July 2015 Bookshelf - Outlander Series plus the new Harper Lee novel

I'm a rereader. I have favorite books and book series that I have read multiple times over, never being able to get enough of the stories and the characters.  I also do this with TV shows and movies.  (For example, don't ask me how many times I have seen every single episode of Friends...it's a lot!)

In the Summer of 1994 I was working at my first real full-time job and my supervisor introduced me to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series.  In 1994 the series totaled only 3 books and I read them in quick succession.  That summer I would take my lunch breaks out on this patio area we had at the office and read for an hour. By the time I closed book 3 I was hooked - in love with Claire and Jamie, in love with Scotland, in love with the story Gabaldon had so beautifully created.  And then, like the growing fan base, I had to wait for each new book to come out.  It was bookworm torture.  

Since then I have read and reread the series more times than I can count. And when I'm not reading them, I periodically think about them. That, my friends, is a sign of a great story and characters.  

When Starz came out last summer with a television series based on the books I was skeptical at best. But my love, and curiosity, for Outlander won out and I have watched the episodes and have fallen in love with Outlander all over again. In 2009 book 7 was published and then nothing. Had the series ended? But 2014 saw a revitalization of Outlander.  Gabaldon published book 8 and the TV series introduced a whole new group of people to the story of Claire Randall-Fraser. 

Book 8 was 5 years after book 7 so a reread of the first 7 books was/is in order, gee what a shame. *grin*  So this month my bookshelf was the Outlander series.  Now, if you have been following my bookshelf for awhile you might remember that I have highlighted the series before. But that was the highlights, this month is the in-depth look at the books in the series. Oh and Gabaldon is writing book 9 so that will be landing on a future bookshelf.  :)

Outlander (Outlander #1) 
850 pages

"People disappear all the time.  Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist. Disappearances are bread-and-butter to journalists. Young girls run away from home. Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station. International financiers change their names and vanish into the smoke of imported cigars. Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually."

With those words I am immediately captured. I turn the next page and find myself in Scotland, 1945, with Claire Randall's voice sharing her story. She's giving the background that will surface to the top later on.  Claire and Frank, her husband of several years, have reunited after the end of World War II. The war that took them to separate assignments and gave them three whole days together over 6 years. To say they need to be reaquainted is an understatement. So they have traveled to Inverness for a second honeymoon of sorts, and a second chance at marriage.  Frank is a historian and while in Inverness is researching his own family tree. Fascinated by local lore Claire and Frank traverse through the countryside, taking in the ancient ruins of the past clans and witnessing the witches do their dance around a circle of ancient stones.
It is through one of those standing stones that Claire finds herself in the year 1743 and in a heap of trouble being English in the midst of the Scottish highlands.  Through a series of events she finds herself in the hospitality and relative safety of the Mackenzie clan all the while plotting an escape to return to the standing stones and Frank, not to mention 1945 with its indoor plumbing and hot showers. But 1743 isn't as simple and Claire's plans have a hard time gaining the footing they need. She also must keep up with the story she has concocted about how she landed in the Highlands and that's proving to be difficult among all the suspicion toward the English. But she can't tell her real story, they would accuse her of being a witch and burn her at the stake.  No, 1743 is not proving to be simple at all.
As events unfold Claire finds herself needing to wed a clansmen for protection from her own people, the English. A man is chosen for her, Jamie Fraser, and they are wed in haste to save Claire from a meeting with the English that would most likely begin with torture and perhaps end in death. Claire is torn between two lives, two husbands, two hundred years that separate all she has known with all that is in her present.  Choices about present and future need to be made and no matter what there will be broken hearts and consequences.

"Let me see your hand, child," she said. 
The hand holding mine was bony, but surprisingly warm. A scent of lavender water emanated from the neat part of the grizzled head bent over my palm. She stared into my hand for quite a long time, now and then tracing one of the lines with a finger, as though following a map whose roads all petered out in sandy washes and deserted wastes. 
"Well, what is it?" I asked, trying to maintain a light air. "Or is my fate too horrible to be revealed?" 
Mrs. Graham raised quizzical eyes and looked thoughtfully at my face, but retained her hold on my hand. She shook her head, pursing her lips. 
"Now, there, a well-marked lifeline; you're in good health, and likely to stay so. The lifeline's interrupted, meaning your life's changed markedly - well, that's true of us all, is it not? But yours is more chopped-up, like, than I usually see; all bits and pieces. And your marriage-line, now" - she shook her head again - "it's divided; that's not unusual, means two marriages....but most divided lines are broken - yours is forked."  

