Book Review: The Almost Moon

One thing you can always count on with these posts is a book review, now that it’s summer. This week I read The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. She is also the writer of The Lovely Bones which in my opinion is a much better book than the one I am about to review.

Let’s just say I’m returning it.

The one thing I liked about this book was the fact that it took place around where I grew up, a fun fact for you all. But that’s really about it. This book focuses on a woman who kills her mother. You find out later in the book that her mother was mentally ill and had agoraphobia (fear of open places) and her father killed himself when she was younger. Basically this stories is the women’s (you judge whether sane or insane) process that she goes through after she kills her mother.

I really don’t recommend this book, it was not an intellectual thriller either. It didn’t pull me in and it didn’t really ever explain everything. But The Lovely Bones is a great book if you haven’t yet read it.

The Lovely Girl

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Book Review: Water For Elephants

I decided I’m going to start doing my readings based of the Best Seller List. I know Water for Elephants isn’t a new book, but it topped the list and I happened to have it at my house. So if you don’t want the book (or the movie) spoiled, don’t read the part after the asterisks! And this book is fantastic and exciting, so I really suggest you not read the bottom!

Jacob Jankowski is a “ninety or ninety three” old man living in a nursing home. The book is based off of his memories which start back in his days at Cornell when he was enrolled, studying to be a veterinarian and work in the family business. But when his father and mother are killed in a horrible car accident, and Jacob finds that the house and business are owned by the bank, he has no where to go. Jacob sees a train rolling by and hops on. When the men in the car decide not to throw him off, he finds that he is part of the Benzini Brothers Most spectacular Show on Earth.

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When Jacob jumps the train he meets Curly, Blackie and Grady. They deem that he should be able to get a job on the circus and Curly introduces him the ringmaster, Uncle Al, when the train stops. While Curly is looking for Uncle Al, Jacob stumbles into the big circus tent and sees a girl and a man talking. Jacob is stunned by the girl who wears a pink sequined, feathered dress. She turns around and smiles at him and he leaves the tent when Curly finds him. Before Jacob starts working as a vet, he is given a job as a guard in the cooch tent. The cooch tent is a tent where there is a stripping show. Jacob is a virgin, and he leaves the experience awed and dumbstruck. After Jacob is done guarding the tent, Curly finds him and offers him a bottle of Jake (Jamaican Ginger Extract) which is not to be used as an alcoholic beverage, but during prohibition it was all Curly could get his hands on. He offers some to Jacob but he declines and he learns that Curly has a son his age. Curly tries to ask Uncle Al again for a job, but Uncle Al dismisses Curly. Later on Earl, a train guard, helps Jacob out by pretending that he was a train jumper and now is when Uncle Al gives him a job as the official vet. He is above the working class, halfway in the performers class, and is given a spot in the horse car, where he will share a room with a grumpy clown named Kinko. When he talks to Uncle Al, the girl in pink is also there. Jacob learnes her name is Marlena and that she is married to the equestrian director named August.

There is a flashback to Jacob in the retirement home. There is a new resident who moves in when the circus comes to town. He claims to Jacob’s friends that he carried water for the elephants (hence the name of the book) and Jacob yells that he is lying and is taken back to his room. The next day Jacob complains about his food and accidently pushes his tray off the table and is deemed necessary of an antidepressant. There is a nice nurse there, Rosemary, who Jacob starts to get attached to and she starts to care about him as well.

The next day, Jacob examines the horse show’s lead horse, Silver Star, and discovers that the horse will never perform again. Marlena is there when he finds out and August tries to comfort her, telling her Jacob will take good care of the horse. But Jacob knows the horse won’t get better. The train is packed up again, Uncle Al has heard of another circus that just went under, and rushes to pick up some of their things.

