Month: June 2010

My Thoughts on Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

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A few years ago our bookclub started reading this book but then a member said that there were some inappropriate parts to the book and a new book was quickly chosen.

Years later, I decided to give it another try. I quickly stumbled upon the scene that she was concerned about. As families are enjoying the circus under the Big Top, there’s a completed different, and more expensive, show going on in another tent.

Sara Gruen is an expert storyteller. I was never bored, nothing ever lulled, it was a well told story, even if the very end was a little cheesy if not impractical. The ‘surprise’ ending was even a surprise I did not predict back on page 25, which is always nice.

I would not recommend this book because it has some inappropriate parts and its main love story is an adulterous affair. And no matter how you sell it, adultery is never romantic.

I was not as enchanted by this book as the million of other readers who made it famous. But I do like the writing style of Sara Gruen and would happily read anything else she writes.

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Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

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Review from Amazon.com:

Jacob Jankowski says: “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn’t always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn’t a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn’t write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.
Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob’s life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the “menagerie” and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed, bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and… he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August’s wife. Not his best idea.

The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there’s trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the “revenooers” or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena’s and Rosie’s pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it–and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely.

My Thoughts on The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

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This book was better than New Mercies but not quite as charming as Prayers For Sale.

The characters of this book are part of a quilting club. They get together weekly to work on a new quilt at someone’s home. You get to know a lot of characters, and I got confused as to who everyone was and what their individual idiosyncracy happened to be. I should have kept a list when they started being introduced, but I hate books that feel like homework.

The “big ending” of the book that you wait for — the whodunnit for the local murder — is “big” and charming. You may not get the answer that you are looking for but discover that it does not matter.

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

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From Amazon.com:

Set in Depression-era Kansas and made vivid with the narrator’s humorous down-home voice, it’s a story of loyalty and friendship in a women’s quilting circle. Young farm wife Queenie Bean tells about the brief membership of a city girl named Rita, whose boredom with country living and aspirations to be an investigative reporter lead her to unearth secrets in the close-knit group, called the Persian Pickle Club after a coveted paisley print. Queenie’s desire to win Rita’s friendship (“We were chickens… and Rita was a hummingbird”) clashes with her loyalty to the Pickles when Rita tries to solve the murder of a member’s husband, in the process unearthing complicated relationships among the women who meet each week to quilt and read aloud to each other. The result is a simple but endearing story that depicts small-town eccentricities with affection and adds dazzle with some late-breaking surprises. Dallas hits all the right notes, combining an authentic look at the social fabric of Depression-era life with a homespun suspense story.

My Thoughts On New Mercies by Sandra Dallas

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After loving Prayers For Sale, I was excited to read an earlier book written by Sandra Dallas, New Mercies.

I was disappointed by this book. There were two big “secrets” in this book, and I guessed both of them way too early. If you are going to have a secret and a twist, make it a good one! I started skimming, just to get to the part I knew was coming.

New Mercies by Sandra Dallas

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From Amazon.com:

Natchez, Mississippi, in 1933 is a place suspended in time. The silver and china is still dented and cracked from Yankee invaders. And the houses have names…and memories. Nora Bondurant is running away–from her husband’s death, from his secrets, and from the ghosts that dog her every step. When she receives a telegram informing her that she has an inheritance, Nora suddenly has somewhere to run to: a house named Avoca in Natchez, Mississippi. Now, she’s learning that the lure of Natchez runs deep, and that, along with Avoca, she’s inherited a mystery. Nora’s aunt Amalia Bondurant was killed in a murder/suicide, and the locals are saying nothing more–except in hushed, honeyed tones. As Nora becomes more and more enmeshed in the community and in her family’s history, she learns surprising things about the life and death of her aunt: kinship isn’t always what it seems, loyalty can be as fierce as blood relations, and every day we are given new mercies to heal the pain of loss and love.

Discussion Questions For Life As We Knew It

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Discussion questions provided by http://www.multcolib.org

  • What was the first major effect the moon being knocked out of orbit? How did that effect the world?
  • How did people react initially to the disasters? How would you have felt going to school the next day?
  • Why was the climate so dramatically different? What impact did that have on peoples chances for survival?
  • What did Miranda’s mom do right away that increased their chances of survival?
  • Do you think Miranda’s dad and lisa made it to colorado?
  • Why is it so important for Miranda to continue swimming after the disaster?
  • Do you think that Miranda really did ice skate with Brendan on the frozen pond?
  • Which of the things that Miranda has to do without do you think would be the hardest for you to live without? Why?
  • This natural disaster is very extreme: is there any part of what happens that seems realistic?
  • What was the first major effect the moon being knocked out of orbit? How did that effect the world?
  • How did people react initially to the disasters? How would you have felt going to school the next day?
  • Why was the climate so dramatically different? What impact did that have on peoples chances for survival?
  • What did Miranda’s mom do right away that increased their chances of survival?
  • Do you think Miranda’s dad and lisa made it to colorado?
  • Why is it so important for Miranda to continue swimming after the disaster?
  • Do you think that Miranda really did ice skate with Brendan on the frozen pond?
  • Which of the things that Miranda has to do without do you think would be the hardest for you to live without? Why?
  • This natural disaster is very extreme: is there any part of what happens that seems realistic?