Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

SOOKIE’S BACK!! Yaaaaay!!! I say that not just because there’s a new book, but because she’s back in business…as in, good book business. After Dead in the Family, I had begun to worry that the series was sliding downhill, but alas, we are saved. (For now, at least.) My hubs – who has read the entire series – asked me to rate it “one to ten, how many stars? Wait…only compare it to the other Sookie books and don’t factor in all those depressing, sad books you read…” Hmmm, how long until he understands that not all sad books are bad books??? Anyhoo, I gave it a seven.

So someone attempts to firebomb Merlotte’s and Sookie and Sam are caught in the crossfire. Was the attack meant for Sam or Sookie? (Sookie, of course.) Victor has recently been made regent to the new King Felipe and he’s invaded Bon Temps and Shreveport, setting up two new bars that have put a kink in both Sam and Eric’s businesses. Claude and Dermot are living with Sookie and there is something suspicious happening with the fairy refugees that were left behind when the world of fae was sealed off. Eric is keeping a major secret and one of Sookie’s (many) enemies is back for vengeance.

It starts out a little slow, but the pace does pick up and there’s quite a lot of action in the second half. There are a few storylines that don’t go anywhere, but I assume they will be central to the next book. And I do tire a bit of the fairies, since I haven’t really made a connection to those characters yet.

However, the best part for me is that it gets back to the heart of the series: Sookie, Eric and Bill. Yep, you read that right, Bill’s back in business too!! (Hush, all you Bill-haters out there…) Sookie and Eric on the porch swing and Sookie and Bill – naked – underneath Bill’s house (the set-up for the latter was a bit hokey, but I can let that slide). Not exactly book 4 material, but still good. (At this point in the game, I should face reality and admit my weakness for a good love triangle.) And the ending is open-ended, frustrating, and annoying, much like Dead and Gone, but successfully makes you want more, more, more.

I’m really happy with this book and my interest has officially been re-piqued. All the books in this series are TOO SHORT and I’d like to see them at least 100 pages longer, but a fun and quick read is just what the doctor ordered sometimes. My interest in “True Blood” as been rekindled as well…just when we were planning to drop the cable altogether…damn you, Eric Northman!!

Should I admit to owning this poster? No, probably not...

 

Outlander revisited

I recently finished my first “re-read” (via audiobook) of Outlander. I typically re-read my favorite books and there are undoubtedly some that withstand the test of time better than others, so for that reason,  I was a bit reticent going into Outlander again. I probably love this series more than anything I’ve read to date, and I didn’t know what I would do if it had somehow lost it’s magic.

I went into the initial read blindly; I had read no reviews or summaries and thus had no subconscious bias based on other people’s opinions. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find myself completely waylaid. Typically, I’m a pretty reserved person, but Outlander brought out the hyperactive, excitable, flailing-arms, high-pitched squealing fangirl in me like no other. I was obsessed with this book and thought of nothing else for months after the initial read. I cursed the unfairness of a life that forced me to leave my house and go to work while I was right smack in the middle of major Jamie and Claire drama! How cruel that my boss did not understand the gravity of my situation!? On the job, I was jittery and sleep-deprived and desperate for an open ear to listen to me ramble on and on about all the incredible things that had just happened. (Keep in mind, I was completely ignorant of the online fanbase at this point in the game.) Just recently, I cleaned out my old-emails and came across several that had been written during that time period. Bless my poor friends who had to endure my madness…

(click to enlarge)

Also during that time period, I had to help my brother and sister-in-law paint their new house. I had my nose buried in the book while waiting for the paint to be mixed at the store; and once we actually got to work, I painted faster than I’ve ever painted before! I was flying from room to room, unscrewing and removing light switch and outlet plates at lightening speed and futilely attempting to motivate the others with rapid hand claps and shouts of “Chop-chop, people! Let’s get this done!!” Afterwards, I declined a complimentary dinner and sped home so that I could get back to 1700’s Scotland.

As crazy as I was, I loved every minute of that euphoria. It still amazes me that a book can evoke so much emotion and make me so darned happy. While on the surface, it appeared to be making me regress in both intellectual ability and emotional age (what with all the girlie squeals and the extreme new-found boy crush); in reality, it was making me smarter. I learned so much history and increased my vocabulary with this book, and it spawned an interest in a country that I probably never would have even thought about otherwise. Of course, that feeling can almost never be re-captured after the first time, no matter how resilient said story may be. Therefore, I didn’t expect to revive that first time high and only hoped for at least another spirited experience. As you may have predicted, I was much relieved to find that Outlander still has what it takes to make me a very happy girl. Suffice it to say, it will still plaster a huge, goofy grin on my face :)

I was able to listen better and pay more attention to details this time around since my brain wasn’t hijacked by newbie mania. What struck me the most during my second go round was the emphasis on how young Jamie was. I knew all along that he was 23 years old of course, but I suppose I didn’t pick up on the multiple references to how young he appears, or the fact that Claire is sometimes caught off guard by his youthfulness.

I took a lot more notice of Frank this time. I had initially found him very distant and cold, but now have a different impression. I saw more clearly that he was quite loving with Claire and simply very dedicated (with a tendency towards complete immersion) to his research. I must say that I am notorious for switching “teams” upon second reads: I switched from team Edward to team Jacob and I switched from team Bill to team Eric (although, I watched “True Blood” for the first time in between those re-reads and I have to admit that Mr. Skarsgard had something to do with that about-face…). While I did see Frank in a more agreeable light, it definitely wasn’t enough to sway me from team Jamie. It did however, force me to much more critically evaluate Claire’s decision to abandon Frank. I’ve always found Claire to be a bit selfish, but I now see her decision as more foolhardy and callous. (It worked out in the end of course, so I can’t say that I blame her for it…)

I didn’t shed a tear during the Wentworth scene with Jamie and Black Jack Randall (compared to my first read when I WEPT LIKE A BABY). I understand Claire’s “solution” to Jamie’s depression at the abbey much better this time as well. The first time around, I was so emotionally drained and my mind so muddled that after the opium abbey brawl, I found myself blinking dazedly and thinking “wait….what the hell just happened?” but I was too excited to jump into Dragonfly in Amber to go back for clarification.

