Outlander: Week Four

For week four we read the second half of part three. The first half was primarily about Claire and Jamie and their relationship growing and thriving, whilst getting to know each other, but also getting to know themselves. This section is also a lot about their relationship but explores different and somewhat darker themes. 

Firstly, it is so refreshing to see the man in the relationship as the least experienced sexually. In many books, and other forms of popular culture too, often the girl or the woman is the least experienced and has to be guided by the man. Virginity is often portrayed as more sacred for women, and something to cherish for longer. Of course, Claire is not a virgin and we found out previously that Jamie is. At the start of this section Jamie asks Claire about what is normal, and how to approach certain situations, and it is so nice to see this kind of gender role reversal. Claire thinks no less of Jamie for being inexperienced, and Jamie is not intimidated by Claire’s previous sexual experiences. It’s strange that it takes a historical fiction novel to show this, but I love that about this novel. Gabaldon makes sure Claire is not afraid to act as the modern woman she is.

Outlander is funny. I don’t know why this surprised me so much, but I love Jamie’s sense of humour. Jamie makes jokes about men being made in God’s image and suggests that God Himself must also have a cock, because Jamie feels like God Himself when he is with Claire. Claire also jokes about hedgehogs making love carefully, a contemporary joke from the future. It’s so funny to see Claire’s modern thoughts on the old society and how she approaches humour.

We later see Rupert and the others giving Claire a self-defence lesson on how to use her dirk. Little did they know that it would come in handy so soon. Claire and Jamie take a break from the others and are getting busy when they are approached by redcoats and Jamie is held at gunpoint. Claire is forced to use her newly established skills to kill one of them as he tries to rape her. It’s great to see Claire wielding some power, but it was also really interesting to see how the struggle affected them both mentally. It seems Jamie is mad at himself for being unable to protect Claire. I think this encounter makes them both resent each other a little, and it takes a little while for them to talk about it and get over it.

Claire finally remembers that her plan was to plan an escape on this trip and does so when she is left alone in a copse. She doesn’t get very far until she is caught by the English and taken to Randall at Fort William. Randall also attempts to rape Claire – this shows just how women were treated in the eighteenth century – but good ol’ Jamie comes to the rescue with the great line “I’ll thank ye to take your hands off my wife.” We are also introduced to Randall’s “difficulties,” as Claire calls it. It appears Randall is only attracted to women if there’s a huge power struggle that he is controlling.

When they escape Fort William, and are back on the road, Jamie explains one night that Claire ought to be punished for going against her orders (she was told to stay in the copse). Claire and Jamie have a fantastic argument about her role and the ‘power’ he has over her as his wife. Claire yells “I am your property; it only matters to you because you think I belong to you.” You fucking tell him, Claire! As huge Jamie fans, what we want is for Jamie to declare that of course he was in the wrong, of course a man should never beat a woman, no matter what, and they kiss and make up. Alas, Jamie is a product of his time where women were socially and legally a man’s property, to do with as he liked. Unfortunately for us feminists out there, Claire could not beat him and she did succumb to his beatings. She didn’t let him completely get away with it however. She did fight him back, and made herself clear that it was to never happen again. Jamie eventually agrees and I take a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, Jamie!

We also hear about Jamie’s past a little more. We learn that when he was last at Fort William, Randall had offered Jamie two choices: to be raped or endure a second lashing. Though he admits to considering it, Jamie turns down Randall’s offer and accepts the lashing. We also find out that it is then that Jamie’s father died: watching him being beaten almost to death. Surely Jamie feels guilty for this.

At the end of this part they return to Castle Leoch. Claire worries that Jamie and Laoghaire have feelings for one another, and worries about Jamie’s motives for marrying her, that their marriage is a marriage only of convenience, and not of love. Jamie reassures her that their marriage was of course one of convenience but that there is far more to it than that. It ends with Jamie giving Claire a wedding ring, and her putting it on that hand that does not have her old wedding ring on. It just shows her love and devotation to Jamie, but also her devotation to Frank and unwillingness to forget him or let him go.


