My Favorite Reads – Gone With the Wind

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Gone With the Wind

The summary from Wikipedia: Gone With the Wind, first published in May 1936, is a romantic novel and the only novel written by Margaret Mitchell. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia and Atlanta, Georgia during the American Civil War and Reconstruction and depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner. The novel is the source of the extremely popular 1939 film of the same name.

I read Gone With the Wind for the first time last year. The book came to live with me via my sister. Back in college, my sister had an elderly neighbor she used to help out with groceries and other things. One day, the woman was cleaning out some bookshelves and asked my sister if she would like any of the books. My sister spied the copy of Gone With the Wind and asked if she could have that one knowing how I loved old books. It turned out to be a first edition book club release from 1936 with the original book cover. It’s in pristine condition. I think I put off reading it for so long for that reason — I was afraid of ruining the book.

While perusing the shelves one day for my next read I came across it again and decided that if I was very careful, reading it would not ruin it and, really, it was just begging to be read. It was easily one of the best books, and probably close to one of the longest, I think I’ve read. (My version is over 800 pages long and each page is a double column layout.) I stayed up late every night to read and even though my eyelids were falling, I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, stop reading. Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most wonderful, annoying, and clever characters ever to grace a page. It can also be infuriating to read as attitudes of characters can sound very barbaric.  That aside, it’s certainly a great book and one that should be read by everyone, at the very least as a character study, as Mitchell truly has a way of creating unforgettable sketches and a plot worthy of her heroine.

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent

By Galen Beckett

Random House Publishing Group

ISBN: 9780553592559

3.5 stars

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent is a fantasy book with an alternative Regency/Victorian feel to it. There are ladies and lords, hand wringing, and lots of letter writing with some magic thrown in. It’s sort of Pride & Prejudice with a side of Wuthering Heights.

Ivy Lockwell lives with her mother, two sisters, and their ailing father. Their position is precarious but Ivy is determined to keep her small family together. She has a love of books and is constantly reading, especially her father’s magic books, in the hopes of finding a cure for him. She meets and falls for a Mr. Rafferdy and her hope of saving her family seems solid until fate intervenes and Rafferdy is told by his father that he will be marrying someone of his social standing and not a girl like Ivy. When Ivy’s mother suddenly dies, she takes a job as a governess to two small children to support her sisters. The job is in the country far outside the city and her family. It is here that she meets Mr. Quent and, after a short romance, the two marry. On her return to the city, she once again befriends Mr. Rafferdy who has also had a turn of fortunes in his life. Ivy’s life begins colliding with Rafferdy’s and the two find themselves in a showdown with evil that neither expected.

This book is broken up into three sections. The first part has a very Pride & Prejudice feel to it complete with letters and dreary sitting rooms. Part two takes Ivy to Heathcrest a la Wuthering Heights if you will. Part three brings Ivy back to the city to fight the evil she believes to be responsible for her father’s illness.

My problem with the three books was that they felt like three different books and not one cohesive book. Only the characters held the story together and it didn’t feel like that was enough. If felt as if it were missing something. It’s obvious that a second book is in the works as the ending, while satisfactory, leaves a few things open.

I liked Ivy a lot. She’s a strong, interesting character with secrets and a power she doesn’t know she has. Her relationship with Mr. Quent is predictable and slightly unsatisfying as you never really learn much about him. Rafferdy, however, doesn’t become likable until book three and then he still has his moments.

I know this review is starting to sound as if I didn’t like the book and that’s not true. I did like it. I actually found myself thinking about it days after I finished. The world built in this book – day and night shifts, the use of magic, dark and light powers – is interesting but unfortunately it just doesn’t feel cohesive. To me, it felt like there was a disconnect between the characters and the plot. Everything is vaguely related but I didn’t feel like it all went together, somewhat like the title of the book.

It’s Austen and Bronte with some magic thrown in and that was obviously the intent. And I think that’s what drew me in to the story since I love books that have this feel to them. It was an OK read but would have been good if there were more than a few tenuous threads holding it together.

The Coral Thief

The Coral Thief

The Coral Thief

By Rebecca Stott

Spiegal & Grau

ISBN: 978-0-385-53146-7

2.5 stars

Daniel Connor, a young medical student from Edinburgh, is on his way to Paris to study at the Jardin de Plantes. During his journey, he meets a mysterious and beautiful woman — Lucienne Bernard — and while he contemplates her and her strange theories, she steals his letters of introduction, coral specimens, and mammoth fossils. He reports the theft of the artifacts to the police and somehow finds himself wrapped up in a mystery full of evolutionary theories, coral, and odd bits about Napoleon.

I didn’t care for Daniel. He was sexist and ignorant and I found I needed to remind myself that this was normal for the time period (1815), at least the sexist part. The main problem I had with him was that he was always complaining. Once he began to mature, he became easier to like but not by much. Lucienne is a very interesting characters though. An evolutionary philosopher and thief, she is always hiding something and is never afraid to step out of line and state sometimes the obvious and sometimes the most arcane of thoughts, especially for a woman at the time. She’s refreshing as far as the story line goes here.

Napoleon plays an odd role and one that never fits into the story for me. The short diary entries add nothing and left more questions (mostly why they were there in the first place) than answers. The vague connection does nothing for the story.

The mystery/thriller sort of ending ramps up quickly and is fairly exciting compared to the rest of the book. I do wish there had been more of that and a little more about the fossils, theories, and why Lucienne felt the need to steal them because I found that part of the story interesting but overall it sort of fell flat for me.

The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt

By Elizabeth Chadwick

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 0-312-06491-8

3.75 stars

Guyon, Lord of Ledworth, is told by the king that he will be marrying. His future wife, Judith of Ravenstow, is a child and he’s none too happy with the arrangement which will make him an Earl and a pawn to keep an evil treacherous man from clutching more land and power.

Guyon is loathe to leave the mistress he’s been with for a number of years but they both know it can go no further with his impending marriage. Reluctantly, they part and he finds himself married to a willful and terrified Judith, who having been traumatized by her father’s beatings and brutality, is scared of him and what he might do to her. She is a skilled healer and capable of running a strict household but innocent and helpless when it comes to her husband. Guyon treats her with nothing but kindness and the two become less tense around each other. The war deposits several tragedies at their feet and Guyon and Judith grow closer and find a true love that neither thought was possible.

I’ve been wanting to read The Greatest Knight by Chadwick but my library doesn’t have it. I found this one on the shelf and was pleasantly surprised by it. I was a bit annoyed by Judith — who while headstrong and competent, she’s also young and inexperienced. She doesn’t want Guyon to herself but she also wants no one else to have him. Guyon, on the other hand, is quite likable and the relationship between the two becomes more tolerable and even compelling by the middle of the book.

Chadwick does a great job with characters, even the ones you don’t like. They are all very genuine and the story, while nothing new — war over land, drunken lords, raping, pillaging, etc. — it feels different and slightly exciting. I’m going to be picking up more of her books in the future.

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scribner

ISBN: 0-684-80154-X

3.5 stars

Rosemary Hoyt is a young American movie star vacationing in the French Riviera when she meets Dick and Nicole Driver. Dick is a brilliant psychiatrist and Nicole is both his wife and patient. Their relationship is complicated, by not only Nicole’s illness, but also by money. Rosemary’s appearance in Dick’s life only causes more strife for him and what he considers the responsibilities of his life.

Romantic love plays a dominate role for both Rosemary and Dick. Rosemary because she is so young and inexperienced and Dick because he is in a marriage where the notion of romance was never even considered. He liked and admired Nicole when they met but romance is not and was never a part of the marriage. Rosemary is buoyed by the mere idea and teases and cajoles Dick into believing it might be possible to have a romantic life with her. The two are bound by a strange connection that neither is willing to break but one that cannot be kept up either.

I read The Great Gatsby last year and found this one on my shelf while looking for my next book. I can’t say that I enjoyed this one as much. I felt alternatively bad, sad, and completely disgusted by the characters. They were young, rich, carefree, and in some instances all together unlikable. I know at certain times that I was not supposed to empathize with them but even though I knew that, I still was annoyed by them. I put this book down a few times in the hopes that when I returned, the characters would have redeemed themselves. Some did, some didn’t.

I didn’t stop reading though and I’m glad of that. Fitzgerald has such a beautiful and amazing writing style that I can’t help but be entranced. I was finding myself truly disliking these people and their actions but I still wanted to know how it would turn out, knowing full well there would be a tragic end in there somewhere. The language is so soothing and lulling that he dupes you into reading more and more.

Somewhere hidden on the depths of my shelves is This Side of Paradise. I won’t be reading it anytime soon, but I will be reading it. I may, for now at least, be done with my latest Fitzgerald book, but I know I will be going back for more in the future.

Nefertiti

Nefertiti

Nefertiti

By Michelle Moran

Three Rivers Press

ISBN: 978-0-307-38174-3

4 stars

Following the death of the Crown Prince Tuthmosis, Amunhotep IV takes the throne. His mother, Queen Tiye, fearful of his temper and rash behavior, wants a wife who will be able to control him. She believes her niece Nefertiti is that woman. Nefertiti is cunning, cruel, sweet, loving, manipulative, and so ambitious that she drips with it. Of course she shows none of this to the Queen mother and when the marriage is arranged, her family becomes one of the most powerful in Egypt.

Shortly after their marriage, Nefertiti and Amunhotep, who soon changes his name to Akhenaten to worship his god Aten, begin planning their dream city, Amarna. They drain the treasury and take soldiers away from the borders to build, ignoring the warnings of vizers who tell the couple they are putting Egypt in danger. Nefertiti is desperately trying to hold onto her husband who is slipping further into his own world and desperately hoping to give birth to a son. Slowly, the city and their dreams begin to crumble. In a flash, their life and the new Egypt that Nefertiti and her husband were building falls, leaving Egypt in peril.

