The Finalists by David Bell

I have been reading some intellectually challenging non-fiction of late and so needed fiction that wasn’t to demanding but yet entertaining.  Enter David Bell’s new novel, The Finalist, thanks to my friends over at NetGalley.

Since I received a review copy, I felt like I should post a review (despite not having posted for some time).

Publisher Setup:

On a beautiful spring day, six college students with nothing in common besides a desperate inability to pay for school gather to compete for the prestigious Hyde Fellowship.

Milo–The front-runner.
Natalia–The brain.
James–The rule follower.
Sydney–The athlete.
Duffy–The cowboy.
Emily–The social justice warrior.

The six of them must surrender their devices when they enter Hyde House, an aging Victorian structure that sits in a secluded part of campus.

Once inside, the doors lock behind them. The students are not allowed to leave until they spend eight hours with a college administrator who will do almost anything to keep the school afloat and Nicholas Hyde, the privileged and notoriously irresponsible heir to the Hyde family fortune. If the students leave before time is up, they’ll be immediately disqualified.

But when one of the six finalists drops dead, the other students fear they’re being picked off one by one. With a violent protest raging outside and no way to escape, the survivors viciously turn on each other.

While this felt a little over the top at times (more in terms of the character’s personality and interaction than plot), it kept me interested and wanting to find out what happened (which is the point of a book like this, no?).

Plus, to be fair, much of our world, particularly the world of higher education, seems over the top. And who is to say if you got a group of desperate, highly competitive college students locked in a house with a chance to win a lot of money, it wouldn’t get ugly.

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Unlike Anything that Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862 by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes

Unlike Anything that Ever Floated by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes is an excellent look at a pivotal naval battle during the Civil War.  The ironclads U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia (and other similar ironclads) were the precursors of modern steel naval ships. The book is part of Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series (simple overviews of the Civil War’s important battles and issues).

Hughes thoroughly chronicles the development of ironclads in the United States and Confederate navies. As a part of the chronology of events surrounding the two ships, Hughes incorporates the development of both ships. He delves into not only the armor, but the armaments and propulsion systems. Many people would find these discussions quiet drab, but Hughes brings a refreshing approach by describing the various personalities involved in the construction of both ships.

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The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac by Adolfo Ovies

The Boy GeneralsThe story of the Army of the Potomac’s Union cavalry in the Civil War is fascinating. It began the war as a poorly led force that was frequently bested by their Southern counterparts in the Army of Northern Virginia. However, that changed as the war progressed and better leadership rose to the top of the command chain. Adolfo Ovies in The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac chronicles this transition. This book is the first in a three book series on Custer and Merritt.

Ovies does not describe every Union cavalry action, but focuses on the ones that Custer and Merritt were involved in. Ovies succinctly describes the conflicting thoughts of those in the cavalry on its use, including Custer and Merritt. Some believed in the saber and shock charges (Custer), but others believed more in the dragoon concept, fighting dismounted (Merritt). Ovies chronicles how the differences in philosophy between Custer and Merritt slowly turned the men from acquaintance to bitter rivals.

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Sharpe’s Assassin by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell, without exception, is my favorite historical fiction writer. He has written many historical fiction books and series, including the Richard Sharpe Series. He recently finished the final book in the Series entitled Sharpe’s Assassin.

A great book series is hard to find. It is difficult to keep intriguing story lines and continue to develop characters. Cornwell is a master at both of these in several different series.

Once an author decides to end a series, I always hate to read the last book. You get very familiar with the characters and there is a certain comfort knowing that another book is coming to continue the adventure. This is even more so with the Sharpe Series. I have been reading the books for more than 20 years, many of them twice. I know that Cornwell wrote many of them in order and later filled in some gaps with newer books, but this latest book seems a little more final. It appears that the Richard Sharpe character is finally done.

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Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station by Jeffrey William Hunt

I consider myself a fairly well-informed person regarding the Civil War. However, I don’t know much about the interactions between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg and the Confederate’s escape across the Potomac River in 1863. Jeffrey William Hunt’s Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station: The Army of the Potomac’s First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863 sheds some light on this time period.

Hunt provides a great overview of the situation in the Eastern Theater between the two armies. As part of the overview, Hunt discusses the pressure on Meade from Lincoln and General Henry Halleck (General-in-Chief of Union Armies) to follow-up the victory at Gettysburg  with another defeat of Lee. However, Meade and Lincoln/Halleck cannot agree on a strategy to bring the Army of Northern Virginia to battle. Conversely, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia are anxious to avenge their loss at Gettysburg.

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