One Giant Leap…

Fifty years ago, today, man walked on the moon.

buzz aldrin vintage GIF by US National Archives

So put down the mini computer that you hold in your hand and just think how mind-blowing it is that FIFTY years ago two men walked on the moon.

People designed and built a machine to keep men alive in space. People figured out all the crazy variables involved in space flight. People did this at their 9-5 job in a time before:

  • soft contact lenses
  • airbags
  • 9-1-1

They put man on the moon and brought them home…alive! That one step is proof scientists, mathematicians, engineers, pilots, and explorers can accomplish anything. Apollo 11 .

I had planned to share reviews on four stories to celebrate the anniversary of the lunar landing. I managed to get Hidden Figures and The Martian up on the site. I am still reading the other two! And these reviews will be up soon. (A Man on the Moon is 600 pages long. This will take time.)

Keep reading. Keep learning. And keep striving to branch out and explore all the world, and space beyond, has to offer. Happy reading!

Lindsay

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Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

43641

An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932 illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. Winner of the 2007 BookBrowse Award for Most Popular Book.

An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

Some of you may be asking after the post from earlier this week, “why did she include circus stories on her ‘creepy Halloween’ TBR?” Well, let me explain. First, I am absolutely terrified of clowns. I am not going to go into the details of why, just know that I did not see the reincarnation of IT just as I couldn’t force myself (at 18 years old) to make it through the original IT without crying in fear. Second, after finally attending a Ringling Bros circus performance in my early 20s, I was hooked. There is something magical and wondrous about the world of the circus and each October I find myself returning to this bright, mysterious culture. So, expect a couple circus stories this month, and the first is Water for Elephants.

I initially heard about Water for Elephants when the movie came out in 2011. I was intrigued with the story because circus, but almost immediately decided not to read the book. Guys, I will openly admit that I can be a bit of a book snob, and if ‘everyone’ just LOVES a book…..it probably won’t live up to the hype. (Please don’t tell me how stupid this is. I KNOW IT IS! I just can’t help my snobby reaction.) So, instead I spent my time reading stuff like The Night Circus and Girl on a Wire. But this year, I couldn’t stop wondering about the story, and decided to finally pick up Water for Elephants on a couple of trusted friends’ recommendation.

Guys, I loved it! (I know..I know) The book was fantastic! I am not going to add a summary of the story because this post will be long enough as is, but I will say that my favorite aspect of Water for Elephants is how it jumps between Jacob’s current stay in the nursing home and his memories of the circus. Jacob’s modern experience was heart wrenching and yet still humorous. His self awareness was brutally refreshing and eye-opening for someone who hasn’t been forced to experience such a regulated reality. Even now, tears come to my eyes when I remember certain revelations shared by 90, or 93, year old Jacob. I would recommend Water for Elephants just because of that starkly honest storyline.

But, I didn’t initially pick up this book for the modern half, and thankfully Jacob’s memories of the circus seamlessly melded with his current reality. Gruen had me hooked with her gorgeous and unapologetically gritty descriptions of life during the great depression. From Jacob’s loss of security, to the brutal form of animal training, and the fear of a lost job and starvation, I felt like I was there desperately hoping for life. This was a world where people were not free to follow their dreams, but were forced to focus on mere survival. And yet amidst this life of necessity, there is this magical world of the circus. A world of bright lights and mystery that arrives and disappears in one day. A world that promises excitement as big cats prowl, elephants march, and horses prance under the big top. And a disgruntled clown, sordid peepshow, and extensive amount of shoveled animal waste only enhanced the atmosphere. Every character was realistically flawed, and I felt the sadist August was the perfect villain. And I am shocked to still find myself thinking about Walter, the Shakespeare loving clown. So despite the extensive animal and human abuse, I found myself immersed in the culture. Gruen provides a story that feels historically accurate, including the good and bad aspects of people/life in the 1930s.

My only negative point for the book was the development of Marlena. I didn’t feel she was fully hashed out as a character. Yes, we see both her good qualities and her flaws, but I just felt like something was missing. That we were still viewing her through some type of rose colored glasses. And I realized, while writing this review, that even though the circus storyline is presented as the main story, it is still a visualization of Jacob’s memories. And one truth about life is that love is blind. And Jacob loves Marlena. So, I really can not call this a negative aspect of the story because this is how Jacob would remember her.

Now as for the movie….sigh. I didn’t think it was bad; I just think it could have been better. I watched the movie the same day I finished the book, and I was happy with how August and Uncle Al were combined into one character. Same with Greg and Camel. And Robert Pattinson was absolutely perfect as Jacob. I just felt the pacing did not do justice to the story. How can the movie be both slow and very jumpy? Characters were not explored; the culture was not explained. I knew the nuances of these people and their world because I had just stepped out of their story. But I wouldn’t have felt compelled to read the book if I had watched the movie first. Especially with the ending lacking the immense joy of the book’s. The book was just better.

Read Water for Elephants. It is a wonderful story and has taught me to ignore my book snob tendencies. Which circus books are your favorite?

Lindsay

Orphan Train

Orphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train

The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

Ok, I am going to try to keep my review short since the Orphan Train synopsis is somewhat long.  I picked up this novel on a whim while shopping in Target.  The history of the orphan train was appealing to me because, well, I am a historian and I remembered reading about it during my pre-teen years.

Orphan Train provides the stories of two very different women who are surprisingly connected by the fact that they are orphans.  Molly is a teenager assigned to helping Vivian organize her attic for community service, and the two soon become fast friends as they share the often painful details of their experiences.

I loved Vivian’s story, which is told in flashback style.  I was hooked on her storyline from the moment she boarded the train until the moment she finished her tale in her dusty attic.  Some moments still give me chills and I sobbed in my pillow on a few occasions.  Vivian led a hard life that was often void of true love and kindness; my heart hurt for her when she was in pain and soared in her brief moments of joy.  Young Vivian is a well written character that I connected with and her development allowed 91 year old Vivian to remain endearing to the end.

I did not enjoy Molly’s story.  Molly’s sole job in Orphan Train was to draw out Vivian’s story.  For some reason Kline also decided to make her a moody Penobscot Indian teenager who hates all adults thanks to the foster care system.  It was too much for this novel;  it felt like Kline was trying to force you to not only examine the moral depravity of the orphan train but also that of Native American relations and the issues of the modern day foster care system.  All things worthy of discussion, but not in this setting.  I actually found myself skimming over Molly’s parts so I could get back to Vivian’s story.

Orphan Train is a good book and I definitely recommend it if you are interested in the history.  I do not recommend it if you are one of those selfless individuals who donate their time and homes to foster children; the modern aspect of the novel will only leave you frustrated.  Has anyone else read Orphan Train?  I know it is a big book club novel.

Lindsay