Book Club Read April ’17 – Eat, Pray, Love

Welcome to this month’s book review on In this blog post, we will be looking at the 2006 book entitled Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Below, you will a brief overview of the book and then a further explanation of the story and some comments from our book club members.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India – An Overview

Eat, Pray, Love was written by Elizabeth Gilbert and published in 2006 (the film version starring Julie Walters was released four years later in 2010).

A New York Times Bestseller for 187 weeks, the book is in the form of a personal memoir of the author that follows her around-the-world trip that she took after her divorce.

Up until the age of 30, Gilbert had worked as a successful journalist and short story writer. But after the life-changing event of her divorce left her in a deep depression, Gilbert turned to travel as a means of revitalizing her energy and motivation.

Her plan for the year of travel was split into three equal parts: Eat (four months in Rome giving into guilty pleasures such as food and wine), Pray (four months in India where much of the time she spent at a temple exploring her spirituality) and finally Love (the rest of the time in romantic Indonesia).

Our book club, on the whole, found Eat, Pray, Love to be an enjoyable read. However, certain parts of Gilbert’s three-stage journey around the world appealed more to certain people.

For example, some readers found her time spent in an Indian temple particularly inspirational and enlightening, with the author detailing her own struggles with meditation, prayer and life getting by in a developing country.

While the story is at times quite far-fetched, it also seems to be quite relatable too – following the pursuit of ‘balance’ of a single woman after a stressful divorce. And while most were not inspired to follow the same path as the author, most could agree the themes explored of wonder, indulgence, religion and love were all played out well.

About the author

Born in 1969, Elizabeth Gilbert is an American journalist and writer. Eat, Pray, Love, her most notable work to date, has spent a total of 187 weeks as a New York Times Bestseller. Her other books include Pilgrims (1997), a collection of short stories which received the Pushcart Prize, Stern Men (2000), which was chosen by the New York Times as one of their “Notable Books” and The Last American Man (2000), which received a nomination for National Book Award in the Non-Fiction category.

Next month on Ava Books, we take a look at another book which was later adapted into a movie, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Book Club Read May ’17 – Water for Elephants

This month (May ’17), Ava Books’ Book Club Review takes a brief look at the novel “Water for Elephants”.

Written by Sara Gruen and published in 2006, Water for Elephants follows the life of a Polish-American man named Jacob Jankowski through his memories, spanning a total of seventy years. While the narrative delves into Jacob’s past, the present day describes him as a 93-year-old living in a nursing home.

Water for Elephants begins by looking at an event in Jacob’s past that was set to shape his future – which is described in detail as the book goes on. Studying veterinary at university, just before he graduated his parents are both killed in a tragic car accident. After finding out that he has no inheritance and no future job (he planned to join his father’s veterinary practice) Jacob goes awol, jumping on a train which happens to belong to the circus group Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

After befriending both humans and animals on the train, the circus group soon learn about Jacob’s veterinary experience and he is eventually hired to treat the animals for the show.

From here, Water for Elephants jumps between the time that Jacob was living and working in the circus and his current, helpless state as an old man in a nursing home. Inevitably, we learn more about the many relationships and series of events Jacob was involved in while in the circus (not surprisingly, there is an elephant involved).

As the narrative switches to the present day, we are also given a side-story about how Jacob returns to the circus after his son fails on his promise to take him for the day.

Water for Elephants has received positive comments from our book club. Many have commented on how the story explores a diverse range of themes, from the tragedy of bereavement to romance, heartbreak and the depressing circumstances of old age.

Another point brought up focuses on his how the book details life inside a low budget circus; on the face of it, it is an exciting, magical group with jovial clowns and pranksters; dig a little bit deeper and we see cruelty, pain and anger helping to create a living hell for both the workers and animals.

In conclusion, this is an entertaining and often surprising story that has the potential to draw laughter and tears – without ever being too heavy on the reader. It is also worth pointing out that Water for Elephants has also been made in a film, which is well-worth seeing (after you have read the book, that is).

Next month, Ava Book takes a look at Robin Quinn’s The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire.

Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire

This month (June ’17), Ava Books’ Book Club Review takes a brief look at the novel “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire”.

Written by Robert Quinn and published in 2016, the book follows the true story of Charles Wells who infamously ‘broke the bank’ in a stint of gambling during the late 19th century.

Faced with financial difficulties, the prospect of divorce and losing his prized yacht, Wells heads to Monte-Carlo in what seems like a final act of desperation. However, over the course of a few days playing at the roulette tables, despite risking his life savings at the spin of the wheel, Wells breaks the bank a record ten times.

He wins what would be the equivalent of millions of dollars in today’s money – which raises inevitably question as to how Wells exactly pulled off such a feat.

The author, through extensive research about the life of Wells, details exactly how he won big in Monte-Carlo through fraud and in-game tricks disguised as an “infallible system”.

As well as the infamous Monte-Carlo episode, The Man Who Broke the Bank also takes a close examination of the rest of Wells’ life, including the pressures he was faced with in the run up to his gambling spree and other major and minor fraud activities that he was involved with.

The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire has received generally excellent feedback from other members of the book club.

