YVO’S SHORTIES #27: The Orphan’s Tale & Murder On The Orient Express

Another day and another round of Yvo’s Shorties! Bringing you more shortie reviews of books I read during my hiatus. The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff has been on my list for a long time, and turned out to be just as good as I thought it would be. And I have been meaning to read more of Agatha Christie‘s work for a long time, so accidently watching the Murder On The Orient Express movie turned out to be the perfect excuse to do so.

Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff

Genre: Historical Fiction, War
First published: February 21st 2017
Publisher: Mira Books
Finished reading: May 18th 2018
Pages: 353

“Sometimes our forever life does not last as long as we think.”


After a very difficult but extraordinary visit to the Auschwitz camps, I wanted to read another historical fiction story set during WWII to commemorate. I was browsing my kindle and my eyes fell on The Orphan’s Tale, a title I have been meaning to pick up for a long time, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so. While not exactly the story set in one of the camps I was looking for, this story shows the struggle and fear of the Jews trying to hide their true identity. The Orphan’s Tale has a wide variety of different characters and this diversity was one of the reasons this story worked. The circus setting with all its descriptions and opportunities for plot twists and new angles definitely was another key element. The writing is solid and makes it really easy to fully emerge yourself and keep reading to find out what will happen to the main characters. There comes the only minor flaw I experienced myself though: I didn’t agree with every decision of the characters and somehow it wasn’t as easy to get a proper feeling of some of them. This feeling of slight uneasiness and frustration made me lower the rating slightly, but overall The Orphan’s Tale is without doubt among the better WWII historical fiction stories I’ve read to this date.

Title: Murder On The Orient Express
(Hercule Poirot #10)
Author: Agatha Christie

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Classics
First published: 1926
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: May 21st 2018
Pages: 256

“I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that, suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder, the most innocent person will lose their head and do the most absurd things.”


I’ve been meaning to pick up another Agatha Christie book ever since I finished And Then There Were None back in 2015, but somehow I never did. So I guess accidently watching the Murder On The Orient Express was a blessing in disguise, because since I normally never watch the movie before reading the book, of course I had to immediately remedy that. I had high hopes for the book, and even though I haven’t read the previous Hercule Poirot books yet, I was able to enjoy book number ten anyway. Because Agatha Christie writes in a way that will draw your attention from the start, and she gives just enough background of the main characters to be able to form an idea of their past without the previous books. I still want to read the other nine titles before this one as well of course, and the copies are on my list. But the fact is that Murder On The Orient Express can easily be read as a stand-alone as well and what a good story at that. From the main character to the development of the other characters, the mystery, the way Hercule Poirot conducts his investigation… There is just something about it that will fascinate you completely and any mystery/thriller fan will find themselves flying through it. I personally liked both movie and book equally, although I still wish I would have read the book first, because I had the actors stuck in my head and the descriptions of the characters in the book don’t really match. Thankfully the script itself follows the original plot closely; one of the reasons the adaptation was so successful to me. Murder On The Orient Express has shown me I really need to get copies of more of Agatha Christie‘s books soon, because I have truly been missing out by not reading them.


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BOOK REVIEW: Water For Elephants – by Sara Gruen


Title: Water For Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Drama
First published: May 26th 2006
Finished reading: May 17th 2014
Pages: 335
Rating 2,5

“There is no question that I am the only thing standing between these animals and the business practices of August and Uncle Al, and what my father would do–what my father would want me to do–is look after them, and I am filled with that absolute and unwavering conviction. No matter what I did last night, I cannot leave these animals. I am their shepherd, their protector.”


I didn’t exactly know what to expect when I started reading Water For Elephants and I cannot say I liked the novel now that I’ve finished it. Sure, a story set in the 1930s and about the life in a circus sounds interesting enough. Sure, Sara Gruen clearly researched the theme very well and was able to incorporate various circus anecdotes in her story. But in my humble opinion she failed to make the characters, and especially the main characters Jacob and Marlena, believable. The way she describes both young and old Jacob feels forced and unnatural. She uses the various and in my opinion unnecessary sex scenes to try and make Jacob more manly. The problem is that it doesn’t work and the scenes just became plain annoying. The character of Marlena is described with cliches, and it didn’t make me care what happened to her at all (except for the part that included unnecessary violence maybe) In fact, I find most characters rather flat and boring. It’s all about Jacob (the good guy) trying to get the girl (Marlena), who is married to the bad guy (August). It can’t get more cliche than that.

The other fact that annoyed me was the excessive amount of animal cruelty and violence used to describe the situation in the circus. Although I understand the story is set in a different era and things were different back then, I cannot stop to believe that Sara Gruen used an excessive amount of violence. And especially when talking about the way August treats the circus animals….In my opinion the fact that August is cruel and clearly the bad guy becomes also clear without the continual mistreating of both animals and people alike. The overdose of violence just made me very annoyed and didn’t add anything to the story.


 The story is told by the old Jacob, who is in his nineties and lives in a retirement home. His wife had died some time before and his family seems to have forgotten him… He tries to remember both his wife and his glory days with memories that surfaced after witnessing a circus tent installed close to the retirement home. He travels back to the 1930s, back when he was in his twenties and a time colored by the Depression and the prohibition… After his parents die, young Jacob loses everything and is forced to abandon home and study. (He was close to becoming a vet.) During the night he sees something that turns out to be a real circus train, and he decides to hop on board. It was not easy to get accepted, but an old working man named Camel helped him earn a spot with the circus crew. When they find out he’s almost an official vet, he gets hired to care for the animals. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus owns odd bits and pieces of various circus shows gone broke, and its owner Uncle Al is always looking for something or someone new he can buy from the next circus that collapses. 

Things turn interesting when Uncle Al buys an elephant, Rosie. Seemingly dumb, they later discover that she only responds to Polish and she becomes the star of the show. Jacob in the meantime is deeply in love with Marlena, the showgirl that works with horses and the new elephant. But it’s an impossible love since she is married to the violent August, and to make things worse he is in charge with all the animals. So as a vet, Jacob is forced to work with him. Violence escalates, and one day a disaster happens…


Like I said before, I had some mayor issues with Water For Elephants. Both the lack of dept and credibility of the characters and the excessive use of violence made me enjoy this novel way less than I thought I would when I started reading. I guess that if you are able to ignore those rather big problems I had, you might enjoy the novel anyway since the storyline itself is quite interesting. Approach with caution…