After finishing An Echo in the Bone, I consistently told people that the first book was my least favorite and that this is the rare series that gets better and better with each additional book. While I still believe the latter part of that statement to be true, I can not believe that I ever uttered the words “least favorite” and “Outlander” in the same sentence! It is so not my least favorite, I really can’t choose the “best” one because they are each so wonderful in their own way. Each book builds upon the last and weaves each thread tighter and those thousands of pages together are what makes the characters so richly realistic.

I’m starting to gush…so brace yourselves…but as I’ve said before, I feel like I know these people, actually I feel like I’ve known them my whole life. I’m constantly comparing this series to a real-life relationship: you enter into a whirlwind courtship, you’re madly in love and can see or think of nothing else, and then you settle into it, get comfy and feel like you’ve know that person (*cough* or character) forever. Seriously though, all of you hard-core fans out there, can you remember the time before you met Jamie and Claire? ;)

Anyhoo, I’ll wrap this up by saying that Outlander is a classic, it will never get old or lose it’s magic and I should’ve never doubted that (however tiny that doubt may have been). It’s the unique book that simultaneously stimulates both my giddy inner fangirl and my studious inner historian. You’d think that after a year of reading this series and writing multiple blog posts (well, basically a whole blog) about the same characters, that my excitement would have quelled at least a bit, right? Well, I’m still in love and still a loyal devotee and I think it speaks to the quality of the writing. Next up: the audio version of DIA.

An Outlandish diversion: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

You can learn a lot from the Outlander series. Being the huge nerd that I am, I keep a pocket notebook with me while I’m reading and jot down little bits of information or words that I can look up later. During my initial read of Outlander last year, I took particular notice of the brief description in Chapter 8 of Colum MacKenzie’s physical ailment:

“Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome. I had never seen a case before, but I had heard it described. Named for its most famous sufferer (who did not yet exist, I reminded myself), it was a degenerative disease of bone and connective tissue. Victims often appeared normal, if sickly, until their early teens, when the long bones of the legs, under the stress of bearing a body upright, began to crumble and collapse upon themselves.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

I did a little research and discovered that the most famous sufferer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was quite the interesting character and a very talented artist. Born in 1864 to an aristocratic French family, Henri’s upbringing was privileged, albeit wrought with a multitude of health conditions attributed to the fact that his parents, the Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adèle de Toulouse-Lautrec, were first cousins. Since he was physically unable to participate in the common games and activities of other children his age, he focused on his artistic talents and later became a widely respected Post-Impressionist painter.

He moved to the Montmartre section of Paris and became immersed in the bohemian art scene that included such famous artists as Degas, Cézanne, Seurat, Renoir and Van Gogh (whom he would later exhibit with). He was a friend of Oscar Wilde and subsequently painted a portrait of him, as well as Vincent Van Gogh. He was a fixture amongst the bawdy Paris nightlife and began a series of paintings featuring prostitutes of Montmartre. Around this time, the Moulin Rouge opened and Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to paint a series of posters to promote the cabaret.

One of his most famous paintings features Louise Weber, who went by the stage name “La Goulue” and was arguably the most famous Cancan dancer – and a personal favorite of Henri – at the Moulin Rouge.

"La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge" (1892)

 Many of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings were looked down upon as a result of their seedy and often risqué subject matter. Personally, I love his vibrant  artwork and view it as an interesting and often unglamorous glimpse into the realities of life in Paris during a time of incredible artistic creativity. Speaking of unglamorous and realistic, check out this one…

"Rue des Moulins: The Medical Inspection"

 Here are a couple of my favorites, including this self potrait in a crowd…

"At the Moulin Rouge"

"The clownesse Cha-U-Kao at the Moulin Rouge" (1895)

…and “In Bed”, (a print of) which will hopefully hang in my guest room one of these days…

"In Bed" (1893)

Henri was a very prolific painter, creating over 700 paintings and thousands of drawings during his abbreviated lifespan. To help him cope with constant mockery regarding his appearance, he took to drinking and was an alcoholic for most of his life. He had a customized cane that could be filled with alcohol so that he would never be without a drink. He was briefly institutionalized before his death at the age of 36. If you enjoy his artwork, you can see more of it here.

It’s quite a leap from the Scottish Castle Leoch in 1743 to bohemian Paris in the late 1800’s, but a most satisfying and visually appealing one, wouldn’t you agree?

Spreading the love of Outlander

I have a couple of stories that I need to share here, because only my fellow Outlander fanatics will truly appreciate them. The first story is from my husband. Last week, he went to the doctor and while returning his paperwork and clipboard to the front desk, he noticed that the receptionist was reading a book by Diana Gabaldon.

Husband: Oh, I see you’re reading one of the Outlander books?

Receptionist: Yeah! Have you read them?

Husband: No, but my wife is obsessed with them, so I kinda feel like I’ve read them.

Receptionist: They are so great.

Husband: My wife carved a pumpkin that was a big hit with all the Outlander fans she talks to online – she has a blog- actually, her blog and pumpkin recently made it onto Diana Gabaldon’s website. You should check it out.

