Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Published: 1st May 2007 (print)/3 December 2015 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Algonquin Books/Lamplight Audio
Pages: 335/11 hrs and 26 mins
Narrator: David LeDoux, John Randolph Jones
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

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. 

After years of having this book on my shelf and after even more years of wanting to read it. I have finally read Water for Elephants! I actually chose the audiobook and it was a good listen. There are two narrators, one for young Jacob and one for elderly Jacob and both gentleman did a great job.

The story jumps through time from the present day to Jacob’s early life in the 1930s when he runs away and joins the circus. While the present day begins the story, most of it is told by Jacob’s younger self but there is a constant back and forward, especially in the early chapters. I loved present day Jacob, his thoughts are sardonic and admittedly a bit depressing but there is hope and it is so easy to fall in love with him. He worries about his mind, his memory and while a lot frustrates him, he is a darling.

It was definitely a curious contrast because I loved present day Jacob but twenty three year old Jacob annoyed me a few times. He is a fool but I guess that what comes from being young and naïve, especially in a world he knows nothing about.

The story is heartbreaking at times and tough in terms of content. With an audiobook I definitely had to turn the volume down while I was driving on occasion with some of the animal abuse but thankfully you could tell it was coming and Gruen is restrained in her descriptions so they don’t last long. A lot of it reinforces character development and while it is tough, it was also a reality of the time and the treatment of animals in the circus.

There is diversity of the characters and Gruen sets up the class system well for the train layout and the circus employees. And while it was not essentially part of Jacob’s story, I enjoyed that Gruen manages to casually slip in the prejudices against the African-Americans and other folk as they travelled the various American towns.

There’s hope and triumph through the story but there’s a bittersweet reality to it as well. The stories have always been around about the reality of circuses in those days and while the circumstances were rough, it is also fascinating when you see how many were in operation and makes you realise how amazing it is for those that survived.

This isn’t a history of circuses, but it is a good story about the life of being on a circus, and especially one that isn’t real. The ending was the crowning glory. After hearing Jacob’s life story and seeing his present day circumstances Gruen concludes this story in the best way possible. I barely remember the movie but I know it was a bit different to the book. There is a lot of padding and I was surprised when it was revealed a lot takes place over a few months because it felt like a lot longer as the story was happening. I’m glad I finally read it and while it was enjoyable, I will admit a small part of me found it a tad underwhelming.

You can purchase Water for Elephant via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Upcoming Movie Adaptations I’m Excited About

Movies have always used books as inspiration and some of the great movie classics that exist have come from books. There are so many books being adapted into movies and miniseries this year but these are the ones I am most excited by. Some have been a long time coming with one thing or another delaying it as rumours went unconfirmed and support fell through and rights disappeared, but some are new stories based on some wonderful books. Either way I am very much looking forward to seeing these brilliant books play out on the screen.

All the Bright Places (Book: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven)

All the Bright PlacesI don’t know if I am ready to see this on the big screen because the book was so wonderful and it crushes your soul. I’ve followed Jennifer Niven get excited over the past months as casting was announced and shooting happened so I am keen to see what comes of it.

Artemis Fowl – Movie (Book: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer)

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1)This was first announced a very long time ago, then it went quiet, then there were rumours of actors who’d play Artemis, then it disappeared again. Now it’s back and it actually snuck under the radar for quite a while. I am very excited about this story. It is combining the first three books into one which I am actually ok with. I just hope they do the story justice. I need cunning, unapologetic Artemis and anything else won’t be good enough.

Little Women – Movie (Book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

Little WomenThere has only ever been one Little Women for me and that is the 1994 movie with Susan Sarandon that I owned on video and rewatched numerous times over the years. I have given the 2017 miniseries a go and while I enjoyed it but it was also a bit forgettable. I am looking forward to the new movie because the cast looks amazing and this is a story I’ve always loved so it will be exciting to see how it is retold.

His Dark Materials – Miniseries (Book: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman)

Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1)After That Movie which I will never forgive them for, when I heard there was going to be a miniseries done by the BBC it was as if all my dreams had come true. Miniseries and TV shows generally pan better than a movie because there is time to work through the events in the book and establish things better. Each book will be getting a series and with 8 episodes I think there is a fantastic chance of getting a great exploration of the plot. Now, as long as the ending stays the same and they don’t do whatever it was that they did to that poor movie, then we should be right!

