Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.

Jacob Jankowski, now in his 90s and living in a nursing home, finds memories of his earlier life as a circus veterinarian during the Great Depression rushing back when he hears that a circus is setting up next door. The residents have been promised a visit to a performance under the Big Top. Sandwiched between vignettes of his current situation, memories of the years he spent on the road with the "Benzini Brothers Most Spectactular Show on Earth" come flooding back.

This would be a great book-discussion title. There are many sub-plots, tangled relationships, economic, social, and ethical issues that could provide material for a spirited discussion. The description of circus life is rich in color and detail, evoking both dismay at the lack of political-correctness (by today's standards) and longing for a time when adventure was more easily achieved. And although one reviewer called the ending "predictable", I found it redeeming and totally in keeping with the illusions that keep people coming back to the circus.


The Girl in the Green Raincoat, by Laura Lippman. William Morrow, 2008.
Tess Monaghan, private investigator, is confined to bed during the last months of her pregnancy. Bored, she spends her days watching the people in the park outside her window. Every day, a young woman in a green raincoat walks her Italian greyhound, and talks on her cell phone. One day, the dog appears, running through the park with leash flying, sans owner. Tess, convinced something terrible has happened to her, determines to get to the bottom of the mystery and discovers layers of crimes and cover-ups which lead to a startling - and dangerous - discovery.

I just returned from the American Library Association's annual conference, held this year in New Orleans. The Public Library Association President's program featured the husband-wife team of David Simon and Laura Lippman, who discussed their works and philosophy of writing, and also shared anecdotes from their days as journalists. I bought one book from each author, and read this novella, the 11th in the Tess Monaghan series, on the plane coming home. I found it to be light, tight, and twisted, and have already placed the first book in the series on hold.