Thursday, April 28, 2011

Water for Elephants

This book is an historical love story set in a circus during the depression.  This is a very entertaining and suspenseful book to read.  Time traveling into a life where both human and animal life is cheep, the reader lives through Jacob, a young boy who in loosing everything, joins the traveling circus as a veterinarian (though he walked away from his final exams without answering a single question).   Not only is the setting great, but so in the character development (Rosie, the bull elephant, comes to mind) and the story.

"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."

Sara Gruen weaves this tale magnificently, varying between Jacob's current life in a nursing home and his youth where he is involved in a dangerous love affair with Marlena, a woman who rides the elephants and horses.

This magnificent story has been made into a movie, though I would recommend reading the book first. 

This would be an excellent book club discussion book, however you may find that among rabid readers that most of your group has already read this on their own.  For that reason, you may consider one of her newer books, Ape House: A NovelRiding Lessons: A Novel, or Flying Changes. Sara Gruen has a special understanding of animal/human relationships which is reflected in her writing.

She has a particularly nice web site, with video included,  I liked watching the ape talk.  Check out the communication board used for conversations.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Harvest, Tess Gerritsen

I just finished Harvest by Tess Gerritsen.

There was one lead that said she rivaled Patricia Cornwell - an author who writes just a bit too much disgusting scenes in her stories for me. I put Cornwell on a don't read any more list - like Katherine seems to have done with Hill.

But I thought I'd try this author.

Rather good writing, I thought. Kept me going as a page turner. Not really everyone will relate, though. Beause I worked in a hospital for a number of years, I am sure I was identifying with the organ transplant issues - (slight) medical knowledge I have kept it provocativew.

No way was this as forthright as a Cornwell book.

Well, until she got to the page where she wove the story together and "spilled the beans" so to speak.

Obviously I do not wish to spoil this for anyone who wants to read it - but it did get a bit over-the-top-bloody to finish up. Good writer that I observed her to be, she had the story played out with surprises Sherlock Holmes would be proud of.

If you want a creative horror story about hospital transpant organ donor-recipient/doctor involvement, this is a page-turner full of suspense. If you don't like blood, or don't relate to docs on call till they drop, or a bloody OR, just pass it up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill

I have to confess, I read around one third of this horror novel before putting it aside - permanently.  I was going to write about what a depraved book this was; how many suicides and senseless deaths were described in this book up to the point that I abandoned this read?  Lets see, I don't want to spoil this for you, but on the top of my head there is the bathtub suicide by razor, the accidental heroin OD, death by hanging, the snatched child never to be seen again, and the suicide of the mother of the guy who hung himself.  This book certainly horrifies me, and I have to wonder, why was this written?  What motivated the author to go into this dark place?  I'm not against a good scary ghost story, and have spent many a night reading Steven King novels, but if you want to read horror, I think that Dean Koontz or Neil Gaiman would be better choices, which is why I put a link to a great book (if you like the genre) by Gaiman, American Gods: A Novel.  This blog is about finding good books to read. 

I found nothing positive to hang onto in The Heart-Shaped Box and I started to wonder, who the heck published this?  Much to my surprise, it was a popular publisher.  This book was on the New York Times best seller list!  The Amazon reviews are good.  It received rave reviews and was even named book of the year by the Atlanta magazine.  This guy, Joe Hill, has won awards for his writing.  He is a good writer!

What does this mean?  I must ask myself, am I being narrow minded in my review?  Has society become depraved?  Is there something I'm missing here?

The main character, Jude, is a middle aged rock star (retired since his band members died, not counted in previously listed tragedys), who buys a dead man's suit advertised to ship with a ghost, from an on line auction. The suit arrives in a heart shaped box, and the horror begins. The only thing I can find nice about Jude is that he likes his dogs. I found this premise for a story very compelling, which is why I picked this up at the library.

Well, to close this, there are a few other things I discovered when searching the web for more information.  Heart-Shaped Box is a song, good music, depraved lyrics, by the American grunge band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain.  Cobain committed suicide in 1994, and though I will not presume to guess that this could possibly have anything to do with ideas behind this book, it certainly is a coincidence.   The story is well written (at least one third of the way through), but I do not recommend this for a book club read, nor for anyone dealing with depression, nor really anyone.  It would be bad for your soul.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Miscellaneous books in "tossed" pile

Some miscellaneous books on a list of ones I tossed before completing. You could call these panned by me.
Fannie Flagg Standing in the Rainbow. Known widely as the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A Novel (a gem of a read and turned to a movie) and other such goodies as Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man: A Novel this had review quotes like “Another surefire winner…” Sadly, not for me.
After a snippy prologue, and expecting interesting characters to develop quickly, I was given simply a few snappy names (her Southern style and creativity are always to be admired for sure), long meandering paragraphs, and boring descriptions that were doubly hard to read in very small font.
As I am over 50, I follow the rule that you are allowed to give up on a book after reading and being disappointed in X number of pages, where X is 100 minus your age. Bye-bye Fannie.
John Irving A Widow for One Year (Modern Library of the World's Best Books). Maybe I’ll try Hotel New Hampshire; most people agree his Cider House Rules is a winner. I just couldn’t get into this saga and mixed up family’s meanderings.
James Patterson Double Cross. Alex Cross makes another formulaic appearance. Did not appeal.
Deanie Francis Mills Tight Rope. Sometimes I do like a good mystery, and I admit this was put aside mainly because the copy I have is a paperback and the typeset was too thick and hard to read.
Iain Pears The Titian Committee. This one I did read all the way through. The characters tromp around Venice a lot, but all in all I don’t recommend this novel. Having read his Giotto’s Hand, I expected the same charming quirkiness. Here he is rather weak. There are more in his art-themed series: for instance Bernini Bust, The Raphael Affair. One may rise to the top, but it won’t be this.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Travels with Charlie in Search of America, John Steinbeck

If you have ever dreamed of having an open ended road trip, then this is the book for you.  I have also read another Steinbeck novel, namely The Winter of Our Discontent, and that would certainly be a separate and worthy blog entry.   This novel was also a literary masterpiece (well, it is Steinbeck!) but lighter and a lot more fun to read than the former.

Written as true memoir of Steinbeck's open ended road trip across the United States with his full size poodle Charlie and his camper, Rocinante, Steinbeck's goal was of a lofty sort.   He wanted to understand what America was all about.   His focus was on meeting people and experiencing the varied experience of America the Beautiful.  His misadventures with Charlie were very entertaining (I just love dog stories). 

I choose this book to blog about because I was reminded how great a book it was when I saw it on a local Reading Club list this last week.  The year that I read it, I bought some copies for friends, though neglected to procure a copy for myself.  I believe I will correct that error this week.

A few years back, I was traveling through Salinas California (Steinbeck's home town) and stopped at the National Steinbeck Center.  Much to my delight, they had exhibits dedicated to his books, and there, in the museum, was Rocinante (or perhaps a Rocinante impostor) with a big fake curly white haired poodle in the front seat.  This is embracing life!

For an interesting historical review check out this excellent review (Atlantic Monthly) written in 1962, when this book was new.

I found this book inspirational in its goals, but at some point Steinbeck had enough of the experience, and just headed back home. I felt that the book left me wanting more.  Why did he have to go home already?  But you know, if Steinbeck is finished, than that is the end.  It is not to me, a poor hapless reader, to ask for dessert.  I've already had a feast.