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2)
947 pages

"I woke three times in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude....The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies' hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me."

At the end of Outlander we had been left with Claire and Jamie and a very unknown future. Based on what Claire knew of history, and Jamie's choice to believe her, they had some decisions to make.  Suddenly there was responsibility to weigh out - do they try and alter the course of history or do they let it play out with little or no participation from themselves?
The book opens in 1968 with Roger (Mackenzie) Wakefield surveying the stuffed home of his adoptive father, the Reverend Wakefield, friend to Frank and Claire Randall in the 1940's. As fortune would have it the bell rings and Roger opens the door to find Claire Randall and her daughter Brianna waiting to be received. But wait. Isn't Claire in the year 1743 with her husband Jamie? How is she now in the year 1968 with a 20 year old daughter? There is a story to tell, to hear, and hopefully to believe.
In early 1744 Claire and Jamie have traveled to Paris in a decision to get close to Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stuart) and see what they might be able to do about the history Claire knows of that hasn't happened yet. Forging relationships and intermingling with the elite in Paris they individually and together come up against successes and failures. In the background of all Claire does is Frank, her first husband who still lives in 1945. Claire chose Jamie but her gold wedding ring from Frank stays on her hand and she is obligated to ensure he has a future, ie. to be born in the future.  This causes personal conflict between Jamie and Claire, straining their combined attempts to save Scotland and the deaths of those they know and love. The question that has no answer is this, "Can the course of history be altered?"

"Claire?" His voice felt scratchy from disuse, and he cleared his throat and tried again. "Claire? I...have something to tell you."
She turned and looked up at him, no more than the faintest curiosity visible on her features. She wore a look of calm, the look of one who has borne terror, despair, and mourning, and the desperate burden of survival - and has endured. Looking at her, he felt suddenly that he couldn't do it.
But she had told the truth; he must do likewise. 
"I found something." He raised the book in a brief, futile gesture. "About...Jamie." Speaking that name aloud seemed to brace him, as though the big Scot himself had been conjured by his calling, to stand solid and unmoving in the hallway, between his wife and Roger. Roger took a deep breath in preparation. 
"What is it?"
"The last thing he meant to do. I think...I think he failed."

Voyager (Outlander #3)
1059 pages

"When I was small I never wanted to step in puddles....It was because I couldn't bring myself to believe that the perfect smooth expanse was no more than a thin film of water over solid earth. I believed it was an opening into some fathomless space....If I stepped in there, I would drop at once, and keep on falling, on and on, into blue space....Even now, when I see a puddle in my path, my mind half-halts - though my feet do not - then hurries on, with only the echo of the thought left behind. What if, this time, you fall?"

One of the reasons I love this series is because of all the research Gabaldon put into it.  She takes factual history and weaves a fictional story out of it. If anything Gabaldon has revived an interest in Scotland for those not fortunate enough to live there. I do wonder what the residents of Scotland, if they have read the books, think of their country and how it is showcased in these books. Gabaldon has said that she writes about Scotland out of respect for it, not anything else. But I have yet to mention the history she uses as her foundation and I am something of a history geek so it makes the books, the story all that much richer for me personally.
This third title in the series is a really interesting read. We hop back and forth between 1968 and then the 20 years after The Rising of '45 (1745 that is). A lot happens in this particular title. So much so that by the end of the book you forget that it started with events from 20 years earlier and in the future!  But Gabaldon doesn't rush it, she doesn't make the reader feel as if there is a race through 20 years of life to catch up to the present - both the present of 1968 and the present Claire left of 1745. The second book ends with Roger, in 1968, surmising that Jamie was unsuccessful in his mission during the battle at Culloden. This probability leads Roger, Brianna, and Claire on a concentrated effort to seek out records and such to find Jamie past the unsuccessful war.  Did he die? Did he live? If he lived, how? Without the aid of search engines like Google, or even computers, they manage to piece together a paper trail of what possibly could be Jamie after the war. Meanwhile, (spoiler alert) we live quite a bit of Jamie's life post-war with him. At least all the defining moments.
All of this leads Claire to have to make a decision. Does she give up her 1968 life complete with hot showers, electricity, etc - not to mention her daughter - to go back and find Jamie in 1765 or thereabouts? Or does she let Jamie live in the past and stay in her present?
Eventually Jamie and Claire's stories become one again and they, together, have decisions to make. Scotland is not very hospitable to Jamie during the present moment so perhaps they go back to Paris for a time? Or are there other options to explore?

Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4)
1070 pages

"I heard the drums long before they came in sight. The beating echoed in the pit of my stomach, as though I too were hollow."

It's 1767 and the Frasers have landed in the Colonies, the New World, the Americas.  It's a chance to start over and gain back some of what was lost in Scotland as a result of the Rising that failed.
Claire and Jamie have regained the footing they had in the early days of their marriage, before the 20 year separation, and they make way to a relative of Jamie's in the Carolinas.  As they journey they meet up with a variety of people, some a help to their travels and others a hinderance. But Jamie is a Highland Warrior, not much escapes him for long.
Meanwhile in 1969 Brianna is learning to live life without Claire and continues to research the life of her father.  Roger, from across the pond, helps her and discovers some news about her parents that he doesn't share. In a bold and surprising move Brianna takes matters into her own hands when she discovers some news about her parents that she must tell them and help them change, if that is possible.
As the Frasers travel through the South and uninhabited parts of America they become part of the history of the United States, although they don't know it - not even Claire knows it this time. Gathering Scotsman as they make their way to land given them, Jamie forms a clan of all those who have no clan left thanks to Charles Stuart.  With nothing for them to return to in Scotland they make a life in America.
Unbeknownst to Jamie and Claire, Brianna has stepped through time and is traveling toward them. Unbeknownst to Brianna, Roger has followed her through the portal and sets out to catch up with her. What does this mean, if anything, for the course of history both Brianna and Roger know about and want to change? What will a relationship between Brianna and Jamie look like, will they even be able to have one?  What does a life in America look like for a Scottish man always setting his face, and heart, back toward his homeland?

"The MacNeills of Barra are here!"
"The Lachlans of Glen Linnhe are here!"
And after a little, Jamie's voice, loud and strong on the dark air. "The Frasers of the Ridge are here!"

The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5)
1443 pages

"I have lived through war, and lost much. I know what's worth the fight, and what is not. Honor and courage are matters of the bone, and what a man will kill for, he will sometimes die for, too. And that, O kinsman, is why a woman has broad hips; that bony basin will harbor a man and his child alike. A man's life springs from his woman's bones, and in her blood is his honor christened. For the sake of love alone, would I walk through fire again."

This title in the series may be for only the truly devoted, the truly committed fans of Outlander. It gets a lot of "blah" reviews but I have to respectfully disagree with those. It's a great addition in the series. It continues several storylines and spends time developing characters even more so. The reader gets to spend quite a bit of time with Brianna and Roger and it's a lovely secondary storyline since Brianna is Jamie and Claire's.
Jumping from the future into the past doesn't seem like it would be all that fun nor easy. Talk about culture shock on a whole different level. Perhaps it is the presence of Claire, who is seasoned at this point, that eases the transition a bit for Brianna and Roger as they settle in to the 1770's in early America.  As time marches toward the American Revolution Jamie is obligated into service by the Governor of North Carolina to put a stop to dissenters. Jamie, and his tenants, are reluctant to take up arms against their fellow friends, family members, and neighbors. The Rising is still too fresh in most minds, they were hoping for some peace in the Colonies.
So much happens in this title that it is hard to summarize. One of the characters I enjoyed the most in this book was Roger. So much happens with him and within him. I am sure it's a buildup for his role in future titles. Claire and Jamie's marriage is deepened. It's still full of physical want and need but within that want and need is a deep bond, Gabaldon paints a really beautiful picture of an intimate, in all ways, marriage.
In America there are no lairds, no clan chieftains, the normal ways of war have no place in this land. But yet Jamie, and his people, are being called to war slowly over time and with different incidents. Who can and will, who should, lead?  Who will hold up the fiery cross and call the people to battle?

" 'Tis the fiery cross, lad" he'd told Jamie...."When a Hielan' chief will call his men to war," the old man had said...."he has a cross made, and sets it afire. It's put out at once, ken, wi' blood or wi' water - but still it's called the fiery cross, and it will be carried through the glens and corries, a sign to the men of the clan to fetch their weapons and come to the gathering place, prepared for battle."

"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it."

A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6)
1439 pages

The Outlander series is not for the faint of heart. What I love about these books is the stories that were forgotten and then remembered as I reread. Of course the overarching story is always remembered but there's so much that happens it is easy to forget all the little stories in the midst. So it's fun to reread and be delighted all over again.  I also am finding, with this reading, that my age and life experiences are definitely aiding me in picking up on some themes that I am sure I blew right past in other readings.  I'm really enjoying the depth Gabaldon is taking the characters to and the time she has put into the historical facts of the story.
I'm seeing other reviews where people seem to be annoyed or put off by Brianna and Roger. I feel exactly the opposite.  I love them. I love watching them come into their own during a time they were not born into.
In this title Jamie and some of his Fraser Ridge residents choose the side of liberty rather than the Crown as the Colonies begin their struggle for freedom from England.  But Jamie, always so diplomatic, strives to maintain good relationship with the men of both sides of the conflict arising. In truth it seems what Jamie wishes most is to be left alone and to be a farmer. But that is not his calling. Just as Claire can't help but heal people, even those who have wounded her. Just as Roger is discovering that he can't help but minister to people and Brianna can't help but create things to ease the backwoods way of life.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes is written leading up to an article from 1776 in which the death of Jamie and Claire Fraser are announced. Maybe some history can't be changed but certainly this part of it can be, right?

An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7)
1149 pages

"The Body is amazingly plastic. The spirit, even more so. But there are some things you don't come back from. Say ye so, a nighean? True, the body's easily maimed, and the spirit can be crippled - yet there's that in a man that is never destroyed."

This title was first published in September 2009.  I thought I had read it. And when I started reading it "this time" I realized I had meant to read it but hadn't. 2009 was a busy year for me.  So this isn't a reread for me - it's a first read. And I, being the devoted fan, loved it.
In this title Gabaldon introduces her fans to more of Lord John Grey and William.  They become a very involved part of the story line and the Fraser's life.  Meanwhile in 1980 the MacKenzie's are trying to adjust to modern day life at Lollybroch, which was available to bring back into the family. Before stepping out of the 1770's Roger and Brianna had set up a communication system with Claire and Jamie for the future so Roger and Brianna are able to keep track of their lives. Mandy is healthy but doesn't remember life in the 18th century at all. However, Jem remembers it vividly and is trying to make his own adjustments to this strange world his parents leapt into. Gabaldon takes us back and forth between America in the 1770's and Scotland in the 1980's and the two families that span both times.  She also takes us back to 1700's Scotland and Lollybroch where Jamie and Young Ian are able to be with family once again. In 1980 Roger and Brianna are having a hard time without their family and grieving the loss of them. As new people enter into their life they discover that there are other travelers around besides them and there are those that are a threat to the past and the future.
To this point Gabaldon has provided her readers with a rich and deep history of Scotland and now she is doing the same thing with American history, no wonder it takes her three - or more - years to write each book! I haven't mentioned in any of my reviews, yet, the themes that are sticking out to me this time around while reading.  One is that of religion. Wars and strife between the Catholics and the Protestants leading to wars between political parties/ideologies which leads to wars between families and neighbors. Gabaldon does a really good job, in my opinion, of exposing these differences and lessening their "threat factor."  Having a marriage between a Catholic, Brianna, and a Protestant, Roger, was one way is which she sought, through the story, to dispel the threats each "side" feels about the other. She continues breaking down barriers like that in this title and I am assuming in future titles.
Because of the depth and breadth of this story I am finding it getting difficult to give a review or summation in which nothing is spoiled for those who are going to read the series at some point.  I have so enjoyed being surprised by particular story lines that I don't want to be the spoiler of them for future readers. One note I will make: I believe you have to be just as interested in history as the characters of Claire and Jamie. Their story will not see a reader all the way through every book as Gabaldon has woven their story into real historical moments. I love history, so as much as I adore the story of Claire and Jamie I also love the historical research she has done and included to make it as authentic as possible when time travel is involved.  *grin*

The Space Between (Outlander #7.5)
Kindle Edition 118 pages

The normal amount of time came and went between book 7 and book 8 and Outlander fans were biting at the bit for the continued story of Claire and Jamie.  In order to appease readers, and give some additional backstory, Gabaldon released a couple of novellas.

In this short Outlander tale Gabaldon picks up the story where book 7 leaves off with Jamie's nephew Michael and step-daughter Joan heading to Paris from Lollybroch. Joan is headed to marry Christ and Michael is headed back to the wine business with cousin Jared and an empty home due to the death of his wife.  But before we meet back up with Michael and Joan we are reintroduced to Comte St. Germain from book 2 and well as Raymond, Claire's apothecary/sorcerer friend. St. Germain, we discover, is even more villainous than we were led to believe in book 2 and has traveled extensively through time - backwards and forwards. He needs Claire for his current attempts and believes Joan will lead him to her. Can Michael find Joan in time? Before St. Germain takes advantage of her for his own purposes?

Gabaldon has been interviewed saying that she may do a series about Raymond and the various time travelers he interacts with - being one himself.  This novella is a tease toward that idea. I confess, I'm curious to learn more about St. Germain and his travels to and fro as well as Raymond. They both hold some very different sort of powers in addition to being able to travel through time.  The backstory is there waiting for someone to share it. Perhaps when Gabaldon does feel satisfied with Claire and Jamie's story she will continue in the theme of time travel with the characters her Outlander fans are meeting throughout the series.

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (Outlander #8.5)
Kindle Edition 57 pages

Note: Why is this novella 8.5, published 2 years before 8?  Shouldn't it be 7.5 part 2 or something?  It makes no sense to this type A chick. *grin*

In chapter 21 of book 7 Claire and Roger have a conversation about his parents, both having died during WWII. She tells Roger that whatever he's been told about his parents death isn't exactly how it happened or true. But that's it. That's all Gabaldon gives us before continuing on with the present story line. What?! We need to know. What really happened to Roger's parents if not what he has been told? Either Gabaldon heard from enough fans about it or she herself was curious enough about how they really died that she wrote this shorter short about the story of Jerry and Dolly MacKenzie, Roger's parents.

Jerry MacKenzie is a pilot with the RAF during WWII and is approached by a Captain Frank Randall with MI6 to do a special ops mission for the war effort. Yes, Frank is Frank - Claire's Frank. Gabaldon is tying all the characters together is some pretty interesting ways. Jerry hesitantly accepts the mission and ends up 200 years in the past but doesn't understand it - the how or the why. Trying to get back to his present life that includes his wife, Dolly, and his wee lad Roger, eludes him until two strangers track him down and help him back to the stones. Meanwhile Dolly has had to find a job and move on with her life. Roger is two years old and the war is still raging between Germany and the world. During an air raid Dolly catches Jerry's eye above a crush of people and presses toward him. But tragedy strikes and in one instant Roger loses both parents.

Really Gabaldon has created some really rich and deep characters and could do successful spin offs for years to come.  I'm not sure about series as she has attempted with Lord John Grey (which I haven't read any of those) but certainly supplemental spin offs.

