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message 1: by Dlmrose (new)

Dlmrose | 18103 comments Mod
This is thread where you can submit reviews for the Best Review contest. The thread opened for submissions on DEC 1, 2010 and will close at Midnight EST on FEB 20, 2010. Voting will start the next day and run until the end of the day on the FEB 28th. The person whose review gets the most votes will get to design a 20 point task for the Spring 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.

SPOILER ALERT!- These reviews may include spoilers.

message 2: by Tien (new)

Tien (tiensblurb) | 1647 comments Wild Lavender by Belinda Alexander
Note: I read this book for task 30.2 (Alphabetically Speaking)

I finished this book with mixed feelings, hence 3.5 stars.

Firstly, I think it was a mistake that I read this book just a couple of days after I finished Sarah’s Key however I thought it would be a different sort of setting. This is because the 2 other books of Belinda Alexandra (namely White Gardenia & Silver Wattle) were mainly set in Australia. Oh, they did start elsewhere but the main protagonists migrated to Australia so I had the same sort of assumptions for this one. I was just the tiniest disappointed that I was wrong.

Simone Fleurier, with all her long leggedness, is not made for farming. She is destined for much bigger things. The unfortunate event of her father passing sees her being bundled off by her uncle to an unknown aunt in Marseilles. Her aunt owns a boarding house of which she is now too old to run by herself. So Simone was made to do all the physical work but with no wages (only food & board). By a series of pure lucks, she somehow made it onto the stage in Marseilles. And by another stroke of luck, she made it to Paris!

Life in Paris was not easy, nor was getting the break she wanted. But, she did find the love of her life. Unfortunately, he is the sole heir of the Blanchard fortune and who is she? Wealth is no barrier for love though... She is faced by something else more menacing. I found this part of the story a little bit annoying because Simone was either naive or was just blind (blinded by beauty & undeserved loyalty).

Europe was just recovering from the Great War and whilst, the outlook was supposedly bright, there are niggling doubts in some people’s minds whether peace will prevail. Life, however, does not stop just because the possibility of war. Simone continued to work and work hard but she did make some preparations to retreat to Pays de Sault, her home village, should war break out. When the war broke out and she was making her way home, she saw the brutality of war which made her realise that she does not want to hide away. She wants to fight. She wants to fight for France, her France.

The book spans about 20 years but the first half of the book was dedicated to one year then the rest was packed in the second half of the book. So in the first half of the book, whilst I did enjoy the read, I was also feeling that it was a tad slow and then suddenly, 2 years passed, then another 5 and so on. I felt a bit rushed at the end. I wished that the first half was halved and a lot more was spent on the ‘intrigue’ in the second half.

I loved the way Simone described Marseilles on arriving:

”...The last rays of the sun glittered on the Mediterranean and the sky was aquamarine. I had never seen the ocean before and the sight of it and the seagulls screeching overhead made my toes tingle. I walked along the Quai des Belges, past Africans selling gold and ochre-coloured spices and brass trinkets. I knew of black people from the books Aunt Yvette had given me to read, but had never seen them in real life. I was fascinated by their white fingernails and place palms...”

And of Paris:

”...I craned my neck to look at the ornate buildings with their wrought-iron railings and slanted roofs. Paris was more sombre than Marseilles, but more elegant too. Marseilles burned into my mind in shades of turquoise and sunflower yellow, while Paris was hues of pearl and oyster...”

*Sigh* yes, I just loved the colours she used to describe both cities – it sounds absolutely wonderful to me.

One last thing, if you’re a history buff (ie. you like your history to be just so – on the ball, so to speak), this book may not be for you. I recommend that you read the Author’s Note (near the end of the book) to explain what liberties she has taken in the story prior to your reading to avoid any disappointment.

message 3: by Sera (new)

Sera Anna Karenina - 5 stars

This classic by Tolstoy is a work of art in its own right. Many critics would disagree with this statement since so much of the book is based upon Tolstoy's first-hand experiences, but I disagree. The book is timeless in not only how it portrays the meaning of love and life, as exhibited by Anna and Levin respectively, but also in its ability to capture the historical ongoings in pre-revolutionary Russia.

