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Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

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Author: Sara Gruen / Genre: Fiction

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    10 Reviews
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      07.04.2012 17:20
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      A good film with a great story line, but the book is much better

      Whether you enjoy reading a good book or like me have to read the book which goes with a film, I would certainly recommend reading this book. It is a heartwarming tale of Jacob an old man living out the rest of his life in a retirement home which he hates, waiting for a family member to take him to the circus. While waiting Jacob recall his life as a teenager working with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus, where he learned some harsh lessons in life and love. Jacob was a promising student vet who had his studies cut short following the death of his parents, he finds himself the newly appointed 'vet' of the circus in charge of training the circus's new addition an elephant called rosie, working along side the circus's star attration Marlene, the wife of August the cruel and ruthless ringmaster, Jacob finds himself falling in love with her and struggling to leave the circus in one piece, which ultimatly ends in disaster for the circus. Whenever I watch I film I alsways love to read the book whic goes with the film as I find you miss out on so much from not reading the book and this film is no different. there are so many wonderful and touching scenes in the book which are not shown in the film and in my opinion its a big mistake to leave them out, For example the part of the book where an older Jacob is desperate to visit the circus but is let down by one of his family member is truely heartbreaking. Another is where Jacob walks in on his roommate playing with himself which I found really funny to read and would have brought extra comedy to the film, but this was also ignored. Also the title of the film 'Water for Elephants' also had me confused when I watched the film it seemed such a strange title, however when I read the book It was explained that 'water for elephants' is a circus joke. When Jacob asks for a job someone suggests that he should carry water for elephants, and in the book it is explained by an older Jacob that this was a nonsense job people in the circus joked about because it would be impossible to carry water for elephants because they drink such a vast amount of water. It would have been much better to have explained this to the audience because im sure other people were confused about this. The film does contain some really great scenes though, the one were we see August beat poor elephant Rosie always has been cringing and nearly in tears and watching the love blossom between Jacob and Marlene is perfectly shot. The film does give out some great perfomance form its actors, it is particually nice to see Robert Patterson differ from his usual role as Edward from Twilight and Reese witherspoon also doesnt dissappoint with her charater as Marlene, the two working together successfully make a great pairing as lovers Jacob and Marlene. I was also impressed with the use of bright colours and extravenagent scenery in the film in creating the great effect of a extravagent circus and class of the 1950s. All in all I would say this film is very enjoyable and although it is easy to perceive this as a chick flick it certainly can be enjoyed by men too, but i would suggest reading the book to this and the book in my opinion works better and as I previously stated you tend to miss things in the film which are written in the book whcih definatly should not be missed.

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        15.06.2011 10:18
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        Rememberance, love, coming of age magnificently combined into this must read book.

        It's been a while since I've read fiction that absorbed me into it's pages and made me forget about the world. I love books that utterly pull you in so that all you do is lie on your bed, or curl up on the sofa and read. Water for Elephants was so good that I finished it in 24 hours, which is no mean feat with 3 children to deal with in the house. The story follows Jacob, of Polish Origin living in America, who experiences a huge life changing tragedy and runs away to the circus, quite by accident. (As you do!) The book is a snapshot of life in a travelling circus in 1930′s America, the brutality, the incestuous relationships within people, the partition between performer and worker and the camaraderie that lies along side all the darker elements of a group of people pressurised into being together all the time. Jacob experiences all of these things, fresh from the real world and able to see things with both the clarity and naivety of being a young man, yet with ideals and ethics that have yet to been corrupted. Water for Elephants is also a love story, a tangled tug of war and an exploration of numerous twisted characters and relationships. It is beautifully narrated by Jacob, sitting out the end of his life in a care home, which runs alongside the story of his past, is a delicately drawn picture of how life can end for even the most vital of people. People who had a youth which seemed it could never end in solitude. The brief and touching friendship that develops while Jacob lives is life in the care home is heartbreak yet heartwarming at the same time I am so thankful for this book as it has re awakened my love for good literature, i am a little afraid to watch the Movie now incase it does not do this book justice

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          24.12.2010 19:11
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          Great love story set in the Great Depression

          I recently finished reading this novel while I was on holiday and it's one of the few recently that have really stuck with me long after reading it. I originally started reading it a few months back but put it down as I didn't have time to go back to it so seeing as I am on break from university I decided to take it with me and I was very happy that I did. The story: Basically it's a man called Jacob Janowski who is remembering the time that he ran away from his exams to work with the travelling circus known as the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show On Earth. Jacob jumps on board their train after receiving some bad news and comes face to face with the colourful characters who run the circus. It takes a while for Jacob to be accepted to the group and it shows the dynamics between the circus workers and their customers and how it's a hard circle to break into if you're considered a 'Rube' (member of the general public). Jacob has to contend with people such as Uncle Al and Kinko but finds solace in the horse trainer Marlena. The novel is set during the Great Depression when Jacob is twenty three. It cuts at certain chapters to the present day when Jacob is ninety three and waiting for his family to take him to the circus. The Author: --------------- The novel has been written by Sara Gruen who writes a lot like Jamie Ford and Audrey Niffenegger. She has written a number of books with animals as the subject and they also feature heavily in this novel given how her subject is a circus. My Opinion: --------------- This book has definitely entered my top three favourite books of all time (my other two being Time Traveller's Wife and Hotel on the corner of the Bitter and sweet). The language is very similar to the other two and the imagery that Gruen creates is lovely. The love story in the book is also something that makes you continue to turn each page as you find yourself wanting to find out what happens in the end. Gruen leaves a lot of the actual action to the final few chapters of the book but she does a wonderful job of setting up her characters and the story that she's going to tell. This novel has won a number of awards and is about to be released as a major motion film starring Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon. (Personally I think they should have chosen someone other than Pattinson for the part but because of Twilight I guess he's the go to guy these days!) I bought my copy of the novel for around £6.99 and you can find it at any place that has a good selection of books available (Waterstones, Smiths, etc) but if you like literary novels and are looking for a page turner then you won't be sorry that you parted with your hard earned money on this book. RATING: 5/5!

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          13.10.2010 22:29
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          A great adventure,..

          Much like Nicholas Sparks' approach in 'The Notebook' Sara Gruen's protagonist in Water for elephants is an old man in his early nineties looking back on his youthful adventures. That being said, there's no need to fret about reading a clone, because the old characters differ greatly in personality and of course their past stories are completely different, this was just my way of comparison. Jacob Jankowski, in his early twenties, was due to work alongside his father in his father's veterinary practise once he had finished his exams. His life path suddenly gets seriously altered when his parents die and it becomes apparent that his father's business has huge debts. Jacob hastily leaves his life behind and ends up jumping on a train, soon finding out it is a circus train, The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, owned by the abusive Uncle Al. Uncle Al learns of Jacobs Veterinary training and so hires him to care for the circus animals. Under his new 'employment' Jacob then begins to meet various characters; Kinko the dwarf, who he shares his new living quarters with (along with kinko's dog, Queenie) Marlena, the star of the equestrian act and who Jacob falls in love with. Unfortunately for Jacob Marlena ran away from home to be with-and is still married to, August! Sometimes charming but mostly brutal, Augus,t is the head animal trainer and a dark character that is later more understood as 'his condition' is revealed. Jacob also eventually meets Rosie, the elephant who's misunderstood and mistaken for useless as she doesn't follow orders. Unbeknown to them at first that she in fact only understands Polish! As the story unfolds you journey with Jacob as he battles not only for new found friends and the one he loves but for his own survival as Uncle Al continues his harsh routine of 'Red lighting' workers. He uses this harsh action so he doesn't have to pay them. (Throwing them off the train, to kill or seriously injure them.) Regardless of the title I wasn't drawn to this book out of love for elephants, nor for horses or any other animals. I had no knowledge or particular interest in the circus, I gave it a chance because I am a sucker for a love story. Turns out it was not just a great romantic read, it was a complete adventure with a few historical and educational qualities and characters you instantly feel a strong reaction to, whether it be a positive or negative one! Sara Gruen had to do extensive research for this book as she hadn't ever been to a circus before. The research she did do, revealed in the back of the book, turned out to be extremely profitable and she even included some true events. She based 'Rosie' on numerous real life elephants and featured some of the antics they got up to through her, such as, pulling her stake out and going off to steal the lemonade! I would recommend this book to anyone, a thoroughly great read, I loved it! Water for elephants is available on Amazon new or used from £0.92 or for the kindle for £4.99

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            30.01.2010 14:53
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            A refreshing change from the usual dreary books

            ***Water For Elephants*** I heard that they are making this novel into a film and saw plenty of five star reviews so decided to give it a whirl. ***Plot*** The main protagonist is Jacob Jankowski and the narrative is that of first person from his perspective. Jacob is at an ivy league university, studying to be a vet. He is the son of a vet and his parents have struggled to fund him through school (although he doesn't find this out until later). The story is set around the time of The Depression in America and Jacob is given some life changing news. His parents have been killed in a car crash and the bank has seized all their assets, so Jacob is left penniless. In a moment of grief and turmoil he jumps on a freight train, which turns out to be transporting a circus. He manages to get some work by the skin of his teeth, helping with the animals and we are transported quickly and vividly into the life of the circus. He is quickly entranced by Marlena, who is out of reach because she is married to August, the horse trainer. He tries to keep his distance...Throw in an elephant called Rosie and Jacob soon has two females who are at the centre of his life. The book skips from this era to Jacob as a nonagenarian, living in a home and this plot line runs parallel to Jacob's younger days. ***Opinion*** The author Sally Gruen has clearly done her research. Tons of it. It is difficult to imagine that the author had never set foot in a circus before, by the time you have finished the book. You are immersed into the world of the circus and can really imagine how it must have been - for most of it. Yet, for me this was a slight problem. She is so authentic and knowledgeable that sometimes the vocabulary is difficult to comprehend and visualize. It is vocabulary from a different era and so at times I felt as if I was wading through trying to picture her different descriptions. That is the only negative for me and one that I was willing to put up with as the story unfolded. I don't want to give too much away, but plot wise it is well worth getting through to find out what happens at then end. The plot is slow moving at first but picks up pace around half way through the book. The story is told by Jacob and as I have said, it is sometime his older self telling the tale. This part is really quite amusing and the author makes us ponder and consider what it is like, to become older and end up living in a home. I felt a little downhearted at some points, because I just couldn't envision any kind of satisfying ending - which I was wrong about. I had no idea where the story would end up, which is nice because so often when you read a lot stories are so predictable. Jacob we empathize with, as we do with Marlena. Yet, because she is married it seems there can be no happy ending. Marlena has an act involving horses and her husband August is the trainer. August appears to be a cruel man and I can well envisage that this will be an oscar winning role, when it gets to the big screen. The descriptions of circus life are detailed and there are other sub plots that are pertinent to the time period it is set in. It is at heart a romance too, but beware this book is for older readers as there was a certain amount of graphic content in the book (which personally I felt didn't need to be there and almost spoilt the mood of the book in certain parts). If you find it a bit heavy going, stick with it because it will be worth it in the end and I will look forward to seeing the big screen version. N.B. For anyone who has read the book - can you please explain the parallels between Jacob in the book and Jacob in the bible, because I just couldn't see it. ***Availability*** It is available from Amazon for £5.59 and is 448 pages. I read it in 2 nights, I was so keen to find out the ending.

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            01.09.2009 14:36
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            A great book, worth a read

            I must admit that I didn't think this book would appeal to me. Much as I enjoy going to the circus, this book is told in first person by a ninety-something year old man and is essentially a love story set in a circus in depression-era America. Just doesn't sound like my sort of thing. But after reading a review on a blog I decided to check it out on amazon, where I was able to read the first chapter. And I was hooked! Thankfully the library had a copy available so I was able to continue reading. The story is told from the point of view of Jacob Kankowkski, who is now in his nineties and living in a retirement home, dreaming of real food and legs that work properly. A circus tent appears in the field opposite the home, causing much excitement amongst the residents. This causes Jacob to reminisce back to the 1930s when he was about to qualify as a vet. However just before his final exams his parents were killed in a horrific accident. Jacob, struggling to deal with this, decides not to sit his exams and instead jumps on to the first train that drives past a track he is sitting beside. That train belonged to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, meaning that the 22 year old Jacob had inadvertently joined the circus. The story flits between Jacob's days in the circus and to him in the present day in the retirement home. The story of the younger Jacob is a fascinating insight to the bitter underbelly of the glamour and intrigue that surrounds the circus. There is a definite sense of hierarchy; the performers and bosses who are always paid and who live in the lap of luxury, down to the dispensable labourers at the bottom who are treated no better than slaves. The circus itself no longer belongs to the Benzini Brothers - instead it belongs to Uncle Al, a ruthless character who tours the country and scavenges what he can from defunct circuses that have fallen apart due to the depression. If Al can't afford to pay his staff he thinks nothing of having them tossed from the moving train. Jacob starts off as a labourer but when Uncle Al discovers he is a vet, he is given the job of vet for the circus animals. This means he has to work closely with paranoid schizophrenic August, who can be friendly and caring one minute, evil and violent the next. To make matters worse, Jacob finds himself quickly falling for August's beautiful wife Marlena, who performs with her troupe of horses. Uncle Al is determined to be the best circus in the business and is always looking for more acts. When he hears of a defunct circus that has an elephant, he immediately heads there and claims her for himself. However Rosie the elephant is not all she seems. She appears to be intelligent yet won't obey a single command. Jacob eventually discovers why, and it so happens that he becomes the only person who can communicate with her, finally making him indispensable to Uncle Al. What follows is a battle for survival as Jacob finds himself torn between so many morals; his love for Marlena, his duty towards the animals and his friendship towards those who have befriended him. I really enjoyed reading this book. The writer has clearly done her research, and the descriptive acts of cruelty against both humans and animals illustrate just how awful life could be in the circus. Rosie the elephant was by far my favourite character; some of the things she got up to were based on real life stories and were hilarious. Although not knowing much about elephants myself I did wonder if maybe she had been made a bit too human-like in places. Another small criticism is that I felt the book was a bit clumsily written in places and I had to re-read sections to get a jist of what was happening. This is a debut novel so it's not too much of a surprise that there are glitches but I think it could have done with smoother editing. I enjoyed the style of narrating as it helped keep the story "hanging" at points and it gives a more rounded feel to Jacob's character. The elderly Jacob is very well written and it easy to get a sense of his frustration at his failing body functions and memory. The younger Jacob was harder to relate to, maybe because I knew I was only seeing him through flashback. I did start to empathise with him after a while but I found it hard to empathise with Marlena and feel that she could maybe have been more developed as a character. I found Jacob's love affair with Rosie more enthralling than his love for Marlena! Apart from a couple of minor points this is a great debut novel about an unusual subject and is definitely worth a read.

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              19.08.2009 14:06
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              Once you start you wont be able to put it down!