When the train stops the next day, Jacob is leaving his cart when August is telling men to unload the horses. Jacob tells them not to unload Silver Star and this sets August off. August tells Jacob that he needs to help feeds the cats, and to feed the cats you get in their cages. When Jacob drops down into the cage, the cat bites him on the arm, but the cat has no teeth. August acts like it is all a big joke, but Jacob storms off. Later, Jacob is invited to a party at August and Marlena’s car. When August is drunk and has to be put to bed, Marlena reveals that sometimes he has strange moments that he can be the most charming man in the world or the craziest. The next morning, Jacob finds out that Silver Star needs to be put down and finds out later that his meat was fed to the cats whose meat had spoiled.

The circus arrives at the other circus that had collapsed and Uncle Al purchases an elephant. Her name is Rosie, but she doesn’t respond to any commands and basically is a dud. That night, Kinko is throwing a party in their car and Jacob gets drunk. During this time the lady from the cooch tent, Barbara, and her friend Nell find out that Jacob is a virgin, and seek to change that. But Jacob has had more than he can handle, and throws up on Nell. the next morning he wakes up ashamed, but Kinko, now Walter, and his dog, Queenie, and Jacob are friends. The next morning, August finds Jacob and tells him to find Marlena and make sure she doesn’t go near the front of the train because they are killing the other cirsus’ horses for their meat. But when Jacob finds Marlena in her car, she is upset because she is watching August trying to command and knows that August is killing the other circus’ horses for their meat. Jacob holds Marlena in the car as she cries.

The next day, August apologizes to Jacob for being rough on him and invites him to a club at night. The taxi drives them and Jacob, August, and Marlena arrive at an underground club where there is still alcohol. August takes Marlena on the dance floor and when he leaves to get drinks, Marlena and Jacob dance. While they are dancing there is a raid on the club, and Jacob sees August staring at them fuming. They lose August in the chaos, and Jacob and Marlena escape into an alley. Jacob kisses Marlena, and she leaves him to find his own way home.

The next day, Uncle al puts Rosie in the parade and since the elephant doesn’t understand commands, Marlena gets hurt when Rosie runs out of the arena. Rosie is taken out of the show but not before she escapes into the town. A polish man named Greg retrieves Rosie by giving her whiskey, which elephants apparently love. When Rosie is back, August goes to her tent to teach her a lesson and Jacob is horrified.

Later in the week, Camel is sick and Marlena offers her doctor to Jacob when he is finished with her. The doctor diagnoses Camel with Jamaica Ginger Paralysis from drinking the Jake, Jacob remembers the batch Camel offered him and is glad he didn’t drink from it. Jacob knows he will be red lighted (thrown from the train) so he hides Camel in his and Walter’s car. They find his son and he agrees to meet them in two weeks at one of the stops.

Marlena is better soon and Jacob witnesses one of her shows. He is mesmerized by her and finds his attraction for her growing stronger. Then someone starts stealing the lemonade and it is later found out that it is Rosie. While August goes to beat her again, Marlena reveals everyhting about August. That she met a charmingly handsome man one day, married him the next, and then found out his true self. Later that night, Walter brings whiskey and Jacob takes it as a treat to Rosie. Here he learns that when Greg speaks in Polish, Rosie obeys! Uncle Al puts on a spectacular show with Rosie later in the week and the show is only getting better.

Marlena decides that she is going to throw August a surprise party and Jacob and Rosie are invited. They are set up in a tent with Rosie and a dinner table. When August comes in Jacob pops the champagne and they yell surprise, but August is furious. He accuses the pair of cheating together and Jacob and him get in a fight. Later August brings Marlena back to their car, where he hits her.  Marlena leaves him, and Jacob goes to find her a hotel in town. After she has a hotel room, Uncle Al talks to Jacob and tries to persuade him to get Marlena and August back together. He tells Jacob that August is schizophrenic, but that the show will fall apart if August and Marlena can;t work together. When Jacob says he won;t help, Uncle Al reveals that he knows about Camel. Jacob has to agree.

