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  • Filomena Ayala - My favorite book so far this year!

    This book contains so many important articles, that are entertaining, informative and enjoyable reading. It is my favorite of all the books purchased this year and beats Gone Girl by much. I'll be looking forward to this awesome collection of essays every year...Worth every penny and time invested.

  • Charles M. Britzman - UNSIGHTLY INSIGHTS

    Long ago, I watched a PBS special about molds and mildews. Most of the documentary was about all the damage they do, and how they turn up in places like bagpipes and even jet fuel. But when they got to the mold called penicillin, and referred to it as the medical miracle of the 20th century, I pondered long on how the yuck factor can often mask a world we really need to get to know better, for our own good. Thus, Zimmer's book found a prepared way in my mind. I still walked new yuck factor ground here, since your average parasite is a devious Einstein compared to a mildew. But I looked for and quickly discovered the same kind of insight, and even more ancient and important relationships, in this book.

    The zombie crabs,snails and ants, the genesis theories of sex and language, and the way parasites are hidden modifiers of the old "survival of the fittest" paradigm were eye-openers, as was the discussion of how sickle cell anemia is a byproduct of natural selection for the single sickle cell gene, brought on by the prevalence of malaria. As a professional science writer who is expert in bringing out the meaning and implications of research so that the layman can understand, Zimmer paints the incredible picture for us, of the multi-billion year old interplay between competing parasite/host DNA chains and natural selection. Along the way, the various hookworms and blood flukes have learned biochemical tricks that science still hasn't figured out, but will turn into blood thinners and anti-rejection treatments.

    And I learned that there is a parasitic fungus on insects, Cordyceps, that is the source of an important antibiotic called cyclosporin, which took me right back to my moldy epiphany long ago.

  • Barb Caffrey "writer-for-hire" - Excellent Novel about Life, Love, and the Road Not Taken

    "Beautiful Ruins: A Novel" by Jess Walter, opens up in 1963 at the Hotel Adequate View. Pasquale runs the hotel on a small Italian island called Porto Vergogna (Port of Shame), a place so small that it's not listed on many maps and is far from your usual tourist destination. In fact, it's so small that the only tourist Pasquale has ever had visiting at the hotel is an American named Alvis Bender, a writer who's managed to write one chapter of his "great American novel" over the past several years' worth of visits.

    Enter glamourous American actress Dee Moray. She's come to the hotel because she's dying, and yet she wants to stay near to her lover, the actor Richard Burton. (It takes the novel quite a while to get to the point where Burton enters. But it's obvious from the start that Moray is involved with someone very, very famous.) But Burton doesn't know where she is; the only person who does is film assistant (later producer) Michael Deane, who sent her to Porto Vergogna in the first place as he wants to keep Moray's affair with Burton private -- especially as the news of Burton's flagrant, incendiary affair with Elizabeth Taylor is about to break.

    Deane, you see, is an anti-hero of the first water. He knows the only way to save the movie, "Cleopatra" (which Russo points out wasn't a huge flop; it actually earned enough in sales to pay for the movie's cost-overruns and then some) is to allow news of Burton and Taylor's affair to get out. This was a risky strategy -- mind you, the fictional Deane obviously isn't the one who did this, but someone surely did -- but it's one that paid off. And it made Deane's career.

    Then we shift gears to the present day, where Deane is a celebrated movie producer. Pasquale shows up, trying to find Dee Moray . . .then all Hell breaks loose. (I'd best not say much more than that, or I'll give the entire novel's plotline away.)

    "Beautiful Ruins" is a very, very good novel that entertains many different questions -- at what price, love? (Not just between Taylor and Burton, but between Burton and Moray.) What happens when you turn away, deliberately, from a road you know you could've taken? (As Pasquale and Moray definitely could've had a relationship back in 1963, but Moray refuses for reasons you need to read.) And are some things, such as a professional reputation, worth having if you have to do something downright despicable in order to make your reputation in the first place?

    The main thing to remember here is, give the novel a few chapters to work its magic, as it starts rather slowly. Walter's writing will carry you along if you give it a chance.

    Four and a half stars, rounded up for Amazon's purposes . . . highly recommended.

    Barb Caffrey