Outlander: Week Three

This week we read up to the end of chapter sixteen which is part way through part three, and next week we will continue with part three and read all of part four. 
In this section we were given an interesting insight into eighteenth century laws and politics by Ned Gowan and Dougal. Ned explains to Claire how rent is paid and how lairds (or those trusted by the laird in this case, due to Colom’s lack of mobility) are required to travel their lands and collect what is owed to them, often in the form of money but sometimes livestock. 

Dougal also uses this time to cause a stir and encourage support for the Jacobite cause. He does this by assembling a large group of villagers in the pub during the evenings and revealing Jamie’s scarred back from the lashings given to him by Black Jack Randall and the English forces. He rallies support and collects what money the villagers can afford to give for Bonny Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause.

This section of the book was really about Claire and Jamie and the building of their relationship. Dougal learns that Randall intends to take Claire and, in order to protect her from his clutches, she must marry a Scot. It’s nice to see the Mackenzies trusting Claire and accepting her as one of their own, even if she does intend to escape. So Jamie and Claire get married.

We learn a lot about Jamie in this section. He is very noble and intends to protect his new wife with his life. He recognises the importance of the bond and insists that they are married properly with a ceremony and a gown for Claire. We really see how much he cares for Claire and how much he respects the institution of marriage. 

There’s a particularly funny section where both are nervous as they are expected to consummate the marriage but first Claire blurts out ‘tell me about your family’ and the two talk about their lives and get to know each other. They agree on an all honesty policy but allow some secrets to remain. We learn a lot about Jamie’s family and his past here.

Eventually the marriage is consummated and Claire forgets about her relationship with Frank, if only temporarily. Frank is not yet alive, and though she was unwillingly taken from him and she does still love him, she accepts that she has to approach her new life as a recent widow and not as though she is cheating on her husband, Frank.

There’s a lot of tenderness between Jamie and Claire here as we see their relationship and the affection for one another build. Though there’s not a lot of action in this section, it’s an important time for their relationship.

Melody Bittersweet: Book Review

Melody Bittersweet is a fantastically hilarious, laugh-out-loud book about a young woman, Melody, and the ghostbusting agency she sets up with her best friend, Marina, and her assistant, Art. 

The best thing about this book, for me, was definitely the characters. All of the characters are very individual and you’d know who said a piece of dialogue immediately, because each character had such a distinct voice. My favourite character was the crazy grandma, Dice. I laughed out loud reading about her relationship with Melody’s grandad and how he died. 

I absolutely loved that the main relationship in this book was the female friendship, and the romance really took a back seat. Melody and Marina’s relationship is wonderful and funny, and it’s the kind of friendship every woman deserves. As far as the romance goes, I’m not a fan of love triangles. There’s tension throughout between Melody and Fletch, and Melody and Leo, but because there’s not a big emphasis on either of these relationships (the friendship and the plot are really what’s important), I actually found myself enjoying these scenes. I also like how it’s unclear who the ‘winner’ will be. Fletch and Leo are both terrible people, so I’m looking forward to seeing their character development in the sequel. 

This book was refreshingly British, and I really enjoyed all of the pop culture references. I love Heir Hunters too, Art’s mum! They were up to date and hilarious.

Speaking of which, I hugely enjoyed the genealogy aspect of the novel, as it’s something I am particularly interested in. I would’ve enjoyed some direct quotes from Agnes’s diary, but overall I loved the historical and genealogical parts of the story. It made it feel very real to me.

I would recommend this book to anyone who was ever a fan of Ghostbusters, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Little Vampire and Haunted Mansion. It read like a longer, funnier episode of Ghost Whisperer. 

I’m really excited for the next instalment in the series. Girl ghostbusting power!

