London and Edinburgh. Finally — though not last — there's Richard Burton, bottle in hand, fresh off the set of Cleopatra, which is being filmed, disastrously, in Rome.

It was Deane, we learn from an (until now) unpublished chapter in his memoir, who saved the fast-sinking production of Cleopatra from going completely under in 1962. The previous two years had brought calamity of every description, and the picture was becoming more of a dud. Now it was hit by what would seem to be the fatal blow: the searing-hot, on- location love affair/brawl of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. She is the woman, after all, who had stolen Eddie Fisher from America's sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds. Now Liz has dumped the soppy crooner for the notorious Welsh actor, philanderer, and rum pot. The affair, with its tantrums and exhibitions of lust, was, writes Deane in his memoir, "a car wreck. A ten-car pileup." It was becoming impossible to keep the presumably disapproving public from learning about it. Deane, hired as a fixer, comes up with the solution and discovers his genius: "I saw the whole world in a flash and I recognized it at once," he reports:

Dick wanted Liz. Liz wanted Dick. And we want car wrecks. We say we don't. But we love them. To look is to love. A thousand people drive past the statue of David. Two hundred look. A thousand people drive past a car wreck. A thousand look.
It is impossible to say much about the plot without ruining its surprises or revealing Deane's acts of inspired deception and treachery. But I can say that Walter's sardonic wit and mischievous intelligence shine out to the very end. It is gloriously and darkly funny that this menagerie of characters and disparate elements come together as a story because of the machinations of that "lacquered elf," Michael Deane. Brazen master of spin, he is a genius for whom pandering to debased appetites is a form of largess, for whom lies and perfidy are creative acts. He is the demiurge of this story and of our time.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062098085
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 2,140
  • File size: 723 KB

Meet the Author

Jess Walter

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.

Biography

Jess Walter is the author of four novels -- The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, Citizen Vince, winner of the 2005 Edgar Award for best novel, Land of the Blind and Over Tumbled Graves, a 2001 New York Times notable book -- as well as the nonfiction book Every Knee Shall Bow(rereleased as Ruby Ridge), a finalist for the PEN Center West literary nonfiction award in 1996.

A career journalist, Walter also writes short stories, essays and screenplays. He was the co-author of Christopher Darden's 1996 bestseller In Contempt. His work has appeared in Details, Playboy, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.

His books have been published in sixteen countries and fourteen languages. He lives with his wife Anne and children, Brooklyn, Ava and Alec in Spokane, Washington.

Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Walter:

"I am one of the organizers of the largest outdoor basketball tournament in the world."

"I have been in one (1) independent movie for which I grew one (1) righteous mustache."

"I come from a family of failed cattle ranchers."

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    1. Hometown:
      Spokane, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 20, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      Spokane, Washington
    1. Education:
      B.A., Eastern Washington University, 1987
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 300 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(120)

4 Star

(86)

3 Star

(47)

2 Star

(24)

1 Star

(23)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 300 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 14, 2012

    I work in a bookstore, go through books like water, and share al

    I work in a bookstore, go through books like water, and share all kinds of recommendations with customers. I read British and Scandinavian mysteries, heavier novels like "Freedom," literate non-fiction---generally, everything from best-sellers to classics. So I'm not a book snob, but don't tend to read the lightest of light, either. I loved the Dragon Tattoo series, and all of Elizabeth Strout's books.
    Sometimes I plow through rewarding, beautifully written books. But I do tend to whine a bit about this question--why can't authors write books that are entertaining, with mesmerizing characters, interesting settings, relationships between people that are real, flawed, but occasionally deep, and compassionate?.A story that makes me laugh, blink with recognition, and want to cheer out loud for the characters? But where the story doesn't pretend life is not what it really is, either, so that I can't believe it. Then I picked up Beautiful Ruins. And there it was. Buy this book, savor it, and encourage Jess Walters to keep writing.

    95 out of 103 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 9, 2012

    La Bella Vita

    This is a novel of utmost grace and beauty. It spans the decades from World War 2 to present day. It leads you lyrically through Italy and the United States. It trips through the automobile industry, the film industry and the writing industry. It drives you through learning Italian, teaching Drama and living your life. It takes you from the bottom of the worst bits of life to the peak of the ultimate best parts. A wonderfully delicious novel for all five senses. I read this book in two days, unable to put it down. Well worth the buzz it is getting.

    40 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I am a voracious reader-at least two books a week. I loved this

    I am a voracious reader-at least two books a week. I loved this book-it is the best work of fiction I've read all year. It was beautifully written with wonderfully developed characters. It was one of those novels that you're sad to see end. I will be looking for other works by Jess Walter.

    25 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    As usual I¿m in the minority of the glowing reviews on this. I¿m

    As usual I’m in the minority of the glowing reviews on this. I’m having a serious problem with rating this book. For starters, I read it all in one day so I was engaged in the story. I didn’t even mind so much the back and forth between time as it was necessary to the storyline. But I do take issue with writers who feel the need to fill pages up with unnecessary writing.

