Tag Archives: random house

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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BEA 2012, a.k.a. Book Prom!

If you follow the book world, you’ll know that this week was Book Expo America, a.k.a. Book Prom. It’s one of the biggest (if not the biggest) annual gatherings of publishers, librarians, book sellers, authors, bloggers and, this year, regular readers. I missed BEA 2011 and had to content myself with reading the recaps and hearing about the madness second hand from my co-workers.

I didn’t think I’d get to go this year, either, so imagine my surprise and delight when I was offered a pass to run around the Javits for a few hours. Since I had some events planned for Wednesday morning, I decided that would be my day to go and started arranging meetings with bloggers that I’ve gotten to know on Twitter over this past year and getting excited.

I figured I’d have a relatively calm week, particularly because I was only going for the one day, but by Sunday, it was clear that I was going to be as happily busy as everyone else.

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Summer Wanderlust: My favorite books to bring on my travels

I usually get a major case of wanderlust in the summer. Sadly, I don’t always get to satisfy it, but on those occasions where I managed to get away, choosing which books I wanted to bring was right up there with planning my outfits (okay, maybe higher than planning my outfits). On my first trip to England, I happily hauled my massive hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Oxford Shakespeare to keep me company (I needed the latter for class! I swear!), and I might have made a few purchases while I was there, too. I went to Italy the following summer with The Historian and the next HP installment adding a good five kilos to my luggage, and even though they nearly caused me to wipe out on the cobblestones in Florence, they were well worth the evening hours I wiled away reading them. When my friends and I took our epic trip to England and Italy two summers ago, I was mindful of the amount of times we’d be changing locations and limited myself to a single book: a paperback of Bocaccio’s The Decameron. We ended up being so busy that I didn’t make it beyond the first page (sorry, Giovanni). I kept this in mind when I put together my packing list for Ireland and, again, took only one book, the very exciting Grammar for Smart People. By the time I reached Killarney, I was into my second reading and wanted to fork out an eyeball. I hadn’t taken into account that I’d be traveling solo during the low season, when things closed earlier for lack of tourists, and that without my friends, my evenings would generally be wide open (thankfully, a benevolent soul left an old Victoria Holt novel at my hostel in Dublin, so my eyeball was saved).

After I got back from my Ireland trip, I commenced on a search for the perfect books to read while traveling. My criteria were pretty simple: a) the book had to be portable (i.e. paperback, or a really short hardcover), and b) it had to be something short that I could get lost in for a quick stretch of time. And, dear readers, I’ve found them! These are my top three favorites, and please tell me which books make it into your luggage too!
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I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4)I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

It’s 1950 and Christmas has arrived in England, but instead of decking the halls of their sprawling family home, the penniless de Luces find themselves making way for a famous film director, who has offered them a handsome and much-needed sum of money to use the estate for his latest picture. Flavia, the precocious youngest de Luce daughter, is determined not to get swept up in the glitz and glamour like her sisters—she’s conducting a very important chemistry experiment on Christmas Eve to find out if Father Christmas really exists. All of that changes when the star of the film, Phyllis Wyvern, singles Flavia out for her history of assisting the police in certain high profile murder investigations. Little does Flavia know that she’s about to become embroiled in another one. One where almost everyone in town is a suspect, including Flavia herself.

I’m a little surprised that I’ve never read an Alan Bradley book before, particularly because the Flavia de Luce books have come up on my recommendation queue several times over the years, and so many of my friends raved about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Needless to say, I am going to remedy that right away, because I absolutely adored this book. It reminded me so much of the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, where the case is far from simple, but it’s handled simply and left to unravel without a hundred crazy twists (although there are a few). Much as I love suspenseful thrillers, it was refreshing to find a modern author who writes like this.

There’s a certain amount of whimsy in the book, and it comes from its wonderful heroine. You can tell that Flavia takes herself very seriously, and she states her opinions with a certainty that only an eleven-year-old can possess. Even though she’s smart and knows how to mix up a chemical compound that will essentially glue Santa to the chimney, the author never forgets that she’s a child who occasionally want to use her knowledge for childish things, like getting revenge for her sisters’ teasing by slipping a little something in their tea to make them nauseous (okay, so it’s a little macabre, but you know you’d have had the same train of thought at that age). The only thing about Flavia that gave me pause was that she noticed glaring things about the crime scene that the police did not. I’m not sure if this ability is explained in previous books, and, if I’m honest, it didn’t bother me all that much in the end, but I can see first time readers taking issue with that.

The setting only added to the whimsy, and in the best possible way. From the first page, I was transported to freezing, crumbling Buckshaw, and Bradley was very successful in creating the atmosphere of a small country town at Christmas. The household staff and village regulars added wonderful color, and I hope future books acknowledge why Flavia’s older sisters harbor such resentment towards her and reveal more about Dogger’s past.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a great, old-fashioned mystery, and I look forward to reading it again around the holidays.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows was this month’s #EarlyBirdRead. Thanks to Random House for sending the book to me!