Jacob goes to make sure that Marlena is okay when he finds out August was going hotel to hotel. At the hotel they sleep together, and Jacob tells Marlena he loves her, and she tells him back. Jacob and Marlena plan to leave the show as soon as they give Camel to his son. Marelna later reveals to Jacob that she is pregnant, and Jacob knows it is time to leave. When August ruins the show by grabbing Marlena offstage, Jacob hops from car to car and plans to kill August. When he reaches the car however, August is so peaceful in sleep but Jacob leaves the knife he carried as a reminder. When Jacob reaches his car, Walter and Jacob are gone and the door is throw open. He realizes that they have been readlighted over a bridge, a gesture that was meant for Jacob himself, ordered by the man he spared.

Marlena and Jacob plan to leave immediately after the show. Marlena goes back to her car to get her money, and Jacob goes with Grady to get lunch at a grease cart. Grady tells Jacob that they plan to punish Uncle Al, that Camel was the last straw. While they are eating, the band strikes up the disaster march, something has gone terribly wrong. Jacob runs to the menagerie to find Marlena.

Inside there is a stampede. He sees Marlean standing near Rosie, and August is facing away from her, screaming at the animals running. Jacob watches as Rosie lifts her metal stake out of the ground and hits August on the back of the head, killing him and pushing him into the stampede. Jacob doesn’t know if Marlena saw Rosie kill August.

The circus collapses. Other circuses come to pick up the Benzini Brother’s goods. When they try to buy Rosie and Marlena’s horses, Jacob can;t tlet them and suddenly they now have these animals in their possesion. Jacob calls Cornell and asks to retake his exams, which he will be allowed to do. The only thing to do, is to join Ringling.

The book goes back to Jacob as an old man. his family never showed to take him to the circus. He sneaks out of the retirement home and meets a man who he tells that he was part of the Benzini Brother’s during the stampede. The man invites him to his trailer after the show. Jacob tells him his whole story and when the cops come looking for him, the man pretends Jacob is his father. Jacob convinces him to let him stay on the road with him to sell tickets. He is home.

Book Review: North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley is a book about a girl named Terra Rose Cooper. Terra is in her final year of high school, dating the best looking guy in school, and on the fast track to graduate. She works at a local art gallery with three old women and they convinced her to apply to Williams College, a private liberal arts college with a great art program. But Terra’s father will only pay for Washington State where her two other brothers went to school. But Terra is not who she seems, under her perfectly toned body and cakes of makeup on her face, she hides a port wine stain that covers one side of her face. She is ashamed of her face and when a guest speaker at her school suggests a new treatment for Terra to try, she can’t help but get her hopes up. Problem is, Terra’s dad is emotionally abusive to her and her entire family. His abuse started about two years before the death of her mother’s sister Susannah. Her helpless mother and her have to hide the surgery from him. Will Terra be able to change her face and get away from this horrible household.

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Terra and her mom drive up to Portland to try this surgery out. After hours of being zapped with a laser, when they drive off Terra’s port wine stain is still there. Terra’s mom, who is very overweight, suggests that they stop at a coffee shop on the way home for coffee and scones. Terra drives into the parking lot, sees a teenage boy standing in front of his car, and hits a patch of ice sending her careening towards the boy. She smashes into his car, and jumps out of the car trying to look for the boy.

He is standing next to his car, unhurt, laughing at her freaking out. He is a chinese boy, named Jacob, dressed in all black with goth makeup on. His mother comes running out of the store, a white woman with blonde hair, making sure her son is not hurt. After she assess him, she sees Terra’s mother still sitting in the car. She goes over to check on her and invites them into the shop to discuss insurance information. After the information is discussed Nora, Jacob’s mother, offers to drive Terra and her mother, Lois, home. They except their offer and during the car ride, they learn that Jacob is adopted from China and had a cleft lip when he was a baby. And they happen to be vacationing in Terra’s town, a great place for skiing, over the winter vacation.

