Gone With the Wind – A Reading Journal, Part III

This post is a reading journal, and therefore contains pretty much nothing but spoilers. You have been warned.

If you do the right things for the wrong reasons, are you still a good person?

My oh my, part three has quite a lot going on, doesn’t it? As a short summary, it opens when the front lines are just reaching the boarder of Georgia. The inhabitants of Atlanta are still feeling confident at this point that they’ll never get any nearer the fighting than that, but within a few weeks the war is in their doorstep and people are fleeing for Macon. When Atlanta falls to Sherman’s army, Scarlett and Melanie barely escape, and were only able to do so with the help of Rhett Butler, who up and decides to join the army. Having to fend for herself for the first time in her life, Scarlett has to get herself, Melanie, Prissy, Wade, and Melanie’s new baby Beau all the way to Tara by herself while avoiding Yankee troops. Once there, she finds her mother dead, her father lost his mind, and her two sisters on sickbeds unable to contribute. The only lucky thing to have happened is stumbling across a cow on their way there, and having Dilcey in milk in order to nurse Melanie’s baby. At Tara, life isn’t much better, they are always on the brink of starvation, and in constant fear of yankee troops. They are also out of the way of any news and have no idea whether the fighting is still close or if it’s moved off away from the area. And of course, the part wraps up for the third time with a scene involving Ashley – this time, he is returning from prison camp.

I learned a lot in this section. Growing up in Colorado, which didn’t exist (as a state) during the time of the Civil War, we didn’t spend too long studying about it. Basically I knew there was a battle at Gettysburg, brother fought against brother, the Underground Railroad was a thing, slavery was abolished, and the south lost the war. It’s pretty pathetic really, my lack of education on the subject. I did not know that Atlanta was captured and essentially burned to the ground. I didn’t know that soldiers marched and fought while barefoot and starving to death. I didn’t know that the entire south was cut off from the world, unable to receive goods and supplies from anywhere else, which basically starved the whole confederacy. War is a terrible thing. A terrible terrible thing. 

I read another book as I read this called The Girl You Left Behind. It’s a novel by Jojo Moyes which describes in detail a fictional account of a family (all women and children since the men are off fighting) living in German occupied France during World War I. This made the atrocities of war in both books stand out even more than they would have on their own. Those were some somber days as I read them. I even had to set Gone With the Wind aside for awhile to get through some of the tougher passages about the suffering and wounded soldiers. I cannot possibly imagine living through that time. 

This leads me back to Scarlett. Our selfish Scarlett who resented every moment she spent tending to wounded and dying men. She seemed to hate them, and as I write this it occurs to me that I can’t blame her for that. I was just about to go on and on again about how selfish she is and how much I dislike her, but maybe it wasn’t just that. Yes, Scarlett is a selfish person and is upset about how life has changed so much from what she was raised to be a part of. But perhaps the soldiers served to remind her again and again that her old life is gone now, and slowly she was realizing unconsciously that it was never going to come back either. The relentlessness of the incoming wounded and dying must have been a painful reminder of that. I don’t think anyone would have been able to deal with it all fully. You would have to put out a mental block to keep yourself from thinking about it too hard, or you’d just go crazy with death all around, wouldn’t you? 

I marked one passage to that effect as I read:

“Gradually, Scarlett drew courage from the brave faces of her friends and from the merciful adjustment which nature makes when what cannot be cured must be endured.”

On another note, Melanie has continued to amaze me. She is by far the most sensible character and such a contrast to Scarlett. She does her duty and endures that which comes her way with no complaint. She’s a better woman than I, certainly. I was sure she would die in childbirth, but I’m glad she’s still around.

I’ve never enjoyed a book with such a dislikable main character before, it’s very strange. I’m waiting patiently for the ‘epic love story’ everyone goes on about…I am having a hard time picturing how Scarlett and Rhett will end up with a happy ending, but that’s part of the magic of a story I suppose. And maybe there isn’t a happy ending after all, I shall find out soon enough!

I’ve already started part four, I couldn’t stop reading after finishing three. Hopefully I’ll finish the book by the end of June – that is my goal! Stay tuned ;-)

E.

Gone With the Wind, A Reading Journal – Part II

[Please be aware this post is full of spoilers!]