Outlander: Week Two

So this week my friend, at bookgeekwrites.wordpress.com, and I read part two of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Part two is largely about Claire getting to grips with living at Castle Leoch, and establishing a routine. She starts to get a feel for the castle and the way of life there, and is given a role at the castle, which is to take over from the late Davie Beaton as the castle healer. She goes to work organising the cupboards and their contents. It was really interesting to read about the various ailments and eighteenth century ‘cures’ pre-antibiotics. 

We are also introduced to Geilis. I really like Geilis as a character. I’m sure Claire appreciates that kind of friendship, and sharing of hobbies. Us fans of the TV programme also know later why Geilis becomes such an important character. She’s a really interesting individual to read and I enjoyed all of the parts with Geilis.

We’re also given a further insight into the methods of punishment used in the eighteenth century and as readers we have a similar reaction to Claire, a ‘modern’ women, who sees barbarity in the types of punishments. Of course, Claire can’t help but to get involved.

Laoghaire’s character is explored more in this part too. We see the extent to which she admires Jamie, and it’s funny to see her reactions when she is given the chance to talk to him. Jamie is a little rude to her at the ceremony – not deliberately, I’m sure – and you find yourself feeling a little bad for her. But of course I’m routing for Claire and Jamie so Laoghaire and Jamie’s liaison in the alcove is soon forgotten.

Interestingly, Claire has a real respect for Colom, the extent of which was less clear, at least for me, in the programme. I think her lack of attempts to leave lie partly down to the respect she holds for the laird. Saying that, we do see her first futile attempt at escaping during the ceremony, but when she is initially unsuccessful, she seems to give up on it quite quickly. Though we do hear that she will attempt to escape when she goes away with Dougal and the gang in the next section, she expresses little desire to get back to the twentieth century. I was expecting more attempts to leave and more about Frank and her old life. Perhaps subconsciously Claire has already decided that she wants to stay in the eighteenth century, though she hasn’t quite admitted it to herself yet? 

There were a couple of sections that made me feel really uncomfortable, when Claire is trying to get back to her room during the ceremony and some men try to take advantage of her. Though initially saved by Dougal, I felt really uncomfortable reading about his ‘punishment’ for her being out of her room.  Similarly, we are quickly introduced to death, as one hunter is killed on their quest to kill a boar. Though Claire is able to quickly further demonstrate her doctoring abilities, the harsh realities of death really sober the mood, and indicate how the rest of the series will continue. Gabaldon certainly does not shy away from the ‘big’ topics. 

Again, I really enjoyed this section. For me it was really about world building, allowing the characters come to terms with the time and place, as well as Claire. I’m looking forward to reading the next section, which will be the start of part three, until page 320.


Harry Potter Spells Book Tag

This book tag is about selecting spells from the wizarding world of Harry Potter and relating them to a book of your choice. 
1. Expecto Patronum –  a childhood book connected to good memories

For this one I’d have to choose the Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling. I was a child when the first few books came out and I moved into teenagehood around the same time as Harry and his friends. I remember insisting my grandma read the books with me after school – though she never knew what was happening because I would often read after she left and then make her continue the next day – and the never ending battle of trying to explain it’s not Her-me-own, but Her-my-oh-nee.
2. Expelliarmus – a book that took you by surprise

A book that took me by surprise was the ending of Allegiant – those of you who had read it know why! I know many people hate this book but I really admire Veronica Roth for how she chose to end the series. Not many other authors are as brave.
3. Prior Incantato – the last book you read

The last book I read was one I received from Netgalley called Supervillainess, by Lizzy Ford. It was a hilarious take on superheroes and Supervillainess and what happens when their paths collide in such a way that they have to work together. Fantastically funny, I really enjoyed this book. 
4. Alohamora – a book that introduced you to a genre you had not considered before

