Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Water for Elephants

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Book Browse:
An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her. 
Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

I have to admit that I wasn't initially excited to read this book. I kept hearing great things about it, but I just had no interest in reading about a circus. Then I saw the movie preview... and knew I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie (I'm rarely able to finish a book if I see the movie first). So I started reading, and had a hard time getting into it at first... I think this was mainly because I felt like I HAD to read the book... as if I was back in school! I eventually got past this and was able to get immersed into Water for Elephants.

Usually, I rate books by how I feel while reading them, so my ratings are normally always subjective. In this case, I felt I had to give this book 5 stars based on the fantastic writing and the amazingly rich and unique backdrop of the train circus! It is obvious that the author did her research on circus culture and depression-era American history. She really dug into the down and dirty details of circus life. In the discussion after the last chapter you learn that many things in the story are based on true stories or anecdotes of the circus. The Bezini Brothers train circus is easily like another character in the book, flawed and deeply layered, like the characters themselves. I really liked how the story is told from Jacob's perspective as a spunky 93 year old man, having flashbacks of his life 70 year earlier. The altering perspectives (from young to old) effectively grounded the story and added another layer to his character.

At times, this wasn't easy to read... It was sad to read about the indignities of being old, and I felt like Gruen's depiction was honest and very real. Though most of all, I had a really hard time reading some of the scenes with the animals. At one point I caught myself reading between my fingers, as if I was trying to block the scene from view as if it was a movie. I tried skipping over one but I had to go back and read it because I felt like it was important to the development of the characters and the story. It was, and they were. I just wish those scenes hadn't been seemingly timed to when I was getting ready to go to sleep.

Seriously, I'm so glad I finally picked up this book. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Increase the Awesome

This guy does a great job of explaining the James Webb Space Telescope, and the awesomeness of NASA. I think even the non-nerds can appreciate this video, at least the first couple of minutes about the philosophy of increasing the awesome and decreasing the suck :).

Thanks to N and ACQ for sharing this! Apparently I was late to the party.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Am I crazy, or should I...

Should I start my own YA Book Blog? Please vote (poll on sidebar)! I'd appreciate any comments/feedback too! Poll is anonymous, and comments can be too! Tell me what you really think, I can take it :).

I've gone back and forth on this idea for the past few months. This blog, New Shade of Green, lost its focus long ago... which is OK. I created it as an outlet, and it's been just that! If I started a book blog, most of the reading related posts, links, and widgets would be removed from this one.

There are seemingly a bagillion book blogs out there, and a ton of them are for the YA genre. I'm not really sure I could compete, but honestly, that's not what I'd want to do... more like play in the sand box with all the other YA loving bloggers. Am I crazy? Please help me out and vote via the poll on my sidebar!

IF I decide to venture down this path, my biggest hurdle is - what the heck am I going to name it?! If you have any ideas for me, please put suggestions in the comments.

Thanks peeps!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Coming Soon: Forever!

One of my favorite authors, Maggie Stiefvater, is so super crazy talented. She's not only a great writer, but is also an artist and musician. With this post, I'm entering her "Giant Forever Trailer Contest" in hopes to win an early copy of her book Forever, which is the last book in her Wolves of Mercy Falls series. There's also a BUNCH of other fantastic goodies in the prize back... including an ARC (advanced reader copy) of The Scorpio Races! I loved Shiver and Linger, and can't wait to read the conclusion, even if it means the series is at an end :(. Aren't these covers beautiful? They are what first attracted me to her books!

Shiver (Wolves of Mercy Falls)     Linger (Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 2)     Forever (Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 3)

You can buy an autographed copy of Forever, and her other books at the Fountain Bookstore. Without further ado, here is the stop-motion book trailer Maggie herself created for Forever, featuring her music and her animation (using hundreds of paper cut-outs)!

And because I can't resist...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Painting: Seven Aspens

Last month I went with my friend M to one of those places where they instruct you on how to paint a particular picture while they encourage you to drink and blast fun music. It was great! This was my second time going, you can read about my first experience here. So, here's how we start out... everything all nice and white and clean...
The setup. Notice the "liquid courage" aka wine next to the pallet.
The painting of the night was Seven Aspens. Step one was to paint our sky blue (or whatever we wanted, me being type A stuck to blue). Second, we painted clouds... and I have to say I'm pretty proud of mine! Then we put in mountains and a path... 
Sky, clouds, mountains, and path... CHECK!
Then we painted the grass in the foreground. Below, you can see M's to the left of mine. I envy her... she's so brave and adds in different colors and features our instructor didn't tell us to do. I'm not that brave yet. It's kind of funny because we did this to hang out together but between the loud music (Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, and Black Eyed Peas) and the crazy concentration zone I went into to keep up with the instructor (apparently I'm a slow painter)... we couldn't really talk. Except for when this picture was taken when we were on a break. We had to take a break so the paint could dry, and to get another glass of wine of course.
Almost there, just need to add the Aspens
Next was the most nerve racking part - except for maybe the clouds - putting in the Aspens! I wish I had added more branches, but I ran out of time and was afraid I'd go overboard anyway.

All done! 
Masterpiece #2 on our living room wall.
Now my "masterpiece" is hanging on our living room wall. My sweetie didn't even flinch. He loves me. Oooh, did you notice the little heart engraved on the first tree? It has a J and J in it :). John did give me a hard time for this... because I defaced the tree! I assured him I'd only deface a painted tree for our love. I promise I only hug real trees!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:

Rebecca Skloot first learned about HeLa cells more than a decade ago, while enrolled at community college. Named after Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman born in 1920, the famed cells were taken from a tumor removed during Lacks s treatment for cervical cancer. While she died from the disease, her cancer cells proved uncommonly hearty, reproducing at an unheard-of rate, and years later, billions of these cells are used in laboratories around the world. 
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a story about science and so much more. Lacks died unaware that doctors would be using her cells to further advances in the scientific community and cashing in on such developments and never received a dime. In search of justice, Skloot seeks out Lacks's descendants to learn if they are aware of the famed cells and to see if they've derived any benefit from the important contribution to science their relative made. A fascinating discussion of the enduring legal and ethical questions that human-tissue research raises, Skloot's debut is a gem.
Fascinating and thought-provoking! Wow, I think this should be required reading. I'm not usually a fan of non-fiction (mainly because I use reading as an escape)... but this is just a phenomenal book. Rebecca Skloot did a wonderful job of explaining the medical advances made possible by using the cells of Henrietta Lacks, while telling the story of Henrietta and the Lacks family in a way that read like fiction. She tackled many ethical issues objectively, and there were times that I had to put the book down because my mind was stuck thinking about what I had just read.

I'm grateful that my neighborhood book club selected this book, as I'm not sure I would have picked it up on my own. I recommend this book to everyone!

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