An Echo In The Bone (No:7 Outlander Series) By Diana Gabaldon.

an echo in the bone

Book: An Echo In The Bone

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Rating: 8.5/10

What a read! I think I am quite shell shocked upon finishing ‘An Echo in The Bone’. There is really no other way to put it. I literally sat in my reading chair with my mouth agape for at least fifteen minutes following completion of the seventh novel in the series. My mind could not believe what it had just read. I must have looked quite bewildered, as even my partner asked if I was alright, to which I responded by prattling on about my perplexed experience with the ending of this book. My partner’s eyebrows were raised higher and higher, as I mentioned one or two of the novel’s outrageous happenings towards the end of the novel. A week has now passed and I am still unsure as to how I should write this review. In truth I wanted to give this book a 9/10 in rating, however having read back over my notes that I have taken whilst in the depths of reading the novel, I was obliged to lower the score in line with some of it’s negative aspects, which I simply cannot overlook. Needless to say Mrs. Gabaldon has left this novel with quite a cliffhanger, so much so that I am fighting the urge to pick up the next book straight away. However the rational side of me does realise it might be quite some time before the next installment will be released, so as a result I do not want to rush through the series. So without further delay I shall begin the review of this fantastical novel.

NOTE: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THIS BOOK PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER AS THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

This novel begins as the War of Independence finally breaks out, and with that new pathways are forged for the beloved characters of this wonderful book series.  ‘An Echo In The Bone’ is told through four different plot perspectives: Claire and Jamie, Lord John Grey and William, Brianna and Roger and Young Ian Murray. The story starts off with a bang, literally,as Claire and Jamie decide what is next for them following the burning down of their home on Fraser’s Ridge, at the end of the last book. Jamie and Claire discover the hiding place of Arch Bugg’s Gold and bury it in a safer location. After the untimely shocking death of Mrs. Bugg, and with a vengeful Arch Bugg on Ian’s tail, as well as a need to escape the impending war and bloodshed, Claire and Jamie decide it is time to return to Scotland and bring young Ian back to his family, while also picking up Jamie’s printing press to bring back to America. However knowing these two characters, their path to Scotland isn’t an easy one as they find themselves dragged into a war they wanted no part of.

The reader then sees the perspective of Brianna and Roger, who having returned to modern day Scotland so little Amanda can have a life saving operation, are struggling to settle into modern day life. They have chosen Lallybroch to settle with their children- Jem and Amanda, which was a nice touch by the author in my opinion. Both Brianna and Roger are struggling with what roles they need to play, Brianna returning to work as an engineer and Roger unsure of whether or not he should return to his training as a reverend. The reader witnesses the daily battle these two characters have within themselves and also with each other as their expectations of each other cause some major tensions e.g. Roger expected Brianna to stay at home with the children, and Brianna expected Roger to have made a decision regarding what career path he wants to take. Frustration is evident in these chapters of the book, however the one saving grace for Brianna and Roger, are the letters from Claire and Jamie that they found when moving into Lallybroch, as it appears Claire and Jamie purposefully hid them away for Brianna and Roger to find. Through these letters, they hold a link to the past and the events that befall Brianna’s parents. I had many issues with the story line of Brianna and Roger, but I will explain further down in the review.

We also have the perspective of Ian Murray, who has returned to Claire and Jamie’s side in the last novel. Ian is still at battle with himself, he is somewhat of a loner, not feeling that he belongs with the ‘Mohawks’ or his own people. Ian also has the added complication of Arch Bugg following him, intent on seeking revenge on Ian for the accidental murder of his wife. Arch has promised Ian that when he has something/someone worth losing, he will see him again. Indeed the stalkings of Arch Bugg do add a sinister theme to the background of the novel. Ian Murray is also torn between his desire to be reunited with his family in Lallybroch, and his fear that they will not accept him, for the old Ian is gone and will never return. Also added into Ian’s story line, is the somewhat odd addition of a love story between himself and the Quaker, Rachel Hunter. Although an interesting love affair, I must admit that it felt almost as if the author added this in an attempt to tie in the whole Arch Bugg storyline, again I will explain my issues with each perspective further down.

The last perspective through which the tale of the novel is told, is through Lord John Grey and his son (or Jamie’s biological son) William. William is intent to gain military advancement in the War of Independence, to make his father proud but also to further himself and to get ‘a piece of the action’ so to speak. William is your typical young man, who begins the story, quite the innocent soldier, eager for adventure and freedom, but by the end of the book, his character is now weathered by the evils of war, and has become slightly disillusioned about the war in general. His path quite often crosses with that of the Fraser’s, and I found it quite interesting how William is quite slow on picking up on what is going on, and the connection he has with Jamie Fraser. I found it odd that he didn’t remember meeting Ian Murray at Fraser’s Ridge, for example. William also finds himself having romantic notions regarding Rachel Hunter, the Quaker to whom Ian Murray has also developed feelings for. I predict quite the love triangle occurring in the next novel, although I think Rachel’s heart, unfortunately for William, lies with Ian.

Lord John himself, whilst trying to keep an eye out for William’s safety, finds himself in the middle of a mystery or two involving a character called Percival Beauchamp, and his mission to seek out Fergus Fraser, as it seems he could be an heir to a fortune instead of a child of a prostitute. Lord John also has the task of searching for his nephew, who has been injured in battle, with the help of his niece ‘Dottie’ who has a mission of her own to attend to also. A rift has developed between Lord John and Jamie, since Jamie has taken the side of the rebels in the War Of Independence, and Lord John is finding Jamie’s lack of contact quite difficult. 

So now that I have dealt with the plot thus far, I need to begin with all the nitty and gritty stuff, of what worked and what didn’t work with this novel. I will begin with the negative, as I find it is much better to air the many issues I have with these books first and foremost. Many of my twitter followers have expressed to me that this book was their favourite in the series, and for the most part I do indeed understand why, for it is not as unsavoury as it’s predecessor. ‘A Breath Of Snow and Ashes’ was so full of drama, that made me want to fling the book against the wall so many times. This book, although it has its fair share of dramatic moments, it is much more low key.

However….it was almost too low key, in fact the first 500 odd pages were perhaps the most boring first 500 pages in any of the books thus far. I must take issue with the story line of Lord John and William first, as I really felt as a reader I was missing out on something major. As I haven’t read the Lord John series of books, I felt for the first time that I must have skipped a book in between this and the last in the series that explained the background of Lord John’s, in particular, perspective. Numerous times, I found myself scratching my head, trying to recall if Lord John had mentioned a wide range of characters before in previous books, at a loss I continued with no avail. I found his and William’s perspectives to be quite dull as a result, and found myself wishing I could skip ahead to the next chapters. How many times does William need to find himself lost with no idea where his men are?? Why do we need to know about ‘Percy Beauchamp’?? I’m sure these issues may be answered in the next book, but I really must take umbrage with the lack of clarity in which the author has set up certain plots in this book. I do understand the need to give William a perspective, as being the biological son of Jamie, it would make sense that he would be given a bigger role in the books, but Lord John Grey already has his own series in which to have his own perspectives, so I really, really feel that his chapters in the book could have been scrapped altogether, for they had little import and could have been told through the other characters quite easily. It is clear that the author loves the character of Lord John, but really there was no need to give him so much of a centre stage in this book. However it could be a clever way of trying to get more people to read the Lord John series, which is quite a clever tactic to use, I must say. William’s story does eventually, become more interesting but only due to the fact his path crosses with the other major characters and his continuous near bumping into Jamie moments, leaves the reader at the edge of their seat. However I did expect more of William as a character, he isn’t as well rounded as Jamie, or as likeable as Ian, and so I did not find myself rooting for him as much as I should have. I’m hoping that in the next book this opinion will change, but as of yet it remains the same.

There were just too many characters to follow in this book. This series should always put the perspectives of Jamie and Claire to the foreground, as they are supposed to be the most important characters after all. Their love story is paramount to everything else in the books, yet in this novel I didn’t feel like the focus was on Jamie and Claire, it was on all the other characters. This bothers me to no end, I’ve read this whole series for Jamie and Claire moments, and there were very few in this novel. In fact there was probably more moments between Ian and Rollo, than Claire and Jamie. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cut it. If I wanted to read about Lord John, I would read his book series, I want to read about Jamie and Claire, with the odd dash of Ian/Brianna and Roger, its should not be the other way around. The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to view this book as a filler, a foundation to which all the major Claire and Jamie moments will be developed in the next book perhaps. 

As well as issues of perspectives, there were issues of disjointedness. Due to the huge number of old and new characters in this book, I found myself getting lost at certain stages trying to remember what happened last in each character’s respective story lines and what import was a certain character to the main character etc. Also in other reviews, I have read that some readers found it frustrating, when just getting into a particular character’s story line and finally becoming interested (for example Williams point of view) the story would change back to another character’s perspective. I can honestly say I agree with this, it was one of the most frustrating moments I had with book. 

Another issue I had was repetition and forced coincidences. Let me explain this properly. When I say repetition, I mean repeating of events from some of the previous novels. For example we have returned to the Pirates of the Caribbean scenes from book #3 (Voyager), where we see Claire and Jamie once again, battle the evils of the open water to reach land, come across pirates and survive to tell the tale. We saw this story line already in ‘Voyager’, I understand the need to create drama to entertain a reader, but I literally felt as if I was rereading ‘Voyager’. Even the battle scenes were reminiscent of scenes we have already read in past novels. I may be the only one who has this opinion but the feeling of Déjà vu crept up on me numerous times throughout the reading of this novel. In terms of forced coincidences, I felt the author threw in a number of events/characters to neatly tie up where she wanted to go with certain plot lines, which is fine in the larger scheme of things, but when it is overtly obvious to the reader, it can lead the story becoming too predictable, for example as I’ve already mentioned, the love affair between Rachel and Ian, seemed to be only put in as an after thought to tie up the story of Arch Bugg’s need for revenge. Why not kill Rollo, if Arch wanted to kill someone that Ian loved, Rollo surely would have done the job? There was a scene in which Jamie’s murder of Dougal comes back to haunt him by a completely random new character, an event that really didn’t add to the story in my opinion, and I felt it was just thrown in for dramatic effect. Plus it would have been Jamie’s word against this random Scottish man who claims Willie Culter told him all about the murder, hardly enough evidence to deserve such a reaction. The whole issue of Fergus Fraser’s lineage seemed to just crop up out of the blue as if the author suddenly wanted (after all the times I’ve wished for a bigger plot line for this character) to make Fergus more important and more interesting, which I’ve found is too late an addition to the books. In fact I think a better way of introducing this plot line would have been by giving Fergus a perspective, instead of Lord John perhaps??? Also even though I enjoyed the moments where William came within inches of meeting his biological father, it did feel as if the characters were being forced to appear in the same scenes together. I almost forgot to mention the newest admission of Claire regarding Roger’s father and her suddenly remembering that she had heard Roger’s father’s plane had crashed near standing stones, how coincidental!!! Why this admission now? why does Claire only just remember this is book seven of this series? Although I admit it is quite a clever addition to the story, once again though it is a bit late in the game to be discovering this major part of Roger’s past. 

