Thursday, July 31, 2014

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon

I closed the end of the book having reread the last passage several times, and with a deep sadness that the story has ended again for now.  Can I really wait for five more years until the next part of the saga?  At least I have the new Outlander series on Starz to keep me busy while I wait.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood is the eighth novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  If you haven’t yet read the series, you could read this novel and have a great historical fiction read set during the American Revolutionary War.  However if you want to truly enjoy and absorb the richness of the tale, you should really start with first novel, Outlander, and make your way through the entire series before picking up this novel.

Echo in the Bone, the novel immediately preceding Written in My Own Heart’s Blood ended with MANY cliffhangers.  These cliffhangers left me literally hanging for five years wondering how they would all be resolved.  I particularly wanted to know if young Jem was going to make it out of the tunnel okay.   I found out about 162 pages into this novel.  Aggh!

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood begins in 1778 right where Echo in the Bone ended.  Young Ian Murray is mourning the death of his mother and his Uncle Jamie.  Meanwhile William Ransom, Ninth Earl of Ellesmere, and Jamie Fraser’s illegitimate son, is reeling from the discovery that he is Jamie Fraser’s bastard son and not legitimately the Ninth Earl of Ellesmere.  He soon finds comfort with a lady of the night, who later plays prominently in his story.

Claire and housekeeper, Mrs. Figg, are wondering what to do after the thunderous disappearance of Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser.  Soon enough they find themselves in another quandary as Lord John’s brother Hal appears searching for Lord John and having a medical breakdown of his own.    Lord John and Jamie find themselves battling out their differences and perhaps sharing too much information outside of Philadelphia.  They each soon are caught up in the Revolutionary War in ways that they never imagined.

In Scotland in 1980, Jem is still trapped in a dark tunnel, and Brianna discovers the horrifying truth that Roger and Buck have traveled back in time to search for Jem . . . but that Jem is still in the present and in danger.  Brianna has to fight the mysterious forces that are out to get her family and find her missing son.  In the past, Roger and Buck fruitlessly search for Jem and also discover that they did not end up in the correct year.  Will Roger, Brianna, and their family ever be reunited?

These are the primary characters, but there are many, many more characters throughout the novel that have their stories continued in fascinating ways.  I especially liked a glimpse into the “past” where Roger and Buck meet various characters that are familiar to readers of the series.  I also enjoyed that I had read Gabaldon’s short stories that tied up some of the loose ends from Echo in the Bone and set up ideas for this novel.

The past part of the novel primarily focused on the Battle of Monmouth, which I’ll admit, I didn’t remember much of from history class.  I found the battle and historical figures to be fascinating.  I also love how the Frasers were inserted into the fray.  I loved Gabaldon’s “Author’s Note” in the end that included much more information.  I also had to look for more information myself!  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and Gabaldon is a master of bringing history to life. She is able to subtly show the horrors with war when Jamie takes shelter with a Quaker family, but also the promise of life when two of the minor love stories lead to marriage. I also love the natural history she includes as well with botany, biology included in Claire’s medical treatments.

Overall, I loved the novel.  I could just keep reading Gabaldon’s novels forever and am always sad when they end.  They contain so much detail on the people, places, historical figures and events of the story.  There is adventure, romance, and life.  I love them.  I listened to an interview with Gabaldon on CBS earlier today.  The way she described the novels struck me.  She stated that they were not a romance novel as they don’t end when Jamie and Claire marry.  They are a story of life and the fifty years that Jamie and Claire spend together.  Truer words cannot be said.

I also thought this novel had a perfect ending.  The story moved a bit slower than Echo in the Bone and did not have the many, many cliff hangers that were included in that novel.  Instead there is one perfect ending that did leave me with many questions about how it came about.  Would I be sad if the series did not continue?  Definitely yes.  But I could also live with this being the penultimate ending as well.

What were your thoughts of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood?  I love hearing other’s reviews and opinions – please post them!

I certainly cannot wait for the new STARZ Outlander TV Series.  Is anyone else sneak peeking with me this weekend?

Book Source:  I preordered this book from Amazon about a year before I received it!  I finished reading it a while ago, but have gotten behind on my reviews.