*At this point, he is called back to see the doctor. After his check-up, he speaks with a different lady behind the front desk and is making his way out of the office, when he hears this…*

Receptionist: Oh! Sir! SIR! WAIT!

Husband: *walks back to the front desk*

Receptionist: OH. MY. GOD.

*In my husband’s words, she was “attempting to suppress a high-pitched squeal, while slightly flailing her arms and trying to maintain a professional decorum.”*

Receptionist:  I saw the pumpkin! Please tell your wife I said thank you, thank you for that pumpkin! Oooohhhh! That just made my day!

Husband: *smiling* Sure thing.

Aww, my hubs is going around promoting the Outlander series! As a side note, I asked him which book she was reading and he said “I don’t know, it was this ugly neon green color.” HA!

Next story:

My mom was at the beauty shop, getting her hair done, when the topic of conversation switched to vampires and then Outlander. (Just to set the stage: picture a Southern beauty salon with a hairdresser named Diane, who calls everyone “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Baby,” or the like, and doesn’t get in a hurry for anything. Diane’s son was working as a graphic designer on the 4th and 5th Twilight movies that were being filmed in Louisiana.)

Mom: My daughter loved Twilight, but she likes the Sookie Stackhouse series better.

Diane: I haven’t heard of that one. What’s it about?

Mom: Vampires. The show True Blood is based on those books, so I’m assuming they are a bit darker and more adult than the Twilight books.

*Let me just say that I forced my mom to read Twilight during the height of my obsession and when prodded for her opinion on it, she said “Well, honestly I wish they would just go ahead and get it on with each other! This back and forth is driving me crazy!”*

Mom: Now she’s in love with a new series though, it’s called Outlander. She bought it…

*At this point, an older lady looks up from a book and interrupts my mom…*

Older lady: Oooooohhhhhhhhhh! I’ve read the Outlander books! They. Are. Amazing!

Mom: Ha! You sound just like my daughter! Have you read them all?

Older lady: (who has now relocated to fully join the conversation) Oh yeah. They are the best books I’ve ever read. I am DYING waiting for book 8 to come out! It’s coming out in March though, so I’m just biding my time until then.

My mom called me later that night to relay the story and to tell me that book 8 is coming out in March. I informed her that it hasn’t even been written yet and it will be years before book 8 comes out. Then she says to me “Well, that lady seemed to be a pretty big fan…I’d bet she knows what she’s talking about.” I had to act very offended that my mom was questioning my level of fandom and my knowledge of when the next book is coming out.

And finally, I was at Barnes and Noble this past weekend, just browsing, when I overheard a woman at the information desk asking about Outlander. Of course, my ears perked up instantly and I walked to the end of the aisle to get a glimpse. The clerk checked in her computer and informed her that it was in the fiction section, and they began walking in that direction. I actually really wanted to go over to this girl and gush about how amazing the book is and tell her about Jamie Fraser and how she will never be the same, etc, etc, but when I rounded the corner and saw her pick up the book…the way that she was tenderly cupping it (clearly already coveting it), with a big, goofy grin on her face, I realized that she already had insider info on this series. It made me smile.

I’ve seen Diana G. describe her books as “word-of-mouth books” since they are so hard to describe or categorize and these stories reminded me of that notion. I actually found the series all by myself, I was reading the USA Today Top 150 best sellers list and saw one tiny little line that said An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon and described it as “a Scottish husband and his time-travelling wife in the 1700’s, latest in a series” (or something along those lines) and for whatever reason, that little sentence spoke to me! I went to the used book store and found books 2,3, and 4 and bought Outlander new (albeit on sale). And the rest, as they say, is history!

Do you have any funny Outlander word-of-mouth stories? I’d love to hear about them!

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas holiday! I will be posting pics from my beautiful trip to East Tennessee very soon, but for now, here is my review of Echo (copied and pasted from Word, since I was forced to suffer the anguish of no internet or blog access during the height of my post-book delirium).

I just finished An Echo in the Bone and I’m here in the mountains without internet. *fists waving in the air* Oh, Diana Gabaldon! Diana, Diana, Diana. My mind has sufficiently been blown, yet again. I shall try verra hard to harness my bottled excitement and control my trembling fingertips enough to write a coherent review of my thoughts.

Remember my review of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in which I said that upon finishing any Outlander book, the only adjective that seems to come to mind is “amazing?” Well, expect a lot of that. And there will be spoilers, because I simply don’t see how I can talk about this book without them.

The book starts out as a slow read. Not slow as in there is no action or slow as in boring, but slow as in there is a lot of information being disseminated and lots of groundwork being laid. The first half of the book felt like I was reading a Lord John novel. Not only because several threads are told from Lord John’s perspective, but also because there is a lot of military talk and battle discussion that wasn’t prominent in the prior books. In the beginning, we are mainly getting to know William, who is headstrong and eager to fight, but who also has a softer side and quickly realizes that he has a lot to learn about the art of war. I was somewhat indifferent towards him in the beginning. I very much enjoyed his storyline, but wasn’t fully invested in him as a character. It didn’t take long, however, for it to dawn on me that William could very well be a looking glass into Jamie’s young adulthood. Since they are so similar in personality, temperament, and of course, physical appearance, is this what Jamie was like when he was coming of age and finding his footing as a natural leader? I like to think there is a lot of similitude there. I began to worry about his eagerness to fight and naiveté regarding who to trust in such tumultuous times; but, for all intents and purposes, he is Lord John Grey’s son, and he has Jamie Fraser’s genes, so he’s going to be a good man. How could he not? At that point I sort of stopping worrying about him and was ready to get to the meat of the story, a.k.a., Jamie and Claire.

