Review: The Fiery Cross, Diana Gabaladon, narrated by Davina Porter

I finished my first audio book of the year, The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, fifth book in the Outlander series. If you are not familiar with the series, it is now eight books long (and I don’t think she’s done yet!), not including the novellas, short stories, and Lord John Grey books. All of the books are quite long and chronicle the story of Claire, who was a World War II nurse on a second honeymoon with her husband Frank in Scotland when she steps through standing stones and finds herself about 200 years in the past. Starz has screened part of the first book, Outlander. The Starz series will return in April. I do love the books. But I have a caveat about this one, as you’ll see if you keep reading. However, there are a few spoilery bits throughout this review, so proceed carefully if you haven’t read all the books and want to read them.

I started listening to The Fiery Cross so long ago I can’t remember when I began it, but it was likely in September 2014 some time. It’s over 55 hours long. I mostly listened to it while making soap or puttering around the house doing chores. It seemed to take forever to finish.

The Fiery Cross picks up where Drums of Autumn (review) leaves off. Jamie and Claire are settled in Fraser’s Ridge, but the Revolutionary War looms on the horizon, and nothing brings that impending danger into sharper focus than when Jamie is commanded by the governor to muster a militia in response to a rebellion. Roger and Brianna, now properly married, settle on the Ridge as well and ease into their new lives in the 18th century. All sorts of horrific things happen, including the return of Stephen Bonnet, horrible villain, rapist, pirate, and worse scourge on the Fraser family, as it turns out, than old Black Jack Randall ever was. At least Randall died. (Oops! That might have been a spoiler. Sorry.)

The most fascinating part of the book doesn’t come until the end, when one of my favorite minor characters returns and brings with him some really excellent information in the form of a mysterious journal left behind by a man known as Otter-Tooth—a man whom Claire is certain was also a time traveler.

This book ties up several loose ends from the previous book, but as the series goes, it’s my least favorite so far. Lots and lots of details, and perhaps some editing was needed. Gabaldon does quite a bit of research, and it seemed that she wanted to show just about everything she’d ever learned about 18th century life off in this book. As such, parts of it are plodding and not much happens. I felt the first few books were much more tightly written in terms of action, but this book continues in the vein of its immediate predecessor, which I don’t much like either. Of course, it’s Diana Gabaldon, and expertly read by Davina Porter, so I won’t give it less than 3½ stars—even “bad” Diana Gabaldon is better than a lot of stuff. She’s a good writer, and she has a lot of fans for a good reason.

One quibble I do have with the book, however, and perhaps I only notice it because I make soap, is that Gabaldon gets some things about soap making wrong. To wit:

  1. Lye soap is not especially harsher than other soap because all soap is lye soap. What she probably means is lye-heavy soap that has too much lye in it. Yes, that’s harsh soap. And it resulted from soap makers using too much lye in recipes when they made soap.
  2. Tallow soap is not the same thing as lye soap because again, all soap is lye soap. It is not inherently harsher than soap made with vegetable oils and was often the only kind available because tallow (or lard) was much easier to obtain than exotic vegetable oils. In fact, if your great-grandma made soap, she probably used tallow or lard.
  3. That being said, some vegetable oils, such as Claire’s sunflower oil, do make nice soap, but if Claire’s tallow soap is too harsh, it’s because she used too much lye. Not because she used tallow. And if the sunflower soap is NOT harsh, it’s because she didn’t use too much lye when she made that batch.

I hope that exposition didn’t bore, but the repeated incorrect understandings about the chemistry behind soap making bothered me, as similar issues would likely bother most folks who have some area of expertise that is not quite properly understood by a writer.

I would not advise the casual fan to read this one. If your goal is just to know what happens in the story, skip this one and look up a synopsis. In fact, don’t read it at all if you haven’t read the previous four because you will not be able to follow it at all. If you prefer Claire and Jamie in Scotland, definitely skip it. If you are a true fan of the series and have read the previous four books, do read it if only to find out what happens for two main reasons—Otter-Tooth’s journal at the end is totally worth knowing. I might actually re-read that part in the paper copy of the book I have, and also a reference to Master Raymond, whom Gabaldon has said before is a prehistoric time traveler and possible ancestor of Claire. I hope we do read more about that guy in future books, and I do hope we learn a lot more about how time travel works, too.

