Review – The Winter Sea

I’m an historical fiction junkie and while I don’t read general romance books, when it’s tossed with some historical fiction, I’m all about it. That’s what Kearsley does so deftly in this book — she takes what should be a simple story about a woman writing a book and makes it about the lives of the women she’s writing about. This is a book where I wanted every possible happy ending to happen.

The Winter Sea begins in present day Scotland with an author, Carrie McClelland, working on a new novel about the Jacobites and a failed invasion. She finds inspiration while visiting a friend who lives in Scotland and decides to stay on and rent a small cottage near Slain’s Castle which plays a part in the story she’s telling. The cozy cottage fits her needs well and the writing comes along at an incredible pace for her. Carrie begins making friends with many of the locals; particularly the sons of the man she’s renting the cottage from. All seems to be going incredibly well, except the research. Research has always been a part of her work but she finds herself not needing it so much in this book. Carrie begins to wonder if the past is starting to intrude a bit on the present for her.

Time slips never bother me, especially in historical fiction. In The Winter Sea I particularly enjoyed this because we got to meet so many interesting characters. The second story, the story within the story if you will, only takes place in the time slip, and is centered in 1708 Scotland. It’s here that Sophia Paterson, a young woman running from a bad situation, is taken in by a Countess (she is made out to be a distant relative) and finds love, and a life she never expected.

When I said I wanted the proverbial happy ending above, this is where I wanted it. Without giving much away, there were parts of Sophia’s story that were so sad but understandable. Really, I adored this character and wanted her to be just as happy as Carrie. It was not to be but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed this book.

I’ll admit that I’m easily seduced by a Scottish setting but it was the wonderful characters that immediately sucked me in. This one lived up to my expectations and beyond. While there were two distinct stories being told here, they never felt separate, they were integrated so well I didn’t feel as though I was missing anything when the perspective switched. I loved the family history that Kearsley wove throughout the story for Carrie, which was part of the reason it worked so well. Tying the fictional author to her ancestral characters was a nice touch.

This was my first of Kearsley’s books. I’m just sorry I waited so long to pick this one up.

The Winter Sea

By Susanna Kearsley

Source Books

4.25 stars

 

Review – The Scottish Prisoner

The Scottish Prisoner

By Diana Gabaldon

Delacourt Press

ISBN: 9780385337519

4 stars

I have a soft spot, a very soft spot, for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Jamie and Claire Fraser are among my favorite fictional characters. When I heard the latest John Grey novel would feature Jamie (the character has made appearances in the books but never as a major character), I made the decision that this would be my introduction into the Lord John Grey Outlander spinoff.

Jamie Fraser is now a paroled prisoner of war working as a stable hand on a remote farm called Helwater in the Lake District of England. While he wouldn’t say his life is satisfying without his wife and family, he is thankful for life’s small diversions. He’s no longer in prison, he spends his days working with horses, and is close to the son no one knows is his; affording him a small reprieve from his grief over losing his wife, Claire, and their child he never met. When Tobias Quinn, a friend of his from the Jacobite Rising, shows up at the farm, he tells him he wants nothing to do with the failed rebellion or with Tobias himself. He’s lost too much, namely his wife and child, and fears losing what little freedom he has gained at Helwater. When Lord John Grey summons him to London too many memories come flooding back to Jamie and he wants absolutely nothing to do with any of them.

Lord John Grey is almost as unhappy as Jamie is about the situation they find themselves in. A former warden of the jail where Jamie was held after the Jacobite Rising, he has no interest in seeing him especially since their last parting, which was on awkward terms. Lord John is in possession of documents that may contain information about a new possible uprising and he believes Jamie may be the only person who can help him figure out what the documents say. It’s an unhappy and uncomfortable match from the beginning.

One of the nice things about the Lord John Grey series is that the books are meant as standalone novels. Having the Outlander background and understanding the complicated relationship between Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser will add more for fans of the series, but if you have a love of historical fiction, this book could be a good entrance point into the Outlander world if you’re looking to try it out. It gives you a taste of Jamie’s life, what he’s lost, and while not a full background on him, it provides enough to make you want to know more about him and the wife he lost. Although, as fair warning to fans, the Jamie you meet in The Scottish Prisoner is slightly more hardened than the more good-humored Scotsman many have grown to love. Claire is alluded to numerous times and if you’re a fan of the series, this particular book is set after the battle of Culloden when Claire has returned to her own time and Jamie has been released from prison, essentially in the 20 year time period the couple spent apart in the series.

