Let me start in the shallow end of the pool. Summer’s wrapping up, so why not? I love the cover of Beautiful Ruins. The imagery! The colors! The font! Doesn’t it call out to your lying-by-the-pool-sipping-a-cocktail-and-diving-into-a-juicy-fun-not-oily-smoldering-Fabio-romance-sensibilities? And with a name like Jess Walter, I was picturing a sassy novelista new to the chick lit scene and I kept meaning to pick it up.

Really, I did.But I didn’t.

And then I found out Jess Walter was a dude.

And then I found out Beautiful Ruins wasn’t chick lit.

And then I found out Jess Walter was doing a reading at my local independent bookstore.

And then I was even more intrigued with Beautiful Ruins.

So, I attended the reading, without having read the book and was totally charmed. This Jess Walter, who again, is a guy, is really cool. Totally smart. Funny as hell. And easy on the eyes.Yep, ring me up cashier lady, I am officially a fan. Thank goodness the book lived up to his talk.

Speaking of the book… Beautiful Ruins is fabulous. It’s April 1962 and a dying actress has just stepped foot onto Porto Vergogna, Italy and into the heart of hotelier, Pasquale Tursi.But you know what? It’s also today, and an elderly Tursi is on the grounds of a Hollywood production lot trying to find his lost love.

Beautiful Ruins goes back in forth in time between the days of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starring in epic flop Cleopatra, and who also play minor starring roles in Walter’s tale. To the modern day challenges faced by Hollywood production assistants like Claire Silver who wants to claw her eyes out if she has to watch another pitch for reality shows like “Eat It (obese people racing to eat huge meals) and Rich MILF, Poor MILF (horny middle-aged women set up on dates with horny young men)”. How are these two eras connected? Walter’s fantastic characters and globetrotting storytelling make this story work. You are just going to have to trust me on this.

If I tell you more, I will have told you too much. I can say that I am not typically a fan of fiction that incorporates real people in the mix, but Walter has given Burton perhaps his meatiest role and I found myself enjoying the parts with his brash and bawdy character some of the best. I can also say that this book is a reflection of the times and where our society’s collective tastes have gone in terms of entertainment: “reality TV”, dumbed down storylines and movies made for shock, not awe.

I can also tell you it’s a sweet and wonderful love story—of one of the very best kinds.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction