Tag Archives: ballantine books

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

outlander Readers, I have a problem.

My name is Farin, and I’m addicted to Outlander.

It started rather innocuously with a pre-Thanksgiving conversation with a few bookish folks on Twitter. Someone had just read Overseas, which you all know I love, and she said how much it reminded her of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Outlander. When I admitted I hadn’t read either, there was an immediate chorus of “Oh my god! You have to read Outlander!” With the knowledge that the Twitter book community rarely steers me wrong, I grabbed a copy of the book straightaway and started reading it on Thanksgiving Day, and I didn’t stop until I’d finished it on Sunday night.

I’m going to add my voice to the chorus now: Oh my god! You have to read Outlander!

Not only that, but you should also have a list of the series order handy, because you’re going to want to have the second book on deck for when you finish. Maybe the third. That’s Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager respectively, just to save you time.

For those who are unacquainted with the series, it begins in 1946, when Claire Beauchamp Randall, a former WWII nurse, comes across a circle of standing stones while vacationing in the Highlands with her husband and walks through them to land in the 18th century, right before the Stuart Rising. After nearly being raped by Black Jack Randall, a British officer who happens to be one of her husband’s ancestors, Claire is rescued by a band of Scots and taken to the seat of Clan MacKenzie at Castle Leoch. When Black Jack threatens to take Claire prisoner for being a spy, she’s forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a kinsman of the MacKenzies with a price on his head. Despite the fact that Claire still wants to return to her husband, she finds herself falling in love with the man she was forced to marry, and thus begins an epic saga that spans countries and generations.

The series is the most wonderful mix of historical fiction and romance, with a bit of sci-fi thrown in with the time travel element. Diana Gabaldon knows both her characters and the period inside out, and each book is a meaty tale filled with the trials, tribulations, and dangers of living in the 18th century in both Scotland and America. It’s impossible not to become completely invested in Jamie and Claire’s story as they get thrown together when she first passes through the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, then as they attempt to change history leading up to the battle at Culloden, and the wrenching events that follow in subsequent books. The characters go through hell and are constantly tested, and even though they usually come through, things don’t automatically go back to normal when they do, and that grounds what could be a rather fantastic story in truth. And then there’s the love that Jamie and Claire have for one another, which is so palpable that it takes my breath away at points, cheesy as that sounds. It’s been a gift to watch their relationship grow and change in each book, and the need to know that they’re still alive and all right is what keeps me coming back for more and made me unable to consider any other reading material from the moment I started the series.

I just finished An Echo in the Bone today, and even though I know the next book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, is due out in the fall, I’m more than a little bereft.

Like I said, I have a problem. But not a bad problem to have, I think.

Plus, it’s not like I’ve gone out in search of haggis or a tartan or picked up a guidebook to Scotland, or anything like that.*
(*okay, I might have done one or two of these…)

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Summer Round Up

She lives!

I’m sorry, I’ve been neglectful, and I have new found respect for all the real book bloggers out there, because after a full day at work, it’s difficult for me to muster the energy to turn on my laptop, let alone write up a book review. You guys are amazing.

The new job is great. I’m learning a ton and feel more secure in my duties with every passing day. Everyone I work with has been incredibly welcoming and so helpful, and I’m lucky to be a part of such a smart team of publicists.

Thanks to my long commute, I’ve been able to get in a lot of pleasure reading and read nearly every book on my Summer 2012 list on Pinterest. Unsurprisingly, much of what I read was in the mystery/thriller genre, which I love all year round but which is particularly good in the summer. I did manage to get in some contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and romance in between murders, though!

I reviewed quite a few of my summer reads on the blog, but here are a few others that I really enjoyed, in capsule. I’m so excited for fall!

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The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner

The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner

I’m a huge fan of C.W. Gortner. His book on Juana of Castile, The Last Queen, was so fascinating and well-written and brought humanity to a historical figure that I, like most, only knew as “La Loca.” Imagine my excitement when I learned that his newest book would once again tackle the house of Trastamara in the form of Juana’s mother, Isabella of Castile.

I’ll admit that I delved into this book with a bit of foreboding. As a history student, I can’t help but associate Isabella of Castile’s reign with her more infamous decisions: the Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Reyes Catholicos, etc. I also knew of Isabella’s other characteristics from various works of historical fiction: her ruthlessness when it came to defending her throne, the fact that she was out fighting battles more than she was with her children, the infidelities of her husband. Even though I knew all these things were coming, I was curious to see what the author’s research brought to bear on this story, and whether it would be at all apologetic.

The Queen’s Vow covers a broad expanse of Isabella’s life, from the loss of her father in childhood, to the years spent in fearful exile while her incompetent half brother ruled the country, to the bloody civil war that ended with her accession to the throne of Castile, to her marriage with Fernando of Aragon that finally united Spain, to the Reconquista. Throughout, we see how Isabella evolved from a pious young girl who had accepted her fate as a political pawn to the fierce monarch who put everything aside for the sake of Spain. Her adolescence is a particularly fraught period, as she was thrust into a debauched court and had to quickly learn how to handle the various factions that would see her succeed or fall, and the years where she and Fernando fought to solidify their hold on Spain were equally precarious. The final chapters wind down everything beautifully, so that you almost sigh with relief.

As with The Last Queen, Gortner does a masterful job of telling both the historical and human story of Isabella. I knew very little of the years preceding her reign, and it helped me understand why she fought so hard to maintain the crown once it was hers. It was fascinating to meet all the people who influenced her, from her mother, with her obsession with regaining the family glory, to her husband Fernando, who helped her shape foreign policy in more ways than one, to her confidante Beatriz, who taught her how to look at the world from a man’s perspective. And her childbearing years were very interesting: I had no idea she’d suffered bouts of infertility and miscarriages, and there were echoes of her daughter Catherine’s future plight of irregular periods and the inability to bear a healthy male heir, although Isabella did manage to give birth to a sickly son who lived to ascend to the throne for a short time.

The Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews is a moment that readers may have difficulty with. This Isabella struggles with the issue, while Fernando is more easily convinced by Torquemada and the other ecclesiastics and agitates for action. She tries to hold off and limits the Inquisition’s persecution to suspicious conversos, but outside forces are too strong and, after the completion of the Reconquista, she is more or less given an ultimatum. In the end, as with everything, Isabella decides that she must do what is good for Spain and that, in turn, she must save the country from heresy, even though she recognizes the Jews’ worth. In the afterword, Gortner explains that he undertook extensive research into Isabella’s personality and how she and other monarchs viewed the world at the time before he arrived at his interpretation of events. He emphasizes that he’s not attempting to apologize for her actions, but also points out that she was a fallible human being who believed Christianity was the only faith, and that she likely knew of the consequences of her decree. While I didn’t find this interpretation to be apologetic and thought Isabella’s motives for her decisions were abundantly clear, I did have a bit of a hard time reconciling this part of Isabella with the one I knew from my history lectures. It did not at all detract from my enjoyment of the book, rather it left me thinking long after I finally closed the cover.

This book lived up to every one of my expectations. A well-researched and transporting read.

I will leave you with an important note from the author, as delivered in the afterword:

Every year, thousands of Spanish greyhounds known as galgos are abandoned, maimed, or killed after a brief hunting season. Many dedicated rescue groups and individuals, both in Spain and abroad, are fighting to end the abuse of the galgo, one of Spain’s most enduring symbols of nobility. To learn more, please visit galgorescue.org and baasgalgo.org. Thank you for caring.

As the proud mom of a rescue dog, I could not agree more with this message.

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