Reviewed for THC Reviews It's now been over two decades since I discovered and read Outlander (the first book of the series) for the first time, and inReviewed for THC Reviews It's now been over two decades since I discovered and read Outlander (the first book of the series) for the first time, and in all that time, no other pair have been able to supplant Jamie and Claire as my all-time favorite romantic couple. I love them and their relationship so much, I would literally read anything that their creator deigns to write about them, and I'm never disappointed with their stories. That said, though, the narrative of The Fiery Cross tends to ebb and flow between more exciting action and mystery and the quieter moments of their lives. For this reason, there were times I wasn't quite as anxious to get back to reading it as I was with some of the earlier books of the series. I wasn't bored, just not as engrossed as I might have been. Throughout reading it, I went back and forth between a 4.5 and a 5 star rating, and eventually settled on 5 stars simply because, even though it took me three weeks to read it (I'm a very slow reader), I was still sorry to see it end. I closed the book on another chapter of Jamie and Claire's lives, but I still want more. That, to me, is one of the main hallmarks of a perfect read, even if the story did have some slower parts.
In this installment of the series, we see Jamie and Claire comfortably settled in their big house on Fraser's Ridge, surrounded by their loved ones and friends. I really enjoy stories about the Colonial period of American history, but don't find ones set in this time all that often. As with all her books, Ms. Gabaldon goes into great detail regarding what life was like in that time, and it isn't always a pretty picture. She doesn't shy away from the harsh, sometimes brutal, realities of living in that era, but it's also balanced out with the beauty of the unspoiled wilderness and wildlife, as well as day-to-day living. There are also some events that are precursors to the rapidly approaching War for Independence, which Jamie and Claire are trying to avoid, but sometimes can't help being dragged into. Wherever they are though, the setting comes alive and basically becomes a character unto itself. In addition to their life on the Ridge, Jamie and Claire experience lots of adventures away from home, some good, some bad, some humorous, and some life-threatening. But no matter what they're doing, they support one another and take joy in each other's company and in their growing family. Almost from the beginning some mysteries start to develop too, which aren't fully untangled until the final chapters of the book, and even then, we're left with additional intrigue that I'm sure will carry over into the next book.
Jamie never ceases to amaze me with his sheer perfection. If he has any flaws, I'd be hard-pressed to say what they are. Claire would probably say it's his stubbornness, but even that can be endearing and has served him well on many occasions. IMHO, he's everything a man (and a romantic hero) should be and more: strong, protective, loyal, determined, responsible, honorable, intelligent, open-minded, a good father and husband, a tender lover. Need I go on?:-) I honestly can't imagine anyone reading these book and not falling in love with him. He's also a born leader who inspires loyalty, and while he holds no official title, he's in essence become the laird of Fraser's Ridge. Jamie bears a heavy weight of responsibility for his tenants and grieves deeply if anything happens to any of them on his watch. He's a strong warrior and skilled fighter, who isn't afraid of battle, but is diplomatic enough to try to avoid it whenever possible. He's also a man of the land, skilled in farming and animal husbandry. I love how intelligent Jamie is and how even though it's sometimes difficult for an 18th century man to wrap his head around many of the things Claire tells and shows him, he's still fascinated by them and enjoys learning about them. I also adore Jamie's sense of humor. He has a boyishly mischievous side that's utterly charming, and he often make me laugh at his jokes and his reactions to certain things. Jamie's family is everything to him. He adores his children and grandchildren, even the ones who don't share his blood and the ones who can't be with him, and he welcomes his new son-in-law into the fold, even if he does test him a bit in the process. Best of all, Jamie's love for Claire is breathtaking in its intensity and the kind of love I think everyone wishes for at least once in their lives. It's also very heartwarming to see that he's not only still madly in love with her after nearly thirty years, but still desires her more than his next breath. It's no wonder that in all this time, no other romantic hero has been able to knock him out of that top spot on my list of favorites.
I've always admired Claire for her strength, determination, and tenacity. She's a woman who knows who she is and isn't afraid to be who she was born to be. She also knows what she wants and goes after it with single-minded intent. She's a born healer, who instinctively understands the human body, including all its frailties. While we've seen Claire in this role throughout the series, I think it's perhaps even more pronounced in this book. She's able to bring to bear her twentieth-century knowledge of medicine, but is often frustrated by her eighteenth-century limitations. It doesn't stop her, though, from doing everything she possibly can to heal or cure every person who steps into her surgery, and much like Jamie, she deeply feels the weight of responsibility for every death, even when she knows there was nothing she could do to prevent it. As she herself muses, she has that “odd mixture of empathy and ruthlessness needed to be a great doctor.” She has a dry wit and a wry sense of humor that makes me smile. Also like Jamie, family comes first in her world, and she would do anything to keep those she loves safe. Although she often worries for Jamie's safety, she is strong enough to recognize when he needs to do something and support his endeavors even if she doesn't like it. She's always been Jamie's rock and sometimes even his lifeline, both physically and emotionally. She loves him with the same all-consuming passion that he loves her and can't bear to think of a time when they might not be together.
At this point in the Outlander series, the books are no longer just about Jamie and Claire, but also their daughter, Brianna, and the love of her life, Roger Mackenzie. Roger probably gets nearly as many scenes from his third-person POV as Claire does from her first-person POV, with a smattering of Jamie's and Brianna's perspectives thrown in here and there for good measure. Roger is a keen observer of human nature, and he often watches Jamie and Claire, wishing to emulate the love and deep connection they share in his own marriage. While Roger's and Brianna's romance isn't quite the grand affair that her parents' is, it's still obvious that they love one another deeply and IMHO are well-matched. Both of them have an artistic side, Roger's leans toward music, while Brianna has a talent for drawing and painting. Much like her parents, they are both highly intelligent. Bree nearly became an engineer, and Roger is a historian, like Bree's adoptive father, Frank. Having grown up in the relative safety of the twentieth century, both of them face difficulties in adjusting to life in the past. Bree is more independent and adaptable like her mother, while also being strong and stubborn like her father. She's a crack shot and has little trouble facing the realities of the past head on. Roger, however, is a bookish sort and a musician, who is much more at home singing than fighting or shooting things. He struggles with a sense of inadequacy, feeling like he can't quite measure up to the almost legendary Jamie Fraser. Throughout the story Roger grows and changes as he admirably faces life-altering challenges of his own, the type that can make or break a man. Both of them, to some degree, must also face what was done to Bree by the villainous Stephen Bonnet in the previous book. I greatly admire them both for their handling of the situation, Roger for his protectiveness of his wife and Bree for standing up for herself. I also enjoyed watching them be parents to their baby boy, Jemmy, who is a real cutie-pie. He behaves exactly like I would expect a miniature red-headed Fraser descendant to – intrepid, mischievous, and full of curiosity.
Like I said before, I just can't get enough of Jamie and Claire. Their love is the kind that I aspire to have. No matter how long they're together, they still have an easy rapport that melts my heart. It's like they're the missing piece of the other, always knowing and sensing things about one another that no one else would notice. Even though they're now middle-aged, they're still madly in love and desire each other to the depth of their being. It's nice to see Roger and Brianna at least trying to follow in her parents' footsteps, even if they have some very big shoes to fill. I truly can't wait to see what else might be in store for all of them in future books of the series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I agreed to read and review Mark Tedesco's book, I Am John, I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome, because I haveReviewed for THC Reviews I agreed to read and review Mark Tedesco's book, I Am John, I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome, because I have a certain degree of interest in the history and culture of Ancient Rome but have only had the opportunity to read a few stories set in that era. The book got off to a rather slow start for me, partly because the first few chapters didn't really draw me in very well and partly because of the writing style. We discover in the opening paragraphs that John is in prison and he's basically starting at the beginning and writing down an accounting of his life. Therefore, it's written in more of a journal or memoir style. It tends to skim over the surface of John's life, hitting all the high points, and in general, it's an interesting and adventurous journey. However, it doesn't delve too deeply into his feelings, nor does it go into great detail with regards to most events. He often skips quickly through time, jumping over days, weeks, or even months. It's written in such a way as to emulate the feel of sitting down with a friend and having him regale you with his life story. This made it very difficult for me to get into at first, because it's pretty much all telling and no showing. I primarily read fiction to escape into another world for a while, to live alongside the characters, which to some extent I was able to do with this story. However, I also like to immerse myself in their experiences, feeling what they feel and understanding how they think, and I didn't really get this kind of reading experience with this book. I will admit though, that around Chapter 4 or 5, when John and Paul strike out on their own to rescue Constantine's kidnapped daughter, things started to pick up a little. I gradually became more and more invested in the story, which is why I was able to give it four stars in the end.
After finishing the book, I did a bit of research, and discovered that this is a biographical fiction, inspired by the lives of Sts. John and Paul. There's apparently enough of a historical record to know that these two men were indeed Roman soldiers, who were eventually martyred for their Christian faith and were later granted sainthood by the Catholic church. Their remains are buried in their own home, over which the Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo was later erected. These underground areas were rediscovered in the late 19th century by the rector of the Basilica, who was searching for the tomb of the martyrs. I've seen some of the photographs of this underground area, and it's quite impressive. I can see why Mark Tedesco might have been inspired to write about it and these men.
That said though, because of the telling and not showing style of the writing, I can't say that I got a strong sense of who John and Paul were. We learn quite a bit more about John than Paul, because he is the first-person narrator of the entire book, with the exception of the last chapter. We learn that he is a loyal and skillful soldier, who is a leader of men and who follows orders even when being treated unjustly. He's also brave and physically strong. He loves his family, particularly his mother and sister, and misses them when he's stationed far away. John is also a man of faith and a spiritual seeker. He initially follows the teachings of the Roman god, Mithra, but he still feels an empty space in his life and is searching for something more. Most importantly, we also know that John shares a deep friendship with his fellow soldier, Paul. Except for three years when John was stationed in Egypt, the two men are pretty much inseparable. They do most things together and after earning the gratitude and favor of Emperor Constantine for rescuing his daughter, which included a prominent home, they also lived together. While there are a couple of very subtle remarks that could be taken as there being more between these two men than mere friendship, this part of the story is left pretty ambiguous. While I don't think it's necessarily important what the exact nature of their relationship was, it's obvious that they were at least best friends and brothers of the heart. Where I kind of had a problem though was in understanding exactly how they came to be so close. I was willing to accept that their friendship was a fact, but since the author doesn't delve into feelings and emotions, showing how that friendship came about, I simply didn't grasp the why of it.
I enjoyed the parts where John and Paul rescue Constantina, and I especially enjoyed the parts where they begin to learn of and follow the new Way of the Christus. I've always had an interest in early church history and the beginnings of Christianity, so that part drew me in more than some of the others. I also liked that the inspirational message is present, but not in any way overpowering. I can tell that Mark Tedesco's background in history served him well in writing this story too. He even includes several endnotes, which while not unheard of, are definitely unusual for a work of fiction. The fact that he piqued my curiosity sufficiently to make me want to look things up on my own says something as well. The lack of emotional engagement, however, left me feeling distant from his characters. If he had drawn out their humanity more and made me feel what they were feeling, I could easily see this book having keeper-status potential. The book is also free of anything potentially offensive. It has no bad language, no sensuality, and considering that the two main characters are soldiers, even the violence is kept at a minimum, so IMHO, it would be appropriate for most readers. Even without the emotional attachment I would have liked to see, I'm willing to recommend I Am John, I Am Paul to readers who are interested in the history of Ancient Rome or early Christianity, as long as they don't mind a more journalistic style of writing.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews A Long Way to Go is a sweet, heartwarming historical romance in the same vein as Little House on the Prairie or Janette Oke'sReviewed for THC Reviews A Long Way to Go is a sweet, heartwarming historical romance in the same vein as Little House on the Prairie or Janette Oke's pioneer stories. I think fans of these books would probably enjoy this one as well. Being a long-time fan of both, I liked it quite a bit. It is also the ultimate “road trip” story with the bulk of it taking place as the main characters journey to Oregon via wagon train. I always love these types of stories, because I never fail to be amazed at the courage and fortitude of the early pioneers who braved hardships in order to settle this great land of ours. In the author's note at the end, she mentions how she drew on actual journals and first-person accounts of pioneers who traveled the same trail as her protagonists. I wondered all throughout reading the book if this might be the case, because I felt like I was right there on the journey with them. This is an area where Ms. Belfie really excelled in her storytelling, so kudos for that.
The only thing that kept me from giving the book a higher rating was that I felt her character's motivations could have been explored a little better. In this area, the author has a tendency to skim over things rather than delving into deeper POV. I would have loved to see more narrative introspection to help me better understand what the characters were feeling and thinking, as well as a little more descriptive narration to better set some scenes. I noticed that the introspection often consists of rhetorical questions that the character asks of themselves or God (eg. Why am I feeling/acting this way?). In this respect, it would have been nice if Ms. Belfie had dug into her character's psyches to actually answer some of these questions instead of merely asking them and then leaving it up to the reader to speculate. Despite this small deficiency though, the characters were extremely likable.
Rachel is one of the main narrators of the story. She is a widow who has been struggling with taking care of her farm and raising her three children. Knowing that she needs help, her pastor brings around a nice man who is staying in the area temporarily while waiting for the wagon train to head west and is willing to work for meals and a place to sleep. She likes David and thinks he's attractive, but she's a little prickly toward him at first. It's a combination of her wariness of strangers and viewing David as being partially responsible for her sister and brother-in-law leaving her to go west. After all she'd been through with losing a husband and a son, I suppose she was entitled to feel that way, because she wouldn't have had any family left other than her three children had she stayed in Missouri. Rachel does warm up to David fairly quickly though, perhaps a little too quickly. She goes from being adamantly against going west, even after finding out her beloved sister is going, to accepting David's marriage proposal and being OK with moving seemingly overnight. She supposedly did it so her children would have a father and because she was afraid of facing another winter with no male help, but there wasn't quite enough substance to her thought processes to fully understand her quick change of heart. This is one place where deeper POV would have been really helpful. The other is that Rachel is unable to tell David she loves him until the very end of the story, even though from all appearances she cares for and respects him deeply. She goes through some kind of guilt process, feeling bad about loving David and enjoying being married to him, because she somehow feels unfaithful to her first husband. Without that all-important deep introspection, this didn't fully make sense to me, but otherwise, Rachel was a likable and admirable heroine. She weathered the grueling journey quite well and without complaint and treated David very well in spite of her guilt.
David was a wonderful hero. Right from the start, it's obvious that he's a sweet, kind-hearted man. He's a hard worker around Rachel's farm, and her kids take to him almost immediately. In spite of having lost his first wife and baby in childbirth years ago and never having experienced fatherhood, he's extremely good at it. He relates to each of Rachel's children at their own level, whether it's holding and playing with baby Helen, fishing with young Josiah, or giving advice to the teenage Lucinda. He's very protective of his new family as well, always looking out for their well-being. David is very patient with Rachel too, giving her the time and space she needs to recover from her losses and adjust to being married to him, while biding his time in hopes that someday she'll come to love him every bit as much as he already loves her. Since the majority of the book is written from the perspective of two female characters, I have to admit to missing the male POV a bit, but what we see of David through the other character's eyes paints a picture of a gentle, loving man who would be impossible not to adore.
The other primary POV character is Rachel's sixteen year old daughter, Lucinda. She gets her own budding romance with Ben, a young man she meets on the trail. Lucinda is a very well brought up young lady who seems to have a lot of self-respect. She also takes a page from her mother's book by being a hard worker and never complaining. Instead, she willing helps out by cooking, cleaning, caring for her younger siblings, or doing whatever needs to be done. Despite her youth, I had no trouble believing she would make a good wife for Ben. Ben was every bit as nice and wonderful as David, and I really enjoyed this sweet secondary romance.
Overall, A Long Way to Go was a very enjoyable read. The other secondary characters who were a part of David and Rachel's group on the wagon train added flavor and interest. Rachel's other two children, were rendered age-appropriately. Little Helen was cute, while Josiah's exuberance was contagious. I thought the story gave a nice taste of what it must have been like for the early settlers as they made their way to a new home. The author even used a few real-life personages who were key players in this westward expansion as background characters. I also liked how the faith message was a gentle, organic part of the story. All in all, A Long Way to Go was a nice, easy read that was well-written. I would definitely recommend it to fans of this type of story.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Love's Abiding Joy is another lovely addition to the Love Comes Softly series, but unlike the first three books in the series,Reviewed for THC Reviews Love's Abiding Joy is another lovely addition to the Love Comes Softly series, but unlike the first three books in the series, this one is pretty much pure inspirational, historical fiction. There's really no romance to speak of. The story is primarily a continuation of Clark and Marty's relationship as they face more trials and joys with a side helping of Willie and Missie. There are no new budding romances, and even these two married couples don't so much as share a kiss on the lips, only extremely chaste pecks on the cheek or forehead. This was a tad disappointing, because the first three books had just enough romance for me to be comfortable categorizing them as such. However, it was still a wonderful book that is every bit as good as the Little House on the Prairie series, which it resembles, and fans of frontier stories are sure to enjoy it.
