Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year...

This week the good folk at Top Ten Tuesday have challenged us to list our top 10 reads so far this year.

The hard part, of course, is stopping at ten! And do I dare rate them from favourite to most bestest favourite?

Let's see what happens...

10. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

You haven't read any Moriarty yet?
What are you waiting for?
Moriarty is the perfect holiday read - lightly told yet intelligent.
You won't be disappointed!

9. The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

Fabulous historical fiction set in a Medieval village.
Great new Australian author - UK and U.S. release due soon.

8. Ru by Kim Thuy

Vietnamese/Canadian writer - a fictionalised memoir of exquisite beauty.
Can't wait to read her latest book, Man.

7. The Incredible Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

A children's book that moved me to tears.
Beautifully illustrated too.

6. The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter

Gritty, tense and sexy verse novel from one of Australia's well-known poets.

5. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

A reread that has revealed so much more.
Scarlett is such a complex, fascinating protagonist.
Deeply flawed and not very likeable, but lots to admire.
Recent readalong discussions have centred around the overt racism expressed by Mitchell & whether this affects its ability to connect to future readers.
Or can modern readers filter Mitchell's southern romanticism and see it for what it really was, but still admire the craft involved in creating this epic story?

4. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Incredible experience.
I loved the journey and can't wait for the reread that I feel this story demands.

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

More historical fiction, this time WWII.
Rich, epic and sensory.
Pulitzer Prize winner.

2. Germinal by Emile Zola

Riveting story telling, compelling drama, memorable characters.
A highlight in the Rougon-Macquart series.

1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

One of the saddest books I've read for a while.
But so beautifully told - its authenticity and immediacy is what makes it so heart breaking.
I haven't stopped thinking about since & im looking forward to seeing the movie soon.

That ended up being a lot easier than I thought.

What is your favourite read this year so far?

This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.

Monday, 29 June 2015

It's Monday

This weekend just past may not have been the busiest weekend I've ever experienced, but it comes in a pretty close second.

I'm so exhausted I hurt.

My eyes ache, my legs throb & my head hurts!

After work on Friday we enjoyed a staff farewell party.
Saturday morning my family viewed four houses for rent....because, yes, we have to move. Not unexpected or even unwelcome, but a tiresome, tiring process nonetheless.
Then my sister and her family came to stay Saturday night...another late night ensued.

Sunday morning was an early start to get them off to the airport in time to start their holiday, followed by two huge semi-final soccer games with the boys (both went into extra time, one also went into penalty shoot-outs but both were ultimately successful).
A quick trip home to catch up with one of my dearest school friends who was also driving through Sydney with her family for their holiday on the North Coast, followed by another viewing of one more house, then cleaning up our house after the visitors, packing a few more boxes (why or why did I buy all those books?) Finally packing my own bags for my mini-break away this week!!

My mind has so many things going through it right now (mostly to with packing up & cleaning logistics) that I can't settle to anything. 

I needed a quick, easy, fun read and I needed it now!

The choice was obvious in the end. 

Miles Off Course is the third book in the Rowland Sinclair series and it starts off in the Blue Mountains...were I am right now!

In early 1933, Rowland Sinclair and his companions are ensconced in the superlative luxury of The Hydro Majestic - Medlow Bath, where trouble seems distant indeed.
And then Harry Simpson vanishes.
Croquet and pre-dinner cocktails are abandoned for the High Country where Rowland hunts for Simpson with a determination that is as mysterious as the disappearance itself. Stockmen, gangsters and a belligerent writer all gather to the fray, as the investigation becomes embroiled with a much darker conspiracy.
Murder, Treason, Trespass, Kidnapping, Betrayal...
Again, Rowland Sinclair finds himself in the middle of it all.

There's so much more I want to say about things like Paris in July, Japanese Literature Challenge, Gone With the Wind, great holiday reads & how do you turn your brain off to get a good nights sleep, when you have so much stuff going on that you feel like bursting?

But I'm feeling so very weary again & typing on my phone isn't helping. 

What do you do to unwind & switch off at the end of each day? Do you have a fun, easy series that you turn to in times of stress?

Please forgive any weird formatting issues & no links as I'm also posting this on my phone & won't be able to check on my laptop for a few days. 

Twitter #IMWAYR

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gone With the Wind - check in

This is my Gone With the Wind check-in for chapters 31-40 for Corinne's GWTW Readalong.

The start of Part Four sees Scarlett, Tara and the South trying to find their feet after the war. The hardships continue with heavy taxes, the fear of losing Tara and the death of Gerald. Scarlett moves to Atlanta, remarries, falls pregnant and starts up a new & very successful business.

This was obviously a difficult time in the Southern states full of great changes, hardship and insecurity. Resentments built up, divides were created and animosity flourished. So many men dead or maimed, so many single women with no chance of ever being married. Brought up in luxury and ease, so many couldn't cope with the new conditions - their "mainsprings are busted" as Will so elegantly stated at Gerald's funeral.

Mrs Fontaine elaborated on this idea when she said -
The rest have gone under because they didn't have any sap in them, because they didn't have the gumption to rise up again. There never was anything to those folks but money and darkies, and now that the money and darkies are gone, those folks will be Cracker in another generation.

Atlanta 1864

Naturally Scarlett was unimpressed when Grandma Fontaine included Ashley in this group, claiming that "if the Wilkes family pulls through these hard times, it'll be Melly who pulls them through."

It's not only Rhett and Will who see how things really lie with the Wilkes'!

And you just know that Scarlett's willful and deliberate refusal to see Ashley for who he is, will lead to big trouble down the track. She is so practical and realistic about everything except love! Once again Grandma Fontaine nails it when she says to Scarlett, "you're smart about dollars and cents. That's a man's way of being smart. But you aren't smart at all like a woman. You aren't a speck smart about folks."

This is also the first section of GWTW where I have really questioned Mitchell's motivations and intentions. Brimming with overt racism and justification, we see Mitchell's (rich, white) characters claim the roles of victimhood and martyrdom.

Was Mitchell playing devil's advocate, writing tongue-in-cheek or being ironic? Was she trying to simply show how the South reacted to the Reconstruction period including the birth of the Ku Klux Klan? Was she just being obtuse or romantic? Or did she truly believe what she wrote in this section?

Chapter 37

The South had been tilted as by a giant malicious hand, and those who had once ruled were now more helpless than their former slaves had ever been.
Georgia was heavily garrisoned with troops and Atlanta had more than its share. The commandants of the Yankee troops in the various cities had complete power, even the power of life and death, over the civilian population, and they used that power. They could and did imprison citizens for any cause, or no cause, seize their property, hang them. They could and did harass and hamstring them with conflicting regulations about the operation of business, the wages they must pay their servants, what they should say in public and private utterances and what they should write in newspapers. They regulated how, when and where they must dump their garbage and they decided what songs the daughters and wives of ex-Confederates could sing....They ruled that no one could get a letter from the post office without taking the Iron-Clad oath, and in some instances, they even prohibited the issuance of marriage licences unless the couple had taken the hated oath.

There was so much about this particular paragraph (& the entire chapter) that was offensive.

How on earth anyone could believe they were actually worse off than a slave when they still had the freedom to live in their own homes, with their own families. Where they could be educated, employed and, well, free!

After the war, Atlanta
The Yankees may have had the power of life and death during the reconstruction period, but many of the Southern slave owners also had had the power of life and earth over their slaves for generations...and they had used it. Their slaves could be imprisoned or punished, especially whipped, without any recourse to a fair or legal justice system.

The slaves had no property as they were THE property. Strict class systems were put in place to keep the slaves divided amongst themselves (house slaves versus farm hands). They were not payed wages and they had no free speech. They worked long, hard hours in all weather conditions.

They lived in cramped, poor conditions. Teaching slaves to read and write was illegal in most places. Singing certain songs could see them severely punished. They were only allowed in some areas to associate as a group for purposes of worship. They could be sold and separated from their families forever. They couldn't communicate with family or friends on other estates and their marriages were considered illegal.

The Southerners justified this system by claiming that the slaves were just like children. That the slaves weren't capable of managing their own lives by themselves.

Some quick research on google has indicated that smaller plantation owners could often be more charitable towards their slaves as closer relationships did occur. But bigger plantations, that had absentee landlords or were ruled by overseers, were usually much harsher environments. Rape and sexual abuse of female slaves was common.

It could be possible that Mitchell was trying to show how the Southern mind worked during this period - that she was helping us to 'walk in their shoes'.
Peachtree Street 1864
But as I kept reading, it felt like pure, ugly justification. At one point it even felt like Mitchell was trying to excuse the early Ku Klux Klanner's - that they were merely defending their women folk from "Carpetbaggers who steal money and negroes who are uppity" and that they were only reacting to the injustice of their situation.
They could see nothing wrong with taking the law into their own hands. They were unable to see that any of the issues with the freed slaves actually stemmed from the years of inhuman treatment that the slaves had suffered under the slavery system. They actually believed that the slaves lives were better under slavery - that they had done their slaves a favour by removing them from Africa and converting them to Christianity.

