Category Archives: The Weekly Recommendation

“Life is the most spectacular show on Earth:” My review of Water for Elephants

I’ve never been much for circuses. Especially due to a fairly intense fear of clowns that I have. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I have not once in my life graced a big top. Until now.

I technically did not physically go to a circus. But my mind’s eye sure as daylight took me there when I read Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. I had heard nothing but great things about this book prior to reading it but had to wait until Christmas break to enjoy it for myself. About two days after picking it up from the library I was perusing the web and came across the trailer for the movie version coming out in April. And if you have seen it, you will know that it stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. And if you know anything about me, you not only know that I squealed with delight, but that I immediately dived into the book within the next hour. And I finished it three days later.

The story is told in a long series of flashbacks through the mind of Jacob Jankowski, the main character. When the book starts off, Jacob is a ninety year old gruff in a nursing home who is forced to relive his days on the circus train when a Big Top pops up across the street. Jacob goes from being a Cornell veterinary student with a bright future ahead of him to an orphan shoveling horse manure on a circus train, to the new circus vet caught up in an intense love triangle with the equestrian performer and her schizophrenic and rather hostile husband.

This book is electrifying, completely engaging, morbid, romantic, and everything in between. It gives you the real world feel of what circus life was like back during the Depression and takes you behind the dark and gruesome scenes both under the big top and on board the circus train during the long hauls between cities. The detailing is so intricate and you can definitely tell that Gruen did her research before starting this book because a lot of the information is dead on and truly puts you right on the scene.

You meet all the circus characters from the animal trainers, to the angry dwarf, to the fat lady, the tattooed freak, the money glutton of a ringmaster, and of course the silent heroine of the whole book, Rosie the elephant. This book is old-world Americana at its best but it’s no Ringling Brothers, I can tell you that much.

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“Oleander time” A review of Janet Fitch’s tale of simple elegance

 Oleanders are small evergreen shrubs or trees that are often planted as common garden plants. While beautiful, they are also the most poisonous and toxic of any garden plant. It’s no wonder Janet Fitch revolved the plot of her book around the concept of poison and death that comes with this beautiful piece of nature.

Janet Fitch’s White Oleander has been sitting on the bookshelf in the den ever since we moved into this house. My grandmother has read it close to 20 times and has always told me that I would enjoy it. But after reading the cover flap for a synopsis, I was never really interested. The main character’s name was Astrid and her mother’s name was Ingrid. That alone right there was enough to turn me off. But as I was channel surfing one day, I came across the movie version on TV and was immediately sucked in. The story is quite dark but enlightening at the same time. I personally would call it a “twisted coming of age story” when referring to the journey Astrid takes throughout the book. After her mother is arrested for murdering her boyfriend, Astrid is shoved into a world full of foster homes (six to be exact), loneliness, and depression. She goes from the home of a former stripper and heroin addict to a babysitter in the home of a modern family with two to the home of a Hollywood designer who starves her children in the mornings to the home of a former actress who commits suicide over her husband’s affair. She is then put in a “last resort” foster home where she meets Paul who will eventually play a much larger role in her life. Her final foster home is with a Russian immigrant in which Astrid takes her first acid trip and begins having  dark memories of her childhood. She goes from being a saint-like God-faring adolescent to a rebel-rousing Goth chick to even a serious drug user and a shooting victim all in the course of a few months. She goes through these transitions not only due to the different environments she’s raised in, but she changes herself as a statement to her mother. She’s extremely angry with Ingrid for leaving her alone so much as a young child and for disappointing her for murdering someone she claimed she loved. Because of her mother’s actions, Astrid had such a warped perspective on life and it’s no wonder she couldn’t decide whether to worship on Sunday morning or wake up from that drunken stupor with the meth adict laying beside her. She also fosters admirers from the prison in which her mother is sentenced and forms a relationship with several inmates.

But through all this, I think we can all relate to Astrid and the transtitions she goes through. We were all 16 once. We know what it’s like growing up in a world full of materialism, varying opinions, experimentation, and people who hate. There are also those of us out there who come from dysfunctional homes and families and who have made decisions we are far from proud of. But we’ve reached the light at the end of the tunnel, just as Astrid did in the end of the story. Her passion for art, something she gained from her mother, takes her on the path that will define the rest of her life and finally brings her to a true love she can cherish. As a metaphor for her journey through life, Astrid begins making art with suitcases.

This book was reviewed as portraying a “simple elegance” and I have to admit that I agree. Oprah was definitely on the right track when she made this one of her Book Club picks back in 1999. This book not only is a testament to the sacred relationship between mother and daughter but it’s a guiding light for adolescents who are struggling through the trials of life. I read this at the age of 20 and still found it inspiring and helpful in the tribulations I was facing as a college student. There’s no doubt in my mind that the elegant simplicity of this novel will ring true in the ears of young and old.

