A Love Beyond Time was Judie Aitken's first romance novel, and in my opinion, it was a very worthy debut. I have a stro...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
A Love Beyond Time was Judie Aitken's first romance novel, and in my opinion, it was a very worthy debut. I have a strong interest in Native American history and culture and felt that she really brought these aspects of the story alive. I have read some authors in this romance sub-genre who merely skim the surface, peppering their stories with occasional details that could easily be gleaned from elementary schoolbooks, but never really capture the essence of the Indian people. Instead of the history and culture in A Love Beyond Time being reduced to a dry textbook lesson, it seemed to become a living, breathing part of the narrative, as important as any character. Ms. Aitken seems to have a talent for writing from the heart with a certain thoughtfulness and passion for telling Native American stories, and this was one of the facets of the book that I enjoyed most. I also always like a good time travel yarn, and this one was rather unique in that both the hero and heroine went back in time, and they did not meet until they arrived in the past, nor did they realize that the other was a time traveler. In addition, they each traveled to the past in different ways, which created both positive and negative elements for me. While I appreciate the idea of time travel in general, I tend to favor the straightforward type in which a character physically makes the time jump in the way that Ryan did. On the other hand, I am not a huge fan of only a person's spirit making the slide through time and switching bodies with a person on the other side as Dillon did. I guess this is just a little too mystical for my taste, but as long as I didn't think about this side of the story too much, the time travel aspect was still pretty enjoyable.
I found the hero and heroine to both be likable. Ryan was a strong woman who had made a place for herself in a “man's world”, but didn't seem overly bothered by the idea of being placed into a more submissive role in the past. In fact, she would have been content with giving up her career and everything she had worked for in the present to stay in the past with Wolf. I really liked this balance in her character. She also had refused to give up on the notion of finding her one true love and marrying for love alone, which was a quality I found admirable. Although the story began with Dillon (aka Wolf in the past) being fairly angry and prejudiced against whites, I appreciated his willingness to change and accept that not all whites were bad. In spite of his initial wariness at finding Ryan in the Lakota camp of the past, he was open-minded enough to believe that she really had been sent by Tunkasila (“God”) to help them. Wolf was also very kind, gentle and protective of Ryan, and a strong leader among his people, all things that I liked about him. In the present, I thought Dillon was very respectable as a man who had risen above his circumstances to become a successful attorney and who was giving his talents back to his people. The only thing that I could really find fault with is that Wolf and Ryan's relationship was not fully developed, in my opinion. Since they did not even meet until about one third of the way into the book, the romance aspect relied heavily on a love-at-first-sight scenario which is not exactly my favorite way of bringing a hero and heroine together. Sometimes I simply feel that this plot device is overused in the romance genre, though because of the mystical element surrounding the entire story, I was able to forgive it's use in this particular book to some degree. Though the romantic scenes were quite lovely and written well, I just felt that incorporating more of them would have helped to build the relationship in a more believable and engaging way.
