Tag Archives: Sara Gruen

February’s Incomings…

I do love those lists that some bloggers have down the side of their blogs where  the jacket covers of all the incomings that they have received or are receiving as the weeks go on can be seen. Sadly, though I am sure that there is one on wordpress, I have no idea how to do such a thing and as I started one last month I thought I would do another end of month post (which might become a monthly feature) of the books that have arrived this month. Now if you don’t like these sort of posts fear not as you can discuss the pro’s and con’s of big books with me today on this post here instead. However if you love these posts, as I do on other blogs, then lets take a gander at what has been quite a crop of books.

First up it’s the hardbacks and as you will see while a lot of books do come from publishers some are treats from other lovely people, or simply treats from me.

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – This is a book I had been told was winging its way to me and I got very excited about and then the mail man mislaid it. Now it’s here and over the next week or so I am going to be throwing myself into Russia which is a country that fascinates me and yet I know very, very little about. I am wondering if the atmosphere, which is meant to be incredible in this novel, will send me off to read some of the Russian greats.
  • Beautiful Forever by Helen Rappaport – This came out last year and is non-fiction about “Madame Rachel of Bond Street – cosmetician, con-artist and blackmailer” true life Victorian dastardly goings on, what could be more me. This was a belated Xmas pressie from my mother which she brought down last week.
  • One of Our Tuesdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde – The latest Thursday Next novel and a timely reminder I need to start at the beginning (I wanted to see him at Waterstones tomorrow but I will be in hospital, grrr).
  • The Tenderloin by John Butler – a Green Carnation Prize submission from Picador.
  • The Path of Minor Planets by Andrew Sean Greer – One of Faber and Faber’s entries for the Green Carnation Prize. (Publishers are really onto it early this year – hoorah!)
  • Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry – I bought this at Sainsbury’s for £3 on a whim as thought might make me laugh at hospital.
  • Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church – I was thrilled when Virago got in touch and asked me to read this but sadly I didn’t care for it much and as I don’t like doing negative reviews it’s leaving me in a real quandary, to write about or not to write about? Hmmm!
  • Darkside by Belinda Bauer – I loved Belinda’s debut ‘Blacklands’ and having been in a crime mood this was ideal. Thoughts will be up tomorrow (if everything works right) on this murder mystery.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen – After reading ‘Water for Elephants’ for book group and loving it, I am thrilled that Sarah’s publishers Two Roads wanted me to give her latest a whirl.
  • Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones – This is the second Faber entry for the Green Carnation so far and its HUGE (I am talking big books later) and one I am looking forward to as it’s the sequel to the rather marvellous ‘Pilcrow’ though I will be judging it as a stand alone book of course.

Phew that’s quite a few. Onto paperbacks which have been arriving thick and fast. I haven’t included the Jo Nesbo parcel which arrived and I mentioned before, nor have I included the two rather large shopping spree’s which I undertook in February both on a visit to Granny Savidge in Matlock and on a day out in Yorkshire earlier this month. Shame on me, still somehow I managed to buy a few in this lot too.

  • Through The Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – The lovely Novel Insights brought me this Penguin Mini Classic last week on a visit as she thought it would be right up my street. I have a feeling she will be spot on.
  • Heat & Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – A booker prize charity shop find for 50p. I have said I do intend to read all the winners at some point and have devoured this one so expect thoughts soon.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I really enjoyed ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ when I read it last year and actually chattered and nattered to Natasha when she was working on this one so I know a bit about the plot and it sounded fascinating so I have everything crossed this will be a corker.
  • The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs – The latest Brenda and Effie adventure in paperback, again reminding me I am slightly behind with this series. I also have a spare so expect a give away at some point.
  • Where The Serpent Lives by Ruth Padel – I know nothing of this book but isn’t she the lady that caused a lot of controversy over something and nothing?
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby – I have devoured this one and my thoughts on it are here.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee – Another book I know nothing about but having read the quotes and page 29 (all the blurb says is ‘read page 29’) this looks like it could be an astounding book.
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – As you will all know I loved ‘Room’ and this is a reissued copy of her earlier historical novel (I am hoping it’s a Victorian romp) which I am excited about. I have already got an American edition of this which I am now handing over to Granny Savidge Reads who, after reading ‘Room’, is a Donoghue fan too.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal – I so wasn’t bothered about this when it came out but since winning the Costa Prize and having heard about it all over the place when it arrived I was super chuffed and have started dipping into it already.
  • The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – I do like true historical crime, modern stuff makes me feel uncomfortable in general – too close to home maybe, but this sounds like its right up my street. Maybe not one to read in the bath though?
  • 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – I bought this in Sainsbury’s, bad me, partly because the cover is so good and also thinking it was non-fiction from the blurb, wrong. I will give it a whirl though and see.
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss – A memoir about accidental murder. I had to sign a confidence clause before I could get the proof for this and then forgot the date had been and gone so will schedule my thoughts to be shared soon.
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy – I have already read this, however it’s a book group choice in the next few months and I’d had mine signed for my Gran so a new one has magically turned up. I am actually really looking forward to re-reading this one even so soon after I originally did.
  • Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald – I don’t know anything about this, it came with Half a Life.
  • Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid – I am hoping this is another entry for the Green Carnation Prize as we do want a mixture of genres, I don’t think the other judges have had this one though so I will have to check. I have heard McDermid is very good at murder so this should be good.