So yes, I’ll read the rest of the series even if it’s more of the same. I will give Diana Gabaldon this credit—even when she’s in desperate need of an editor, she’s still better than most of the stuff out there. But when she’s really on, she’s fantastic. In my opinion, she wasn’t really “on” with this book, but I won’t give up on her yet.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter

Drums of AutumnAs I make soap, I’ve been listening to audio books, and I just finished a really long one—Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Like the other books in this series, Drums of Autumn is narrated by Davina Porter.

This book picks up the story of Jamie and Claire as they settle in North Carolina on Fraser’s Ridge. Their daughter, Brianna, who lives about 200 years in the future in the late 1960’s, discovers disturbing news about her parents and decides to go through the stones at Craigh na Dun and help Jamie and Claire. Roger Wakefield, sometimes known by his birth name of Roger MacKenzie, discovers what Brianna has done and follows her through the stones.

I have read this book once before. I will just lay this on the table: I am not a fan of Brianna’s. I don’t like her personality much, and I can’t put my finger on why. Claire, to me, is interesting because she’s so knowledgeable about medicine, and I found her understanding of herbal healing particularly fascinating. I’m not into herbalism per se, but as a soap maker, I do find it interesting. Claire is no-nonsense, passionate, intelligent, and above everything else, interesting.

Because this book focuses so much on Brianna’s trials and tribulations, I find I don’t like it as much as the other books. I like the parts that dwell on Claire, Jamie, and even Young Ian, however. I didn’t realize until I read it again this time, but I also don’t care much for Roger. I don’t know if it’s because the pair of them seem indecisive and dispassionate compared to Claire and Jamie. I do feel that Gabaldon tries to impart some passion in their relationship, but I don’t buy it as a reader. It doesn’t feel the same. I wonder if it has something to do with this interesting comment Gabaldon made in her book [amazon_link id=”0385324138″ target=”_blank” ]The Outlandish Companion[/amazon_link]:

These [hard nuts] are the most difficult characters for me to animate; the characters whose function in the story is structural—they’re important not because of personality or action, but because of the role they play.

One example of a hard nut is Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter. She existed in the first place only because I had to have a child. The fact of her conception provides the motive for one of the major dramatic scenes in Dragonfly, but it didn’t matter at all at that point who this kid was or what she would be like…

But who the heck was this character? And having created her purely for plot purposes, how was I to give her a personality? (130-131)

Perhaps it’s just my opinion, and others might disagree, but I would argue that Gabaldon doesn’t succeed fully in making either Brianna or Roger as real or as interesting as Jamie and Claire, or even as real and interesting as other minor characters who pop off the page.

Davina Porter is a heck of a good narrator, especially deft with handling all the voices of the characters. I would definitely seek out other books she has narrated just to hear her read.

In case you are wondering at this point, I have been enjoying the new Outlander series on Starz quite a bit. It is very true to the book, and the casting is excellent. I haven’t missed an episode yet. Even my husband is watching with me, insisting, “I don’t get how this is considered a woman’s story. I mean, I guess the books are romances…” Not exactly. Sort of difficult to classify. At any rate, the series is beautifully shot with great music and some fine acting. Check it out, if you haven’t.

Book Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Voyager, Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter

Voyager audio book (Voyager)Voyager is the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon_link id=”0440212561″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] series. Outlander is filming right now and will appear on Starz this summer. Can’t wait! The casting looks phenomenal. Spoilers follow for the first two books, so you might not want to read the rest of this review if you don’t want them wrecked for you. I figure you probably wouldn’t be reading a review of the third book in a series unless you had either already read the others or don’t mind their being spoiled.

If you’re not familiar with this series, it’s a most unusual and difficult to classify series of books: part historical fiction, part romance, part fantasy/sci fi—I can’t think of too many books like these that so defy labels. In the first book, a World War II nurse named Claire Randall steps through standing stones in a stone circle near Inverness and finds herself over 200 years in the past. As she tries desperately to get back home to her husband Frank, she winds up forced (after a fashion) to marry young Jamie Fraser and unexpectedly falls in love with him. In the second book, [amazon_link id=”0440215625″ target=”_blank” ]Dragonfly in Amber[/amazon_link], the Jacobite Rebellion draws closer, and Claire and Jamie try to think of a way to avoid the devastation that will follow, even spending time in France, but Jamie is inevitably called to fight at Culloden, but before he faces a battle where he expects to die, he sends his wife Claire back through the stones to save her life and that of the baby she is carrying.

Voyager begins some twenty years later. Claire and Jamie’s daughter Brianna is grown, and Claire has become a doctor. She and Brianna travel to Scotland and discover that Jamie did not die at Culloden after all. Claire decides to go back through the stones one more time to reunite with the love of her life, leaving her daughter behind with Roger Wakefield, a young historian who helped Claire discover Jamie’s history and who is falling in love with Brianna.

The first time I read this book was probably around 1998 or 1999. I remember that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two at that time because I thought I like it better when Claire and Jamie were in Scotland, and I also had more difficulty enjoying them as an older couple, which sounds pretty horrible now (thought it’s an accurate representation of my feelings at the time). For crying out loud, Claire was something like 50! And Jamie was at least mid-40’s. Now that I am actually a lot closer to their ages in this book, I found that I no longer seem to have much trouble enjoying Jamie and Claire as an older couple. 😉

I will admit that this book starts a little bit slowly. I suppose it is necessary for the reader to be filled in on exactly what Jamie did following Culloden and how Claire found out he was still alive and decided to go back in time to reunite with him, but the book drags a bit through this part. Once Claire goes back through the stones and finds Jamie in Edinburgh, the book picks up quite a bit, and frankly, the action doesn’t let up for pretty much the remainder of the book. I had forgotten what a swashbuckling story this one is. Jamie and Claire spend much of the book running away from or chasing Really.Bad.People. Pirates even. Witches! Possibly—just possibly even zombies. It’s crazy adventurous, and for that reason, it makes for quite a gripping read.

Gabaldon does get bogged down in details sometimes, but that’s actually one of the interesting things about her writing. Sometimes these scenes she writes, which don’t necessarily move the plot forward, are compelling in terms of character development. I am surprised she has been able to get them past an editor, who might be tempted to cut them. Then again, like I said before, these books tend to break all the rules.

I enjoyed this one much more this time around than I did the last. Davina Porter is an excellent reader who is able to do a wide variety of accents and brings life to the characters. She’s so good that I’ve just about decided listening to her read is the only way I want to read the rest of the series.

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Weekend Reading: January 11, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIt’s a rainy, blustery day. Perfect for curling up and reading! I have a plan to make some soap later today, particularly as I have received this excellent equipment in the mail.

New England Handmade Artisan Soaps apronI made it on Zazzle. It turned out just like I wanted. I haven’t made a soaping video in a while either, and I am going to try to do one this weekend.

I’m still reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m about halfway through the book on p. 283. I’m still enjoying it very much, and I half wonder if I’m subconsciously drawing out my reading so I can keep reading it for a while. Then again, I don’t have as much time to read during the work week.

I finished the audio book of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, read by Michael York. You can read my review here if you missed it. I am moving on to The Horse and His Boy read by Alex Jennings. I have zero memory of what happens in that book, though I’m pretty sure I read it about 22 years ago or so. I’m also still listening to Voyager by Diana Gabaldon read by Davina Porter. That book is pretty long, so I imagine it will take some time to finish.

We had to buy a new microwave yesterday. Our microwave died earlier this week. I’m not sure what happened. It wasn’t terribly old (perhaps a maximum of ten years or so). I remember we had to buy the old one when we moved into our previous home, which was about ten years ago now. The one before that lasted about ten years as well. Perhaps that’s about all they’re good for nowadays?

No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity

My copy of No Excuses Art Journaling: Making Time for Creativity has also arrived. I had to order the journal and supplies, so I can’t get started right way. That sort of sounds like an excuse! I do hope that I can make a regular habit of art journaling and perhaps even post some photos from my journal here. We shall see.

What are you up to this weekend?

