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message 1: by scherzo♫ (last edited Aug 31, 2010 10:52PM) (new)

scherzo♫ (pjreads) This is thread where you can submit reviews for the Best Review contest. The thread opened for submissions on SEP 1, 2010 and will close at Midnight EST on NOV 22, 2010. Voting will start the next day and run until the end of the day on the 29th. The person whose review gets the most votes will get to design a 20 point task for the Summer Challenge.

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

message 2: by Manday (new)

Manday | 311 comments Review of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Review written by Manday

It seems that everyone uses their review of Mansfield Park to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Jane Austen's heroines as an whole, to rank order which heroines are deserving and which are pitiful, and to observe the effect that Jane Austen's surroundings had on her writing. I feel the need to also do these things in my review, but with a different perspective and outcome than many people reach.

The main complaint about Mansfield Park seems to be that the main character Fanny is weak and passive, and undeserving of the modern reader's attentions. There is a tendency to compare her to the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth. No one can compete with Elizabeth as the modern favorite. She has the independent nature that is so cherished in modern society. So, allow us to set her aside and instead compare Fanny to some of the other Austen beauties.

I have not yet completed the entire collection, so I cannot comment on Northanger Abbey or Persuasion, or perhaps lesser works of which I am entirely unaware. I can, however, discuss Emma of Emma and Eleanor of Sense and Sensability. I find her superior to the pair. She is both more likeable and more realistic. In Emma we have a another independent young lady, in this case one who does not believe or desire the inteference of man in her life. However, she bears the heavy faults of being both meddlesome and self-righteous. She puts the importance of her own ideas and perceptions being correct before the happiness of others. She projects her wants on those around her and ignores the glaring truths of both human nature and of societal forces. Compared to Emma, Fanny must surely be considered meek. Emma is outspoken to the point of rudeness, where are Fanny would rather die than be found rude. However, Fanny has an acute awareness of those around her, their needs and feelings, that Emma could not fathom. If you want social awareness, kindness, and good manners - someone who will understand you and adopt to your reality - Fanny would certainly win over Emma every time.

In Eleanor we have, quite intentionally, the model of sense. The problem is that she is so sensible as to drive away any pity or sympathy that the reader may hold for her. Anyone capable of withholding their opinion and emotions to the extreme that Eleanor does must surely simply not have the yearnings that are natural to human beings. In comparison, Fanny is proper, sensible, and reserved, yet the reader bears witness to her inner torment and deep emotional resevoir. If you are looking for a character that is undoubtedly human - flawed, emotional, and full of secret desires, but who is also sensible, rational, and insightful, Fanny is the obvious choice, she is just as sensible as Eleanor, only she is more acutely human than Eleanor could ever be.

In comparison to Emma and Eleanor, I find Fanny to be quite interesting and quite reasonable. She is not a caricature of sense as Eleanor is, nor the annoying flirt and dunce that Emma comes off as. Fanny is the result of her upbringing. The early trauma of the seperation from her parents instilled in her a shyness and anxiety, a desire to be loved and fit it, that does not let up. She naturally attaches to those that have been most kind to her, and finds solace in being useful where she may not be loved. In short, I believe that Fanny may be the most realistic of Jane Austen's heroines, and second in likeability only to Elizabeth, the modern darling.

What does this mean for the entire novel? Mansfield Park as a novel has several weaknesses. Among the smaller problems are the modern avesion to dating or marrying one's cousin, the simplification of some of the marginal characters, and some points that lack clarity. The biggest weakness, in my opinion, is that of a rushed ending. Austen turns to the narrative "summing up" voice long before is necessary and neglects the reader's desire for a full development of Edmund's realization; a realization that is unsatisfying in and of itself to the modern reader. How much more satisfying would it be to have a new party swoop in at the end that fully cherished and respected Fanny properly from moment he saw her? This is of course a produce of the time. I forgive these flaws and rank Mansfield Park as Jane Austen's second-best work, following of couse, Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps, if history had but turned out slightly differently, I would have put Mansfield Park first.

chucklesthescot I'm writing my review for the 20.10 group read task
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Katniss has to adapt to life in district 13 without Peeta,allowing herself to be groomed as the face of the revolution,struggling to find a way to communicate with Gale while harbouring her thirst for vengeance against Snow.

What I liked about this book and the series in general is the realism in the characters and plot. Katniss would have to be emotionally damaged by her experiences in both of the Hunger Games and I like that it was shown in book 3-irrational decisions, moodswings, fighting with everyone and not being able to accept her new position in a new restricted society. She can't talk to Gale as easily because he has feelings for her and she is trying to work out where Gale and Peeta fit into her complicated life. She lashes out at her mentor Haymitch, rebels against District 13's tight rules and makes a few powerful enemies along the way. I'd have found it unrealistic to expect her to be the same girl from the first two books with all the stress, trauma and guilt running through her.