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Symphony of Rock: My Spotlight’s on David Garrett

Finally! A post from me! I know friends, I know. Life has been one hell of a ride the past few weeks but I promise I’m trying. My poor goodreads account has seen less action this past month than Lindsay Lohan had in her 14 day jail stint.

I’m straying a bit away from the norm this week and recommending some music rather than literature. But if you sit down and think about it, music is just literature put to a melody. So technically, I’m not straying too far from the beaten path. And the guy I’m recommending is one hell of a storyteller.

I recently discovered an artist by the name of David Garrett. He’s a violinist and a damned good one at that. The majority of his pieces are covers of other well known classicals, such as Zorba’s Dance or “I’m a Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean. My favorite of his albums has to be Rock Symphonies. He takes well known rock songs, such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and recreates them with a violin symphony. My favorite is his version of “November Rain.”

The man is truly a genius. While always being a fan of classical music, I was actually never been too keen on violinists until I came across this guy. His music is just simply a joy to listen to. And even while there are no words, he makes me feel like I’m right in the middle of a story. I’ve always penned his type of music as “perfect coffee shop or bookstore music.” And while it does still fit in that category, I find myself wanting to listen to him while I get ready in the morning, on my breaks at school, and it sets the perfect mood before I go to sleep at night.

I believe he’s another Hoff in the making because he’s the most popular in Germany. Ever since I “liked” him on Facebook every link posted on his page has been written in German. But I must say he’s a lot better looking than the Hoff man. And a much better singer.

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“Love means you can never be apart”: How it feels to fall in love with an imaginary friend

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were little? A Drop Dead Fred of sorts? Did you have that guest at your tea party or the giraffe that you played “Jungle” with in the backyard? Or was it a beautiful human being that was there for every tear, every laugh, every special moment of your life? Well a young girl named Jane had such a friend. His name was Michael. And he was her one true love.

This type of story line could only come from a great book. And that book is Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson. If you’re familiar with Patterson, you may be surprised to see that he wrote a romance. James is mostly known for his drama and mystery novels. But when he does romance, he does it well. This book is co-authored by Gabrielle Charbonnet and it is definitely on my Top 10 Favorite Book list.

The story starts off with Jane and Michael on a Sunday afternoon partaking of their normal ritual for that day: Ice cream at the St. Regis Plaza in New York. Michael is an imaginary friend who is randomly assigned to young children, but as part of his fate, he must leave them when they are nine. On Jane’s ninth birthday, after being completely snubbed by her overbearing mother and her cradle robbing father, Michael finally admits to Jane that he has to leave her that very night but promises that she will forget about him. 23 years later, even though Jane has a boyfriend, she still hasn’t forgotten about Michael. She has even written a Broadway production based on her childhood adventures with him, and ironically, her new beau is in the lead role playing Michael.

Jane’s life isn’t exactly peachy. She works for her controlling mother and her boyfriend Hugh is no catch. She spends a lot of time by herself and wavers in and out of sadness and depression. After another stood up date, she is spotted on the street by none other than, Michael. He’s on break in between assignments and he immediately recognizes Jane, even though he has never before seen one of his kids as an adult. They eventually meet up and once they rekindle the friendship they once had, the story takes an even more romantic and gripping turn. I won’t give anymore of the plot away because this is definitely one you need to read on your own and take what you will from how the story ends.

This book is an easy read and is one of those that you can’t really put down. I love Patterson’s writing style. He puts a lot of effort into the detailing of his stories so you feel what the characters feel and you see what they see. I love feeling like I am sitting there at the St. Regis with Jane and Michael eating a chocolate sundae and talking about childhood memories. I also love the way the bok brings me back to my own childhood and makes me think about how we all interacted with an imaginary friend. We all may not have had one, but the idea that we could possibly fall in love with the one person or thing that knew us better than our own parents did at that age is just exciting. It’s all about childhood innocence and how an “imaginary” love can turn into something so pure and true.

I’d definitely rate this one higher than The Notebook on romance but not higher on the cry factor. While I did shed a tear or two, I definitely was not bawling at the end. Which is a good thing. Because I hate it when the pages get wet.

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Holy Heathcliff Batman…we’ve got a romance!

Ahh British literature. It’s like an ice cold glass of lemonade on a hot day in the South: it’s utterly refreshing and makes you feel better about your day. Or at least that’s how I see it. And along with British Lit, I’m a huge sucker for star-crossed romance novels. Which is probably why my favorite book in the universe is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, which is what I am recommending to you today.

Wuthering Heights tells the story of Catherine Earnshaw and her family’s “adopted servant” Heathcliff. It’s like a reverse Cinderella story in which the female princess falls in love with the poor servant boy from the stables. However, no star crossed love story flows smoothly. They have quite a tumultuous love story and once Catherine realizes that she cannot marry Heathcliff, she berates him and leaves him out in the cold….literally. She marries Edgar Linton, a man of much higher standing but soon realizes the tragic mistake she has made. This realization leads to imminent disaster and one man’s journey for revenge against the family who made him feel less than noble.

