Saturday, February 26, 2011

Just Finished: "Water for Elephants"

Oh my goodness. This book was amazing! I've been hearing for years that this novel was really great, as it was released way back in May 2006. When I was working at the bookstore, I tended to hear lots of reviews and recommendations, and Water for Elephants was no exception. For some reason I never got around to picking it up and I am so glad that I finally did!

Here's a synopsis from Chapters:

Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train and inadvertently runs away with the circus. So begins Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen's darkly beautiful tale about the characters who inhabit the less-than-greatest show on earth.
Jacob finds a place tending the circus animals, including a seemingly untrainable elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the star of the equestrian act and wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need to belong in the crazy family of travelling performers, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down.
This was one of those novels that you just cannot put down, and I haven't read a book like that since The Forgotten Garden this past summer. There was just one little thing that I didn't love (and I say didn't love because it wasn't that I didn't like it, it just wasn't my thing) and that was that the story goes back and forth from the present to the past. Jacob isn't necessarily telling his story, but learning about his life in the circus is interspersed with present day when he is ninety three and in a nursing home. I think the reason I wasn't into this was that it ended the "action" part of the novel. One page I'm learning about how they're trying to train Rosie the elephant, and the next I'm stalled in the nursing home with Jacob waiting for his family to arrive. It's not that it was boring - Gruen wonderfully captured the scared feeling that I'm sure many elderly people feel when they know that their mental and physical capabilities are slipping - it was that I wanted to get back to the circus! Part of that feeling of needing to get back to the action was because, I think, that there was a prologue and I desperately wanted to find out how the circus tragedy was set in motion.

One of the unfortunate things about reading this book now, is that I knew who the actors are who are in the upcoming adaptation. I'm one of those people who must read the book before seeing the movie, so I guess that's another reason I finally got around to reading this book. I had known the movie was coming for a long while, and knew right away who the actors were going to be. I like being able to imagine the characters myself, so it was too bad that I couldn't do that with the main characters for this novel (which is why, when I read The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks, that I didn't look online to see who will be in the upcoming adaptation). While I couldn't picture Reese Witherspoon as easily as the magnificent Marlena, I do think she'll do a fantastic job. On the other hand, I think they picked a great actor in Robert Pattinson to play the young Jacob. I know what you anti-Twilight people are thinking, but I choose to ignore all the naysayers (that's right, I said naysayers, what of it?). He has just the right moodiness and brains to pull off the character. Hopefully I won't be disappointed. By the way, the movie is set to be released on April 22.

I enjoyed that Gruen took real life anecdotes from the traveling train circuses from years past. She mentions this in the author's notes and I'm really glad she did. Some of the things were really interesting and neat, but others were sad (such as the fact that elephant execution was common among circus elephants that misbehaved). Either way, I liked that Gruen made sure that the historical part of this novel had credibility.

Overall, this was a fantastic novel. Highly recommended to anyone who likes a good read, or really enjoys the circus. Anyone else read this book? What did you think?

Stay tuned for an Oscar related post - I'm hosting a party tomorrow night and can't wait to tell you all about it. It's going to be so much fun! :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

February Chick Lit Review - "Forget Me Knot"

I know, I know, it's been forever (ok, 2 weeks) since I last posted. Apparently my life has been busy! Not to worry though, I am back with my second review for the Chick Lit Plus Chick Lit Challenge (try saying that five times fast!)
This month I decided to read Forget Me Knot by Sue Margolis.

First, a synopsis, this one from the Chapters site:
Florist Abby Crompton has a knack for arranging the most exquisite bouquets for the hippest clientele. If only her personal life could run as smoothly. Although her fiancé, Toby, proposed a month ago, Abby's still waiting for the ring. An up-and-coming lawyer, Toby's been far too busy to shop-let alone muster the energy for romance. If that wasn't frustrating enough, the night she's supposed to meet her future mother-in-law, Abby gets stuck in an elevator-with a sexy stranger bearing fine wine. Needless to say, a tipsy Abby arrives late for dinner and doesn't make the best impression.
In the aftermath of the dinner disaster, Abby is thrilled to learn that a film studio wants to use her shop in an upcoming movie. But when she meets the director, Dan, she's shocked to discover that he's none other than the same man with whom she shared the elevator-and some highly personal information. Now, with Toby putting in more overtime, Abby's feeling even more neglected. And her attraction to Dan is growing daily-as her own life begins to mirror the romantic comedy he's shooting.
Featuring an irrepressible heroine, Forget Me Knot blooms with charm, wit, and fun
I had passed by this book a few times at work until one day I finally decided to pick it up (I think it was in the last few weeks when I knew I would be leaving soon and wanted to get as many books with my discount as possible. Hey, don't judge. You would do the same thing!) I'm glad I did read it, even though it wasn't one of my favourites. Let me explain...

I think the thing that bothered me the most was that there was so much going on! Let me show you what I mean with this oh so fantastical character web:
As you can see, there are a ton of characters. You can also see that this is not the world's best representation, but just go with it, ok? My point with this is that there are just so many characters and so many links. The other thing is that they all have back stories! Every single one of them. Extensive back stories. So much so that I want to yell at the book and say "Get to the point!" Ahem. This makes it seem like it was 1. confusing and 2. a totally awful thing. It actually wasn't at all confusing and I did like the other stories, I just thought it left the novel being a bit disconnected and fragmented.

