Dragonfly in Amber (audio), Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander)In my quest to read (or reread, as in this case) the entire Outlander series this year, I joined the Outlander Series Reading Challenge and have already completed the first book in the series, Outlander. I thought I might enjoy listening to the books this time, and Davina Porter, the narrator, does indeed do a fabulous job reading the books. She has different voices for the different characters, and she is expressive and interesting to listen to.

Dragonfly in Amber is the second book in the seven-book (as of today’s date) series. It begins in 1968, when Claire Randall and her daughter Brianna visit Scotland. Claire enlists the help of Roger Wakefield, adopted son of her late husband Frank’s friend Reverend Wakefield, to find out what happened to the men under the command of Jamie Fraser at the Battle of Culloden. Claire inexplicably disappeared through a cleft in the stone circle known as Craigh na Dun during a second honeymoon with her husband Frank in 1946 and wound up 200 years in the past. Before slipping back through the stones on the eve of the Battle of Culloden, Claire built a life for herself in the past as Jamie Fraser’s wife. Knowing the Highland clans will be destroyed after Culloden, Claire and Jamie work as double agents, trying to prevent the disaster. They find themselves caught up in intrigues at the French court of Louis XV before returning to Scotland.

I find this second book to be interesting for its development of Claire and Jamie’s relationship. They endure the horrible loss of their daughter Faith, an event which nearly destroys their marriage, as well as danger and privation as they find themselves swept up in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellion. I join those readers who don’t enjoy the part of this novel in which Jamie and Claire live in France as much as the rest, but I found that during this reread, I actually enjoyed the frame part of the story that takes place in 1968, which I didn’t like much the first time I read the novel. I think the idea that Claire would ever return to Frank and leave Jamie just bothered me too much at the time. I found I liked the older Claire: she aged well. She’s still sexy in her 40′s, and she also became a medical doctor at a time when that profession did not include many women. I also found I liked Brianna better this time. I didn’t like her much the first time I read her, and I wonder if Davina Porter’s characterization of her contributed to my change of heart. Diana Gabaldon has said before that she had a hard time creating Brianna. I was not a huge fan of Roger Wakefield’s the first time, either, but I liked him better this time.

I noticed on this rereading, as I did with Outlander, that Gabaldon includes a lot of subplot and detail that develops characters, but doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward. Considering the length of the books, I think she could cut some of this detail without harming the character development, and I find the further I read into the series, the less patience I have for it. I may not mind so much once I start reading the books that I have never read before, but as I have reread the first two books, I’ve been annoyed by the extra details.

Still, Diana Gabaldon has a gift for creating characters and setting, and the end of the book, even on a reread, was unputdownable.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Outlander (audio), Diana Gabaldon

OutlanderI took advantage of the time I had during a recent car trip to finish Diana Gabaldon’s novel Outlander for the third time (but for the first time as an audio book). I have reviewed the book previously. I am a big fan of Gabaldon’s, and the first time I read the series, which at that time only included four books, I couldn’t wait for the fifth book. When it did finally come out, I didn’t get through much of it before I set it aside, so I’m hoping participating in the Outlander Challenge will help me finish the series.

For those not in the know, Outlander is the story of Claire, a nurse during World War II, who travels to the Scottish Highlands for a second honeymoon with her husband Frank and finds herself mysteriously transported about 200 years in the past, where she is almost immediately confronted by her husband’s ancestor, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, an English officer garrisoned in Scotland. She is rescued from the clutches of Black Jack by members of the Clan MacKenzie, who take her to their stronghold, Castle Leoch. Claire finds herself drawn to Jamie, a young man in the MacKenzie party. She establishes herself as a healer in the castle and though she never stops trying to figure out how to return to Frank, she begins to build a life for herself in the past. Later, she is forced to marry Jamie in order to protect herself from Black Jack and the English army, and it is after that event that her adventures truly begin.