In the last book of the series, Love's Long Journey, Missie and Willie headed west in a covered wagon to settle on the frontier and build a cattle ranch. They are now prospering in their new home, but Clark and Marty dearly miss their oldest daughter. With a new rail line now running through a town not far from Missie and Willie's ranch, Clark and Marty are finally able to go visit them. Although this part of the story moved a little slowly for me, I did find it interesting. Compared to modern-day travel, their week-long journey by stagecoach and train seemed downright primitive, but in many ways, Clark and Marty felt like they were traveling in luxury. Although it was still exhausting for them, I suppose when you consider the alternative of traveling overland by covered wagon it was luxurious. The accommodations in their departure city were as well, but from there on, not so much, which makes me very thankful for our modern hotels and travel conveniences.
When Clark and Marty finally arrive, they couldn't be more thrilled to finally see Missie and Willie again and be introduced to the grandchildren they've never met. After a rocky beginning, Missie has settled into her life on the frontier very nicely, and they have built a wonderful group of people around them as a support system. Missie now loves life on the ranch every bit as much as Willie always did, and their two boys are as cute as a button. Clark and Marty only plan on staying for two weeks before heading back to the family they left behind, but a tragic accident, extends their stay for much longer.
Just like the first two books of the series, a large part of this book is in Marty's perspective, but a decent chunk of it is from Clark's POV, which was a refreshing change. I've always adored Clark for his patience and gentleness, and I loved the way he teases Marty. He has always been the perfect foil for Marty's bluntness and impatience. We see a touch of that here, but it's mostly about her strength and resilience which I admire. What I've always admired more though, is Clark's quiet faith and optimism. When tragedy strikes, he does get upset to some extent, but only for a short time, and he doesn't allow himself to dwell on it too much. That's because he believes wholeheartedly that everything that happens to him, good or bad, has a purpose. He also believes everything will be OK no matter what, because God is watching out for us and wants the best for us. With that in mind, he also puts his sharp mind to work figuring out ways to overcome these new obstacles with which he is faced. The other thing I've always loved about Clark is how he quietly lives out his faith in a way that is easy for others to see but non-threatening. That's because he never tries to shove his religion down anyone's throat, but instead, is a good friend and gentle teacher to everyone, no matter where they are in their walk with God. In this way, he is able to reach many people in a positive and often life-changing way. Clark is such an easy man to fall in love with even when the book technically isn't a romance.
Overall, Love's Abiding Joy was a very pleasant and heartwarming read. I love that the faith message is a more gentle one, and not preachy, like many inspirational books nowadays. It also paints a vivid picture of life on the frontier and many of the difficulties inherent in living so far from civilization. I very much enjoyed my time reading Love's Abiding Joy. It has earned a spot on my keeper shelf next to its predecessors, and I look forward to continuing the series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Love's Long Journey was another wonderful story in the Love Comes Softly series that is so reminiscent of the Little House onReviewed for THC Reviews Love's Long Journey was another wonderful story in the Love Comes Softly series that is so reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books. The author really brought to life the stark reality of the hardships on a wagon train and how sometimes people died along the way. There was also the sheer boredom and monotony of doing the same things and eating the same things day after day. Even once Missie and Willie get settled in a temporary home on the frontier, dangers and boredom still factor in, especially during the winter months. In between the wagon trip and getting settled, Missie and Willie experienced a long, difficult separation as she stayed in the closest town, which was several days ride from their ranch, awaiting the birth of their baby, while Willie went on to get things set up for them. And of course, there was the homesickness of being separated from their families who were so far away with very little means of communication. It all makes me really thankful to live in modern times, and also thankful for those courageous souls throughout history who braved the hardships of the frontier to expand our nation.
Much the same as with her mother, Marty's book, this one is told entirely from Missie's POV. She was a brave young woman who obviously loved Willie a lot to want to help him pursue his dream of cattle ranching. Although the journey itself and living in such an isolated area was often difficult and brought disappointments, Missie rarely complained. She just set her mind to doing what needed to be done and eventually she adjusted quite well. Her attitude was admirable, but that's not to say that I always agreed with her decisions to keep certain things from her husband. I understood that she was trying to avoid adding stress on Willie by not telling him at first about being pregnant or about her severe homesickness, but as someone who shares nearly everything with my husband, I felt like she should have trusted that he could handle it. Once she finally fesses up, Missie comes to that same conclusion herself, but later in the story she still keeps a couple of things from him, including an incident where one of the ranch hands menaces her. I really felt like she should have told Willie about that and allowed him to share her burdens a little more. Even though I sometimes didn't agree with Missie, overall, she was still a very relatable heroine with all of her emotional ups and downs. Missie is a keen observer of people and seems to have an intuitive sense about how they might be feeling or what they might need, and was always ready to lend a hand, which is something that I can really identify with.
I do kind of miss having the male perspective in these books, but the reader can get a pretty good feel for Willie through Missie's eyes. He is a kindhearted man toward others, a good husband to Missie, and a loving father to Nathan. He is a hard worker, a great provider for Missie and his child, and very protective of them both, always doing what was in their best interests even if it was difficult. Willie is a bit of a dreamer with his aspirations of starting a cattle ranch, but still pretty practical, and doesn't really take chances. I think what I liked most about him is the way he comforts Missie in times of sorrow and truly wants to share her burdens, and also his quiet faith and optimism.
There are many things to love about this book. The young love that Willie and Missie share and the way they can hardly stand to be apart from one another is so sweet and tender. The faith message is not at all preachy, but instead is a gentle one of relying on God to sustain you through difficult times. There is a full compliment of secondary characters, other pioneers, ranch hands, townspeople in Tettsford Junction, and more, who all give the story the flavor of the Old West and the sense of oneness as a community. Everything just came together to make Love's Long Journey a very enjoyable read, or perhaps I should say re-read, since I'm pretty sure I first read it years ago as a teenager. In any case, it was every bit as good today as it was back then, and I'm really looking forward to continuing the series. I can tell that there is more story for Missie and Willie, and I'm eager to find out what happens next for them....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 star" In Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon has once again created another enjoyable installment in the Outlander saga. I doReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 star" In Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon has once again created another enjoyable installment in the Outlander saga. I don't think I'll ever tire of spending time with soul mates, Jamie and Claire and their collection of family and friends, although I have to admit that the romance in this book seemed more subdued than in the earlier stories. When they were originally released, the first three books of the series were marketed as romance, but Drums of Autumn seems to be something of a turning point, in that it decidedly had more of the flavor of historical fiction with a romantic element. There are implications of intimacy written in veiled terms or with the door being shut before any juicy details are revealed, but there were only two moderately descriptive love scenes that I recall, one for Jamie and Claire and one for Roger and Brianna. Having the love and romance aspect of the story toned down a bit was somewhat disappointing but by no means a deal-breaker. I just love Jamie and Claire so much, I think anything they do would be interesting to me.
There is no doubt that Drums of Autumn was intriguing and enjoyable, but the first half of the book moved at a relatively slow pace. Unlike with the first three books, it was not particularly difficult to put down. I think this is because Jamie and Claire have finally settled into a more “normal” life and are just kind of going through the motions of day-to-day living. It was also very different having them in the American Colonies. They have a number of mini-adventures, but for the most part it seemed like a series of unconnected events. Some of these things did end up being related to other events later in the book, but at first glance, it was like a whole new story was being set up for Jamie and Claire. There also was initially no main objective that the couple were working toward like there was in the first three books of the series, and although a villain does rise up for them to “battle,” I didn't find him to be quite as compelling as Jack Randall or Geillis Duncan. I know we haven't seen the last of him yet though, and perhaps he will come into his own in the next book. About halfway in, Brianna travels through the stones, followed by Roger, and at that point things began to gradually get more exciting and imbued with a greater sense of urgency, but it wasn't until about the ¾ point that things really got intense as Brianna reveals some shocking news and I really worried for Roger's safety after his inauspicious first meeting with Jamie. All of this led to a fairly climactic and satisfying ending. Although there were a few loose threads which I'm sure will be built upon in future books of the series, overall, the story had a more finite ending that the first three.
In the first three books, Jamie had some tremendously romantic and noteworthy lines. He wasn't quite as quotable in Drums of Autumn, but by no means has he forfeited his spot as my all-time favorite romantic hero. It's so sweet that even after all these years, Jamie still occasionally shows shades of innocence in his sexual relationship with Claire. I love Jamie's intelligence too. He's extremely well-read and multilingual with a true talent for picking up new languages fairly easily. He's never questioned Claire being a time traveler and her own knowledge of things that he doesn't fully understand. If anything, he shows an innate curiosity about things like baseball and a man traveling to the moon. I've always liked that Jamie treats Claire as an equal partner in their relationship, which is far more than many men of the era would have done. He also greatly respects her for her knowledge of the future and her medical expertise and supports her practicing medicine in any way he can. Jamie is a man with dignity and honor who doesn't want to appear a beggar even if he is currently penniless. It's almost inconceivable that Jamie would think he isn't a good man, but the fact that he does question his own goodness, I believe, shows great vulnerability and self-awareness on his part. He is also still greatly respected as a leader among the Scots who populate the Colonies, and it was great to see Jamie wearing the plaid again. I've always thought it so sad that fate robbed Jamie of the privilege of raising either of his biological children, but he's been a great father in every sense of the word to Fergus and young Ian, treating them like his own blood sons. It was great to finally get to see him interacting with Brianna. Even though he isn't quite certain what place he has in her life, he loves her to a fault and would do anything to protect his “little girl.” Too bad he ended up beating up the wrong guy to do it. Although Jamie and Bree can both be stubborn and end up hurting each other more than once, they had an equal number of tender father/daughter moments. I also loved the scenes with Jamie and William. Unlike Brianna who is grown, Willie is still a boy, and I like that Jamie has at least had a few stolen moments with him. Jamie truly is a wonderful father and his family is only expanding.
Claire is a wonderful life partner for Jamie. I think she understands him in a way that no one else fully can. Their soul deep love for one another shines through to Brianna so that she sees the difference between loving someone because you feel you must and loving someone because you simply can't stop. I think that Claire still struggles a bit with guilt over her failed relationship with Frank, but has no regrets about loving Jamie. I love how Claire stands by Jamie and doesn't try to push him into one decision or another, but instead just says she'll follow him anywhere. As a doctor, Claire cares very deeply for her patients, and even if they are a hopeless case and can't be saved, she still grieves for their loss. Throughout the story, she has to make many difficult decisions as a medical practitioner, but I believe that she always did the right thing. When John shows up, old jealousies flare up for Claire, but it was nice to see that she recognized where those feelings were coming from and that John posed no true threat her happiness with Jamie. Still Claire and John definitely have a strained relationship at first. Although each of them sees the good in the other, it doesn't stop them from feeling those pangs of jealousy. I loved the scenes where they were forced to spend some time alone together, because it helped them to grow as individuals and build a mutual sense of respect and admiration for one another that I'm sure will continue on throughout the series.
Drums of Autumn was not just about Jamie and Claire this time though. It was almost equally about their daughter, Brianna, and her growing love for Roger Wakefield Mackenzie, the young Scottish historian who had helped Claire locate Jamie in the past. I really enjoyed this burgeoning love story, but they sure don't have an easy time of it. Brianna doesn't initially trust in their love, because of feeling like her parent's (Claire's and Frank's) marriage was a lie. Roger patiently waits for her, but by the time she finally does come to terms with it, she has decided to go back through the stones. Of course, his love for her makes him follow. I thought it was sweet how they married themselves in a traditional Scottish hand-fasting ceremony. Their first love scene was full of tenderness and realistic awkwardness but an undeniable passion. I was saddened to see them fighting so soon after, but understood each of their positions. Unfortunately though, it led to a great deal of heartache and a terrible misunderstanding which caused them to be separated for a very long time. When they finally do come back together, they've both changed so much, it was like they had to get to know each other all over again.
Brianna is a very intelligent young woman. Much like her mother, she went against the grain by studying to be an engineer which was still primarily a male profession even in her own time. I would have loved to see her use her skills in that area more once she's in the past. When the story opens, Brianna is still very conflicted about her parentage. She loves Frank and still views him as her "real" father, but she can't help being curious about Jamie even though she hasn't entirely warmed up to the idea that he is her father too. She worries a great deal about becoming like her mother who loved Frank in her own way, but whose real passion lay with Jamie. Brianna definitely inherited her mother's frankness and her father's stubbornness. When Bree travels back through the stones, I loved how she put her fiery temper to good use, standing up to Loaghaire just minutes after meeting her. I also enjoyed seeing Brianna learn about her father through the eyes of Ian, Jenny and their family. Even before she met him, I think she was finally starting to admire Jamie and believe that her mother's assessment of his character was true. Much like Claire, Brianna is a very strong young woman who gets along pretty well on her own two centuries in the past. It was funny how she insisted on wearing men's clothing at first and scandalized nearly everyone she met because of it. Even Roger, who'd seen her in much less in their own time, became jealously possessive of her when he saw her dressed like that. Brianna finally meeting Jamie and reuniting with Claire seemed a little rushed and anti-climactic. I guess I was expecting a bit more form this moment, especially the meeting with Jamie. If I were them, I would have been shocked to see her and had all sorts of questions about why she had come back in time, but they just seemed to mostly take it in stride. I did like how Brianna blended in with them almost like she had always been a part of them. Not long after she arrives though, Bree drops a bomb on her mother that I honestly didn't see coming, and the stress of those events plus Roger going missing puts her on an emotional roller-coaster, during which time she doesn't always act entirely rationally. In an eventual fit of desperation, she proposes to John which was actually rather funny. I like how she and John became fast friends and he supported her through a difficult time when she really had no one else to lean on.
Roger can be very sweet at times, but when Brianna tries his patience, he sometimes looses it a little. Roger is very protective of Bree and in many ways is a lot like Jamie, so it's not too surprising that they ended up butting heads more than once. At first I thought it rather interesting that Brianna would fall for a man who is so much like her father even though she had never met Jamie, but the more I got to know Roger, the more I realized that he is kind of a cross between Jamie and Frank. I love that Roger respected Brianna enough to want to marry her before making love to her, and even though she was willing to have sex with him, he always made it crystal clear that he wanted far more than that from her. I thought Roger following Bree through the stones proved his love for her, but even still, the poor man got put through the ringer to continue proving himself before they could finally find some peace and happiness.
Lord John has a very significant role in this book that advanced his character development. He is a man who is every bit as honorable as Jamie. Since Jamie can't be there to raise his son, it's something of a comfort to know that a good man like John is there in his stead. From what I can tell so far, John has done a great job of fathering Willie. Jamie and John have a very interesting and remarkably close relationship. They both seem to treasure their friendship deeply even though there have always been other feelings bubbling beneath the surface for John. It's even more unusual that Jamie is able to accept John knowing how he feels about him. However, I believe it is John's love for Jamie that makes him incredibly loyal not only to Jamie, but his family too. I love what he did for Brianna when she proposed to him and his frank discussion with her after that event was utterly refreshing. She definitely chose the right man to approach, because John is every bit as protective of anyone Jamie loves as Jamie would be himself.
As with the other books in the series, Drums of Autumn is populated with a plethora of secondary characters, some old and some new. I'd say that the two most significant ones were Jamie's aunt, Jocasta and his nephew, Ian. Jocasta is the aging matron of a North Carolina plantation who has been widowed multiple times. For being an older woman and blind at that, she was very strong and determined and gets on quite well on her own with the help of her servants. She definitely has a head for business and could run the plantation by herself, if it weren't for the fact that no one would do business with a woman. Even though Jocasta could be rather meddlesome at times, I think her heart was in the right place and I admired her for that. In spite of all he's been through, when the story opens, Ian is really still just a boy, but by the time it ends, even though he's still only seventeen, he has definitely become a man. While gambling, Ian wins a scruffy wolf/dog who becomes his best friend and constant companion. He is a great help to Claire and Jamie as they build their own homestead in the mountains. When John arrives with young Willie, the lad and Ian get into some hilarious mischief right away. Ian makes friends with a group of Indians, learns their language, and often goes hunting with them. In hindsight, it's almost like everything he does throughout the whole book is preparing him for his penultimate moment. Where things end for Ian was rather bittersweet, but he seems to have openly accepted his fate. He is a strong young man who I believe is up to the task before him.
I may have had a few minor complaints about Drums of Autumn, but overall, it was still an excellent book. Jamie and Claire have essentially become pioneers, carving out a new life for themselves in the North Carolina wilderness and making new friends and acquaintances along the way. As with the other books in the series, the hardships of the era are vividly painted, but Jamie and Claire's love for one another sustains them, much like I think Roger and Brianna's will in the future. Jamie and Claire's soul-deep bond is one that certainly breaks the barrier of time and space. Just like they will always love each other, I think I will always love reading about them, no matter what they might be doing....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews More than two years after its original release, The Help is still an incredibly popular book. I'm not usually quick to jump onReviewed for THC Reviews More than two years after its original release, The Help is still an incredibly popular book. I'm not usually quick to jump on the bandwagon of the hot book of the moment, and I might not have even read The Help except that it was chosen as a book club read for the GoodReads Readers Against Prejudice and Racism group to which I belong. I'm so glad that it was, because it encouraged me to pick it up. Now that I've read it, I can say unequivocally that it lived up to the hype and is one of the best books that I've ever read. The Help is a very empowering story for women, for minorities, for anyone who has ever felt looked down upon for not being “good enough.” It also carries a strong message about standing up for what you believe in no matter the cost, and pursuing your dreams even when they may seem out of reach. The Help is quite simply a beautiful book that I know will linger in my memory for a long time to come.