The Secret Garden – Movie (Book: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Secret GardenThe only version I have ever seen of this is the 1993 film. While I own the book I don’t think I ever finished reading it so I might have to rectify that one day. I love this story a lot and seeing it in a new way sounds exciting. Remakes of classic stories like this I am more open to than remaking movies for no reason. Highly illogical no doubt, but I don’t mind.

Looking For Alaska – Miniseries (Book: Looking For Alaska by John Green)

Looking for AlaskaI’m adding Looking for Alaska because while there is no air date, it has started shooting and I am so excited for this series that I need to talk about it at every opportunity. I have no idea who any of the people in the cast are, their names and faces mean nothing to me, but I am instantly willing to love them all for helping bring Alaska to life. I am in constant fear it will be terrible, but this is a risk all book lovers face when they make movies of their favourite books. We’ve been teased for over ten years this book will be a movie and now it is a miniseries which is even better. I cannot wait to have my emotions and my soul crushed into a thousand pieces.

Are there any movie adaptations this year you are looking forward to? Or are there any you wish were being made?

The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

book-bite

Published: 1956Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Heinemann
Pages: 199
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★   ★  – 4 Stars

 

When Missis and Pongo’s puppies go missing, the two Dalmatian parents know the scary Cruella de Vil has had something to do with it. After all, she adores furs, and the Dalmatians have such beautiful coats… The dogs’ pets, Mr and Mrs Dearly, don’t understand them, so it is up to Pongo and Missis to rescue their pups.

 
I found this book when I was in the midst of tracking down books of movies I love and this was one of them. A book I didn’t know existed but am glad to have found. The story of The Hundred and One Dalmatians is charming and sweet and looks at the world through the eyes of a dog. Not in depth, but these animals still see the world very human like, less as a dog alone and more dog in a human world.

For those who think they know this story will be surprised at the differences, but some similarities stay the same to the movie versions. It is a bit odd reading it with preconceptions but you soon forget and embrace the story as its own. As characters the dogs are not that bad. Pongo is a strong dog who loves his ‘pet’ and his ‘wife’. Pongo’s wife Missis is a bit daft and a little stupid if anything but she is sweet. I had liked the idea of two strong dogs fighting for their puppies but Missis is too stupid sometimes though for a dog it is understandable, but the way other dogs are portrayed she stands out, though some of the explanations about Pongo and his behaviour as just as farfetched. There is a third dog added into the story, I didn’t care for her very much for the most part but by the end she is tolerable and every one has their place.

I did like how close to reality some of this remained. Smith looks at the logistics of traipsing all those dogs across England and knows that for them it isn’t going to be a quick trip. She includes potential dangers and how dogs can be limited no matter how much they ‘learn’. I am not entirely sure when this was set, but based on its first edition and some references it was before a lot of suburbia took over England and a lot of modern conveniences took over. This makes it very adventurous but being from that era it is adds realism.

A lot of dogs feature in this and each have their own helpful natures that are very dog like. But they are subject to judgement as it certainly doesn’t add to the Staffy’s reputation, but aside from that a lot of these breeds are true to nature even if a smidge exaggerated.

Smith plays with the reader a bit but in the end it is rewarded and makes a good memory test trying to keep track of everyone but she did well. A decent read and a new experience for someone who likes this story, especially if you are ingrained in the movie versions as I was.

You can purchase The One Hundred and One Dalmatians via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Published: June 1975 (print)/1 September 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Avon Books/ABC Audio
Pages: 478/5 hrs
Narrator: Kerry Francis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic/Young Adult/Fantasy
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stout-hearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. 

The way I had heard people talk about this book I was expecting it to be filled with death, heartache and disaster. I compared it to Animals of Farthing Wood where they lost members of their party and the entire book was about their journey. This was not entirely the case, but I guess, in a way, this was also a tough journey, especially into the unknown.

The different rabbit warrens were interesting and seeing the different scenarios they came upon made for an entertaining read. Seeing our world through the rabbit perspective was curious because sometimes they knew what things were other times they didn’t. This of course was due to where they lived. They knew some human things but not others because they had never seen them before.

I listened to a dramatisation which said it was unabridged but I was looking at my physical copy later and I’m sure most of it was there, but with dramatisations there is a lot less “he said, she said” required not to mention description as you can act it out with different voices and sound effects which might have made the difference.

