Review: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Intertwined story lines are featured in this, the author’s seventh novel. One plot involves a young actress in Italy with a part in the 1962 Richard Burton/Liz Taylor film, “Cleopatra.” The ailing actress, Dee Moray, ends up at a tiny hotel on Italy’s Cinque Terre coast where the innkeeper is smitten with her beauty. The second plot has a contemporary setting and features an aging movie producer turned reality TV mogul, his assistant who is debating quitting her job, and an elderly man who has come halfway around the world to find the beautiful woman he last saw decades earlier. Although humorous and romantic, I found the plot somewhat scattered and overly wordy in sections. This novel did win some prizes, so try it out and see what you think.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

Boo is married to an Indian citizen and divides her time between India and the U.S. She gathered the material for this book between November 2007 and March 2011, documenting the lives of the families of the Annawadi slum community which is adjacent to luxury hotels and the Mumbai Airport. The author, a journalist by training, reports on the poverty, rampant government corruption, poor or nonexistent schools, illiteracy, lack of economic opportunity and medical care under which these people suffer. Against all this, they still have hope for a better future, unfortunately not always justified for several of the families. This well written book won several prizes including the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2012. I found this book to be a good commentary on the social inequality of our world.

Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction and other awards.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow: My Life as a Country Vet, by Dr. Jan Pol, with David Fisher

I enjoy Dr. Pol’s reality TV show, “The Incredible Dr. Pol” on the Nat Geo Wild channel. This book sounds like Dr. Pol had several conversations with co-author Fisher who then whipped the material into publishable shape. Dr. Pol tells about his youth in the Netherlands, his veterinary education there, and how he ended up in rural Weidman, Michigan, where he has practiced since 1981. The practice is a mixture of large (cows, horses, llamas, pigs, alpacas etc.) and small animal patients. Dr. Pol practices “old-fashioned” veterinary medicine; plenty of controversy about that on the Web. This book was not as funny or endearing as the one by James Herriot who was a vet in Great Britain after World War II, but I did like it.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Bury Your Dead: A Chief Inspector Gamache novel, by Louise Penny

This is the sixth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, of which there are now ten. There are several plots unfolding in this one. Gamache is staying in Quebec City with his long time friend and mentor as he recovers physically and mentally from a hostage rescue mission gone wrong that resulted in the deaths of four of his team and the wounding of several others. We learn about this in flashbacks occurring throughout the book. Secondly, Gamache has sent his colleague Jean Guy Beauvoir back to the village of Three Pines to re-investigate his last case on the fear that the wrong man has been convicted of murder. And last, a murder occurs while Gamache is in Quebec City. An amateur historian obsessed with finding the remains of Samuel de Champlain is found murdered in the basement of the English language Literary and Historical Society and the local police ask for his help. The “Lit and His” really exists and you may visit it or take a tour on your next trip to Quebec City. This volume was the winner of several mystery awards. I listened to the audio book which included an author interview.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

I liked this book more than I thought I would. Isaacson covers Jobs’s personal and pre-Apple life but the focus is on his role in developing Apple, Pixar and NeXT as companies and the beautifully designed products he and his team were responsible for. As a person Jobs certainly had significant shortcomings with mean, unfeeling behaviors toward his subordinates and temper tantrums regularly thrown when things didn’t go his way in such matters as time lines for new products. However on the business-computer side Jobs did grasp the significance of breakthroughs like the graphical user interface, the desktop we are all familiar with today that was originally developed by Xerox at their Palo Alto Research Center. I enjoyed this book that recounts the personal computer history of our times and the way that computers and other electronic devices (like the iPod, iPad and iTouch) have transformed our lives.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Diva Wraps It Up: A Domestic Diva Mystery, by Krista Davis

This is the eighth Sophie Winston Domestic Diva novel in her cozy mystery series. “Cozies” are great when you want to veg out and relax. They are not scary, bloody or violent although there is a dead body, Christmas wrapped yet, in this book. Davis describes Sophie’s fetching outfits and the fabulous meals she makes for friends and family and serves by her kitchen fireplace. She does manage to pull amazing ingredients from her refrigerator seemingly without the need to ever go to the grocery store. All in all, fun, not too filling, with recipes at the end.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Saints of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin

In this nineteenth Inspector Rebus mystery Rebus is working on two cases, a car accident where the details don’t jive with the victim’s account, and also a 30 year old murder cold case that DI Malcolm Fox is investigating for police internal affairs. Rebus is torn between loyalty to his aging colleagues and his concern that a murderer will go unpunished. Lots of Edinburgh atmosphere, lots of characters for the reader to keep straight. Rankin also works in a subplot on the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence from Great Britain and where local politicians stand on that question. Rebus listens to music while he drinks and smokes his way through another well written case.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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