In regards to issues with characters, where does one start? The first that comes to mind is the issue of Laoghaire. I am still getting so very frustrated over Jamie’s need to know why Laoghaire can be happy with someone else! Who cares! The woman is a psychotic, sadistic, hellbent on revenge, idiot who shot Jamie the last time he was in Lallybroch. And yet here is Jamie once more, seeking out Laoghaire to try to make amends with the deranged woman and to try understand why she can enjoy sex with other men but not with him?? The mind boggles. How Claire is so easy breezy about this issue also is making me even more bewildered. Why any woman would be fine with their husband spending so much time and energy wondering why their ex wife can be happy with other men but not with them, is beyond perplexing. I have to say I was waiting for the moment when Claire would finally have a huge confrontation with Laoghaire and do something interesting, like have a war of words, a little bit of shouting, maybe some slapping perhaps? but no, instead we have a rather anti climatic scene in which Claire successfully manages to get Laoghaire off Jamie’s back, financially speaking, by agreeing to help Marsali’s son, which she would have done anyways, but manages to bring a close to the whole Laoghaire issue quite tidily, and unfortunately without much drama. Yet again, I think I maybe the only reader who wishes Claire was more aggressive when it comes to Laoghaire?

On the subject of Lallybroch, we come to another character I have issues with. The character of Jenny Murray. The last time the reader met Jenny, she had decided to dislike Claire and to call Laoghaire and announce that Jamie had turned up with his first wife in tow, and long have I wondered why Jenny felt the need to do this. The answer the reader is given, is that she knew Jamie would not be gallant enough to inform Laoghaire of his first wife’s return and so decided to take matters into her own hands. Hmmm. Any other readers out there find this explanation a bit silly? I also do not understand why she is so caustic towards Claire. Instead of asking for the truth it seems like she makes up her mind very quickly about people and as a Fraser by blood, is stubborn in her opinions to no end. Her aggressiveness towards Claire is quite shocking, particularly the scene in which she demands that Claire fix Ian Senior, who is dying from consumption. When Claire tries to explain that she cannot help and that she would if she could, Jenny decides to verbally abuse her. No one should treat Claire this way! Ian Senior has been ill for years it would seem, and why Jenny decided after one failed letter that she would give up contacting Jamie and Claire to inform them is beyond me. Surely if she had kept trying to contact them, Claire might have been able to do something to help Ian. So if there is fault or blame anywhere, it lies with Jenny. I feel sad that the friendship that Jenny and Claire once had is so very far in the past and I can’t see it improving much anytime soon. Although I must admit that the idea of Jenny joining the American story line and going with Jamie back to the colonies is bloody brilliant and I look forward to what is in store for her there.

In relation to the characters of Fergus and Marsali, I have gone on at length in past reviews how they should get more bigger plot lines. It is still the case in this book and I am awfully tired of seeing Fergus portrayed in a negative light all the time. In this novel it takes the form of him teaching Germain how to pick pocket, and again abandoning his family to go on the run due to his publishing of political opinions in his newspaper. When it is revealed that Fergus may have been an heir to a fortune and actually have an interesting story line for a change, it is revealed to late in the novel to actually get going. Also as mentioned already, had Fergus been given his own perspective to witness all these events, such as his near abduction and run ins with Percy Beauchamp, this story line might have been more interesting and given Fergus a means through which he could redeem himself. 

I must also admit I had issues with Brianna and Roger once again. It seems modern day life has made them quite boring. Roger was more of a man when living in the past. In the future he has become quite the whinge, perhaps this is quite harsh but I feel as if I was just starting to like his and Brianna’s character when they were in the past, and now they’re suddenly reverting back to their previous annoying selves. A lot of the time I wanted to skip over their chapters, but for the little charming ways of Jem, whose little roguish charm kept me reading. The whole issue of Rob Cameron, though a great end to their story line, it seemed quite far fetched and out of the blue, and would have been better and more believable had it been Wiiliam MacKenzie, Dougal and Geilis’ son who committed the kidnapping in search of the gold. Rob Cameron although I didn’t trust him and knew he was going to commit some kind of horrible act, this ending didn’t really sit well with me. 

The last issue I must address is the ending of the book. Others have mentioned it to be rushed and all over the place, they would be correct, although I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was perhaps one of the best endings to any of her books. It actually made me want to get the next installment immediately and begin reading it. The one issue, which is quite a major one to be sure, is regarding Claire. You would be correct in assuming it is in regards to the last few scenes between her and Lord John, I literally feel so outraged, that Claire on hearing Jamie is supposedly dead, instead of going into an absolute depression with suicidal tendencies as I am sure every reader presumed would happen. She instead acts so nonchalant, and ends up sleeping with Lord John. I really did scream with outrage when reading this scene. What on earth possessed the author to write this scene I’ll never know. I presumed Lord John just wanted to sleep BESIDE Claire and share in her grief over their love for Jamie, but noooooo, it went down a completely different route that no one could have predicted! I’m still quite shocked over a week later. I didn’t think it was possible that it could occur to begin with so that is why is isn’t sitting right for me. It feels awkward and uncomfortable to have read it and then when the alarming moment comes when Jamie does show up alive, his reaction to hearing that Lord John has had ‘carnal knowledge’ or his wife, Jamie appears not to be bothered at all! What the hell is happening??? If i had known this would occur at the end of the book, I probably would have just skipped on to the next one to be quite honest, as I’m disgusted that our beloved Claire Fraser would do this? Even if Jamie had truly died, he wouldn’t have been dead that long before she jumped into bed with another man! I am truly outraged and do not understand where the author is hoping to go with this storyline, and is goes against everything we’ve learned about the characters thus far. 

It is now time to talk about the positives of this novel, as there are many despite what I have written thus far. Mrs. Gabaldon, as I’ve constantly mentioned is one of the greatest historians I have ever read. This novel yielded so much knowledge and information regarding the War of Independence that as an Irish person, I found quite interesting. The information in this book however took the form of more action through bloody battles, which I absolutely loved. The character of Claire comes into her own when facing battles, we see her as Claire the medic, the trauma doctor who keeps her head and is calm under pressure. The numerous battle scenes provided plentiful historic information such as how soldiers lived at the time, how they went weeks without washing, how they were regularly starving and slept in the harshest environments. I was thoroughly riveted by the political battles that occur within the army itself and was thoroughly entertained as Claire asserted herself among the male doctors. Yes other reviewers have mentioned that this was a tad unrealistic but I loved her daily battles to heal the soldiers. The funniest moment was on page 627 when Claire decided to amputate a limb and the other doctors are up in arms about a woman performing such a surgery.

This brings me again to congratulate Mrs. Gabaldon on her genius ability to weave her knowledge of medicine into her stories. Through Claire we see complicated surgeries, herbal remedies and the constant need for sterilisation methods, unknown at the time. Sometimes I feel as though I am reading a medical journal, such is her knowledge. Particular in the scene where she performs surgery on Jamie’s finger, although horribly vivid and ghastly, I was quite riveted to the spot when reading it. Her addition of new characters such as another Dr. Rawlings (the brother of the man who’s journal Claire had kept for years) and the Quaker Denny Hunter, allows the reader to see what medical practices were in place and being used outside of Claire’s medical knowledge. Even the removal of teeth and tonsils, amazed me to no end. Yes they are so descriptive, one feels slightly nauseous when reading about them, but I think I have grown used to the goriness, as it didn’t bother me in this book as it would have in the others. However the issue of General Fraser’s decomposing body and the solution of using maggots to fix the problem was a bit too much even for me.

I know I mentioned that there were way too many characters to follow, however there were quite a few new characters that did make the story a success and I therefore must mention them. Denny and Rachel Hunter are the first to come to mind. It was so interesting to see their story as Quakers develop, and how issues of morals came into play when crisscrossed with the story lines of other characters. For example to be with Ian, Rachel must give up being a Quaker, for Ian would never take to the ways of her people as he does have a taste for blood so to speak. Rachel is a strong character who I really look forward to seeing develop in the next book. It is interesting the love triangle between her, William and Ian and I look forward to seeing it come to fruition. Denny is a lovable character, his dealings with Claire have left me with a batman/robin sidekick image. I really enjoyed his scenes, and although I though it somewhat predictable that Dottie was the woman he loved and that she was going to convert to become a Quaker was a bit obvious, I still loved their story line and thought it added extra charm to the novel. I loved the addition of Hamish MacKenzie (Colum’s son) into the mix, the feeling of kinship was quite apparent in this novel for example the duty Jamie had to return his kin General Fraser, back to his people in Scotland, though a bit coincidental that they were trying to get back to Scotland quickly, it still gave Jamie that extra character development that was needed. Also the mysterious Captain Randall-Issacs has added another twist to the story line and I hope there will be more development into his character in the next book as he is an ancestor of Frank and Black Jack Randall. 

There were many moments in this book that were epic but also brought out the emotional side in me. The death of Mrs. Bugg for example, quite early on in the book was very sad. The biggest loss would have to be that of Ian Murray Senior, I will readily admit I went through a box of kleenex during the scenes of his death and how his loss was felt most deeply by Jamie, who not only lost his brother in law, but his best friend and left wing man. The scene in which Jamie asks Ian Senior if he could bury his amputated finger with Ian, was although slightly odd, very moving. Ian was the steadfast character that saw reason and could calm a storm. Even though he wasn’t a major character in the book series, knowing that he was always there in the background was always reassuring, and any reader would feel his loss deeply. Although it sounds odd to follow up on the death of Ian, with that of the near death of Rollo, it is one I must admit struck me to the core. Rollo has been a constant companion to wee Ian, a loyal friend who has been there with Ian through thick and thin, and I am not ashamed to say that when Ian left him on the ship and feared the worst for his dog, I wept like a baby. Of course I was over joyed when discovering Rollo was very much alive, it still was quite a sad part of the book. This is what makes the author such a brilliant writer, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you go through a roller-coaster of emotions when reading these books.