It is difficult to know where to start with this entry, so much has happened in the second section of this novel…and yet it has ended in virtually the same place as the one before it. Scarlett, while she has been through many life altering events up to this point, remains fundamentally unchanged. It is almost annoying how she has not matured at all. Still, even after being married and widowed, after bearing a son, after tending to wounded confederate soldiers in Atlanta hospitals, she is more concerned with clothes and fancy hatsZ than anything else. She seems almost even more of a spoiled brat in this section because in these times when she is needed to work for ‘the Cause’, she does so only for pretenses, not for any actual desire to do good. She has no compassion whatsoever, which is going to be hard to forgive – she has a lot to make up for in order for me to respect her. She is so hung up on this ‘love’ of Ashley Wilkes that she constantly takes for granted the only person who seems to truly be her friend, Melanie. I put love in quotes because although Ashley is a very smart and honorable character who is easily loved, Scarlett only ‘loves’ him for how beautiful he looked one day after she’d not seen him for awhile (and probably most of all because she can’t have him) and not for his brain or heart, as she should do.

Melanie seems to be the only female character with any sense so far. She is everything Scarlett isn’t: compassionate, empathetic, smart. She tends to the soldiers and raises money for The Cause dutifully and with a sense of righteousness, even when it means she has to sacrifice something. Scarlett is horrible to her and Melanie believes it is because the loss of Charlie that makes her act so, well, bitchy. Her brother’s loss is so prominent in her own heart, and this makes me dislike Scarlett even more. Because Scarlett is so catty and attention grabbing, Melanie makes less of her own feelings because she feels it must be even worse for Scarlett having lost him as a husband than for her having lost him as a brother…and all the time Scarlett could care less. What kind of soulless person can have married a man, had his child, lived in the house he grew up in with his sister and aunt who raised him, and not feel even the slightest bit of sadness, or at least a bit of sympathy? I think this is the thing that bothers me the most about Scarlett.

I also feel that Scarlett is made to be less bright in this section. I thought in the beginning she was too preoccupied with herself to pay attention to things, but that she did really have reasoning skills. This section made me question whether she has the ability to reason at all. Unless it had to do with manipulating the feelings of a man, of course. When Scarlett reads the letters from Ashley, she doesn’t seem to understand what they mean. Is she really that dim, or is it because she just doesn’t have any interest in it? It must be a severe disinterest, since those are the only words from her ‘beloved’ that she has to read, so you would think she would hang on to every one of them. It’s a little confusing when she hears the things Rhett Butler says and goes on to call it common sense. Is it just that she has been so brainwashed by the southern culture that she doesn’t seem to understand his concepts very well? Perhaps. But maybe she’s just dim and requires everyone else to do the thinking for her.

Rhett Butler is also unlikeable, yet I like him much more than Scarlett. Although his motives are entirely monetary, he doesn’t seem like a bad person, just one who has learned the hard lesson that the only person you can depend on is yourself. He has given many gifts out of compassion (buying the satin for a wedding dress, and acquiring Melanie’s wedding ring back for her). He doesn’t care what people think of him, but that is ALL Scarlett cares about. As Rhett tries to make her see that the gossip doesn’t mean anything, it becomes a battle of ‘how much can I get away with as a widow in mourning without my mother finding out?’ for her. She is entirely selfish, although, so is he’s.

I also want to touch on the southern traditions and culture at play here. There were very strict rules of ‘proper’ conduct and when you acted outside of those expectations, you were at best gossiped about, and at worst, ruined. The ‘rules’ of mourning sound especially tough, and this is one area where I do feel sorry for Scarlett. Not that Scarlett is in grief, but people deal with it differently, and should be allowed to partake in whatever they feel comfortable doing to heal. It seems very silly to me to not allow someone to go to social events for YEARS. Especially girls who are widowed so young in times of war. Luckily Scarlett had Rhett Butler, who is maybe one of two people who truly know Scarlett’s true character (the other being her father Gerald), to help her be more herself and break down the social barriers a little bit. Reputation was everything in those days.

I am annoyed by Scarlett’s behavior towards the end of this part. Still believing that Ashley returns her love after he has spurned her again and again – how is it possible? She is blinding herself, making up her own reality and doesn’t even seem to realize she’s doing it. And beyond that, she is falling in love with Rhett, but is too stupid to actually realize that they are REAL feelings she is having towards Rhett, when her relationship with Ashley is actually a relationship with her own mind.

I do not know where the story will go from here. Already the war is almost over and I am only a quarter of the way through the book. I am skeptical that Scarlett will be able to redeem herself and become someone I can respect. I am infinitely curious to see what the catalyst could possibly be for so radical a change. Hopefully there will be some progress in Scarlett’s character in Part III.

E.

Book Review:: Dreamlander, KM Weiland

Dreamlander, KM WeilandDreamlander, K.M. Weiland
Fantasy
544 Pages
Published: November 2012
Goodreads Page
Buy on Amazon.com

Summary::
Chris Redston has always had strangely realistic dreams, but when he went to sleep one night in one world and woke up in another, he began to realize that his dreams were much more than they seemed. In Chicago, Chris is just an ordinary guy, but in Lael, he’s a Gifted. Generally Gifteds, or worldwalkers, only pop up in Lael once a generation, but Chris has the misfortune to be the second Gifted to come to Lael in 20 years. Unfortunately, Chris’ predecessor used the respect and power he had as a Gifted for personal gain and threw the delicate political balance of Lael into war, ruining the Gifted’s reputation and making Chris’ welcome chilly at best.