When they arrive at the Cooper’s household, Terra’s father is sitting in the living room brooding over their absence, but puts on a fake smile for the Freemonts (Jacob and Nora). Nora is astounded by the home made wreath hanging on their front door for the Christmas reason discussing the details with Lois. Jacob helps Terra carry groceries into the house and sees her Dad’s map collection. He is a cartographer and has old maps hanging around the house, but Jacob notices right away that the map of China is missing.

Earlier, we learned that Terra’s father was a reverred cartographer and found a map that would prove that the chinese discovered America before Christopher Columbus. The map turned out to be a fake and her father slumped into a brooding, abusive, lifestyle because of his fallout. Terra shushes Jacob and later they make plans to hang out when he comes back on vacation. Terra’s father blows up at Terra and Lois when the Freemonts leave, but not in a yelling way, but with snide comments and hurt feelings.

The next day, Lois and Terra go to the Freemont’s hotel to make wreaths. When they get there, Jacob and Terra leave the parents and Jacob’s little brother, Trevor, Terra gives Jacob a tour of her town, bringing him to her studio in the gallery. Here we learn that the old women who run the gallery have made Terra a show, with her father as a guest speaker. She gets the women to take her out of the show, stating that what she does isn’t really art, a statement her father is always making.

So Christmas break arrives and we learn the Terra’s two brothers are coming home for the first time in two years. Claudius lives on the east coast and Merc (surprise!) lives in China. Merc brings his girlfriend home, Elise, and when she suggest that Lois sit down and relax instead of running around after everyone else, Terra’s father blows up. Elise doesn’t realize at first the pointed comments her father is making at Lois’ weight, but when she does Merc insists on leaving. Claudius threatens to hit the father, and crushes a glass bulb he is holding in his hands, sending them to the hospital while Merc gets away. Terra realizes that Claudius is not a klutz, but has purposely been hurting himself to distract Terra’s father from lashing out at her mother.

That night, Terra is alone in the house. She hears her doorbell ring and runs down, thinking it is Jacob. When she opens the door, Erik is standing there with his cousin. She doesn’t have her makeup covering her port wine stain on. Erike is embarrassed of her, and Terra realizes it is the same look her father has when he has to introduce her mother to people. Terra plays it off, making his cousin like her for her wit and she is not embarrassed about her face. When she goes upstairs she sends Merc a scathing email for leaving.

In the morning she wakes up for her early morning run, although it is Christmas morning. When she gets to her normal trail Jacob is there and the two get scared of each other. We learn the Jacob is an avid geocacher, when you take a GPS with set coordinates to find an object located in those coordinates, and there is one on Terra’s property.

Two days later, Terra receives an email from Merc with tickets to China to visit over spring break. Terra and Lois aren’t sure about going. The next morning instead of Terra going for a run, she sets out geocaching but instead runs into Jacob and they go to a coffee shop. They run into Terra’s friend Karin, who is freaked out by Jacob’s goth appearance. They leave and head back to the Freemont’s where Norah tells the Cooper’s that they will accompany them to China, they have been meaning to go back there to try to find Jacob’s birth parents. Also, Norah’s exhusband is getting married that week, China seems to be a good distraction.

Between Spring break and winter break is a short chapter, focusing on Karin’s disapproval of Jacob. Terra’s father’s sulking around the house while they plan for their trip, and Terra not being able to break up with Erik.

Spring break comes and Lois and Terra meet Jacob and Norah at the airport. They begin the trip in Shanghai, meeting Terra’s brother Merc outside of the airport. Jacob and Norah are dropped off at their hotel, which is conveniently the same building Merc works in. we learn later that Merc and Elisa have broken up.

The next dat Terra and Lois head over to the Fremont’s hotel and Norah is waiting there ready to have clothes made for them. Jacob and Terra head out after Terra is measured and head to Shanghai’s Yuyuan Garden and after Terra realizes it is a tourist trap, she lets Jacob show her around the real Shanghai, the dirty city but all with its wonder.