Maus, by Art Spiegelman, introduced me to the world of non-superhero comic books. This is a fantastic graphic novel that follows Art himself as he talks to his father about his father’s experiences in a Jewish concentration camp during the Second World War. It is really moving and thought provoking, especially because we can see how his experiences at the concentration camp are stuck with him forever and affect the relationship he has with his son. The portrayal of Polish Jews as mice, and German Nazis as cats sends a powerful message.
5. Riddikulus – a funny book you’ve read

One of the funniest books I have ever read is How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Moran’s book is a hilarious take on growing up as a working-class women in the UK. She explores many areas not touched upon by many women writers or feminist writers, such as her own experiences of masturbation. Part autobiography, part self-help book, this book had me laughing out loud.
6. Sonorus – a book you think everyone should know about

I personally think more people should know about is The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. Set in Germany during the start of the Second World War, we follow Liesel as she rescues books and learns to read and is importance. Meanwhile, she faces many struggles of growing up in wartime Germany. This novel considers friendship, literature, survival, family and, most explicitly, death. Interestingly, the novel is narrated by Death, providing an interesting viewpoint on human morality. This book is absolutely wonderful, and should be read by more and more people. It has a fantastic set of characters and deals with a lot of important topics related to growing up. 
7. Obliviate – a book or spoiler you would like to forget having read

This is definitely the easiest question for me to answer: Where She Went by Gayle Forman. I really enjoyed reading If I Stay (though the knowledge that there is a sequel detailing where she went suggests how the book might end) and I so wish I had stopped after the first book. By the end of the first we know her decision. But we don’t know what happens to either of the main characters and I liked that. I wanted to end their story myself, and I was hugely disappointed by the sequel. I found it unrealistic and sentimental. I wish I had just read the first book. 
8. Imperio – a book you had to read for school

My favourite book I read for school was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I absolutely love this book. It is a brilliant portrayal of Great Depression era America. I loved to read from Scout’s innocent point of view, and see the world through her eyes. It covers a wide range of topics, including racism, growing up, sexism and bravery. I highly recommend this book. 
9. Crucio – a book that was painful to read

Unfortunately the book that I found painful to read was Harper Lee’s eventual sequel, Go Set a Watchman. I’ll not go into the controversy surrounding the publication of this book, but I will say I wish it wasn’t. (Spoiler alert.) I couldn’t deal with Atticus being racist, nor Jem’s death, nor Dill’s complete absence from the story. Personally, I’d rather this book was never published. 
10. Avada Kedavra – a book that could kill (to be interpreted any way you like)

Perhaps I’m taking this too literally, but the first book that came to mind was The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Mark David Chapman famously associated his murdering of John Lennon with the book and the extent to which he related to the main character, Holden Caulfield. Personally I have read this book many times, and think it’s an interesting angst-ridden, coming of age story, and cannot see the murderous implications behind it. I enjoy the book, but I don’t enjoy Holden. Though I personally really like the book, I would not recommend it if you enjoy stories with likeable characters. Though the novel is hugely character driven, Holden is not very likeable.
11. Accio – a book you’d like to have with you now

Last year I read an incredible book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon called The Shadow of the Wind. Set in post-Civil War Barcelona, Spain, we follow a young man by the name of Daniel as his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and requests he chooses one to keep, read and care for. As the tale unfolds in turns into a mystery where Daniel’s life starts to mirror that of the story in the book he chose. There’s mystery, romance and deception. I lived in Barcelona last year and when I miss the beautiful city I always wish I could turn to this book, to take me back there. Unfortunately my copy of the book is in England! I was so happy to find a second-hand copy of this book – the importance of stories and second-hands books is discussed in the novel – but I didn’t bring it with me when I moved too Thailand. Sometimes I wish I had this book with me for when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Book Riot Challenge: The Diviners

I was really excited to read a book in the horror category for the Read Harder Challenge because, though it is not often my go-to genre, I’ve really enjoyed horror novels in the past. (Did anyone else have nightmares from reading a Goosebumps book before bed?) 