There wasn’t nearly enough Jamie for me. The only solace I found was that what little bit we got, was really, really good. I think Diana G realized that she was depriving us in the Jamie department and thus resolved to give us quality over quantity. Is it just me, or was every single scene with Jamie nothing short of amazing? We got back to the introspective, sweet, heart-breakingly poetic Jamie of yore, and for that reason alone I can forgive Diana for giving us so little. After Saratoga when Claire has just rescued him from the battlefield, given him laudanum and is preparing to do surgery on his hand? That was perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the book because Jamie is so incredibly open and vulnerable. He is dazedly explaining his rationale for risking his life to save those of complete strangers and all walls are down and we see his complete trust in Claire to pick him up, fix him and see him through it. The scene was just overflowing with love and emotion and trust and sincerity and while I was grieving for him and the loss of his finger, I was drinking it all in.

Another favorite scene -a happy one this time- was when Jamie and Claire are stopped in Edinburgh en route to return Simon Fraser’s body for burial in Scotland. Finally we get to see Jamie and Claire relaxing and actually enjoying life without freezing, starving, or running for their lives. They have money and time to leisurely dine at expensive restaurants, shop for new clothes, and pick out spectacles. I envisioned them walking down the stone streets arm in arm, strutting confidently,( bespectacled) with the sun on their shoulders, enjoying the brief respite from worry or fear. It had been a long time coming and they totally deserved it.

One aspect of the book that took me by surprise was Ian. I felt like I was really seeing a different side of him than I’d ever seen. I finally saw the fierceness that had been mentioned so often before, but never really illustrated (to me) until this book. In addition to that, he opens up and we’re given so much more insight into the way his mind works and how he manages the balance between his Scottish roots and his newly acquired Mohawk beliefs. Poor Ian was truly raked through the coals in this one: his anguish over the accidental death of Mrs. Bug (and the subsequent terror of being pursued by Arch Bug), tying up loose ends and finding closure with regards to Emily and his lost child, his separation from Rollo (who had just been shot), the reunion with his parents after (how many?) years, the death of his father, and falling in love with a Quaker girl who found it hard to reconcile his warrior nature with her non-violent beliefs. I’ve always loved Ian, thinking of him mostly as an easy-going little brother, but he has now officially grown up in my eyes. I had so much respect for his unwillingness to be something he is not and for not faltering in his beliefs. He was clearly anxious and reticent about his return to Lallybroch, but confronted it head on, donning Mohawk finery and holding his head high as if to say “This is who I am now. I can’t go back and you must accept me for what I am, or not have me at all.” Such a dramatic change from the boy who sacrificed himself for Roger back in Drums of Autumn because he was groping for his calling in life and had no idea what he was supposed to be. Am I happy that Rachel Hunter accepted him in the end? I’m not sure yet…I admire her loyalty and her dedication, but I’m not completely convinced that she is an adequate partner, not yet at least.

Another aspect of the book that pretty much knocked my socks off was the marriage of Lord John and Claire. I already knew that they had sex under the pretense that Jamie was dead (as a result of listening to Diana G read an excerpt from book 8 during a Dragon Con panel ), and yet it still came as a huge surprise to me. It’s still scandalous to think about, but here’s the kicker: I liked Lord John and Claire together. Is that wrong? I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the scene with them lying in bed talking after their drunken rendezvous the night before. John’s openness and honesty was lovely and I felt like he had genuine respect and admiration for Claire. And his story about the white deer, oh my god, my heart melted when he stopped her in the doorway and told her to “…think of the deer. My dear.” In that moment, in my eyes, they were perfect for each other! (By the way, did anyone else catch the possible symbolism there? Claire is called the white woman/witch; John’s associating her with the mysterious white deer? Is it just me?) I have long wanted Lord John to find someone with whom he could have a meaningful relationship that consisted of more than just sex, and I felt like he found that with Claire, however untraditional and fleeting. It all happened rather quickly and I wasn’t sure if Ian, Fergus, Marsali, or anyone else really knew the extent of what was happening (if at all), but quite frankly, I loved every minute of their marriage. When Jamie finally did return to America and unexpectedly walked in on Lord John and Claire, casually dressing and getting ready for the day in John’s bedroom, he was clearly not of the proper mindset to grasp the significance of the scene.  I believe that he would have immediately realized the casual intimacy between them, behaving like a settled old married couple, had he not been fleeing from the British army and seeking refuge. And once he does realize?? The intensity of this cliffhanger reinforces my prior fear of my inability to cope with the 2 year void until book 8 is released.

And speaking of cliffhangers, what about Jem?! And more importantly, Roger?!? At least we know that Jem is still in the tunnel (for now), but Roger has just travelled through the stones! If he is concentrating on Jem (in the theory that it will help direct him through time), where will he end up?! And what about Percy and Fergus?! My nerves are shot, people.

I love this book so incredibly much. It’s absolutely amazing. How fitting it is that I bought Outlander in an after-Christmas sale in 2009 and now I have finished the series almost exactly a year later? I shall forever think of 2010 as the year of Outlander :) Without any new books to turn to in the coming year, I suppose I will have to resort to some meaningless one night stands with sexy vampires and civil war soldiers to tide me over until my reunion with Jamie and the gang, but I most definitely see some re-reads in my future…

Five book reviews, one blog post

The tagline at the top of this page indicates that this blog is partly about books, but you sure wouldn’t know it from looking at my recent posts. I actually have been reading steadily (if not a wee bit slowly), but I just haven’t felt like writing about them. The weather finally decided to get cold and the loss of daylight savings time means that my excruciatingly long commute home is once again in complete darkness. This makes me want to sleep…all the time. Oh, and I pulled out the Snuggie…which instantly brings any productivity to a screeching halt. I need to get back into the groove, but I think I’ll just ease into it with some mini-reviews.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Seth Grahame Smith, what is this hold you have on me? I love reading about the Civil War, I love Abraham Lincoln, and I love vampire stories. Nuff said, right? (That goes out to you, Diana.) Abe’s mother is killed by a vampire when he is a young boy, thus igniting a lifelong quest to kill all vampires in America (with the exception of one “H,” who actually works with Lincoln to give him tips on the locations of especially evil vamps). He discovers that the vampires are funding slave owners in the South because the slave trade creates an endless, easy blood supply (here’s the vampiric connection to the Civil War). And John Wilkes Booth is a vampire, which I thought to be a touch of pure genius because he was such an outlandish character in real life that one has no problem believing that he was a vampire. There are also several old black and white photos (with slight modifications, of course) that genuinely creeped me out, especially the portrait of Booth.