The next morning we find out after dinner the night before, the tailor told Lois she was too fat, and she agreed, realizing she has to get her health in check. Lois also tells Terra that she has to be fair to Jacob and to Erik. Terra decides she will break up with Erik when she gets back home.

The next morning, The Cooper’s head over to the Fremont’s hotel and get an early breakfast with them. After breakfast they head to a park. Norah joins a tai chi group and we see Lois come out of her shell, joining in for the fun. Terra and Jacob leave, knowing Lois would be self concious if they stood there watching. In the park there is a geocache and the pair finds it.

At dinner that night, Merc finally joins the traveling crew and Terra learns that he will not be able to come with Beijing and Xi’an with them, and the two will have to travel alone. The Cooper’s decide to do Beijing in two days alone and then meet up with the Fremonts in Hangzhou. In the days leading up to the Fremonts leaving, Jacob and Terra grow closer, holding hands and having those wonderful moments of book romance. The night before the Fremonts leave, Jacob and Terra share there first kiss, a kiss i can’t elaborate on but one you must read.

After the Fremonts leave, Lois and Terra travel to the Forbidden City and there they realized even emperors fall, even their power isn’t absolute. Even her father will crumble. The next morning they travel to the Great Wall and Terra and her mother find a geocache that Jacob had given Terra the coordinates to before he left. Lois reveals that Susannah, her sister, was a geocacher and that she was the one who must have put the one on their property, hoping that her sister would find it. After the trip, Lois is tried so Terra goes off to find Elise and learns from her that she broke up with Merc because she couldn’t be with a man who wouldn’t stand up for his mother and sister.

The next morning Terra and Lois leave for Hangzhou. When they arrive, Lois is the one that finally gets Jacob and Norah into the orphanage where he grew up, they found Norah too abrasive and rude. They find that Jacob’s caregiver is still there, and she runs to him, recognizing him immediately. The woman who dropped him off at the orphanage still comes by every year to see if there is news about him. In the nursery, Terra meets a young girl, a young girl that also has a port wine stain like she does.

Terra goes and washes off all of her makeup and walks up to the little girl. She points to her and too herself speaking the words “Hao kan” which means good looking. The little girl beams at her and Terra knows she will never hide who she is again.

The group travels back together, and when they arrive at the airport, Erik is standing there holding a bouquet of roses. Terra introduces Jacob and is ashamed. He storms off for good and Terra breaks up with Erik there, but of course he still drives them home, not really being a bad guy. When  they get home, the first thing Terra’s father says is “what’s for dinner?” When Lois remarks about him not even going grocery shopping, he storms into the kitchen trying to start a fight. Lois says to him, when he is rude to her about the tea she bought for him, “if you don’t like them i can find someone else who will” and she means it, moving her things into Claudius’ old bedroom.

The next day, Terra and her mother go to the grocery store where they see her father leaving, and he sees them. He is carrying one shopping bag and shuffles away quickly when they spot him. But it is the first effort he has made in 12 years and a good sign. They leave the store without buying anyhting, Lois stating she needs to walk around a little while, and Terra is dropped of at the gallery.

Terra seizes the moment, and makes her own collage, a collage of true beauty. Not magazine beauty but her own beauty. Through the process Karin walks in, and Terra confronts her about Karin always acting like Erik is the best thing that has ever happened to her, and it makes her feel like she is a horrible person. Karin apologizes and leaves to let Terra finish.

Finally, Terra stands up to her father when he tries to make a snide comment about her going to school without her makeup on, telling him that no one cares about the China map and there are maybe five people in the world that even remember it and then she leaves. Lydia calls her later in the week telling her another artist wants to take her as his apprentice, and Terra wants to be put back in the art show. Lastly, Terra travels to Jacob’s school making herself a geocache and giving him the coordinates to “find” her.