One area of praise that has frequently come up concerns the amount of detail the book goes into, particularly when describing the methods Wells implemented when breaking the bank.

Others commented on how the author builds up the element of suspense throughout, leading the reader to be on the side of Wells, even though he is portrayed as a fraudster winning millions through illegitimate means.

On the whole, The Man Who Broke the Bank is an enthralling read which meticulously details the story of Europe’s once most wanted man, based on a true story that is still talked about in casinos around the world today.

Next month, Ava Books will feature the next installment of its book club reviews. In this next blog post, we look at Nicholas Pileggi’s ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas’.


Book Club Read July ’17 – Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas

Welcome to Ava Books and our popular book club here at On this page, you can read our latest review of Nicholas Pileggi’s ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas’. Please also feel free to explore the rest of Ava Books website to read more book reviews from the author and our members.

An overview: Nicholas Pileggi’s ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas’.

This month’s book club review is of Nicholas Pileggi’s award winning book, ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas’. To start off (if you have never heard of or read this title before), I have outlined all the essential facts about this book, before delving into a brief introduction, an outline of the plot and some thoughts on the story.

Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas (hereinafter referred to as just Casino) is a fiction novel written by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, who also went on to work as a producer and screenwriter. It was first published in 1995. The book was turned into the Academy Award nominated film also called Casino which was famously directed by Michael Scorsese. Even though the film was actually released before the book, the book was written beforehand, with Pileggi helping out with much of the screenplay for the big-screen version.

Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas is set in the 1970s and early 1980s Las Vegas, when the Mafia were infamously in control over certain large casinos on the city’s strip. We regularly enjoy visiting our local casinos, and a number of our members are keen blackjack players and frequently play at various online casino sites. We therefore had a real interest in this book, and whilst most of us had seen the movie at some stage, none of us had actually read the book. It was to prove to be a riveting read – every bit as good as the movie, and in some cases arguably so.

The main character is Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a Chicago bookmaker caught up in crime, as well as his partner and fellow Mafia member Anthony Spilotro. Lefty plays a central role in managing the Mafia-run casinos in the city and Spilotro has a hand in providing security and also organizing high-profile robberies.

Plot review – in more detail

The novel starts off with a backstory, giving context about the lives of the two main characters, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro. The pair grew up in Chicago and previously worked together; however, due to a series of run-ins with the law, the duo leave town and embark on a new life in Las Vegas.

After settling in ‘Sin City’, it quickly becomes clear that both Lefty and Spilotro have no intention of staying on the right side of the law in order to get ahead in life.

Anthony Spilotro (also known as ‘Tony the Ant’) is the muscle of the pair, and quickly assumes a role working for his former business acquaintances in Chicago, which involves looking after their gambling interests in Vegas. He was also a renowned jewelry thief. Thanks to informants working in the Vegas insurance industry, he would get tip-offs as to where some of the most valuable collections were kept.

His method of robbing the loot? Simple: break through the walls of homes, snatch the goods and make run for it. It was this crude technique which earned him and his gang the nickname ‘The Hole in the Wall Gang’.

Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal, on the other hand, was more the brains of the pair, and was able to calculate the odds of any casino game out there (even if it meant a little bit of bribery). He was heavily involved in the whole Las Vegas casino scene – making sure they were making profit and implementing new ways of making even more money such as introducing a ‘sports books’ betting system via TV screens placed in various rooms in a casino.

The story then follows the two, revealing the inner-workings of Vegas’ casino scene which was mostly run by the Mafia throughout the 1970s and 80s. From fixing the books to paying off ‘the right people’ and dealing with those who stood in their way, Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas offers an exciting and revealing insight into how organized crime rule the city – in stark contrast to the glitz and glamor of today.

We also see the true personalities of the two central characters unravel as the story progresses, particularly when they are caught up in an act of betrayal that tests their lifelong partnership to the point of breaking.

If you want to take a glimpse into what Vegas was really like three decades ago, as well as get a better understanding of how the Mafia worked during their ‘prime years’, then Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas is a read not to be missed.

Martin Scorsese’s movie – ‘Casino’

As previously mentioned, Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas was turned into a film of the name Casino in 1995, the same year as the book was published. Although the film was based on the book, the film was actually released slightly before the book, which went against the normal chronology of novel-film releases.

Casino was directed by Martin Scorsese, who worked alongside the book’s author Nicholas Pileggi while writing the screenplay.

The two main characters in the book, Rosenthal and Spilotro were renamed as Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro and played by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci respectively.

Casino was met with critical acclaim upon its release in 1995, and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Sharon Stone, who played Rothstein’s wife, was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

About the author – Nicholas Pileggi

Pileggi was born in 1933 and grew up in New York. His novel about the Mafia and organized crime was inspired by his early career, working as a crime journalist in New York. In fact, he spent time reporting for the Associated Press and New York Magazine for over 30 years before writing Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas. It was this time which gave him his valuable background knowledge and deep understanding of the inner workings of the Mafia.

Pileggi is best known for writing Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1986), which was adapted into the movie Goodfellas (1990). He also wrote the screenplay for City Hall (1996) and was an Executive Producer of American Gangster (2007).

Next month, Ava Books takes a look at another classic book: The Baltimore Boys by Joel Dicker.