I’m really interested in history, particularly 1920s American history, and so when I found this book I didn’t think a more perfect one existed. I actually did my history dissertation for my degree on women’s sexuality in 1920s New York and this is explored a fair amount in the book. The book was written by Libba Bray which got me even more excited because I really enjoyed Beauty Queens. 

The summary from Goodreads states:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

I started to read this book a few months ago and couldn’t really get into it. Though I loved the characters and the setting, I thought the plot was slow and I didn’t find myself thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading it. (I had really high expectations for this book and I think that ruined it for me a little.) It wasn’t a bad introduction to the story by any means, I just wasn’t hooked from the start.

So a couple of months later (I was still convinced I would enjoy the book if I really committed to it) I downloaded the audiobook using a free trial on Audible. And I loved it! It was very long – eighteen and a half hours! – but I finished it in only a couple of weeks. I listened to it mostly on my walk to the bus and the bus journey to work, and it made the journey far more interesting, and scarier too! The audiobook is read by January LeVoy and she does an excellent job at distiguishing between the different characters’ voices. 

Essentially it is a 1920s supernatural horror story. There are ghosts and powers far beyond recognition or understanding, and this makes it feel so much more real. The book is incredibly atmospheric. Particularly when listening to the audiobook, readers can really feel like they are in the roaring twenties. I found myself envying the dresses and the parties and wishing I were part of that world!

Until John Hobbs comes along. John Hobbs is the perfect villain. Throughout the story Evie, Will and their companions are trying to become one step ahead of Naughty John, but John is cunning. We, as readers, don’t fully understand John’s abilities or motives or beliefs or history, because our main characters don’t either. We learn as Evie and the team learn. He is creepy and myterious and utterly perfect for this story.

Like I said before, I am particularly interested in this era and the changing perceptions of women and expressions of sexuality. This was portrayed wonderfully through the main three female characters in the book: Evie, Mabel and Theta. We see differing approaches to womanhood. Evie is the stereotypical twenties flapper whereas Mabel is weary of that image, and Theta embraces her sexuality on stage at the Follies.

What I really enjoyed about this book was how understated the romances were. Sure, there was some flirting and tension and potential for romance, but it wasn’t a significant part of the story. It’s so refreshing to read a young adult book that doesn’t heavily feature a teenage romance!

For me, the thing that was most interesting was the discussion of belief throughout. Belief is an important motivating factor throughout this entire novel. Does belief justify action? It takes an interesting look at religion and humanity and how far ones beliefs can justify their actions.

Overall I’d give this book five out of five stars – it was incredible! I have a long coach journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap coming up this weekend so I’m looking forward to listening to Lair of Dreams on the way!

Outlander: Week One

I have just completed part one of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and already I’m really enjoying it! 

Because I’ve seen the TV series already I’ve been picking up on some things I perhaps wouldn’t have done had I just read the book. For example, the vicar says Roger is a Mackenzie. We know that the Mackenzie clan will play a big part in this story but Claire doesn’t know that yet. I think I would’ve missed that if I hadn’t already seen it on TV.

I was also looking out for the date of Jack Randal’s death and I didn’t notice it being mentioned. Perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention. But Claire uses the knowledge of Randal’s death date to scare and threaten Randal in the TV series. It is used as a plot device. But I don’t remember reading the date of his death in the book.

Claire is a great main character! A modern woman, particularly by eighteenth century standards, she shocks the highlanders often by her lack of proper attire and harsh language. I chuckled when I first read ‘Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ’ – I think that catchphrase might catch on!

All in all I really enjoyed this first part of the book. I especially like Claire and I was excited to meet book Jamie. There was a great intimate scene where Claire is feeling very vulnerable and Jamie comforts her. I really get the sense that Claire feels out of place in 1743 – unsurprisingly! – and it doesn’t just brush over that fact.

Great start to the book! I’m looking forward to part two.