              I was in Boston airport earlier this year, mooching around the bookstore in there when the manager asked which authors I like, I replied 'James Patterson and Sophie Kinsella' he suggested this book... (looking back I've no idea how those two authors relate to this book!) said I would love it, i'd never heard of it before so I was a bit unsure but I had enough dollars left so bought it, stuck it in my travel bag and forgot about it for a good few weeks.....then I remembered it and thought I'd give it ago, not at all convinced I'd like it.......I could not put it down! It is one of the loveliest books I have ever read! I don't want to say to much about the story apart from that it is set partly in recent times and partly in the 1920's during a time of prohibition and when circuses travelled the country in a big way. The story is based around a character Jacob, who is in his 90's (in the present day/20's in is circus days) he is living in a care home (set in USA) and still has his wits about him....one day a travelling circus sets up across the street from the home and Jacob is incensed by one of the other care home residents remarking that they used to carry water for elephants in the circus.......the story unfolds as to how Jacob came to be working in the circus, details the troubles of those times for circuses in the USA and the goings on of circus life as well as a love story. Due to the excellent writing you can picture Jacob in the home and then in the circus, the life he lead and the things that were happening in that era. I enjoyed this book so much that I was really sad that it was coming to an end...there are very few books I hang on to but this will definitely be one of them! I'd recommend this book to people who liked The Time Traveller's Wife as it is of a similar writing style, however if you too like James P and Sophie K then you may well like it too.

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                10.06.2009 15:03
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                A glimpse in to another life and another time

                Occasionally you pick up a book by accident; it was on sale or happened to be on the shelf right in front of you nose at the library. This book doesn't come with a lot of hype or critical acclaim. Instead you are allowed to discover it for yourself. It pulls you in and you can't put it down until the last page is turned. That's how I fell in love with Water for Elephants. Jacob Jankowski, a Polish American, is 90 or 93 (it stops matter much at a point in life), spending his days in a retirement home when a circus pitches its tent within view of his window. The sight of the circus takes him back to the 1930s when he was a young veterinary student at Cornell University about to write his final exams. An accident tragically orphans him and knocks him off his track and onto a passing circus train. Quickly going from labourer to vet for the second-rate Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, Jacob discovers that beneath the glitz and glamour of the circus lies a dark reality. This is a story of love and friendship in the face of illness, cruelty and rejection set against the backdrop of the American depression. No one is what they seem in the circus. The vivacious animal trainer suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. The circus owner, Uncle Al, treats his employees with paternal care, unless he can't afford to pay them, in which case they are thrown from the moving train. The isolated, aggressive dwarf, Kinko, comes to the aid of an aging, alcoholic vetran to his own great risk. The dumb as dirt elephant with an obstinate streak turns out to be fond of sweets, alcohol and the Polish language. Young Jacob's inability to protect the animals he cares for and the woman he loves is as heart wrenching as Old Jacob's impotence when it comes to his life at the home. You cannot help but root for the man who finds himself caring for "a pregnant woman, bereaved dog, elephant and eleven horses" and responds by rescuing a chimpanzee as well. American novelist, Sarah Gruen, also discovered her topic as accidently as I discovered her book. However, it is obvious that great research and care went into the writing of this beautiful glimpse of a time gone by. I didn't want the novel to end and feel it with me still.

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                  09.02.2009 15:44
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                  Immerse yourself in the world of the circus, its facade infiltrated, by Sara Gruen.