Having been raised in the mid-west and now living in the west, I have to say that Southern culture, especially in the historical context, is something of a curiosity to me. I would expect the rich to have maids, but it's interesting that even middle class white families in the South employed black maids. In The Help, the dynamic between these black maids and their white ladies is a richly complex, multi-layered dichotomy of love and hate. Some white ladies, like Hilly, were so blinded to their own faults and prejudices that they never change. It angered me when Hilly started pushing her agenda of segregated bathrooms for the household help by acting like the blacks were ridden with diseases, because it was nothing short of ignorance and fear talking. Other white ladies loved their maids like a mother, sister, or best friend, and even if they couldn't overtly admit it due to the deeply seated racism in the South, they showed it through their loyalty. Some of the black maids understandably could hardly stand the white ladies they worked for, and even if they were treated fairly, had often been taught not to get personally involved with them. Still, many of these maids also developed a deep affection for their employers or at the very least their children. These beautiful, heartfelt relationships brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion while reading this book, and yet so could all the horrific, heartbreaking things that were happening in the black community because of hate.
Skeeter is a young woman who I could relate to. She thinks of herself as unattractive, because she's taller than most girls, rather plain and has frizzy hair that won't behave, but inside she is full of passion and spirit. Skeeter is very intelligent to the point that I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Society has told her what she can and can't think, and be, as a woman. She feels like she doesn't have much of a choice in the matter, and yet she longs to break free from that mold to do something bold. Skeeter's family's old maid, Constantine, taught her some very valuable lessons about believing in herself that I think in part, fueled her dreams of becoming a writer. She's searching for that elusive, original idea, and when it comes to her, she tenaciously keeps trying even though it doesn't seem like it's going to work out. In spite of being white, she also faces some potential danger and must work on her project in secret. While she covertly writes what is on her heart, Skeeter experiences her first love. Even though her love interest, Stuart, realized that she wasn't like other women, I don't think he ever fully appreciated the precious jewel he had in his grasp.
Aibileen is a maid to one of Skeeter's best friends, Elizabeth, and she is the first to agree to help Skeeter with her book. Aibileen is a woman who has known hardship and heartbreak, but with the help of her best friend, Minny, she was able to overcome and keep going with life. She is a wonderful, inspiring woman who I'd be proud to have as a mother. In fact, she was more of a mother to many of the seventeen white babies she raised than their own mothers were. That includes Elizabeth's daughter, Mae Mobley, who Elizabeth largely ignores. It just warmed my heart how Aibileen encouraged Mae Mobley by telling her she was good, and smart, and important when her mother scolded and tore her down. I also loved the “secret stories” they shared. Aibileen was a very brave woman to not only take part in Skeeter's book but recruit others to help too. She was there every step of the way and became a true friend to Skeeter when her other “friends” abandoned her.
Minny is a lady with a hard exterior who can sometime seem abrasive. With five kids and an abusive husband, she has a lot on her plate, but she works hard to take care of her family. Minny has a bit of a temper and a smart mouth that has gotten her in trouble with her employers more then once. Minny was a character who frequently cracked me up. Through a large part of the book, she kept a big smile on my face, because I found her honesty quite refreshing. She certainly doesn't mince words. When she starts working for Celia, it's a whole new experience for her. Minny calls her “crazy lady,” and says she doesn't care about her, but her actions speak louder than words. It was funny how she played along, keeping Celia's secret about hiring her, and later it was very touching when she sat with her through a tragedy and kept an even bigger secret. I actually liked Celia and wish that her reasons for keeping so many secrets from a husband who obviously adored her were clearer. I think she just had a case of really low self-esteem, and was desperately in need of a friend, and ultimately, Minny became that friend even though she tried to act like she wasn't.
Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are three characters who I will not soon forget. Throughout the course of the story, they all, in their own way and time, came to the realization that they could take control of their lives and follow their dreams to a better place. These women have three very different personalities and yet I had no trouble relating to each one in turn as the author alternates between their first-person perspectives. These three ladies touched my heart in a very profound way, to the point that it's almost like they actually exist somewhere. Kathryn Stockett has an amazing talent for drawing me into the story and making me really care about each one of them. I truly became invested in what became of them and what life had in store for them. It was rather ingenious how the author sometimes ended a section with a mini-cliffhanger. It really kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next. The sense of fear surrounding Skeeter's project was palpable, as was the the general danger for blacks in the South during the peak of the civil rights era. The author's mention of several real-life events added to the sense of place and time to help make the story come to life.
The Help was an amazing book that I can't say enough good things about. In a sea of sameness, this books is a gem of originality. I'm astounded that this is Kathryn Stockett's first and only novel to date. I have no idea what she might have planned for the future, but I know for now, it will be hard saying goodbye to Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. If Ms. Stockett writes anything else for these ladies, or anything else at all, I'll be there to buy it, but in the meantime, it will be difficult to move on to another book after such a wonderful read. The Help is definitely a book that I would recommend to everyone, especially women, and it is a book that without a doubt will be going on my keeper shelf....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Christmas with Tucker is billed on the cover as a prequel to A Dog Named Christmas. While most of the events of thReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Christmas with Tucker is billed on the cover as a prequel to A Dog Named Christmas. While most of the events of the book take place long before A Dog Named Christmas, I still consider it to be the second in this untitled series. It begins with George McCray, the father and narrator of A Dog Named Christmas, reminiscing about Christmas 1962 which was a year that changed his life as a young boy. George is again the first-person narrator of this feel-good story about the importance of family, a boy's coming of age, and a boy's love for his dog. It is an inspiring tale about never giving up because you simply don't know what life might have in store for you.
At thirteen, young George finds himself at a crossroads in life. He's at that awkward stage between boyhood and manhood which is confusing enough as it is, but George has the added stress of dealing with the death of his father less than six months earlier. When his dad was killed in a farming accident, all the rules that George thought governed his life were broken, and now he feels helplessly adrift. George is also conflicted about leaving his grandparent's dairy farm, the only home he's ever known and one that he loves, to move with his mom to Minnesota to be near her family after the holidays. In addition to all this, George becomes quite attached to their neighbor's dog whom his grandfather brings home to care for temporarily when their neighbor gets into some trouble. George does a lot of growing up in the couple of months over that Christmas holiday. When a huge snowstorm hit, George really stepped up to the plate, working shifts to help his grandfather run the road maintainer (basically a snow plow), as well as taking on extra chores around the farm. When the power goes out he has to chop holes in the ice on the pond, so the cows can drink and milk them by hand too. It was definitely a man's job, but George really showed himself to be responsible. He was a very strong and smart kid. He so desperately wanted Tucker to be his dog and didn't think his neighbor Frank Thorne was a good dog owner, so he was quite tempted to take Frank up on an offer that would not have been good for Frank. Although George started out making the wrong choice in this situation, he took the time to think things over and in the end, made the right one. That wasn't the only time he had to make a mature decision, but each time, he did it with some careful thought which I found very admirable even though it was still from a kid's perspective.
Christmas with Tucker has a varied supporting cast, the most important of whom are George's grandparents, Bo and Cora. I remember George being a good father in A Dog Named Christmas, and he obviously learned from the best. His grandparents are very wise and loving, allowing George to learn from his own mistakes and guiding him with a gentle hand. At first glance, Frank Thorne doesn't seem like a very nice person, and at the beginning, he probably wasn't. As George learns and grows he begins to see a different side of Frank that he didn't initially. I really love the close-knit feel of this rural community and how they all pull together to help each other out when the big winter storm hits. They are completely reliant on the maintainer, because it's the only vehicle that can get through the snowed in roads. It was wonderful how they all happily shared whatever extras they might have with others until the roads could be cleared, and then when the ice storm hits not long before Christmas even the maintainer can't get through. In the end, it was George's persistence and his grandfather's ingenuity combined with the community's spirit that helped to “save” Christmas.
In Christmas with Tucker, Greg Kincaid has created yet another heartwarming Christmas story that was a good follow-up to A Dog Named Christmas as well as a great way to wrap up my holiday season's reading. The only reason I didn't give it the full five stars is that the first half or so of the book was a little slow for me. After the storms hit, things began to pick up a little and there were some exciting things happening to hold my attention better. Greg Kincaid is an author who is really in tune with animal natures. The prologue of the story written from Tucker's perspective was ingenious. Mr. Kincaid is also great with creating satisfying stories that are uplifting and poignant. I can see these two volumes becoming comfort reads at Christmastime or anytime. There is absolutely no objectionable content either, so Christmas with Tucker would be a great book to share with the family as a Christmas reading tradition....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I'm pretty certain I read Love's Enduring Promise years ago in my teens, but prior to picking it up again, I couldReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I'm pretty certain I read Love's Enduring Promise years ago in my teens, but prior to picking it up again, I couldn't really remember a thing about the story. As a consequence and knowing that this was a continuation of Clark and Marty's relationship, I was kind of expecting an epic love story which isn't quite what this novel is all about. The book opens about two years after the ending of Love Comes Softly. It is still primarily about Clark, Marty, and their growing family, but more like a series of snapshots of their lives together over a span of approximately twelve years. It is also about how the community in which they live and the people within it grow and change as time goes by as well. I didn't find this one to be quite as romantic as the first book of the Love Comes Softly series, probably because it doesn't focus in on the building of one couple's relationship, but I suppose there was enough romance present in the multiple courtships and marriages among secondary characters and the next generation of the Davis family to loosely characterize the story as a historical romance.
Once again, I loved reading about life on the frontier, the sense of warmth and love that comes from family, friends, and community, and how they all share in the joy and sorrow, laughter and tears that life can bring. Most of the story is still told from Marty's point-of-view, but occasionally snippets of other character's perspectives pop up. Then Missie takes over some of the bits near the end, probably as something of a transition to the next book, Love's Long Journey, which will be her story. There are numerous mini sub-plots that highlight all the changes in the community. As more people come to the area, the residents welcome a new teacher, new preachers, and new neighbors. I particularly liked the part about the new preachers, because it highlighted a spiritual position with which I agree, that true spiritual sustenance doesn't come from big words or fancy sermons, but from an ability to sense an earthy oneness with God on a much simpler level. The people also say good-bye as some of their fellow residents move on and others pass on. I was very taken with a sweet side story about a young couple's much longed-for child not being exactly what they were expecting, but he ended up being a remarkable boy who was their pride and joy. There was also one of the many romances that ended in heartbreak, which also tore my heart open a little too, not just because of what the couple experienced but because of other issues which I'll address in a moment. Overall, every little piece of the narrative came together to make me feel like I was a part of this little frontier neighborhood.
I would have to say that Marty is still the main character in this book. She strikes me as a no-nonsense kind of woman who works hard, and would do just about anything for anyone. She can be pretty stubborn and independent at times. She can also be fairly exuberant in her faith, and is eager to share it with others, but I wouldn't characterize it as being particularly overbearing or preachy. Underlying everything is a loving woman who is a great wife and mother. I was rather disappointed that Clark didn't play as much of a role in this book, but what we get to see of him through his interactions with Marty and their family, I could tell that he is the same kind, gentle man with a heart of gold. He is a loving, attentive and protective husband and father, always thinking of others before himself. Clark is just an all-around great guy. Clark and Marty's family grows by leaps and bounds until their little frontier home is just about bursting at the seams, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about their interactions with each of the children and watching some of them grow up and move on to lives of their own.
Overall, Love's Enduring Promise was a gentle book that was a joy to read, but there was one little part involving the secondary romance I mentioned earlier which left me rather troubled. It involved a white young man (a character I had come to care about a great deal) and an Indian girl (who was very sweet in her own right), which raised the issues of racism and prejudice. The couple was obviously very deeply in love and wanted nothing more than to be married, but not a single person in the story supported that desire (except for one short line from his sister who was immediately chastised by their mother for being naïve and having her vision clouded by her own upcoming nuptials). Marty came the closest by agreeing to meet the girl and talk to the boy's mother, but even she wasn't entirely on board with the relationship. What bothered me the most though was when the boy's mother essentially stated that it wasn't God's will for people of different races to be married and have mixed-race babies. I realize that prejudice of this nature was quite common back then, and that no matter what happened the couple would have faced a difficult road. However, they certainly wouldn't have been the first white/Indian pairing of the era, and since the only way to combat prejudice is for someone to stand up and say it's wrong, I couldn't help wondering if things might not have been different for them if well-respected members of the community like the Grahams and Davises had taken that stand instead of being wishy-washy about it. After all, they are supposed to be good Christian people and to me, that seems like the Christian thing to do. Admittedly, the girl's Indian grandfather wasn't any better, but since he had lost many family members in white attacks, I felt like he at least had a good reason for hating them. The main point I'm trying to make with my mini-rant, is that I felt the author opened a can of worms that ultimately went nowhere and then copped out on a very sensitive issue. However, I'm willing to admit that perhaps, I'm applying too much of my modern sensibilities to a historical fiction story that was written over thirty years ago. This was the one and only thing that kept me from giving this book the full five stars. Thankfully, it was a very small part of the overall narrative and otherwise, Love's Enduring Promise was an enjoyable, feel-good story that left me with warm fuzzies all over, and very much looking forward to revisiting Missie's book soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I first read Love Comes Softly when I was only about 15 or 16 years old, and if memory serves, it was my very first romance noReviewed for THC Reviews I first read Love Comes Softly when I was only about 15 or 16 years old, and if memory serves, it was my very first romance novel. It seems I must have picked well, because not only is it an appropriate story for younger readers content-wise, but it has stood up to the test of time. I still enjoyed it every bit as much today as I did 25 years ago, perhaps even more because I'm seeing it through more mature eyes. Love Comes Softly is something of a Little House on the Prairie story aimed at a slightly older audience. Janette Oke captures that same spirit of the pioneers, depicting their day-to-day lives in a way that made me feel like I was there with them. It amazes me how hard-working and courageous these people were. Ms. Oke paints a picture of joys and sorrow, hardships and laughter against the backdrop of the frontier where close-knit communities of people existed who were willing to help each other in any way they could. She also really brings home the harsh reality for people in that time period, especially women, and how few choices they had. Marty would have been in unbelievably dire straits, and could possibly have even died, if Clark, a stranger to her, hadn't proposed a marriage of convenience. Under the circumstances, it couldn't have been an easy thing for him to do either, but he needed her almost as much as she needed him, even though she didn't want to admit it.
The vast majority (probably more than 95%) of the story is told from Marty's third-person point of view. Marty was a great female lead, but she was also a character who had to slowly grow on me. The author did a wonderful job of palpably expressing Marty's grief over the loss of her first husband. Then Clark came along immediately after her husband's funeral with his proposal. After some thought, Marty, being a practical woman, realized that she really had no other choice, but it didn't stop her from stubbornly resenting Clark for it. Although Marty never gave voice to her angry thoughts in Clark's presence, the reader is certainly privy to them. There were times when I felt like she was being ungrateful for this man taking her in and treating her with kindness and respect, and that she was rather selfish in not even considering the fact that he too might still be grieving the loss of his wife. In her defense though, I carefully considered what it would be like to be in her shoes, and decided that she was for the most part simply having a fairly normal human reaction to being placed in such an untenable position. During these times, I wish that a little more background information had been given about Marty so that I could better understand her reluctance to be beholden to a man, her being suspicious about Clark's kindness, and her inability to perform some of the simplest household tasks. I did admire her determination to uphold her end of the bargain (one way in which her stubbornness served her well), her willingness to learn, and that she always tried her best even when it didn't turn out right. Marty's initial ineptness at cooking and doing household chores could be pretty funny at times. As I continued to read, I realized that the story was really all about Marty's journey back to wholeness and being able to open her heart to love again, and I really enjoyed watching her learn, and change, and most of all grow as a person.
There is a part of me that wishes we could have had a little more insight from Clark's point of view. There were only a handful of times in the entire book where we get to see things from his perspective, and they only last for a couple of paragraphs. However, I think that the author meant for the reader to experience Clark through his actions, and the message that actions speak louder than words came across very clearly through his character. Clark was an incredibly kind and gentle man. He only asked for a mutually beneficial marriage in name only, and even offered Marty an out if she chose to take it. He gave her the space she needed to grieve the loss of her husband. He was never mean or demanding like she expected, but instead treated her with respect and patience when she burned dinner or made a mess of her attempts at cleaning. He even ate pancakes every meal for several days without complaint, and helped with some of the cooking and other chores until Marty got her feet under her. Clark was always caring, thoughtful and understanding, especially after he found out that Marty was expecting. He was an amazing father to Missie, and later, to Marty's child as well. Even Marty realized that Clark always did what was right and best for others, even if it hurt him to do it. I think that the best thing about Clark though was how he quietly “lived” his faith in God through example. He never, ever used it to beat Marty over the head. He just accepted her as she was. It would have been impossible not to love a romantic hero like Clark, and slowly but surely his love (as well as God's love) stole into Marty's heart softly and unexpectedly.