Here's an example. I picked up the book thinking the main story was Abby and her fiance Toby, and how they had hit a rough patch and she just happens to meet Dan while stuck in an elevator. Take another look at the synopsis. You think so too, right? Well, we're wrong. This story gets settled halfway through the book! I honestly wasn't sure what to expect after that, and I think that's where Margolis lost me. I felt like a lot of the second half of the book wasn't necessary. There's a whole other story going on with Abby's mum and dad (they're British, hence my use of "mum" instead of "mom") that, while I understand why it is important to Abby, didn't really see the point of. There was an intriguing twist with Dan, but I did see it coming (read it and let me know if you did too!)

I did love Abby, even though I thought she was a bit daft (still trying to be British while writing this review) by staying with Toby when it was so clearly not working out. She was a self made woman, who owned her own flower shop (so cool and different!) and the flat above it. She was even doing well enough to have an assistant, the prerequisite gay friend, Martin "Scoredaisy". The shop had been featured in several magazines and news articles and Abby was getting a lot of high end clients from these reviews. Way to go, girl! Her best friend Sophie is always there for her, as a best friend should be, and plays the "short, jelly bean shaped" card against the tall, slender, attractive Abby. Our heroine has a man who loves her, albeit one who always seems to be at the law office trying to make partner, but then she gets stuck in an elevator on the way to meet the future mother-in-law and it all goes to hell in a hand basket.

I won't give away all the extra story lines, some of which were cute, others were just excessive. I do recommend this book, even if it seems like I hated it. I didn't, honestly. And, if we're being honest, I finished it in the midst of one hell of a headache, so perhaps that coloured my judgement slightly. If you like cute and fun books, with pretty kick ass main characters, this is worth checking out. I have another of Margolis' sitting on my bookshelf, waiting patiently for its turn (Perfect Blend, in case you were wondering) and I look forward to reading that one too. If I were to rate Forget Me Knot with stars, I think I'd give it 3.5...just not quite at 4, very close though. Check it out from your library, and let me know what you think.

To close with this review, I want to include a quote that I thought was just perfect in describing romance and chick lit novels. Abby and Dan are talking about the plot of Dan's film and how it is a romance that follows a formula...
"But all the way through, you know it's going to work out for them in the end."
He looked apologetic. "That tends to be how rom-coms work. They're like Greek tragedies. They always follow an identical pattern. You know the routine: man meets woman, usually after some kind of complicated mix-up. They begin a tentiative relationship. Smething happens to split them up. They either get back together or form new relationships."
"No, I get that - I really do. Everyboday adores those plots. You love knowing but not knowing."
I feel like that quote sums up how we all feel about these kinds of books and movies. We know how it'll end up, but we don't know how it's going to get there. And that's what we love.

I'm loving this Chick Lit Challenge so far and am really happy I signed up for it. It's given me the chance to read what others think about some of my favourite books, and learn about new books to read too. Now I have to put on my thinking cap and figure out what the next book will be. I think March will be a debut author month, and I think I have the perfect one picked out. Stay tuned...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Currently Reading: Happy Ever After

I am so happy to finally be reading this book. It's been out since November and every shift I worked it would taunt me. I held off buying it though because I thought it'd be pretty silly to buy the fourth book in a series when I didn't own any of the others. I vowed to be patient and wait for it from my lovely local library (hey, look at that unintentional alliteration!). Actually, my mom got it from the library and I borrowed it from her. This means that I have to have it done by the end of tomorrow so I can give it back to her and she can have the time to read it. An attainable goal I think, as I am currently on chapter eleven, page 162 of 355.

The only thing I knew about this series when it first came out was that the first book had an absolutely gorgeous cover. That and it was another book in a long line by Nora Roberts. I never had a huge problem with Roberts, as I knew my mom read them and I know she doesn't read mindless romance novels (and there are many of those!). Within the next year the next three books in the series were released, all with beautiful covers as well - though my favourite is still the first one!

When I moved back home for the summer my mom mentioned a series of books that she thought I would really like, but she couldn't remember what they were called or who wrote them. She hadn't mentioned them to me when she was reading them because I was in school and had less than no time to read for fun. We eventually figured out what they were and I read the first one I was totally hooked.

This series is about four women who are such good friends they may as well be sisters. My favourite part of the whole series? That they own a wedding planning company. Why was I particularly drawn to that aspect? A bit of background on me - I took an event management course last year and toyed with the idea of working for a wedding planner but I ended up taking the fundraising route instead, almost by accident. So, I'm not just one of your average females who are drawn to stories and movies about weddings, but I actually really enjoy the planning aspect of it and the work that goes into making a bride's day perfect.

Each book is focused on a different character, and each one of them is responsible for a different aspect of a wedding. Mac the photographer was first in Visions of White, Emma the florist came next in Bed of Roses, Savor the Moment focused on the baker and cake artiste Laurel, and finally Happy Ever After was about Parker who was the one who looked after all the other necessary details. Did you notice that the titles allude to the job of the character? Cute, isn't it?

As with most romance novels, at the end of each story the main character ends up with a wonderful guy - of course after some sort of issue. I know the formula for these kinds of books and movies, and I'm ok with that. I like seeing how the writer makes the journey to the official relationship or engagement different than all the other stories out there.

What makes these books a little different is that it's not just about the men or falling in love. These women have been friends since they were children and playing Wedding Day in their backyards. They love and respect each other and that comes through in the stories. It makes me think of the relationships with my own friends and how lucky I am to have some of them who know me so incredibly well.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these books. If you like romance - read them. If you like weddings - read them. If you like reading about female friendships - read them. They're sweet, and light, and perfect for a weekend read.

Now, enough writing about this book and more reading it! :)