Tag Archives: romance

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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Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Summary from the publisher:
London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

I nearly skipped in delight when I found a copy of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary in the lovely gift bag that Random House gave out at the BEA Power Reader breakfast. As a British history student who spent a lot of time studying WWII and Churchill, I was intrigued by a novel narrated from the point of view of his secretary. Someone who was so close to him in the early days of the war was sure to provide very personal insight into what was going on at 10 Downing Street. I also love war stories set on the home front, because those left behind faced an entirely different uncertainty, and it’s incredible to see people band together. And as if all the historical details weren’t enough, there’s the added element of a feisty heroine with a hidden past.

So, with my high expectations, did Mr. Churchill’s Secretary deliver?

Oh, yes. On all scores.

Maggie Hope is a wonderful addition to the “strong women in wartime” cannon. She is whip-smart, brave, and unafraid of voicing her opinions, yet all the while she’s believable and trustworthy, and you want to follow her into her adventures. I loved seeing 10 Downing Street from her perspective and watching her and Churchill gain a mutual respect for one another, and her attempts to understand Churchill’s lingo during her first weeks were particularly hilarious.

This book is so grounded in the period that you can practically hear the air raid sirens and sense the tension in the air as London waits for the Germans to finally drop that first bomb. And that tension exists inside Downing Street as well. So many of my favorite scenes occurred in those halls: Churchill collapsing into his chair with his head in his hands after he dictates the “This was their finest hour” speech to Maggie, Churchill and his aides watching London burn after the very first bombing, the radio broadcasts to boost morale that moved Maggie to tears, the feverish atmosphere in MI-Five as they tried to keep tabs on German sleeper spies and the IRA. Mixed in with the fear, though, are vibrant glimpses of London nightlife, where Maggie and her young friends, most of whom are involved in war work, try to forget, if only for a while.

The most pleasant surprise was the mystery, which unfurled with the occasional misdirections, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, there was one last twist that had my heart racing as I frantically tore through the pages. Really well done!

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is a strong debut with something for everyone: history, mystery, romance. I look forward to seeing what Maggie gets up to next in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

Susan MacNeal, you definitely do not need to buy me that cocktail.

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Overseas by Beatriz Williams

Overseas by Beatriz Williams

Summary from the publisher:
When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college?

The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer.

Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space.

Readers, let me ask you: have you ever read a book that makes your heart hurt in the best way possible? Where you grow to love the characters so much that they’re the last thing you think of when you go to sleep and the first thing you think of when you wake up?

That is Overseas.

Let me say right off, this is not a historical novel. It’s more of a romance with elements of magical realism, and it requires some suspension of disbelief, which, for me, wasn’t at all difficult because I was so completely immersed in the story that I didn’t find myself questioning the plausibility of the whole thing, rather I wondered how the events of the past affected Kate and Julian’s future, and whether those things were going to catch up to them. Alternating between Amiens in 1916 and Manhattan in the present day also allowed the author to maintain some seriously high stakes, and the last 50 pages were particularly harrowing.

The characters are also wonderfully engaging. It was so easy to identify with Kate as she reeled with the knowledge of Julian’s past and then fought to maintain a balance between her independence and Julian’s protectiveness and wealth. And Julian is definitely going to perpetuate my unrealistic expectations in men, although I did like that he had his own flaws and that Kate called him out on them.

I can see readers getting a little confused about the how and why of the time travel and wanting more of an explanation. It made sense to me, and as the characters don’t fully understand how it works, I was able to accept the explanation we got. The author is very open to questions, so contact her via her website (linked above) or on Twitter if you want to know more.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a story of epic, consuming love, with some interesting little twists. For me, it was the ideal way to kick off the unofficial beginning of summer.

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The books of Santa Montefiore

I’ve been reading a lot of Santa Montefiore lately, so a general post was really necessary.

I was introduced to Ms. Montefiore with Sea of Lost Love. I read it a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it and put a few of her other books on my list, but I never got to them. Last month, I picked up her newest release, The Mermaid Garden from the library, and as soon I finished it, I immediately got on my computer and reserved as many of her titles as I could. The Italian Matchmaker and The French Gardener arrived in rapid succession and were returned just as rapidly because I devoured them within 48 hours. The Gypsy Madonna and Last Voyage of the Valentina are currently in my “to be read” pile, and I can’t wait.

The setting was what initially attracted me to Ms. Montefiore’s books; each novel is set in the English or the Italian countryside, sometimes both, and these areas almost always have a transforming effect on the discontented main characters. As an Anglo- and Italophile who has experienced this sort of transformation first hand, I could very easily relate to those aspects of Ms. Montefiore’s books. As an added bonus, the descriptions of these beautiful places make each book like a virtual vacation.

