Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Gabaldon-Dragonfly-in-Amber-220x332Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Rating: 5 stars

This review is a bit past due. I read this novel by the second week of January, having grown ravenous for my beloved James Fraser after reading Outlander. And as you may see, if you’ve seen the first review, I only gave Outlander 4 stars.

This one (And Voyager to follow) slaughtered me.

Dragonfly in Amber is the continuation of time traveler, Claire Fraser, nee Beauchamp, and her Scottish husband from another time. It follows the pair throughout their efforts to thwart the Jacobite Rising and the massacre that takes place at Culloden. These efforts bring them to France, to the court of King Louis, to James Stewart, to mysterious apothecaries, barbaric hospitals, the gutters of Paris, and finally to the dawn of Culloden.

Without giving away too much of the tale, by the end of this novel, our pair have been torn apart and returned to one another (a plot device Gabaldon will continue to use throughout the series, though she does take a bit of a break from it after Voyager and starts taking out that bloodlust on OTHER innocent characters, but what can you do?) so many times that you’re propelled on in desperation to see them reunited.

Well, at the end of Dragonfly we bear witness to a parting so profoundly painful that I was beside myself. Literally, I sobbed openly, uncontrollably, for an hour reading the last chapters of this book.

It is for that sobfest that I give this book 5 stars. It is easy to move me to the point of tears, it’s true, but to move me to the point of all out sobbing? Not so much. (Unless I’m pregnant, which I am not, yet. I’m a softy for certain, but I can tighten my throat and tough it out with the best of them.) Move me with words, be it tears, rage, shock, joy, anything, and you’ve earned my loyalty, my readership, and my stars (Jennifer Egan can lay claim to such skill in The Keep. Review to follow.) I ran to my used bookstore for Voyager and all other installments available. Let me tell you, at the rate I am going, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, the next installment in the series, will NOT be coming out soon enough (Slated for a June 10th release… right before I leave to spend my summer in Scotland.)

This was also the novel where I had a moment of sincere wonder. In a scene where Claire and Jamie are to be pulled from one another, in a moment of desparation, Claire begs him to mark her. He does so, carving a tiny ‘J’ into the pad of her thumb on her right hand.

I have a scar, a tiny ‘J’ just below the pad of my thumb on my right hand. Let’s just say, I took a moment. It didn’t help the sobbing, let me tell you. I kept reading. Currently in the middle of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, I look forward to my bed and my book just about everyday. Thank goodness there are thousands more pages left for me to read.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

200px-Outlander_cover_2001_paperback_edition__120717160015Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Rating: 4 Stars

Well, it finally happened. This book is as diesel as the Russian Winter, ladies and gentlemen. That fact aside…

Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, a WWII army nurse who steps through an ancient circle of stones in the Highlands of Scotland and is accidentally transported from her own time in 1945 to 1743. In the eighteenth century, despite her efforts to get back home to her own time and her husband, Frank Randall, Claire meets, marries, and falls madly in love with her soul mate and massive pain in the ass Scotsman, James ‘Jamie’ Alexander MacKenzie Fraser. Needless to say, I was swept away.

Now let’s be honest – time travel, the world of Highlands Scotland is my soul’s home - naturally I was tempted by this book for a while. Still, the sheer size of the mofo daunted me for years. Could I commit to such a tome?

Then I saw this…

Gird yer loins, gils! My god, I was fucking putty when I saw this. A friend sent me the link, completely unaware of the books it was connected to, but it was enough… oh sweet baby Jesus in the manger, it was enough. I HAD to read the books, I had to get lost in a story where I could get lost in the world that brought THAT voice to my enchanted ears.

I started reading the book, downloaded the audio version to my iPhone, and for a week, listened and read whenever I could. I loved the accent, the land of Scotland as I’ve known it with such a degree of history and reality tossed in. I learned about Scotland as I read, as well as learning about the time period, all while imagining men in kilts running rampant all over with nothing on beneath! The sex scenes were grand, growing better and better as the book wore on, and when Jamie Fraser was in peril, I was propelled forward in order to see for certain that my new book husband was ok. I finished a novel of 800+ pages in a week, and before I was done, drove to my local used book store and bought Dragonfly in Amber to continue the journey into the world of Jamie Fraser.