Additionally, there were many other parts of the story which I found appealing. It had many strong secondary characters including Dillon's grandfather, Charley Crying Wolf and brother, Buddy, in the present who I found to be very lovable, as well as, Eagle Deer, and his wife, Pretty Feather, from the past who were the most loyal of friends to Wolf and every bit as accepting of the strange wasicu (“white”) woman who suddenly appeared in their camp. I also liked the use of many Lakota words and phrases scattered throughout the narrative. They always had translations or context meaning, and I really felt that they added to the realism of the culture in which the story takes place. I likewise enjoy mysteries and this book had one surrounding the theft of the Indian artifacts. I must admit though, that it was fairly easy for me to figure out who the perpetrator was, and the only thing that remained a mystery for me until the reveal was the motive. I found the archaeological dig setting of the present and the Little Big Horn setting of the past, as well as Ryan's career as an anthropologist to be unique and interesting elements. One thing that I really respected was Ryan agonizing over the decision of whether to share with the Indians her knowledge of events yet to come, and if she did, how it might affect the fabric of time. I found this to be a very clever and logical position for the author to take, especially in light of Ryan's background as a scientist. Similarly, I found Ryan's anger toward Charley after returning from the past to be a very realistic reaction under the circumstances. Overall, I thought that A Love Beyond Time was a very intelligent and well-researched book that was an impressive first effort from Ms. Aitken's pen. This was also the first of her books that I have read, but I will definitely be open to reading more of her works in the future.(less)
I've read that Outlander was originally marketed as a romance novel because the publisher didn't know what else to do w...moreReviewed 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.(less)
Sandra Hill is a mischievous author who has a talent for blending comedic elements with some great romance and sensuali...moreReviewed for www.thcreviews.com
Sandra Hill is a mischievous author who has a talent for blending comedic elements with some great romance and sensuality. She is very good at creating play-on-words that lead to lots of hilarious misunderstandings, and she also has a penchant for funny t-shirt slogans that don't make much sense to a tenth century Viking. Truly, Madly Viking had many humorous moments that had me smiling and even laughing out loud, but it also had very tender moments that had me misting up. The story got off to a bit of a slow start for me, but about 1/3 of the way through, I was pretty well hooked. I think the slow start was because there wasn't quite as much of the “fish out of water” feel to this book as there was in the first book of the series, The Last Viking. I was also somewhat disappointed that Ms. Hill seemed to recycle some jokes and minor plot points and characterizations from the previous novel, as well as repeat some things throughout the book, but in the end there was enough new material to hold my attention.
The characterizations were very well drawn. Jorund at times seemed a bit too perfect for my taste (I have a personal preference for the more imperfect heroes) and a little too chauvinistic, but it wasn't overdone to the point of being annoying. Underneath it all he had a loving, tender heart of gold toward both Maggie and her daughters, and best of all, he really respected Maggie, so it was pretty easy to see why she would fall for him. I also enjoyed Jorund's attitude toward public service, and his realization of how much personal satisfaction he received from helping others. I loved Maggie with all her insecurities and inhibitions (What woman can't relate to that?), but Jorund had a way of making her feel truly beautiful. Maggie's daughters, Beth and Suzy, seemed a little beyond their years at times, and I found them to be most endearing when they were just being little girls. The mental hospital patients were a hoot, yet the reader could really sympathize with them in their individual situations.
Truly, Madly Viking is the second book in a series about a time-traveling trio of brothers. In this book, readers are treated to a reunion with Rolf and Meredith, as well as a few secondary characters from book #1, The Last Viking, and given a look at what their lives are like now. We are also introduced to the third brother, Magnus, who becomes the hero of book #3, The Very Virile Viking. Ms. Hill's Viking II series actually contains a total of six books basically written in two trilogies, with books #4-#6 being Wet & Wild, Hot & Heavy, and Rough & Ready. Truly, Madly Viking had some weaknesses and admittedly isn't the typical romance fare that I tend to like the most, but overall, there was enough originality, humor, and tender, heartfelt moments to make this an enjoyable read for me. If you're looking for a lighthearted romp with lots of laughs then look no further.