The Scottish Prisoner is set in Ireland but the slightly mystical feeling you get from the series is still present as there is a plot in the works to steal an ancient relic that the supporters of the Rising hope will inspire their Cause and rally supporters in Ireland. While I could have done without this little twist — I personally didn’t think it added much — it did evoke the supernatural feeling of the series without the time travel element. This is my only quibble with the book though. As always, Gabaldon goes above and beyond in the entertainment department and this book will probably be a fast read for fans of the series.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Review – The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel

By Diana Gabaldon

Illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

Ballantine Books

ISBN: 978-0-345-50538-5

3.5 stars

The Exile is Outlander from Jamie Fraser’s point of view.  Being a graphic novel, it took me a few pages to move past and tell the voice raging in my head that while I didn’t picture Jamie Fraser this way, someone did so get over it.  Once I moved on, it was all good and the visions in my head and those on the page began, inexplicably, to merge.  As a side note, this book is beautifully illustrated so it was hard to be all that disappointed.

However, the story itself didn’t work for me and I think it’s because I know the story too well.  In graphic novel form it feels too light and that too much information is missing.  All the basics are here — Jamie’s story is pretty much the same as Claire’s so there isn’t much that differs — but it’s the little details that I loved about the first book that I missed.  And let’s face it, Gabaldon, if you’ve read any of the Outlander books, likes details.

For those not familiar with the story: Jamie Fraser is a Scotsman returning to his homeland with a price on his head.  Claire Randall is a 20th Century woman who, while visiting Scotland and touring a group of standing stones, passes into the stone circle and goes back in time to the 18th Century.  As two outsiders, Jamie and Claire are thrown together in a marriage of strange convenience but fall in love despite their circumstances.

Jamie and Claire are true to their characters, there’s still a lot of sex, and somehow Claire is much more voluptuous than I ever imagined her to be but that might just be due to the fact that I don’t add extra boobage to female characters instinctively.  Jamie remains the hot Scottish guy in a kilt too so plus for that.

There was one scene from the original book that I wish had been left out.  At one point, Claire tries to escape back to her own time and makes a run for the stone circle that brought her to the 18th Century.  She gets captured by a British Captain who is looking for Jamie.  Jamie is able to get her back before any damage is done but as punishment, he beats her.  I almost put the book down when I first read it in Outlander and hoped that the scene had been expunged from this version.  It hadn’t.  I had an even more visceral reaction to it this time around.  I tried to explain it to myself in terms of the time frame (1700s) but it will never be something I can overlook.  I’m sure many may think I’m making too much of one rather small part of the story but it just soured it for me.

If you’re a fan of Gabaldon’s Outlander series, you’ll probably, like me, want to read this one.  I wasn’t thoroughly sold but it hasn’t ruined the series for me either.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s really beautifully done and worth a look for that reason alone.

Today’s Book

I finished The Sherlockian by Graham Moore last night which has left me with a craving for some Sherlock Holmes tales but I’m going to pass on detective stories for the moment (although The Sign of Four is on my TBR to be read sooner rather than later) and move onto The Exile by Diana Gabaldon.

The Exile is a graphic novel based on Gabaldon’s first book, Outlander.  I’m excited about this book especially after hearing her talk about it at the National Book Festival back in September.  Outlander ranks high on the favorites list and the only problem I expect to have is being annoyed that the characters don’t look like the ones that have already been established in my head.  I’ll get over it but there’s always that initial shock of, “Hey, that’s not what Jamie Fraser looks like.”

Corrag: A Novel

Corrag:  A Novel

By Susan Fletcher

W.W. Norton & Company

978-0-393-08000-1

4 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book.  It’s historical fiction (which I adore), set in Scotland, (a favorite setting of mine), features Highlanders as characters, (see previous), and is about a woman accused of witchcraft.  All things I usually enjoy entangled in a story.  What I found was something entirely different and not all bad either.

Corrag is a woman accused of witchcraft and slated to burn for her wanton ways.  It’s 17th Century Scotland and the accusation of witchcraft is common enough for women who have an understanding of medicinal herbs, are outspoken, and in some cases misunderstood.  Corrag is a mixture of all the above.  She’s a very small person, so small that some think of her as a child and in many ways she is childlike.  She was the only daughter of a woman hung for being a witch, has little education, and has been on the run for most of her life in search of a place to feel safe.  She finds that place in the Highlands of Scotland.  The MacDonald clan, which is settled in the area Corrag decides to call home, welcomes her and she feels finally at peace in the world.  When the clan is massacred by English soldiers, she is thrown in jail to await her death.  While there, a man named Charles Leslie comes to hear her story and hopefully find out more about the massacre.  What he finds is a filthy woman with a tale that will astound him.

