Book Review: “Voyager” by Diana Gabaldon

10987Voyager by Diana Gabaldon 

Publisher: Dell
Published: 1993
Genre: historical fiction, romance, fantasy, adventure
ISBN: 9780440217565
Goodreads: 4.37
Rating: 
★★★★★

Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite—or forever doom—her timeless love.

Claire’s told her daughter Brianna about her birth father, Jamie, and the unusual circumstances in which he and Claire met. With Roger Wakefield’s help, Claire and Brianna begin a desperate search to find out what happened to Jamie after Culloden, as evidence points to his survival. When they make a discovery that he could still be alive 20 years after the battle — 200 years exactly for Claire — Claire decides to take a chance and return to him. But will he be the same man she left 20 years ago? What sort of life is he leading now? And though Claire clings to the memory of him, does he still hold her in his heart as well?

SPOILER ALERT
Events pertaining to Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber are within this review.
SPOILER ALERT

While only slightly put off by the 1960s Scotland in Dragonfly, I was not put off at all in this book! I love Roger and Brianna, their personalities and enthusiasm and general goodness. They’re fleshed out much more in this book, and even while Claire was reunited with Jamie I did wonder how they were getting on. Could they follow Jamie and Claire in the history books? How was Brianna dealing with the loss of her mother? How was Roger coping with his newly discovered, time-warped family history? How was Brianna coping with her newly discovered, time-warped family history?! I’m excited to see more of them in future books.

Gabaldon knows just how to answer all the reader questions. I was happy to see the conflict and slow decision Claire encountered when faced with traveling back in time to see Jamie. Of course she’d go back — but that takes preparation. And she did it so well, so thoughtful of her daughter’s well-being, of her career and friendship with Joe (who is also awesome, by the way), her forgiveness for Frank (who frankly (ha ha) doesn’t deserve it, the bastard, but it was well done and very Claire-like). It was fun to see her collect the proper coinage, the right dress, the knowledge of history and culture and politics — so much preparation to blend in for her arrival.

Not to mention the constant insecurities and questioning upon reuniting with Jamie! They love each other, pure and true, but it has been 20 years, and so much can change a person. The book takes place across four months in the 1760s, and while the reader gets snippets of Jamie’s past (his hiding, his imprisonment, his servitude in England), Claire learns of them briefly and at very inopportune moments. It’s as if they know one another so deeply, and suddenly there’s a rift they must work through. It was beautiful (and heartbreaking) to read. I’ve never read of a couple more human than these two.

So much happens in this book. If I thought Dragonfly was filled with several many names and circumstances, I had to think again. New acquaintances, reconnections, pirates and military, nieces and nephews, adventures on land and by sea, Scotland and France and the Caribbean — it was all a jumble of love, adventure, shock, discovery, and brand new beginnings for these two. And I can honestly say that at this point, I don’t care where they end up as long as they’re together.

I also hope Jamie’s no longer an outlaw, poor fellow. But clearly he becomes one again at some point in future books. Sigh. Can’t seem to catch a break.

Halloween Reads!

It may be the end of October, but there’s nothing stopping you from reading these spooky, chilling books throughout the rest of autumn and winter. There’s something thrilling and menacing about these dark, cold months that draw people to this sort of literature. I could go to great lengths explaining it’s all Charles Dickens’s fault, but that’s a whole other post.

You may recognize many of these books from the majority of my 2013 book reviews, the year I worked on my YA Gothic Literature graduate thesis. The Year of Wonderful Nightmares. (Seriously, who enjoys nightmares? What’s wrong with me?) You may also see some repeats from last year’s Halloween TTT. But since then, a whole host of creep-tastic YA and MG lit have burst forth in the publishing industry. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll see them cramming the shelves. Makes my heart warm! It warms my heart so much, I not only blogged for Quirk Books on it but also created a master list here just for you!

halloweenreads1

 Classic Gothic

  1. Long Lankin — 1950s haunted manor, a cursed family, and a being that snatches children in the night. Also, super creepy folk song.
  2. The Dead of Winter – like a Dickens and Susan Hill mash-up. English moors, corrupt family, and a orphan stuck in the middle of it all.
  3. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea — Love Heathcliff and all his ambiguity? You’ll love this book.
  4. The Book of Blood and Shadow — a thriller at its finest, with societies and murderers and mistaken identities.
  5. The Hallowed Ones — OH. MY. GOD.
  6. The Poisoned House — Another Dickens-esque novel, with ghosts and ouija boards and revealed identities.
  7. Shadowed Summer – a Southern Gothic novella, full of taboo topics that come back to haunt…literally.