So lets look at the characters. Katniss is damaged goods when book 3 starts and having serious doubts about some of the rebel decisions. She can't sort out her feelings for Gale and Peeta, she can't get through some days with the depression and she is still rebelling against the system. Morally she seems sure of what is wrong-trying to stop the mountain explosion killing everyone, trying to stop the District 2 survivors being shot-yet she shoots dead the civilian as they escape the tunnels and votes for sending the Capitol children into the Hunger Games. It seems shocking that she wants to inflict the arena on innocent children after all the years of that being done to her generation. Nice twist! It shows that however moral you are, vengeance for a lost loved one can cloud your judgement and mess with your moral compass. I loved the way Prim developed into a capable and strong young woman because of what she has seen happen to her family. Her development mirrors the way Katniss had to grow up fast when their father died and she became head of the family. Prim becomes the heart and strength of the family as Katniss starts to unravel and it was excellent character development. Circle of life anyone?!! I liked the fact that Prim died trying to save lives. This goes to show the life lesson that you just can't save someone you love from fate. Katniss destroys her own life saving Prim in book one but in the end fate will not be denied. In a war, you do lose what you love and I liked that Prim died failing to save the children, just as Katniss failed to save Prim and Rue. Gale's development was great-the devoted friend and protector who, when he gets involved in the war, becomes the complete soldier and wants to see all of the enemy destroyed at any cost. People who have lost everything to a regime like that are not looking for justice-they are looking for vengeance and I think that it was well written. The harder Gale is too demanding on making Katniss choose him over Peeta while Peeta is being tortured by their enemy and I could understand why Katniss felt she had more important things on her mind than her love life! In the circumstances, there could be no future for him and Katniss-she sees that the rebels will be repeating the same evil against District 2 that was visited on district 12 by Snow, and she can't be with someone who believes in that kind of bloodshed against civilians. Gale would also never be able to understand the horrors that she faced in the arena or understand that there are good people in the Capitol-not all of them are enemies who deserve to die. I did cry for Finnick as he did not deserve that kind of death but I liked the fact that the strong died while a few of the weaker survived, just as would happen in that situation. Just the luck of where you are in the formation or what part of the street you step in.

In the first two books it is made clear who the enemy is-Snow. Katniss is hell bent on destroying him and his regime but in book 3 we start to see that the 'good guys' are not all they seem. District 13 has even less freedom than District 12 had under Snow and punishing people for saving part of a meal for later seems harsh and un-necessary. The Prep team being tortured and imprisoned for being from the Capitol and stealing food is no different from Gale being whipped in book 2 for the same offence. Coin never forgives Katniss for getting the better of her and decides to have her killed in the war which perfectly mirrors Snow putting Katniss back in the arena for embarrassing the regime with the berries in book 1. Gale's plot to blow up the mountain and kill everyone inside is no different from Snow having District 12 bombed to kill civilians. The plot in District 13 to invent the double explosion bomb to kill or maim victims then lure in those who come to save them, is no different to the Hunger Games arena tricks. In both situations, children die including of course Prim. I liked the mirroring between the way the Snow regime committed these crimes and the rebels using the same methods to win the war. As happens in any war, it is the innocent who pay for these decisions and tactics, whichever side they are on.

So did Katniss make the right choice with who she chose to kill? Yes-as revenge for Prim and to stop another evil leader taking charge. I liked the irony of Snow dying laughing as he watches the rebel leader die. There is no real happy ending, which I love in this kind of story. Good people are dead, Katniss has lost Prim, Gale and Finnick and to a lesser degree her mother. She is left with the only two people who understand her fear for the future, who understand her recent actions and her pain from the past-the other equally damaged Hunger Games survivors Peeta and Haymitch. Perfect! It seems fitting that the 3 of them return to their ruined lives in District 12-the only place that they ever felt truly comfortable.

Great books!

message 4: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 143 comments My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

I shouldn't have been surprised, afterall, Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and his South of Broad is one of my favorite books of the year. But still, My Reading Life ? Billed as "Conroy revisits a life of reading through an array of wonderful anecdotes," I didn't have high hopes. In fact, I was afraid it would result in Conroy being a few inches lower on his pedestal. Sometimes I am so happy to be wrong.

Not only can the man write, which I already knew, but his southern charm, wit, and passion for language and reading all shine through brightly in this memoir-ish book. Never have I read such a spirited and personal defense of the importance of reading. Conroy writes about some of the people, places, and books that have been mentors, guides, and inspirations in his life and his writing. This book could be all that and more to a reader today.

The man is a national treasure and almost makes me want to claim to be a real southerner.

message 5: by Sera (new)

Sera Victoria Victorious: The Story of Queen Victoria by Jean Plaidy

4 Stars

Overall, a very comprehensive, informative read about Queen Victoria from her birth to her death. As usual, Plaidy provides a historically accurate account of the Queen and her relationships with those around her.

In my opinion, Victoria's lack of a father figure while growing up leads her to seek the fulfillment of her emotional needs from the men that she meets in her life, and in particular, her husband, Albert. Albert is very different from Victoria. Although very handsome, Albert is a humorless man, with the highest of moral standards, who seeks to be regarded in his own right. However, he finds himself not only cast in Victoria's shadow, but viewed as an outsider by the English people since he is of German descent. Interestingly, Tsarina Alexandra would face similar criticism from the Russian people when they sought someone on whom to blame their problems. It's clear that xenophobia was alive and well during the nineteen century.

We find that Victoria's mothering skills left much to be desired, and it's interesting to see how her deference to Albert in regard to the rearing of their children impacts how the children grow-up and the type of people that they become. Victoria's prime ministers are also featured in much of the book, and again, each of these men exhibit paternal characteristics toward Victoria that makes her more of a follower, in my opinion, than a strong leader. It's only until later in the book that Victoria begins to grasp her role as ruler, and the reader finds that she is able to contribute to the decision making process.

There is much more detail that this almost 600 page read provides about Victoria, but I would encourage you to read it for your herself to gain a very good understanding of Victoria. Plaidy's narrative tone, although told from the perspective of Victoria, sounds similar to the other women about which she writes so that I instantly found myself hearing Plaidy tell the story and not necessarily the voice of Victoria. It's not a bad thing, but again, something that I observed about Plaidy's writing style.

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