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SUMMER CHALLENGE 2019 > Best Review Contest

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message 1: by SRC Moderator (last edited Aug 01, 2019 08:39AM) (new)

SRC Moderator | 4532 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 18, 2019. 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 Spring 2019 Challenge Readerboard by midnight Eastern Time on May 17, 2019.

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 Trish (last edited May 01, 2019 06:44AM) (new)

Trish (trishhartuk) | 2464 comments Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

Reviewed by trishhartuk. Four stars.

“Quirky” is one of those adjectives that’s hard to define, as it means different things to different people. For me, however, it’s the perfect description of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

I came across it as a monthly choice for another online reading group I’m a member of. The basic premise is that when Bee Branch, the POV character, started school, her parents -workaholic Elgin, and the titular Bernadette - promised her that if she managed to get straight-As while she was there, they’d give her the reward of her choice. At the time, Bee wanted a pony, and this was their way of putting her off, but now, having kept her side of the bargain, what she really wants is a trip to Antarctica. Needless to say, her parents are rather surprised, but not wanting to go back on the promise, they agree, and Bernadette starts to organise the trip.

Seems straightforward, right? Except that due to a “huge, hideous thing” which happened some years before, Bernadette is a virtual stay-in, who doesn’t cope well with people and really only goes out to take Bee to school or occasionally shop. Which makes idea of a long cruise trip to Antarctica pretty much the last thing she would ever choose to do.

The first three-quarters of the book is presented in an epistolary style, using a disparate collection of documents, letters, emails and the like. Through these you get to know Bee’s family and the cast of supporting characters, as well as following the breadcrumbs which make up the overall story. Tying everything together are POV comments from Bee, as she follows those same breadcrumbs, to find out what happened to her mother, both in the past and after her disappearance in the present. The final quarter is a more standard first-person narrative, following Bee on the eventual trip to Antarctica.

The book is written with a wry humour, combined with laugh-out loud moments. I especially enjoyed comparing Bernadette’s take on people and events, with those of the same people from their own perspectives.

But it also has a serious side. The more you read, the more obvious it becomes that Bernadette has a form of PTSD due to the “huge horrible thing”, which has left her on the edge of normal society. Here, I felt the author treated a serious issue with both humour and respect. In that, despite being very different books, it reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, which I’d read and enjoyed a few weeks before.

Overall, having gone into Bernadette with no expectations, I ended up liking it a lot. I especially enjoyed following the trail through the epistolary section, and linking together the story.

The final quarter was less intriguing, but still very readable, not least because Antarctica is on the list of places I’d like to visit one day. The very end did seem a bit rushed and somewhat unlikely, though, and I would have liked to have seen more of the relationship between Bee and Bernadette from Bee’s point of view, which is why I only gave it four stars.

I hope the author revisits these characters again one day, as I’d love to know what happens next.

message 3: by Ed (last edited May 07, 2019 08:58PM) (new)

Ed Lehman | 670 comments ED

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

The only other book I've read by Willa Cather is O Pioneers which I liked, but I enjoyed this one much more. The woman in the title is Mrs. Forrester. As the short novel weaves its way through a rural setting (never specified), we learn that Mrs. Forrester is really a fish out of water. She is an urbane woman who through circumstances has found herself in this rural setting. She is not bound by country expectations. Although married to a good man she is a question how much she really loves her husband.
Cather does a good job keeping the reader's attention even though there is not a lot of action...but the story keeps taking small turns that become significant at the end. In many ways, the story is more about the young neighbor man Niel Herbert who becomes enamored of Mrs. Forrester.
Surprisingly, O Pioneers is on Boxall's 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list...but A Lost Lady is not. I would reverse that.
4 1/2 stars

message 4: by Joanne (last edited May 08, 2019 07:09AM) (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 916 comments Joanne MI

The House at the Edge of Night 5 stars

This is a wonderful Family Saga, covering a huge span of history from the beginnings of the 20th century to the Financial Crisis in 2007.

Amedeo Esposito comes to the small island of Castellemare in the early 1900's as the Doctor in Residence. The story follows his life and the generations of Esposito's that follow. There is nothing deep about this book, no hidden message. Just the history of the world, and these families who seem so remote from it all.

Catherine Banner's writing pulled me in after the first few pages and kept me involved with the characters, loving them all. There is the Esposito Family and then there are the other residence of this very small island-The old women who live for their gossip-the old men playing cards in the bar, the children growing up in a world that is changing, and never being aware of those changes until months, sometimes years later. Then there is Santa' Agata, the Patron Saint of the Island, does she really preform miracles, or is it just the faith of these islanders that makes you believe in them?

