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CONTEST ENTRIES > Best Review Contest (Spring 2016)

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message 1: by Dlmrose (new)

Dlmrose | 17398 comments Mod
This is the thread where you can submit reviews for the Best Review contest. The thread is open for submissions and will close at Midnight EST on May 16, 2016. Voting will start the next day and run until the end of the GR day on May 31. The person whose review gets the most votes will get to design a 20 point task for the Summer Challenge.

To be eligible for this task opportunity you must have achieved at least 100 points on the Readerboard by Midnight EST on May 16, 2016.

Just a reminder that each person can only submit one review - but you can make edits to your review up until the end. The review does not have to be any particular length and doesn't have to be a positive one (i.e. you can choose to review a book you didn't like).
Please include your Readerboard Name.

PLEASE DO NOT comment on people's reviews in this thread - this is for submissions only - you will be able to comment when voting begins.

SPOILER ALERT!- These reviews may include spoilers.

message 2: by EShay (last edited May 11, 2016 04:37PM) (new)

EShay Fagan (eshay11) | 537 comments ESHAY

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
3 Stars

I will caveat my review by first saying I am decidedly an Anglophile. I like anything from the United Kingdom and Ireland. If something has even a hint of British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, James Bond, Harry Potter, Top Gear, Premier league football, pubs, or Sherlock Holmes, I'm in. Ok, not One Direction or Spice Girls, I am a bit of a music snob. Or their food, it is not my first choice. Google Jim Gaffigan's bit about ketchup. You can thank me later. But other than that, I am more than mildly interested in a book about traveling around the old country. Heck, I have even been known to watch British Parliament on C-Span (its way smarter than our government and more entertaining by far).

My husband, who is a Bryson fan, warned me this is not his best work. As I read through, I imagined Notes was written by either Statler or Waldorf (the old guys on the Muppets) while they were still middle aged, had not found their jeering soul mate, nor had they hit their full sarcastic stride. Bryson has a dry British-ish wit, but not that biting. I also alternately imagined the book being read by Stephen Fry, any of the boys from Top Gear (especially during the driving bits), or Patrick Stewart. That made the experience more enjoyable to say the least.

Bryson wrote the book in 1995, so I had to constantly remind myself that the internet had yet to be the thing it is today. I was consistently frustrated as he meandered and got lost or visited another place that was closed or boring. Does he not know about google, trip advisor, foursquare? Oh right, those were not around yet. There were not iPods yet . There is something romantic about Bryson just wandering into cities on a whim, gambling on a hotel of some sort (probably losing) and then hiking near and far. I have also traveled a fair bit by myself, and throughout the book felt a longing to take a trip soon. There is entirely too much about malls and sad buildings made of concrete in the 60s and 70s. Part of the appeal of the book is he has no plan, but it would be a more engaging book if he had a plan.

I found much of the book wanting in specifics. While trying to dabble in travel book and writing a love letter to the United Kingdom, I feel like Mr. Bryson never really achieves a good version of either. Is he on an extended business trip and is forced to give a long review? There is too much talk about small hotel rooms and the Indian food he has before an early evening. He throws out enough history that we know he is knowledgeable, but I'm never really quite satisfied with the few specifics he provides. Bryson's writing does shine through the subject. There are points when I laughed out loud and had to read a few passages out loud to my husband. For example:
"In the morning, I was roused early by my alarm clock and rose reluctantly, for I having my favourite dream - the one where I own a large, remote island, not unlike those off this section of the Scottish coast, to which I invite carefully selected people, like the guy who invented the Christmas tree light that go out when one bulb blows, the person in charge of escalator maintenance at Heathrow Airport, nearly anyone who has ever written a user's manual for a personal computer, and of course John Selwyn Grummer, let them loose with a very small amount of survival rations, and then go out with braying dogs and mercilessly hunt them down - but then, I remembered that I had a big exciting day in front of me." Yes, that is one long sentence, but who has not thought of a handful of people they would want to hunt down with braying dogs. And he uses the English spelling of "favourite." So cute.

While I cannot recommend this book to first time Bryson readers specifically, I can recommend Bryson overall. I think A Walk in the Woods is in my reading queue (see what I did there) and that would be a better place to start. As I read, I will imagine he sounds like Hagrid and he acts like a proper British version of Drunk Uncle from SNL. I also cannot help but plan a trip to Britain or Ireland in the near future.

message 3: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1467 comments LAUREN JODI

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
5 Stars

Detective Harry Bosch gained national fame when he shot and killed a serial killer known as The Dollmaker. Now Harry is being sued by the killer’s family for wrongful death and their case is being bolstered by the appearance of a new victim bearing all of the marks of the Dollmaker’s macabre signature. Did Harry make a mistake or is their a copycat on the loose?