Update: Two more book have been added to this series, Down & Dirty and Viking Unchained. (7/13/08)(less)
This third installment in Sandra Hill's Viking Series II is a fun-filled romp through time. I wasn't sure I would like Magnus because the impression I...moreThis third installment in Sandra Hill's Viking Series II is a fun-filled romp through time. I wasn't sure I would like Magnus because the impression I had gotten of him from the previous two books was that of an arrogant womanizer whose numerous conquests had left him with eleven children, not to mention he didn't seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer. Well, Sandra Hill managed to skillfully turn him into an endearing hero whose earthiness gave him a charming simplicity. He was also a loving, patient, and committed father which is always a plus for me. Angela was a strong, determined woman who ended up loving Magnus's kids as much as he did, which is something that no other woman in his life had done for him. I thought her character was a bit underdeveloped though, so she just didn't stand out to me like Magnus and the kids did. I found her to be a likable and pleasant heroine nonetheless. I was also a little disappointed with the development of Magnus and Angela's relationship. Things moved a little too quickly for my taste, and I didn't initially feel an emotional connection between the two characters. However, the ending was very romantic and satisfying in my opinion. I thought the kids were a total hoot, and each one had a unique personality. In fact there was plenty of Sandra Hill's trademark humor that left me in stitches quite frequently. There was a scene where Magnus and his children discover the joys of "Wal-Market" that was absolutely priceless. While the story wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny from logical readers, I found it to be a fun and enjoyable fantasy. If you like your romance with a healthy dose of laughter, then this book and it's companions may just fit the bill.(less)
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 a...moreReviewed 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.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews It's been so long since I've read a Sandra Hill book, I'd almost forgotten just how much fun they can be. Wet & Wild was c...moreReviewed for THC Reviews It's been so long since I've read a Sandra Hill book, I'd almost forgotten just how much fun they can be. Wet & Wild was certainly no exception. In fact, it is now my favorite book in the Viking II series. While I consider myself to have a pretty good sense of humor, I often don't care for romantic comedies, because most of the ones I've read felt like the author was trying too hard to be funny. Much like Kerrelyn Sparks, Sandra Hill's style never fails to tickle my funny bone. She is very talented at portraying the fish out of water aspect of a medieval Viking suddenly being transported to the present day and how strange our modern world seems to him. As one might expect, many amusing misunderstandings arise from the situation. Ms. Hill is also great with the witty word play, creating some truly clever turns of phrase. All these things combined make her books LOL funny to me.
Wet & Wild picks up the story of this Viking clan ten years after the end of The Very Virile Viking. The hero of that book, Magnus, has thirteen children, of whom the oldest son is Ragnor. He was one of only two of Magnus' children to stay behind in tenth century Norway, and since they've not heard anything from them since, they believe their father and siblings to have drowned. Of course, his two uncles (The Last Viking and Truly, Madly Viking) had previously disappeared and were also presumed dead. As the story opens, Ragnor is a very sympathetic character who is feeling depressed over his life due to the loss of so many family members in a relatively short amount of time. I thought it was cute that after years of playing the man-slut, he'd become utterly bored with women and had totally lost his enthusiasm for sex. He's a man who is very much ready for one good woman, a soul-mate, even though he doesn't know it yet and fights the notion tooth and nail. I liked that despite having numerous sexual conquests throughout the years since he was a teenager, Ragnor had learned a valuable lesson from his father's mistakes and been very careful not to “spread his seed” around. In fact, he's intelligent in more ways than one, and I certainly love a man with a brain.:-) He has a photographic memory, instantly memorizing anything he sees or hears, and he's fast with ciphering too. I think to some extent it was his intellectual side that helped him to accept the strange new land he'd been transported to and eventually led him to figuring out that he had somehow time-traveled. He's also very tough and determined to succeed when he finds himself in the middle of SEALs training. When it comes to his relationship with Alison, Ragnor is definitely an arrogant alpha Viking. He has a tendency to tell her what's going to happen rather than asking, which doesn't usually go over too well with her and could easily have annoyed me too, except that he also has a sweet, gentle, caring side that would be impossible not to love. The man knows how to sweet-talk like nobody's business. I think I'd have been putty in his hands too.:-)
Like many women in the military, Alison is fighting for her place in a male-dominated world. She's a tough, independent woman who dreams of becoming the first female SEAL. Since her brother is the commander of a SEALs training class, she often runs with them to keep herself in top shape in hopes of the rules changing. At the very least, she wants to be part of the support teams that go with the SEALs on missions. As a Navy doctor, she outranks both her brother and the men under his command, which makes for a rather dicey situation when she starts falling for Ragnor who is a subordinate. Alison hasn't been with a man at all in the five years since her fiancé, who was also a SEAL, died in a terrorist attack abroad. She's very lonely, and in some ways, still grieving the loss. She doesn't really consider herself much of a catch, because of her height, her physique, and her Little Orphan Annie hair. Lucky for her Ragnor favors redheads and her body reminds him of the Valkyries of Norse legend. That pretty much makes her irresistible to him, in much the same way he is to her. She may not look kindly on him trying to order her about, but she doesn't mind playing along in the bedroom, especially when she discovers what a talented lover he is.
The heroes and heroines of the first three books, along with their growing families pop in for a visit near the end. It was nice to see all of Magnus' children, many of whom are all grown up now. One of those is Torolf, who is the one who was really in the SEALs class. However, he got injured and left the base, only to lose his memory and spend most of the story in a biker commune, which is how Ragnor, who is a near twin to Torolf, was able to take his place without too many questions being asked. Torolf becomes the hero of the sixth book of the series, Rough and Ready. The hero of the next book is Alison's brother, Ian, the tough, no-nonsense commanding officer of the SEALs class Ragnor is in. Ian isn't unlike the Vikings in that he can be a pretty arrogant alpha himself at times, but he's very protective of his sister who seems to be his soft spot. Being the only one to survive the terrorist attack that killed Alison's fiancé, it appears he may have a few demons of his own. Ragnor humorously spends most of the story trying to convince Ian that he'd make a good mate for his sister, Madrene, the only one of Magnus' children still in medieval Norway, and they do get matched up in Hot & Heavy. Madrene showed up briefly in the first chapter, and despite Ragnor's complaints about her nagging, I found myself very sympathetic toward her. After being set aside by her Viking husband for presumably being barren, I think she needs her own HEA with a man who can truly appreciate her. The other members of SEAL Team 500 are a colorful bunch, and I think many of them would make great heroes. So far, the only two I can identify as getting their own books are Zachary Floyd aka “Pretty Boy” who becomes the hero of Down and Dirty, and Justin LeBlanc aka “Cage” who is from Louisiana and will be crossing over to appear in Snow on the Bayou, a brand new Cajun book, due for release in Aug. (2014). In her letter at the end, Ms. Hill also mentions wanting to write a story for JAM, but as far as I can tell, that hasn't happened yet.
I freely admit that Wet & Wild would not stand up well to logical and critical scrutiny, which is something that Ms. Hill addresses in her letter at the end, but like she said, it is a fantasy. I think anyone who can set aside that magnifying lens and just go with the flow should enjoy this one, as would anyone who wants a lighthearted read that offers a good laugh. Even with my own issues regarding romantic comedies, I was grinning and laughing much of the time I was reading this book, and closed the last page with a smile on my face and the relaxed feeling that can only come from a good chuckle. Now that I'm back into the world of Sandra Hill, I'm very much looking forward to finding out what happens for Ian and Madrene and the rest of the characters who get their own books in the future.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Normally, I enjoy a good time-travel yarn, but unfortunately, Pirates just didn't work for me on a number of levels. First, th...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Normally, I enjoy a good time-travel yarn, but unfortunately, Pirates just didn't work for me on a number of levels. First, the time-travel element itself was rather weak, in my opinion, with the characters being too easily accepting of this miraculous turn of events. Also, other than the brief jaunt back to the present and the occasional reminder that Phoebe was from the future, the story just felt like a straight historical romance. Readers are frequently told that Phoebe and Duncan essentially speak two different forms of English because of the two hundred year time difference between them, but other than Phoebe using a modern colloquialism once in a while, their speaking styles didn't seem to differ all that much. In this case, I felt that the author should have placed more effort and attention to detail on giving them contrasting speech patterns or simply not brought it up at all. The dialog in general didn't have a natural flow to it either. I'm also typically a fan of descriptive narrative that has a poetic feel to it and to some extent Linda Lael Miller's style falls into that category, yet it just didn't grab me in the way other authors have. I think this was due to the narrative being a bit too flowery at times and quite simply too verbose. Sometimes less truly is more, and this was definitely one of those cases where I felt the author could have been pared down the narrative to create a tighter more concise story.
What bothered me the most about the book though was that Ms. Miller seems to be another one of those authors who writes in an incredibly passive style, using far too many “be” verbs and assigning actions to things or feelings rather than the characters themselves. This type of writing never really works for me, because I feel like the entire story is being told to me by a narrator instead of the characters actually taking part in the action. The author also seems to have a penchant for creating events that happen “just because” with little rhyme, reason or thoughtful planning going into the plotting process. To me it just felt like a haphazard mish-mash of occurrences that didn't really have much holding them together and kept leaving me asking, “Why?”