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The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

The Twelfth EnchantmentThe Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

David Liss and I don’t exactly have the best track record: I’ve tried to read The Devil’s Company twice, and both times I had to concede defeat. There was something about the pace and the constant digressions in the narrative that prevented me from getting completely involved in the story. Needless to say, I was a little wary when I picked up The Twelfth Enchantment, but it sounded like a very different book, and several authors and bloggers I respect enjoyed it, so while the East Coast was bunking down for Hurricane Irene, I cracked the cover and started reading.

By the time the hurricane passed, I finished the book.

The Twelfth Enchantment is the story of Lucy Derrick, a destitute orphan who is living as an unwanted guest in her uncle’s house. Her life changes when a stranger arrives and warns her against marrying the local mill owner. This stranger transpires to be the notorious Lord Byron, and he appears to be striken by a curse that Lucy is able to lift. As Lucy begins to fully comprehend her abilities, she find herself pursued by two factions who want to harness her power to change the fate of England forever.

I think what I liked most about this book is that it’s so different from The Devil’s Company. Liss just let the story unfold, and I could not stop reading. I loved the juxtaposition of historical fiction and fantasy, and I especially loved that the magical elements weren’t too esoteric, which can happen very easily when you’re dealing with alchemy. The reactions of various members of society to the Industrial Revolution added a lot of color and context to the story, and the idea of magic and secret orders influencing the industrial development in England was handled in such a way that it didn’t seem too unbelievable.

I was afraid that Lucy was going to be a whiny heroine, but she became stronger as she came into her power, and I ended up warming to her and thoroughly rooting for her. In fact, most of the characters in the book are not at all what they seem, but I can’t say too much without getting spoilery. Let’s just say that each chapter will keep you guessing and leave it at that.

I could not get enough of The Twelfth Enchantment and was kind of sad when I came to the end. I can’t wait to give the other David Liss books another chance!

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is another one of those books that languished on my to-be-read list. The book is so popular that it was always out at my library. When I went to the Random House Readers Circle tea in May, they gave us the most wonderful bag of swag, and The Guernsey Literary was one of the books I took home. I finally picked it up the other day, after my library book queue had dwindled down, and I am kicking my own arse for not pushing to read it sooner. This is a beautiful story of community and love of people and of books, and I was left with a feeling of warmth that still remains with me three days later.

The book is written in epistolary form and tells the story of Juliet, an author who gained some fame during World War II by writing a darkly humorous column for a London newspaper. Just as Juliet is casting about for something new and a bit more serious to write about, she receives a letter from Dawsey, a man who lives on Guernsey and who got her old address from a used copy of essays by Charles Lamb. He mentions a literary society that he and other islanders formed during the war to help cope with the German occupation, and Juliet has to learn more. Soon, she’s communicating with practically the entire island, and when she thinks there might be able to use their experiences in her new book, Juliet decides to visit Guernsey for herself, not knowing that she’ll be thoroughly embraced by the people and that she’ll learn things about their lives during the war that will tie her to the island forever.

There is so much about this book that is so wonderful. First is the subject matter. I knew a bit about the occupation of Guernsey and Jersey, not from the numerous history classes I took for my degree, but from watching episodes of Antiques Roadshow on BBC! The authors are right that this part of history often gets lost, and they did a great job of educating readers while putting a human spin on the whole experience. There were many times where I just stopped and thought how close the Germans were to mainland England, and how frightening that was. And the passages about the bombing of the island and the evacuation of the children were heartbreaking.

Second, this book celebrates how a shared passion can get a group of people through even the darkest of times. Mary Ann Shaffer says in the acknowledgments that she intended the message to extend over all the arts, but this story is really about the power of reading, and as someone who was once a book club member and who bonds with people all over the internet with a shared love of books, AND who wants to work with books for the rest of her life, I can say that I’ve experienced that power, and it was incredible to read about it.

But the true heart of this story is the characters. These people are so different and so quirky and so real, and it’s a joy to see things through their eyes. By the end of the book, you want to know the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and you want to know how to secure a membership for yourself.

My mother did point out one thing that might frustrate readers about this book, and that is that it might end a little abruptly for some. I felt that all loose ends were tied up and that the authors revealed all they needed to reveal and that all that was left to do was finish the story, but I can see how others might wish to know a bit more.

The bittersweet note to this is that Mary Ann Shaffer passed away before she could experience the success of this book. I’m so glad that she told this story, and now I really want to make a trip to Guernsey and see the place that inspired her so much.

And, very fittingly, it was just announced today that Kenneth Branagh might direct the film!

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