Yet, I must point out the details of the book that are less than perfect.

There is a good deal of authorial involvement in this novel (series). Gabaldon clearly steps in many times in order to propel her story forward. She puts her characters through hell in one moment, then when the ordeal is through, rather than delve into the very human reaction to trauma a person would expect, she has her characters burst into hysterical laughter. Now, this would be acceptable under the right circumstances -  I for one laugh when I’m nervous or scared – but she uses it as a crutch, over and over. Not only that, she has her characters laughing til they have tears streaming down their face – at nothing. Perhaps I’m a snob when it comes to humor – they say funny people are harder to make laugh and I admit I resemble that remark, but seriously, grown Scottish men don’t laugh til they cry every time a breeze blows through. Simple as that.

Also, yes, Gabaldon REALLY likes the sound of her own voice. 800+ pages, ladies and gents. It didn’t need to be that long by any means. A great deal of repeated description and interjection from the narrator Claire could be cut without losing the beauty of both the story and the prose. Yet, knowing that Gabaldon got away with it and people bought it in droves makes me feel far more comfortable with my own book The Offering, which many friends have warned me will be very well received by fans of Gabaldon. (Bring it on, Universe.)

And finally, Claire Randall. She is my soul sister in so many ways. She’s fierce, fiery, stubborn, smart, fun, funny, almost as big a fan of sex – seriously, we’re the same person… save for one tiny detail. Gabaldon tries really hard to rob her of common sense, regularly. She’s lived in eighteenth century Scotland for almost a year and still she has trouble comprehending the idea of witch burnings and women shutting their mouths under certain circumstances. Oh, and she deals with conflict by bursting into laughter rather than processing emotion, there’s that too.

Yet, despite those faults, I’m currently 5/8ths of the way through Dragonfly in Amber and I just got home from my local used book shop where I bought Voyager, Drums of Autumn, and A Fiery Cross, all in preparation of the next few weeks of reading. I ain’t fucking around, kids.

So in conclusion, Jamie Fraser, take me now.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone-Girl-Gillian-FlynnGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Rating: 2 stars (Maybe 2 1/2)

Gone Girl is the story of a married couple whose disentegrating relationship turns into a news frenzy as the lovely and seemingly wonderful wife disappears, leaving the handsome husband to become the prime suspect in her disappearance.

I know this bad boy is a right best seller as we speak, but that doesn’t deter from my complete lack of appreciation for the tome. First off, I was actually enjoying the read. The first few chapters are told from the perspective of the husband, Nick Dunne, and through the wife, Amy Dunne’s old journal entries, from the birth of their romance to the time of her disappearance. Though Nick’s perspective describes a miserable existance with an unloving and intolerant wife, Amy’s journal entries show a wonderful and perfect wife who worshipped her husband’s every thought. As you watch Nick reacting to the suddenly disappearance of his wife, you can’t help but feel propelled forward by those journal entries, desperate to know what happened between them as a couple to make what seemed like a fairy tale beginning turn into such a tragic end.

And then… you find out just what happened.

Now, I won’t give away any spoilers (you’re welcome), but I will say this – when you discover what is going on, suddenly you realize that there is NO protagonist. Yes, they are all flawed characters, as is the reality of any human being in the real world, but the flaws of these characters make in nearly impossible to root for any of them. Even when Nick begins to earn your support, he destroys it with how he treats others and how he endeavors in his interior life. His decisions make it impossible to root for him and outside his perspective, the rest of the book is an infuriating ride through the mind of a Sociopath.

