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CONTEST ENTRIES > Best Review Contest (Summer 2017)

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message 1: by SRC Moderator (new)

SRC Moderator | 4524 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 August 19. Voting will start the next day and run until the end of the GR day on August 31. The person whose review gets the most votes will get to design a 20 point task for the Fall Challenge.

To be eligible for this task opportunity you must have achieved at least 100 points on the Readerboard by midnight Eastern Time on Aug 18, 2017.

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 Siobhan (new)

Siobhan Johnson | 260 comments Siobhan

I'm submitting my review of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney


I really enjoyed this! A very interesting and comprehensive study of an often overlooked period of history, the Spanish Flu of 1918(-1920, roughly), and how it impacted the world.

I'll get the few problems I had with it out of the way first, just to be comprehensive.

Problem 1. There was too much focus on male voices for my liking. Granted, this is probably (as in, almost certainly) because that is the majority of evidence available. I still felt a little cheated, though - you can't open the book by dangling a female history of the disease over my head and then not deliver! That's not fair at all.

Problem 2. There was a little too much supposition. This is mainly a problem with the first section of the book, and also a bit of a problem with the historical non-fiction genre. The past 3 overviews of certain things I've read have started with vague supposition, and it's a tiny bit annoying to me. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that before a certain point in history we don't really know that much. We can make educated guesses, people probably didn't ride unicorns and design spaceships in 600BC for example, but until more research has been done they are only going to be guesses. It felt a little odd, flowing bumpily from vague supposition into an otherwise very rigorously scientific study.

These are only minor problems, though, and I still enjoyed this book a great deal. I stand by my decision to rate it five stars, and would definitely recommend it to people. It's definitely a discussion book, ask my poor fiance who has been patiently listening to me reading chunks out for the past three days, and I think that a lot of people would find a variety of interesting things to talk about.

The discussion of the social impact of the flu was a particularly strong area, and one that could provoke a variety of discussions. It's stated in the book that America and Europe actually got off the most lightly from the flu, and yet when the impact of it is discussed it tends to be purely in terms of the Western world. Not in this book. India and China were both discussed in great detail, and I found the sections on China especially interesting. The book highlighted a fundamental difference in worldviews, and also highlighted how that fundamental difference has changed over the past hundred years.

The medical side was also absolutely fascinating. I am not a scientist at all, my expertise with science extends to pointing at ducks and terming them cute (although they are apparently horrible flu carriers according to this book, so maybe I'll stop doing that), but I found the science in this book easily accessible and fascinating. My favourite section in the book was probably when the biology of the flu virus was described, and I also loved the explanation of how it interacts with its human host.

Possibly the greatest triumph of this book, though, was the work it did on historical context. The Spanish Flu is a frequently overshadowed pandemic. People tend, for justifiable reasons, to focus more on the First World War that overlapped with it or the Second World War that followed just twenty years later. This book challenges that, while still being very respectful of the lives lost in the war, and definitely succeeds in placing the Spanish Flu in a historical context. It points out how the disease probably led to the events of World War Two, just as surely as the aftermath of World War One did, and does so in an easily understandable and extremely interesting way.

So, yes! Overall I really enjoyed this book, and got a lot of pleasure out of reading it. It's not really a light read, the death of millions can never really be that, but it is an extremely interesting one that I'll probably be thinking about for a good while.

message 3: by Trish (last edited Aug 03, 2017 05:21AM) (new)

Trish (trishhartuk) | 2462 comments trishhartuk

So Wild the Heart, Geoffry Trease
(first published in 1959)
Three stars

As I was given a review copy of this by the publisher, I thought I might as well post the review here, as well.

Geoffrey Trease is probably best known for writing historical novels for children and young adults. Indeed, my first exposure to him was a book called Cue for Treason, set around the theatre in Shakespearian England. However, he also wrote a handful of books for adults, and the kindle age has meant that some of these long out of print books are now becoming available again.

