Blood and Circuses

Blood and Circuses

by Kerry Greenwood

BAC

Phryne Fisher’s life has grown boring. Perfectly… boring. Her household is ordered, her love life is pleasant, the weather is fine. And then a former lover, knocks on her door, begging assistance. He works for Farrell’s Circus and Wild Beast Show, where suddenly animals are being poisoned and ropes sabotaged. The injury of a trick rider provides Phryne the perfect cover to join the troupe, and to exercise her equestrian skills.

Abandoning her name, her title, her comfort, and even her clothes, Phryne must fall off a horse twice a day until she can stay on. She must sleep in a girls’ tent and dine on mutton stew. And she must find some allies. Mr. Christopher, the circus’ hermaphrodite, has been found with his throat cut, making it all-too-clear how high the stakes might be.

Blood and Circuses is the sixth installment of the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series, and I just want to start by saying that I really struggled with this one. I had finished the previous story, The Green Mill Murder, at the end of September (review posted last November) and I forced myself to take a break from the series. This wasn’t due to series burn out; instead, I had enjoyed The Green Mill Murder so much that I was worried the next book would run ruin that book high. Now, I know this is a negative outlook, but it was justifiable. Blood and Circuses is not my favorite episode of the TV adaptation. I was worried the book would leave me just as disappointed.

So I waited a month before picking it up. I thought it would be a perfect read since I enjoy reading about circuses in October. I read half it and put it down.

So, I am going to start with the negative points and then move on to the positive. (I promise I have positives!) My first negative, is the difference between Sampson in the TV version and the book version; the TV Sampson was infinitely better. So I was disappointed in that. The first half of the story is focused on a number of  Miss Fisher’s very unflattering traits. She only takes this case because she is bored, and makes this very clear to the friend coming to her for help. Phryne then gets a big dose of reality when she must take on the persona of an uneducated, meek woman in an intensely regulated community. She is used to walking into a room and having the undivided attention; however, at the circus no one knows who she is and no one cares. She is treated like an outsider, and her insecurity in the face of apathy is pathetic and petty. All she does is whine for 150 pages. I pushed myself to read through her physically and mentally draining days learning to stand upon a horse. The interesting mystery was drowned out by her crying herself to sleep in her dust covered bunk. Where was the fiery, intelligent woman who flew her Gypsy Moth into uncharted mountains? Why did this have to be such a hard read?

I put it down, and didn’t pick it back up until the following March. It was the best thing I could have done.

So, this is a little more personal than I tend to get into my reviews, but I think my personality can be too much for some people. I am honest, blunt, and uncompromising at times. I love every bit of myself, the good and the bad, and I like to believe that I am self-aware enough to make the changes needed to be a better person each day. But most people don’t appreciate my brand of honesty, so I spend most of my day ‘editing’ myself. This can get very, very lonely. I was especially struggling with this during March, and I finally understood Phyrne was feeling when I picked Blood and Circuses back up. I understood what it felt like to be surrounded by people who can’t see the real you. I knew what it was like to constantly question your self worth.

Did I still find Phryne’s lamentations annoying? Yep. Did I still think it unhealthy that a man’s romantic gestures are what brought her out of her self depreciating funk? Oh yeah. But I finally understood  Greenwood was trying to show readers that Phyrne isn’t perfect. That even she struggles with picking herself up out of the dirt. And I’m so grateful that I read this book at the right time in my life

So, I recommend Blood and Circuses, but only to readers who are already acquainted with the Honorable Miss Fisher. It provides a good mystery with outstanding supporting characters, and gives a great insight on how a strong woman can still struggle with positive self worth. Please read it, and let me know what you think!

Happy Reading.

Lindsay

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Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

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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

OCTOBER!

My favorite month has finally arrived! The 1st of October signals the start of fall (despite Florida holding on to the 90s), the start of the holiday season, and an excuse to indulge in all things creepy! My Halloween decorations are up, my seasonal fall scents are out, and my corny Halloween movies are on!

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So what can you expect from History and Mystery this month? Reviews on gruesome murder mysteries, macabre paranormal historical fiction, and circus stories! I am so excited to be sharing my favorite month with y’all!

Go ahead and check out last year’s spooky reads:

What spooky books are on your TBR this month? Please feel free to share your favorite October reads, movies, TV shows…just know I fully plan on binging Stranger Things!

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Happy October!  Lindsay

 

What to Expect – OCTOBER

OCTOBER

My favorite month of the year has arrived and you should see all the reviews that await you! MWAHAHAHA! (cue the creepy music…)

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So what can you expect this month? Lots and lots of paranormal cozy mysteries. What can I say? I love mysteries involving ghosts and witches.

I plan on reviewing Juliet Blackwell’s entire Withcraft Mystery series, which follows the adventures of sweet witch, Lily Ivory and her potbelly pig/goblin, Oscar.

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The third installment of Jackie Smith’s Cemetery Tours series comes out this month and you will see a review! I’m looking forward to After Death. Ghost hunting and a circus….oooooo!

Also, I will be reviewing one non paranormal novel this month: Jones Lee’s A Time to Live. This amazing friend has been beyond patient while waiting for this review and I’m excited to talk about the crazy adventures of snarky Carter Gabel!

So grad a pumpkin spice latte and your favorite candy because it is going to be a fun month!

Lindsay

Girl On A Wire

Girl on a Wire

by Gwenda Bond

Girl on a Wire

A ballerina, twirling on a wire high above the crowd. Horses, prancing like salsa dancers. Trapeze artists, flying like somersaulting falcons. And magic crackling through the air. Welcome to the Cirque American!

Sixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.

Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.

As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.

Girl on a Wire was released this October and many of you may wonder why I am including it in this month’s Halloween Books series.  Well, Girl on a Wire takes place at a circus, and circuses can be scary as they are usually populated with clowns.  I will probably never read Stephen King’s IT.  I don’t do clowns.

I was pleaseantly surprised by the coming of age novel that follows Jules Maroni, of the Amazing Maronis, during her journey to reclaim the spotlight for her family.  Mix in a little mystery and magic and you have a unique story by Gwenda Bond.

Lets get the negatives out of the way first:  it just lacked character development.  Jules and Remy were the only strong characters and they even read two dimensional at times.  I wanted more, especially when it came to the two families and the variety of characters in the Cirque American.  This just made the storyline weaker overall, which was frustrating because the story is a good one.  The magic and tragedy aspects just seemed less substantial because of it; especially at the end.  Also, I felt that naming the main characters Romeo and Juliet was just lazy; I got the connection without needing that flashing sign.  And I was not a fan of the way Jules treated her parents and how they just went along with her strong-arm behavior.  My parents would have killed me if I ran away to force them to change a decision.  They definitely wouldn’t have given me my way!

The circus culture is what made it hard to put the book down.  My little archaeologist heart loved Bond’s use of historical and I was excited about learning about a new sub-culture!  People, I started reading up on the first circuses and freak-shows, researching museums I could visit, and tracking down the dates of local circus exhibitions.  My husband who knows, and at times delights in, my fear of clowns looked at me like I was a complete idiot.  😀 I wanted to learn more!!!

My favorite scenes in Girl on a Wire are the moments when Jules is actually out on the wire.  Bond perfectly described the feeling of freedom, adrenaline, and joy one would expect a professional wire walker to experience; it is what I feel when flying!  She did a spectacular job making the circus life feel natural for readers and I could tell her research had been extensive.

I wish I could walk a wire but I fall standing on flat ground!  I definitely recommend this book if you are looking for something different or just enjoy the thrill of being up high!  Girl on a Wire was just fun to read.  Any circus lovers out there?

Lindsay