One of the things I noticed for the first time on this reading is the long scenes that in another book might simply have been cut. Gabaldon tends to write scenes and stitch them together later rather than write in a linear fashion. I know this because I have heard her speak about her writing process. It has benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits is that readers feel they have intimate connections to the characters through vignettes that develop the characters into fully fleshed people. Gabaldon is gifted with description. No reader should have any trouble picturing her scenes. However, one of the drawbacks, and it’s something I really only noticed on this read, is that some scenes feel superfluous and don’t really develop the plot so much as the characters. I am huge fan of characters and will enjoy a book with good character development over a book with weaker characters and a fast, tight plot, but on this read, I really noticed the fact that much of the writing was unnecessary. Given the length of the book, that is kind of a problem. And the books only progressively get longer. I may not mind as much with the rest of the series because I have only read the next three books once, and I have never read the final three. I might find I enjoy the ride a little more when the plot is not quite as familiar, and truthfully, I don’t think most readers would have a problem with the superfluous scenes given how engaging a writer Gabaldon is.

Davina Porter is a superb reader, and listening to the books will give readers a whole new appreciation for Gabaldon’s Scots.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I’m counting this book as my romance novel for the Mixing it Up Challenge.

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2012 Reading Challenges

I love reading challenges! Here are some 2012 reading challenges I’ve found and decided to try. I probably will add a few more, and once the calendar flips over to January, you’ll find permanent links to these challenges in the sidebar where all the 2011 ones are right now. What I need to be better about this year is actually participating on the blog challenge sites themselves—posting links to my reviews, and the like.

Historical Fiction Challenge 2012

I participated in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011, and it was easily one of my favorite and most successful reading challenges of the year, so I wouldn’t want to miss it again. I’m going for the Severe Bookaholism level of 20 books. Sign up here.

Where Are You Reading 2012 Challenge

The Where Are You Reading Challenge is another challenge I also did in 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed. You can see my Google Map here. I’ll post it again later in the month in my recap post. Sign up here.

Mixing it Up Challenge

I’m kind of excited about the Mixing it Up Challenge. The idea is to branch out and try books in different genres:

  1. Classics
  2. Biography
  3. Cookery, Food, and Wine
  4. History
  5. Modern Fiction
  6. Graphic Novels and Manga
  7. Crime and Mystery
  8. Horror
  9. Romance
  10. Science Fiction and Fantasy
  11. Travel
  12. Poetry and Drama
  13. Journalism and Humor
  14. Science and Natural History
  15. Children’s and Young Adult
  16. Social Sciences and Philosophy

I’m going for the “All the Trimmings and a Cherry on Top” level of participation at one book in each genre. Not sure what I’ll read yet, but I have a few ideas for some of the categories. Sign up here.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012

As soon as I described this one to my husband, he said I needed to sign up for it. I do have a small TBR mountain leaning against the wall on my side of the bed. Steve would be glad if I could plow through some of it. I’m not too insane, so I’m going for Pike’s Peak (plus, I’ve been there because it’s in my home state of Colorado), which requires me to read 12 books from my TBR pile. I’m not sure which ones I’ll read yet, but as I said, I have a huge stack, and I also have a lot of unread Kindle books. Sign up here.

Why Buy the Cow? Reading Challenge

How absolutely adorable is that button? This challenge asks participants to read free e-books. For the purposes of this challenge, ARC’s, library books, or books I’ve won can’t be counted. The books must be free, legally downloaded books. FYI NetGalley users, it looks like NetGalley books are counted as ARC’s for the purposes of this challenge, so they’re out, too. I’m going for the Coupon Clipper level of 12 books. Sign up here.

Outlander Series Reading Challenge 2012

I have actually only read the first four books of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series. I just recently downloaded all of the audio books with Audible credits I had saved up, so this challenge seems like a good incentive to actually listen to the books and actually catch up with the series. Sign up here.

You know of any other great challenges I should check out? Naturally, I’ll be doing the Once Upon a Time Challenge and the R.I.P. Challenge that Carl hosts once he announces them later.

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