At the Water’s Edge

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am just not sure what this book wanted to be. Historical fiction? A love story? A story about Scotland, its culture and superstitions? It didn’t really do any of them very well. I pretty much hated all the characters until Maddie finally started to WAKE UP in the last third of the book. Rich, privileged Americans abroad during wartime and oblivious to the lives of the people around them. The love story angle kind of came out of nowhere. Throw in some hot sex and – no, it just wasn’t believable. The ending was satisfying (just) but utterly predictable. Over all I was rather disappointed with this book, so three stars is maybe generous. It wasn’t helped by a narrator whose affected British accent really made me cringe. Or laugh. I couldn’t decide. They all sounded vaguely Irish. Most definitely NOT Scottish. Okay, I’m changing my rating to a 2. The premise sounded really interesting. I love Scotland, and the idea of Americans hunting for the Loch Ness monster. And a good love story. The author has an okay rough draft here, but it should have been so much more. It might have worked better as a love story between Ellis and Hugh. They seemed so obviously gay, at least Hugh was…. but it was never developed. Or develop Maddie more. She was just so superficial for most of the book. Or develop the monster more. It, too, was a bit too ambiguous. The potential is there. It could make a really good TV movie with the right actors.

Book description: After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind. The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.

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Water For Elephants

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly delightful book. The book alternates between the 93 year-old Jacob in a nursing home and the 23 year-old Jacob who becomes the caretaker of a circus menagerie. The author poignantly portrays the elderly Jacob, frustrated at the limitations of old age and abandoned by his family, in stark contrast with his youth and his adventures with a circus where society’s misfits survive because of their fierce loyalty to each other. The author has done her homework into the historical world of the traveling circus, bringing it vividly to life, and incorporating real-life anecdotes from her research. In both worlds, Jacob refuses to settle for the fate life has given him, standing up to abuse, maintaining his moral compass, and surviving against the odds. The ending is improbable, but heart-warming. You’ll be cheering Jacob on.

Description from book jacket”
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was ultimately their only hope for survival.