I read this novel for my Popular and Contemporary Fiction class and ended up comparing one of the main characters from this novel to the inherent evil of Anton Chigurh in McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. I finished this novel for the sheer desire to see some comeuppance for the evils committed by insufferable characters, and when I realized such a thing wasn’t coming, I finished it to complete my assignment.

What IS working for me is the writing – it is sharp and engaging, and if the characters weren’t so fucking unrealistically terrible, I’d have enjoyed the voice thoroughly – in fact, at one point I decided that Gillian Flynn and I would get along extremely well as friends, but knowing the character’s who she gave such a voice to, I felt betrayed. People that awful are NOT that cool, it simply goes against the nature of coolness.

Gillian, if we do become friends, I’ll hide this review.

She made me feel, that’s for sure, but what I felt I didn’t enjoy. In truth, that may very well have been exactly what she was going for, but given that I want to come out of a book with some love for at least one or more characters, this book failed me in that department.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

no_country_for_old_men_1_largeNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

(I’m gonna go out on a blasphemous limb here…)

Rating:  3 stars

I admit that The Road was the novel by McCarthy that most suggested I read. I’m a sucker for a great adventure and even moreso for tales of a parent’s undying love and courage for a child, but I refrained because the commercials for the film version of the tale made me most certain I’d spend half the movie in tears, and probably carry the down dip in mood from the book for weeks. Yet, here I am on the ass end of No Country for Old Men and a part of me wonders if McCarthy he could really gut me as a reader.

Cormac McCarthy is a master, to be sure. He uses simple language, is concise and to the point with the precision of Hemingway in some cases (though he could have brought his word count down by thousands if he’d just cut two thirds of the times he used the words “And put it in his pocket.” Seriously, it was excessive) and his story telling can be both engaging and tense.

No Country is the story of a Texas Sheriff investigating the killing spree of a killer who fancies himself an act of fate, deciding who lives or dies with simply who he crosses paths with, or if they’re lucky, the flip of a coin. In amongst this clusterfuck is Llewelyn Moss, a regular joe who came upon some serious loot while out hunting. As a result, Moss becomes our hero and the intended prey of said lunatic, Anton Chigurh. We are given glimpses into each of these men, in the moments when Moss is hiding from the spotlight of a pickup truck on a rocky hillside, to the moments when Chigurh flips a coin and demands an innocent man calls heads or tails, but refuses to tell him what he wins or loses in the toss.

McCarthy utilizes his changes in perspective several times in the story, in a manner that some might find infuriating. He uses it to create a psychic distance from events that, in many cases, we’ve been waiting the entire book for. This writing choice leaves the reader to fill in their own blanks. We get to see characters up close and personal, chatting about life, goals, their past, then McCarthy cuts to the perspective of Bell, the main protagonist and Sheriff who is following the killing spree of the sociopathic Anton Chigurh through Texas, and we get to see Bell arrive upon the scene where those very characters we were just sitting with were gunned down on a sunny afternoon. Some might feel robbed by that transfer of perspective, but I actually loved it. Suddenly I was hearing the news like anyone else, I was allowed to imagine how it went down. Some might call it lazy writing, but man did it work for me. In reading it, I recognize my own tendency to utilize it and hope only to use it well in my own writing.

Sadly though, here’s why McCarthy got three stars from me. He’s a modern master, as they say – an older gentlemen with precise writing and storytelling skill. If I were to psychoanalyze him by the writing of this novel, I would say he had reached a very introspective point in his life of both reminiscence and nostalgia and was getting lost in his own world a bit more often than the story needed. McCarthy utilized Bell as a sort of conscience layered over the tale of Chigurh and Moss, but in doing so, he allowed Bell to have monologues of his life experience as a Sheriff at the beginning of each section. Some of these were grand, hearing tales of long past murders and crimes as seen from the perspective of the poor bastard who arrives after the carnage to poke and pick at it to try to make sense. Yet McCarthy let Bell get away from him, hardcore. The last two hours worth of reading were all from Bell’s perspective – rambling to an uncle about World War II, chatting with his wife about retiring. The World War II story would have been grand at any other time in the book, and if it was an hour shorter. McCarthy allowed the main arc of his tale to end, then dragged us through Bell’s introspective life analysis until he’d beaten that dead horse back to life, then killed it again.

