Tag Archives: novels

Elephants in My Room

The other day I finished reading my first Jodi Picoult book. I chose Leaving Time without knowing anything about it because it was available at the used book store (if I write used bookstore, doesn’t that mean that the store is secondhand?). It was cheap, and I wanted to see what her writing was like.

It was serendipity that the book turned out to be about elephants because I had just finished reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. Maybe some readers would say, “Oh no, not more elephants.” But not this animal lover. I can’t get enough elephants.

By the way, remember my mother-in-law, the artist who painted the murals at The Birdland nightclub? She had a collection of little elephant statues that I inherited. I have them stuck to a shelf with museum putty so I couldn’t arrange them for a photo. This is how I have them jammed in, along with her Birdland and Stork Club memorabilia (sigh).

What a mess

Anyway, I loved both books . . . a lot. Gruen’s novel is highly acclaimed. A movie was made of the book. As is typical, I haven’t seen the movie. It’s a story about a young man who travels and works with a circus. He takes care of the animals, including a beautiful and highly intelligent elephant that only understands Polish.  My Goodreads review is short because I’ve been too short on time lately for writing reviews.

Loved this book. I was so worried about the ending, but the ending turned out to be perfect.

Picoult’s book is a little more complicated. The average Goodreads star rating is 3.91. That’s pretty decent, but it’s comprised of some 1s and 2s. This is what I wrote in my review:

I’ve read some of the Goodreads reviews of this book, and I think I understand why I give this book a 5 and some others give it a 1 or 2. This is a book that appeals to a soft heart for animals. Picoult skillfully teaches me so much about elephants and their brilliant, creative minds and big hearts–and I don’t even feel as if I’m being taught. I feel as if I am living with the elephants. If you are mainly interested in humans and don’t feel a kinship with animals you might think that the book feels as if there are odd gaps at times–explainable by the story being told from multiple points of view. It might even seem a little jerky occasionally because of this. That is all understood by the end of the book (the twist), so it makes sense. Not my absolute favorite story without the elephants, but the elephants are the stars of the show–AND VERY WELL WORTH THE READ. in fact, I wish everyone would read it to learn more about them and to help them survive before it is too late and they are all gone.

One of the really cool aspects of the novel is that it comes with a prequel at the end that gives additional information about the elephants. Another is that one of the elephant sanctuaries in the book is the real one that exists in Tennessee. That is on my bucket list along with Cleveland Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch. Check it out!

When my son was in high school, he and I picketed the circus together–all over their treatment of the animals, especially the elephants. So imagine my excitement a few months ago at hearing that Ringling Brothers was giving in to the will of the people fighting for the health of the elephants by retiring all their elephants!

One of the most meaningful books I’ve ever read was Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s nonfiction When Elephants WeepIn it he makes an airtight case for the emotional life of elephants (and other animals). In his book I first learned that elephants have been known to create art!!!

When Elephants Weep

Now I’m looking for more elephant books to read. Has anybody read The Elephant Whisperer?

#amwriting: Yup, I’ve been getting my chapbook in shape, so that gives me a feeling of accomplishment. And now my daughter is visiting with her kitty. YIPPEE!!!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Fiction, Nonfiction, Reading, Writing

My Fiction Reading During National Poetry Month

Although it’s poetry month, I’ve been reading fiction lately as a little break from poetry and memoir.

I chose well because I enjoyed all three books. These are the reviews I posted (pretty much word for word) at both Amazon and Goodreads.

My favorite of the three was It’s In His Kiss, written by Vickie Lester who blogs over at Beguiling Hollywood. This contemporary murder mystery is set in present-day Palm Springs and Los Angeles. I know the time period because the characters own cell phones, but the ambiance, shenanigans, and secrets come from a long-time Hollywood tradition that features real life mysteries such as the Black Dahlia murder, George Reeves (Superman), Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes), and maybe even Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe.

I was hooked very early on–in part because of the compelling story and in part because after a whirlwind romance (hook-up? you decide–I don’t want to give anything away) the reader is slammed with a shock. Lester keeps shaking the reader up as one Hollywood secret after another is divulged. She’s a master at creating believable southern California characters (main character Anne’s father Bob stepped off the page and into my kitchen), but even better at her precise and breathtaking descriptions of the city. She knows the roads, the landmarks, and how it all fits (and doesn’t fit) together better than anybody I’ve read in a long time.

Lester’s witty approach fits the subject and the culture well. I appreciated the occasional nod to pop culture. For instance, she calls a scary pseudo-religion “Clientology.” These touches give the book the feeling of a roman à clef which heightens the illusion of reality. And when it came time to reveal the mystery, I was shocked, but thrilled to discover a satisfying conclusion. If I were you, I would jump through the book image to Amazon to order It’s In His Kiss.