The reason why I love this book so much is simply because of the story. I know there are hundreds of similar plots out there but this one just stands out above the rest. The Bronte sisters were two of the most talented writers of their time and the characteristic I love most about them is their ability to bring passion to the page. While reading this book, you can literally feel the passion and the desire between Heathcliff and Cathy. You can feel the love they have for one another and you feel their pain during their separation. In most books of this genre, you aren’t able to truly “feel” what the characters are feeling, which I feel is quite an important factor in reading. If you aren’t able to share the characters’ emotions, then you aren’t getting the full literary experience. You also aren’t getting your money’s worth. Or you wasted a swipe of the library card.

While there are about a million movie versions of this classic, my all time favorite is the 1970 adaptation starring Timothy Dalton (sigh) as Heathcliff. I believe this version captures the essence of the book better than all the rest. And Dalton embodies the character of Heathcliff and brings the right amount of vigor to the screen. My second favorite is the 1992 adaptation starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. These are two of my favorite actors and they have such a great chemistry which makes the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy so much more intense and passionate, which is how it should be.

My favorite quote from the book is spoken by Cathy during a secret conversation with her maid, Nelly. She speaks this when she realizes that she can’t marry Heathcliff, but the fact that she still loves him more than life itself captures her. “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” I mean does that not just make you weak in the knees? Forget Darcy and Cullen. I’m all about some Heathcliff.

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Read any good books lately? Join the club!

I have gotten totally behind on my blogging and I do apologize. As a rising junior in college with a job and three weeks left til classes, I shouldn’t have to explain to you why I have been absent from my online duties. But sadly, I must also use that as my excuse for not having finished another book for the Weekly. I am almost done and promise I will have it ready for you next week.

But never fear, I still have something I want you to peruse in your free time. It’s a website this week that I shamefully am just now discovering, but there is no question as to why I have already become obsessed with it. It’s goodreads.com. Here, you can make a free profile and go BOOK CRAZY. Its database contains every book ever written and you create lists: A “Read” list, a “To-Read” list, and a “Currently Reading” list. You add books to each list and whichever you are currently reading, you can update your status throughout your literary journey. With books that you have read, you are able to write your own review, give it your rating out of 5 stars, and post it on  your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Along with the reviews, you can post other forms of your writing, as well as answer questions in the NeverEnding Trivia game and also answer specific quizzes created by other players. There is also a quote section dedicated to users’ favorite quotes from a book or specific author. You can of course create your own trivia question or quiz, as well as add your own quote or create your own network or group, just like Facebook.

You know it couldn’t be a decent website without some social networking involved. You can add friends and see their reviews and updates as well as send them messages and your own reviews. There are also group forums, online book clubs, and they have recently incorporated live webchats with a featured author.

If you love to read as much as I do and want to share your thoughts on books with others, I definitely recommend you sign up at this site. Whether you want to bash the teen sap of Twilight or rave about your journey through Timbuktu, get on there and let it be known. I myself have over 50 books listed and am adding more everyday. I’ve even found a potential book blogging opportunity. Don’t hesitate to read my friends.

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The Lady and the Panda

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I have a great love for the giant panda. If I could give all the money in the world to ensure that they would no longer be endangered, I would. One of my absolute favorite books tells the story of the woman (yes I said WOMAN) who brought the first giant panda to America. Her name was Ruth Harkness. And the book is The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Croke.

Ruth Harkness was a socialite in the 1920’s who really only worried about what dress she was going to wear to that night’s function. She was happily married to Bill Harkness: an adventurer with the dream of being the first person to bring the giant panda, a then unheard of and mysterious creature, to America. Just weeks after their wedding, Bill embarks on such an adventure but unfortunately loses his life along the way. Devastated, Ruth decides to continue Bill’s legacy and go on the journey for the panda herself. So in 1936, she sets out to Tibet to find what her husband died trying to find.

You can imagine her journey was not easy. Especially given the fact that she was a woman trying to make a name for herself in a man’s world. The terrain was rough, some of the cities she encountered were in turmoil and in the middle of war, and there were several other explorers along the way who would stop at nothing to take her down and beat her at her own game.

Ruth doesn’t escape the wiles of being a woman on her journey. She does fall in love with one of her partners in the expedition but forgets him completely when she lays eyes on the panda cub she will eventually bring to the States. After years of unrest, great obstacles, and relentless trekking, Ruth brings Su Lin to America. No other animal in history has gotten as much attention as Su Lin did.

The book reads almost as a diary of Ruth’s adventures. Even though the print was rather small and the chapters quite long, I loved reading and re-reading this book. There are also pictures included of  both Ruth and Su Lin, along with some of the sights she saw along the way.

The thing I love most about this book is the fact that it gives you a history lesson without you truly realizing it. You learn all about what was going on in the world during the 30’s and 40’s, especially in countries like China, who were in the middle of war. You learn what it was really like for a woman in the midst of male domination. And you get to see how one little panda brings together a whole nation. And that, my friends, is worth a read.

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