** Additional thoughts.  I keep pondering this book and thought I'd add a couple of thoughts to my review.  My first thought is I really want to know the mystery of the forces that are chasing after Brianna and her family.  Who are they and how do they know the secret of not only Jamie Fraser's gold, but of the twisted Fraser family.  I loved the 2nd novel in the series, Dragonfly in Amber as it was an action packed mystery.  Did Jamie die at Culloden?  I would love to see book 9 follow a format like that in which the mystery of the forces against the Fraser family is solved.

Also - I would LOVE to get an Ellen Mackenzie and Brian Fraser back story.  I loved how Brian was in this book and it only left me wanting more!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

Title: Just One Evil Act
Author: Elizabeth George
Read by: Davina Porter
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 28.5 hours (24 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

Just One Evil Act is the latest novel in the Inspector Lynley series.  Inspector Lynley’s partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, is very close with her neighbors Taymullah Azhar, his lover Angelina, and their daughter Hadiyyah.  While Angelina had disappeared a year before, she had returned and the family had rebuilt their lives together. . . . until now.  Angelina has disappeared again, this time with Hadiyyah.  Azhar is heartbroken, especially as he realizes that since he and Angelina never married and he is not on the birth certificate, there is not much he can do to legally force Hadiyyah’s return.  Barbara and Azhar hire a private detective, but Angelina and Hadiyyah seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

Then one day, Angelina reappears from Italy with her new lover and the news that Hadiyyah has been kidnapped from them in Italy.  When Scotland Yard will not get involved, Barbara takes matters into her own hands to the detriment of her career.  Barbara and Lynley soon discover that this case has many, many twists, turns, and mysteries beyond a simple kidnapping.

I was intrigued with this case, just when I thought I knew what was happening, the story would change. I also loved that it was personal for Barbara; it was much more her story this time around then Inspector Lynley’s.  She has a hidden love for Azhar that she constantly has to deny herself.  This novel translated perfectly to an audiobook that keeps wanting to listen.  Davina Porter is one of the rock stars of audiobook narration and she once again does an excellent job with this audiobook.  I enjoyed listening to it all summer.  I only started listening to this series last year with Believing the Lie.  It is one that you can pick up on even if you haven’t read or listened to all of the previous works.

Overall, Just One Evil Act was an excellent mystery audiobook that had many twists and turns, but also questioned what one Detective would do to help a friend.  Is it ethical?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the July pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie Club.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a lot different from most novels that my book club reads.  It is a fantasy novel with an ending that still has me puzzling whether I interpreted the book correctly or not.  

An unnamed narrator has returned to the place where he grew up to attend a funeral.  While there he finds himself drawn to a farmhouse at the end of the lane where his friend Lettie and her mother and Grandmother lived as a child.  He recalls that Lettie called the pond an ocean and then goes off into a remembrance of his seven year old self meeting Lettie and the adventure that he had that summer.  While with Lettie he brought a being from another realm to this world that is threatening to destroy him and his family.  Only with Lettie and her family’s help will he be able to defeat this foe.

SPOILER ALERT unfortunately, even though this was a very short book, no one in my book club read it besides myself, although one did start it.  I really wanted to discuss the ending.  Truthfully I found this book to be a bit odd, but yet the ending puzzled me and has kept me thinking in the weeks since I finished it.  Was the narrator imagining this world to cover up traumatizing events from his childhood, or is there a world that only children can believe in that he could no longer see as an adult?  If you read this book, what did you think?  SPOILER END

Overall, I’m glad I read this book for the ending that really has had me thinking, although I found the book a bit disturbing at times.  It looks like I need to pick better next time to get my book club on board with reading my choices!

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

A Lantern in Her Hand is one of my mother’s favorite books.  She recommended it to me when I was in middle school.  I read it and loved it.  I’ve read it a few times since then, but not since becoming a mother myself.  As it is a great book about the sacrifices that a mother made during pioneer days, I thought it was a good June pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie club, which is made up entirely of mothers.