The serial killer plot alongside the court room scenes make for a gripping and balanced mix of police procedural and legal thriller. The investigation is compelling with several red herrings to lead the reader astray. The final showdown with the actual killer is intense although his identity and motivation do feel contrived.

As with the previous books, Harry’s characterization is a highlight as more of his past is revealed. The developments in his relationships with Irving and Edgar are intriguing although the romance is rather weak mainly due to Sylvia’s contradictory attitude and behavior. It appears that Harry and Sylvia’s relationship is not actually going anywhere.

Connelly’s writing has improved with each successive installment. The action scenes are tighter although he still has the same difficulty that many male authors of thrillers encounter - they know how to write suspense and action, but struggle with expressing the more intimate and romantic emotions.

In sum, this is the best book in the series so far and I look forward to finding out what happens next with Harry and company.

message 4: by Terri FL (last edited May 12, 2016 01:29PM) (new)

Terri FL (territhemuse) | 527 comments Terri FL

Inferno by Dante Alighieri.
5 Stars, no question


Step 1: Take a book that you have always felt that you should read, one strongly considered a classic

Step 2: Add to the mix a general feeling of being daunted by the actual reading of said book

Step 3: Stir with a good dose of guilt, determination and necessity as you have recently begun to organize a ‘classic’ book club and this was chosen for your second monthly read

Stop 4: Sprinkle with an excellent translation that has good explanations and notes (Mine was by John Ciardi)

Results: What might have been a disaster turns into a perfectly formed confection.

This was what happened when I read Dante’s Inferno. I have so long wanted to read the falling apart paperback that has been staring at me on my shelf for years, however, have continued to be nervous to pick it up thinking I would get so lost and bogged down by the writing. After this ended up being the book chosen for the second meeting of my new book club (Their Eyes were Watching Books – through, I finally felt I had no choice but to read it. To my immense amazement, I found it to be a page turner!

This book is rife with symbolism, but, you can enjoy the story without understanding or even noticing all the symbols. The story begins - Dante has recently found himself lost in a dark wood and afraid after noticing a couple beasts closing in on him. A man comes up to him to offer his assistance in his journey. This man is Virgil, one of the virtuous pagans, a soul trapped in Limbo, unable to ever ascend to Paradise as he does not know God and a literary hero of Dante as well as a voice of human reason. Virgil then guides Dante throughout the 7 Circles of Hell, exploring the various punishments meted to those deemed sinners in Dante’s time. This includes the lustful, greedy, angry, gluttonous, heretics, and the worst crimes of violence, fraud and treachery, among others.

If you have ever been upset at people around you, whether at work, or on the road, in public transport, or at family/neighbors, and especially at politicians, you will definitely enjoy the almost gleefulness that Dante places his own enemies within the various circles of Hell and the extraordinary and imaginative punishments to fit each of the crimes. As an example, the suicides have become trees. As they have not respected and discarded their bodies, so has God judged that they do not deserve a body any more. Or, those who tried to prophesize, like sorcerers or astrologers are now forced to walk around with their heads twisted backwards so they could not see in front.

One of the best scenes for anyone who enjoys reading and/or romance are the two young lovers, Francesca and her brother-in-law, Paolo, who committed adultery after they were inspired (basically, turned on) by the reading of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. A definite tribute to the power of books on our emotions!

Not only is this book a great story with almost unsurpassed writing, even in translation, there is much to learn and discuss with others who have also read the book. It will certainly make you think. I believe The Inferno has rightfully earned its place as a ‘classic’ and definitely worth reading. So, if you have ever considered it, or even if you have not, do not be daunted. Plunge right in and enjoy!

message 5: by Cait S (new)

Cait S | 779 comments Cait S
Carbs & Cadavers by J.B. Stanley
4 stars

Carbs & Cadavers is everything a cozy mystery is supposed to be. A warm, comfortable setting. Characters that feel like people you could and probably do know. A mystery that keeps you involved but isn't so over the top that it overwhelms all the other little quirks about the book. And a group of main characters that will keep you coming back for the next book in the series.

Main character, James Henry, has just returned to his small hometown in Virginia to look after his father after his mother passes away. He's lost his job as a professor and a wife that he loved, but who never really accepted him. All he has going for him is his job as head librarian at a library almost no one visits...and cheese puffs. He really loves cheese puffs.

The book follows James and the four friends that he makes through his diet supper club as they dig around in the first murder to take place in their community in over ninety years. Between a librarian, a teacher, a mailman, a very spiritual pet groomer, and a wanna-be police deputy, they put their heads together to find out who killed the town's golden boy.