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander #8)
864 pages

"In the light of eternity, time casts no shadow. Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. But what is it that the old women see? We see necessity, and we do the things that must be done. Young women don't see - they are, and the spring of life runs through them. Ours is the guarding of the spring, ours the shielding of the light we have lit, the flame that we are. What have I seen? You are the vision of my youth, the constant dream of all my ages. Here I stand on the brink of war again, a citizen of no place, no time, no country but my own...and that a land lapped by no sea but blood, bordered only by the outlines of a face long-loved." 

WOW. I have chills. What a fantastic book. After a 5 year 'Outlander silence', sans the two novellas, Gabaldon publishes book 8 (2014) and reminds everyone why the Outlander Series - the storylines and characters - are so incredible and lasting. About a third of the way through this title I realized it was very reminiscent of book 1, Outlander. It is more of a character/storyline driven book rather than history based. She has history in there but like book 1 the book focuses much more on the characters. I confess. I was wondering if perhaps Gabaldon should have closed the series out to maintain its charm, I was skeptical that she could keep it interesting for readers. I was wrong to ever doubt. This book was so incredibly good that I think perhaps the length of time between 7 and 8 was to her benefit and now has become the reader's pleasure.
I'm not sure how to even give a review that isn't a total spoiler for anyone who has yet to read it. I'm going to try, however.
In this title we are hopping back and forth between 1778 and 1980. But then Roger and Buck, his kinsman from the past, land themselves in 1739 due to an accidental mix-up. They thought they were focusing on Jem, Roger's son, but the portal translated their focus on Jerry, Roger's father. (Read the novella, A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows, for that complete story.) So now readers are treated to Frasers and MacKenzie's from 1739, 1778, and 1980. You might think Gabaldon is reaching a bit by taking Roger and Buck back to 1739 but once they get there, and as the reader you are with them, it doesn't feel like reaching - it blends beautifully with the overall story. And Gabaldon is clever, she's setting the stage in this book for the prequel (Outlander #0) she has already said she'll be writing after the Outlander series is complete. She also is setting some storylines up for future books that would include characters like Raymond and St. Germain from book 2.
William and Lord John Grey hold large portions of the story in this title as they did in book 7. I am personally thrilled that she has incorporated them more and more.  Both characters are important in the life of Jamie and therefore the life of Claire. I'm looking forward to their continued relationship with the Fraser's as the series continues.
Many moments of the book had me 'on the edge of my seat', in tears, concerned for the welfare of a character, laughing out loud, and basically forgetting that it was a fictional tale with fictional characters!
The newer characters that have joined the adventurous lives of Jamie and Claire and their various family members have added to the overall story rather than detract from it, as can sometimes be the case.  Additionally these newer characters are an interesting development in the lives of the staple characters they interact the most with.  Gabaldon has carefully, and cleverly, used the newer characters in the continued development of the ones we've been walking with for years.
I mentioned themes that I'm picking up on and one that Gabaldon has quietly weaved into the story since book 1 is that of faith. Jamie is a devout believer in book 1 and Claire is a devout agnostic, in my opinion. She has no faith to speak of and doesn't quite understand it. But throughout the series we see a faith develop and it is interesting to watch it grow in Claire due to the life that she has lived because of falling through the stones all those years ago.  In one part of this title she is working on forgiveness and speaks of praying. The theme isn't so much Claire growing in a faith but in faith being a vital component in life. I'm not sure that sometimes we recognize the faith that grows in our lives, perhaps through living life we discover one day that it is simply there and we are better for it. It seems to me that is what has happened to and in Claire throughout the years.
This was an amazing continuation to the series and now? Now the bookworm torture begins as there is no release date for book 9 and so we wait...

"But still...Christ had told doubting Thomas, 'Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.' Jamie wondered what you called those who had seen and were obliged to live with the resultant knowledge. He thought 'blessed' was maybe not the word."

"The phrase 'Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed' floated through his head. It was maybe not the believing that was the blessing; it was the not having to look. Seeing, sometimes, was bloody awful." 