This story is told by Corrag and is broken up by letters from Charles to his wife.  While Corrag’s story does skip around (She fully admits to being a rambler and in some places I felt inpatient with her telling.), but eventually she weaves a tale that makes your heartbreak.  It’s not only about the massacre but there’s also an interesting love story between Corrag and Alasdair MacDonald.  He’s married and while her heart breaks for him, she refuses to break the vow he has made to his wife.  I almost wish that it was a different story but the way Fletcher chose to tell it made sense from the perspective of Corrag.

It’s also a story about an incredible woman who showed little fear even when facing her own death.  She spent a great deal of her life alone, by choice, and was raised by a mother who told her never to love.  Corrag understood why her mother told her that but lets herself experience it anyway.  Becoming involved with the clan creates a life she never imagined possible.  She stops being this strange figure and starts to see herself in a better light.

I enjoyed this book but it does move slowly.  I’ll admit to taking a few breaks and moving on to another story while in the midst of this one.  I wanted very much to know what happened to the MacDonald clan and Corrag takes her time getting to that part.  Yes, I understand this was about her telling her tale so that someone knew her fully before she died, but some of it was too meandering.  In the end, I was happy to have finished it.  Fletcher is an interesting writer and at times can also be quite lyrical.  Descriptions of places and Corrag’s thoughts added wonderful touches to the story.

Fletcher is a new to me writer but I plan to look up a few of her previous novels and see how this one compares.

I received a copy of this book through the Early Reviewers Program on Librarything.

The Coral Thief

The Coral Thief

The Coral Thief

By Rebecca Stott

Spiegal & Grau

ISBN: 978-0-385-53146-7

2.5 stars

Daniel Connor, a young medical student from Edinburgh, is on his way to Paris to study at the Jardin de Plantes. During his journey, he meets a mysterious and beautiful woman — Lucienne Bernard — and while he contemplates her and her strange theories, she steals his letters of introduction, coral specimens, and mammoth fossils. He reports the theft of the artifacts to the police and somehow finds himself wrapped up in a mystery full of evolutionary theories, coral, and odd bits about Napoleon.

I didn’t care for Daniel. He was sexist and ignorant and I found I needed to remind myself that this was normal for the time period (1815), at least the sexist part. The main problem I had with him was that he was always complaining. Once he began to mature, he became easier to like but not by much. Lucienne is a very interesting characters though. An evolutionary philosopher and thief, she is always hiding something and is never afraid to step out of line and state sometimes the obvious and sometimes the most arcane of thoughts, especially for a woman at the time. She’s refreshing as far as the story line goes here.

Napoleon plays an odd role and one that never fits into the story for me. The short diary entries add nothing and left more questions (mostly why they were there in the first place) than answers. The vague connection does nothing for the story.

The mystery/thriller sort of ending ramps up quickly and is fairly exciting compared to the rest of the book. I do wish there had been more of that and a little more about the fossils, theories, and why Lucienne felt the need to steal them because I found that part of the story interesting but overall it sort of fell flat for me.

A Highlander’s Temptation

A Highlander's Temptation

A Highlander’s Temptation

By Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Hachette Book Group

3.5 stars

Arabella MacKenzie is the beloved daughter of Duncan MacKenzie, the long ruling and well-feared leader of the MacKenzie Clan. Arabella wants nothing more than to be married but her father has refuted every attempt, finding something wrong with each suitor leaving her alone and craving a family and love of her own. She convinces him to let her travel to the Seal Islands, which are part of a marriage dowry she has yet to use, and he unwillingly relents realizing he will need to let his daughter go sometime.

During the voyage, the ship is attacked and wrecked upon the shores of the Hebrides Islands, home to Clan MacConacher. Arabella is spared and rescued by Darroc MacConacher, leader of the clan. He falls hopelessly in love with her not knowing who she is only that she is the love he has been waiting for. When Darroc finds out she is a MacKenzie, he realizes their love cannot be but Arabella has other plans. She spent her life waiting for a man like Darroc and refuses to give up now.

I don’t read many paperback romance novels; I can count the number on my left hand. I read a few reviews for this one several weeks back and, while browsing the bookstore, decided this would be a good distraction for a long plan ride. I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Darroc and Arabella have good chemistry, and while I did giggle out loud in a few places, found a few things here and there awkward, and sort of formulaic, overall it was a fun and very fast read.

Set in 14th Century Scotland, the setting is harsh, lovely, romantic, and really a very good setting for a love story. In the acknowledgments, Welfonder talks about her love of Scotland, and it does shine through in this story.