By the time he said the line “And that’s another thing I haven’t talked much about my father or done him justice,” I almost groaned. It was like sitting with a Grandfather who retells the same stories over and over, with the same pinache he did the first time, even after you inform him that he’s already told you this story. I was surprised that his editor didn’t have him rein it in a bit, but I guess when you’re considered a ‘modern master,’ perhaps they let you get away with a bit of rambling.

All in all, a fantastic lesson in well written prose, as well as a lesson in self indulgent writing toward the end there. Think I might actually watch the movie now.

Working on a Love Story

engagement

I saw a photograph like this online and loved it. While perusing the pages of my Galley copy of Catch My Fall, I decided to see if I could replicate it. So here is a ring I bought because it looked similar to an engagement ring I saw in a dream once, settled into the pages of the love story I wrote in which I discovered my perfect man was a black belt who liked fart jokes.

I love this photograph. It makes me smile. My ring. My love story. Here’s to getting it published so others can hear me say ‘Fuck’ a lot, while their heart swells.

Here, here!

To All My NaNoWriMos!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

bookcov200-s6-c30A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

 

Where do I begin?

Well, I’ll start with brutal honesty, I don’t read. Clearly by the fact that I am typing these words, I’m not illiterate, but nonetheless, my reading habits are a barren wasteland. I go years without picking up a work of fiction, then with the right suggestion, or bout of boredom, I pick something up and it grabs me. From there, I devour it and everything else that author has penned, followed by anything else I can get my hands on in order to keep the momentum going. It nevers stays. I always end up halfway through a crappy book, give up, and set it and all reading aside until another juggernaut comes along and demands my attention again, inspiring another manic book frenzy.

A Thousand Splendid Suns may very well have caused such a frenzy.

I was required to read Suns as an assignment for my Popular and Contemporary Fiction class (yes, I am back in school Can’t be a professor without a degree) and upon first seeing the cover, I feared I wouldn’t enjoy the read. I was so utterly misinformed.

Suns is the story of two women in Afghanistan. Their tales span from the Communist occupation to the recent Taliban regime, watching firsthand as their country crashes in on itself like a dying star. The language is simple, yet at times poetic, weaving the dust and sun of an Afghan morning, or the textures of rice and lamb kebab on the palette. The world of Afghanistan was as powerful as the characters - Mariam and Laila. Despite having never set foot in the Arab world, I was lost there within the first few pages, only released when the book finished.

The story follows Mariam, a bastard child from Herat who is given away in marriage at the age of fifteen, and Laila, the youngest child of a boisterous mother and a forward thinking father, adamant on her education and happiness. We follow their lives as simple daily life turns treacherous as the atmosphere of Afghanistan changes, tensions rise, then explode in a constant war waged by conflicting tribes and warlords. The simple childhood of Laila, growing closer and more attached to her childhood friend, Tariq; and the sorrows of married life for the older Mariam, are set against the backdrop of bombs and gunfire, increasingly, and the inner workings of a culture where many women are considered second class citizens, if even that.

These women’s stories draw you in and make you love alongside them, and love them, until you feel as trapped as Mariam in her prison, or you are longing for Tariq as passionately as Laila.

I read the novel in two days. As a result of the ease of reading – his short chapters, simple expression and attention to detail drew me in despite my fear that I might find it difficult to relate to such a tale.

My only criticism of the novel as a whole is that the end seemed to push past its natural place a bit, giving a feel of wandering toward the very end. Still, by the last page, I was grateful for the knowledge I gained in those pages – for the closure and comfort they offered me.

It is tense reading at times, tragic at others, but it finds its closure and some peace by the final page. I would readily suggest this book to anyone who wants to get lost on the other side of the world.

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