December – Water for Elephants

Aaaargh I didn’t manage it! I put Water for Elephants on the list because I read it 5 years ago in another book club (Shhhh don’t tell my guys there was life before Turn the Page) and I wanted to read it again. Life got to me, and I failed, first I was crazy busy with work, and then I got a nasty virus, but I’m pretty sure I can remember enough to write something relevant-ish (if I go off track let me know)…

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

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When I read Water for Elephants I fell in love, I had not expected to, and I had not wanted to read it at all, NOT EVER!!! Yes, I was a stubborn little pain in the arse, but I had my reasons: 1) They made it into a film starring Robert Pattinson, and I was still angry that he was a sparkly vampire, in a godawful film or three that I had been made to watch by my preteen children. 2) It was obviously a pile of romantic slush, I could tell this from the cover of the DVD, and I really don’t do sloppy stuff. So my reasons were sensible and valid…..right? WRONG! What I didn’t realise was that I very nearly refused to read a book that I would love so much that it would stop me from doing pretty much anything else for three days.

The story starts with 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski living in a nursing home where he has no freedom, is made to eat blended food, in spite of having the ability to chew solids, and is thoroughly fed up. The circus is in town, and he is keen to go, but his daughter doesn’t turn up to take him, so he sets off alone…

When we are taken back to Jacob’s youth, it transpires that as a young man he was in the middle of studying to become a vet when he receives news that changes his life completely.  Jacob leaves his life and jumps on a train, a circus train, and here he meets some interesting (Kinko & Camel) and some very dark characters (Uncle Al and August) and the woman that he hopes will one day notice him. This is the story of the circus, and Jacob’s experiences of it, and his internal battle with hating the brutality of the circus, yet feeling that he belonged there.

I was surprised at how dark the book was at times, not at all the light, frothy romance novel I expected at all. The Circus of the 1930s was certainly not a glamorous place, it was hard, uncaring, and quite frankly pretty bleak. Gruen researched the history of the circus in depth, and took inspiration from stories that she found, for some of the incidents that happen in the book. I gave this book 4.5* in 2012 and I suspect that I will still love it when I find time to read it again. The group gave it a solid 4.5* too, so it’s a definite yes from us.

Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey

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I came to this book with no expectations, I had not read a synopsis, I had met nobody who had read the book, and I had no idea that it was released as a film in 2017. I was dragged into the book very early on and spat out again at the end, there was no point at which I wanted to put it down and read something else instead. I laughed out loud several times whilst reading this book, and considering that it’s target audience is ‘young adult’, that is quite something.

Jasper Jones is set in Australia and is the story of Charlie Bucktin, a 13-year-old boy who lives a pretty simple life, until Jasper Jones comes to his bedroom window one night to ask for his help. Jasper literally turns Charlie’s life upside down, dragging him into an adventure that no teenager is prepared for, and this is how the book starts. The people in the town believe that Jasper is a ‘bad un’, he has a reputation for making trouble, and they blame him for everything bad that happens. This reputation is unfounded and seems to be down to several things 1) his being mixed race, 2) his father being a drunk bully and 3) his quiet sullenness.

The relationships in the story are complex, the people are flawed and the friendships are vital. The story is well written and there are some truly beautiful little moments that warm the heart of the reader. I absolutely loved this book for exactly what it was, a gorgeous wee story, with charming characters and witty dialogue. I gave the book 4*, unfortunately, nobody else had read it, so I gave my copy to Sam (to be passed on to Steph) and eagerly await their reviews. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone over the age of 13, with a thirst for adventure.

Happy reading

Mel x

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November – Time and Again

So apparently, Pantomime season is crazy busy when you work in theatre production, who knew? This being my first chance to catch up with my old friend WordPress in two months, means that I may well bombard you all with two blog posts at once. That said, if nothing else it will take double the time to read, giving you the perfect opportunity to whack the kettle on and chill for 10 blissful (if somewhat filled with the ramblings of a bookish woman with far too much of an opinion on everything) minutes. HAPPY NEW YEAR by the way..

Time and Again – Jack Finney

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I have wanted to read this book for years. I cannot remember exactly how long, but I read a quote in the back of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (A very ‘hard to put down’ book, if you can lift it at all in the first place), that suggested that this was the ultimate in time travel novels. Jack Finney writes beautifully, describing the New York of 1882 in such a way that you can easily lose yourself in the city sights and sounds. Some of the group thought the descriptions of past New York were laboured, but I did not find this at all, and for me, this was the beauty of the book.

Let’s come back to the more recent past, to be precise, to 1970. The book was written in 1970 and was set in the present day, so modern New York in the novel is, from our perspective almost half a century out of date. To look at it another way, the twin towers of the world trade center opened in 1970 and 1971 respectively, so they were just being built when the ‘present day’ part of the book is set. For the reader, who has travelled to New York recently, this gives us three New Yorks to consider, the one we know, the one that is developing into our modern New York, and a whole other place, where Central Park is home to many farmers, and few of the buildings we now know and love even exist.

Simon Morley, our main protagonist, is going about his daily business, happily in a new and blossoming relationship, when he is approached by Ruben Prien to take part in a secret government project. He agrees to take part and goes with Ruben to a huge warehouse where the project and its secrets unfold. I doubt I am spoiling anything by telling you that the secret project is time travel (if this revelation has shocked you to the very core I apologise, and respectfully suggest that you read the rest of the post again). So in an attempt to be part of something fabulous, and secret (and who doesn’t like to be part of something secret), and to curry favour with the new woman in his life, Si sets off on a time travel adventure.

The book is the story of a changing city, mixed gently with romance, mystery and intrigue. The writing is lovely, and the story kept my attention, but, it did not blow me away, in fact, it was a little disappointing. I LOVED 11/22/63 and when Stephen King said that he was inspired by Time and Again, I thought it would be mind-blowingly good. It was good, it rolled along, but there were issues, there were little things that irked and the premise wasn’t strong enough to overcome these in my opinion. I gave it 3* and this was also the average rating from the group.

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room is a short novel, but boy does it pack a punch. The story was written in 1956, a long long time before being gay or bisexual was in any way considered acceptable, let alone natural (yeh I know there are still many places where it’s not). The story centres around David, a young American man, who has moved to Paris to explore his sexuality.

David is Gay (or bisexual if you consider that he is engaged to and sexually active with a woman) but has locked those feelings away for years, his one time encounter with a male friend in his youth remains his dirty little secret. In Paris, David meets and falls for Giovanni, an Italian waiter in a gay bar (yes in Paris they existed). With his fiance away, David embarks on a relationship with Giovanni behind closed doors, and all the time fighting his sexuality.

The book is dark, the closet is a very dark place, and what becomes obvious throughout the book is that when you pretend to be something that you are not, people get hurt. Giovanni’s story is as heartbreaking as David’s, and I found myself being thankful that I live in a (mostly) more enlightened age, and in a progressive society. I surround myself with people who encourage freedom of expression, sexuality, speech etc, and find it unthinkable that anyone should hide who they are, and this book illustrates clearly why freedom and acceptance are so very important. I gave the book 4* and the rest of the group gave it an average of 3.5*.

Happy reading

Mel xx