There were a couple of other elements in Love Comes Softly that really drew me in. First was the marriage of convenience which I haven't really read much of in romance before, and I guess had never really thought much about either. After reading this book, I am quite curious to try more romances with this theme. The other was simply the underlying Christian message of the story which I found to be utterly inspiring. I've been very reluctant to read inspirational romances lately because of the preachiness I often find in them, but Love Comes Softly was a truly uplifting novel that brought me back to some simple spiritual truths that had somehow gotten lost in the busy hustle and bustle of everyday life. For that reason alone, I am so grateful that I decided to re-read this book. In fact, the one and only small problem I had with the story was the author's use of backwoodsy vernacular that seemed a little extreme even for the frontier. In my opinion, it made the characters seem somewhat unintelligent which they clearly weren't. Overall though, it was a minor issue, and otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the book. Love Comes Softly is the first volume in the series of the same name. I can't recall how many of the books I read as a teen, but since the latter three were published several years later, I know that I never made it past #5. This all makes me very eager to revisit/discover the rest of the series soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews In My Enemy, My Beloved, author Karl Vanghen has created a story of hope, determination, and the wonder of a first love to lasReviewed for THC Reviews In My Enemy, My Beloved, author Karl Vanghen has created a story of hope, determination, and the wonder of a first love to last a lifetime against the authentic historical backdrop of World War II. It appears that Mr. Vanghen has definitely done his research well, vividly rendering the struggle for survival amidst war, the day-to-day life in the German POW camps on American soil, as well as a rural Midwestern farm, and the continuing hardships and horrors that faced those returning to post-war Germany. The historical details were absolutely fascinating, and I feel like I learned a lot from the book. I haven't read many historical novels set in this era. The few I have picked up have thoroughly enthralled me, and My Enemy, My Beloved was no different. With the plot revolving around two teenagers from opposite sides of the conflict falling in love, the story was all the more appealing for a romantic like myself. Whether it was the bombed out buildings of Germany or the verdant fields of Minnesota, the author also did an excellent job of bringing the settings to life. These parts definitely showed his artistic eye as a painter, except in this case, he was painting word pictures on the canvas of my mind. I never had the least bit of trouble picking the book up again each time I had to set it down, because Mr. Vanghen drew me into the story and made me love the characters in such a way that I was emotionally invested and couldn't help wondering what would happen next.
Henrik was a wonderful young man who was wise beyond his years. He was a civilian who had basically been swept up by the Nazis, handed a gun and ordered to fight, but ended up being captured as a prisoner of war. Deep down though he was something of a conscientious objector who was never a true follower of Hitler, nor did he believe in the Nazi agenda or ever want to be a soldier in the first place. He understood and accepted the reality of what was happening in the war effort (basically that Germany was loosing) far better than many of his fellow POWs. I really respected Henrik for standing up to the SS officer who bullied him in the camps for his beliefs, even though it nearly got him killed. I held him in even higher regard for asserting his convictions in a gentle, non-violent way. When Henrik finally arrived in New Ulm and started helping on the Sommers' family farm, he proved himself to be a reliable and hard worker. He was very respectful of the entire family and grateful for the opportunities they offered him. Best of all he was a perfect gentleman toward Elsa and treated her like a precious jewel. Henrik was also very accepting of the way things had to be, and full of grit and determination to survive and find his way back to her. He was just an all-around great guy, and it was easy to see why Elsa fell for him and nearly everyone else liked him too.
Elsa was also a very mature young lady for her seventeen years who had quite a bit of spunk. I liked that she had strong morals which she stuck by, and I thought that she really showed a lot of self-respect. She was a romantic at heart who dreamed of love, marriage and family and wondered whether she'd ever find the perfect man for her. She tested the waters a bit with a couple of the local boys, but was strong enough to never allow them to take advantage of her. I thought she was very astute to see through their facade, and realize that she was only feeling infatuation and they weren't good husband material. Elsa was very respectful toward her family and a responsible girl who always did her chores when asked. She was quite accepting of the POWs right from the start. She had an innate sense of curiosity about them, but also had enough common sense to be cautious around them. Elsa was completely star-struck by Henrik from the first time she laid eyes on him. Elsa was certainly heartbroken when her father sent Henrik back to the camp, but I liked that she didn't throw a fit. She simply set herself in a determined line to do whatever was necessary to help him find his way back to her and never wavered from her objective. Elsa, just like Henrik, was a very likable character who embodied some of the good old-fashioned values that I love to read about but don't often find in real-life these days.
The book begins when World War II is slowly drawing to a close. The chapters alternate between Henrik and Elsa's point of view as we learn who they are, what they're like, how they got to their respective places in life, and what their dreams for the future are. As a couple they only spend approximately 100 pages together out of a 350+ page book. Some of the emotions they felt were more palpable such as their first meeting and their first kiss, but I thought the in-between parts were a little too passive to fully convey their obviously strong burgeoning feelings for one another. At these times, I think there was perhaps a little too much telling and not enough showing. Once they were separated, the depth of their love became apparent both in Elsa's immediate actions and their resolution to be together again someday no matter how long it took. Their love became the one thing that kept Henrik alive through some of his darkest hours, and I really enjoyed the love letters they exchanged while apart.
My Enemy, My Beloved has some wonderful secondary characters. Of particular note is Elsa's family. I loved their closeness and how she was able talk to her parents about most things. They were strict but commanded respect through their kindness and understanding, not harsh discipline methods, and they were always ready with sound advice. There were many friends for both Henrik and Elsa as well. Elsa's best friend, Erica, was a fixture throughout the story, but the more fluid nature of Henrik's life meant friends made, but then lost, as his circumstances changed. Once in a while some of the characters seemed a bit contradictory. In those moments, I think a little more introspection or expository narration might have helped to better understand their meanings and motives, but overall, I found all the characters very interesting with all of them adding to the story in some way.
Other than the couple of small issues I've mentioned so far, the only thing that prevented me from awarding a higher rating to the book was that the editing was extremely rough around the edges. The narrative could have been tightened up quite a bit through the elimination of a number of repetitive phrases and passages. I also found numerous continuity errors including character's names and ages changing, and inconsistent dating in the chapter headings near the end of the book, among other things. There were also probably hundreds of typos. I'm used to having some mistakes in every book I read, but when there are this many it does tend to be a distraction that can sometimes momentarily pull me out of the story while I figure out the real meaning. The other odd thing about the book is that it has no page numbers. This might seem like a very small thing, but for someone like myself who carefully tracks reading progress, this little detail was sorely missed. If the manuscript had been cleaned up better before publication, I would have had no qualms about giving the book keeper status, because otherwise, I found My Enemy, My Beloved to be a gem of a story that was engaging, intriguing, inspiring and an overall enjoyable read. If Karl Vanghen writes another novel, I would be very interested in checking it out.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author via the publicist, Bostick Communications, in exchange for my review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Outlandish Companion is an indispensable reference guide to all things Outlander. This book covers the first fReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Outlandish Companion is an indispensable reference guide to all things Outlander. This book covers the first four volumes of the Outlander series, but Diana Gabaldon is reportedly working on a second volume which will detail the books that have been written since this one was published. Being a hard-core fan, I read it from beginning to end, and for the most part found it to be very enjoyable. As with most books of this nature though, some sections were very interesting, helpful, and/or inspiring, while others didn't quite catch my fancy, but thankfully those were few and far between. Reading the book straight through like I did made the repetitions from one section to the next stand out more, but in all fairness, I think the author was simply trying to be thorough in her explanations for those readers who might pick and choose individual sections to peruse based on their interests. Overall though, this was an informative book that IMHO is a must-have for any true Outlander fan.
Below is a section-by-section overview along with my thoughts on each one:
*The prologue lays out the complete story of how Outlander came to be, from the moment Diana Gabaldon came up with the idea of writing a book all the way through to its publication. I'd read most of the pertinent bits of this story before, but it was nice to have it laid out linearly and in detail.
*Part One – Synopses – This includes thoroughly detailed synopses for Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn. Reading these would be a great way to reorient yourself to the series before starting a new book or watching the TV show if it's been a while since you last read them. This is great, especially if you don't have time for a full re-read, which is admittedly a daunting prospect with these lengthy tomes.:-)
*Part Two – Characters – This section begins with Ms. Gabaldon's explanation of how she develops and names her characters, as well as some info on her inclusion of real-life personages as characters. This was fascinating from a reader's standpoint because I enjoyed finding out how these characters I've come to love so much were created. It was also intriguing from a writer's standpoint, because she gives some insights into the craft of character building.
This is followed by a complete cast of characters (from the first four books) in glossary format, which is a great quick reference for finding out more about characters you may have forgotten and how they relate to other characters and plot.
Next is a brief primer on astrology and how astrological readings are done. Never having followed astrology much, I have to admit that this part went way beyond my understanding. The actual horoscope readings for Jamie and Claire that were cast by an experienced astrologist were somewhat interesting in that they seemed surprisingly spot on in describing their personalities, especially Jamie's.
Finally, the author gives a detailed account of how she came to give Claire a medical background and all the various decisions she had to make and challenges she faced in doing so.
*Part Three – Family Trees – This section offers detailed genealogical information for the Beauchamps, Randalls, Frasers, and MacKenzies. I have to admit that the narrative genealogy was rather dry, reminding me of all the begets and begats from the Old Testament of the Bible. However, I did enjoy perusing the family tree charts and found them helpful in understanding how the characters are related.
Following this, is a special genealogical note on Roger Wakefield. I was shocked to discover that quite a number of readers mistakenly believe that Roger is the son of Geillis Duncan and Dougal MacKenzie. Like the author, I found that one to be a head-scratcher as to where this notion came from, and that so many readers would be confused by that. This certainly was never an issue for me, but for anyone who was under this mistaken impression, Ms. Gabaldon lays it to rest with a detailed explanation of Roger's background.
*Part Four – Comprehensive Glossary and Pronunciation Guide – Ever wondered how to pronounce those pesky Gaelic words and phrases? I always just muddled through, knowing that I was probably mangling them badly, since Gaelic isn't a phonetic language. Well, this section is exactly what it sounds like from the title, a complete guide to the meanings and pronunciations of all the foreign terms used in the first four Outlander novels, and it's not just the Gaelic words. It also includes Scots dialect, older English terms that might be unfamiliar to readers, Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin. The section also begins with a brief primer on Gaelic grammar. I'm sure this will be an indispensable reference when re-reading the books. My only small complaint with this section is that the words/phrases are not arranged alphabetically, which seems like it would offer the greatest ease in locating them. I believe they're arranged in order of their appearance in the books. This might be OK if you're keeping the glossary open while reading the books and referencing it every time a foreign term pops up, but if you're wanting to look up a specific word or phrase, this doesn't seem to be the friendliest way to find it.
*Part Five – Outlandish Web Sites and Online Venues –I'm sorry to say that this section is almost entirely outdated, which is the unfortunate nature of printed materials regarding the World Wide Web. The only two sites that appear to still be operational (or at least that I could still find) were Ms. Gabaldon's own site (which of course has a new URL with her own name as the domain), and the Ladies of Lallybroch. However, their site could use a major design overhaul to bring it into the 21st century. On a side note, I very much enjoyed the author's story of meeting the Ladies of Lallybroch in Canada along with the 'Scottish' stripper they'd hired.;-)
*Part Six – Research – This section begins with an overview on researching historical fiction. As a writer, I find the prospect of doing research rather daunting, and consequently, it's my least favorite part of the writing process. Therefore, I really enjoyed reading this part of the book, because Ms. Gabaldon gave me a new perspective on it by showing me that it doesn't have to be so scary.:-)
Next is an explanation of the author's research into herbal medicine. I found it particularly amusing how the UK publisher actually included a disclaimer in their edition of Outlander, which basically said, “Don't try this at home.”
Lastly is a complete thread from the Compuserve Writer's Forum where the author was asking for feedback regarding her use of penicillin in an excerpt from The Fiery Cross. IMO, it was very much indicative of a typical online discussion i.e. the author is looking for specific information on penicillin and whether the scene she wrote rang true from a medical perspective, but in addition to getting the information she wants, she ends up receiving responses that focus on other details, which in some cases are helpful and in others, not so much.
*Part Seven – Where Titles Come From – I loved learning about how Ms. Gabaldon came up with the titles for her books. Based on what I know of the publishing industry, it's a pretty rare privilege for an author to be allowed to title his/her own books, so I'm glad that she was able to have that kind of input. She also explains why the UK title of the book is Cross-Stitch rather than Outlander.
The second part of this section is the Gabaldon Theory of Time Travel, which is utterly fascinating to the geek in me. I'm sure I've read parts of her theory before, but this presentation was very detailed. She has obviously put a lot of thought into how this time travel thing would work if, indeed, it were real.
*Part Eight – The View from Lallybroch – The subtitle of this section is Objects of Vertue, Objects of Use, but otherwise there's no other explanation of the contents of this sections. Consequently, I was a little confused by it, as it seems to just be a collection of random excerpts from the books, along with a couple of anecdotes and some illustrations. I guess the purpose was to highlight various objects of importance from the stories, and perhaps to set the scene. [shrug] I did enjoy the illustrations of Lallybroch and the jewelry such as Claire's wedding rings and the pearls that previously belonged to Jamie's mother.
*Part Nine – Frequently Asked Questions – This section is exactly what the title says, a list of questions the author is frequently asked by readers and her answers. Many of these I'd seen before, but there were some new ones that I found intriguing, especially those relating to the writing craft and character motivations. It's always interesting to hear straight from their creator what certain characters are thinking or feeling at a given moment in the story, because it can really help the reader to better understand them.
*Part Ten – Controversy – This was actually one of my favorite sections. In it, Ms. Gabaldon shares her reasoning behind the inclusion of various elements in the story, which some readers have found offensive. This includes sex, language, homosexuality (not surprisingly, this section was the most extensive), abortion, wife-beating, and a couple of other minor issues. I thought all of her responses were extremely articulate and well-thought-out, as well as presenting a well-reasoned defense for the inclusion of such potentially controversial material. I couldn't have agreed with her more on all points, and it was nice to know that I've always been on the same page with her regarding these things. The only tiny thing she didn't address in the wife-beating part was Jamie's off-handed admission that he kind of enjoyed it. The actual beating never bothered me much, as I took it in the historical context in which it was intended, but his words after did, as it seemed a slightly sadistic thing to say. However, it was such a small part of the story, it never detracted from my overall enjoyment of Outlander, and I'm also willing to admit that maybe I took it the wrong way. Perhaps if I re-read that scene again with the enlightenment of Ms. Gabaldon's other remarks, it will provide more clarification.
*Part Eleven – Work in Progress: Excerpts of Future Books – I admittedly skipped most of this section, as I'm not much for reading long excerpts of upcoming books, especially those which are already (now) published, and which I plan on reading soon. For readers who do enjoy this, it includes an excerpt from The Fiery Cross and “Surgeon's Steel,” which I read elsewhere in the book was originally published as a short story in an anthology but is included in its entirety in A Breath of Snow and Ashes (which at the time this book was written was titled King, Farewell). I did, however, read The Cannibal's Art, which was a wonderful sneak-peak into the busy every-day life of a best-selling author. I'm not even a best-seller, and this sounded a lot like most of my days. That made me feel so much better about not getting much writing done some days. Then again, we writers are always writing even if it's just in our minds.;-)
*In the back of the book there is an annotated bibliography, organized by topics. It's a pretty comprehensive list of the books Ms. Gabaldon used for research. This would be very helpful to any writer who might be considering writing a novel set in approximately the same time and place as the Outlander books. It would also be useful for culture and history buffs or those who simply want to learn more about the settings, cultures, medical practices, etc. that are a such a big part of Outlander.
*Last but not least, there are seven appendices, covering a variety of topics. The first, Errata, details all the errors which readers have brought to her attention. Some of them are mere typos, others are actual errors, and still others are simply perceived errors that aren't actually errors at all, accompanied by an explanation of why they aren't. I was quite impressed that it was a relatively short list for four monster tomes. It just goes to show what a skillful writer Diana Gabaldon really is. Next, is a list of Gaelic resources for readers who might be interested in learning to speak Gaelic. Then there are the full texts of various poems and quotations that are used in the books, followed by A Brief Primer on Genealogical Research that includes a number of resources for readers who may have been inspired by the books to look into their own family history. After that is A Brief Discography of Celtic Music for anyone who would like to add relevant background music to their reading material, and a list of foreign editions of the books, along with descriptions of their covers. It was interesting learning which covers Ms. Gabaldon liked and which ones made her cringe. To wrap things up she includes what she calls her Methadone List. This is a list of other books she recommends to readers who are looking for something else to read while waiting for the next Outlander installment to be released, and there are quite a few interesting titles on it. My TBR list is growing from having read it.;-)
Whew! That's a lot of stuff packed into a volume that's about two-thirds as long as the novels themselves (taking into account the larger size of this book and the fact that it's formatted in a two-column style). As I said before, IMHO, this is a must-have reference book for all true Outlander fans. There's so much information here, anyone who really loves these books as much as I do should find something of interest if not lots of things. So dig in and have fun!:-)...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews *=Newest review posted for this anthology.
The Princess by Gunnar Mattsson – I found the Reader's Digest anthology which conReviewed for THC Reviews *=Newest review posted for this anthology.
