This book was recommended by Amazon as I was buying another, it looked interesting from the cover, so I bought it. I actually was surprised to find that the main character was a vet from Cornell--since I am a vet from Cornell, it really spiked my interest. That was the high point of the read, a brief moment of pleasant expectation. The book is not awful or unreadable, it's just shallow and facile. An interview with the author explains that she became fascinated by old photos of the traveling circuses of the 1930, and wanted to write a book about them. The setting seems authentic and compelling. However, the characters are implausible and their interior lives are culturally anachronistic. No one in this book seems remotely believable for the period--hasn't she read any Steinbeck? The plot is like one of those traveling carny roller-coasters, where you hear each gear clunk loudly and laboriously into place. The movie is likely to be ten times better than the book, because you won't have time to consider how unlikely the story development is.
I think it is rather shoddy that Ms Gruen limited her careful research to only the subject that interested her--the circus. How hard would it have been to consult an equine vet and come up with a plausible scenario for the equine illness that brings the main character on board the train? How hard would it have been to learn the correct location to euthanize a horse with a gun? How hard would it have been to figure out that Ithaca was an end of the line station, and a through circus train would not be "passing by". Couldn't she have gotten her character on the road without having him lose the family home to "his Ivy League tuition"--even the most cursory research would have revealed that Cornell Vet College was and is a state institution, highly subsidized in every respect. Authenticity in all these details would not have detracted from the book.
Most of the criticism of the book I've seen on line has been focused on what is perceived by some as gritty detail and others as gratuitous cruelty to animals. I am a horse vet, and have devoted my life to horses. I have no problem with feeding horse meat to the big cats. But the total implausibility of having the inept assistant slaughter horses by slitting their throats is so ridiculous--the first poke with his dull knife, and even a horse drooping at death's door will be three fields away. The average adult horse has 50 liters of blood--can you imagine how long it takes to pour out 50 soda bottles? This is why people euthanize horses with bullets! Why oh why couldn't she make it believable--there was certainly no shortage of true cruelty to animals to chronicle?
I can only imagine that people love, love, love this book because it is easy to read (clear, straightforward writing, not challenging in the least) and puts 21st century TV movie sensibility into an interesting historical setting with a sappy happy ending.