So lots of books to read while I am in waiting rooms, hospital wards and in bed when I get home over the next few weeks or so which is an utter delight. I wonder how much of a dent in them I will make. I also really need to have a fresh cull and clear out too. It never stops. Have you read any of these books and if so what did you think? Any you would like to see me give priority to if the whim takes me?

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Water For Elephants – Sara Gruen

I bought a copy of ‘Water For Elephants’ a few years ago after having heard lots of acclaim for it all over the place on its initial release and not really having taken its premise in. The idea of a book combining the circus (I don’t care for clowns) and the Great Depression (which I knew nothing about other than maybe it was… well… depressing) didn’t really seem to be my thing and so sadly it was left languishing on the TBR. So when it was chosen as the next book group choice I was filled with a mixture of ‘oh finally I get to give it a whirl’ and ‘oh dear this probably isn’t going to work for me is it’. Sometimes though great successes come from low expectations…

Sara Gruen can certainly describe something vividly if ‘Water For Elephants’ is anything to go by. I don’t think I have read a book that has captured me quite so much in the world it creates for quite some time. In this case, through the eyes of protagonist and narrator Jacob Jankowski after the death of his parents, loss of his inheritance due to the financial climate and with nowhere else to turn, we are thrown into the world of the 1930’s circus and ‘Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth’. Here he joins a world of underdogs, freaks, misfits and the beautiful ‘star of the show’ Marlena who is married to the tyrannical and rather unhinged animal trainer August. Gruen slowly sets up a love triangle which you have an inkling from the prologue could end in disaster.

It might sound rather like a typical love story and indeed could be if it weren’t for the setting, animals and most effective interspersed chapters where we find Jacob narrating from an old people’s home in his nineties. This added a certain something to the novel as we see how a man who lived a rather adventurous life, as we come to learn through his memories of the circus, and yet has now been pretty much dumped in a home where no one knows his past and no one really cares, with the exception of a rather delightful nurse called Rosemary. This to me actually made the whole novel all the better, and could have been a novel in of its own in many ways, as it added a rather bittersweet note to the book and gave you pause between the thrills and spills of his life in the 1930s.

Clearly Gruen had done a huge amount of research for this book, as explained by the authors note at the end, and the circus itself was incredibly vivid both in its glamorous ‘working’ glory and the rather dark and horrendous ‘behind the scenes’ aspects. Yet in some ways this occasionally was at the expense of some of the characters and some of the story. The plot is incredibly tight and keeps you turning the pages but then some strands suddenly end, or characters suddenly vanish with no real explanation and it slightly broke the spell Gruen so wonderfully weaved because I found myself thinking ‘oh so so-and-so has gone, maybe Gruen didn’t need them anymore’. Also despite Jacob being so wonderfully written characters like Marlena, August and Walter the Clown seemed more two dimensional. I came away having being thoroughly entertained but also left wanting to know why August was such a psychopath, why Marlena allowed herself to be in the position she was and how Walter ended up this bitter dwarf who then played clown. But then really I think the circus and Rosie the Elephant, who I loved, were maybe meant to be the secret stars of this book.

That said ‘Water For Elephants’ is a truly cracking read. I was occasionally frustrated I couldn’t simply sit and read it all in one go because the world Gruen created I really wanted to be a part of and stay in. It was a book I would simply take to read a few paragraphs of whilst boiling the kettle or walking down the stairs (dangerous) and was constantly in my hands whenever I had the chance.

Pages were quickly turned, I was often shocked at the way the people and animals were treated, two themes which Gruen explores, and I liked the fact that though the Great Depression was there in the pages it loomed darkly in the background not taking over the whole book yet letting its presence be very much known. Again this isn’t the most perfect book I have come across but its one I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I think will stick with me for the atmosphere Gruen created and the sense of having actually been right there with her characters and almost lived it all myself. 8.5/10

I bought this novel from a chairty shop a couple of years ago, it was originally bought in ‘Manali Bookshop, Anjuna, Goa’ apparently according to the sticker on the back, isn’t it lovely its travelled like that?

I had thought I might try and do something a tiny bit different with my thoughts on ‘Water For Elephants’, I was going to do a fair whack about what I thought and then I would do a smaller portion about at the group thought, however it seemed that my thoughts (as I wrote the actual main part of the post before I went) were pretty much along the same lines as everyone else’s both in the pro’s and con’s camp. We did all agree that we much preferred the old ‘unisex’ cover to the rather more ‘chick lit’ cover, these are important things after all.