The supernatural element was played very well by the author through the appearance of William MacKenzie in Brianna and Roger’s time. Although somewhat a background theme in this book compared to its importance in others, it was alluded to in such an excellent way in this book. Perhaps the addition of Claire’s admission regarding Roger’s father was a little late in the story, it still added an extra element of supernatural mystery and a possible future plot line that one simply cannot ignore. Jamie’s dreams and premonitions regarding the future were still as eerie as ever in this book and it would seem like Amanda has inherited this ability, as in the end of the book she dreamed of Jem’s kidnapping. Although the supernatural element can hinder other historical fiction series, I really feel that it is the backbone of this series and adds that extra bit of entertainment value that makes this book work.

Jamie and Claire moments, although few and far between in this book, when they did happen, it reminded me once more of why I love this book series. It’s not just the love scenes that makes their story work so much, its the humour and understanding that lies between these two characters. They know each other probably better than they know themselves, and that is a love that anyone would want to aspire to. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Claire berates Jamie once again for getting himself into a near death experience and her having to patch him together once more. Another scene which was very powerful, was the scene in which Claire battles with scavengers over Jamie’s body, it showed what a tough cookie Claire is, and how when it comes to Jamie, she will take no prisoners. It is unfortunate that there was not enough moments for these two lovebirds, but I’m hoping the next book will make amends towards this.

Finally in regards to the ending of this book, other reviewers have for the most part hated it, as mentioned previously though, I thought it was bloody brilliant! There are not one but many cliffhangers at the end of this novel, which has made it possibly one of the most exciting endings to any book I have ever read. I think other reviewers were upset due to the fact, usually in her books Mrs. Gabaldon ties things up neatly at the end of her books, so this ending was totally out of the ordinary. We have William finding out who his real father is, Roger and William Buccleigh MacKenzie gone back to the past to search for Jem whilst Rob Cameron turns up and forces Brianna to come with him if Jem is to live, we have Jamie turning up quite alive and the awkward admission of what just happened between Lord John and Claire (which I for one would love to know how this is going to go down), Jenny Murray now in America, Fergus as a possible heir to a fortune and last but not least, where Claire stands now as wife to both Lord John and Jamie. I am practically squealing with excitement as to where the story could possibly go next and although I do not agree with the whole Claire/Lord John incident, I am looking forward to reading the next novel as soon as I possibly can, without wanting to rush through the last book in the series of course as the next one after won’t be released for another couple of years. This is definitely a book to remember, and though it has its negative aspects, it kept me reading and contained the most exciting moments towards the end that I will never forget. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and hope that all my unanswered issues will be solved in the next book.

All these opinions are my own and I would be more than happy to hear any comments/opinions other readers have had, regarding this review. So please leave a comment here or on my twitter page.

As always,

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: https://twitter.com/theavidreaders

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett (The Century Trilogy no.3)

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Book: Edge of Eternity

Author: Ken Follett

Rating:7/10

My dearest avid readers, I must begin by being dreadfully honest. I really delayed posting the review of this book. In fact I finished reading ‘Edge of Eternity’ more than two weeks ago, and yet I procrastinated in putting up this review. Why? I was terribly disappointed. Ken Follett is by far one of my favourite authors. Prior to this novel, the century trilogy were a collection of some of my favourite books of all time, full of tales of war, mystery, action, love, history and of course suspense- to keep any reader captivated for a period of time. Although this instalment of the series, was in itself rich in all the previously mentioned characteristics of a great book, indeed at some stages I could not put the book down. However it lacked some of the richness of its predecessors. It felt almost as if Follett himself did not write the book as it was so unlike the previous two novels, in tone and political stance. The ending of the book was quite rushed and I found major historical players were left out, due to the author’s obsession in the promotion of all things liberal and putting down of all things conservative. 

Perhaps my disappointment was also due to the topic of the story itself, where the first two novels in the series covered the first and second world war respectively, this novel traced the major political events of the world from 1961-1987, so events such as the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of Communism, the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, also that of Martin Luther King, the freedom riders and the battle for civil rights, the Hippy movement, the birth of Rock and Roll etc. were covered. Although these subjects were quite interesting to read about, and the terrible events and issues that occurred in these times were cruel and horrific and truly would blow anyone’s mind. I must however, admit it is not a period of history to which I was quite knowledgeable or interested in before. So as result I did not really find myself connecting properly to the story. I would also like to point out that even though I am not of a political mind at all, I could pick up on the biased views of the author in regards to the Republican Party in the USA. Follett clearly is not a fan, and regularly villainizes past Republican presidents of the USA such as Reagan and Nixon. This is all fine and well, but it was done by the author to such an extent that I felt a bit sorry for these characters, I’m sure they weren’t innocent of the crimes Follett mentions, but I found myself yelling at the book and the author to just ‘get on with the story’. Instead of focusing so much on these two political leaders, I would have liked to have seen much more of the political scene in England during this era for example, Margaret Thatcher’s influence (the period of the ‘Troubles’ was completely ignored), the race to space between the USA and Russia, etc. I realise that it is already a large book, but upon finishing it I felt that it concentrated too much on the events in the USA (although an interesting portrayal of John F. Kennedy, it was a bit long winded) and not enough on other countries. 

This instalment of the series followed the third generation of the families introduced in the first and second instalments of the series. As there are so many characters within these books, I unfortunately will not be able to delve into each story line, but I will say that each character witnesses each major political upheaval, and each character is connected to another whether through family ties or connections to past characters in the previous two books. I was deeply disappointed that certain characters from past instalments did not get much limelight in this novel. For example, I loved the Daisy/ Llyod Williams characters in the second novel, and ok I understand that they were never going to have big roles in this book, but I really expected more of these characters. Even the idea that Llyod is the stuffy/stiff/ disapproving British father goes against how he was characterised in the previous novel.  

In fact I will go so far to say I did not enjoy this generation of characters at all. They lacked the fiery/strong natures of their ancestors. I found a lot of the women characters to be insipid compared to their predecessors. I took issue with Maria Summers as a character, it was as if Follet wasn’t sure where he wanted her storyline to go, and her dalliance with JFK was not believable to me at all. The male characters were thoroughly unlikeable and boring at times, from the self important George Jakes (who probably had the biggest story line arc in the book, unfortunately in my opinion) and his fight for civil rights and career in the white house, to the horrible Jasper Murray (intent on standing on anyone in order to further himself career wise) and not forgetting the twisted Hans Hoffman and yawn-inducing Cameron Dewar (very sad that Woody and Bella Dewar produced this son, could have been characterised much better). The love stories in the novel were constantly riddled with unhappiness, and I know that realistically it suited the time and era, but it did not make for an easy read. It did not make me connect to the characters and quite frankly I did not care what happened to any of them by the end of the book, such was my disappointment. 

Sex, drugs and rock and roll were to the fore in this novel, which are portrayed quite efficiently by the characters of Dave Williams, and Walli Franck. The downward spiral caused by success and money for rock and roll bands was perfectly captured and characterised by Walli Franck in particular, as he struggles to find his place in the world whilst separated from his own family and a daughter he may never know. Sex and free love is rampant in this book, perhaps a tad too much. Freedom of love,  as was quite realistic for the era of the sixties, was overplayed and one did get sick of characters being cheated on towards the end of the book. Women in this novel were portrayed as vain, selfish, lustful characters intent on causing the ruin of males (I’m slightly joking with this comment, but one could easily take up the portrayal of women this way). Even the portrayal of JFK wasn’t free from this cynicism, with JFK being portrayed almost as a sexual deviant, seducing every woman he came across and even a disturbing seduction scene in Jackie-O’s bedroom which was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. There was also a completely ludicrous scene in which the twin brother and sister from Russia in the book were quite happy to stand naked in each other’s presence, and knew everything about each other in intimate details, not sexually, but it implied a certain innuendo, which as a twin myself, I found not only uncomfortable but slightly offensive. I mean really, what on earth was Follett striving for? Actually, In terms of relationships and marriages in the novel, I constantly found myself wondering aloud if any character would end up happily ever after at all.

Certain story lines were left unfinished also, for example the character of Vasili Yenkov, who wrote dissident novels which were smuggled out of the country by Tanya Dvorkin, while he was being held in a Russian work camp in Siberia, for daring to speak out against Communism. These novels win critical acclaim around the world, and we regularly hear the character of Tanya Dvorkin complain how she wished Vasili could one day be able to be recognised as the man who wrote these famous books and receive the royalties for them. The book ends with no mention of the fate of this character, who was in my opinion perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the story. Even huge characters from the first novel, Maud and Grigori, do not have an effective ending as I would see fit for such amazing characters of their calibre. A shame that Follett did not make a bigger deal with their roles. Even the eventual reunion of the Franck family, separated for more than two decades by the Berlin Wall and their inability to escape East Germany, is quite anti-climatic at the end of the book. 

I do realise that all the above is quite negative and some might question why I gave this book a rating of 7/10 if I’m critiquing it so deeply. I would have given it 6.5/10 to be honest, but my love of Ken Follett prevented me from doing so, plus it is not actually a terrible read. The good, fast moving stages of the novel are quite entertaining and as previously stated, there were times I could not put the book down. Most novels have positives and negatives after all, so although there were many positives also to this book, unfortunately the negatives outweighed them. Regardless Ken Follett is an amazing writer but unfortunately this book does not really showcase this. He also is a fantastic historian and in other books of his I have been thoroughly riveted by the sheer amount of knowledge he has on certain historical topics. Unfortunately in this book this wonderful knowledge and genius (although exceedingly mind blowing on certain topics such as that of East Germany and the plight of the civil rights movement) of his is overshadowed by his own political biases.

In previous novels in the series, Follett’s opinions weren’t as apparent, but in this novel, his beliefs are literally shoved down the reader’s throat left, right and centre in regards to Democrats vs Republicans. I hope I do not offend any of my readers in this opinion of mine. Please believe me when I say I am not politically minded at all, I have very little knowledge on American politics, however it is extremely rare that I am able to pick up on the political affiliation of authors in their books, as it wouldn’t be something my mind would register. So this is why my point is being repeated time and time again. I love historical fiction, I live for it. What I do not love however is politics, unfortunately I’m just not made that way, so this heavy political agenda in this novel, did not appeal to be as a result, and hindered my reading experience. In my reading experience, this novel was much more complicated than its predecessors.  

On a final note I will say that this review has not been the best I have ever written as I am literally in turmoil over writing a negative review on a Ken Follett book. For those who are fans of the Cold War era or the civil rights movement in the United States and are liberal democrats, then this is the book for you. For those of you readers, who like me, understand nothing when it comes to politics, this may not be the best reading option. I would also like to highlight that I am an avid Ken Follett fan and I eagerly await his next book whatever it is and whenever it will be released, with the utmost excitement. It is an unfortunate end to a first-class, sensational book series. Nonetheless, I have no doubt I will pick up this book series, time and time again to re-read over my lifetime, but perhaps not this instalment. 

As always I look forward to any opinions/comments from readers,

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: twitter.com/theavidreaders

Heartless by Gail Carriger (#4 in the Parasol Protectorate Series)

Gail_Carriger_-_Heartless_book_cover

Book: Heartless

Author: Gail Carriger

Rating: 9/10

Having read quite a serious, time consuming novel prior to ‘Heartless’, I approached reading this book as one approaches taking a break. For I always know when commencing a Gail Carriger novel, that I am about to peruse through a light hearted, rib-achingly hilarious story full of the author’s wonderfully creative and colourful imagination. I literally read this book in a day, for the novels in this series are much shorter (around 370 pages to be exact) in comparison to other books and the mirth and tongue-in-cheek goings-on in the story, keeps the reader quite glued to one’s seat.

I do realise not many would appreciate this series, as not many readers allow themselves to indulge in the Supernatural/Paranormal/Steampunk genre, which is a shame as this series has kept me completely entertained this past year. I think one of the important things to consider when approaching any book series, is to keep an open mind. Too many times I have passed over novels and book series, presuming they weren’t my ‘kind of thing’ only to return to them many years later and kick myself for not reading them sooner! It simply does not matter to me any more if people presume what I’m reading is silly or unrealistic. For what is a book, only a medium through which we can indulge in our fantasy worlds and live fantastical lives through magical characters. If it is a sin to read such a series, then by all means call me a sinner, for I am hooked line and sinker to this wonderful book series.

Gail Carriger must be a hilarious woman, for her humour is the backbone of this series. In ‘Heartless’ we continue to follow the story of Lady Alexia Maccon, wife to the local Lord Maccon (who is the alpha of the local werewolf pack, Mujah to Queen Victoria, oh and of course preternatural (meaning she can turn all immortals to mortals by just a touch). Alexia in this instalment is eight months pregnant, and feeling it. However determined not to let the ‘infant inconvenience’ ruin all her fun, she embarks on yet another mystery surrounded by the usual, much loved colourful characters of this series. Life has retuned to somewhat normal for the Maccons. Having finally realised that the baby, Alexia is carrying is his own, Lord Conall Maccon seems to have made a choice to allow his wife to do whatever she wants, within reason of course. However there is one slight problem, the vampires are determined to destroy Alexia and the child they consider an ‘abomination’ to nature. Lord Akeldama sweeps in, in his usual splendour, and saves the day by offering to become the child’s adoptive father. Alexia and Conall move in next door to Lord Akeldama and his colourful array of drones as a result, and of course drama follows. A mystery appears in the form of a half crazed ghost, who informs Alexia that the Queen is in danger. In her search to solve the mystery, Alexia uncovers gasp worthy secrets that threaten to destroy her pack. Madame LeFoux, Alexia’s scientist friend, also returns with secrets of her own which lead to an explosion of drama and a major cliffhanger for the next book in the series. The reader also finally gets a momentary reveal into who Alexia’s preternatural father was, which gave the finishing touch to a brilliant read, in my opinion, and I will go as far as to say that this novel was my favourite, after the second instalment of the series. Compared to its predecessor, it was streets ahead plot-wise.  

The characters in the instalment of the series were superb. By relocating next door to Lord Akeldama, the reader gets an in-depth look at what the lively and glamorous vampire is like when he is at home. His outrageousness as a character, is the heart of the story if you ask me. From his flamboyant outfits to his eccentric terms of endearment, Lord Akeldama had me regularly laughing out loud and provided so much light heartedness through the dramatic scenes in the novel. What was also wonderful to note about the flashy vampire, is that he is possibly one of the most intelligent characters in this story. One might notice in the series, that he often hides behind a façade of that of a gossip queen and uses his silly nature as a means of tricking those around him into thinking him altogether innocent and when in actuality, he is one of the major players in the political arena of London in the Victorian era.

I loved the bigger storyline Biffy, the ex drone of Lord Akeldama and now newly turned werewolf, has had in this novel. One’s heart would simply break for Biffy and his loss of Lord Akeldama. Often Alexia is characterised almost motherlike with Biffy as her and Conall try to remedy his situation. He is a charming individual who I know will have an even bigger role in the sequel to this novel and look forward to his next plot-line with the utmost relish. I also loved how Professor Lyall is not the innocent werewolf the reader has known from previous novels, but quite calculating and I do dislike the wool being pulled over Lord Maccon’s eyes and do hate Lyall for placing Alexia in such an awkward for position of not being able to confide the truth to Conall about his past. It does provide major suspense for what might occur in the next instalment however. 

Felicity Loontwill, Alexia’s half sister has been getting rather a large starring role in the last few books in the series. Yet again, Felicity is thrust to centre stage in this novel through her devious ways. Her airy, blonde demeanour of the past has given way to a rather sinister, jealous, calculating and crafty character who will stop at nothing to ensure her own success in life, even if it means spying on her sister and endangering her and her unborn child. Oh the suspense! I still however am quite disappointed that Alexia has yet to put Felicity in her place, I really would like her to cause Felicity a rather unpleasant, mortifying moment in the books but alas this still has not occurred. 

Alexia has really come full circle as a character. She is outrageously funny in this book, obviously being heavily pregnant, leads her into the most entertaining and comical moments. Her pregnancy is thoroughly enjoyable to read about, and adds such a comedic element to even the most serious of moments in the story. She has really come into her own as the female alpha to the werewolf pack, and takes no prisoners in her search for the truth. Her preternatural ability allows her to be the most practical of characters, even when she knows it might incriminate those she cares for. Conall isn’t quite as stubborn with Alexia as he used to be, but having committed such an atrocious act in the previous novel, it is no wonder he is now more docile. There were plenty heart warming moments between this two lovable but headstrong characters.

One of the things I was disappointed with however, is again the lack of Ivy Tunstell moments in this novel. Also an issue I had with the previous novel in the series. Apart from a chapter where Alexia inducts her into ‘The Parasol Protectorate’ (great addition of the series name to the books) and sends Ivy off to Scotland on a mission, there are very few more mentions of her. I am a fan of this odd friendship and I found it a shame that there was very little emphasis placed on this in the novel. I am aware that this maybe the case due to Madame LeFoux’s part to play in the story, and how her need for revenge against the vampire countess might take up the majority of the story with little room for Ivy. On that note, the climax of Madame LeFoux’s story line ending was quite brilliant and apt, although I am hoping this doesn’t mean the end of her character in the final book of the series.

Overall it is evident that I am an avid fan of Ms. Carriger. Her talent for humour really makes me look forward to reading her books, and her books are such easy reads, it makes for a truly enjoyable experience. In reading other reviews of this instalment it has bothered me to no end that people can complain that this book was unrealistic, it is a paranormal book! of course it is unrealistic. If realistic is what you want in a book series then I suggest the supernatural genre isn’t for you. Although I would like to point out how Gail Carriger has created a supernatural Victorian society, quite brilliantly and it is quite realistic and believable despite it being paranormal. Yes I do realise that the book cover does not portray a pregnant woman, but really is that what a reader is going to nit pick about? the story is still fantastically entertaining and that is what truly matters. I will admit, the adoption of Conall and Alexia’s unborn baby by Lord Akeldama, and the child supposedly being raised by vampires, did not sit well with me at all to begin with, but as you read deeper into the story and see just what this ‘adoption’ actually means, it is not a big deal at all and shouldn’t be worried about. 

In conclusion if you are a fan of the paranoraml/supernatural genre, and in need of a good laugh, this book series is perfect for you. It supplies everything from girl power to mystery to plenty of drama to keep any reader occupied and entertained. I beseech you all to make it a new year’s resolution not to judge a book/book series by it’s cover, you may be missing out on an epic story.

As always I look forward to your comments/opinions.

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: twitter.com/theavidreaders

A Breath Of Snow And Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series no:6)

a breath of snow and ashes

Book: A Breath Of Snow and Ashes.

Author: Diana Gabaldon.

Rating: 9/10

Oh my, what a read, what a book, what an author. One cannot even begin to match Diana Gabaldon’s genius when it comes to the historical fiction genre and this particular novel in the ‘Outlander’ series is heavily laden with a wide variety of historical events particularly pertaining to the eve of the American Revolution. What makes Diana Gabaldon such a marvelous author, is her abilty to draw the reader in from the first page of her novels and also her ability to allow the reader to feel as if he/she are bearing witness to the extraordinary events that take place in the story. It may have taken me three weeks to read this novel ‘A Breath of Snow and Ashes’ (as an avid reader, this is a huge amount of time spent reading) but my lord, was it worth it. Was it a perfect book? No it wasn’t. However, I think this again is what makes Ms. Gabaldon such an exceptional author, despite the books flaws, I still found myself unable to put the book down. Was it my favourite book in the series? No it wasn’t, although it was streets ahead of it’s predecessor ‘The Fiery Cross’. So without further ado I shall begin my review of the sixth instalment to the ‘Outlander’ series.

PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THIS BOOK! LOTS OF SPOILERS!

‘A Breath of Snow and Ashes’ basically begins where ‘The Fiery Cross’ ended, in terms of Jamie Fraser once more being asked to gather a militia to fight for England against the ever growing wave of rebellion brewing in North Carolina. However his wife Claire, daughter Brianna and son in-law Roger (time travellers from the future) have warned him of the impending war of independence. Therefore Jamie now has to thread carefully, for if he remains loyal to the crown, his future and that of his family will be in danger. For those who fight for the crown might face exile or certain death. This is the issue that is at the backbone of the plot of this novel. However woven into this plot are many other twists and turns. Another traveller like Claire, Brianna and Roger has turned up on Fraser’s ridge. Random murders also begin to occur in isolated areas surrounding the Ridge with whole families left dead and homes burned to the ground. Extreme politics seems to rule with so called ‘Committees of Safety’ made up of men of questionable morals, who have taken it upon themselves to keep all in line. Issues of rape, violence and paranoia are rampant in this story. New settlers also arrive to the Ridge, and since they are Presbyterian, their distrust of the original settlers of the Ridge, is quite apparent. Jamie and Claire certainly battle a lot of demons in this novel, and these demons are quite close to home.

Brianna, Roger and Jem have now fully settled into life into the late 1770s, with Roger also deciding to take on the role of Minister and begin the process of ordination. Brianna herself has become the ‘inventor’ of the Ridge, tackling issues such as piping hot water into houses, making matches, shovels, medical equipment (is there anything this woman cannot do). Claire continues her medical discoveries (there are a variety of disgusting medical moments, which are described in such detail in the story, that the reader might find themselves often nauseous) with the most important discovery of ether to allow her to put her patients to sleep and therefore avoid the pain. Claire also takes on a protégé in this novel in the form of Malva Christie, whose role and that of her family in the story becomes quite prominent. Fergus and Marsali have rather large roles in this novel also, with Fergus battling depression and Marsali being inundated with chores and taking care of her children, without any help from Fergus. Unfortunately this is not the story arc I was hoping for Fergus in my opinion, but I shall explain this in more detail further down.