The Princess by Gunnar Mattsson – I found the Reader's Digest anthology which contains this story in a box of old books, and decided to read The Princess partly because it fit a reading challenge I was working on and partly because it sounded interesting. I usually like true stories about individuals who overcome challenges in their lives and being a romance novel addict, I'm particularly fond of true love stories too. This condensed version of The Princess partially fit the bill on both counts. It is a memoir of the author's relationship with his wife who he refers to as “The Princess” and her battle with and miraculous recovery from Hodgkin's disease. It is indeed a story about the indomitability of the human spirit and how love really can overcome all. It appears that the author credits their love for one another and his wife's adoration of the child she gave birth to in the midst of her health crisis as the driving factors in her recovery.
I really liked the story, but my main problem with this shortened version is that the editors seemed to pare it down to bare-bones facts. I just couldn't seem to help wanting to know more, most importantly, what would compel a man to propose marriage to a woman who had been told she was going to die in a matter of a few short months and also what would make her accept and then be eager to have a child. It seemed from the cover blurb that this would be a fascinating love story, but I suspect it may have lost some of it's poignancy in the editing process. I guess this isn't too surprising considering that this story is only ¼ the size of the original book. I'd never read a Reader's Digest condensed version before, but this one left me with several unanswered questions and simply wanting a bit more. I can say that it at least peaked my interest in trying to find the original version of The Princess, and I will certainly complete the remaining stories in the anthology just to see if they all feel like something is missing. I also discovered that a movie was made based on the book, which might be interesting to search out as well. Star Rating: ***1/2
At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower – I believe I read a short biography of Dwight Eisenhower when I was a kid, but my memories of it are pretty fuzzy, and beyond that, I can't say that I knew a great deal about our 34th president. Reading this book certainly helped add to my knowledge, and I really liked getting a first-hand account. To my recollection, the most famous Eisenhower campaign slogan was, “I like Ike,” and after reading At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, I am prepared to echo that sentiment. Mr. Eisenhower came across as a very down-to-earth, congenial and genuinely likable guy. As the title might suggest, the book is written in a very conversational style which felt like sitting down with an old friend who was relating various stories from his life. I most enjoyed the tales about his childhood, family history, and time at West Point, as well as some of the things he did after World War II.
Not surprisingly, the largest part of the narrative was about Mr. Eisenhower's military service, which was still interesting, but in general, military stuff isn't my favorite thing to read about, not to mention, a big swath of his time in the Army was spent in administration and overseeing of training exercises which isn't terribly exciting. It seemed like every time he requested a more interesting position, the powers-that-be turned him down, until he finally received command of the American forces in Europe during World War II. These parts were still as well written as the rest of the book, and would probably be of great interest to those who like military history. There were some intriguing tidbits about the famous American Generals MacArthur, Pershing, Marshall, Patton, and Bradley, but overall, my main interests simply lie elsewhere. The one thing about these parts though that really struck me was the harsh reality of long separations for couples/families who are in the armed forces. I really admire Mamie (and all military wives) for her patience in being apart from her husband for such lengthy periods of time and the frequent moves. It took well over 35 years of marriage before she even had a house she could truly call her own (now that's patient ;-)).
There were some laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes about a couple of incidents of mischievous behavior at West Point which earned Mr. Eisenhower disciplinary action. In fact, he seemed to be pretty contrary overall, ending up with lots of demerits. I enjoyed the fun tales of his boyhood, and was interested to discover that he was a lover of history from an early age just like myself. His romance with Mamie and the relating of how his family shaped his life were touching. I was also amused to find out that Mr. Eisenhower was a consummate gambler who would bet on just about anything and rarely lost. I liked that he didn't push his son to follow his footsteps into the military, but instead talked to him about the advantages of both military and civilian careers and then let him make his own decision. I was most impressed though that Mr. Eisenhower didn't seem to be influenced by money or promotions. He simply tried to enjoy life as it was handed to him and do the right thing. He didn't even really seem to want to run for President, but after several years, was persuaded into it by persistent friends. I was also interested to learn that Mr. Eisenhower was the president of Columbia University, and played a major role in the formation of NATO. The book stops right before his presidency though, so there isn't really any details of his time in the White House. This condensed version appears to be less than half the size of the original tome, but in my opinion, the editing wasn't as glaring as it was in the first story of this anthology. I'm not sure if I would seek out the full-length version of At Ease because of the large amount of narrative on military life, but overall, this abridged version was enjoyable and has definitely stirred my interest in finding out more about Dwight D. Eisenhower. Star Rating: ****
The Least One by Borden Deal – The Least One is a heartwarming family drama and coming of age story that takes place in a tiny farming community with the inauspicious name of Bugscuffle Bottoms in the post-Depression era American South. It paints a vivid portrait of the hardscrabble life of sharecroppers during that time, and is told from the first-person perspective of a twelve-year-old boy who doesn't have a name other than Boy. I don't know that I've ever read a historical story that takes place in the 1930's, so that alone was pretty interesting. As I read the book, I was struck by how realistic everything seemed, almost as though it was a memoir instead of fiction. I was quite surprised to discover in the author's bio at the end that, while he categorized the story as fictional, it was based in part on real events in his life.
I really liked all the Swords. They were a loving family who looked out for each other with the parents being stern but knowing how to teach difficult life lessons in a gentler way. They were also hard-working with each member of the family pulling their own weight and doing what needed to be done in order to survive. Boy's father, Lee, was a good man who had fallen on hard times, but was determined to pull himself up by his bootstraps and provide for his family. Boy's mother, Jimmie, could be rather difficult and never truly liked Bugscuffle Bottoms, but it was obvious that she cared deeply for her family and would do whatever it took to ensure their wellbeing. I also admired her pluckiness especially when she went to their landlord with a business proposition, when that was normally a man's place, and was determined not to leave without cutting a deal. Boy's older brother, John, was a taciturn young man with an underlying warmth about him. He really stepped up to the plate to be the man of the house when their father was injured and unable to work.
Boy is pretty much like most twelve-year-old boys. He's very curious, intelligent, playful and talkative. He also has a deep love of books and a tendency to be a bit of dreamer. Sometimes, he makes careless decisions without thinking, which lead to disastrous consequences, but I found it easy to forgive him because he always seemed to glean some very important lessons from his actions. He also learns many things from simply living life. I enjoyed following along on his journey to finding a name for himself. His father had refused to name his sons when they were born, because he himself had been saddled with a name he hated and went by his middle name. Instead he was waiting for his sons to pick their own names. A stubborn battle of wills ensues between Boy and his father over the naming issue. I could definitely relate to Boy's frustration over his father not giving him a name like other kids, and although I haven't run across anyone in real-life who has refused to name their kids, at least Lee's reasons made some sense to me. The whole wanting of a name is the running theme throughout the book, so I was a little disappointed by how that wrapped up. Still, once I read the author's note at the end, I understood why he wrote it the way he did even if I might have wished for it to end otherwise.
Overall, The Least One was a surprisingly enjoyable read that embodied the warmth of a family unit and the wry humor that sometimes ensues from that closeness. In addition to giving the impression of a memoir it also had the feel of a young adult novel, because of being told by a boy. It would definitely be appropriate for teens as there is little objectionable material in it other than a few mild profanities and a couple of minor, veiled sexual references. It might appeal to fans of books such as Tom Sawyer, the Little House on the Prairie series, or Bridge to Terabithia. I could see some similarities between these stories and The Least One, but at its heart this novel is just a nice, feel-good, coming-of-age story that was a very pleasant read. I have to say that the editors did a good job with this abridged version, as it flowed quite well and I never really felt like anything was missing. Star Rating: ****
Currahee! by Donald R. Burgett - Not being a huge fan of wartime and military history, I don't know if I would have picked up a book like Currahee! independently, but with this abridged version being found in this anthology, I couldn't resist reading it for the sake of completing the book. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging it was. Donald R. Burgett definitely seems to have a talent for story-telling, as many times, I felt like I was right there with him in the heat of battle. Although the wartime events certainly weren't easy to read about, they were still very interesting, and I feel like I learned some things not only about WWII paratroopers, but also about the Battle of Normandy.
It seems that paratrooper training was pretty brutal and the job itself was incredibly dangerous, so much so that that one of the author's training officers told all the recruits that they probably wouldn't live through the war. As it turns out several never even made it into combat, but were killed during training. The war itself was a horrific thing, and even though the narrative doesn't go into great detail, there were times that my stomach was churning at the mere thought of human beings inflicting that sort of violence and pain on one another. It almost seems that the author and his comrades had to virtually dehumanize the enemy in order to fight them, and cut off their emotions in order to leave their fallen brothers behind. I can't imagine having to do that, so I greatly respect the men and women who have fought for our freedom down through the ages. When Civil War General William T. Sherman said, “War is hell.” he certainly had the right of it.
After reading this account, I have to say that Mr. Burgett was certainly an incredibly lucky man. So many times he was nearly killed, not the least of which was when a grenade exploded right next to him, yet somehow he managed to live to tell his amazing tales. I found it extremely ironic that he and all the men from his small barracks room #13 in England actually survived Normandy. Currahee! is a story that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in military history, particularly involving WWII and paratroopers. I generally enjoyed it in spite of this not being a favorite topic. This abridged version appears to be a little less than half the length of the original book, but it was edited fairly well, as there were only a few times that I felt like the narrative jumped forward a bit too quickly. Star Rating: ****
*The Walking Stick by Winston Graham - The Walking Stick was a distinctly different story than any I've read before. It has elements of romance and suspense, both of which can be palpably felt, but I would definitely not categorize it as genre fiction. Instead, it seemed to have a more literary leaning both in its plot and writing style. The book started out a little slow for me with it having a rather passive, impersonal feel in spite of its first-person narration. The author seemed to have a “just the facts” approach with a rather clipped writing style, but what I initially saw as a weakness eventually grew on me. His abbreviated sentences which weren't really even sentences at all, but merely words and phrases, soon flowed into an odd sort of haiku which ended up having a very poetic feel. I also couldn't help but sense that the walking stick itself was a metaphor for something bigger that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Overall, The Walking Stick was an unusual and interesting story.
I thought it rather uncommon to have a male author writing in the first-person female perspective, but having everything coming from Deborah's point of view was a pretty ingenious way to write this novel. The main protagonist, Deborah Dainton is a unique character as well. She is a young woman who is fair of face, but as a polio survivor she is lame in one leg. Her looks can raise the interest of young men, but when they see her limping along, leaning on her walking stick, they usually end up turning away. At twenty-six, she is quite innocent and has never been in a real relationship. She was also raised in a comfortable, and one could possibly even say privileged, environment. All of this plays into her fascination with lowly artist, Leigh Hartley, when she meets him at a party thrown by her sister. At first, Deborah keeps herself at a distance from Leigh which I think was a sub-conscious way of protecting herself, as she's very self-conscious about her disability. Initially, it is so pronounced that she doesn't even seem to like Leigh which made me wonder why she was even going out with him. She does slowly warm up to him though, and eventually, I was able to sense that she had truly fallen in love with this man. I believe it was her love and perhaps gratitude for Leigh helping her to feel alive again which fueled her being willing to do things she otherwise might not have. However, there were still times when I wasn't 100% certain of how an upstanding young woman like Deborah could allow herself to become involved in such questionable dealings. Her willingly living with a married man was eyebrow raising enough for the time in which it was written (1960s), but then she agreed to an illegal venture which started out as something simple (or so she thought) and ended with her being fully involved in the scheme. Still, it was a fascinating character study which did, on some level, draw me in. I think perhaps some of the weaknesses in the character development might have been a result of the editing for this abridged edition.
Deborah's love interest, Leigh Hartley, is a very earthy and direct kind of guy. He definitely doesn't mince words and is quite persistent and charming in his attempts to get Deborah to go out with him and eventually become his lover. On the surface, he certainly seems to care about Deborah and pushes her to expand her boundaries and not allow her disability to define her capabilities. I could relate to Leigh's sense of inadequacy over having the ability to paint, but apparently not having a true talent for expressing himself through his art. At first glance, he appears to be the perfect boyfriend for Deborah, but it quickly come to light that he hasn't been entirely straightforward about his marital status which almost immediately puts into question what other things he might not have been honest about. In spite of me questioning his veracity early on, I still didn't anticipate just how dishonest he'd been which led to some plot surprises for me.
There were a few other places in the narrative besides Deborah's character development where I had the distinct feeling that something was missing, which again, I think was a result of the editing. Overall though, The Walking Stick was an interesting departure from my usual reading tastes while still embodying some of the elements that I enjoy in genre fiction. I enjoyed a lot of the little details about safe-cracking and the clever bypassing of the security system during the jewelry heist. All in all, once the pace picked up, it was a fun little read that I probably wouldn't have picked up without it being part of this anthology. Interestingly enough, The Walking Stick was made into a movie way back in 1970, but sadly, it doesn't appear to be available for home viewing which is too bad. I think it might be enjoyable to watch this story brought to life on the screen. Star Rating: ****...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I usually prefer to enjoy my reading material rather than having to parse it's deeper meaning, so I can sometimes be rather reReviewed for THC Reviews I usually prefer to enjoy my reading material rather than having to parse it's deeper meaning, so I can sometimes be rather reluctant to read books that are critically acclaimed and/or considered classics, since they are often difficult to understand. I'd heard so many wonderful things about To Kill a Mockingbird that I finally decided to take a chance on it when it was chosen as a book club read for the GoodReads Readers Against Prejudice and Racism group of which I am a part. I was very pleasantly surprised at what an easy read it was, while at the same time conveying a deep and layered message, not only about prejudice but also about standing up for what's right, that I know will stay with me, probably for the rest of my life. Another astonishing thing about the book to me was the number of lighthearted if not downright funny moments it contained. This is something I never would have expected from a book that tackled such a serious and controversial issue for its time. In my opinion, Harper Lee is an amazing writer, and I was absolutely stunned to discover that To Kill a Mockingbird was the only novel she ever wrote. However, I suppose there's nowhere else to go once you've won the highest honor in the writing world, a Pulitzer Prize, and she certainly made her one shot count in a huge way.
Young Scout Finch is the first-person narrator of the story. She is only about six or seven when it opens, but more than two years pass by as Ms. Lee builds up to the penultimate events of the book, by which time Scout is nine years old. She is a tomboy who's as smart as a whip and a precocious reader. When her first grade teacher told her she had to stop reading because her daddy was teaching her all wrong and first-graders weren't supposed to read, I had to laugh. It was ludicrously funny but also a sad commentary on our educational system. I just loved Scout's enthusiasm for reading. She joked that her brother, Jem, said she was born reading and she couldn't remember a time when she couldn't read. In this way, Scout very much reminded me of myself. I thought it was fascinating how Scout, in her child's mind, thinks of her father as old, decrepit, and thoroughly boring. She doesn't think he has any real skills or has accomplished anything. It was an absolute joy to watch Scout's opinion of Atticus gradually grow and change as she matures and begins to see him in an entirely new light through, not only the big trial, but all the little things he does.
I loved Scout's relationship with her brother. She and Jem fight like siblings often do, but at the same time they were very close. I like how Jem is a little gentleman, always looking out for Scout. It was wonderful how closely he actually watches their father, and subtly emulates him. When their summertime friend and neighbor, Dill, gets in on the action, these three can get into lots of amusing mischief. Seeing the world through these kids eyes was a positively delightful experience. Dill is quite good at creating wild yarns. I just knew he was destined to be a writer someday;-) (for anyone who doesn't know Dill is patterned on Harper Lee's childhood friend and neighbor, Truman Capote). The lessons that the kids learn are deeply touching. Whether it's how they go from being scared of their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley to beginning to understand why he stays away from people; or learning from Mrs. Dubose, the cranky old lady who likes to hurl insults at them, that things aren't always as they seem; or the tough lessons they learned about injustice through Tom Robinson's trial, they are on a constant journey of discovery, both of the world around them and themselves that often brought tears to my eyes.
If I were Scout, I'd think that I had the best dad in the world, but since I'm much, much closer to Atticus's age than Scout's, I'd have to say that he has become my latest literary crush. He is just quite simply an amazing man. Some people think that he's a questionable father who lets his kids run wild, because he doesn't spank them and they have a tendency to speak their mind. To the contrary, I believe he was a man who led by quiet example, and showed his kids how to be good citizens by teaching them to think critically for themselves. I love how Atticus just naturally speaks with “bigger” words and doesn't dumb it down for his children, but instead allows them to ask for clarification if they don't understand something, always answering their questions with complete honesty. That's how I tend to be, and I think kids can learn more that way. Atticus is a very wise man who sees many facets to the world around him. He is a kind, loving, gentle soul who always seems to see the good in people. He's a true gentleman, a brilliant attorney, an honorable and humble man who fights for what's right no matter what. If more men were like Atticus Finch, the world, without a doubt, would be a much better place.
To Kill a Mockingbird is another of those books which sadly, over fifty years after its release, is still found at the top of the ALA's most banned/challenged books list. It does contain some profanities, mostly mild, but a couple of more moderate ones including taking the Lord's name in vain twice. There is also a number of instances where the derogatory “n” word is used for African Americans, but given the time and setting of the book, it never seemed overdone or out of place to me. There is also the mature subject matter of a black man being wrongly accused of raping a white girl, but since it is all told through the eyes of a nine year-old child, everything has a certain air of innocence to it, with nothing ever really being spelled out explicitly. In spite of this potentially objectionable content, I still feel that the book is fully appropriate for high school level students. In my opinion, the positive role model that Atticus presents and the positive messages contained within the book's pages, far outweigh any possible detractors. I personally think it would be an absolute travesty to ban a book as thought-provoking as this one, and in fact, would encourage everyone, teens and up, to read it at least once.