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Weekend Reading: January 4, 2014

The Time Traveler's WifeIliana posted her current reads over at Bookgirl’s Nightstand, and it inspired me. A new year is always a chance to try new things and introduce new habits (hoping they will stick!). Here’s hoping I can make a regular Saturday post about my weekend reads a habit. What I’d like to do is take a snapshot of the book I’m reading, right where I’m starting for the weekend.

This weekend I’m reading [amazon_link id=”015602943X” target=”_blank” ]The Time Traveler’s Wife[/amazon_link]. I’m already in love with it on page 79. One of the reasons I picked this book up is that I have a new-ish obsession with Doctor Who, particularly the love story of the Doctor and River Song, and I read somewhere, I forget where, that their relationship was similar to that of Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife in some respects. Given I’m not too far in yet, I would say the comparison is fair, and I can see how the novel may have inspired the creation of River Song.

I’m also listening to Michael York read [amazon_link id=”0062314599″ target=”_blank” ]The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe[/amazon_link] by C. S. Lewis and Davina Porter read Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. Both are what you might consider re-reads, since I have read the Outlander series up to [amazon_link id=”044022425X” target=”_blank” ]Drums of Autumn[/amazon_link]. I would like to catch up the end, and I’m looking forward to the adaptation of [amazon_link id=”0440212561″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] on Starz.

It’s bitterly cold outside. My browser’s weather extension says it’s 14 degrees and feels like -3 degrees. Perfect for curling up inside under my husband’s robe with a cup of tea and a good book.

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Five Things I’ve Gained from Reading

A Young Girl Reading

A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Carol Jago, an English teacher I admire, published a paper several years ago about why we should teach literature. In reply, Traci Gardner suggested we share what we’ve gained from reading literature. I’m not sure if Traci’s familiar with memes, but I like the idea. That said, this blog post has been sitting waiting to be finished since April 2009. Time to post it.

Instructions: Copy the questions and instructions below, and paste them into a blog entry, a note on Facebook, or a discussion forum—anywhere that you can reach the people you want to. You can use the comments area on this blog entry if you’d like as well. Delete my answers to the questions, and add your own. Feel free to any extra instructions or invite specific people to answer the questions when you post them.

Questions: Think about the literature you’ve read—short stories, novels, plays, memoirs, and poetry. Any literature counts, from picture books to epic poems, and from romance novels to sci-fi fan-fiction. Answer each question, and explain your response in a few sentences. Just copy the questions, remove my answers, add your own, and then invite others to respond.

  1. What piece of literature has stayed with you, even though you haven’t read it recently?
    One piece of literature I find myself thinking about a lot is [amazon_link id=”0380730405″ target=”_blank” ]Rebecca[/amazon_link]. We just watched the movie the other night, for one thing, but for another, I have been searching and searching for a book with that same sort of feel. I love that book, and I’ve been looking for one like without much success.
  2. What character or story has influenced something you’ve done?
    You’re going to laugh, but I married my husband because of [amazon_link id=”0440212561″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link]. For a lot of reasons. He knows and thinks it’s funny.
  3. What character or piece of literature seemed to relate to a recent news story or personal experience?
    I don’t know that the story is all that recent, but when the Rod Blagojevich story blew up, I immediately thought of [amazon_link id=”0743477103″ target=”_blank” ]Macbeth[/amazon_link]. Then the comparisons started coming. Now I feel like I see Macbeth everywhere, which is really frightening. So many people seem willing to lose themselves entirely to their ambition. Politicians especially. And the way they play with human lives is disgusting. We might as well all be the Macduffs. In which case, the politicians better watch it if we decide we’ve had enough one day.
  4. What character has make you wonder why he or she did/said something?
    This is a tough one because there are a lot of characters who make me wonder this sort of thing. I hardly know which one to choose! But I always wondered if Boo Radley really did stab his father with the scissors, and if he really did, why? Actually I wonder a lot about Boo Radley (rather like Scout!).
  5. Name something from a work of literature (such as a character, setting, or quotation) that you find beautiful or vivid.
    [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] has so many beautiful and vivid passages. Here are some of my favorite ones.

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”


“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


And here is another of my favorites, from [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell To Arms[/amazon_link]:

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books that Feature Travel

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is top ten books that feature travel in some way. OK, wide open, so here is my list.