The return of young Ian Murray has certainly provided an intriguing storyline but alas he is not the Ian of old and the boyish charm to which entertained the reader in previous novels, has disappeared and in its place stands a young aloof man, who, it seems, carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. The mystery surrounding Ian’s departure from the Indian tribe he belonged to, remains unanswered for the majority of the book, with only a few snippets of explanation throughout. Jocasta and Duncan Innes provide us with a massively engrossing storyline surrounding the gold at River Run, as tales of adultery and betrayal haunt this intriguing twosome. The re-emergence of Stephen Bonnet, the maybe father of Jem, who had raped Brianna in the fourth novel, is a brilliant subject to read about and really provided the suspense to this novel as he lurks in the background until finally making a move to capture Brianna once more. The supernatural element to this story was to the fore throughout the novel, through the traveller storyline and also the issue of ghosts and Jamie’s dreams that almost are prophecies. The ultimate twist with the Bugg family and their role in the disappearence of the River Run gold was excellent and truly brought an effective end to this roller coaster of a novel.

Although I loved this novel and sought for as much free time as possible over the Christmas celebrations to try to get a moment to read it without interruption, I found myself having many issues with it’s story-lines. Let me begin with the issue of never ending trauma and tragedy. Dear Lord, the amount of times I wanted to fling the book at the wall, due to yet ANOTHER horrible tragedy befalling my favourite characters. Did Claire really have to be abducted, beaten and raped? Have Claire and Jamie not been through enough? For me personally, I felt that the never-ending drama surrounding these two beloved characters, in this particular novel, was totally over the top. I understand that a story must have drama in order for it to be a success. However this novel was already laden with murders, traumatic pregnancies, abductions and deaths that I felt this rape storyline with Claire was uncalled for. I really feel quite strongly about this issue, and it occurring so early into the story when there was enough suspense with the random house fires and murders ALREADY, there was really no need for it. Further on in the novel then, another traumatic event occurs to Claire yet again, her nearly dying of an illness caused by Malva Christie putting some virus into her food and drink. Claire suffers terribly during this chapter and is almost unrecognisable when she finally does recover, due to the sheer amount of weight she lost during the illness. If this wasn’t enough, further on in the novel she is arrested on the charge of murder of Malva Christie and is imprisoned. She suffers a wide range of terrible events from her own people on Fraser’s Ridge turning against her, to getting stones thrown at her and being imprisoned. I could not keep up with the extent to which the author made this character suffer. I regularly found myself yelling at the book ‘ENOUGH!!!’ and ‘LEAVE CLAIRE ALONE’. This however didn’t end the suffering unfortunately.

Then onto the issue of Fergus. I have longed for the author to unveil a larger storyline for this wonderful character. Since ‘Dragonfly in Amber’ I have awaited a good hearty tale full of Fergus’ charm, humour and daredevil behaviour that he has exhibited since being a child in the second novel. However following ‘Dragonfly in Amber’ there has been little mentioned of Fergus and time and time again I have been disappointed with the lack of storyline he has been getting. In this book I was excited to see Fergus being mentioned quite a lot for once BUT not in the way I had imagined or wanted for that matter. In this novel, Fergus is no longer the charming, French, suave character that we have all grown to love, instead in his place we have a self hating, useless, wife beating man who regularly abandons his wife and children to go off and ‘find himself’. Do not misinterpret me here, I am not condemning depression, it is a horrible illness and I understand how debilitating it is. However I just don’t think this storyline suited Fergus in general, it came out of nowhere. Fergus has had only one hand for years and suddenly now all of sudden, when Marsali has become pregnant with their fourth child, it is suddenly an issue and he feels like he cannot contribute anything to his family. Sigh. Also the wife beating is totally uncalled for, this from a man whose love of women has been apparent throughout the books. Once again this over the top drama does not fit in to where the characters are in the timeline of their lives. I don’t know perhaps I am the only one that feels this way, but I cannot deny that it bothers me. It bothers me quite a lot that after waiting all the time for a bigger insight into Fergus and Marsali, this is the tale that has been given to the reader. Quite frankly I shall try to imagine I never read this part of the story and move on to the next book with a fresh and open mind.

Another issue I had was regarding wee Ian Murray. His reappearance into the series in the last book ‘The Fiery Cross’ was hugely welcomed by myself. I love his character, I honestly think he is my favourite character, after Claire and Jamie of course 😉 I was so excited when I began this book, to see what exactly had befallen Ian when living amongst his Indian clan and why he has suddenly turned up out of the blue with Rollo in tow, when the last we had heard of him, was that he was married with a baby on the way. However within the first few chapters of the novel, the reader still does not have any explanation. Confused and frustrated I continued reading in hope of discovering more but alas the only snippet of information gleaned about half way into the book, is a small conversation Ian has with Marsali, admitting he did have a child. There is no explanation as to what happened to said child or wife. It isn’t until three quarters of the way through the book we finally get the whole story when Ian confesses to Brianna, a lovely scene to be fair. However even then the story is somewhat lacking. The reader discovers that Ian’s wife is continually miscarrying his children. A terrible, terrible thing to occur to be sure, but as regards to why he’s left the tribe, the reader discovers is due to one of the elder women in the tribe telling him to leave so basically Ian’s wife Emily can move on with someone else. Sigh. Now why on earth would someone allow themselves to be basically bullied out of a marriage and abandon his wife. I realise that their marriage had been through the ringer, and I understand that Emily was beginning to turn away from Ian due to the loss of all their babies. What I do not understand is how easily Ian was able to abandon his wife and tribe. Surely anyone else would have put up a fight and at least tried to make it work first. Nonetheless my love for Ian’s character outweighs this issue, in fact I’m purely just nit picking here as the only thing that truly bothered me about his story, was how it was unveiled in the most stagnated manner and not all at once earlier on in the novel.

I do also have a small issue with how easily Claire allows Jamie to get away with things. I think I have mentioned this before in previous reviews about this series of books. Claire is a hot headed, stubborn woman, who fails to act according to how society dictates in the late 1700s. I always look forward to her fiery manner when confronting meek individuals who dare to tell her to keep in line with other women and to act as any normal woman would during this era. However I find that Claire quite often drops this powerful persona of hers when dealing with wrongdoings of Jamie. Instead she lets him get away with everything without so much as a hint of anger/jealousy etc. The scene in which I’m talking about is when Jamie goes to visit the Indian tribe to parlé with it’s leader. The leader of the tribe sends naked women into Jamie’s tent at night to please him. Jamie obviously shocked, tells the women to leave and then when they refuse he simply lies down with them and goes to sleep. On finally admitting this occurs to Claire, not straight away too I would like to note, Claire’s reaction is to laugh about it as if it is some joke??? Now I may not speak for every red blooded female out there, but I find it hard to understand that a wife could find it funny that her husband has basically slept in a bed with two naked women?? I’m at a loss. Perhaps it is just me who found this strange, but if there are other readers who felt the same, please let me know I’m not the only one! Once more in another scene, Claire practically shoves Jamie into a brothel and does not care if rumours begin as to why he’s there. Again I understand she is a modern woman in an old fashioned world and this can probably explain her open mind in these situations but I am at a loss as to how she would be comfortable with this situation. Perhaps yet again I may be the only reader feeling this way, so ignore my tirade if you do not feel the same, I just find it all exceptionally odd.

Then there is the matter of sweet little Lizzie Wemyss. Always portrayed to us as a naive, sweet, loving, generous young woman since ‘Voyager’. Lizzie has become quite the hussy. I don’t think anyone could have predicted her ending up married and shacked up not with one Beardsley brother, but the two of them. The mind boggles. I had always assumed that one day Ian Murray would wake up and notice Lizzie and the two would get married and live happily ever after. Boy was I wrong. Once again, this storyline did not sit well with me. We have gone from knowing Lizzie as this innocent little girl to now having to accept her as a woman with two husbands who are brothers, who share Lizzie! I nearly fell off my chair upon reading this chapter, I even had to explain it to my alarmed boyfriend as to why I was in such shock. What? Why? Why the Beardsleys, who I always thought would become mass psychopathic murderers with their strange behaviour to which even Brianna questioned on one occasion as being not quite right in the head. Poor Mr. Wemyss also, his whole world has completely been shattered by the unveiling of his new daughter, who not only married quite below her rank and status, but also deprived him of his new found family, the McGillivrays.

I feel as though I have spent too long discussing the many issues I had with the story when there are so many brilliant aspects of the novel that made it an excellent read. First I shall start with Diana Gabaldon’s genius in regards to historical research. The amount of times whilst reading the novel, that I was amazed and awed at information regarding the era that I had never known before. The author is the ultimate historian, you can feel the richness and level of research she has done throughout the novel. From the illnesses people suffered at the time to the food and drink people had, to the tools they used, to the chores, hobbies and careers, there is no end to this woman’s skill with research. I honestly can say that while reading this novel, I was transported back through time and was actually living amongst these poeple,that is how realistic Diana Gabaldon’s writing is, and therefore I must congratulate her on her extraordinary skill. Not only was there historical research done, but also medical research. Literally from chapter one, the medical skills of Claire Fraser allow us to gain knowledge on the illnesses and ailments people during this era had. Now I will say the reader is subjected to some of the most graphic descriptions of surgeries and procedures that I for one definitely did not need to know about, but at the same time I am in awe at the new knowledge gained from these scenarios. We see Claire struggling to cure people of diseases to which she is lacking the proper medicine. We not only see Claire as a doctor, but also a scientist as she creates ether to allow the patients to be put under while she can perform surgery. We see her as a microbiologist, looking at DNA and blood samples. We see her inventing medical instruments. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. What a woman! 