Next up is Ape House, written by Water for Elephants novelist Sara Gruen.  I have been captivated by nonfiction stories of animals learning to communicate on human terms since I was in high school. I used to teach Koko’s Kitten to future teachers because I hoped they would share the importance of interspecies communication with their own students one day.

This book takes the real story of Gruen’s experiences with bonobos who can sign and adds lots of excitement. It’s a fast-paced mystery, adventure, and love story. That’s a good thing because it ought to bring home to readers the story of primate communication with humans to readers who don’t know anything about it. It’s a quick read and even if your life is chaotic you can get “into” the book immediately. This was a 4 star book, although I can understand why some people would give it a 5. I think it tried to be a little more serious than it really was, which is why I give it a 4.

Finally, I wanted a light historical mystery, so I chose The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber. This book turned out to also be a romance, in a Gothic sense. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series. Lady Darby is an artist which makes her very appealing. A few times I felt annoyed at the contemporary perspective on women’s issues taking me out of the scene and setting. Lady Darby has enough clothing for a much wealthier woman, too, but the dress descriptions make for delicious reading. One gripe I had was that the frequent mention of the green cloak was belied by the red one on the woman on the cover of the book. Why can’t a cover truly represent what lies within? I gave the book a 4 star rating based on the quality for its genre. I don’t expect it to be something that it isn’t. But if you judge it against the two books above, it’s a 3 star.

I’ve ordered more books to add to my to-be-read stack, not because I have a lot of spare time ahead, but because it’s very comforting to have plenty of books to read.

How about you? Does a stack of unread books comfort you or stress you out?

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, Novel, Publishing

Journaling Grief: A Novel Review

Some (ahem) years ago, I applied to our local university’s MFA program. Imagine my surprise when I was accepted. The only downside was that my undergraduate majors were marketing and history, and I didn’t have the fundamentals of literature I needed to study writing. Actually, I had more “fundamentals” than appeared because as an undergrad I’d blown off too many classes to count, spending my time at the library reading the contemporary masters like Philip Roth, Chaim Potok, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. I probably could have gotten a degree in Jewish literature by taking a test ;). But I was sorely lacking in a lot of other areas. Shakespeare? Who?

A few years had passed since I’d graduated college, so when I went back as a grad student, I not only was going to study something I was passionate about, but my study habits had vastly improved. The department decided that to make up for not having an undergraduate major in English, I would need to take two undergrad courses in English, an American literature course and a poetry survey course. With a great deal of luck and a little “research” (OK, gossiping about which were the best professors with other students) I took the poetry course with a dynamic poetry expert, Dr. Russell Goldfarb, and the American literature course with Dr. Clare Goldfarb, who happened to be his wife. My friends and I came to call them Mr. Dr. G. and Mrs. Dr. G. Maybe not as a form of address, but when we talked about them. They were two of my best teachers.

The Goldfarbs retired not long after I moved to California and started my new California-then-Arizona life. Imagine my delight when I recently learned that Clare Goldfarb had written and published a book that is available on Amazon. The book is available only on Kindle, and you know me–I refuse to fire up a Kindle because I love paper books and because I don’t want to add yet another screen to the lot of my migrainatious eyesight. I’m resourceful, though, I will say. I asked the author if I could read a .pdf version of her novel. I’m so glad I did!

In She Blinked, the reader is caught up in the tide of Ruth Burrows’ life as she learns that her mother has had another stroke–possibly a fatal one this time. She must fly to New York City to see her mother in the hospital and to stay with her father, a difficult man and ex-physician. As Ruth re-enters the remnants of the world she grew up in and navigates hospital culture and the death watch on her mother, she first begins to examine the face of mortality. When she returns home to her husband and children and the life she has created in Michigan, she finds herself blindsided by grief. Her usual over-achieving approach to life is threatened by the emotions she wants to analyze but doesn’t know how to handle.

The story doesn’t end with an easy resolution or a one year work-through of mourning. Instead, Ruth must continue on with her life. Her grief threads through the following years and rears up again when events trigger it. She also comes to face her own mortality through the events she lives through. Grief, mortality, illness (physical and mental), and memory are all a part of Ruth’s life. An important way that Ruth learns to deal with grief and mortality is through journaling, writing entries to her therapist. I wouldn’t call Ruth’s journey one of acceptance of these aspects of life so much as her recognition that they are part of the fabric of life, that all these experiences are intertwined, universal to us all.

Ruth Burrows has written a book about Henry James, a writer characterized by his psychological insights and complex prose. In She Blinked, the psychological insights are as astute as in James, but Goldfarb’s elegant, sparse prose never calls attention to itself and, instead, the reader is welcomed into Ruth’s experience.

Head on over to Amazon: She Blinked is available for Kindle at only $.99!!!

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, Publishing, Writing