book review: Water for Elephants


Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I loved this book. The fact that I read it in under 24 hours is a testament to how easy it was to read, as well as how engaging it was. The story of an almost-veterinarian during the great depression, who gets swept up into the rough and tumble desperation of traveling circus life, is just fascinating. And the sadness of Jacob at 93, wasting away his remaining years in a nursing home, while his family simply forgets to visit him, is just tragic. Until the end, which made me cry with joy (which was a little embarrassing, as I was sitting in a public cafe at the time!).

My only complaint about this book was that it wasn’t longer.

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31 Bond Street


31 Bond Street31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

It took me a little while to get get going with this book, but once I got “into” it, it was an engrossing read. Mixing a historical event (a sensational murder in the late 1950s) with a fictionalized account of the motives behind the murder, I was left guessing up until the reveal as to what actually happened. Being a New Yorker myself, and someone who loves anything to do with New York history, this was (theoretically) right up my alley. My only criticism was that I would have loved to see a more expansive description of the atmosphere of the time – Addresses were given, and “famous” locations were mentioned, but there was not a lot of “painting the scene” of New York that I love so much in books like this. But that’s a criticism that is personal to me, given my particular interest in the subject.

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the backlash


The BacklashThe Backlash by Will Bunch

An interesting investigation of some of the players in the right wing noise machine, along with some conversations with folks on the ground who have gotten involved in the tea party movement. But I found two things that were bothersome. First, it jumped around too much – activists are introduced for a few pages, and then never heard from again, while others are threaded throughout the book. Second, Bunch has this really annoying habit of writing in the 2nd person, but only half the time (otherwise it’s 3rd person). I found this completely distracting and irritating. “I’m” not driving anywhere. Bunch is. And he should just say that, rather than ascribing what was obviously his reaction to certain things to the reader. Even where I agreed in principle with his thoughts, I don’t like having that “put” on me. so…eh.

My interest in this book can also be measured by the fact that it was only 336 pages long, and it took me 11 days to read it. I was worried that I wasn’t going to finish before it expired (I borrowed the e-book from the Brooklyn Public Library), and found myself skimming over things, even though I didn’t intend to. Not quite an engaging/engrossing read.

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american gods


American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

It’s not entirely fair for me to review this, as I got about a third of the way through and finally gave up. I borrowed it from the library, which usually forces me to race through a book, yet every time I picked up my nook, I searched for other stuff to read instead of continuing along. It felt like a chore.

Which is a shame, because I’ve had love for Gaiman since I read the Sandman graphic novels in college (and still have a set on my shelf).

I just couldn’t get invested in any way. And at page 160, I realized I was never going to get there. and there’s no point in spending the next two weeks that I’m entitled to keep it out of the library avoiding reading it. There are a dozen people on the waiting list, and I figure I’ll be considerate and just return the darn thing.

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the lost city of z


The Lost City of ZThe Lost City of Z by David Grann

a great tale of man’s unending need to keep looking for things, from Colonel Fawcett’s need to find Z, to everyone else’s need to find Fawcett once he disappears.

Fawcett was one of the greatest explorers of his age, charting vast swathes of the Amazon, an area so inhospitable to outsiders that few survived the experience. Fawcett became convinced that there had been some great society, which he dubbed “Z”, and which others have at times referred to as El Dorado, and set out on a final adventure to find it. He was never seen again. 80 years later, the author (with the help of modern technology, as well as the devastation brought to the rainforest by logging and the like) tries to find out what happened to Fawcett. He doesn’t find Fawcett, but what he does find is even more astounding.

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ColumbineColumbine by Dave Cullen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoroughly researched and, more importantly, gripping to read. I was a bit dumbfounded at the number of things we take for granted about the columbine massacre that are simply not true. The in-depth analysis of Eric Harris’s possible psycopathy was incredibly enlightening, and shifts at least some of the responsibility away from alleged bullies (who may never have existed in the first place) and towards the multitude of adults (including professional therapists) who were duped by him. Dylan Klebold is actually the more tragic situation, since it is fairly obvious from a significant amount of his behavior that he was deeply depressed. Of course, this doesn’t serve to excuse his horrific actions in following what was most likely Harris’s plan, but it does teach a lesson moving forward for adults (parents, teachers, therapists) to be conscious and conscientious in the interactions with “troubled” children they encounter.

On both a sadder and more hopeful note, I was very moved by the struggles of the survivors, both those who ultimately couldn’t get through the aftermath, and those who pushed through and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

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CharlatanCharlatan by Pope Brock

Thoroughly enjoyable, I found the Epilogue to be the most disturbing section, with the surfeit of modern-day analogues to “Dr.” Brinkley’s methods.

The story of quacks wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating without the legions of ready and willing customers for their too-good-to-be-true methods. Here was a guy who suckered untold numbers of people into getting goat testicles implanted into them. And only after decades of practice did they turn on him.

But…fascinating read, and I’d highly recommend it.

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Addendum: I finally got to watch this week’s Mad Men, and with talk of Bert Cooper’s “procedure”, I couldn’t help but be glad that I read this book – he’s the right age, and it sounds like he ended up with one of these “rejuvenation” surgeries that amounted to little more than a botched vasectomy in the 1920s/30s.

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the swan thieves



The Swan ThievesThe Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Certainly not as good as The Historian, it still had its enjoyable moments, and I was anticipating what should (obviously) have been an explosive ending. Except…

it just sort of petered out. Perhaps because of The Historian I was expecting a more…mystical…explanation for Robert Oliver’s behavior, the way he was seemingly possessed by these long-dead artists. But no, he was just obsessed with one of them. And Dr. Marlow, by figuring this out (and figuring out the big secret, which no one in the 21st century would even be scandalized by), somehow magically cures Oliver, even though no explanation is ever given as to why he became so obsessed (other than his underlying mental illness, which, again, doesn’t seem to actually have been treated).

It was basically:

Dr. Marlow: Hey, instead of staying at the institution and actually treating you for your obvious mental illness, I took a bunch of whirlwind trips all over the world and I found out the big secret about this woman who you’ve been completely obsessed with for years. But you already figured it out on your own, so I haven’t given you any new information.

Oliver: Thanks Doc! After months of not speaking a word while institutionalized for, apparently, no particular reason, your running around (and knocking up my ex-girlfriend in the process) to figure out the big secret, which I already knew, has magically cured me. Don’t worry, I’ll call you if I get depressed again!

Oh well.

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under the dome


I used to be an avid Stephen King reader, devouring everything that he wrote, and using my holiday bookstore gift certificates to buy whatever book he inevitably published that year.  Then I kind of grew out of it a bit, and pretty much stopped reading his books somewhere around college. Not intentionally. I just found…other things to read that seemed more important.

But now that I’m reading an average of a book a week, I decided to pick up his latest, since the price on the e-book finally dropped to something reasonable. And it was great. Disturbing, harrowing, a little creepy (all in good ways). While the imposition of the dome was external/alien, the real evil was manifested within. I’m not sure I buy the idea that it could devolve quite so quickly (less than a week), but as a study of how petty, local, power-hungry (and religiously fervent) despots become truly obsessed with their own power, it was really fascinating.

All in all, I’m glad I picked it up. Now I just have to convince myself to go back and finish the Dark Tower series, which I abandoned halfway through with the thought that he was never going to finish writing the darn thing. But apparently Mr. King has finished it, so I’m adding it to my wish list.

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the man from beijing


finished. Read my review of The Man From Beijing here.

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