The story is told through Mutnodjmet’s eyes, Nefertiti’s sister. She’s a kind, loving, and very loyal friend to her sister but never one for ambition. She’s the voice of reason that Nefertiti doesn’t listen to but she’s the one you instantly like. Nefertiti is cunning and a hard person to pin down which makes her incredibly interesting but I can’t imagine the story told by her. Moran makes Nefertiti so intriguing that you almost need the story to be told by Mutnodjmet to be able to take it all in.

This is such an interesting time period in Egypt’s history and Moran does it justice. The court, the people, and the descriptions are wonderful. Moran is definitely one of my new favorite authors and I’m looking forward to her next book.

Fallen

Fallen

Fallen

By Lauren Kate

Delacourte Press

ISBN: 978-0-385-73893-4

3.75 stars

Luce Price isn’t a normal girl, or at least she doesn’t think so. Since she was a child, she has been able to see unexplained shadows that appear before something bad happens. Medication and psychiatrists have not been able to rid of her them and she’s reluctantly learned to live with the shadows. While away at boarding school, she’s involved in the unexplained death of a classmate. She doesn’t remember what happened and can’t explain the fire that killed him and almost took her life.

A judge orders her to reform school, the Sword & Cross, and the day she checks in she’s drawn to one student, Daniel. He isn’t nice to her, doesn’t want anything to do with her, and she can’t leave him alone or get him out of her head. Strange things happen that shouldn’t when she’s around him and the shadows, which have become more direct and daring, begin to frighten her as never before.

Vampires, werewolves, and now angles. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away by telling you angels are involved here. The title and the name of the boarding school give it away.

The story starts out slow and stays that way for the first 100 or so pages. Luce is dreary but understandably so. She’s being dropped at another boarding school which is more like a reform school, she’s coping with the death of a boy she thinks she may have killed, her parents act as if they are afraid of her, and now she has to make friends all over again. That’ s a lot for anyone to deal with. Her obsession with Daniel is a bit much for me, I was never one for reading about teen angst, but when things are explained, the attraction and obsession become less annoying. I just wish I knew some of that up front.

The school, the Sword & Cross, is dark, sad, and somehow a good setting. When the story gets moving, it’s interesting to see what side everyone is on. I liked that the religious element was fairly light here. I’m not one for religion in books but here it was handled well — enough to make the point but not overly pronounced. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Fallen will be released December 8, 2009. It is the first is a series.

This book was sent to me by Random House at my request. It is an advanced reader’s copy.

Kristin Lavransdatter: I The Bridal Wreath

Kristin Lavransdatter: I The Bridal Wreath

Kristin Lavransdatter: I The Bridal Wreath

By Sigrid Undset

Vintage Books

ISBN: 0-394-75299-6

2.5 stars

Set in 14th Century Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter is a medieval love story. Kristin is the daughter of Lavrans and Ragnfrid and is well-loved and a bit spoiled by her father. For years, the family lives a quiet life in their small village going about their daily routines. When Ulvhild, the much beloved second daughter of Lavrans and Ragnfrid is injured, their life is turned upside down and many years pass before the family begins to recover.

In time, a third daughter is born to the couple, Ramborg, and Kristin begins preparing for her marriage to Simon Andressön. Kristin doesn’t show much interest in marriage but knows her father found her a good match even if Simon is someone she is not interested in — physically, emotionally, or intellectually. Her father and Simon agree that Kristin needs to experience the world at large, and she is put into a convent the year before her marriage. While there, Kristin falls in love with Erlend Nikulaussön, a man of her family’s caliber but not one in good standing with the community. Shortly before her marriage to Simon is to take place, she musters the courage to break off the engagement only to be told by her father that he will not allow her to marry Erlend. Years pass before the two are able to marry but somehow it doesn’t feel happy.

The entire time I was reading I kept wondering if it was the translation. It felt awkward and clunky and I had to go back a few times to reacquaint myself with some people and places. It was also very slow moving. Years pass where nothing much happens but somehow I keep reading. It wasn’t the characters that held my interest though — it was the setting. I haven’t read many books set in Norway and I found the lifestyles and small details of life intriguing.

I didn’t really care for Kristin. She seemed vapid to me, caring only about one thing — Erlend. She almost ruined her family by calling off her marriage, and yet, when she got what she wanted, she didn’t seem to be able to appreciate it. She spends her days before the wedding moping around and pining for something else as is she doesn’t really understand what marriage is about. She has very romanticized notions of life and when reality sets in, she panics and feels sorry for herself. I actually wanted to feel sorry for her but couldn’t. Her mother was much the same way and in the end I came to dislike both of them. I also didn’t like the way her life was decided for her but it was the 14th Century and women didn’t make decisions about their own lives. This is something I find I need to remind myself of when reading historical fiction sometimes.

My library has all three books but I don’t know yet if I will continue reading the story. It felt too much like a history lesson for me. Character wise, I didn’t find it a fulfilling read either. Maybe next year.