In short, these are Classic Gothic books. Some are frightening for the creatures, some for the atmosphere and setting, and others simply because it makes you question your beliefs and morals — and what’s more frightening than that?

Retellings

  1. The Name of the Star — the first of a trilogy, and it harkens back to the 1888 Ripper murders…which are quite similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Just sayin’.
  2. Strands of Bronze and Gold — Bluebeard fairytale in Antebellum South
  3. Madman’s Daughter — HG Wells’s Island of Dr Moreau
  4. Her Dark Curiosity — Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (the next book, out January 2015, is Cold Legacy and it’s a retelling of Frankenstein!)
  5. This Dark Endeavor — Young Frankenstein
  6. Ashes on the Waves — Poe’s Annabel Lee with Celtic origins

Retellings are always popular. Of course, retellings could not be possible without their classics. Poe, obviously, is a great author to start with. Follow up with Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Shelley, Collins, Stevenson, and you’re in for a treat!

An honorable mention is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. It’s more fun than spooky, but it’s like when “Hocus Pocus” is on TV: it’s not Halloween without it.

halloweenreads2

  1. The Fall — a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher
  2. Jackaby — a blend of Dr. Who and Sherlock
  3. The Kneebone Boy — children stumble across a half-boy half-animal
  4. Say Her Name – creepy twist on the Bloody Mary legend
  5. Through the Woods — a gothic graphic novel!
  6. Fiendish — harkens back to The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk, so count me in for the magic
  7. The Swallow — a standard ghost story, doubly chilling because of the children
  8. Winterkill — The Village meets Oregon Trail. YES.
  9. Dream Boy — what if all of your dreams came true?
  10. White Space — what’s written between the lines, falling into book after book, and the meaning behind it all
  11. Doll Bones — Creepy, haunting dolls. Leave your lights on, folks, and don’t stop playing with your toys!
  12. Nightmares! — bad enough in your sleep, even worse when they become true
  13. Monstrous Affections — an anthology of fearsome creatures and ambiguous romance

And on that note, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for me to leave it at No. 13, don’t you?

What are some books you’d recommend for Halloween or frightening reads? Have you read any of these?

Book Review: “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan 9780375859557_p0_v2_s260x420

Publisher: Ember
Published: October 2011
Genre: young adult, romance, holiday
ISBN: 9780375859557
Goodreads: 3.88
Rating: 
★★★★

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a cosmic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Dash, a snarly word buff who’s done with the whole concept of Christmas, stumbles across a red notebook next to his favorite books at The Strand. The directions inside send him all over the store to solve a riddle and answer a dare. Intrigued, he follows through, and waits his next turn. Lily, the instigator and lover of all things festive, continues with the red notebook dares, thrilled to have something to look forward to while her immediate family is away for Christmas. Soon enough, the daily interactions between Dash and Lily across NYC leave them wondering: do they want to meet in person, or would that destroy their notebook persona?

This is a teen rom-com if I ever read one. There are moments in this book that are outrageously hilarious and entirely implausible, and yet it’s so perfect for who Dash is and for who Lily is that it simply works. It’s like online dating, only a bit more fun, organic, and mysterious. Dash and Lily don’t know one another, yet their interactions through the notebook reveal their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and dreams, successes and failures. They’re their true selves — albeit somewhat edited (because, heck, sometimes writing/speaking to a perfect stranger is easier than face-to-face confrontations) — are in that notebook. Their fear of shattering it and desire to genuinely meet war within, and it’s exciting!