Duncan and Phoebe could have been truly outstanding characters. After all, Phoebe is a time-traveler who has few enough connections to her contemporary life as to not be missed when taking a trip to the past, and Duncan was rather unique as a pirate/patriot who was plundering British ships for the cause of American independence. However, the way in which they were rendered left me with little interest in either of them or the outcome of their story. Sadly, in my opinion, both Duncan and Phoebe were dull, one-dimensional characters whose motives I was never really able to discern. Phoebe's feelings for Duncan surface extremely quickly with absolutely nothing substantial occurring between them to really foster such loving emotions, in my opinion. Duncan follows suit pretty soon after, but of course, has the obligatory waiting period before voicing his love for her, simply because he's a tough man who shouldn't express his feelings too quickly. Even their initial love-making scene and marriage both came totally from out of the blue. Normally, if nothing else, I can count on a few steamy love scenes to set the tone of the relationship, but even those were lacking any spark or sizzle and some of the language used was bordering on purple prose. In fact, I've read “clean” romances that have far better emotional and sexual tension than this book did. Duncan and Phoebe were both nice enough characters I suppose, but that's about the only positive thing I have to say about them. I just couldn't relate to or understand them well at all, and felt virtually no connection between them or to them, mainly because it seemed like their love was being told to me rather than shown through their actions.
Even the secondary characters were pretty colorless and lackluster. Normally, best friend characters will be a bastion of support to one of the main characters and perhaps even a jovial scene-stealer. In this case, Duncan's best friend, Alex, was a total downer. He seemed like a decent character in the beginning, but then after being injured in a battle he suddenly became almost inexplicably suicidal and then snapped out of it equally quickly when the right woman came along to stir him. I love a good tortured male character, but with Alex, I would have needed a lot more insights into his psyche to understand what was going on with him. Old Woman was kind of interesting, but rather clichéd as the mystical wise woman who actually believed Phoebe's tale of time travel. Then there was Simone, Duncan's ex-mistress and “woman scorned” who was as difficult for me to figure out as everyone else. For some reason, Phoebe seemed to feel sorry for her and kept trying to help her even though Simone doggedly continued to lay claim to Duncan even after he had married Phoebe. I think she was meant to be a villain of sorts, but to me she was simply an annoyance. I can't say that the other “villains” were much better. They too had no real teeth, being easily escaped from or dispatched by Duncan in fairly short order. Duncan's family were the only ones that really caught my attention in any meaningful way, but they too were a mysterious enigma with their sympathies lying with the Tories, but their hearts with Duncan. Most people don't ride that political line so easily, so I found myself wanting to know more about their beliefs.
Even the title of the book, Pirates, is rather disingenuous. Yes, Duncan is a pirate, but mostly in name only. With a title like that, I was expecting some energetic high seas action, but there was only one single scene where anything of a truly pirate-y nature occurred, and it was over almost before it started with little excitement or fanfare. I know that Linda Lael Miller is a highly respected and prolific author with a 25+ year writing career behind her, and I can see how some readers may enjoy her novels. She certainly has some imagination and creativity, but the style in which she writes simply left me bereft of any connection to her story or characters. Pirates was my first read by Ms. Miller, and since I've skimmed some of her other books (even more recent ones) and still found her manner of writing to be lacking for my taste, I'm sorry to say, it will most likely be my last.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Voyager is another fabulous installment in the Outlander series which takes the reader on a wild ride full of action, adventur...moreReviewed 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.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a hi...moreReviewed for THC Reviews George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a historical time travel with the hero going back in time to a medieval castle, but having a dragon terrorizing the nearby villagers also places the story squarely in the fantasy realm. The humor had me grinning like an idiot until my husband asked what was so funny, and that alone gives it a firm standing as a romantic comedy too. Additionally, it had a light paranormal element in the way in which the time travel took place, and tons of action and adventure as our intrepid hero sets out to slay the dragon. All of this made for a pretty fun read, but I still couldn't help feeling like there was something missing. Since I was enjoying most of the story, it took me a while to figure it out, but when I did, I sadly realized it was the romance itself that was rather lacking.