Set shortly after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, So Wild the Heart is still historical fiction, but in this case it’s a romance with elements of the modern rom com. The main character, Thomas Adam, is a socially awkward young man of a poorer background, who’s trying to make a name for himself at Oxford with the first translation into English of an obscure Roman poet. To this end, he takes a trip to Italy, to further his research. Once he arrives at his destination, beside a lake in the mountains near Verona – city of Romeo and Juliet - he quickly meets the radical and excitable Matthew Mortimer and his unconventional household, including a pair of young American women, one of whom he inevitably falls in love with.

For most of the book, his feelings towards Sally are very much of the “crush from afar” variety. Like any good historical romance it also has a bounder trying to seduce the object of his affections, and Adam’s exile from her presence (albeit just back across the lake) when he upsets his hosts by coming to blows with the bounder to protect her honour (something she doesn’t appreciate at the time!). However, in proper rom com style, the main characters finally realise how they feel towards each other, leading to the 1816 equivalent of rushing to the airport to stop her flying away: Adam leaping into a buggy to try to catch Sally before she leaves his life forever. Needless to say, in the end he realises there’s more to life than an obscure Roman poet, which is underlined by the fact that when he gets back to Oxford, he learns that a book of his own poetry has become a best seller, giving him and Sally financial stability and a satisfying happy ending.

It isn’t the fastest moving book in the world. However, the descriptions of summer in Italy are excellent, and it has touches of humour which lighten the whole. As a result, I found myself transported to the long lost time immediately after the defeat of Napoleon, when British travellers returned to the Continent after years of war. The idyllic Italian lakeside setting also gives it the holiday romance/beach read vibe.

All in all, it’s a decent summer read for those who like historical romances, albeit in the subdued language of the late-1950s, rather than the more sensational/explicit language of a modern potboiler.

message 4: by Chris (last edited Aug 16, 2017 11:07AM) (new)

Chris (chrismd) | 938 comments Chris MD

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

5 stars

Have you ever seen a drunk and disheveled homeless person staggering down the street or sleeping on a grate and wondered how he or she got that way? This is that story.

Franklin Starlight is a 16-year-old Ojibwe boy who has been raised on a farm by a white man referred to only as "the old man." He has had little contact with his alcoholic father, Eldon, and those few times have each been disastrous. Yet he feels duty-bound to go when he receives a summons to visit his father, who has finally drunk himself to the point of death. What he does not expect is that Eldon will ask him to take him into the woods and let him die and be buried in the Indian way.

And so begins their medicine walk, with Eldon tied to a horse and Franklin responsible for all their needs. A medicine walk is supposed to bring healing. While there can be no physical healing for Eldon, there may be just enough time to try to heal the many hurts between father and son.

As they walk and camp in the outdoors, Franklin slowly learns the story of his father's life and the secrets that cut so deep only the numbing medicine found in a whiskey bottle could keep the pain at bay. Which is not to say Franklin or the reader feels total sympathy for Eldon. Did the events of his life make him the way he is, or did the way he is cause these events to happen? In the end, each reader will have to decide for himself whether Eldon deserves forgiveness.

The story is so beautifully told that it will stay with you long after you've read the last page. The writing is spare, and yet you see and hear everything in the forest. There are stunning set pieces as the two encounter a bear and travel to the site of ancient Indian paintings on a rock wall. The tradition of story telling is repeated throughout the book, and Wagamese retells the stories of Eldon and Franklin's lives with words that are both beautiful and gut wrenching.

The book is also wonderfully narrated by Tom Stechschulte, who seems to be the go-to-guy for narrating books of the Northern Plains--and there is good reason for that. These are plain-speaking people who are often short on showing emotion even when they're feeling it. Stechshulte's delivery is just right for these characters, and he gives each subtle nuance. He brings Eldon to life, both in his drunkenness and in his illness. It's been a week since I finished the book, and I can still hear him. But it is Franklin, so sure of himself in the woods and so unsure of his place in the larger world, that I will never forget.

This will be among my top reads for the year.

message 5: by Morgan (new)

Morgan (faeriesfolly) | 971 comments Bull by David Elliott
by David Elliott

2.5 stars

I do a lot of judging a book by its cover, because there are a lot of really good looking/interesting covers out there. This is one of those books that I saw on the library display for newer YA books and grabbed on a whim. A story about the minotaur from Greek mythology told at least partially from the PoV of the minotaur? SOLD.