I'm so glad I finally picked up To Kill a Mockingbird. The courtroom scenes were extremely well-written and appear to reflect Ms. Lee's personal experience with the law. Some parts of the story were a little slow at times, but never boring and always worth the wait for something more exciting to happen. Every character and every little side story added flavor, color and depth to this wonderful tale. The message it conveys is a timeless one. It is one of the most, if not the most, affecting book I've ever read centering around the themes of prejudice and racism. To Kill a Mockingbird has without a doubt earned a spot on my keeper shelf and has become a new all-time favorite book for me....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Until picking up The Black Moth, I had never read a “classical” romance, and I have to say that it was a rather different sortReviewed for THC Reviews Until picking up The Black Moth, I had never read a “classical” romance, and I have to say that it was a rather different sort of reading experience that was more challenging than the typical modern romance. It is written in what I would call a literary style with vernacular that is more authentic to the time period in which it is set. It was a little difficult to keep track of all the characters, because there were so many and each one went by several different names (first, last, nickname, alias, title). It was all somewhat confusing, but I think I managed to keep up fairly well. Also, the romance itself is very low-key with nothing beyond a few chaste kisses and embraces occurring. The palette of characters in The Black Moth was more of an ensemble cast with the supposed main hero and heroine only present in approximately fifty percent of the scenes and few of those were in each other's company. All of this made the book feel a bit more like historical fiction than historical romance to me, although I have to admit that the climax was pretty romantic with the hero swooping in to save the heroine from the dastardly villain so they can live happily-ever-after.:-)
Jack was a very noble hero, the heir to an earldom, who sacrificed himself for his brother in the name of love. Ever since he took the blame for cheating at a game of cards, he has been living in virtual exile, and has taken up the profession of highwayman, albeit in the style of Robin Hood. He always gives what he takes to the poor, and he refuses to rob ladies or the elderly. On the rare occasions that he makes that mistake, he apologizes profusely which was rather amusing. When he's not playing the roguish thief, he is a dandy who always tries to be at the height of fashion. Jack is the classic dashing, debonair hero, full of charm and lighthearted spirit in spite of his lot in life. When he saves the lovely Diana, they fall madly in love, although the development of their relationship is pretty much left to the imagination.
Diana was a sweet girl who had unfortunately caught the unwanted attentions of the Duke of Andover, a notorious libertine. When the villainous Duke kidnaps Diana in an attempt to force her to wed him, she is rescued by Jack. She falls for her savior while he is recovering from his wounds at her home, and is terribly distraught when he is unable to return her affections and leaves. Diana was in even less scenes than Jack, so I didn't really feel like I got to know her well, but I will say that I admired her spunk and determination, as well as her ability to verbally spar with the Duke when he attempted to take her a second time.
As I mentioned earlier, The Black Moth boasts a very large cast of characters, some of whom are equally as important as Jack and Diana. Jack's brother, Richard and his wife, Lavinia would be at the top of that list, experiencing their own romantic ups and downs. Richard had allowed Jack to take the blame for his actions, because he loved Lavinia so much he couldn't bear the thought of loosing her if the truth came out. He has lived with the guilt ever since, which has taken it's toll on him. At first his actions seemed selfish, leaving me unsure as to whether I liked him or not. He also had a tendency to be a doormat for his wife which wasn't particularly endearing either, but I was pleased to see him grow and change throughout the story. Lavinia was a difficult character to like, because she always seemed so spoiled and shrewish. In fact, she and all of her brothers were pretty much portrayed as hedonists with little or no self-control. Although I don't think I'll ever truly understand why all the men in her life were so taken with her, I did at least gain a small measure of respect for her by the end when she finally realized what a good life and husband she had. The other top-tier character would be Lavinia's brother, Tracy, the Duke of Andover, who became obsessed with Diana. In my opinion, he was a dangerous miscreant to have kidnapped and tried to force an innocent young woman who obviously didn't want him into marriage. I'm usually used to seeing the villain get a more sound comeuppance than Tracy did, so the way things ended with him were somewhat unsatisfying. However, I suppose that in a historical sense, sending a duke to jail is not something that would typically have happened. I also think the author was trying to show that he had perhaps learned from the experience and turned over a new leaf, although I'm not so sure I believe that. Although The Black Moth is not officially considered part of a series, it is my understanding that the Duke does return in These Old Shades.
The Black Moth was definitely a change of pace from my usual romance reading. Although the story contains large swaths of dialog, punctuated by shorter passages of prose, I felt that Ms. Heyer gave the reader a good feel of what it was like to live in the Georgian era by imparting many little details of fashion and society. In fact, I learned a few new and surprising things. I might point out here as well, that a number of individuals and a few websites have this book mislabeled as Regency romance, and although the exact year is never given in the text, the historical details clearly place it in the Georgian time frame. I felt that the pacing of the book was rather up and down with some parts moving pretty slowly, leaving my mind wandering, and others being engaging and fast-paced. It took me a while to get used to how different this book was than the romances I typically read, but it ended up being an agreeable experience. Based on the ratings I've seen on various book-related sites, I'd say that The Black Moth doesn't appear to be a fan favorite, but it was good enough to make me want to pick up another Georgette Heyer book in the future. If one takes into account that Ms. Heyer wrote the book when she was only seventeen to entertain her sick brother, I'd say she did quite well for one so young....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Curse of the Pharaohs was another fun installment in the Amelia Peabody mystery/adventure series. The story begins with AmReviewed for THC Reviews The Curse of the Pharaohs was another fun installment in the Amelia Peabody mystery/adventure series. The story begins with Amelia and Radcliffe Emerson enjoying the bliss of married life back in England, but their seemingly idyllic existence isn't exactly placid thanks to an incredibly precocious four-year-old running amok. At the same time, life holds no real challenge for Emerson who is now a professor of archeology at the university and Amelia who has been reduced to motherhood and the occasional tea party which she loathes. Both of them deeply yearn for their beloved Egypt and all the mysteries and antiquities that she holds, so when the opportunity to return presents itself, they jump at the chance. Of course, murder and mayhem ensue while Amelia and Emerson attempt to excavate a tomb which they believe may belong to a Pharaoh.
Amelia and Emerson are still in fine form, and I enjoyed their newfound interactions as a married couple. In public, they employ their acerbic tongues to amusing effect with lots of witty bantering which could sometimes be quite fun to read. In private, they eagerly and generously share their affection and passion for one another (without details of course), but their tender feelings are still quite apparent even in veiled euphemisms. I loved that Amelia and Emerson trust each other explicitly and seem to have a healthy marriage free of any jealousies. I also like how they can tease each other without hurt feelings and understand each other completely. Even though their individual personalities differ quite a bit from mine and my husband's, I could still relate to their relationship quite well. Amelia and Emerson are just a really fun and entertaining couple to read about.
Individually, Emerson and Amelia each has a very strong personality that has certain elements which can be a little off-putting, but at the same time rather endearing. Emerson is as blustery and irascible as he was in the first book, yet he always manages to command the respect of everyone around him. I like that he regards Amelia as his intellectual equal, his partner not only in life but in the work they both love so much. He has also turned into a doting papa to their little son, Ramses. I couldn't help but laugh at this big galoot being reduced to babbling baby talk to an infant. It was just too cute. Amelia, on the other hand, seemed almost as aloof toward Ramses as Emerson was adoring of him which rather confused me. While I didn't doubt that she cared for her son, Amelia calling Ramses “it” for a short time in infancy and her seeming lack of any compunction toward leaving him for long periods of time to go on digs was a little hard for me to understand. Most of the time Amelia didn't seem to like Ramses very much, however, I will allow that perhaps this was all meant more in jest, and was simply a little too subtle for me to appreciate. Otherwise, Amelia is a fully admirable character that I really liked. She has a very no-nonsense attitude about most everything, but certainly isn't immune to emotions where her beloved husband is concerned. She is also brave, adventurous, has a mind like a steel trap, and is readily sympathetic toward both man and beast alike. I was quite amused by Amelia's disdain for societal conventions. She is definitely a geek of the first order, and I can very much relate to her inability to talk to society women because of their lack of knowledge on the topics that interest her most. Overall, I really like both Emerson and Amelia and think that they are a very well-matched couple.
As with Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first book of the series, The Curse of the Pharaohs seemed to take a little time to build momentum. It started out a bit slowly, but as the story progressed and got into the mystery, there was more action and lots to speculate about. I admit I only half guessed the answer to the puzzle by the time it was revealed. I missed Walter and Evelyn a little, although they appeared briefly at the beginning of the book. However, there was a very large, international and quite colorful cast of new supporting characters, along with at least one Egyptian character, Abdullah, who returned from the first book. Sometimes, I felt like it was a few too many players, as I initially had a hard time keeping all of them straight, but I eventually figured them all out. There were also quite a few flirtations going on, in particular between a certain young lady and her multiple suitors. I thought I had figured out who she should be with, only to be completely and utterly wrong. On the one hand, it was nice to be surprised, and while I wouldn't have wanted the author to make the object of the girl's affections completely obvious, I also had not necessarily felt the chemistry building between the couple, which made it a little anti-climactic for me. Overall, in spite of a few minor weaknesses, The Curse of the Pharaohs was a pleasant diversion with strong characters, an enjoyable mystery to solve and a beautiful exotic setting, with a touch of romance and the fun of an archaeological dig on the side. It doesn't really have any objectionable elements to speak of, which in my opinion would make it suitable for mystery aficionados of all ages, including teens and more sensitive readers. There are currently 18 books in the Amelia Peabody mystery series with The Curse of the Pharaohs being the second book. I definitely look forward to picking up the third book, The Mummy Case, the next time I'm in the mood for a mystery story....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews It has been many years since I've read a mystery story, and I wasn't quite sure if I would still like them as much as I had inReviewed for THC Reviews It has been many years since I've read a mystery story, and I wasn't quite sure if I would still like them as much as I had in my youth. Either I do, or I simply chose the right book with which to renew that genre interest, because I found Crocodile on the Sandbank to be an enjoyable read. It reminded me of a cross between Indiana Jones and a younger version of Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher (I loved Murder, She Wrote when I was a kid), or perhaps a more mature version of the Nancy Drew books that I was crazy about in my tweens/teens, only in a more exotic location. Crocodile on the Sandbank, and the entire Amelia Peabody series, fall into the cozy mystery genre as they are very gentle mysteries that aren't particularly frightening and don't have any objectionable elements. Even more mature content like Evelyn's affair is merely alluded to and never spelled out in so many words. This made for some fun, old-fashioned sleuthing that is, in my opinion, appropriate for mystery aficionados of all ages, although the advanced vocabulary and authenticity of the historical voice would probably be more suited for teen and adult readers. Elizabeth Peters began writing the Amelia Peabody series in the 1970s, and had I heard of it back then, I may have been reading them as a teen.
Amelia was a fun character to read about. She is a firmly on-the-shelf spinster who has no intentions of marrying and an independent woman of means, so she decides to indulge her passion for history and her dream of traveling by going on a trip to Egypt. Amelia is an unflappable, no-nonsense woman with a plucky, adventurous spirit and a very straight-forward way of dealing with life. This forthright nature was very much in evidence in the first question that she asked Evelyn after her friend confessed to having had an affair. Somehow, it didn't really surprise me, but it did make me laugh nonetheless. Amelia is also a feminist who has little use for the traditional Victorian conventions, and sometimes wishes she had been born a man, so that she would be more respected. Even though Amelia is very much a thinker and a scholar, it is obvious that she has a very kind heart and a willingness to help others. She is quite skilled in medical matters and assists many people along the way who are sick or injured which always seems to help put her in their good graces. She is also the consummate matchmaker when she realizes that Evelyn has fallen in love. I found it interesting and amusing that Amelia immediately recognized Evelyn's love for Walter, but when she started falling for Emerson, she didn't initially discern it as the same emotion in herself. All in all, I really admired Amelia, and a part of me would love to be her, but in reality, I'm probably much closer in personality to Evelyn.
Crocodile on the Sandbank is told in first-person perspective with Amelia, of course, as the narrator. It is written in a slightly different style than other first-person books that I have read, so it took me a little while to get used to it. For me, the reading of the book was rather like sitting down to tea with Amelia while listening as she related her story. It had a rather quaint, intimate feel to it. The book takes a “just-the-facts” approach and is a little light on descriptive details of the environment. In fact, early in the story, Amelia comments that she will not indulge in such descriptions so as not to bore the reader, and if the reader wants more detail, they should go read a travelogue. Normally, this would be a downside for me, because I tend to enjoy lush, vivid depictions of the setting, but for the most part, enough information was given to make me feel like I was in the hot sands of the Egyptian desert with Amelia. There are also not a lot of deep insights into the secondary characters. The reader really only gets to know them through Amelia's eyes. Even though I usually prefer to know the other characters' thoughts and feelings, I once again, for the most part, did not view this as a weakness as I normally would. I think this was owing in large part to the genre. Since the story is primarily about the mystery of a mummy stalker who appears to be trying to scare them away from their archaeological dig site, rather than the relationships, I didn't necessarily feel a burning need to get inside the other characters' heads like I would if it were a romance.
As things were, I got to know the other characters well enough. I liked Amelia's friend, Evelyn. She is a sweet, and perhaps slightly naïve, young woman who allowed herself to be seduced by a scoundrel which ruined her relationship with her grandfather and left her destitute. Amelia rescues her off the street and hires her as a companion for her trip. On the outside, Evelyn seems very delicate, but on the inside she is made of much sterner stuff than one might think at first glance, and in spite of her indiscretion, she has a certain strength of character as well. I adored Evelyn's love interest, Walter, the more charming and amiable of the two Emerson brothers, a team of archaeologists who are working to unearth the history and treasures of Egypt. If he were one of my romance heroes, he'd be the sweet beta who gets all moony-eyed over his lady love, but can't quite bring himself to declare his feelings. Yet, when he finally does (at Amelia's prodding), it was in the most romantic way possible, giving me a major, “Awwwww!” moment. Then there is Emerson. Actually his name is Radcliffe, but Amelia never calls him by his first name. It's OK though, because he always call her Peabody instead of Amelia too. If Walter is the romantic beta, Emerson is the alpha. He's rude and abrasive, rarely having anything nice to say about anyone, and he gets under Amelia's skin in more ways than one right from the moment they meet. Although Emerson certainly tries his best, Amelia never allows him to run rough-shod over her, instead giving back as good as she gets whenever he let the insults fly which made for some fun bantering. Even though he could be a real bear sometimes, I liked that Emerson's heart was in the right place when it came to the preservation and proper study of the antiquities that were being treated with flippancy even by the government agency that was supposed to be protecting them. Other than the antiquities though, Emerson could seem pretty cold and indifferent at times, so it took me a while to really warm up to him. When he finally started to reveal his feelings, it was worth the wait.
Aside from the colorful characters, Crocodile on the Sandbank had a fun plot. In fact, I waffled a bit on my star rating, and the only thing that really prevented it from earning keeper status from me was that the pacing is a little too slow in places. Especially during the first half of the book, there are several long passages of narration where there isn't much excitement or action. There are also a couple of passages where a secondary character goes off into what is essentially a soliloquy of narration. Preferring a more liberal mixture of narrative and dialog, I found these passages to be a bit too sluggish for my taste, leaving my mind occasionally wandering. Once the mystery portion of the story really got going, I thoroughly enjoyed the action, adventure and intrigue, as well as trying to figure out the answer to the puzzle. I did correctly discern the culprit and their motive (although not all the details of “how”) before it was revealed, but it didn't detract from the fun of getting there, as I ended up second guessing myself more than once. Overall, the narrative built very nicely to an exciting conclusion. Anyone who enjoys a good mystery/adventure yarn with a plucky heroine, an exotic setting and a dash of romance, should like this book. Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first of the Amelia Peabody series, and my first read by Elizabeth Peters. I found it to be a nice departure from my usual romance fare that has left me looking forward to trying the next book in the series when I'm, once again, in the mood for something different. There are currently 18 books in the Amelia Peabody series. A complete list of all the books and their recommended reading order can be found on the official Amelia Peabody website....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph was a very interesting read even though it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I reReviewed for THC Reviews Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph was a very interesting read even though it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I received a copy for review from the author's publicist, who had made a request for reviews on the GoodReads Historical Romance Discussion Group of which I am a member. I had volunteered, because the synopsis interested me, and I thought that it was either a historical romance or a historical novel in which romance was a strong element. In reality, the book is historical women's fiction with the romance (if it could even be called that) comprising probably less than ten percent of the story. I mention this only because I was about 1/3 of the way into the book before I finally realized this, and had experienced some disappointment up to that point. After my little epiphany, I was able to appreciate and generally enjoy the rest of the book for what it was, since I was no longer expecting things that I would likely not get.