I did have issues with this book, and if I were to analyze it and ponder the deep meanings within, I would probably not like it. I would be upset that it sort of shifts the real reason for the war away from slavery, which detracts from my image of the noble President Lincoln; and I would think it a little strange that he didn’t inform the country of the existence of vampires, instead of trying to slay each one individually with his trusty axe; and I would be most upset that Abe did not let his wife in on the fact that he became a vampire and instead continued to appear out of the darkness, causing her to be diagnosed as crazy and eventually institutionalized. BUT, I’m not going to over-think it, because this book is obviously not an accurate history and therefore not meant to be picked to pieces, thus, based solely on entertainment value, I loved it.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw was my first experience with Henry James and his millions upon millions of commas. It took me a long time to adjust to his style of writing and I grew a little impatient since it took me so long to read such a short book. I think it is a decent story, but there was so much suggestion that I felt a little lost because there were several times when I honestly had no idea what the heck he was suggesting. Perhaps this book is a little too high brow for me, but what I took away from it was this: the governess was insane and I’m not even sure that any of the ghostly occurences actually happened.

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

I loved The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and went around singing its praises to everyone I knew. It was the first book that had genuinely scared the dickens out of me since my middle school days with Stephen King. ( I can remember lying in bed during a bad storm, literlly crying with fear, after just finishing Salem’s Lot because I was convinced that if  I pulled back the curtain to investigate the scratching at my window, I would be face to face with a floating vampire. And thanks to Christine, I still get creeped out at night when I see oncoming headlights of old cars from the 1950’s.) This book scared me so much that I was actually worried about a vampire attacking our plane when we flew out to California just a few days after finishing it. And the first description of the Strigoi and the pic-pic-pic of this cane?! I still shudder at the thought.

That having been said however, The Fall did not live up to all of my own personal hype. I wasn’t the least bit scared and at times I found the descriptions of the newly turned vampires to be comical. I’m not a huge fan of zombie-esqe vampires as it is, so when said zombie vampires morph into crab-like vamps that scuttle along walls and ceilings…I found it a little hard to swallow.  Also, I don’t especially love the style of writing because (this may sound weird) it reads like a movie that was turned into a book. Like it’s more  movie than book? (This makes sense though, considering del Toro is a filmmaker and that there are already plans to turn these books into movies.) I was able to overlook that aspect during The Strain since it was so wonderfully scary, but it becomes more obvious when the creep factor isn’t there to distract you.  A few new characters are introduced, I particularly enjoyed Angel, the retired Mexican luchadore, but some of the major characters that I would have believed to be crucial to the finale are killed off. Overall, I was disappointed with this book, but I am still curious to see how it will end and I will undoubtedly read book three.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I finally got around to reading Mockingjay. I absolutely adore this series, but I have to admit that I have major issues with the ending. I was perfectly satisfied (albeit not on the edge of my seat, as was the case with the first two books) up until page 385-ish, when it felt like she suddenly realized that she only had 15 pages left to hastily wrap everything up. It didn’t sit right with me and I’m agitated about the resolution of one character in particular (I can’t really say much about this without spoilers) that just didn’t make any sense whatsoever. However, I will continue to recommend the series.

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

I listened to the audio version of this book and was absolutely enthralled from beginning to end. It’s the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman painter to ever be accepted to the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence in the 1600’s. Her story is tragic and heartbreaking, but I was really moved by her drive and determination to follow her dreams. Vreeland is a master of creating atmosphere and I found the scenery to be more vivid than anything I’ve read in a long time. The audio aspect added an additional layer of ambience since I could hear the reader correctly pronounce the Italian words and I went around talking with an Italian accent for several days afterwards. I also found her paintings online and was able to envision them while she was creating them in the story (which made me giddy with excitement). I knew nothing about this author prior to this book, but I will definitely be adding her other novels to my TBR list. I would highly recommend this book!

Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1630

I’ve got a visual on Lord John Grey…

The entire time I was reading the first 6 books in the Outlander series, I had a very vague mental image of Lord John. And it wasn’t good. For whatever reason, I pictured him as small, weak, blonde-verging-on-gray, and sort of old. Several of my Outlander-obsessed blogging friends cast actors as the characters in the books and it seems a lot of people agree that Jude Law would make a good Lord John. After having read the Lord John series, I now feel wonderfully relieved to have my own mental image…and he’s hot! I’ve decided to play my own hand at the casting game. 

Several months ago, my husband and I rented The Crazies. (I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it actually wasn’t bad.) I found myself being utterly blown away by the gorgeous blue eyes of the actor who played the deputy, so much so that I looked him up. I realized that he was the same actor who played Henry Austen in Becoming Jane (amazing movie, I guess I was too distracted by James McAvoy to notice anyone else in the film). His name is Joe Anderson and while I was becoming reacquainted with Major Grey during the Lord John novels, it hit me that he fits the description perfectly! Shorter stature, lean build, blonde hair, English, slightly feminine yet still a head-turner, and beautiful, big, blue eyes. What do you think? 