Of course that was just my quick assumptions from the cover (and the text written on the face of the bull pictured there.)

What I didn't know going in was that it would not only be told in verse, but would be mostly from Poseidon's PoV.

What I REALLY didn't know was that it would be irreverent and raunchy. I was also surprised by the language. Now, this isn't because I'm offended or anything. This is because 90% of this I would consider for a younger audience. One that would laugh at the rhyme of "give me a doughnut and tell me to dunk it" with "who'd a thunk it".

But when we bring in pretty detailed talk of
just how a minotaur came to be,
or Theseus' thoughts on Ariadne....

(Even I'm getting in on the rhyming now.)

Also the cursing that seemed more out of place than anything -- I get maybe the author was trying to be more 'edgy' or 'cool', but it just came off stilted and awkward to the extent that it was used. It didn't fit with some of the much more immature lines/verses. It felt like there were two versions that were jumbled up together by mistake. One more middle grade, and the other a definite YA.

Of course, the Greek myths themselves are full of rape, sex, betrayal, and murder and I know that I was reading those from a young age myself. I'm probably in the minority on that whole thing, or feeling it's disjointed and as awkwardly put together as a boy with the head of a bull.

It wasn't all bad, and it was certainly a quick read. I especially liked the touch the author used in choosing different styles of verse for each of the narrators. Not only were they differentiated by name and what they were conveying, their lines all had a different flow and rhythm that was pleasing and suited them.

Another big plus for this book is the formatting. While it's difficult to tell at first, the pages where Asterion (the minotaur) is speaking get darker and darker as the book progresses. I thought that was just such a well thought out touch -- but I'm a big sucker for things like that.

I end up coming down a little in the middle on this one. If Goodreads allowed half stars, I would give this one 2.5. With Riordan out there, it's difficult to measure up in my eyes TBH. Also when I already have a favorite novel in verse ( Sharp Teeth ) any other novel in verse is going to have an uphill battle.

All that said, if you happen to see it and the cover catches your eye it wouldn't be a waste of your time to give it a quick read. The formatting alone, for me, made it more than worthwhile.

message 6: by Sam (new)

Sam | 43 comments SAM M

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
5 Stars

I understand why The Secret History is loathed as much as it is loved. If I remove myself a bit from what I just read, I note implausible dialogue and somewhat unbelievable plot elements, horrifically selfish and nasty main characters, overflowing with evil, sure, but mostly with ennui and snobbery and drunkenness and poor-little-rich-people and an air of erudition that's more smokescreen than substance.

I can admit to all of that objectively. Subjectively, I feverishly read this in a day and found it literally unputdownable, obscuring my copy under my desk to finish the last 50 pages at work. I can't tell if I suspended my disbelief, or fully believed and drank the Kool-Aid, or some combination of both. All I can say is that this book seized hold of me and refused to let go, lured me and seduced me with Tartt's picturesque, poetic language and description, the sustained tension and ominous mood, and the intricacies of the dark, feral, brutal natures and impulses that lurk underneath beautiful, polished surfaces. I was compelled to savor the details, but also desperate to turn the pages and read more. I was by turns irritated, disgusted, sympathetic, contemplative of the relationships and actions and reactions of Henry, Bunny, Francis, Charles and Camilla, and though I wouldn't say any rank among the more memorable characters I've read, they ended up being as magnetic as Richard the narrator first found them to be, even if in the end I was repelled by them rather than attracted. I could not look away, I was completely captured and in their and Tartt's spell. And I came to satisfied and unsettled by my satisfaction, as though I shouldn't have liked or enjoyed or been so captivated by such a tale.

This book is wicked. I can see how wicked can mean evil/unpleasant, or a New England style excellent for this read, and completely understand its polarizing nature. If you haven't read The Secret History yet and are debating about it, I'd recommend trying it if you're a fan of dense literary novels and don't always need a moral paragon to root for. And if you do decide to pick it up, I can only urge to try as hard as you can to suspend your disbelief and get caught in the web... I can't tell if I devoured it or it devoured me, or both, but either way I loved this wicked book. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars, with a future re-read all but guaranteed.

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