The actors brought the characters to life really well, I liked the voices chosen for them and it reflected their personalities. Hazel was a wonderful character, he wasn’t flawless but he had a good heart. Surprisingly Fiver didn’t annoy me as much as I thought he would with his dramatics. They never explained much but perhaps that was the mystery of the rabbit world.

Adams was clever with parallels, the stories of El-ahrairah to influence the decisions of the rabbits. It created an understanding of the rabbit community and practice and how their beliefs played into their everyday life. Inspiration from their folklore to aide their current perils. Not only that but their own ingenuity to become greater than they were in order to survive.

As heartless as it sounds, I enjoyed the ending. I liked that brains beat brawn and even if some parts were strange, overall it was a good story. I’d always heard about this horrible ending and I can see how it might be a tad traumatic if you were a kid. I watched the movie afterwards, the 1970s version, and I can see their point. Despite the cartoon nature the violence really shines through and I will agree that end scene was visually very bloody and violent.

Thinking about it, I did enjoy the story more than I might have been in the middle. I have a few questions such as their ongoing (but logical) obsession with does, but also the fact they never try to rescue anyone else from their sorry lives when they meet them. Surely there would have been others who would have loved to come and join them, but they never thought to ask. If that is my only true criticism then that’s not so bad.

You can purchase Watership Down via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audio – Dramatisation

Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations

There is a fine line between a good book adaptation and a poor one. The smallest thing can tip the scales: changing the ending, removing a character, inventing a character, or changing the character roles which alter their onscreen personality (looking at your Ron Weasley, you deserved better).

Booklovers crave and desire to see their favourite books come to the big screen, but at the same time there is a deep trepidation that there will be a great injustice and disservice to the characters and the overall story. I could write page after page of bad book to film adaptations and while that is tempting, it is negative and a bit mean so instead I want to focus on the few I have found which were truly wonderful movies that stay true to the original story.

If a book becomes a movie and I see a runtime of 2.5 hours I have a good feeling because so often it means a great adaptation with a lot true to the book. Not always the case, there will always be exceptions, but it gives me hope.

The Lord of The Rings Series (Extended editions) – Anyone who is out there thinking that 3 hours is enough time to swoon over Aragorn and his wonderful hair is greatly mistaken. I sat through the extended editions of all three films because if I was going to watch them I was going to do it right. No doubt unimportant plot points were included in those extra 30 minutes but it was a great representation of the books. All the little moments and extended scenes, the minor things that became big. The only issue is Merry and Pippin don’t get the serious portrayal they deserve, there’s cheeky but then there’s foolish which Jackson did a bit too much.

The Martian – I was curious how the greatest book of all time was going to be portrayed in film but I had nothing to worry about. There is so much to love about this movie and every minute was a delight. The only downside is the best part of the book was not included re: Aquaman and whales. Other than that, it was a marvellous film from start to finish and felt like a true depiction of the book, minor addition to the end aside.

Gone Girl – For all the hate I had for the book, the movie is actually an accurate representation of the story. I was curious how they would show the flashbacks and the ‘diary’ component but David Fincher has done a great job. It might have been a better movie to see without reading the book because I didn’t hate Nick quite as much in the movie.

Paper Towns – This one I was surprised by my own reaction to. There are changes to the story, a few character moments tweaked and swapped, but the overall theme and feeling of the book has been translated to the screen really well. It felt the same as the book, even though there were a few changes it didn’t matter. It stayed true to the message even with the required movie changes and I was impressed.

The Hunger Games – One of the best adaptations I have seen of a book. It had everything that made the books amazing and it felt as strong and powerful watching it as when I was reading it. I felt the books were playing out in front of me and I loved every minute of it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – I remember this being the first movie adaptation of a book I’d really paid attention to. I have a vivid memory as it began thinking it was word for word of the book and I loved everything about it. Sure Peeves is missing, but there’s so much else true to that first book that brought that magical experience to life.

Honourable mentions

The Book Thief – I missed a few of the nuances and scenes from the book but it was still an emotional kick in the guts. Not quite as powerful as the book, but still excellent nonetheless.

The Princess Bride – I actually fell in love with the movie before I read the book many years later and I was surprised at their similarities. It’s not an unlikeable movie, quite wonderful in fact, but there are a few changes but the spirit remains and what was left in was delightful.

RQ42

I also hated Girl on the Train, and was yes, was surprised I hated the movie as well. Funny that…

These are only the adaptations I have seen, if there are some excellent movie adaptations out there of books please let me know so I can check them out.

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