The stories themselves move between the past and the present, and I love being able to see the direct corellation between the two. As far as plots are concerned, some are better than others. I thought The Mermaid Garden and The French Gardener covered all bases as far as character development and plot resolutions were concerned, while The Italian Matchmaker went a little too fast ended a little too cleanly.

And there is always a consistent underlying theme, a moral if you will: love, family, and enjoyment of the simple things will lead to contentment. The city girl in me bridles over the emphasis on how happiness can only be found in the countryside, and I feel that very occasionally Ms. Montefiore can veer in the direction of trite–for example, in one of the books a character who began as a cynical, almost apathetic man, gave what I thought was an extremely out of character speech filled with every cliché about love. But those are principles that I try to live by, and even if it doesn’t come off as entirely believable, I love to read it anyway.

The other thing that I really love about Ms. Montefiore’s books is that I completely escape into them; I open the cover to read and next thing I know, I’ve gotten through 50 pages and it’s good that I looked up or I’d miss my stop on the train. Those books are special.

Who are your “must read” authors?

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Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Island of the SwansIsland of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Goodreads synopsis:

Re-issued in its original full length, this acclaimed and bestselling romantic historical novel by award-winning author Ciji Ware tells the true story of passionate and flamboyant Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon (1749-1812). In love since childhood with Thomas Fraser, when she hears that he’s been killed in America, she marries the Duke of Gordon with disastrous results. But Fraser, very much alive, returns to England to claim her love.

In addition to telling a heart-wrenching love story, Island of the Swans also paints a fascinating portrait of a powerful and controversial woman and the tumultuous era in which she lived. Patroness of poet Robert Burns, advisor to King George, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Jane Maxwell was a towering figure in her own time and is an unforgettable heroine.

I can’t flat out say that I hated Island of the Swans; for me, Ciji Ware’s vivid descriptions of the political and social scene in 18th century Scotland, England, and America saved the book from utter ruin. This was one of the most frustrating books I’ve read in a long time, because it focused on an epic love story (much in the tradition of Anne Easter Smith and old school Rosalind Laker), and the characters spent the entire book whining and fighting and pining to the point where I just wanted to scream. It was unfortunate, because Jane Maxwell Gordon, Duchess of Gordon, was clearly a fascinating character as a rival of the Duchess of Devonshire, and I loved reading about her exploits in recruiting soldiers for the wars in America and France and in getting votes for William Pitt the Younger. However, these events didn’t figure nearly as prominently as the times where she was either moaning about her lost love or worrying about seeing him when she found out he was in Scotland. It got old. Fast. And there was no pay off for all the agitation; in fact, I’m still agitated!

I don’t regret reading Island of the Swans, but I was definitely hoping for a different book.

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The Winter of the World by Carol Ann Lee

The Winter of the World: A Novel (P.S.)The Winter of the World: A Novel by Carol Ann Lee

World War I is one of my favorite periods for historical fiction. There are so many different points of view for an author to tell a story, and it’s rare that you’ll read the same story twice.

Carol Ann Lee begins The Winter of the World two years after Armistice Day, at the burial of the Unknown Warrior. After this extremely moving scene (which she says she drew from actual footage), we’re taken back to Ypres, where journalist Alex Dyer is writing about the conversion of the battlegrounds of Europe into proper cemeteries. He accompanies a man named Lombardi, who has a gift for drawing out secrets. Over the course of an evening, Alex relates his war experience, his frustration over not being able to fight and not being able to report the truth, and his guilt over the affair he had with his best friend Ted’s wife, Clare. With Lombardi’s help, Alex finds a way to redemption and, possibly, back to love.

There were two things I really loved about this novel. The first was seeing the war from Alex’s point of view. Any history class you take on World War I will touch on censorship and propaganda, and it was great to get a human spin on what was a very difficult situation. There was a particularly powerful scene where the journalists argued over one writer’s story that was spun to make the Germans look like godless monsters and, therefore, inspire fear and hatred at home; it really brought forward the ethical issues that journalists confronted with each story they sent for print.

The second was Ms. Lee’s emotional depiction of the selection, ceremony, and burial of the Unknown Warrior. It transported me right back to the event, and I could visualize very clearly the line of people waiting at Westminster Abbey all night to pay their respects to the man who could have been their son, husband, brother, or friend.

The affair between Clare and Alex is the other major plot of the novel, and the relationship is passionate and volatile, as it should be when two people feel an instant connection but, in order to satisfy that connection, they have to betray someone they both love. It’s as much a part of their war story as their respective experiences in the field and continues to haunt them after they’ve returned home. Ms. Lee leaves their end very slightly ambiguous, but I think it’s pretty clear what they decide to do.

The Winter of the World is a beautifully written World War I story that belongs on the shelf next to your Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear, and Anne Perry novels. I highly recommend it.

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