                  It has been so long since I picked up a book and turned its pages that I had almost forgotten the love affair we had shared so many years ago. Then came the year of my first laptop and slowly the books left my shelves to be replaced by hard drives and chargers, books were scrolled through not turned and pages but a sweet and distant memory like your first kiss. Then there was a long trip to be had, no power supply available and a book randomly picked from a shelf at the library. The book was called "Water for Elephants" The title itself seems to be pretentious after all it is no simple task to bring water to an elephant as the narrator points out to us in the beginning of the book. The Story unfolds: Jacob is our leading man, and narrates the story, he alternates from a ninety something year old in a wheelchair counting tiles and dreaming of corn on the cob, to a healthy virile young man just come through a tragedy that took both his parents lives away and led him to a whirlwind decision to jump a train and start a new life. The alternating of time lines adds depth to the story and makes the older Jacob more real, someone that you can understand. You are swept with him on the trains steady trail as the rails disappear with a steady ca chunk, ca chunk, ca chunk. You enter into his thoughts, desires and dreams as he works his way up the circus hierarchy and dares to love the untouchable "Marlena" with her sorrowful eyes and fierce devotion to her horses, she strikes a cord in young Jacobs heart that will never be stilled. Uncle Al, is the leader of the circus and is a ruthless and fame hungry individual who will stop at nothing to be as great as his rivals. He is determined to have among many oddities an elephant and when it seems that fate has dropped one in his lap he seizes the chance to purchase it. However it is soon discovered that the elephant is more a curse then a blessing and until Jacob unlocks the secret, the future looks grim. The Ruthless elephant trainer is Marlenas husband and each act of his cruelty drives the two hopeless lovers, Jacob and herself, closer together. Love, Pain, Murder and Hope all these emotions coincide to create a literary masterpiece that will at turns have you at the edge of your seat and at others make you cry. With many true accounts incorporated into this novel it promises a read as momentous as bringing water for an elephant, simply infinite.

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                    18.01.2008 09:06
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                    A rewarding read.

                    'The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth' is a cash-strapped travelling circus owned by a despicable character named Uncle Al. Set in the Great Depression, times are tough and the circus is struggling to draw crowds. Uncle Al is a cut-throat operator who makes rash and murderous decisions to ensure no one gets in the way of his dream - to truly own the most spectacular show on earth. The story starts rapidly with the main character - the youthful Jacob Jankowski - losing both his parents in a car accident. Just weeks before he is to graduate from veterinarian school, Jacob finds himself unable to cope and, literally, runs away with the circus. After managing to get onboard one of the moving carriages and battling with other workers to not be thrown off again, Jacob meets some folk that immediately see the value in his skills and the very next day he is given work as a labourer. Sara Gruen beautifully illustrates the appalling lifestyle suffered by some to bring the circus from town to town. Behind the glitz is an entourage of hundreds who constantly slave for little pay and live in cramped conditions. Gruen spent a long time researching this book and this is evident in the way she created a believable tiered community within the circus environment. At the bottom are the stragglers who do the mucky jobs and the hierarchy then extends to cooks and trainers, with the talented acrobats and dancers living in comfort at the top. It's not long after starting his new job that Jacob is elevated from labourer to vet, climbing the ladder that the author exhaustively depicts. Veterinarian skills are in high demand with the aging stock that no one can afford to replace. Jacob's father was a vet too, so not only does he have a heart felt concern for the animals, but also a sense of duty to carry on as his father would want him to. Sara Gruen is an accomplished writer, and it was surely deliberate that she did not delve into the despair of Jacob losing his parents for more than a few pages. This I feel didn't do her star character justice, as there is just no way a real person would lose both parents and then never reflect on it again. One justification for this however may be that the story is told from the first person perspective of Jacob as an old man. He is reminiscing from the bedroom of his resthome on the day that a modern circus is coming to town. Water for Elephants is, above all, a love story. Firstly the love between Jacob and Marlena - the star acrobat with an amazing horse routine, and secondly between Jacob and Rosie - a stubborn old elephant who was trained in Polish. Marlena is of course already entwined heavily in the travelling lifestyle and her husband is a sick and ill tempered brut. When her husband is given the job of training Rosie he is often violent, and fear of this further brings Marlena and Jacob together. Jacob himself is Polish, so when he figures this out that he is the only one who can train Rosie, he is completely indispensable to Uncle Al. With a balance of good and bad natured characters there is a constant battle with Jacob always being trapped in the middle. His youth and his love for Marlena combined with Uncle Al's need to have a Polish speaking vet onboard means that he is indebted to some while devoted to others. I think Water for Elephants is one of the best books I that I read last year. With it's unusual setting and it's entrenched and often desperate characters, this book has you reading at a constant rhythm. The ending is well thought out and a great reward for the reader.

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