[amazon_image id=”0545139708″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”054792822X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0544003411″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Lord of the Rings[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0143105957″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0440423201″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Outlander (20th Anniversary Edition): A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0385737645″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Revolution[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0143039954″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Odyssey (Penguin Classics)[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0451202503″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0486280616″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn][/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0393334155″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (A New Verse Translation)[/amazon_image]

So many great books feature quests or voyages. These are my favorites. You could argue that all the Harry Potter books feature travel, but the trio travels the most in [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link], which features not just the very long camping trip, but the end of Harry’s journey and even a trip to the other side of the veil.

[amazon_link id=”054792822X” target=”_blank” ]The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again[/amazon_link] features Bilbo’s famous quest to the Lonely Mountain with 13 dwarves and sometimes Gandalf. It’s a classic quest and an excellent hero’s journey. In some ways, it is more of a straight hero’s journey and a tighter, finer story than [amazon_link id=”0544003411″ target=”_blank” ]The Lord of the Rings[/amazon_link], which is also quite an amazing quest in which Middle Earth is saved, at least for the likes of men and possibly dwarves and hobbits, but not so much elves, especially not Galadriel and Elrond.

Ishmael says at the beginning of Moby Dick that he decided to stop teaching school and sign on a whaling ship in order to “see the watery part of the world.” He saw a lot more than he bargained for, but you can’t deny it was a heck of a trip.

In Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] series, Claire Randall travels back in time when she walks through a stone circle at Beltaine, and she finds herself over 200 years in the past. Trips don’t get much farther than that.

Like Gabaldon’s Claire, Jennifer Donnelly’s Andi Alpers finds herself about 200 years in the past during the French Revolution, but she also figures out a way to move on from a terrible loss in her past in [amazon_link id=”0385737645″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link].

The Odyssey is the quintessential travel book. The whole book is about the worst trip home ever. On top of that, it’s a rollicking adventure that has stood the test of time. Few books can match it.

I absolutely love Sharyn McCrumb’s novel [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link], and my favorite part concerned Malcolm McCourry, who was kidnapped and brought to America from Scotland, bringing a snatch of an old song along with him on the voyage, but the real voyage in this novel is the trip that the song takes through the generations, remembered by Malcolm’s descendants and passed down through time.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is yet another classic travel book, as the book follows Huck and Jim down the Mississippi. We can see how far Huck has come in his other voyage when he decides to tear up the letter revealing Jim’s location and says, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” Reading that line always gives me the shakes.

Sir Gawain promised he would seek out the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, and he is a knight of his word. If you are looking for reasons why Gawain is better than Lancelot, you can’t do better than the excellent [amazon_link id=”0393334155″ target=”_blank” ]Sir Gawain and the Green Knight[/amazon_link]. Plus, we have no idea who wrote it. It’s a complete mystery. He goes on a quest and finds himself in great peril, but he is true, and he returns home to Arthur’s court a wiser man.

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Top Ten Books for People Who Like X

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from

Oooh, I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesday in a while, and even though it’s technically Thursday, this one looks like too much fun to pass up. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books for People Who like ______. I’ve been unpacking my books, and I’ve been thinking about the connections among my different reads. My husband made the remark today that we have a lot of good books, and we really shouldn’t need to go to the bookstore in a while given how many great books we have. He’s right.