A short holiday read, perfect with cookies and cocoa. It made me wish to visit NYC again in the winter, and that’s saying something!

Top Ten Tuesday: Places to Visit

Top Ten Tuesday, a concept started by The Broke and the Bookish, is a themed post that connects bloggers to bloggers, bloggers to readers, and readers to readers. Every Tuesday has a special topic, and this Tuesday is Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit.

top ten tuesday

Lindsey got me (and Morgan) all excited about this, and I’ll bet several of us have similar places on our lists! Let’s get to it!

1. Hogwarts

2. Narnia

3. Scotland / Isle of Skye (Outlander and Letters From Skye)

4. Paris (Anna and the French Kiss)
Which is odd because I don’t really want to visit France. 

5. Hogwarts

6. Nebraska (Rainbow Rowell books)

7. Wales (The Winter Witch)

8. (re-visit) St. Petersburg / Leningrad and Moscow (The Bronze Horseman and The Boy on the Bridge)

9. Winter (Snow Like Ashes)

10. Hogwarts

Book Review: “Snow Like Ashes” by Sara Raasch (ARC)

17399160Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: October 14
Genre: young adult, fantasy
ISBN: 9780062286925
Goodreads: –
Rating: ★★★★

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Meira is one of the last remaining Winterian refugees and is desperate to prove to the general, Sir, that she’s worthy of warrior status. For sixteen years, the Kingdom of Winter has been without a free home, without a monarch, and without magic. Meira seizes the opportunity to reclaim the Winter conduit from Spring, the destructive Season kingdom that’s slowly but surely taking over the Rhythm kingdoms as well. But her mission doesn’t go smoothly, and Meira is thrust into battles and politics and a destiny she never thought imaginable.

Wow oh wow. For a while I was certain I was finally reading a YA fantasy that could be a stand-alone — it was so epic, and so much was happening all at once — the politics, the passion, the humor and sadness and self-discovery, the world-building, and the major reveal at the end. And though we discover it’s not a stand-alone, that there may be a companion book or trilogy in the future, it’s still worth every second of time, every word.

Meira was a joy, a breath of fresh air. She’s strong-willed, determined to find her place, anxious to prove to the general/adoptive father Sir that she has a purpose for the restoration of Winter, funny, insightful, and emotional. She has moments of weakness, moments of strength, moments of clarity and reasoning and compassion. She’s by no means perfect, but it was so wonderful to read about an independent warrior-lady who’s not all about sacrifice — that she has moments of longing for love like every teenage girl, that she has moments of wishing she could be more than who she is what she believes she’s destined to become. She felt real. And that’s all any reader can ask for in a fantasy novel with high stakes: a character as human as the reader.

The kingdoms are fascinating too. There are eight total, divided into two categories: Seasons and Rhythms. The Seasons are one season throughout the entire year, and the Rhythms experiences all four seasons. This book primarily focuses on two Seasons and one Rhythm, and it’s interesting to see the discrimination and justification for those prejudices pan out. But my biggest moment of awe was the concept behind each Season, specifically the Kingdom of Winter and the Kingdom of Spring. Typically, we view winter as a cold, harsh, dead season, the end of life and the darkest time; spring is full of color and fresh, new beginnings, of life and vitality and awakenings. Oh, so vastly different in this book. Winter may be cold and harsh, but it’s full of life, clean and clear and brilliant and pure. Spring, on the other hand, is dark, controlling, manipulating, filled with death and caution and fear. In a way, I’m glad there will be more to read from Raasch — I’m interested to see the other Rhythms, to meet the other Seasons and watch those stereotypes shatter.

This is a world you’ll never want to leave.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Balzer + Bray for review!