In Chicago, there are a few who know about Lael (who don’t have the best intentions), and they’re all seeking out for Chris, who is the only one with the power to walk between the worlds. In Lael, Chris finds himself in a world where his very presence is resented and enemies and spies are at every turn. Clumsily, and still in denial, Chris makes the one bad decision that could ruin everything on his first night of world travel. His only ally in Lael is the Searcher, whose life is dedicated to keeping the Gifted safe, and even she is reluctant to trust him. In Chicago, Chris’ friends try to help him, but have no idea the truth of what’s really going on. Chris’ task quickly becomes keeping those he cares about safe, resolving all the problems the Gifted have caused in Lael…and to stop creating new ones.

Review::
I have been a follower of K.M. Weiland’s blog HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com for several years, but I’d never read any of her fiction until now. Needless to say, I was very curious to see how she put her writing advice to practice in her own work, and I was not disappointed. Not only is this book written skillfully, the writing is so good you hardly even notice how good it is. Some may consider that a bad thing, but I consider it the best thing in the action/adventure/thriller genres, where the focus should be 100% on the plot, keeping readers so engaged they can’t bear to put down the book.

The initial idea of the book is intriguing in itself, and the dream-world that Weiland creates is quite dimensional and well thought out. In an epic novel such as this, with conflicts affecting two entire worlds, it can be a challenge to reveal information to readers in a comprehensive way that doesn’t pull from the immediate action of the plot, but in my opinion Weiland was able to do just that in Dreamlander. Another thing epic novels tend to ‘have’ to have, are a whole lot of characters, which is also true of Weiland’s novel. There is the main cast for both worlds, both good and bad guys, and in Lael, there are a LOT of secondary characters and insignificant characters needed to advance the plot. The variety of characters was refreshing; most of them were not strictly good or strictly bad. I’m thinking of Orias as a great example of this. He is the Keeper, who is in charge of delivering an artifact to the Gifted which allows him or her to carry things with them through the worlds. Orias appears to be a morally steadfast character when he is confronted with a scenario he just can’t accept and makes unexpected decisions. Through time, Orias is in a constant internal struggle with guilt, consequence, and fear of what is to come, which become the motivators for his actions. As readers, we are constantly confronted with the question of what choice Orias will make. Will he make the ‘right’ decisions? Are his actions worth it? Will he ever be brave enough to make things right? In his unexpected transformations, Orias is a standout character in the novel. The main character is also a little unexpected. Having him unknowingly make the worst decision possible before he is even aware of what is going on was a clever move. The one character I wasn’t sure about through most of the novel was Eroll, but in the end I understood his role in the story. His role could probably have been tightened up in some way throughout the majority of the novel, but as he’s written it’s not too bad. In fact, that’s the only complaint about the whole book that even comes to mind!

I couldn’t put this book down. I started reading it on my phone when I had a spare moment with nothing to do and didn’t have a physical book around (I got it for free during a promotion on Amazon – kindle version – which I found out about through KM Weiland’s monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for here). When I couldn’t find where my actual kindle was, it didn’t matter – I read the whole thing from the screen of my smart phone. That’s how compelling it was. I couldn’t even pause in my free time long enough to locate the reading device necessary to read it comfortably (I actually still haven’t found it, but that’s beside the point). I read much of it lying across the bed so my phone could charge while I continued to read. I skipped meals and I neglected my husband. It’s that good.

Recommendation::
The pages of this book are riddled with action and conflict; I can’t think of even one moment that could be considered ‘boring’ but it’s more than that. It’s not just an exciting plot line, it’s just plain good writing. For that reason, I think this book would appeal to a large audience, including young readers. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a fast-paced entertaining adventure to get completely immersed into – regardless of if they’ve enjoyed ‘fantasy’ novels in the past. If you’re looking for something engaging to read to re-fire your passion and get back into reading, I think this book could do it. 544 pages may seem like a lot, but it goes so fast you’ll be halfway through before you know it!

Your Turn::
Have you read this book?
Let me know what you thought, post a comment!

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

My first review in awhile! As I mentioned just before, we’ve moved recently, which has left precious little time for reading. The last few weeks though, I’ve been getting the itch to listen to audiobooks at work, I just never seemed to get to the library to pick any up. Until Tuesday.

First up from those selections, Her Fearful Symmetry. Audrey Niffenegger (how awesome is that last name, by the way?) is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I enjoyed intensely, so I’ve naturally been wanting to read this book since it came out in 2009. Unfortunately, almost every review I read about it was negative, and so it continued to be pushed to the bottom of my priority list – And here we are four years later….