The stories of Anna and Levin run simulatenously, and in around Part VI of the book, I realized that it's because the two characters have similar parallels in regard to their existence. For example, there is Vronsky, the man with whom both Kitty and Anna fall in love. Vronskly almost ruins both Kitty's and Levin's lives, but because they have and love each other, they are able to overcome the damage that Vronksy caused to both of them.

However, for Anna, unfortunately, Vronksy is the reason for her slow and ultimately, tragic unraveling. I'm sure that some who have read this book found Anna to be a whiny, somewhat loathsome character, whose insecurities as they relate to her relationship with Vronsky can be grating to the reader. Yet, I attempted to put myself in the shoes of Anna so as to emphasize with her feelings, and once I did so, I could completely understand how she felt. This woman gave up everything for love, and what did she get in return? The loss of her son, alienation from society and the constant fear that she had made the wrong decision. I believe that the reason that Anna constantly needed assurance from Vronsky was because she wanted some type of confirmation that she had made the right choice. Don't we as humans all require validation for our decisions?

Interestingly, after Anna leaves her husband for Vronsky, his life seems to take off, while her seems to stand still. Vronsky gains both economic and societal statuture, while she is left waiting in the wings. Is this Tolstoy's way of treating women differently from men for the same actions? I hate to think that, but it sure seems that way. Anna enjoys none of the benefits of her decision that Vronsky does, even though they both participated in the same indiscretion.

Levin is written to reflect Tolstoy, the man. Tolstoy conveys his political inclinations through this character, and although he is prone to have the same fate as Anna, he does not. In fact, he evolves and overcomes any limitations that he might have had. Again, are Tolstoy's views toward men more forgiving than women? Is Tolstoy a sexist? Or, is he simply treating Anna as society would have treated her at that time? It's hard to tell, but what is clear, is that Anna pays the price for her feelings toward Vronsky, and the price is an extreme one.

This book is a fantastic read, well-written with expertly drawn characters that fully show all of their hopes and flaws, while capturing the pulse of a nation that was about to undergo great change.

message 4: by Katy (new)

Katy | 681 comments Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is one of those books that, especially around the SRC, I always felt like I should read. Even when I first picked it up, it felt familiar - maybe it was one of those books my mom had lying around that I started six times before finishing. In any case, once I got past the first few chapters I began to kick myself wondering how it had taken me so long to get started. Here’s why:

Number one: time travel. I actually ache sometimes, wishing time travel was real. There are so many times in history I wish I could see. (The Black Death, though, is not one of them!) Now, I’ve read my sci-fi. I know that time travel is one of those too-good-to-be-true deals. Connie Willis makes this really clear, even though in her books time travel is an ordinary part of a university historian’s work. Time travel is dangerous! Even reading about the preparations that Kivrin, the protagonist in Doomsday Book, has to make before leaving, I can see some of the downsides to my time travel dream. There were diseases from the past we’re not immune to. There were roles for women that a female nowadays would have to adjust to and prepare for. Even language -- Middle English was pretty far from what we speak now. So, it’s clear - time travel is hard work. Nonetheless, it’s a point in this book’s favor for me.

Number two: the Middle Ages. This wasn’t a plus going in. Unlike many of my friends who majored in medieval studies in college, I have never been particularly attracted to this time period. To be honest, it sounds kind of smelly. And Doomsday Book didn’t change my mind on that characterization. But, like all good historical fiction, it made me think about the real people who might have lived, with real goals and interests and personalities, at that time.

Number three: good old-fashioned pathos. I am a crier, but not usually at books. Any book that can make me laugh or cry out loud is in a class of its own. This book definitely made me cry. No spoiler alert needed, it’s clear from the title that this isn’t going to be a super-happy read. However, it’s the kind of heart-wrenching that I like, where I finish the book feeling like I took a journey too - and as a bonus, I was able to take Kivrin’s journey with her while still having access to indoor plumbing.

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