    Examples – Alvis, the wanna-be-writer that goes to the hotel each year to write more of his book. Leaves behind what he has written so far and then we have to read the entire thing within the book? Shane, the wanna-be-screenwriter who along with reading in detail the “pitch” for the screenplay, we have to actually read the entire pages of the pitch also. This kind of fluff irritates me greatly in books. A writer needs to keep the story tight and not meander off because that is how you lose a reader. It is usually at this point where disengaged readers chuck the book to the bedside never to be picked up again. I found myself skimming through all that as I heard the voices of the parents on Charlie Brown in the back of my head saying “wok, wok, wok, wok, wok…”

    But when all this wasn’t going on, I did enjoy the book. So I’m giving it a solid 3 which by Goodreads standards means “I liked it”. In my mind though, it could have been a 4 or 5 if we weren’t dragged through unnecessary details. Those parts were just painful to me.

    21 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2012

    Worth the Effort

    I almost put this book down without finishing it. It seemed disjointed when I wanted it to continue the story it was teling in the beginning. Sticking with it will reward you with a good story interwoven well together. It was an enjoyable read.

    16 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    Engaging and entertaining

    On the surface it's a bubbly, summery tale about Hollywood and Italy in the 60s and currently; underneath it's a lovely and timeless reflection on love and life and desire and duty. Good stuff.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 27, 2012

    wow! Found this book by accident...admit I started reading based

    wow! Found this book by accident...admit I started reading based on cover picture and Mediterranean scenery. But I actually discovered an amazing book that was a very real delight and pleasure to read. A great story of human feelings, behaviours, failings and living life, all played out against a background of a small town Italian dreamer and Hollywood. And what an inspiration by the author to make Richard Burton of all people a key piece of a fictional story. Try this book, you won't be disappointed, you'll love it.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2012

    Timeless Brilliance

    Timeless recognition of life, human intentions, . I adored this book and found it to be beautifully written. Wondrous visual verbiage creates a luscious landscape for your imagination. I enjoyed the raw emotion felt and shown through each character. Being so much involved with film and theater towards the end, the last chapter's layout was not my favorite but relevant to the format of storytelling in the latter half of the novel.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    Not worth it.

    The sample you get for this book is deceptive. That narrative ends. From there on it is a shallow detailing of hollywood. The characters arent likeable, but they arent interesting either. Everyone is just empty and unhappy and you just begin to think: hey i dont need this. You dont. This book was reviewed well in many publications but it is simply not a good novel.

    9 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Beautiful Ruins is so aptly named. In turns tragic and poignant

    Beautiful Ruins is so aptly named. In turns tragic and poignant but still romantically ideal, from the lovely settings to the perfectly formed characters. I highly recommend.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2012

    ok book

    I had heard great reviews on the book that's why I purchased it. It was a nice read, nice story but that was about it. I found it a little slow.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2012

    Wonderful!

    What an interesting love to have had. I imagined myself on this tiny island in the book wuth such peace and joy .

    5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2013

    A sweet, poignant mixed up story that does more than tell of peo

    A sweet, poignant mixed up story that does more than tell of people's intertwined lives.  It paints their lives with both the bold sweeps of successes and the dark tones of failures; the ruins aren't ugly at all.  I love the characters and how the author keeps moving the tale forward, sometimes jumping decades but then taking us back to the place we first met the protagonist and the others.  Intelligent writing, terrific descriptions, engaging characters.  Five stars easily. 

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    Beautiful Italy!

    I loved this book. The switching back and forth between areas, times, and people was a first a bit confusing but I couldn't put the book down after I became comfortable with the characters and places. I love the mention of the different places in Italy. It's made me curious enough to check out some of these places in the future. I also enjoyed reading about the seedy side to the industry in Hollywood. I wouldn't doubt that a similar situation could have occurred as was described in the scandal laid out in this story. Very fun read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2012

    Good Read

    This book is well written and a fast read. The characters are likable and it is interesting to find out how their lives are connected.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Loved It !

    This was a great story.. although i must admit was a tad frustrating at the onset, going back and forth between eras... BUT kept me reading avidly for my vacation at the beach ! A must read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2012

    In the beginning, I thought this book wasn't all that good. So

    In the beginning, I thought this book wasn't all that good. So not good, I'll have it finished within 48 hours of purchase. I can't say it's a page turner but I'm looking forward to seeing how all these stories meet up. It's a perfect beach read.

    4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This book is absolutely astounding. It is near countless interwo

    This book is absolutely astounding. It is near countless interwoven stories of seemingly unlinked lives that span across five decade and come together - influencing each aspect of the story - in a way that flows completely naturally, but with no shortage of great surprise. The language is beautiful. The relationships are complex, but the emotions that hold them together are simple. Highly recommended.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2012

    Ugh!!!!!!!!

    This book is not worth $12.99. There isnt enough detail in the stories. I didnt even finish the book. Its such a slow page turner! Nothing! I dont recomend this book to anyone!!!!!!!!!! >:(

    3 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    One of the best books Ive read.

    Beautifully written. A true joy to read. You become immersed in the story.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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