This is exactly how I imagine Lord John. Sexy man overload in these pictures!!

 

 

The Lord John Series by Diana Gabaldon

I started reading Echo in the Bone back in late August and decided to stop *gasp* after I continued to have the nagging sensation that I needed to read the Lord John series before I went any further. So that’s what I did. I read Lord John and the Private Matter, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, and Lord John and the Hand of Devils.

Overall, they were okay. Pretty solid, as my brother would say. (I found these books to be much like every Kings of Leon song I’ve ever heard: they start out with a lot of  promise, but never really seem to go anywhere. I hope that wasn’t too snarky? I still love you, Diana G!) On the bright side however, I did develop a definite attachment to Lord John, whom I had always been fairly indifferent towards while reading the Outlander novels, as well as a concrete image of what I think he would look like.

Lord John and the Private Matter begins with LJ accidentally catching a glimpse of what appears to be a pox mark on the manparts of his cousin’s fiance. LJ feels that it’s his duty as an honorable man to do some sleuthing to determine the true character of said fiance in enough time to cancel the wedding. The premise makes me giggle, but I kind of had to force myself to get through this one, and truthfully, I can’t even remember much of what happened. I kept waiting for some juicy Jamie bits, but alas, there wasna any. I did enjoy learning about the mollyhouses and I love Tom Byrd to death, but I don’t really feel that this book is critical to the series.

Lord John and the Hand of Devils is a collection of 3 novellas that each have a supernatural twist, and it turned out to be a great book to kick off the start of October. I actually really enjoyed these short stories, Lord John and the Hellfire Club being my favorite…very, very strange…but strange in a good way. I suppose my overall favorite however is Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. It’s by far the most substantial of the 3 books (around 500 pages) and I felt that I got the most out of it (a.k.a. it has juicy Jamie bits), and that’s what I’m going to focus on here.

It’s the heart of the Seven Years War and someone is sending pages from the diary of  Lord John’s deceased father to members of his family. His father, the Duke of Pardloe, is believed to have committed suicide after being accused as a Jacobite agent when LJ was a boy.  John has harbored a secret regarding his father’s death for many years and now wants to clear his good name, as well as recover the missing diary. Meanwhile, his mother is preparing to wed General Stanley and John is introduced to his soon-to-be step-brother (and so much more), Percy Wainwright. John and Percy have a bit of an awkward “introduction” since they have met once before during a mollyhouse one night stand (in the Private Matter). Percy joins the army and they begin a passionate affair that lasts throughout the majority of the book until John (and several other army officers) accidentally catch Percy with another man. LJ is then faced with a moral dilemma: to testify to what he saw and potentially sentence Percy to death, or lie in court and free Percy, but put an end to his own good word. The timeframe of the novel coincides with Voyager, when Jamie is working as a groom at Helwater. Lord John receives notice that his beloved friend Geneva Dunsany has died and leaves at once to help console the family, thus seeing Jamie Fraser in the first of many visits throughout the book.

I found it very interesting to see the other side of the Dunsany/Helwater debacle from John’s perspective. Grey had known the Dunsany’s since the early days of his commission, where he became good friends with their son, Gordon. Gordon was killed during the Jacobite Rising and as a result, the family adopted Grey as a sort of foster son. John had known Geneva from the time she was 4 or 5 and Isobel since birth. There is a touching scene where John comes across a rain-soaked and grief-striken Isobel preparing to jump out of the window. He pulls her down and in an attempt to comfort her, confesses that he took to smashing things while mourning his father. He gathers some objects for her to throw out the window and offers to take her out to shoot clay pigeons. It was a very sweet scene, especially knowing  that they would end up as husband and wife. (I would love to hear Isobel’s thoughts on that marriage.)

On the night before the funeral, John walks to the family chapel to sit with Geneva’s body one last time before she is buried. Upon entering the room, he is shocked to find Jamie lying on the freezing floor, in nothing but his shirt, keeping watch. Jamie sounds like he has been crying and John realizes that he must have been performing an act of penance, which leads him to believe they were lovers. (LJ later pays a visit to the new Earl, expecting to find a head full of tell-tale red hair.) Jamie serves as a pallbearer to the Earl of Ellesmere at the joint funeral (scandalous!) and apparently the other manservanst are fearful of him. He sits completely alone while most of the congregation openly gawk at him. John is keeping a careful watch on him as well, and notices that Jamie is clearly showing signs of distress during the funeral, and he wonders if it’s Geneva that he is mourning, or his dead wife.

Later, while still attempting to clear his father’s name, John offers to release Fraser from the provision of his parole if he can provide names of the prominent Jacobites from England during 1741. Jamie becomes very agitated when LJ mentions that he needs the information in defense of his father’s honor, and goes on to give this chilling speech:

I am not merely defeated, nor only imprisoned by right of conquest. I am exiled, and made slave to an English lord, forced to do the will of my captors. And each day, I rise with the thought of my perished brothers, my men taken from my care and thrown to the mercies of sea and savages – and I lay myself down at night knowing that I am preserved from death only by the accident that my body rouses your unholy lust.

One thing that I found a little confusing was the dynamic of Jamie and John’s relationship. Based on Voyager, I had the impression the two had grown to be good friends as a result of spending so much time dining together at Ardsmuir. In Brotherhood of the Blade, however, I felt like Jamie was consistently hostile and unfriendly towards John; and at times, I got the impression that perhaps John felt more lust than actual love for Jamie.