Audiobook Narrated by Bianca Amato

Audiobook Narrated by Bianca Amato

This book reminds me of a mix between The Thirteenth Tale (by Diane Setterfield) and The Blind Assassin (by Margaret Atwood), both of which I’ve been meaning to reread. If you’ve read either of those, you will have an idea of what the tone of this book is, and also the layout:: It’s a story within a story, within a story – and Niffenegger is talented enough, like Atwood (The Blind Assassin), to pull it off. I think maybe it got bad reader reviews at first because it’s not like The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is what the hyped up readers were expecting. It’s not better or worse – it’s just a different story.

Probably one of the best skills and highest compliments an author can receive (/have), is to be consistent, something I’ve found Audrey Niffenegger to be in her full length novels so far. The storytelling is definitely there. She has ‘proven’ herself to me with this book, and now I’m not only a fan of the books themselves, but the mind matter they were created from, Audrey herself.

All the blurbs you will find about this book are very vague, and now I can see why. This is the type of book you have to discover on your own. There are layers to peel away, a little bit at a time. The limited knowledge beforehand is an opportunity of discovery not often available in today’s reading environment. Savor it.

Characters in this novel felt real. Real in the sense that some of them were likable, some I was indifferent to, and others I didn’t like so much, but not because they were constructed to be disliked…it’s hard to explain. ‘Real’ is the best descriptor I am capable of at the moment – and it’s times like these one realizes how grossly overused terms like that really are.

Imagine your neighbor. He’s not a bad person, but he has flaws – flaws that he has adapted to and effect things in his life, on a large and small scale. It’s almost like Niffenegger isn’t inventing these people, she’s just capturing them, and putting them to paper. Combining these captured personalities create real situations that they react to in real ways. Ironically, the only two characters I felt weren’t created so beautifully as the others are the two active ‘main characters’ in the story, The Mirror Twins who inherit their aunt’s estate.

Note: Martin and Marika are my two favorite characters, by far (though technically they’re ‘extras’). Also, Jack.

There is romance in this story, what I would think of as ‘real’ romance – in other words, not ‘falling in love’ romance but ‘loved each other for years’ romance. How many times can I say romance in one sentence? Many of the characters in this story are older, between 35 and 90 (haha). They have almost all found their life mates and are settled with one another. I imagine they all look like they belong together by now, you know? How people who are together for a long time sort of morph into one another? That’s how I imagine many of the characters in this book to be.

My only complaint about this book is basically the main plot. Not all of it, but the whole climax story bugged me. The twins were just written a little bit too immature for my taste. Then again they are 21, and now that I’m older than 21, that age does seem a little immature – but within reason, come on. I can also see that because they’re twins and do everything together, they are a little bit handicapped from many ‘growing up’ milestones, so perhaps that’s what Niffenegger was trying to accomplish.

Since I listened to this book in audio format, it’s more difficult for me to honestly assess the writing. It sounded good…I can really only remember one hiccup, where a short scene, while well written, sort of seemed jammed in…like it didn’t fit there, or really anywhere, but the information in it was needed as background and for the readers to understand some character tension. I think it could have probably been re-written in a more successful way…it was probably a case where the author just didn’t want to cut it because it was so well written. I don’t blame her. Eh, it was one scene. Perhaps two pages, it’s forgivable.

Now the narration. Bianca Amato of course introduced herself on the first track, and immediately I remembered her name from something else I’d read, but I couldn’t put my finger on it for several minutes of reading. Then I had it – The Lady of the Rivers, by Phillipa Gregory was narrated by Bianca Amato – and I LOVED that book, halfway because of the narration. That is to say, I also loved her narration in this book, but I have to admit it was less successful here. I was able to tell in many places where a new track began because of a forcefulness in her voice that naturally fades when reading aloud. There were also <i>a lot</i> of voices to do in this book, often without ‘he said/she said’, just directly switching out, like this::

“What is the meaning of life?”

“The meaning of life? How should I know.”

“I thought you’d been pondering the question for days.”

“Yes, well…”

“and you’ve come up with nothing?”

“So far”

(Not from the book, BTW, just came out of my brain)

Dialogue like that can get very tricky when reading aloud and still seeming natural, try it. Generally though, great job. She has a very expressive and comforting voice. It’s very easy to follow and understand, I will keep one eye out for her name as I peruse the shelves in the future. Perhaps I’ll google her ‘voice’ography.

This is the kind of book that sticks around in your head after you’ve finished it, plots and motivations circling your mind during the blank moments in your day until you fill it up again with the next book and new characters. I’m already looking forward to the next time I get to read it.