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Sara Gruen's first bestselling novel Riding Lessons was published in 2004. She lives with her husband, three children, five cats, two goats, a dog, and a horse. Many of the characters and incidents in the novel are based on real people and true stories gleaned from her extensive research into the world of travelling circuses during the 1930s.
1945. After disgracing themselves at a high society party, spoilt young Philadelphia socialites Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off from the family without a penny. Ellis decides their salvation will be to hunt down the Loch Ness Monster, a venture his father very publicly failed at. So, oblivious to WW2 raging around them, they make their way to the Scottish Highlands, where Maddie has to face reality and decide just who the real monsters are.
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits -- the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth -- a second-rate travelling circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. Jacob, a veterinary student who almost earned his degree, 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.