It was very intriguing, albeit a little strange, to see Jamie through a different set of eyes (other than Claire). For example, check out LJ’s description of Mr. Fraser upon first approaching Helwater…

The lines of neck and spine, the solid curve of buttock and columned thigh, the sun-darkened flesh of his throat, sun-bleached hair of his arms- even the small imperfections, the scars that marred one hand, the pockmark at the corner of his mouth- and the slanted eyes, dark with hostility and wariness. It was perhaps no surprise that he should feel physical arousal; the man was beautiful, and yet dangerous in his beauty.

I don’t remember Claire mentioning any pockmarks, but I can definitely appreciate a fresh take such as that. Basically, Jamie is the center of John’s world.  Oddly enough, instead of this making me angry (like it did in Voyager– I suppose it was the idea that John was potentially competition, or maybe just a major complication, for Claire?) it actually just strengthened my notion of the love between Jamie and Claire. I realized that Jamie always had eyes for only Claire, and that Lord John was fully aware of this.

There is one scene in the book that does sort of bother me though. It’s towards the end, when John is desperately torn about what to do during Percy’s impending court date. John travels back to Helwater specifically to consult with Jamie to get the counsel of a truly honest man (Grey also says that Jamie is the only person in the world to whom he can speak frankly). Grey admits that he cannot see Percy hanged for a crime whose guilt he shares. At this, Jamie refers to Percy as Grey’s “catamite” and implies that John is preying on young boys. Tempers flare rapidly and a heated argument ensues about whether or not men can love one another (Jamie saying the thought of it “curdles my wame”), the climax of which occurs when the following exchange takes place:

Jamie: “Draw on me and be damned, armed or no, ye canna master me.”

John: “You think not? I tell you, sir – were I to take you to my bed – I could make you scream. And by God, I would do it.”

(Yowza!! My jaw totally dropped at that one!) Anyhoo, what happens next is very vague, but basically Jamie throws a punch, John is disoriented and stumbles out of the barn (they were in the barn because Jamie always seems to be pitching hay in this book), ripping at his flies…next thing you know, “desperate fisting” ensues and a “drained” John sinks to his knees. I realize there are a multitude of reasons why this scene should be vague, but I have a lot of questions, the most significant being whether or not Jamie witnessed what was taking place?! It only seems logical to me that if he was in the midst of a fight, and his opponent walked away, he would at least watch to see what his next move would be, right? I would like to think that Jamie wouldn’t have stayed to watch the public indecency take place, but he had to have known what was going on? It was crazy, to be sure.

So, in summary, I am glad that I took the time to read this series and I definitely have a new-found appreciation for Lord John Grey. I officially like him now. While I pretty much just covered all the parts involving Jamie, I would recommend that any Outlander fans should at least read Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. I heard that Diana G is writing a new story involving Lord John and zombies and I’m actually most excited to get my hands on that!

North Carolina beach trip with the fam…and Jamie Fraser?!

Fort Johnston Garrison House, Southport, NC

I just returned from a relaxing week of vacation with my family on the beautiful coast of North Carolina. My grandparents own a house just outside of Southport and we’ve been going each summer for as long as I’ve been alive. This year we did the usual stuff: daily walks on the beach, lounging around in the sun, reading, and eating lots of delicious food. (Thai Peppers = Greatest. Food. Ever.) We broke from the norm this year, however, when my Mom suggested renting bicycles and cruising around historic Southport for a day. We had also seen signs for a Farmer’s Market by the water and wanted to check it out as well.

The Market was held in front of the Fort Johnston Garrison House, which was built in the early 1800’s on top of what remained of Fort Johnston. Fort Johnston was burned down during the Revolutionary War in 1775. As I was strolling around, sort of mindlessly admiring the food and crafts for sale, I noticed this historic marker. I read it and snapped a picture and paused for a moment. I felt this nagging feeling in the back of my mind, like I was familiar with the names on that plaque…Josiah Martinthe Cruizerwhere do I know that from?…and then it hits me – A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES!

Naturally, I was extremely excited about this realization and I immediately started blabbering about Jamie Fraser. It went something like this:

me: “OH MY GOD!!! THIS IS WHERE GOVERNOR MARTIN BROUGHT CLAIRE??? THIS IS THE FORT THAT JAMIE FRASER HELPED BURN DOWN BEFORE RESCUING HER!!!!!”

my husband: “OH MY GOD. Jamie Fraser IS NOT REAL.”

my mom: “Oh! Is that the man from that book you like so well?”

me: “Yes Mom *rolls eyes* the one that you still haven’t even started reading even though you’ve had it for 3 months now! HOLY CRAP, I HAD NO IDEA THAT THIS IS WHERE IT HAPPENED!!! I LOVE SOUTHPORT EVEN MORE NOW!!! ”

my husband: *shaking his head in disgust* “This is where the fort was burned down and where the Governor fled, but since Jamie and Claire Fraser are NOT REAL PEOPLE, they were not here.”

me: “This is where Jamie rowed out to rescue Claire from the ship! Can you imagine looking out across the water RIGHT HERE to see him rowing out of the smoke?!! *clutching bosom* Then he boards the ship and rips her cap off, tosses it into the water and fluffs her hair before giving her a deep, romantic kiss! *swoon* It was one of my favorite parts of the book!!!” *squeeeeeel*

my husband: *turns around and walks away*

Well, the hubs clearly didn’t see the significance of this unexpected, yet AMAZING surprise. And just for the record, I do realize that Jamie and Claire are fictional people, but the prospect of getting to see or experience actual locations discussed in my favorite books (or any book that I’m reading, and not just the Outlander series) gives me the sense of knowing the characters that much better. It enhances the intimacy of the relationships by giving me another perspective from which to view the story, as well as adding to my precious cache of mental imagery. Of course, everything is magnified when it comes to Diana Gabaldon’s characters since they are already so incredibly vivid and realistic to me.