Susannah is written in first-person perspective and focuses very narrowly on the main character of Susannah and her struggles in becoming a lawyer in an era when female attorneys were extremely few and those who did exist tended to encounter a great deal of prejudice and hostility from the public and their male counterparts. I've always had an interest in historical figures who were able to break gender (or other) barriers, so the subject matter was quite intriguing. Unlike some of my fellow readers, I am not anti-first-person and up to this point have never had a problem with reading that point-of-view. I also thought that first-person was appropriate for the topic of the book, but I admittedly had many moments when I really craved insights into the other character's thoughts and feelings. Susannah is very much the centerpiece of the narrative with the secondary characters merely orbiting on the periphery. Her relationships to them, whether it be her beau, family, friends, or colleagues are only touched upon very lightly, and in most cases briefly, which left me rather frustrated at times. One example is that Susannah's beau, Ted, is nothing but sweet and supportive throughout the entire story until one brief lapse at the very end where he becomes extremely upset and says some mean things to her that seemed completely out of character for him. Even though he later apologized and the author tries to explain his behavior, I really would have liked to know what Ted was thinking at that moment. I was also rather baffled by how Susannah and her siblings could have such ultra-conservative, ultra-religious parents, but be more liberal-minded themselves. Not that this is impossible, but I wanted to know more about that. Additionally, one of Susannah's colleagues at the firm had mentored her in a very congenial way, but then when she becomes a full-fledged attorney, he starts acting schizophrenic, skipping back and forth between saying and doing ugly things to her and being friendly. Again, his behavior is explained away by a serious illness that caused him to drink heavily to control the pain, and while I could buy that, I found myself wanting to know what he really thought of her. There were many moments like these throughout the narrative where I simply wanted to know more. There are also frequent moments when Susannah veers off into a quick present-tense commentary of the situation at hand, which I thought interrupted the flow of the narrative and seemed rather unnecessary since it's all from her perspective anyway.
Between blazing trails where few of her gender had gone before and surviving a brutal attack against her, Susannah was a strong woman who I could admire. She was very determined, never taking “no” for an answer; she found a way to effectively balance motherhood and her career; and she was an incredibly intelligent woman who proved herself to be as competent, if not more so, at law than her male colleagues. For these reasons alone, I couldn't help but like her. One complaint I have about her character though is that her reasons for becoming a lawyer seemed unfocused and dependent on the circumstances. The reader isn't really given much insight into what prompted the beginnings of her journey when she was still a young girl in boarding school. Sometimes she seemed to be a feminist who was looking to break the glass ceiling. Other times she asserted that she was so intelligent, she needed the intellectual stimulation and just couldn't bear the thought of the mundane life that most women of the era led. Still other times it was a desire to help people and make sure that justice was served, a view-point that was brought about in large part because of the attack. While all of these are certainly valid reasons, they just didn't quite come together for me in a cohesive way. Also, perhaps it is just the romantic in me, but I couldn't help but be a little frustrated with Susannah for the way she kept putting off Ted's marriage proposals. To me he seemed like an absolutely wonderful guy (except for that one lapse I mentioned earlier) and perfect for Susannah, since he didn't see her as a “ruined” woman because of the rape, was an attentive father-figure to her daughter, and out of all the men around her, was probably the most supportive of her career choice. Yet, Susannah often seemed impervious to his repeated proposals and declarations of love and admiration, and rather distrustful of him as well. I was pretty annoyed when she told him to find a solution to the issue of balancing a family with her career or she wouldn't even consider marriage. I just felt like if she truly cared for him, she would have communicated with him and tried to find a solution together instead of giving him an ultimatum. (In fact, it seemed like she had some personal communication issues in general, because even though she had known her first beau, Johnny, since childhood, she still didn't really know his true feelings about her studying law.) In the end, I couldn't help but wonder if Susannah ever would have accepted and married Ted if she hadn't accidentally found out about birth control from a client.
One other issue I had with Susannah and the characters in general was the lack of emotional development. If I had been in Susannah's shoes and been both physically and sexually assaulted to the point of near death, forced to marry my rapist and then found out I was carrying his child, I would have been utterly traumatized. While this was all certainly upsetting to her and I'm not advocating that she should have been a basket case, I just didn't feel like the whole experience carried the weight that it should have. Susannah spends the months following the attack dealing with all the repercussions in a fairly matter-of-fact way, and once she gets to Chicago and begins studying the law, it nearly seems to have been all but forgotten except for her waiting and hoping for an annulment, and one small bit later in the story where she is asked to defend a man accused of rape. The only thing that she ever truly seemed passionate about was the law. I could tell that she cared about, first Johnny, and then later, Ted, and that she was a good and loving mother to her daughter, Bertha, but I never sensed the deep level of feelings for them that she had for the law. Granted her passion for the law made her a great lawyer (I would certainly want to have her on my legal team if I were trouble), but in my opinion, she should have shown at least equal passion for her loved ones. Most of the time, I simply felt rather bereft of an emotional connection, not just to Susannah, but all the characters. A couple of small things that I think could have remedied this would have been more attention to the details of facial expressions and gestures and warming up the rather stilted, formal dialog. In my opinion, these simple changes would have added a great deal to the story.
As a kid, I used to be a big fan of courtroom dramas on TV, and really enjoyed shows like Perry Mason and Matlock. While some people dread being called for jury duty, I can honestly say that the one time I served on a jury, I found it to be an utterly fascinating experience that thoroughly engaged my intellect. This is the area where the author truly shines and shows her own passion and expertise as a law professional. I absolutely loved reading the courtroom scenes. They were very compelling and full of suspense, as Susannah figures out how best to defend her clients. She really throws herself into the fray as she cross-examines witnesses, combats the prosecutor's phony witnesses, makes closing arguments, and does all the things that a trial lawyer would do. It was in these moments that I was transported into another world and really felt like I was there witnessing everything as it happened. I can, without a doubt, say that these scenes warrant an A+ from me.
Susannah also has a very interesting dichotomy between feminism and religion. Depending on the reader's religious persuasion, it could be a little strange to think of the two in the same sphere. I personally believe that they can co-exist peacefully with the right balance, and in my opinion, Susannah did a pretty good job of attaining that balance. The feminist overtones in the story aren't completely overpowering, but they are very strong. I realize that the environment was pretty hostile for women who wanted to work in professional careers in the Victorian age, but there were a few moments where I felt that the author was grandstanding just a bit by engaging in some rather extreme stereotyping. While I do have some feminist sensibilities, I do not consider myself to be a true feminist. In fact, I have chosen to remain in the “women's sphere” even in this modern age, so there were certain parts that didn't really resonate with me on a personal level. As to the religious aspects, they seemed to hold almost equal weight. While I wouldn't necessarily call this an inspirational story (at least it isn't like any inspirational I've read before), it is obvious that Susannah is a woman of faith. She lives with her brother who is an Episcopal priest, attends church regularly and frequently prays to Jesus for help. Except for the way her father (who was also a priest) and mother behaved at the beginning of the story which I believe was meant to appall the reader anyway, there is no religious agenda, only gentle reminders that Susannah's faith is an important part of her day-to-day life. If not quite an inspirational, it is a “clean” book in my opinion. It has no sex, the only violence is either not particularly detailed or takes place off-canvas, and there are only a couple of objectionable words that are used a handful of times, so I feel it would be an appropriate book for teenagers and more sensitive readers.
While it may seems that I have had a number of criticisms of this book and there were admittedly some things I thought could have been better, I did for the most part enjoy reading Susannah in spite of any issues I might have had. It held my attention and kept me reading which of course are two of the most desirable traits of a novel. I also really liked the underlying message that even difficult circumstances like rape can turn into something wonderful, because without that tragic event in Susannah's life, she might never have moved to Chicago, realized her dream of practicing law and found the perfect mate. For a first effort, I thought it was well-done overall. Ms. Rymer shows definite potential as a novelist, and if she chooses to write more books in the future, I would welcome the opportunity to read them....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Voyager is another fabulous installment in the Outlander series which takes the reader on a wild ride full of action, adventurReviewed for THC Reviews Voyager is another fabulous installment in the Outlander series which takes the reader on a wild ride full of action, adventure, romance, mystery, history, and paranormal phenomena that keeps the story moving at a pretty good clip. On the occasions where things did slow down a bit, it was usually to introduce a new character or add some character development, but before I knew it, yet another exciting event was occurring. Voyager reunites star-crossed lovers Jamie and Claire after a twenty year separation, then sweeps them along from the beautiful Scottish Highlands, to a brief visit in France, then on to the exotic Caribbean Islands and beyond as they tirelessly search for Jamie's missing nephew. The cultural, racial and ethnic diversity was astounding with nearly every race being represented in some way, as well as a wide variety of European cultures. Diana Gabaldon also writes all their varying accents amazingly well, so that I could “hear” the distinctions of each one in my head as I read. All the characters came together to create a disparate, but fascinating and well-blended cast, and I enjoyed reading about each and every one of them.
In my opinion, Jamie is the most perfect fictional romantic hero of all-time. He's highly intelligent, honorable, humble, honest, kind, responsible, dependable, determined, and so much more. In my mind, I can't imagine what more a woman could possibly want that Jamie doesn't have to offer. He actually had a number of scenes from his own point of view during the time he and Claire were apart. Although a part of me would have liked for Jamie to have remained celibate during the separation, I fully understand that twenty years would have been an unrealistically long amount of time for a man as passionate as Jamie to go without. Not to mention, he had no idea if he would ever see Claire again or if she even still lived. In spite of that, I greatly appreciated the fact that he was not a man given to sleeping around. His sexual encounters that we actually read about were all, in some way, instigated by a strong woman, and Jamie acquiesced out of deep loneliness and simple lust. Not surprisingly, even though these women were not the love of his life and their relationships not ideal in any way, he still felt honor-bound to please them as best he could which I found romantic in a different sort of way. I was saddened that Jamie spent the years he was separated from Claire with an empty heart, searching for some close facsimile of what they had shared, but never finding it. Then when they were reunited, it was like she had returned his heart, his soul and his entire reason for living to him. With everyone else in his life he, out of necessity, had been someone else, whether it was brother, uncle, friend, or simply living by aliases, but with Claire, he only had to be Jamie which I found to be an utterly beautiful testament to what the two of them shared. Jamie still can have quite the way with words, saying some lovely, almost poetic things to Claire, my favorite being when he re-declared his love for her, and her alone, near the end of the book, and my second-favorite being when he gave Claire a detailed accounting of exactly what he wanted to do to her after two months of virtual celibacy on a sea voyage where they couldn't seem to find a moment of privacy. Jamie also still has a great sense of humor. He continues to be very self-deprecating, and one scene where he disguises himself as a French dandy was LOL funny. Quite simply Jamie Fraser is a larger than life character who I absolutely adore, and it would take quite a man to supplant him as my all-time favorite hero.
As always, Claire, the first-person narrator of the story, is a wonderfully strong woman who knows her mind and can definitely think for herself, but at the same time, she is never annoying in her independence. She still knows when and how to rely on Jamie, and he is her rock every bit as much as she is his. Claire is an incredibly intelligent woman, not only to have become a top-notch doctor in the present, but to handle herself and all the hardship around her as deftly as she does in the past. She is a loving and forgiving person to Jamie and many other people in her life. I thought she had a lot of fortitude to go through the extensive schooling necessary to become a doctor, even though Frank didn't really want her to, as well as to stay with him in spite of knowing that he had affairs with multiple mistresses over the years. She was a great mother to Brianna, and a kind and understanding mother-figure to Ian and Marsali. I think the thing I love the most about Claire is that there was never truly any question in her mind about going back through the stones if they were able to find Jamie alive in the historical record, and this in spite of how much she would have to leave behind and the physical and mental suffering of the actual time travel. In my mind, her calm, quiet conviction proved just how much she still loved Jamie even after so much time had passed.
Together, Jamie and Claire are the most perfect-for-each-other couple I think I have ever read. I loved how when they were separated they each dreamed of the other in a way that was almost like them reaching out across time to one another. I thought it was neat how during that time they both did a lot of reading and each of them, at some point, read a torrid romance. The most swoon-worthy thing about them as a couple is how their love for each other didn't dim one bit throughout their twenty-year separation. They still loved each other every bit as deeply as they did in the beginning of their relationship. Their eventual reunion was also a thing of beauty. I loved how they slipped right back into their comfortable friendship which is a large part of what I think makes them such a great couple. It was sweet that they both were a little shy about being intimate again, and that Claire had been nervous about going back to Jamie, wondering if she was still sexy enough to catch his eye. The insecurities just made them seem so much more real. I also loved how they both thought the other was still the most beautiful person they'd ever seen even after twenty years of aging and new scars, and I also adored how their first time making love after reuniting was a little hesitant and a little awkward, but every bit as passionate as it ever was. Jamie and Claire have fabulous chemistry, but their relationship has always been about infinitely more than just sex. Even when Jamie kept a couple of things from Claire which left her feeling hurt and betrayed, I understood his reasons. He had been so lonely and empty for so long, and then after finally getting Claire back, he was terrified of loosing her again. I really had no doubt though that their love could overcome anything, because it is a true and perfect love that is built on friendship, trusting one another enough to be completely honest and open about everything, the joy of each other's company, treating each other as intellectual equals, understanding each other like no one else does, and comfortably teasing one another, all as though they've been together forever. It's everything that a lasting and near-perfect relationship should be in my mind.
While Jamie and Claire definitely steal the show, there are many secondary characters who support them and/or cause a bit of trouble for them. The unlikely friendship between Jamie and John, and the dynamic of their relationship over the years, was fascinating. I felt like they initially connected both intellectually and over a the shared loss of the ones they loved at Culloden even though they didn't actually talk about their partners much. I also thought it was neat that Jamie recognized John right away as the brash young teen who had acted in Claire's defense when he thought she was in danger, and that Jamie still respected him for that. I felt rather sorry for John carrying around an unrequited love for Jamie, but I liked him all the more for being an honorable gentleman about it and still remaining Jamie's good friend while understanding that Jamie can't give him what he truly wants. Another stand-out character is Jamie and Claire's daughter, Brianna. She has grown into a fine young woman who resembles her father in more ways than one. I was amazed at how accepting she'd become of Jamie being her father and how she unselfishly wanted her mother to reunite with him. Roger was invaluable in helping Claire find Jamie, and it looks like he's going to make a great match for Bree. He also has a few scenes from his own point of view. Jamie's sister, Jenny, is still the same spitfire to be sure, but also an incredibly loving wife, mother and sister. I didn't agree with her actions after Claire returned, but I understood the fear that drove her to do what she did. Jenny and Ian's son, Young Ian, was quite the character. He's not unlike his Uncle Jamie in his thirst for adventure and penchant for getting himself into trouble. His loyalty to Jamie was profoundly heartwarming. Fergus was still as wonderful as always, retaining his sense of humor even after loosing something very valuable to him. It was so sweet that he had fallen in love, but I have to admit that my modern sensibilities balked a bit at his love-interest being a girl half his age. Yi Tien Cho aka Mr. Willoughby, a little Chinese man who Jamie rescued from certain death, was hilarious at times with his “healthy balls” and foot fetish. I was rather saddened that he never quite found a way to fit into Western society, and I find myself wondering if he may pop up again in future books. These were just a few of the stand-outs in my mind, but there were many, many wonderfully colorful characters, both old and new, who came together to add their own personalities and flair to this amazing story.
Of course, just about any scene involving Jamie and Claire together were among my favorites, but there were some other exceptionally noteworthy scenes and plot points that caught my attention. The punishment Jamie came up with for Young Ian running away from home was ingenious and had far more impact than a mere thrashing would. I thought it also showed that Jamie would have been a great father if he'd had the chance. Fergus and his bride had one of the funniest weddings I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It nearly had me ROTFL. Jamie and John had an amusing conversation about books and whether length equals quality, which had me wondering if Diana Gabaldon was poking fun at herself and her own lengthy tomes. The farewell scene between Jamie and little Willie had me all teary-eyed and laughing at the same time, while the parallel scene between Claire and Brianna was equally touching but in a slightly different way. It was really neat to ponder the few little anachronistic things that Claire brought back in time with her and how they might alter history. In spite of the occasional gruesomeness, I liked that Ms. Gabaldon didn't gloss over the realities of the era. In my opinion, it made the story much more realistic and all the little things make it obvious that she definitely did extensive, detailed research.
Voyager has definitely made it to my top ten all-time favorite books. I hated having to put it down, but even if personal responsibilities weren't an issue and I was able to read any time I wanted, I would still probably have had to set it aside on occasion. The sheer volume of events and information would have been overwhelming otherwise, but I savored every piece of the book as part of a larger puzzle that had me eagerly returning to its pages, engrossed in the discovery of what would happen next. Diana Gabaldon never ceases to amaze me with her writing skill. She is masterful at weaving a complex saga that almost never falters even in the slightest way. Voyager is the third book in the Outlander series, and it has earned a spot on my keeper shelf next to its predecessors Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. As with the first two books of the series, this was a re-read, but from here on out everything will be brand new to me. I can't wait to see what else Ms. Gabaldon has in store for her intrepid hero and heroine, Jamie and Claire, and possibly check out the Lord John series to see what he has been up to as well....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Notebook is a poignant story of true and unending love in its purest form, and the power and magic of love to defy all oddReviewed for THC Reviews The Notebook is a poignant story of true and unending love in its purest form, and the power and magic of love to defy all odds. It begins with an elderly man, sitting by his wife's bedside, reading her a story. From there, we travel back in time to when star-crossed lovers Noah and Allie met as teenagers in 1932 and spent one magical summer together. They were from opposite sides of the tracks. Allie was from a well-to-do family with political connections, and Noah was more or less a nobody. An aristocratic type system still prevailed in the South, so Allie's family didn't approve of a match with Noah and the two were separated for fourteen years. Noah moved to New Jersey where he worked for several years before joining the Army and heading for Europe to fight in WWII. Allie went to college, abandoned her artwork of which her parents did not approve, and eventually became engaged to an attorney of whom they did approve. Over the years, neither was able to forget the other. Noah has had no successful relationships since, because the ghost of the time he spent with Allie still haunts him, and deep down, Allie knows there is something missing in her relationship with her fiancé.