Alizon was a complicated young woman who was somewhat difficult for me to relate to. She begins the story as a fourteen year-old orphan girl who is trying to loose her virginity so she won't have to go to the annual virgin lottery and possibly be sent as a sacrifice to the dragon. She has reluctantly chosen an unkempt, callow youth who had been pursuing her, but he has no idea what he's doing. It was a pretty funny scene, but at the same time kind of sad because of her reasons for doing it. In the end she bravely goes to the lottery and eventually the dragon. Once we find out how she avoided falling prey to the dragon and had saved many other virgins lives over the years, she seemed even more courageous, but at the same time, she had been pretty selfish. Alizon is also way too stubborn and independent for her own good. In her mind, she laments her lot in life, how she is stuck in the castle with no conceivable means of escape, and seems to want someone to free her, but when George comes along to save her, she allows her fear to take over to the point that she literally tries to sabotage her own potential HEA. It was amusing that during Alizon's twelve years as the dragon's keeper she had become a pretty horny virgin, fantasizing about finally being deflowered the right way, but again, when George begins to show sexual interest in her, she wants to be in control of everything which only leads to further disappointment for her. I also felt that her lack of trust in George suppressed any intimacy between them. I really wanted to like Alizon and can't necessarily say that I disliked her. I did feel bad for all she had been through in her life and understood her actions on some level, but wish she would have lightened up a little sooner. Unfortunately, her quick turn around at the end wasn't entirely believable to me.
George ended up being a pleasant surprise for me. Not being a fan of professional wrestling, I wasn't sure if I would like him and thought he might end up being a cheesy character. I couldn't have been more wrong about him though. In spite of his profession, George was a real softie, much more of a beta hero than the chest-beating alpha I was expecting. He truly cares about people and has used the wealth he has earned to take care of his family. His opening scene where he is playing with his little niece was positively adorable. I liked how after traveling to the past George was able to manage cooking, cleaning, laundry and basically shocked Alizon with his ability and willingness to do “women's work.” George was also a very intelligent man whose hobby was studying medieval history. He had a love of all things from that era, so much so that he had built his own castle in the present day. I thought it very clever of him that he was able to decipher middle English to communicate with the people when he went back in time, and it was refreshing that he wasn't fooled by Alizon's crone disguise and recognized it for what it was right away. I did start to wonder when he was going to figure out that he had really time traveled and was no longer just in a guided vision, but I have to admit that his use of Jungian psychology to self-analyze this crazy “dream” he was having could be pretty hilarious. George was an extremely patient and forgiving man when it came to Alizon's shortcomings, more so than I could have been, brave to go up against the dragon, especially once he realized it was real, and just a fun, all-around great guy.
For a large part of the book, I felt like there was something missing. As I mentioned earlier, I came to realize it was the actual romance, but more so than that it was a lack of sexual tension, relationship development, and emotion in general. I understood on an intellectual level why Alizon was so stubbornly independent and even a little prickly. I do think that her situation warranted sympathy, but in spite of that, I never really felt much for her even when she was telling George the whole sad story of how she came to be mistress of Devil's Mount. What passed for sexual tension felt more like mere lust. Alizon had been feeling the stirring of desire for quite a while, so it wasn't too surprising that she was very attracted to George's masculinity. However, at first she only wanted to use him to finally rid herself of her virginity. George for his part, knew that Alizon was much younger than she pretended to be, but he doesn't even get to see her face until over a third of the way into the book and even then he still thinks she's just part of his dream world. Granted he did several kind and thoughtful things for her and was brave enough to attempt to slay a dragon for her with few weapons to hand, but I just didn't feel a deep emotional connection between them like I would have preferred. Even when they finally consummated their relationship, I was disappointed, as the setting just wasn't very romantic to me. In fact, it seemed downright uncomfortable. Not to mention, there had been so much teasing and build-up to it that I was expecting something explosive, but it was all over in a matter of a couple of pages with minimal details.