  1. If you like the Harry Potter books, you should try Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: The Eyre AffairLost in a Good BookThe Well of Lost PlotsSomething RottenThursday Next: First Among SequelsOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and joining the ranks in October, The Woman Who Died A Lot. Jasper Fforde’s series is hilarious bookish fun, and even has a few references to the Harry Potter series.
  2. If you like Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights, you will enjoy Sharyn McCrumb’s historical fiction retelling of the infamous Tom Dooley case, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. McCrumb herself has described the novel as Wuthering Heights in the Appalachians, and it’s true. The story’s characters greatly resemble their counterparts in Wuthering Heights in many ways. I loved it.
  3. If you liked A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, try Paula McLain’s excellent novel The Paris Wife for Hadley’s side of the story. One of the best books I read last year. Highly recommended.
  4. If you liked Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, you will enjoy an updated retelling of the story, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.
  5. If you liked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, try Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, beginning with The Tea RoseThe Winter Rose and The Wild Rose round out the series, but the first one is the best one.
  6. If you liked Moby Dick, or even if you only sort of liked it because it got bogged down in cetology, but you liked the good parts, you will love Ahab’s Wife. Oh.My.Gosh. One of my favorite books ever. Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel introduces the amazing persona of Una, wife of Captain Ahab, from one line in which Ahab mentions her in Moby Dick, and she’s one of the most incredible fictional people you’ll ever meet. I love her. She is one of my fictional best friends.
  7. If you liked Twilight, but you wished you could read about grown-ups, and you wanted less purple prose and better writing, try Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book, Shadow of Night, comes out in about a week. You will like Matthew much better than Edward. Trust me.
  8. If you liked Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen, and you are a little unsure of all those Austen sequels, try out Syrie James’s fictionalized what-if? novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen that wonders aloud whether or not Aunt Jane had a real romance that inspired her great books.
  9. If you liked Suzanne Collins’s thrilling Hunger Games series, you will enjoy Veronica Roth’s Divergent and its sequel Insurgent. Not sure when the next book in the trilogy comes out, but I can’t wait. Her books are amazing. They will remind you of The Hunger Games without feeling anything at all like a ripoff.
  10. If you liked Great Expectations and The Turn of the Screw, you will love John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer. The book makes several allusions to both novels, but it also contains four complete short stories within the text of the novel (written by the protagonist’s grandmother), and it’s set in a creepy house with a secret.

Bonus: If you like Victorian novels period, and you want to read a love letter to the Victorian novel, or if you like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, try Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. Just because my husband says we have a load of good books doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for more.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books to be Made into Movies

Top Ten TuesdayI am having trouble with the plugin that handles Amazon links, but I decided I should publish this anyway before the expiration date on this topic is too long past.

I like this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic. Which books should be made into movies? Here’s my list:

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link], Erin Morgenstern. I think this book would be great in Tim Burton’s hands. It wasn’t my favorite read, but it has such strong imagery that it’s begging to be made into a movie. I think I heard somewhere that it actually has been optioned.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link], Diana Gabaldon. It would probably only work as a miniseries, and God knows who they would cast, but it’s such a great series. I’d love to see the books made into films à la [amazon_link id=”B0000Y40OS” target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link].
  3. [amazon_link id=”0142402516″ target=”_blank” ]Looking for Alaska[/amazon_link], John Green. I didn’t like this book a whole lot, but I could see it making a pretty good teen movie like [amazon_link id=”B000FZETKC” target=”_blank” ]Some Kind of Wonderful[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B001D0BLTA” target=”_blank” ]Pretty in Pink[/amazon_link].
  4. [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link], Ransom Riggs. Another one with a lot of visual imagery and some great humor that would be fun to watch.
  5. [amazon_link id=”B007C2Z5EU” target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link], Jasper Fforde. I’ve actually talked about this one before.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0316769177″ target=”_blank” ]The Catcher in the Rye[/amazon_link], J. D. Salinger. It would be tricky to pull off, but I think if the director did internal monologue voiceovers, it might work.
  7. [amazon_link id=”0060558121″ target=”_blank” ]American Gods[/amazon_link], Neil Gaiman. This could be a sprawling sort of epic with the right cast and script.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0141439610″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in White[/amazon_link], Wilkie Collins. If this has been made into a successful movie, then I haven’t heard about it, but it would be a great gothic tale.
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061862312″ target=”_blank” ]Wicked[/amazon_link], Gregory Maguire. Why not? They brought it to Broadway. Would be fun to cast [amazon_link id=”B00388PK1U” target=”_blank” ]Wizard of Oz[/amazon_link] lookalikes where possible, too.
  10. [amazon_link id=”074348276X” target=”_blank” ]King Lear[/amazon_link], William Shakespeare. Seriously, why hasn’t one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays been made into a huge movie. They’ve done just about every other major play and even minor ones. I have seen filmed stage versions of this, and there’s a good PBS one, but not exactly major motion pictures.

What about you? What books do you think should be made into movies?

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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, [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link]. 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.

[amazon_link id=”0385335970″ target=”_blank” ]Dragonfly in Amber[/amazon_link] 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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