The atmosphere of this book was the highlight for me. Quincey's Gap, Virginia was just so incredibly likable from the start. It felt very much like a place anyone would want to call home. I enjoy meeting the cast of characters from around town and seeing how their tight bonds affected the investigation.

There is only one thing I didn't enjoy about Carbs & Cadavers and that's James Henry's judgmental attitude. Upon kissing a woman for the first time, he mentally comments on how her chest and stomach are so large, that's the first part of their body to meet. When he gets in her car, he wonders if he's really compatible with someone who's "such a slob". Left and right through out the book, James makes these little snide notes about the people around him. I almost wanted to shake him like you're a divorced, overweight librarian who had no friends before this...are you really in the place to be judging these people?

I'm hoping his attitude improves with the next book because with that, we're looking at a five star series.

message 6: by Lola (last edited May 22, 2016 10:30AM) (new)

Lola | 287 comments When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

5 stars

Paul Kalanithi always a wanted to be a writer. Despite coming from a family of doctors, he knew "with certainty" as he was heading off to Stanford that he himself would never be a doctor. The pull of science and medicine however was strong. When looking through his freshman course catalog, in addition to all of the literature classes he had marked, he looked at biology and neuroscience as well. He ultimately earned degrees in both English literature and biology. Throughout his studies, he was driven by the question, "what makes human life meaningful?" He continued to ponder this question as he earned his master's degree in the history and philosophy of science and medicine. He ultimately graduated from Yale medicine, cum laude, in 2007. Back at Stanford in 2013, Kalanithi was married to a doctor and completing a grueling seven year fellowship in neuroscience. He received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery's highest award for research. He also received a diagnosis of stage IV terminal lung cancer. He was 36 years old.

When Breath Becomes Air is Kalanithi's reflections of the doctor turned patient, but also his exploration of the ever present question of what makes human life meaningful. Now that he knew his time was truly limited, what would he do with that time? The doctor who was certain he would never become one, became at this crossroad what he always wanted to be; a writer. He also became a father.

Beautifully written, with references to the literature that affected Kalanithi so profoundly throughout his life, this book is as uplifting as is it is heartbreaking. When Kalanithi learns that the cancer has spread to his brain, impacting his ability to think, to speak, to write, you think you can't go on, you can't read another page. How much adversity can be inflicted on one person? But Paul Kalanithi went on, and you do too, because reading his story is bearing witness to a life and death of astonishing grace.

The epilogue is especially poignant as it was written by Lucy Kalanithi, Paul's widow. He died before he could finish the book, in March, 2015 at the age of 37, leaving behind Lucy, their eight month old daughter, Cady, and the many family members, friends, colleagues and patients who were fortunate enough to have had their lives touched by this brilliant, caring and thoughtful man. What makes a life well lived? The pages of this book are replete with examples of a life well lived. Paul Kalanthi can rest knowing that he answered the question that inspired him and drove him throughout his too short life.

message 7: by Trish (last edited May 15, 2016 11:25AM) (new)

Trish (trishhartuk) | 2434 comments War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
Five stars (trishhartuk)

I think War and Peace is right at the top of most lists of unfinished books, and truth be told, at in the region 1250pgs, it’s quite an undertaking, even for a keen reader like myself. Having decided I really ought to read it, I was determined not to be one of those who shelved it on the unfinished shelf. I’ll admit, I got off to a couple of false starts. This was partly because in a book like this, set against such a vast historical background, I like to know something about the period, and I realised I didn’t know as much about the Napoleonic Wars as I thought I did. So delay number one came when I concluded that I needed to know more of the background to appreciate it. Delay number two came when I realised it was halfway through the Spring Challenge, and I was nowhere near my points target, plus I still hadn’t read the book for my FTF book club. So poor Tolstoy was put aside until I got back ahead. Once I felt ahead of my target again, however, I finally got back to the business at hand, and picked up the noble Russian once more.

Various things surprised me about this book, the most major of which was the amount of both humour and cynicism in the writing, juxatposed with the personal dramas (and melodramas), and there are long sections which are classic examples of double-layered writing (eg Volume 1, Part 3, Chapters I & II, which talk about the relationship between Pierre, who had inherited a vast estate, and Prince Vassily, who had rather hoped he’d get it himself). He’s also not averse to the odd one-liner at any point. (“Every soldier felt pleased at heart, knowing that many, many more Russian soldiers were going where he was going, that is, no one knew where.”). This contrasts with the visceral descriptions of the war: the bloody battles which form the historical backdrop to the novel, the casualties they caused and the horrific conditions in which the wounded were treated. Tolstoy also does an excellent job of addressing the ‘fog of war’, ie just how confusing the whole business of battle is.

