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review 2020-06-09 15:34
Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

by Sarah Gruen

 

This was an amazing story.

 

I love realistic stories about the circus or carnivals and I learned from the author's note at the end that this was very well researched in a historian sense. It rang mostly true and some of the incidents were taken from events that really happened somewhere in circus history.

 

My only niggle is that it was written in present tense. I'm not going to dock it a star for that as I usually do because it was done well and sometimes I could forget to notice, but it still would have been better in past tense.

 

The depiction of the rough edges of depression era train circus life was very immersive and I actually read most of the book into the night because I didn't want to stop. That's a sign of a well written story!

 

Without giving anything away, I particularly liked the way it finished. I mean the story itself, before getting to the notes. The decision made by Jacob, the main protagonist, left me with a smile on my face. Characters were strong throughout the story, human or otherwise.

 

There were definitely some animal antics that made me laugh, especially the elephant. There were other emotions too, some not so pleasant, especially with the knowledge that animals weren't cared for as they should have been in those days, but it's far in the past now and I could enjoy the story as a nostalgic record of a time that happened long before I was born.

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review 2020-05-16 14:28
Orphans of the Carnival
Orphans of the Carnival: A Novel - Carol Birch

by Carol Birch

 

This turned out to be a fascinating story, though it started out a little poetic and vague. It took a chapter or two to really get into what was going on, but once the background of the main character, Julia, started coming out, I definitely wanted to keep reading.

 

Julia was born 'different'. She has hair all over her face and body like fur, and the face itself appears ape-like. After her mother abandons her as a small child, she is taken care of in comfortable circumstances until the old woman who looks after her dies, then Julia sets out on her own and eventually joins a carnival freak show.

 

The variety of characters in the freak show provides some interesting personality quirks that come of growing up 'different'. Julia sometime bristles at the casual way in which the other 'freaks' refer to her anomaly, though her sensitivity goes largely unnoticed.

 

Julia is like many young women and wants the same things, like nice dresses, but she is aware of the effects of her appearance and is told she will never 'get a man'. She's also very talented and can sing and dance, which takes her beyond just being a freak into being a valued performer.

 

It wasn't until the end of the story that I learned that Julia was a real person, though the events of her life are fictionalized in the story. Wikipedia has an interesting entry about her. The story is well told and gives the reader some insight into what it must be like to grow up and live as someone who is visibly different and the treatment she gets as a result. Very poignant.

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review 2020-04-16 13:24
Circus of the Damned
Circus of the Damned - Cornelia Grey

by Cornelia Grey

 

This is a very atmospheric story about a genuine magician who gets through life pulling cons and doing what people assume is stage magic, but is helped along by the real thing. One day he gets in trouble with his dodgy doings and is being chased by an angry mob, and in his attempts to get away, joins the Circus of the Damned.

 

There is an unnecessary amount of gratuitous swearing, but also a lot of action and I was pulled into the story quickly. It took me until chapter three to decide that I really didn't like the main character, Gilbert. He's arrogant and doesn't think, which is not a good recipe for a magician. You would expect him to at least be savvy enough to know what it means when he's offered a place in the circus and warned that it's forever. The word 'damned' might have tipped him off. But he proceeds to try to leave with no thought of the warnings he was given.

 

The circus is pretty weird and Gilbert, being bi-sexual, takes an interest in the MC who he finds attractive. There is a selection of interesting characters, though none I could identify with personally. The use of pronouns isn't always correct and it can get confusing to tell who is who, but it is imaginative and Gilbert sort of reminds me of the Artful Dodger with his street life background. There are some very funny moments, though the dialogue was flat at times.

 

About halfway through it begins to read like a m/m Romance novel, which would be okay, but there is some gratuitous sex in graphic detail that I felt was completely unnecessary. It crosses the line into porn and I find that inappropriate in books that are not sold as Erotica. It's suddenly inappropriate for young readers when there could have been a large audience for the book in the 12-18 range. The main characters were also inconsistent in their strength and weaknesses.

 

Apart from the fact that Gilbert is an idiot (to be fair, he progresses) and the intrusive porn, it's a good story with an interesting premise,  is decently written, has some very imaginative performance scenes and has some poignant elements of love and sacrifice. The strong beginning was not really followed up by the last few chapters being as strong and the author doesn't seem to realize that smoke in a fire makes people choke and die, but overall it was an enjoyable story.

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review 2020-03-26 11:52
Dark Ride
Dark Ride - P.G. Kassel

by P.G. Kassel

 

The story follows a criminal, Marty Wedlow, as he tries to get money to skip town before some thugs catch up with him. He's known by the local police and gets pulled in when he's the main suspect in a robbery, but the witness can't positively ID him so the police have no choice but to set him free. While he's in the cop shop, a spooky man is brought in for a fortune telling charge and he predicts that Marty's luck is about to run out.

 

Marty dismisses this incident and sets about more robberies to get the money he needs. Eventually after the usual small shops provide too little cash for his trouble, he hits on the idea of trying the local amusement park where money flows prolifically.

 

The story is predictable, but the writing is good and the characters were a bit of fun. Nothing spectacular, but an easy short read with he fear of dark places and a carnival atmosphere to keep the reader amused.

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review 2020-03-26 11:36
Dark Carnival
Dark Carnival - Nancy K. Duplechain

by Nancy K. Duplechain

 

Fantasy meets voodoo in New Orleans. Leigh Benoit comes from a family of paladins, people with special abilities who heal the sick and keep dark forces at bay. She is sent to New Orleans for training as a Traiteur, a healer, but she is also caught up in a quest to find a cursed antique mask as time for Mardi Grau draws near.

 

I found this an interesting alternative Fantasy. The paladins have individual 'gifts' in a way that reminded me of X-men, though more subtle. Leigh meets some of her own kind who are friendly and some who are not so friendly, but they have a common quest to stop dark forces. Apart from being followed by a "cute guy" (oh gee, where do you suppose THAT will go?) the story has a lot of original elements that make it a fascinating read.

 

Leigh is likable and no wiser than her nemesis about why she was sent for training when adequate training for what she is meant to do was available at home. There is some other purpose for why she needed to come to New Orleans, which we learn eventually.

 

For the most part, this book really held my attention. There were a couple of places where I thought Leigh and her companions were just a little too lucky in a battle or some really horrific imagery fizzled into nothing, but most of it moved the story along and kept me interested in Leigh's eventual fate.

 

This is one of those gems I sometimes find in the free slush pile, a book I've really enjoyed reading. There is a series, but the book stands alone very well. Some fascinating ideas and alternative ways of using Biblical entities as characters.

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