I may have been dissatisfied with the romance element, but I do have to give Lisa Cach a few extra points for basing her story on the actual legends surrounding a real place, St. Michael's Mount, a tiny island off the southern coast of England which really is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. The village to which it leads is also the village in the book. Additionally, Ms. Cach took the time to thrown in a bit of Middle English, much like an author would do if they were showing that a character speaks another language. In essence they did speak another language in the middle ages, so I thought that little touch added a bit of authenticity to the novel as well. Overall, George & the Virgin was a cute, playful, lighthearted concoction that was a fairly enjoyable read in spite of its weaknesses. The action, adventure and humor helped to make up for some of the other deficiencies. After reading two books by Lisa Cach, I'm starting to see that she is a little better at creating swashbuckling daring-do than tender romantic relationships, so she'll probably be an author to look to whenever I'm in the mood for a breezy escapade rather than my usual more serious-minded fare. (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Victorian Scoundrel was my first steampunk romance, and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Victorian Scoundrel was my first steampunk romance, and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The steam-powered machines were seamlessly woven into the storyline, so that I hardly noticed the oddity of their presence in the historical setting. Time travel also played a big role in the plot with the author exploring the ramifications of time travelers doing things that might alter the time line which is something I always enjoy thinking about. There was a decent dose of history too, with real-life personages, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, their three oldest children, and Prime Minister John Russell playing secondary roles. Prince Albert and his work organizing the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a pivotal part of the plot. Readers even get a two-for-one on the romance element. I can say without reservation that the romance was truly romantic to me, and it's been a while since I've read a book where that was true. The sexual tension was wonderful, and while there were only two moderately descriptive love scenes between one of the two couples, they were very sensual. Everything just melded together into a fun, engaging story that was really a pleasure to read.
Instead of having only two main protagonists, Victorian Scoundrel has four and all of them are very likable. We have present day fictional royals Edmund and Alice. They and their families are in part patterned after the current, real-life British royals and share the same surname. Both Edmund and Alice have difficulty dating in the present day, because they can't seem to find anyone who isn't gold-digging or simply looking for the prestige that would come from being seen with a royal. They both desire to find relationships with partners who like them for themselves, so for them, traveling back in history where they can pretend to be commoners is a treat. Edmund (ala Prince Harry) is an adorable red-head who is thoroughly charming but has a penchant for getting into mischief. His cousin Alice is the level-headed one who follows Edmund back in time to make sure he stays out of trouble, but then can't resist the pull of her heart toward handsome Lord Swinton aka Grayson who I loved too. He is a real gentleman who truly cares about people. He is working with Prime Minister Russell to pass an alternative fuel bill that would cut down on the coal dust and soot that blankets London. What I appreciated most about Grayson was that he was a highly intelligent man to figure out what was going on with Alice and Edmund all on his own by simply putting the clues together. While I would have to say that Alice and Grayson's relationship was the primary focus of this story, Edmund certainly wasn't left out in the cold in the romance department. He got his own love interest in the form of the Prime Minister's daughter, Kiera, a sweet young woman who is a bit selective about her suitors but finds a kindred spirit in Edmund.
Victorian Scoundrel was a nice easy read, but sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered. The pacing was pretty snappy with the plot moving right along, while the dialog was sharp and sometimes witty. I really enjoyed the environmentally conscious, “go green” theme. There was just enough adventure and intrigue to keep me engaged. The conflict was pretty minimal as there are no actual villains in the story. Those who act a bit underhandedly only do so for the greater good. Occasionally the author used an odd word choice which didn't seem to fit as well in context as another word might have, and I found it a bit curious that she chose to use the modern word for certain things rather then its historical counterpart (eg. purse instead of reticule, glasses instead of spectacles), but since this is a fantasy story I decided to let it slide. The only real complaint I have is that the author does have a tendency to overuse certain character gestures such crossing arms, pursing lips and raking fingers through hair. Normally I like details like this but the frequent repetitions could be a bit grating. Otherwise, Victorian Scoundrel was a really enjoyable story. Ms. Burkhart even managed to throw in a big twist and a cliffhanger ending that has me already eagerly looking forward to the next book in the Windsor Diaries. I wanted to growl in frustration when I found out that it's not due to be released for another year. Perhaps in the meantime, I'll have to check out some of the author's other works.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
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 do...moreReviewed 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.(less)