After I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I wanted to go to that place-no other book since has done that for me-this one did-it's too bad that Castellemare is not real-I would go there in a minute.

If you are looking for a book to just take you away, I recommend this highly.

message 5: by Paul (new)

Paul | 221 comments The Dying Earth ★★★★★

The earth's sun is sputtering out. Magic is widely used, but generally feared. Strange beasts roam the wilds. This is the world of the Dying Earth. The setting sounds familiar, but Jack Vance's Dying Earth is far from a commonplace fantasy realm.

This book contains a loosely-connected set of stories, all set on the Dying Earth. The characters in the earlier stories sometimes make their way to later stories.

The plots are straightforward, but the intricate machinations getting from point A to point B will keep you reading.

What really sets this book apart from other fantasy stories is the elegant language and dialogue. Vance's descriptions of the environment (food, plants, animals, magic spells, names of people and places) all convey a delightful sense of wonder and other-worldliness. He does this without just mangling a bunch of vowels and consonants into something unfamiliar. Rather, the terms seem familiar, and yet are not. For example: Twk-man, gaun, deodand, vampire-weed.

However, by far the most enjoyable aspect of this book is the dialogue that Vance gives his characters. The language is elegant, contrived, and filled with obscurities. I provide an example below from the final story in the book (Guyal of Sfere). The context: our hero (Guyal) is trying to find out what it would cost to get services from a soothsayer:

"What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously.

"I respond to three questions," responded the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue."

Such circuitous language is likely to be an acquired taste, to which I confess gladly.

So, within The Dying Earth, expect to discover strange spells, fearsome beasts, brave stalwarts, beautiful maidens, elegant arguments, hidden plots, and so forth. However, with the Dying Earth,you will enjoy the delightful language of a science-fantasy master. #cultfavorite

message 6: by Aprilleigh (last edited May 15, 2019 01:56PM) (new)

Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) | 1052 comments Kindred by Octavia E. Butler ★★★★

Reviewed by Aprilleigh

Wow. Not only is this book brilliantly unique, it grabs you in ways you never expect. I expected to find the usual slave narrative, fictionalized, but I didn't expect to have a love-hate relationship with one of the main characters. I expected to either love him because he was a better man than most slave owners, or hate him because he wasn't. That would have been much, much too simple. To be honest, it also wouldn't have been very realistic. Slave owners weren't across-the-board evil even in the real world, although I suspect some of them came pretty close, treating their dogs better than they treated their slaves. Slavery seems, to me, a system ripe for the abuse of power and it probably attracted a certain kind of person because of that. Much like certain political systems are inherently attractive to those who believe women were meant to serve men.

That said, I really had a hard time with the character of Rufus. How could anyone be so blind that, even knowing what he does about Dana's origin, he can't see her as someone worthy of respect? I wanted to reach through the pages and knock some sense into him. He's so ignorant that he can't see past his own wants, and the fact that forcing himself on someone who has no choice will never endear her to him. Poor Alice. I wasn't expecting that part of the storyline. I honestly believed this would be about a man who saw the inherent inhumanity of slavery and saw them as human beings. He was, after all, Dana's ancestor. He never did. I'm not convinced he even saw his own children as human, even though he clearly loved them.

After reading the entire book and thinking about it for a day or so, I think Rufus was a flawed and damaged human being from childhood. What else explains burning down a stable because you didn't get a horse you wanted, and then following that up with trying to burn down your own home? He had a distant and strict father that he was afraid of, and a neurotic and smothering mother that he had no respect for. His attitude towards his mother, which we see fairly early on, should have been a big clue. He was manipulative until he couldn't get what he wanted, then he was rude and disrespectful, and he got away with it, so he repeated the pattern often. In essence, he was a spoiled child and he grew into a spoiled man, partly because of his parents and partly because of a system that taught him he was better than others.

This book should be required reading. Nonfiction slave narratives are important too, but they don't always have the power of a well-written fictional account of an otherwise similar series of events. This hits hard, without introducing any events that we don't already know were common due to the various nonfiction accounts.

It loses one star only because it's often billed as science fiction, but the time-travel, which is never explained or described and is only used as a means of placing modern sensibilities in the past, is the only element that could be considered science fiction. Brilliant book, just not really science fiction.

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