Book Review: “First Impressions” by Charlie Lovett (ARC)

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett 6352576

Publisher: Viking Adult
Publishing Date: October 16
Genre: contemporary, historical fiction, mystery
ISBN: 9780525427247
Goodreads: —
Rating: ★★★.5

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield.  Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

Sophie Collingwood’s life is dedicated to books. Thanks to her Uncle Bertram’s enthusiasm for literature, she too began collecting and reading books at a young age. When her uncle dies outside his apartment unexpectedly, Sophie is certain it was murder. Upon arriving at his apartment, she finds it completely bare of books — and after acquiring a job at an antiquarian bookshop, she makes it her personal mission to find Bertram’s murderer and his personal library. Soon enough, she becomes entangled in a mystery connecting her family to Jane Austen’s career, and she must decide if it’s a secret worth dying for.

Lush and exquisitely told, Lovett’s dual narrative between present-day Oxford graduate Sophie Collingwood and the young Jane Austen — prior to her publishing career — is a rich, cozy read. I think Austen fans will enjoy this interpretation of the beginnings of Pride and Prejudice, and I certainly enjoyed the mystery and thrill in Sophie’s life. Threatening phone calls to obtain a rare book that may or may not be connected to Austen can definitely make a bookworm’s heart pound. Between Oxford and London, libraries and bookshops, graveyards and old estates, Sophie’s narrative is exciting for the bookish researcher. Jane’s narrative is calmer, revealing a growing friendship with an old cleric who also enjoys literature. His influence on her books is profound, and their connection deep and unyielding.

I cannot pinpoint why exactly I didn’t give this four or five stars. It’s one of those books that, once you begin reading and fall into the rhythm of the narrative, you can’t put it down. Seeing as I had to repeatedly put it down for other responsibilities in my life, I didn’t quite fall into it like I wanted to. The mystery is justifiably intriguing, the hunt for books engaging, and the threat to reveal the truth behind Austen’s most famous work terrifying. I liked it. Bookworms will too!

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Viking for review!

Book Review: “Black Ice” by Becca Fitzpatrick (ARC)

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick 20651947

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Publishing Date: October 7
Genre: young adult, thriller, mystery
ISBN: 9781442474260
Goodreads: —
Rating: 
★★★.75

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there… and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Britt’s trained hard in the past year for her backpacking trip the Teton Range in Wyoming. She knows how to survive the weather, the mountains, and exhaustion. But she’s not prepared to be taken hostage. Britt is positive that one of these men is responsible for the murders of intelligent, beautiful girls whose bodies were discovered in these very mountains. In an effort to save her friend, Britt agrees to help two young men off the mountain during a terrible snow storm — all the while hoping her ex-boyfriend will find her before she becomes the killer’s next target.

I read this thriller in a day and loved every minute of it. It was fresh and exciting. I loved reading about a physically and mentally strong, independent female character who doesn’t have superpowers to get her through tough situations. She’s still very much a heartbroken girl after her ex, Calvin (who is also her best friend’s older brother), unexpectedly ended things with her several months prior to this trip, and I think that’s what drew me to her. The female protagonist doesn’t need to be cold-hearted to be strong and independent. She acknowledges she’s spent her life depending on the men who surround her, and this trip would be a message for them and to herself that she can go out on her own and literally survive. Loved it.

While I was able to piece together the real killer and the connections everyone had to other characters in the story about 75% of the way through, I was still incredibly curious as to the killer’s motives — and that alone was spine-chilling. It’s that charm and hidden misogynistic hatred that all girls fear in men, and it felt so incredibly real. It’s a message to men, as well. I hope boys read this book. It’s the perfect peek into a self-sufficient girl’s mind, and her ongoing calculations about men who are kind as well as severe. It gives the reader an idea of what it’s like to walk in a girl’s shoes, only heightened by the immediacy of a kidnapping.

I’m not sure what else to say other than it’s a great thriller! It’s perfect for YA, too. I’d imagine that, if this book were geared for adults, more suspenseful passages would have been written to heighten the tension. This YA is fast, and I will not be surprised if it’s one day turned into a movie. It really has that cinematic feel to it. Oh, love it!

Thank you, Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster, for providing the digital and BEA print copy for review! And thank you/shout out to my grad pub friends, Hannah and Morgan, for standing in line at BEA to get this!