They couldn't see how this wonderful, benevolent system that worked so well for them, might not have been viewed as so wonderful from the other side. Even when all their slaves ran off as soon as they could during the war (except for a few house slaves who were more deeply integrated into the families lives) they still didn't see it as an indictment on the slave system.

Curiously Mitchell has never told us where Mammy, Dilcey, Pork, Prissy or Uncle Peter slept or in what conditions. We are told how grateful Scarlett is that they stayed loyal to the family, but there is no interest in their personal lives except for how it serves the family.

Peachtree Street 1866
I've also found the whole Will Benteen side story fascinating.

In the movie, he is left out completely. Therefore, there is no adequate explanation for how Scarlett manages to keep Tara going whilst she lives in Atlanta with her new husband, managing her new business.

In the book, Will's presence makes this transition much easier for Scarlett and a more logical plot choice by Mitchell. Will provides Mitchell with a way to show us how much things have changed since the war. That a poor, white Cracker could now be on equal terms with an old plantation family highlights how far the societal mores of the South have shifted.

Will's proposed marriage to Suellen also allows us once again to see how different (some might even say, progressive) Scarlett's thinking is compared to most of her neighbours, even whip-smart, practical Grandma Fontaine.

There is so much more to say about Scarlett, but I'm saving my Scarlett post for the very end when all the evidence is in! I'm beginning to believe, however, that I will need a Masters in Psychology to fully appreciate Scarlett's complexities!

What are your views on the obvious racism on display throughout GWTW? And in particular, in this section?
Can we view it as a product of its time? Not okay, but comprehensible within the historical context?
Or does Mitchell's cruel self-justification, ignorance and martyrdom make this book irrelevant to modern audiences?

In Corinne's absence, this week's check-in is being hosted by TJ @My Book Strings.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Book Beginnings on Fridays

I'm trying to work out what I'd like to read next.

I'm 3/4's of the way through the Gone With the Wind readalong, but I'm being good at stopping at the end of each reading section, so that any comments I make do not contain spoilers.

So I'm looking for something lighter, slimmer and quicker to read in between.

Perhaps you can help me decide which book I should take to bed tonight!

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido -

Since I have no other, I use as preface Jacob's preface which I read, sneakily, fifteen years ago, when it lay on the Goldmans' breakfast table, amid the cornflakes;
'I cannot in good conscience give the statutory thanks to my wife,' it says, 'for helpful comments on the manuscript, patient reading of drafts or corrections to proofs, because Jane did none of these things. She seldom reads and when she does it is never a thing of mine. Going by the lavish thanks to wives which I find in the prefaces to other men's books, I deem myself uniquely injudicious in having married a woman who refuses to double as a high-grade editorial assistant. Since custom requires me to thank her for something, I thank her instead for the agreeable fact of her continuing presence which in twenty years I have never presumed to expect.'

Promising? A bit of humour, a bit of snap and bite. It could be the perfect antidote to a Civil War chunkster.

My other choice is The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide -

At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.
The small window in the corner of our kitchen bordered on a tall wooden fence, so close a person could barely pass by. From inside the house, its frosted glass looked like a dim movie screen.

This one sounds a little more introspective and thoughtful. It also has one of the best covers I've seen this year. Modern Japanese literature is about as far as possible from Civil War US as I can get!

Which way should I go?

Linking up with Book Beginnings on Fridays over at Rose City Reader.

Monday, 22 June 2015

It's Monday What Are You Reading?

I've been rather slack about keeping track of my reading lately.

A big part of that is thanks to Corinne's Gone With the Wind readalong.

GWTW is a reread for me and unlike my first read 20 years ago, where I raced through the story to see what happened, this read is far more leisurely and thoughtful. And made even more enjoyable by sharing it with a lovely group of other GWTW fans.

TJ @My Book Strings is hosting the next chapter round-up this weekend which means I need to get moving to finish chapters 31- 40 before then (you can see my hosting post for the last ten chapters here).

Curiously this has been the first section where Mitchell's rather romantic view of the South has irked. Up until now I've been able to accept it as a kind of pre-war-remember-the-glory-days nostalgia that I thought would contrast the pre and post war periods. However, romanticizing the early crimes of the Ku Klux Klan was a step too far for me in walking around in another's shoes (not enough to stop reading, but enough to make me question Mitchell's motivations more critically).

Closer to home, I've been attempting to read as many of this year's CBCA shortlisted books as possible as well as keeping up with my Australian Women Writer's commitments.

The Australian Women Writers Challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year.

My bi-monthly summary post for the History, Memoir and Biography category went live today if you'd like to see what we've all been reading lately.

I seem to be on a Pulitzer prize winning streak at the moment, as I devoured All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr last week.

My next read - another Pulitzer prize winning book - comes from my Winter Reading list.  
A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler also has the added benefit of being connected to GWTW with the name Butler!

This 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of 15 stories evokes the ordeals of the Vietnamese people in the Vietnam War. Old or young, humble or arrogant, puzzled or proud, these are the characters for whom the absurdities of American popular culture and memories of war uneasily coexist.

This week's shoutouts go to:

JoAnn @Lakeside Musing for convincing me to read a book (Aquarium by David Vann) I had no intention of reading.

Melissa @Avid Reader's Musings has tempted me with the gorgeous cover of Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan - which may help me find another French book to read for Paris in July (since I got excited and read All the Light too soon!!)

What have you been reading and reviewing this week?
In Sheila's absence please feel free to leave a link to your IMWAYR post in the comments below. Or join the twitter hashtag #IMWAYR.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King

Lesley Gibbes is a Sydney based author who was discovered (according to her website bio) by Jane Covernton from Working Title Press when Covernton picked Scary Night "out of the slush pile in 2012."

Gibbes was naturally delighted, and I was thrilled to read it too - we all dream of being discovered in a publisher's slush pile and Gibbes' story proves that it can really happen.

Scary Night is a wonderfully creepy tale with just the right amount of scare factor for 3-6 year olds.
You can pick Gibbes' years of teaching at work as the story reads aloud beautifully. She understands how language works and what appeals to young children.

Reminiscent of my favourite 'fun scary' book when I was teaching (The Spooky Old Tree by the Berenstain Bears), Scary Night is also full of rhyme, repetition and rhetorical questions. Gibbes also incorporates some fun onomatopoeia with chances to use your voice to great effect which any teacher of young children will fully appreciate.

King's illustrations ramp up the creepiness factor with some Halloween motifs and lots of dark shadows. He develops Gibbes' 'fun scary' concept by drawing his three friendly, innocent-looking main characters within a dark and gloomy background.

King has two books shortlisted for this year's CBCA Early Childhood award. The second book, which he wrote and illustrated is Snail and Turtle are Friends and I've reviewed it here. He also has a third nomination for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year for The Duck and the Darklings (written by Glenda Millard).

I didn't know what the different judging criteria were for 'early childhood' and 'picture book', so I decided to do a little research.

The Early Childhood award goes to a book suitable for a "pre-reading or early stages of reading child". It may be a picture book, picture storybook, or text "in which illustrations play a substantial part in the storytelling or concept development."

The Picture Book of the Year is given to a book where the author and illustrator "achieve artistic and literary unity". The judges consider
"artistic style and graphic excellence,
effective use of media and technique,
colour, line, shape and texture,
consistency of style, characterisation, information and setting,
clarity, appropriateness and aethetic appeal of illustrations,
quality of book design, production, printing and binding."
Certainly, in Scary Night, Gibbes and King have worked together to creat a story that develops bravery, courage and determination via their words and illustrations.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

If you've been wondering whether or not to tackle the chunkster that is this year's Pulitzer prize winning novel, hopefully the quote below will tempt you to jump right in.

I've been reading All the Light We Cannot See since last week. It is an extraordinary story, so well told, so beautifully realised, but it did take me a little while to get into its rhythm.

Set in France and Germany during WWII, the story is told from two main points of view in brief, elegant chapters across several time frames. Even though I've read lots of books like this and I could always see the potential of this particular story, I did find it slow to warm. 

Fortunately, I persisted, and I hope you do too, because eventually you get to a point where you cannot put this book down!

Let me give you a little snippet from page 71 of my edition:

Those last nights in Paris, walking home with her father at midnight, the huge book clasped against her chest, Marie-Laure thinks she can sense a shiver beneath the air, in the pauses between the chirring of the insects, like the spider cracks of ice when too much weight is set upon it. As if all the time the city has been no more than a scale model built by her father and the shadow of a great hand has fallen over it.

I hope this tempts you to give All the Light We Cannot See a go.
If you love literary historical fiction as I do, you wont regret one single word.

But that's enough dawdling for me - it's time for me to finish the last dozen or so chapters!

This post is linking up to Thursday Quotables hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies & Dreaming of France.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Very Good Lives by J K Rowling

Some days you need a little inspiration and a little serendipity to pull you out of a blue funk.

Today's little boost came from J.K. Rowling's Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.
Today a customer asked me if the book would be suitable for her 11 year old granddaughter...and I had no idea as I haven't had time to look inside it since it arrived in store.

This evening I made time...and I'm so glad I did.

Based on the commencement address that Rowling gave to the graduating class of 2008 at Harvard University, Very Good Lives is her little book of inspiration and wisdom.

And now that I've read it, I can tell you that this little book is indeed perfect for all 11 year old granddaughters...and grandsons...as well as for their grandparents and everyone in between.

Google is overflowing with quotes taken from this speech, so I will only trouble you to look at two of them for now.

Failure, imagination, empathy and friendship are at the core of Rowling's speech. Even though she quotes Seneca and refers to her own Classics degree, the speech is written lightly, with humour and good grace.

This is a heart-warming gift book for graduating classes the world over or for anyone needing a little light at the end of the tunnel.

I never though I would find something to replace Dr Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go, but this is it, just without the rhyme!

And just in case you've forgotten all about Oh, the Places You'll Go - here's a little reminder...

Do you have a favourite inspirational book?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Christmas comes to the CBCA

For the first time in a very long time, two Christmas books have made this year's CBCA shortlist.

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish by Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher is shortlisted for the Crichton Award for New Illustrators.

Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen is shortlisted for the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books.

Little Dog was my favourite Christmas story from last year's crop of picture books. It was nostalgic, joyful and tender:

Wherever Jonathan went, Little Dog was beside him.

Jonathan and Little Dog go fishing and exploring together, they play ball and cuddle...until one stormy day...when Little Dog gets frightened and wanders into the big city and gets lost in the Christmas crowds.

Cowcher's beautiful pictures capture the natural movement and expressions of both dog and boy to a tee.

Set in the 1950's, her wistful water colours & line drawings evoke the period and celebrate the season.

Cowcher has worked at The Age as a designer and illustrator. In a 2010 interview with the SMH, Cowcher remarked that:
she had never resolved the tension between painting and drawing.
I'm not a trained artist, but her illustrations in Little Dog feel and look pretty resolved to me! And I love the mix of drawing and painting. The splashes of colour jump out of the page allowing Cowcher to highlight the iconic and the seasonal to great effect.

Even the end papers - full of sketches of little dog in various poses and profiles - satisfy the cute and adorable factor.

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is highly recommended for 3+ audiences and all lovers of cute dog stories!

Tea and Sugar Christmas is a fictionalised account of the goods train used to service small, isolated outback towns with basic supplies and the occasional luxury item from 1917 until 1996.

Jolly creates a thoughtful story of waiting and hoping as young Kathleen (one of the few Indigenous protagonists in Australian children's literature) prepares for an outback Christmas. Kathleen's excitement and anticipation builds with each page because at Christmas time, the tea and sugar train also carries a very special visitor.

This story was always going to be a special one, but choosing Robert Ingpen to illustrate it was an inspired idea indeed!

Ingpen has illustrated many beautiful classic editions over the years, winning the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1986 for his "lasting contribution" as a children's illustrator.

He uses cutaways, double page spreads and folds out that can be poured over for hours. The final section includes photographs, maps and archival information about the history of the tea and sugar train.

Suitable for all ages, but also a wonderful resource for primary schools to highlight diversity, change and continuity and celebrations.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (chapter check-in)

Corinne is unable to host the Gone With the Wind discussion for chapters 21-30, so I have put up my hand to help out.

I've been loving my reread of GWTW & enjoying the group discussions immensely, so I was keen to ensure the group had somewhere to touch base until Corinne could regroup on her own blog.

There will be spoiler references in this post, so if you haven't read up to chapter 30, stop right here until you catch up!


At the start of Chapters 21-30 we see the war proper arrive in Atlanta. Soldiers marching by, the sound of cannon and untold numbers of injured overflowing from the hospitals. Half of Atlanta flees ahead of the advancing Yankee troops, but Scarlett and Melanie stay as they wait for the birth of Melanie's baby.

Thanks to the timely reappearance of Rhett, Scarlett and Melanie are helped out of Atlanta as it burns. It is right here that we witness the famous first kiss between Rhett and Scarlett...just before he runs off to join the retreating Confederate army.

Scarlett, Melanie, Prissy and kids undergo a harrowing trip to Tara only to learn the even more distressing news on their arrival that Mrs O'Hara has just died of typhoid fever the day before. Mr O'Hara has lost his mind with grief and the other girls are still recovering from their illnesses. All but three of the slaves have run off, the cotton has been burned by the Yankees and there is very little food for anyone.

Scarlett pulls herself together to save her family from starvation and illness. Everyone now has jobs to do to help out. Scarlett kills a Yankee soldier and Melanie helps her cover up the deed.

The war ends and the Confederate troops slowly walk home. The folk of Tara help feed and shelter many of them in the hope that some other families are caring for Ashley as he walks home to them. One of the returning soldiers is Will Benteen who stops at Tara to help out in thanks for the care given. Scarlett finds herself relying on his gentle strength and sensible advice.

Chapter 30 is also the end of Part Three. Tara is struggling to get back on its feet, Scarlett is a changed woman and Melanie is slowly recovering from her difficult child bearing experience. The last triumphant, stirring paragraph brings Ashley back into the loving arms of his patient wife.


For me the challenge in rereading GWTW is separating out my memories of the movie from the book. It's not always easy as the movie was very faithful to the original. And some of the movie images are so powerful that they will stay with me for the rest of my life, no matter how many times I reread the book.

Atlanta burning is one of those images.
Rereading Scarlett's mad dash with Rhett, Melanie, Prissy and kids through the burning warehouses was actually made more dramatic thanks to the movie.
Ahead of them was a tunnel of fire where buildings were blazing on either side of the short, narrow street that led down to the railroad tracks. They plunged into it. A glare brighter than a dozen suns dazzled their eyes, scorching heat seared their skins and the roaring, cackling and crashing beat upon their ears in painful waves.
It was impossible to read those words without the movie images accompanying every sentence.

But one of the big differences between the movie and the book is Will Benteen. As I was reading this section, I actually stopped to exclaim, "who the hell is Will Benteen?" I had forgotten all about him from my first read through of GWTW back in my twenties. And like young Wade, Scarlett's baby to Charles Hamilton, he's cut from the movie completely! It is in fact, Will (& not Mammy) who holds Scarlett back when Melanie rushes down the avenue into Ashley's arms at the end of chapter 30.
Eventually all the family found their way into Will's room to air their troubles - even Mammy, who had at first been distant with him because he was not quality and had owned only two slaves....gradually, unobtrusively, a large part of the burden of Tara shifted from Scarlett's shoulders to the bony shoulders of Will Benteen.
I'm now very, very curious to see what happens with the Benteen storyline in future chapters. Why did Mitchell include him in the story? And why was he ditched in the movie?

During this section, Scarlett undergoes a huge period of personal upheaval and growth. She starts off needing her mother's love and strength to get her through, but Ellen's death rocks Scarlett to her very core. She is on her own, and she feels there is no-one for her to lean on or to ask for help. She pushes her grief to one side and gets stuck into the hard work of repairing Tara and finding food to feed everyone. She comes to challenge Ellen's views:
Nothing her mother had taught her was of any value whatsoever now and Scarlett's heart was sore and puzzled....'Nothing, no, nothing, she taught me is of any help to me! What good will kindness do me now? What value is gentleness?
And even when Grandma Fontaine pulls her aside to tell her thats it's,
'very bad for a woman not to be afraid of something....there's something unnatural about a woman who isn't afraid...Scarlett, always save something to fear - even as you save something to love...'
Scarlett ignores the advice and fails to see how Grandma Fontaine's story might help her. So even though Scarlett has learnt a lot about being strong and independent, she still fails to see any perspective but her own. She belittles Carreen's heartbreak, finds Frank's love for Suellen incomprehensible and feels annoyed at Melly because of her ability to "grasp more of situations than she herself did."

At the same time, several events allow Scarlett to somewhat grudgingly see how strong Melly really is underneath her quiet, gentle nature.

What do you think of Scarlett's choices during this section?

As an aside, did you know that Mitchell got the name for her book from a line in one of her favourite poems? And did you spot Mitchell's use of 'gone with the wind' in this section of the book as well?

Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae

    (I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cynara - Horace)

    LAST night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
    There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
    Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
    And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
    I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. 

    All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
    Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
    Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
    But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
    I have been faithful to you, Cynara! in my fashion. 

    I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
    Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
    Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
    But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, all the time, because the dance was long;
    I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. 

    I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
    But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
    Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
    And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
    I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
    Ernest Dowson

Just in case Corinne is unable to host the next chapter check-in, TJ from My Book Strings has indicated that she can lead us through chapters 31-40. Until then, please feel free to leave your GWTW related posts in the linky below.
I'm using #gwtwreadalong on Instagram if anyone wants to post pics of where they're reading GWTW.



Friday May 1: first post – just to enthuse about how excited we are to begin. 
Saturday May 16: first check-in on Chapters One through Ten
Saturday May 30:  check-in on Chapters Eleven through Twenty
Saturday June 13:  check-in on Chapters Twenty-One through Thirty
Saturday June 27:  check-in on Chapters Thirty-One through Forty
Saturday July 11:  check-in on Chapters Forty-One through Fifty
Saturday July 25:  check-in on Chapters Fifty-One through Sixty
Saturday August 1:  check-in on Chapters Sixty-One through Sixty-Three (final discussion)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

I had the good fortune to listen to Cadwallader speak at this year's Sydney Writer's Festival in a session moderated by Ashley Hay called The Body: Sin, Sex, Denial.

I came away from it with a very strong desire to read all three author's books, ASAP! (The other two authors being Caitlin Doughty and James Boyce).

Having just finished One Life, it seemed only natural to follow up with a story about the choices made by another strong, independent woman.

The Anchoress is set in the English Midlands in 1255. Sarah, our young protagonist, decides to become an anchoress - a virgin locked away by choice into a cell "that hugged the church" - for life. The only access to the outside world is via a squint that reveals nothing but the church altar and two windows - one so the anchoresses maid could attend to her needs and one 'parlour' window for women to visit asking for prayers and spiritual advice. The only other visitor allowed is the Father Confessor.

Cadwallader describes the anchoresses life as being one of "living death". I was very curious to see how she could weave a whole novel out of this very confined and narrow world.

Sarah tells her own story for much of the book, but a few chapters are told from her Father Confessor, Ranaulf's point of view. Both Ranaulf and Sarah are changed significantly by this confined relationship.

Cadwallader convincingly describes Sarah's struggles to adjust to life in a cell even as she embraces with passion and fervour her new life devoted to prayer and faith. Sarah gradually reveals her backstory so that we can understand how she came to make the decision to become an anchoress.

I had had no idea about this medieval practice and found the story of The Anchoress compelling and repulsive at the same time. The harsh practices and teachings of the church at this time and the overt subjugation of women were distressing and infuriating to read about.

Watching Sarah grow into her role as anchoress is at the heart of this story. Cadwallader painfully captures the various emotional states that Sarah goes through to achieve peace of mind.

Fascinating and beautifully told, The Anchoress is herstory brought vividly to life.

Linked to Australian Women Writer's Challenge and Saturday Review of Books.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

One Life My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville

How do you write the story of your own mother's life with love and compassion, but also honesty, frankness and objectivity? And how do you make it interesting and meaningful to people outside your immediate family?

How do you write about someone who you are so close to; whose very history is so intricately bound to your own?

One of the ways that Grenville has achieved this is by stopping One Life at her own birth. She also declared early on her intentions:
My mother wasn't the sort of person biographies are usually written about. She wasn't famous, had no public life beyond one letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald, did nothing that would ever make the history books....
Not many voices like hers are heard. People of her social class...hardly ever left any record of what they felt and thought and did. They often believed their lives weren't important enough to write down....As a result, our picture of the past is skewed towards the top lot.
I was reminded of Clare Wright's preface in The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, where she challenged the myth of no women in the goldfields.

Here, Grenville is challenging the history books to find the quieter, family stories within. She explores the domestic dramas of early twentieth century Australia to show us how they still impact on many of us today.

Like Grenville, my grandparents were god-fearing, working class folk. Hardship, doing without and getting on with it were the common lot. Physical love and affection were just two of the things that seemed to be 'done without' in many of these families.

Grenville, also firmly places her mother's experiences within the social context of the time between the wars. The difficulties in getting a higher education if you were a woman and, even harder, getting a job during the Depression. Giving up your career to have children, struggling to resume work with limited child care options and no support at home from your husband. Staying in a loveless marriage for the sake of the kids; knowing there was nowhere else to go anyway.

At one point, Nance discovers the writing of Elizabeth Taylor. She couldn't put her book down as,
Elizabeth Taylor proved what Nance had always known, that the quiet domestic dramas of women's lives might be invisible to men, but they mattered just as much.
This book matters too. It's part of our shared history. These are the families who worked the farms that fed us, ran the pubs and grocery stores and built our roads. And women, like Nance, with all their foibles and complexities and contradictions, are the people who cared for us, gave us our first lessons in life and who fought, one social constraint at a time, to give us the freedoms and equality that we enjoy today.

This review is part of my Australian Women Writers challenge.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Reviews on the Run

I've come down with one of those annoying winter colds - you know, the kind that leaves you tired and exhausted, feeling flat and a bit off-colour, but not bad enough to justify a day off work.

As a result, my reading brain is also a little flat & off-colour. I haven't been able to settle to anything heavy and I certainly haven't been able to tackle any sparkling reviews.

So I've decided to knock off a few quickies, twitter-style.
Reviews in 140 characters or less - I just hope my brain is up to the challenge!

First up is a Hot Key Book, Circus of the Unseen.
Russian fairytale meets modern day gothic in this creepy undead circus. A threshold world between life and death. Which world would you choose?
Joanne Owen's story is genuinely spooky - great for mature 10+ readers.

The Door that Led to Where by Sally Gardner was thoroughly enjoyable.

Dysfunctional families, teen angst, some convenient plot twists with a key, a door, secrets & 1830's London. Contemporary Dickens for teens.

Promised by Caragh O'Brien is the final book in her Birthmarked trilogy (Prized being the second book). 

Sadly this trilogy didn't take off in Australia, and the final book was never released here. Which was a shame because I loved the Nick Stearn covers and the books (click on review links above).

Dystopian romance in a world of walls, enclaves & strong women. A baby shortage, a water crisis & genetic disorders. Nature/nurture at odds.

The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale is a great early reader guaranteed to get the most reluctant reader off to a flying start.

Prim & proper princesses like pink & tiaras; they also like black & ninja moves. Will the curious goatherd suss out her secret identity?

The 1945 Newbury Honour book, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes has become a modern classic and a favourite of teachers the world over.

Does Wanda really have a 100 dresses? How do you fit in when difference is all they see? A classic tale of friendship, bullying & belonging.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Thunderstorm Dancing by Katrina Germein and Judy Watson

Some books naturally appeal to the former preschool teacher in me.

Thunderstorm Dancing is one of those books.

On the surface Germein presents us with a simple story about overcoming fears, in particular, the fear of summer thunder storms.

But thanks to her rhyming, flowing, exuberant language, I can also picture the music and free movement dance lessons that could easily evolve from this story.

As with any really good picture book, the illustrations enhance the text. Watson's dynamic drawings are full of sensory details and movement.

We see the young girl, fearful of the approaching storm, but thanks to her families ability to embrace the moment, she learns to see things differently.

The various elements of the summer storm are personified into the loving, familiar shapes of family:
Daddy is the wind....
Tommy is the clouds....
Poppy is the thunder....
Each scary element is therefore, turned into a knowable and fun form.
The family brings all these elements together to make their own noisy, joyous lounge room storm....

Full of energy and excitement, Thunderstorming Dancing is an action-packed readaloud book...not recommended for bedtime though as everyone will want to join in this gorgeous rowdy romp.

Germein has also written several other well-known picture books, including one of my personal favourites, Big Rain Coming (illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft).

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Incredible Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Have you read Edward Tulane?

Yes? Then how can I possibly review it without spoiling it for someone who hasn't read it?

No? Go and read it now. Yes, now! I'll wait for you to come back........

Now aren't you glad I made you go and read it?

Like you, I had been meaning to read it for years. In fact ever since I read my first DiCamillo back in 2008.

Since then one of my colleagues has fallen in love with Edward. She has spent the better part of the past two years asking me if I've read it yet.

It took a guilt-fueled freezing cold Saturday evening to get me there.
Guilty because I realised that I had put this title on my autumnal reading list in March...a reading list that only had one title ticked off it...and only one week left to run on it. I decided I had time to at least knock over the kid's fiction!
(The freezing cold part is self explanatory - as we all know (even those of us who loathe winter with a passion) that there's nothing nicer than curling up under a warm blanket with a great book when "it's cold out there" - can you name that movie?)

When it comes to crying in books and movies I'm a pretty tough cookie. I can read about death and dying with nary a tear. But give me a hard won happy ending or a bittersweet twist and I'm a blubbering mess.
Actually, no.
I don't think I've ever blubbered.

I've probably missed out on loads of valuable life experiences by not blubbering ever.
Being stoical has it's good points, it's strong points, but it can give people the very misleading idea that you are unfeeling or cold. Or not capable of loving...like poor old Edward.

Although Edward's love problems didn't stem from stoicism but from egotism instead.

As for his journey?

Wow. Poor Edward really had to learn his lessons the hard way. It was miraculous that he survived at all.
His happy-against-all-odds ending would melt the hardest heart and warm the cockles of the most gentle soul you know.

As a child who feared being lost, I'm not sure how well I would have coped with this story. I either would have pushed it to one side in disgust (really fear) or I would have read it obsessively, picking away at my fear like a scab on my knee.

And that's the beauty of DiCamillo's writing. She gets right into the heart of a very real childhood fear and she shows you how to survive it, to live with it, to give into it, to outgrow it and to finally overcome it.

If you haven't read it, make sure you pick up an illustrated copy. Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations are delightful and a perfect match for the mood and tone of the writing.