The book starts off with an introduction about an old pioneer woman in Nebraska, Abbie Deal. The introduction ends with “This is the story of the old lady who died while the meat burned and the children played ‘Run, Sheep, Run’ across her yard.”  To me, this was an explosive beginning to the novel. Abbie Mackenzie is the daughter of a Scottish aristocrat and an Irish peasant.  With their fortune lost, her parents move to America.  Her father unfortunately dies young, but her mother moves her large family out west to Iowa.  As a child, Abbie dreams of returning to the life that her Grandmother Mackenzie had as a wealthy woman.  She meets Will Deal, a sensitive neighbor boy.  She grows into a beautiful young woman with an exquisite singing voice and great ambitions.  Ed Matthews, Doc Matthew’s son who is getting educated out East, wants to marry Abbie and take her East for training, but she can’t forget about Will Deal who is fighting in the Civil War in Ed’s place.  As Abbie marries, has children, and faces difficulties in life, she consistently sacrifices her dreams in order to fulfill the dreams of her children.

This brought about an interesting discussion at book club.  Should one sacrifice all for one’s children?  Is it selfish to keep some ambition for oneself?   While Abbie and her sacrifices were heartwarming as was her total dedication to her children, at times it was heartbreaking in the book when she wasn’t able to fulfill any of her dreams.  Two other book club members read the book, but sadly, they did not love it as much as me.  I think the old fashioned language (written in the 1920’s) and skips through time turned them off.  They felt it was very rushed trying to tell Abbie’s entire life story in one book.  Reading it again myself, I still loved it.  It was a bit rushed, but I liked how it went through Abbie’s entire life and seemed to take more time at the end for life reflection.  Abbie was proud of how she was able to help her children to succeed in life and felt her sacrifices were well founded.  I thought it was an admirable quality!

I was also struck in the book by just how alone you were as a pioneer woman.  At one point Abbie is helping her husband dig a well.  She hits herself on the head with the well handle while bringing her husband out of the well and knocks herself out.  She awakens to her crying one year old and leaves him to cross the prairie and look for help as she can’t get her husband out of the well.  Yes, she left her one year old next to an open hole in the ground to seek help as there was no other alternative.  She also has to travel with morning sickness in a covered wagon out west . . . with my hypomesis gravidum, which would have been the end to me!  I loved the detail of the trials of being a pioneer woman.  It gave me respect again for our ancestors and their struggles to find a good life for themselves.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“If you want a garden – You’ve got to dream a garden.”

“You are so much a part of me, that if you were taken away, I think it would seem that you just went on with me.  And I’m sure if I were the one taken I would go on with you, remembering all you had been to me.”

“It was the only old home the children had ever known.  There ought to be a home for children to come to, - and their children, - a central place, to which they could always bring their joys and sorrows – an old familiar place for  them to return to on Sundays and Christmases.  An old home ought always to stand like a mother with open arms.  It ought to be here waiting for the children to come to it, - like homing pigeons.”

“Grace was loath to accept the decision.  ‘As I said, I’m sorry.  You owe it to yourself, if you possibly can go.  Your life has been so narrow, Mother . . . just here, all the time.  You ought to get out now and see things.’

Unwittingly, as so often she did, Grace had hurt her Mother’s feelings.  For a moment Abbie nursed her little hurt, and then she said quietly, ‘You know Grace, its queer, but I don’t feel narrow.  I feel broad.  How can I explain it to you, so you would understand?  I’ve seen everything . . . and I’ve hardly been away from this yard.  I’ve seen the sun set behind the Alps over there when the clouds have been piled up on the edge of the prairie.  I’ve seen the ocean billows in the rise and fall of the prairie grass.  I’ve seen history in the making . . . three ugly wars flare up and die down.  I’ve sent a lover and two brothers to one, a son and son-in-law to another and two grandsons to the other.  I’ve seen the feeble beginnings of a raw state and the civilization that developed there, and I’ve been part of the beginning and part of the growth.  I’ve married . . . and borne children and looked into the face of death.  Is childbirth narrow, Grace?  Or marriage?  Or death?  When you’ve experienced all of those things, Grace, the spirit has traveled although the body has been confined.  I think travel is a rare privilege and I’m glad you can have it.  But not every one who stays at home is narrow and not every one who travels is broad.  I think if you understand humanity . . . can sympathize with every creature . . . can put yourself into the personality of every one . . . you’re not narrow . . . you’re broad.’”

Overall, A Lantern in her Hand is a classic pioneer tale that also is a wonderful tale of a mother.  I loved reading it again.

Book Source:  An original copy from 1928 that I picked up at an antique store earlier in my life.