Neither really knows what became of the other until Allie sees a picture of Noah in a local newspaper just three weeks before her wedding. Seeing him again, stirs memories and emotions, and even though she doesn't really know why at the time, she is compelled to go see him in person one last time before getting married. She tells her family and fiancé that she needs to get away from the stress of wedding planning and heads for New Bern alone. Noah can hardly believe his eyes when the woman of his dreams pulls up in front of his house one day out of the blue. The longing and desire between Noah and Allie is extremely moving and palpable and hasn't dimmed one bit in fourteen long years. I love how they slip right back into a comfortable relationship as though they've never been apart. It's obvious that they're soul mates and perfect for each other, and in their heart of hearts, they know it too. After only one evening with Noah, Allie knows that what they share is something she's never had with her fiancé and never will.
At the point when Allie must make her fateful decision about which man she is going to choose, the story cuts back to the elderly man and his wife who we discover has Alzheimer's. This part of the book is so powerful and affecting, I read parts of it through a blur of tears. The lengths to which this man goes to help his wife remember the love they share is moving beyond words, an expression of a true and pure love. The way he romances her and gets her to fall in love with him over and over again and persists in doing it day after day, never giving up even when it doesn't always turn out the way he hopes is potent stuff, so much so that I'm sitting here crying my eyes out while writing this. It's the kind of love I think we all hope for, but so few seem to actually achieve.
Many readers seem to categorize The Notebook as romance, but I don't see it as such. For me, romance as a genre, usually only follows the couple through the falling in love stages of the relationship with the happily ever after implied. It taps into the fantasy of what we want love to be, while The Notebook takes that one step further. Not only do we get to see the beginnings of a relationship, we also get to see one very advanced in years, but no less passionate for the passage of time. It also takes a more realistic look at what it truly means to love someone. It's not just the gooey feeling we get when first falling in love or the sexual desire that soon follows. It's something that can last a lifetime when nurtured and a couple is fully committed to one another. Make no mistake, The Notebook is very romantic, but to me it is not merely a romance, but a love story.
The Notebook was my first read by Nicholas Sparks and certainly won't be my last. It was also his debut novel and very impressive for a first effort. The opening chapter and the latter part of the book with the elderly couple is written in first person, present tense which was beautifully rendered, giving these parts a deep sense of immediacy. Noah and Allie's story in the past is written in third person, past tense. This part was wonderful too, but I did have a small problem with the second chapter. When the author goes back to Noah and Allie's first meeting that summer, he tells it more like a narrator relating a story which made it a little difficult to get into at first. Because of the passive nature of this passage, I wasn't able to fully immerse myself on an emotional level like I wanted to and couldn't help wondering if it might have been better if written in a more active voice. Once the narrative got to Noah and Allie's reunion it was much better and only improved with every page I read. The ending was so utterly beautiful, I couldn't help giving the book the full five stars despite the early misstep.
Mr. Sparks definitely has a way with words, turning prose into pure poetry. There are so many quotable passages in this book, I almost feel like putting the whole thing in my memorable quotes file. For some reason, I was under the impression that Nicholas Sparks' books didn't have any love scenes in them, but apparently I was mistaken. I was very pleasantly surprised to find one, as well as other expressions of sexual desire, and even though that one love scene is only moderately descriptive, it was very sensual and emotional, unexpectedly well done for a male author. The Notebook is the first story in a duet about members of the Calhoun family, and I very much look forward to reading its sequel, The Wedding. This book has certainly found a spot on my keeper shelf. Reading it was a touching and emotional experience that has left a huge impression on me. It was an inspiring, thought-provoking, powerful and passionate love story that was absolutely unforgettable....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of aReviewed for THC Reviews Dragonfly in Amber is no ordinary romance novel. In fact, in spite of its romance and paranormal elements, it is far more of a historical novel than anything else in my opinion. This book basks the reader in lush descriptions of 18th century European history, from the political intrigue in the courts of King Louis XV of France, to the everyday life of a merchant, to the inner workings of hospitals of that time. Then it sweeps the reader along, back to the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and eventually into the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 in which Bonnie Prince Charlie tried unsuccessfully to retake the throne of both Scotland and England. The author made liberal use of real historical personages from King Louis and Prince Charles to their courtiers, advisers and Scottish clan chieftains. Diana Gabaldon constantly amazes me with how she can realistically weave fictional characters into real historical settings and bring it all to life in such a way that it is a joy to read and never a bore. Even everyday things become special in her world. I was especially fascinated with the insights into medical treatment in that era, including the use of plants and herbs for healing. Claire works for a time, at an indigent hospital in Paris where all manner of “healers” volunteer their time and “medical services” to the patients. In many ways, it is amazing to see just how far we've come since then, but I was also intrigued by the use of what appeared to be acupuncture in one scene and the use of a small dog to sniff out infections in another. Of course, both of these are still quite useful in medicine today. There is also a tangled web of ancestral ties that will certainly keep readers on their toes. All in all, Diana Gabaldon simply has a wonderful way with painting word pictures that just swept me up in the story and made me feel like I had indeed been transported back in time.
Just because I think that Dragonfly in Amber is stronger as a historical novel, does not mean that the other elements were in any way lacking. It still has the beautiful romance of Jamie and Claire at its core. These two characters have simply enthralled me in a way that many characters in traditional romance fail to do. Jamie and Claire are absolutely perfect for each other, and in this story have settled into a very comfortable marriage in which it seems like they have been together much longer than they have. To me, this has always been part of the beauty of their relationship, in that they are the best of friends while still being passionate lovers. Even when they talk about the mundane things of life or engage in fun lighthearted bantering it expresses a deep intimacy. Jamie and Claire trust each other implicitly and even when that trust seems to have been compromised, they still find their way back to each other. This is a couple who epitomize the word, soulmate, and who would literally live and die for one another, and theirs is a love that spans both space and time and will never end. In my opinion, this is what true romance is all about, but for anyone seeking hot steamy love scenes, they won't really be found in this book. Most of these parts are fairly non-explicit and don't contain a lot of detail, but that certainly didn't matter to me, as the relationship is always the most important thing for me in any romance. There are even a couple of side romances in the form a heartbreakingly tragic relationship between a couple of Frank Randall's ancestors and a sweet budding connection between Brianna Randall Fraser and Roger Wakefield, who are very important characters in later books.
The other element that was incredibly well-done is the time travel. Diana Gabaldon has written a scholarly article outlining her own theories of time travel, and it certainly is borne out in this book. I found Jamie and Claire's attempts to alter history to be very intellectually engaging. It presents a didactical argument as to whether it would be possible to change history if time travel were a reality, something which I love to ponder. It also asks the question of whether a person could cease to exist if that history was revised. There was also a great little rabbit trail where Claire mulls over the effects of time travel on germs and disease which I found to be a fun thing to speculate about too. The one thing I would not have wanted to do, is hold the fate of so many people in my hands the way Jamie and Claire did, due to their knowledge of the future. Many times over the course of the story they had to make really difficult choices, and even did some things that might be considered somewhat immoral or unethical, and contemplated doing far worse for the sake of the greater good. Of course, they never came to these conclusions lightly, and I love how Ms. Gabaldon brought out all the gut-wrenching emotions that were associated with that decision-making process.
Jamie and Claire are two characters I won't soon forget, and I greatly look forward to reading their further adventures. Jamie is the ultimate hero who is both brave and vulnerable, and a fierce warrior but a gentle lover, a man who Claire calls “the sun.” He is selfless and chivalrous, willing to sacrifice himself for those he loves including the men under his command, and his word is his honor, something he would never dream of breaking no matter what. I love that Jamie has a sensitive heart underneath his tough exterior and isn't afraid to cry or show his true feelings. Sometimes he says some of the sweetest, most beautiful things that make me swoon. With his wry, teasing humor, he is also one of the funniest characters I have ever read. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, he can often make me laugh. It was absolutely hilarious (although extremely fortuitous) the amount of mileage he got out of his La Dame Blanche story about Claire, as was his confrontational “conversation” with the little dog at the hospital where Claire worked. At the same time, Jamie is still a very tortured hero who is frequently tormented by demons, both real and emotional, as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Jack Randall in the first book, which led to some very intense moments in the narrative. Claire, for her part, is probably the strongest heroine I have ever read. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who always uses her wits to survive and who isn't afraid to stand up to anyone including clan leaders and even royalty. Because of her modern sensibilities, she sometimes bucks the convention of the time, but by maintaining a strong backbone, she also manages to garner the respect of nearly everyone who meets her. Still, since the book is told primarily in first person from Claire's point of view, her vulnerabilities are readily apparent to the reader. There are moments when she is truly afraid and when her emotions even get the best of her, and of course, she wears her undeniable love for Jamie on her sleeve. Claire and Jamie are just so well-matched that I could hardly bear the times that they were apart in the story, and when they came back together it was like electricity shooting off the page. Their final scenes together in Dragonfly in Amber were some of the most beautiful and poignant, but also the most heartbreaking ever to be penned. They literally left me in tears, which is a somewhat rare effect for a book to have on me.
There are just so many things to love about Dragonfly in Amber, I don't think I could possibly name them all, and there are even a few things that were a bit bothersome. On the up side, there was a widely varied and diverse cast of supporting characters from the real-life players who were mentioned earlier to plenty of fictional ones as well. Jamie's sister and brother-in-law, Jenny and Ian, who I love, appeared again along with their family. Even though he rarely has much to say, the dour Murtaugh is always a welcome addition. Jamie also takes in Fergus, a young pickpocket with the heart of a lion, although I have to admit that the historical realities for a child like him left me feeling extremely heartbroken. Jack Randall's younger brother, Alex, and Mary Hawkins, a teenage girl who Claire meets in Paris, also play important roles, as does Master Raymond, a mysterious little man who runs an apothecary shop. In addition to the strong character palette, there is plenty of intrigue that should keep readers guessing, as well as lots of adventure and excitement. On the down side, there is a quite a bit of sometimes rather gruesome violence, including sexual assault, and some vivid depictions of various war injuries which some readers may find cringe-worthy, though certainly nothing that was out of place for the time period. Most of these things did not bother me, but there was one graphic description of hanging, drawing, and quartering which left me with a queasy stomach, so sensitive readers may want to skip that part. The early parts of the book move at a rather languid pace, but there were always little side stories that made it interesting and held my attention. Overall, though there was nothing I could say I truly disliked about the book, and in fact, it was even better the second time around as this was a re-read for me.
Unlike Outlander which can be a satisfying read by itself, there is a cliffhanger ending to Dragonfly in Amber, so new readers of the series will probably want to have a copy of the next book, Voyager, on hand before starting. When I first read books 1-3 over a decade ago, I don't think I could have waited for the sequel to come, so I'm glad I didn't discover the series until the first three books had already been published. Dragonfly in Amber has forever earned a place on my keeper shelf next to its predecessor, Outlander. I can't wait to read the remaining books in the series, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes, as well as An Echo in the Bone, the newest Outlander book which is due to hit store shelves this September. With her amazing talent and enthralling writing style, Diana Gabaldon has also earned a place among my favorite authors....more
I've read that Outlander was originally marketed as a romance novel because the publisher didn't know what else to do wReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
I've read that Outlander was originally marketed as a romance novel because the publisher didn't know what else to do with it, but this book is no ordinary romance novel. It doesn't follow any typical romance formula and is a real genre bender that doesn't fit neatly into any one category. Outlander has a swoon-worthy hero and dozens of truly romantic scenes that should be sufficient to satisfy even the most discriminating romance reader, while it's time travel aspect and a few references to witches and fairies should be of interest to readers of fantasy and paranormal stories. At it's heart though Outlander is a historical novel rife with details of 18th century life in the Scottish Highlands both inside and outside a castle or large estate. It also recounts some of the events leading up to the Jacobite Pretender's Uprising of 1745. Diana Gabaldon is an amazing writer who delves deep into her character's lives and the history surrounding them, painting an extraordinary picture that truly transports the reader to another time and place.
Claire is an incredibly strong heroine, who can sometimes be a bit brash and sassy, but deep down she is a kind and caring person at heart. She adapts amazingly well to a new time and place, much better than most people ever would if faced with the dilemma she was. Claire is a very intelligent woman who uses every ounce of knowledge at her disposal to reverse her predicament, while helping others, especially with their medical needs, and bringing a much needed modern perspective to ancient methods. She somehow finds the courage to made difficult choices in an era when choices were sometimes few or non-existent, especially for women, and to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Claire is stubborn and persistent even in the face of nearly impossible odds. Best of all she is a pillar of strength to her beloved Jamie as much as he is to her, and she has a powerful underlying passion that matches his own for her.
Jamie, in my opinion, is the best romantic hero ever to be penned by an author. He exhibits both physical and mental strength, as well as a strength of character, that go above and beyond any ordinary romantic hero. His word is his honor, and his commitment to that honor is moving beyond words. If only there were more men in reality who could be so easily trusted and taken at their word. Jamie shows a deep respect, not just for Claire, but for all the women with whom he comes in contact, a true gentleman in every sense of the word. On the outside, Jamie is tough as nails, enduring more physical pain than any one person should ever be expected to, while on the inside, he is kind, gentle and sensitive, often instinctively knowing things that others don't. He is thoroughly intelligent and well-educated and often beautifully poetic in his speech. He is lighthearted and self-deprecating, never taking himself too seriously. I loved the way he was always teasing Claire. Jamie is simply a wonderful character, a man who loves selflessly and with his whole being.
There is much to enjoy about this book. Together, Jamie and Claire make a formidable couple, and it is obvious from the outset that they are soulmates. Their absolute trust in each other, basically from the moment they meet, is in and of itself, romance at it's finest. There are no contrived misunderstandings between them, only naked honesty, which brings an openness and vulnerability to both characters that is breathtaking. I love the way the author creates a beautiful friendship between these two characters before they end up at the altar and of course then become lovers. What's even better though is how that friendship continues to blossom and grow deeper and deeper even after they are married. The intimacy level of these two characters is something I rarely see in a novel, and most of it has little or nothing to do with sexual interludes. During the times when Jamie and Claire were apart even for short periods of time, I simply couldn't wait for them to be reunited, as the two of them together absolutely electrify the pages. All the secondary characters are extremely well-crafted and surprisingly well fleshed out, even those who play only minor parts. The setting is beautifully rendered as well, almost becoming a character unto itself. The time travel aspect adds an extended element of intrigue, and Ms. Gabaldon has certainly taken the time to think through the ramifications of such a feat if it were indeed possible. Every scene simply adds to the richness of detail in the book, and there is nothing that I felt was excess. The author's care in seamlessly weaving all of the elements together is evident all throughout the book.
While there are many things to love about this story, there were a few events that bothered me just a bit. There was a scene in which Jamie beats Claire with his sword belt for disobedience. The scene in and of itself actually did not bother me much, because I fully understood his reasons for doing so and he later took a vow never to do it again. What did bother me was his admission that he enjoyed it. The admission was made in a fairly lighthearted manner. In light of that, I suppose it might have been meant as humorous, but perhaps it was too subtle for me to fully appreciate. Even so, I might not have thought much of it except for the fact that the villain in this story is a brutal sadist. For that reason, I found myself a bit annoyed at having the hero of the story exhibit even a hint of such a tendency. There were also a couple of scenes of what I would term rather intense and rough lovemaking, one of which began with Jamie behaving in a dominant manner, and neither of which were quite to my taste. They just seemed a bit out of character for Jamie, who up to this point, and following, was always a gentle and considerate though passionate lover. I will allow though for the fact that Jamie apologized for the first incident and admitted equality after the second. Finally, there was a scene in which Jamie related a prior incident with a secondary character in his youth, which by today's standards would have been nothing short of an act of child molestation against him, but which was treated rather casually by all involved. I wanted to reconcile this in a historical perspective, but as hard as I tried, I simply couldn't. I also feel compelled to warn sensitive readers that there is an incidence of brutal sexual violence near the end of the book. It is not played out in real-time, but instead is related a bit at a time through dialog and implication, but still is immensely palpable in the intensity of it's aftereffects on the psyche of the character who was the victim. I'm not usually overly squeamish about such things, but I have to admit to having some difficulty reading these passages. More than once, they brought tears to my eyes.
In spite of the things I have mentioned though, Outlander is still by far one of the best books I have ever read. I have to give Ms. Gabaldon extra points for all of her attention to details. It is a joy to read such an intelligently-written and meticulously-researched novel that is so rich in detail. It went far beyond my expectations for a debut novel for any author. It even sparked my interest in learning more about the time and place that is depicted in it. Outlander is the type of book that is so engrossing and compelling that it makes one want to read straight through without ever putting it down, though it's epic length makes that somewhat unfeasible. This was my second reading of the book, and it certainly won't be my last. It has a earned a permanent place on my keeper shelf along with it's sequels Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes all of which continue Jamie and Claire's story....more