Bonus July Book Read:  

I had a whole week left of the month of July so I had to squeeze in one more book since I finished the Outlander series earlier than I thought I would!  :)

While reading Outlander this month Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM), had a book published. In fact, the book was the first book she ever wrote but instead of it getting published TKAM was instead. So thanks to Amazon pre-order I came home in the middle of July to Go Set a Watchman. I was *this* close to putting down the Outlander series for a couple of days to read it but decided to be patient instead.  It paid off!  I have a whole week left of July and that's plenty of time to read Harper Lee's new-to-us title.
A friend gave me some important background info on the publication of this book. This info shared with me is going to be super helpful to keep in mind as I read the book.  Perhaps it will help *you* as well, should *you* ever read it. :)

Harper Lee wrote this book first.  When the publishers read it they came back to her asking to know more about this woman named Scout. So Lee wrote the book To Kill A Mockingbird.
This book was found shoved in a drawer, covered with a layer of proverbial dust. After the release, and success, of TKAM Lee faded out of the public eye.  The success of the book made her shrink back, she didn't like nor want the attention so she quit writing and lived a fairly reclusive lifestyle.
Harper Lee is in a state of dementia and nobody is absolutely certain that she even wanted this book published but her lawyer and publisher made the decision to go ahead with it since her feelings have been unclear about it.
Because this book was written first readers should not expect to read about the same Scout, and other characters, that were so well received and loved in TKAM. There are some, apparently, noticeable differences in characters and their personalities, etc.

So keeping these things in mind, and refusing to read even one review, here are my thoughts on Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
278 pages

The book that was published first, To Kill A Mockingbird, finds its beginnings here in Go Set a Watchman in Chapter 8 (pages 108-110). Inside the jacket of the book is this thought about Go Set a Watchman, "It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic." After reading the book I cannot argue with that statement but I do wonder if that statement means something different to the person who wrote it and those who have read the book.  It made me question the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird and that is highly unsettling. It made me love Scout, Jean Louise in this book, even more.

Jean Louise, aged twenty-six, lives in New York City but is traveling home to Maycomb Junction to visit her elderly father, Atticus. Coming back home is like stepping through time.  Jean Louise is known but not known. New York City has changed her or defined her in ways unknown to even herself until she slips back into the rhythms of the South. Within a couple of days of being back in the South Jean Louise is unsettled by the racial talk and the racial tension she is witnessing. It's so unlike Maycomb Junction, so unlike her family and her almost betrothed, Henry. The theme of Jean Louise's visit home happens to come from the Sunday morning text she heard her first day back home. Isaiah 21:6 (NKJV) "For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, Let him declare what he sees.” Starting with that Sunday afternoon Jean Louise has her eyes opened in a whole different way to the residents of Maycomb Junction, including her father.  And she cannot hold it in, she begins to declare what she sees which is very different than her Southern people. With broken heart she wonders if she is the only watchman for the town and this period of time.

While there have been years in between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman for us readers there was not for Harper Lee.  She wrote them, for all intents and purposes, back to back since the publishers expressed more interest in Scout. With that thought in mind once I finished reading this book I immediately picked up To Kill a Mockingbird to read again and see if there were dots to connect now that we, it seems, have a fuller understanding of Atticus Finch. "Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case." (To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 25) Perhaps this observation about Atticus feeds who we see him as in Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps not. I read the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird and can't help but think Harper Lee changed her mind about him and in TKAM she crafted him as the Atticus Finch we have loved all these years.  I don't believe Go Set a Watchman provides depth or context to Atticus Finch but it certainly does to Scout. Any new meaning it lends To Kill a Mockingbird is more unfortunate than anything else. It raises questions about the Atticus Finch of TKAM and cast doubt and insecurity on the beauty of the story Scout tells us.

But Go Set a Watchman is an excellent story apart from its connections to its predecessor. If the reader can somehow manage to put some distance between the two and read it for its own story then they will appreciate the message Harper Lee was issuing through Jean Louise. If it also doesn't strongly shine light on how Harper Lee felt herself about the racial tensions in the South then she is very good at playing Devil's Advocate. I can't help but think Harper Lee created Scout from much of her own self.  It's unfortunate that this is also a relevant story for today, it shouldn't be but alas it is. Racial tensions are high and watchmen are still needed.

"Had she insight, could she have pierced the barriers of her highly selective, insular world, she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind."


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