But more than just recounting the history, he also wrote some wonderful descriptive passages, such as the highly memorable before and after descriptions of the battlefield at Borodino. He also paints some excellent word pictures, for example comparing the movement of the Austro-Russian divisions at the battle of Austerlitz to the hands of a clock; the largely-deserted Moscow compared to a queenless beehive; the retreating French army to falling leaves; and the beautiful description bringing to life a moonlit sleigh ride in the snow.

It probably comes as no surprise that Tolstoy is no fan of Napoleon (“He could not renounce his actions, extolled by half the world, and therefore he had to renounce truth and goodness and everything human.”). Indeed, he goes to great pains to try to refute Bonaparte’s genius, most notably in the chapters preceding and during Borodino (aka the battle of Moscow in 1812), and in the lead-up to the retreat from Moscow (“To study the skilful manoeuvres and aims of Napoleon and his army from the moment of his entry into Moscow until the destruction of that army, is the same as studying the meaning of the dying leaps and convulsions of a mortally wounded animal.”). For the historians among you, it’s definitely worth having a map of Borodino handy, to follow where Pierre is during the battle.

As far as the structure of the book is concerned, Volumes 1 & 2, while giving some coverage to the war, are more heavily biased towards the personal and social stories of the characters. That reverses in Volumes 3 & 4, which are more obviously a novelised history, in which the war takes precendence, and Tolstoy shows the devestation that it wrought on Russia. The amount of historical research that Tolstoy must have done to arrive at his commentary and conclusions is a feat in itself. In addition, Book 2 of the Epilogue is pretty much a treatise on the nature of history, the reasons for war, the definition of power, and the difference between freedom and necessity. While it doesn’t add anything to the story, it’s an interesting insight into the author’s thinking.

All in all, I enjoyed War and Peace, and I’m glad I made the effort to persist. The scope of the book is incredible. I even did my best to remain spoiler free for the characters themselves, although obviously not the historical background.It definitely deserves its status as a ‘classic’. And hey, having finished this, any other book should be a cinch! Four stars.

If anyone else wishes to follow in my footsteps, I would heartily recommend the 2011 Vintage translation by Richard Pevear, which I’ve given the ISBN/ASiN to below. According to the translator’s introduction, he pretty much went back to basics, while managing to avoid making the language too archaic. He also made point of keeping more of Tolstoy’s own style elements, such as in-sentence repetition, rather than editing them so they had more variety. In addition, all the links to notes and translations in the kindle edition actually work! It also includes an appendix “A Few Words Apropos of the Book War and Peace”, written by Tolstoy himself in March 1868, when some, but not all, of the novel had been published, and he felt the need to defend it. I’d heartily recommend reading this before reading the book itself, as it explains some of his thinking.

Paperback: ISBN 9781400079988
Kindle: ASIN: B005CUS9AG

message 8: by Katy (new)

Katy | 646 comments If you’ve ever wondered how bees in a dystopian society might interact (and really, who HASN’T wondered that!), now you can stop wondering. Laline Paull’s The Bees will make it clear. This was a completely odd but engrossing read. The novel tells the story of Flora 717, a bee born to be a worker, who rises up on the strength of her talents to take on a more prestigious role -- forager for pollen. As she does so, Flora’s unconventional path through the hive causes her to discover secrets that the fertility police and the priestesses don’t want discussed, putting Flora in great danger.

There are fascinating themes that emerge, about fertility and who owns it, about the value of control and authority to a society, about the tensions between the individual and the group. Still, the most impressive thing in this book to me was the world-building. I felt like I really understood being a bee, to the point that I started feeling a sense of kinship with bees out in my neighborhood. (This feeling will hopefully fade before summer, or I’m afraid I’ll end up with some serious stings – I don’t think the bees will feel the same kinship with me!). The world of the hive was frightening, compelling, and beautifully drawn, and I believed every moment of it. Paull's writing was mysterious and rhythmic, without sacrificing plot for brilliant turns of phrase.

The Goodreads summary for this book describes it as "Hunger Games meets Handmaid's Tale." The Handmaid's Tale is an obvious comparison, since policing fertility plays such a prominent role in both books. But really, this book stands on its own two feet, in the crossroads between dystopia and coming-of-age novel (A Western honeybee's lifespan is 1-10 months according to Professor Google, so it's more of a coming-of-age-very-quickly novel). Whether you eat up any and all dystopian novels, or you are pickier and like the best-written of the bunch, you will want to give this book a whirl.

message 9: by Dlmrose (new)

Dlmrose | 17398 comments Mod
This thread is closed for submissions. Thank you!

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