I took lots of photos and made a panoramic of the view from Fort Johnston, looking out into the waterway where the mouth of the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean (please ignore my lackluster photo-stiching skills). This is where Jamie would have gotten into a boat after helping set fire to the fort and rowed out to rescue Claire from the Cruizer, which was anchored just offshore (if they were real people, of course). Very exciting for us Jamie fans!

Waterfront view from Fort Johnston Garrison House

Actually, I shouldn’t act like that was the first time that the Fraser’s were mentioned during this trip. En route to the beach, we drove through Asheville, NC and I couldn’t help but declare “Just think, Jamie and Claire made this trip across the state many times to Jocasta’s house, but they had to do it on horseback! Can you imagine?” (This statement was met with a car-full of chirping crickets.) I also joined Twitter so that I could follow Diana G and I cheerfully kept my eager family (note the extreme sarcasm) up to date on her postings.

In addition to the aforementioned exciting events, September 22 was the anniversary of our wedding in 2007. We didn’t do anything extravagant since being at the beach and getting to eat at my favorite restaurant of all time was celebration enough. I had time, however, to pause and remember that fateful proposal on the top of Roan Mountain. The hubs gets mad props for his chosen location for said event, he put a lot of thought into it to make sure that it would be a place that was near and dear to my heart. We had just found out that my Dad had sold his house on top of Roan Mountain and that he would only be in possession of the house for one more weekend (I think Pops had “forgotten” to mention that he sold the house because he knew I would be upset about it, thus we found out at the last-minute.). We hastily made plans to travel to East Tennessee and spend the last weekend there. Before we left though, he told a minor fib about going to help a friend move a washing machine while he was really rushing out to buy a ring (since he was wasn’t expecting the Roan Mtn house to be going anywhere anytime soon). We hiked to the top of the mountain, he proposed and we watched the sunset. It was very romantic.  

Husband, if you are reading this…look away now! (Trust me…don’t go any further!) As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I can connect my wedding proposal (and so much more) to Jamie and Claire Fraser (mad skills, I tell you). Claire mentions in Drums of Autumn that she can see Roan Mountain from Fraser’s Ridge, so when I think back to the gorgeous view from atop the mountain, I can’t help but think of how Jamie and Claire were looking at the same beautiful scenery :)

Actual view from proposal spot on Roan Mountain...Breathtaking!

Musings on A Breath of Snow and Ashes and the amazingness that is Diana Gabaldon

I finally finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes last night. And I’m feeling a little weepy.  I already cornered the husband this morning and spent 20 minutes telling him all about the ending. (He knows practically the whole storyline now and even has his own theories as to what will happen next – “did they capture Jamie and put him on a ship back to England yet?”- not that he would admit that to anyone.)  

I don’t know how to write a review of this book, or any book from the Outlander series, for that matter. There is just too much detail and the storylines are so convoluted and complex that there is no way to summarize without giving too much away. Also, when I start to talk about these books, my mind slips into that happy place where I unconsciously clutch my bosom,  my eyes drift skyward with a dreamy glaze, and a huge goofy grin spreads across my face and the only adjective that seems to come to mind is “amazing.” Well, this book is definitely amazing.

So far, Drums of Autumn is still my favorite in the series, but I must say that  A Breath of Snow and Ashes is a close second. There is a rescue scene (don’t worry, there will be no spoilers in this post) in this book that is easily one of the most dramatic things I’ve ever read. Diana Gabaldon is truly in a league of her own when it comes to making the reader feel completely immersed in the storyline and as if the things you are reading are REALLY HAPPENING. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

There is non-stop action in this book, which is an abrupt departure from The Fiery Cross, and honestly, it sort of wore me out. I get really emotional when things happen to the Frasers and the MacKenzies. During the horrendous scene with Roger in The Fiery Cross, my heart was beating so fast that I was having trouble breathing and I practically had a heart attack, followed by piteous weepage. Seriously. I’m going to lay all my nerdiness out on the table here and say that I am so attached to the characters in these books that I truly feel like they are living, breathing people. To me, these characters have souls. When I’m not reading, I rest assured that they are just living their day-to-day lives in North Carolina, going about their business until I get back to the book.

I had a minor panic attack at work a few days ago when it hit me that Jamie Fraser is probably going to die very soon. Possibly in book 8. He’s already old in book 6 and he’s clearly breaking down physically (don’t get me wrong, he’s still as heroic as ever, but it’s much harder on him). And what is the life expectancy for someone in the 1700’s? Especially for someone who has lived through the abuses that Jamie has had to endure? Even though Claire is older, I feel pretty confidant that she will outlive Jamie, which means that she will have to bury him, which means that it will be the most tragic scene to ever exist. I had to talk to someone about it, but since I can’t talk to Bridget or Angela because they’re so far behind me in the series (pick up the pace, ladies!!), I broke down and called my dear, sweet, most-patient-human-being-ever husband. He was clearly miffed about being forced to endure my premature anxiety about a fictional character, but he took it like a champ and cracked me up by concluding the phone call with “Wow. Um. Well, I guess I’m glad that I could be here for you(??).” Love ya, babe.

So now that I don’t have book 6 constantly calling my name, I have no more excuses and I really must attend to the so-far non-existent squid costume that has to be finished by tomorrow night (my own personal goal). Dragon*Con is in less than a week!!! (As a side note, my boss cracked me up yesterday by asking what dragons had to do with squid and I had to laugh and say “I don’t really know, I’m just rolling with it.”) I know that I must sew…but I REALLY want to start An Echo In the Bone…(fist waving in the air) damn you, Jamie Fraser!!!