I am finding it really interesting that so far in 2011 with this and with Brighton Rock’ it’s the books that are making me think about reading and writing that seem to be sticking with me the most so far over the ones I out and out love. I wonder if this is a trend that will continue.

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sara Gruen

A Sensational Sort Out… And Some Fresh In

Now you may remember the other week I mentioned that I was going to have one of my book sort outs and I did. I actually, and it amazed me and everyone who knows me, managed to donate a quite impressive 76 book to charity! So now the books I have had for well over a year and just dont really think I will read have all gone to lovely new homes and will be raising some money for charity. I thought the process would be painful and though in parts it was tough it has also left me feeling much better with a slightly less bookish weight on my shoulders.

Not only was I wanting to sort out what I was going to pass on, I was also looking at what I was keeping and rearranging my priorities in terms of reading. One of which was to hunt down all of the books that I as yet have not read and I thought fell into the ‘Modern Sensation’ catagory for my Sensation Season. I found I had quite a few some of which you had recommended to me.

Modern Sensations

  • The Widow’s Secret – Brian Thompson
  • The Journal of Dora Damage – Belinda Starling
  • The Tiger in the Well – Philip Pullman
  • Kept – D.J Taylor
  • Misfortune – Wesley Stace
  • Classic Victorian Ghost Stories – Various
  • The Evil Seed – Joanna Harris
  • Martha Peake – Patrick McGrath
  • The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday
  • The Mist in the Mirror – Susan Hill
  • Portrait of a Killer – Patricia Cornwell
  • Ghost Stories – M.R. James
  • The Apple – Michael Faber
  • Underground London – Stephen Smith
  • The Magician – W. Somerset Maugham
  • Fixing Shadows – Susan Barrett
  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  • Silent in the Grave – Deanna Raybourn
  • The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox
  • The Glass of Time – Michael Cox
  • Instruments of Darkness – Michael Cox

Phew there was quite a few. I should maybe mention that some of these books arent technically ‘Modern Sensation’ reads but are either set in that period or in the case of a few of them are non-fiction which will set the atmosphere even more so for me. I think I may get so lost in the 1880’s I may never return, I am loving it though. So which ones of thses have you delved into? Am I still missing any?

Of course the sort out was now about two weeks ago. I did impose a ban on book buying on myself. I must mention before I go further that I could happily have taen all 76 books and bought another 76 from my favourite charity shop however both times I went they were closed for lunch though let me in to drop my bags off (it took three trips in one weekend) and so I couldnt buy anymore. I have since though somewhat fallen off the wagon, though not as badly as I could have and now, and this is very true, I only buy books if I have a very valid reason. Such as…

Books That Pushed Me Off The Book Ban Bandwagon

  • Twilight – William Gay (because have a) been meaning to read it for ages and b) it fits into the Modern Sensation reads perfectly what with grave robbing and swapping, mayhem and mystery)
  • Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers (a favourite of Kimbofo’s and an author I have been meaning to read, I have just swapped to reading this instead of Cover Her Face which I started and know I will love but not just now, if I love this will be kicking myself I missed her at Wimbledon Bookfest)
  • Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (a book I kept seeing everywhere in Tel Aviv for some random reason and then Jackie recommended it and so thought why not?)
  • The Other Side of You – Salley Vickers (for the same reason as Miss Garnett’s Angel)
  • Marley & Me – John Grogan (have always secretly wanted to read it and thought it was possibly trash, but so many of you recommended it after my sad reads post I had to get it)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith (I am very, very keen to read all of his work and though this is in the Scotland Street series I struggled with am hoping this gives me the umph to read more of that series)
  • Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Pelin (simply because Amazon has been recommending this as my top recommendation for three months – have they got me spot on?)
  • The Lost Book of Salem – Katherine Howe (a rash buy I wont deny but one about Salem and the witches, I think I will love this)
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill (a favourite author and a book I have been meaning to get for ages and ages and then got from £10 to £2 bargain, I will be buying her new book instantly full price just so you know)
  • White Is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi (have wanted it since it came out and an author have been meaning to read, matches the Sensation Season just and was in a half price charity shop that called me the other day… was the only book I bought in that shop and on that day… I was impressed)

So thats the latest books. Which of these have you read and which ones would you like to give a whirl? Do you like posts where readers share there latest hauls of books? I know I love reading them, its a mixture of book addict, desiring recommendations, sharing thoughts and just being a plain nosey parker! If you do like these posts you may want to pop here as this is the secret stash I bought over a week or so (and have even had to hide the post) leading up to the great autum arranging and modern sensation hunt! Can’t wait for all your thoughts on these and my modern sensation reading.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts