1) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Although I started this Southern classic while still in New York, I finished it only after I'd tasted my momma's two-cups-of-sugar-per-gallon sweet tea. The story of Scarlet O’Hara, it followed a Georgia belle living on her family’s plantation, Tara, on the eve of the Fort Sumter attack and showed her life through the war and Reconstruction of the South. The war and its aftermath not only transformed Scarlett’s life from riches to rags and back again, but also changed her from a carefree, naive girl to a hardened, self-reliant woman, driven at all times by her love of Tara. Although folk art, the image Mitchell created of the South continues to dominate the American imagination of antebellum life. Gone With the Wind helped shape the way generations of Americans viewed the Civi War and Reconstruction. Through its selective remembrance, it encouraged audiences to romanticize the Old South as a land of moonlight and magnolias:
"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South...Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow..Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave...Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind..."
Now, I'd seen the movie more times than I could count; I thought Vivien Leigh had the most gorgeous dresses and Clark Gable was quite handsome. But, I 'd never actually made it past page 20 of the most remarkable love story of all times. And, I'm here to tell you, it's replaced The Great Gatsby as my most favorite book. Truly amazing!
My Rating: *****
2) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Honestly, I don't know what I was expecting when I started reading this book. I'd seen movie trailers for the Robert Pattison-Reese Witherspoon pairing; it had an entire section devoted to it in the bookstore, so I figured I'd better see what all the fuss is about. Told in as series of memories from a "ninety or ninety three" year-old Jacob Jankowski, it's the tale of a young man who finds himself the veterinarian of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth after hopping a railway car. Sure, it had tragedy, scandal, love, and violence-all needed qualities to create a great novel-but I quickly found myself counting down the pages until it ended. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't an unbearable read, but I'm not quite sure it's something I'll keep on my bookshelf for years to come.
My Rating: ***
3) The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
After a disastrous formal entrance into society, Cora Cash finds herself traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the century to seek a titled husband. With a wealth that easily trumps the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, Cora quickly becomes Duchess of Wareham, married to the most eligible bachelor in England. However, a happily ever after doesn't greet the young heiress. Her husband, Ivo, is withdrawn and secretive. The English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Cora soon realizes money may buy a title, but it certainly doesn't insure your husband's love.
I'll admit, it did take me about 100 or so pages to really get into this book. But, how could I not eventually be sucked in by all the Gilded Age dramas? A delightful read, it's the perfect fantasy escape. Sure, it may not be a high-brow read (and it's certainly no modern classic), but if you're in the mood for a trashy, romance novel, it really can't be beat.
My Rating: ****
4) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
"This could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird...If you read only one book...let this be it," reads the cover. I couldn't have said it better. Three ordinary women take one extraordinary step that forever shakes a Southern town. It's 1962, and Skeeter has just returned after graduating from Jackson, Mississippi. She may have a degree, but her mother will not be happy until she has a ring on her finger. Aibileen is a black maid; a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. She finds herself growing bitter after the death of her son. Regardless, her devotion to the little girl she looks after forces her to conceal her broken heart. Aibileen's friend, Minny is a smart-mouth, back-talking, maid and mother to five. Although her cooking may be the best in Jackson, she constantly finds herself looking for another job after yet another sassy outburst. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has a few secrets of her own. Although theses women seem quite different from one another, they come together for a stealthy project that puts them all at risk. Suffocated within the lines that defines their time and town, each know sometime lines are meant to be crossed.
I absolutely loved every one of the 522 pages that made up The Help. Stockett's uplifting debut novel may have been set during the Civil Rights Movement, where black women were trusted to raise white children but not the polish the household silver, but it's a timeless and universal story about society's hold. Definitely make the time to enjoy this heartbreaking story.
My Rating: *****