On the same note I would like to also point out how the character of Brianna has become so much more interesting. Although probably one of the characters I least like in the novels (don’t hate me readers!) Brianna has kind of done a U-turn for me. As her mother is an inventor, this skill has passed down to Brianna and been multiplied tenfold! The reader can now see Brianna as an engineer and architect. Instead of sitting around moaning as she had done in previous novels, Brianna has now taken to life in the 1770s quite effectively. She now makes medical instruments, shovels, and tackles the heating of water to bring into the houses on Fraser’s Ridge. Also she is no longer breast feeding! Hallelujah! We no longer have to witness graphic descriptions of her lactating breasts any more. This is probably what’s lead to an improvement of character for her in my mind. Brianna now has a purpose and by God has she taken on the persona of Alpha female. I also loved how the Brianna/Stephen Bonnet storyline plods along effectively in the background of this book and finally comes to an end in the final chapters of the novel. I found myself oddly fascinated at the rapport between her and Bonnet. Here is a man that has raped her, abducted her, and in this novel has tried to sell her as a kept woman, and when first having the chance to kill Bonnet, she can’t. I found it frustrating but oddly entertaining that Bonnet has this hold over Brianna, she is an alpha female through and through and yet around Bonnet she completely changes personality. Something about him both intrigues her and disgusts her at the same time. For example the scene in which she comforts him after he has had a nightmare, she just can’t help herself. I don’t really know how to feel about this matter. Even towards the end, she decides to show him mercy through a mercy killing then be subjected to a public drowning. The man has caused her no end of worry and fear and yet she seems to still respect him.

I rather enjoyed Roger’s role in this story. He also isn’t as annoying or frustrating as he was in previous novels. I really feel Brianna, Roger and Jem have really come together as a family, of course the discovery of Jem actually being Roger’s son has somewhat helped in this matter. However I must say it was a genius idea to make Roger a minister. He just exudes that calm and caring persona that Fraser’s Ridge needs to settle its issues. Roger acts as the olive branch between the Catholics and Presbyterians and so garners much more respect from Jamie. In fact the friendship between Jamie and Roger is one I loved reading about. Roger really has become Jamie’s right hand man and it warms any reader’s heart to see this. Now I will admit that his absence is felt a lot in the story, particularly when he goes to get ordained but also while doing ministerial duties of looking out for neighbours etc he is missing a lot from his own home. I therefore felt for Brianna quite a lot, and understood her jealousy in having to share Roger with everyone else. Oh and the ending of the book where they must leave and go back to the future so as to save Amanda their new baby who is suffering from a heart defect, is absolutely devastating. I may have issues with Brianna as a character, but she has become an important part of Claire and Jamie’s story. Her relationship with Jamie is a beautiful one to read about, and my heart really broke for Jamie as Brianna disappeared back to the future. The words he echoes after this scene will forever haunt me:

“For your sake, I will continue-though for mine alone…I would not”

(boxes of Kleenex were emptied during this scene believe me) 

I simply loved the way in which background characters were given larger role in this novel. The Christies provided the most intriguing plot to the story. Tom Christie grew on me as a character. I loved his rapport with Claire and how her stubborn nature won him over in the end. I detested Malva from the beginning, I’m not sure why as she originally hadn’t done anything wrong but as soon as she was mentioned in the story, I knew she was trouble. However I really enjoyed the suspense surrounding her pregnancy and her accusations that Jamie was the father provided the perfect gasp worthy moment in the book. It also allowed Jamie and Claire to come to the most heart wrenching moment in the book, where for a moment she doesn’t know what to believe but realises that Jamie would never cheat on her and ruin what they have:

We are here, all of us, and we’re here because I love you, more than the life that was mine. Because I believed you loved me the same way….will you tell me that’s not true?”

No!..No, I willna tell ye that. NOT EVER, Claire” (swoon worthy or what!)

Readers will definitely not be disappointed with the amount of love scenes between Claire and Jamie. There all encompassing love really is the backbone of this series and I honestly don’t know what I did before I was introduced to these two wonderful characters. Through their story, the meaning of love really echoes through to the reader. For all their faults, they will always have each other and protect each other through thick and thin. And that dear readers, is the ultimate love to which we should all aspire to have (if we can all be that lucky life would be amazing 🙂

In regard to other background characters, I was thoroughly glued to the book when reading about the missing gold in River Run and finally finding out the truth about Jocasta Cameron Innes, who quite frankly is quite the witch! I say that happily as her story provided me with riveting moments without causing any tragedy to Claire or Jamie. The discovery that Jocasta and her butler Ulysses have been having a love affair for quite some time was brilliantly done and tied up her story nicely. Jocasta is a character I really can’t decide if I like or not, she is so generous to the Fraser’s that it is hard not to like her, and her feeble appearance certainly makes the reader want to have some kind of concern for her, but then on the other hand she can be very cruel and calculating and if she wants something she will do anything to get her way. I will say I did feel sorry for her character toward the end of the story as she now has lost her home, her wealth, her status and also her lover. I suppose what goes around always comes back around is the moral to her story. In regards to the Buggs, I would never have predicted that it was quiet old Arch Bugg who was behind the disappearance of Charles’ Stuart’s Gold. His cold demeanour towards Jamie at the end was mind blowing and to discover the actual reason why Mrs. Bugg killed the Brown character brought an excellent end to the novel.

Another aspect which made this novel excellent was its return to the supernatural element of time travel. Through the new character of Donner, the reader is given a more in-depth knowledge of what the time travelling entailed. Although Donner himself was a horrible character in terms of ethics, he nevertheless provided the reader with a look at time travel outside the Fraser family. His story presented the dangers of what time travel can do to those that are not properly fortified with gems and jewels and death can occur quite easily. The supernatural side of things was not limited to time travel alone. Jamie’s dreams are becoming visions of the future world it seems. When he is recounting his dream about Brianna and Roger in the last scene in their story, I had goosebumps when he described the telephone and how Jem wanted to call him. Spooky without a doubt. Ghosts are also regularly mentioned by Claire and Jamie throughout the novel. One would think this would be a silly addition to the novels, but it is quite the opposite case. I feel the ghosts added to the feeling behind this novel. Particularly the scene where Jamie feels Murtagh’s presence with him at the battle, is very effective and fit in well with the scene and emotions felt by the characters.

We also see the return of much loved characters and new characters to boot. Lord John Grey finally turns up in the last few chapters of the book. Although he had sent many letters to the Fraser’s throughout the novel where we can witness some of his charming stories, it is the last scene,where his fear that Brianna will tell William, his son that Jamie is his father and she is his sister, that I finally feel some kind of connection with his character that I’d never felt before. I felt empathetic towards his plight. I will say originally I had thought the idea of Lord John adopting William quite odd considering his strong feeling towards Jamie, however in this scene I finally saw that Lord John actually loves this young man as a son and fears he will lose him if the truth comes out. Which it probably will eventually knowing how these books work. I also loved the addition of Bobby Higgins to the cast, he is an interesting character and I look forward to reading more about him now that he has moved permanently to Fraser’s Ridge. 

So having written all the above I can safely say this is a novel one will not forget in a hurry. Yes it had a lot of issues that were really not necessary,but that does not mean I did not enjoy it any less. I think that’s an important thing to remember when reading the ‘Outlander’ series. The books are not perfect, nonetheless the stories within them are so emotionally charged and powerful that they resonate with any reader. Honestly this was probably my favourite book in the series after the first book and ‘Dragonfly in Amber’.Although I say this reluctantly only due to the sheer amount of tragedy that occurs to the characters within this story, horrible, beyond imaginable things occur to the characters that it would be quite wrong of me not to be honest and say that whilst I did enjoy the book, it was perhaps one of the hardest books to read in my whole history of reading. I understand why others would choose this to be their favourite instalment of the ‘Outlander’ series however I personally don’t think any book will ever touch the original first novel. I hope you all have enjoyed this review, and I hope my ‘Outlander’ family will understand the issues I had with the novel. I look forward to any thoughts/opinions all you avid readers out there would like to contribute.

As always, feel free to comment either here on my blog or on my twitter page.

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: http://twitter.com/theavidreaders

The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon.

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Book: The Alchemist’s Daughter.

Author: Katherine McMahon.

Rating: 5/10

Apologies first and foremost to all my avid readers, I have been quite absent the last few weeks due to the busy and hectic run up to this holiday season. Believe me when I tell you all, that I would have rather been writing book reviews then the countless hours I have spent Christmas shopping and preparing my house for the impending festivities. Indeed it has taken me such a length of time to finish this book, and not all due to the hectic days I have been having, but also because I found this novel utterly disappointing. It bothers me to no end, that the first review I must write after so long, is a negative one. Alas, I have promised to give honest reviews and so I must proceed with this one much to my own reluctance.

‘The Alchemist’s Daughter’ is set in the early 1700s onwards and tells the tale of Emilie Selden, a quiet, sheltered girl who has been raised in an old run down family estate in Bukinghamshire, almost in captivity if you ask me, by her philosopher father, a well renowned alchemist and scientist. whose aim is to make Emilie his apprentice and sees her, a female, as an experiment also. Emilie craves attention and more importantly love and affection. Her father although apparently raising her lovingly, and gifting her with his teachings of alchemy, has moulded Emilie into a well educated young lady, capable of holding debates with most learned of men. Emilie herself, a curious girl desperate to make her father happy, loves alchemy and treasures the moments spent with her father, in his unending search for the theory of what causes fire. Emilie also seeks the truth of who her mother was, and as her father is so unwilling to impart his knowledge of her mother, Emilie lives in a state of utter frustration, as she tries to come to terms with who she is and what her role is in the world. However it soon becomes apparent to the reader, that even though Emilie is highly educated, she is completely clueless about how women should behave and has simply no idea what the real world is like. 

Emilie’s sheltered existence comes under threat by the arrival of two men, polar opposites, who both become enamoured by Emilie’s beauty and intelligence. Reverend Shales is a quiet, kind man who is besotted with Emilie and encourages her curiosity but with less emphasis on Alchemy, since he is a reverend and is duty bound to disagree with the laws of Alchemy. Aislabie, is a flamboyant, charismatic, passionate man who sets his sights on Emilie, but secretly has ulterior motives. Emilie being so clueless and naive, allows herself to be seduced and destroys everything her father had been dreaming for in a simple selfish act, in her search for affection that has been lacking in her life up to this moment. Emilie’s small world is soon torn apart, as she now finds herself in a universe in which she knows nothing of, and must act a role she has never been trained for. Heartbreak and loneliness become huge themes in the novel following these events as Emilie is led down a path, she should never have gone.

I hated this novel. I cannot believe I am saying this as in theory the novel has everything needed to become a success. It has a wide range of interesting characters, it provides an in depth look at alchemy and the fascination scientists had for it in the 1700s. It provides a fascinating love story with plentiful love scenes that would make any reader blush. It has many moral arguments that any reader would like to sink their teeth into. Yet for some reason I was so utterly frustrated by this novel. The first half of the novel crawled by for me personally, I kept finding myself putting the book down. The second part of the novel, even though it picked up pace and contained much more exciting moments than the first half, was so full of over the top, dramatic, baffling moments that I started counting pages to see how much left of the book I still had to read before it was over.

The whole theory of Alchemy, although interesting and mildly captivating, was detailed in such a complicated manner, that a lot of it for me went over my head. I found myself yawning through the scenes in which Emilie and her father perform numerous experiments, when I should have been suffering from ‘mind blowness’ as I would like to call it. Although the author clearly did a lot of research on the topic which is what any reader would want, I do believe she could have written it in a more straightforward manner. Not all of us understand the scientific nature of the world and do in fact need it to be ‘dumbed’ down for us mere mortals. 

That being said, I was willing to overlook this issue had I been able to relate to the characters more. However this was not the case. I wanted to fell sorry for Emilie, as would any reader, for living such a uneducated existence when it comes to the real world and what would be expected of her in it. After all, had her father simply imparted pieces of information regarding her mother and even given Emilie the slightest bit of affection, he would have armoured her instead of leaving her defenceless to the evils of the world. Instead of feeling empathetic for Emilie, I felt such a deep level of annoyance with her character. Aislabie is clearly a rake, and no matter how naive someone is, his arrogance and seductive manner would have sent clear warning signs to even the dumbest of characters. She could have clearly gone down a safer path with the Reverend Shales but no, that would have been too easy and wouldn’t have provided the reader with such a overly dramatic plot.

Emilie also is unwilling to see things from others perspectives, she does not understand that the world is a complicated place in which people make decisions and that there are consequences to such decisions. She is altogether quite selfish at times, but again this is due to her ridiculous upbringing. She is the result of ‘the sins of the father’ so to speak. She is both emotionless/heartless and yet emotional at the same time, it is as if the author couldn’t decide what kind of character she wanted to create. Detached is the word I would use to describe this character. There are certain scenes in the novel where I literally wanted to shout at her character for being so deficient and gutless. Even though one must admit that she is also a different kind of female, then is expected for that era, it would have simply be unheard of for a female to have an education like Emilie has. Nonetheless I found her character spineless when I wanted her to stand up for herself and make her mark. For example If someone was forcing me to change myself, to tear down my family home and give up a career that was once so important to me, to fit into a mould of a perfect wife, I would not stand around and do absolutely nothing, and allow an attractive man to distract me from this, by using affection as a tool. I just do not understand it, and why anyone would want to write a character such as this, is astonishing to me.

I also resented the other characters in the novel, who could have stepped in at any moment to prevent Emilie’s downfall. Mrs Gill for example, the only motherly figure Emilie knew, practically turned her back to Emilie when she needed her most. Even Reverend Shales, for all the good he represented, could have whisked Emilie away from such a dreadful path. Instead he just warns her vocally and very insipidly, instead of actually doing something in an act of prevention. Once again in relation to her father, by keeping Emilie oblivious to the outside world, he set her on this depressing life journey. It is his fault, in my opinion, that all these events occurred. He created Emilie in his image, and while that image might work for him, it does not work for a young woman in the 1700s who hasn’t a clue how women act in this era. It was all so utterly frustrating to me as a reader. 

What I also don’t understand, is what kind of novel McMahon is trying to achieve. Is it historical fiction? or is it trying to be a scientific fiction? or a bodice ripping romance? I shall leave it to you readers to determine should you wish to read this novel, but I was completely confused as to what kind of novel I was reading. The first part of the novel, as mentioned previously details so much scientific inquiry, that is so complex, that one does feel they are reading a scientific journal. However the addition of historical figures such as Isaac Newton and various other famous philosophers, and the various mentions of how these famous characters brought about the age of enlightenment, challenging the church and whatnot, has lead me to believe it could be a historical fiction. Then there is of course the various amorous scenes in the novel, that would allow it to compete with any Mills and Boon novel. Its genre is terribly confusing as a result. 

Overall for me, it was a terrible novel and one I would not recommend to my dearest friends.I must begrudgingly admit that although I found the events in the novel terribly predictable, from the second part of the novel onwards, I could not put the book down. Even though I knew what was going to occur and knew that it would not be the ending I would like, I still persisted reading through it and was disappointed at the end as I foresaw. In fact the ending was so lifeless it is as if the author gave up. I am of the opinion that once I start a book, I must always finish it. However I really wish that after the first half of this novel, I should have realised it wasn’t going to get any better and I should have put it down, even though it goes against everything I believe in as a reader. I was actually aghast when reading other reviews of this novel that some readers actually quite liked the story. Nonetheless I do realise everyone has their own opinion on what works for them when it comes to novels. This unfortunately did not work for me. My sincere apologies to all the avid readers out there for my absence once more. 

Happy Holidays to you all, and I hope you Christmas season is full of love, laughter and plenty of mince pies!

As always, please feel free to leave a comment on my blog or twitter page, I love getting feedback.

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: https://twitter.com/theavidreaders

The Fiery Cross- (Outlander series no.5) by Diana Gabaldon.

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Book: The Fiery Cross.

Author: Diana Gabaldon.

Rating: 8.5/10.

Hello my lovely avid readers. Let me begin by saying that the ‘Outlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon, is quite possibly the best book series I have ever read. High praise coming from me, but it is the truth. Mrs. Gabaldon is most definitely a force to be reckoned with. Her writing style is quite unlike anything I have read before and her love for her wonderful, well rounded characters, really makes this series such a success in my opinion. I really can not recommend these books more. Each one provides an epic tale of love, family, war, tragedy, a touch of supernatural and also one of the things I love most about the series-plenty of history. So without further delay, I would love to share my latest review of ‘The Fiery Cross’. (ALSO PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE NOVEL, SPOILERS ARE INCLUDED IN REVIEW)

I simply adored this instalment of the series. This book follows our much beloved character, Jamie and Claire Fraser, once more as they settle in their newly acquired land in ‘Fraser’s Ridge’ (somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina), with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger MacKenzie/Wakefield and child, Jemmy in tow. Jamie is now laird to this land, and with this position comes great responsibility, as Jamie now must protect not only his own family, but all the families of the ‘Ridge’. At the beginning of the novel, the ‘Frasers’ are attending the gathering of Scottish highlanders, and paramount to this gathering is the weddings of Brianna and Roger and also Jocasta Cameron (Jamie’s aunt and wealthy plantation owner) and Duncan Innes (Jamie’s friend from his days spent in jail following the rising). It becomes apparent however that all is not what it seems at this gathering, as it appears someone is trying to sabotage the wedding ceremonies as the Catholic priest is arrested.

More drama unfolds as Jamie receives a summons from Governor William Tryon of her Majesty’s army, to form a militia to counteract the violence of the Regulators (who were colonists in America who opposed British rule and were plotting rebellion). Jamie aware of Claire’s warning that the regulators/colonists will eventually gain their freedom through the American Revolution, is torn between his wanting to support the regulators against their British enemy, and also having to play his part for the British Crown, as is expected, since it was Tryon who gifted Jamie with ‘Fraser’s ridge’ to begin with. Therefore Jamie is literally stuck between following his heart and following his head. An interesting note, the novel is named after a tradition of highlanders, calling upon their brethren to join arms by burning a large wooden cross, which is what Jamie does to call his clansmen to join the militia. However, the only major battle we witness in the novel, in relation to the clamping down of the regulators, is the battle at Alamance, (a thoroughly riveting chapter that changed my opinion of the novel completely, which I will explain further down). Throughout the above events also, is Jamie’s determined mission to search for Stephen Bonnet, the man responsible for raping Brianna in the previous novel, and possibly the biological father of little Jemmy, in order to enact his revenge and together he and Roger attempt to carry out this plan, much to Claire and Brianna’s dismay.  

I found the theme of mystery to be so prevalent in the novel. Particular the murder mystery section of the novel, as Jamie and Claire try to solve the case of the murdered slave to determine who is trying to hinder the marriage of Jocasta and Duncan. It’s almost like an Agatha Christie scene, I loved the suspense and detective work within this chapter. Jamie has become quite the detective in this story, through trying to track down the whereabouts of Bonnet, on top of everything else he has to do. It is quite admirable, if not ridiculously stupid. Who on earth would one want to track down a psychotic murdering pirate??? Typical Jamie, always seeking out trouble and trying to get himself killed in the process.  

What I really found so refreshing about this novel also, is the author’s apt description of the grittiness of everyday life in the 1770s. It is not the romantic world I had been imagining in the previous novel, and quite frankly, I now begrudgingly admit I would not like to be transported to ‘Fraser’s Ridge’ any more. Issues such as changing nappies, sanitary needs for menstruation, lack of proper surgical tools, lack of sterilisation methods and clean food are described by the author brilliantly. I applaud her for this, as it demonstrates that even in a world of wonderful characters such as these, daily life is not attractive. Through Claire, we see the dire need for hygiene. even the simplest surgeries for her are a challenge, as with no means of antibiotics, it is simply by chance if the patient survives. This is also refreshing, as one could simply save all the characters from death, but with this novel, we see how difficult Claire is finding practising twentieth century medicine in the 1770s. My heart broke for Claire, when despite all her best efforts, she loses patients.

This brings me to my next point and how much research the author must have done to discover all these unique issues. I am literally in awe of the amount of time and effort that was spent on every historical detail and I congratulate the author most sincerely. I know in other reviews, people have noted that Claire wouldn’t have known about microbiology and how to create penicillin, having been trained as a doctor, but I don’t see why one would complain about this, I think it aided the story brilliantly and it shouldn’t be made into such an issue. Also the issue of genealogy is frequently mentioned in the novel, with Claire’s interest in discovering blood types and who is Jemmy’s biological father. It is also mentioned in relation to time travelling and how genes can determine if one can travel through the stones or not. Such a clever combination of science and the supernatural, in my opinion. I also would like to draw attention to how the author’s background in Zoology can really be seen in this novel, as the reader witnesses a new variety of animal characters introduced, from bears to snakes to species of wild birds, I was so impressed by all the new information regarding these animals and how creative the author was in tying all this into the storyline. This is the beauty of the author’s talent as a writer in my opinion. She is not only an author in my mind but a doctor, a zoologist, a herbalist and an historian. Her knowledge is utterly riveting. 

In terms of characters, the novel is told from the point of views of Claire, Jamie, Roger and Brianna. I found however it was mostly from Claire and Roger’s perspectives and while this was interesting in terms of growing more accustomed to the Brianna/Roger storyline, I did miss Jamie’s side of things and wished there were more chapters for him. Brianna didn’t annoy me as much in this novel as in ‘Drums of Autumn’, I think her new role as a mother has somewhat softened her, and although she still has that fiery temper of hers, it is not hindering my enjoyment of her character this time. Roger’s character definitely played a larger role, although I must say my sympathies lie so much with this character. Since arriving to North Carolina, Roger has been beaten up countless times, made a slave to Native Americans, treated badly by Jamie, and now in this novel, he nearly gets killed countless times including being hanged and losing that wonderful singing voice of his as a result. My heart broke for Roger and I really don’t understand why it’s always his character that unfortunate things must occur to all the time? All the same kissing another married woman was a tad on the risky side. I did love how his friendship with Jamie has improved and how they’ve become partners in seeking out Bonnet. They had some of the best moments in the book for me, especially when Jamie teaches Roger how to fight with a sword. On the topic of Brianna, I understand she is breast feeding, but dear lord the descriptions of her needing to feed Jemmy all time were a bit over the top. I did love the Amazonian aspect of Brianna’s character, here is a girl who represents girl power, she hunts, she shoots, and no one dares question her ability. Although I must say when comparing her to Roger, he often comes out the more insipid character but I feel he is given more redeeming moments towards the end of the book where he proves his manliness.

Claire and Jamie, my two favourite characters of all time and in this book provided me with so many wonderful moments and I literally basked in their love for one another. Such a powerful and passionate love, that isn’t perfect, but their love for one another is so strong that it will conquer all. Diana Gabaldon had some amazing dialogue moments between the two, and some quotes just speak volumes to the reader, such as:

“When the day shall come, when we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didn’t have time.”  or a personal favourite of mine:

““D’ye ken that the only time I am without pain is in your bed, Sassenach? When I take ye, when I lie in your arms-my wounds are healed, then, my scars forgotten.” Sigh.

Now having said all that, I do also notice that although Claire and Jamie have such a beautiful love, it is an all encompassing one, where at times, no one else will get a look in. For example when it comes to Brianna and choosing between her and Jamie, most often or not Claire will always go with Jamie. For example not informing Brianna that she had known about Jamie’s plan to seek revenge on Stephen Bonnet. Or her following Jamie to battle, which I know she is needed to provide medical attention to those who are injured, but at the same time, she still is abandoning her child. I do realise that Brianna is an adult but still, I find myself at odds with my reaction to these things, as I want her to always be with Jamie but at the same time I feel sorry for Brianna. I really would like if there were more mother/daughter bonding moments for these two, as I feel there aren’t nearly as many Brianna/Claire scenes as others. Also, Claire FINALLY informs Jamie of Laoghaire’s role in the witch hunt from the first book. I thought I would be delighted about this, but when she eventually does tell Jamie, it is so anti-climatic and apart from Jamie calling her a few choice words, the matter is soon forgotten about. Nonetheless Claire is an amazing woman, it has to be said. Her need to solve every ailment is admirable and I love her chapters as they are so full of medical and herbal medicinal knowledge, it is like the reader feels as though they are in training to be a doctor. I adore learning about the various healing properties of plants Claire comes across.

Jamie, sigh, is there anything this man cannot do. He is what every man needs to compare themselves to in my opinion, which is tough on men, I must say. Jamie is a hero, he is the best kind of father and he is an excellent laird. However, once again it bothers me that his constant need to help others comes first, when the reader just wants him to be happy, living a simple life with Claire and his family. One moment that really infuriated me, was Jamie jumping to the conclusion that Claire was cheating on him with Philip Wylie! For the love of God, why would anyone cheat on Jamie! What a ninny. Also then to try to seek retribution by challenging Wylie to a game of cards, in which he demands Claire’s gold wedding ring from Frank to play with, is utterly insulting. Ugh MEN!!! For such a smart man, he is a dimwit at times. Another example being his reaction to hearing that Laoghaire is engaging in amorous relations with an unknown man, and being upset that she enjoyed it with this man but not with Jamie. If I were Claire, I would have found the nearest object and bashed Jamie over the head with it. Honestly she was too understanding in this circumstance, I felt her reaction was a bit unrealistic . 

The background characters in this novel were amazing. The character of Philip Wylie both intrigued and annoyed me. His persistent attention to Claire was unnerving at times, but he had a part to play in the story that was quite interesting, although I am still unsure if he is a good guy or not. Jocasta Cameron’s role in this story was so fascinating and I loved the storyline about the gold from the failed uprising in Scotland. I really feel that it tied the plots of the last few books together on the score of the lost treasure. I never could have guessed where the author was going with that storyline. So for me, it was excellent. I also loved how Claire’s little medical diary from Dr. Rawlings, actually became something of import and it was a nice ending to that story. The sudden re-entry of Geilis and Dougal’s son in the midst of the battle of Alamance, was an excellent move by the author. The scene in which William MacKenzie attempts to get Roger killed for kissing his wife Morag, provided such tension and an edge of your seat moment to the story, I felt as if I had gone asleep and reawakened when reading this scene and the rest of the book from this moment onwards. That is how powerful it was. I also loved the colourful collection of characters in ‘Fraser’s Ridge’, the housekeeper Mrs Bug reminds me so much of Mrs Fitz and it was nice to have a maternal character like this in the books once more. 

Once again I will say there wasn’t enough story lines given to characters such as Fergus and Marsali. I really would love if there was a spin off series about Fergus’ adventures, as I think he is such an intriguing character. He goes on all these expeditions for Jamie, that I feel his story hasn’t been properly told yet. Although there was more mentioned of Marsali in this book, I really wish the author had delved deeper into the character of Marsali and how she overcame her hatred of Claire, as this isn’t really explained in the story, save a sentence which basically said all was forgiven. 

What really worked well in this novel for me was the insertion of humour in random scenes. For example when Claire is teaching Jamie about sperm and looking at it under the microscope, this was such a hilarious scene and it allowed the reader to see Jamie almost as an innocent, his disbelief that this is what causes pregnancy was so adorable.

“I just didna ken that….er….that all this daffery was going on. I thought….well, I thought a man plants his seed into a woman’s belly, and it….well…grows…you know-like a seed. Neeps, corns, melons, and the like. I dinna ken they swim like tadpoles” (Pgs 564-565)

Another scene which I found hilarious was Brianna and Claire taking down the huge buffalo. It reminded me of Xena the warrior princess for some reason. Who needs men to do the dirty work! The description of Jamie observing this killing of the Buffalo with his mouth agape was so entertaining. Another entertaining scene was in the midst of Jamie and Claire’s detective work in discovering whether the slave was murdered and by whom, Claire was performing the autopsy of the slave and Jamie is so skittish, proving that even heroes can be scared. Also the involvement of the offspring of the Fraser clan. Jemmy and Germain regularly provided much needed light hearted moments in scenes of seriousness. 

Overall I love this instalment of the series. I was fascinated by the history and the events that are leading up to the American Revolution. As I have mentioned in a previous review, I find American history most intriguing and having studied it in university, it’s so interesting to observe how the author creatively ties this period of history into her story lines so effectively. Having read other reviews of this novel, I do understand others confusion as to what is going on in the novel at times, some events are quite stagnated and it is difficult to remember what id going on at times. I myself found the first half of the novel quite slow moving, there were so many chapters on the gathering that I felt probably could have been shortened.

However, I have a theory that the author does this on purpose, she is creatively building the suspense to lead up to a major event. Sometimes details that are not clear in one of her books, become clear in the next. For example, the skull found in ‘Drums of Autumn’ now has a story to tell in this novel. Random events that occur in this book are there to portray a moral argument or an inner battle a character is having. For example the storyline with the Beardsleys, when reading this chapter, I was so confused as to what this had to do with any part of the plot so far, but it was important, as it provided the reader with the heart wrenching moment when Jamie asks Claire if she wants to keep the child, due to his wanting to give Claire another child without endangering her life through a pregnancy. Claire herself is tempted by the offer but realises that the role of mother has been completed for her already, and that she now must play a different role. This scene deeply affected me and the inner struggle faced by the two characters is so emotive, it was as if I was going through this decision process myself, which is odd, I know. The second half of the novel was superb and I literally couldn’t put the book down. I was so enthralled by all the events that occurred. I also loved how the supernatural element of time travelling was revisited, with the reappearance of wee Ian, (yay, he is one of my favourite characters and I’m so delighted he is back, but also confused as to what has happened to bring him back) who has a diary in his possession that details the story of a time traveller like Claire, Brianna and Roger. 

I therefore beseech all avid readers out there to read this book. Yes it is slow moving but it does pick up pace and it provides such an exhilarating read that one almost feels shell shocked when completing it. Diana Gabaldon succeeds in making any reader crave more and more of her books. I particularly enjoyed the supernatural element is this book and how it was tied into genealogy so effectively that one does not even question it. So please avid readers, be patient with this book, it is fascinating and so worth a read. I look forward to beginning the next instalment of this awe worthy series with great excitement. 

As always, I would love to hear your feedback and opinions on my blog or twitter page.

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: twitter.com/theavidreaders

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

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Book: A Countess Below Stairs

Author: Eva Ibbotson

Rating: 7/10

My wonderful avid readers, I can already hear you all echoing ‘not another historical fiction novel review’ and yes you are quite right. ‘A Countess Below Stairs’ is yet another novel in my much loved historical fiction genre that I am about to review. I am most apologetic for my recent obsession with this genre. However it can not be helped, I am simply magnetised to this wonderful category of books at the moment and must share my infatuation with you all. Unfortunately I do not have as much time as I would like to write this review, so regrettably, it will be much shorter than previous entries.

So to begin, let me take you back to the class dominated era of the early 1900s. The First World War and The Russian Revolution have just occurred. The royal and rich of Russia have been usurped of their wealth and power. Violence and terror have resulted in many Russians fleeing their homeland, their families and their fortunes, to seek shelter in countries such as England, where they now must work to earn their keep and keep their families fed. From living in palaces to now living in tiny little flats with families often sharing the one room, the life of luxury they once knew, has now gone forever. 

It is in this world, that our main character, Anna Grazinsky, daughter of a Russian Count and Countess, resides in. Anna and her family have managed to escape war torn Russia, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Having tragically lost her father to the war, the family now reside, penniless, in a small flat in London, Anna decides that enough is enough. She must earn a living to support her family. So without further ado, Anna takes up the role of servant in the Westerholme family estate, hiding her identity to protect her family. Here she takes her job very seriously, even regularly carrying around a ‘how to’ book called ‘The Domestic Servant’s Compendium’, which being so out dated, and over the top, regularly provides the novel with a little humour, as Anna is so keen to do her job to the utmost perfection and believes this book to be the bible of housework and servant duties. The rest of the staff are utterly enchanted by this young Russian, who has a bizarre approach to any housework she takes on but is so ridiculously kind, they can’t help but adore her. It appears to the reader that Anna is not your typical royal. She strives to make others happy and truly respects all characters in the story, regardless of background or class.

In regards to the estate Anna works for, the Westerholmes, although being viewed as a family of esteemed reputation, considering the son of the family is in fact an Earl. However the family estate is close to bankruptcy and the eldest son, the heir has been killed in the war. It is left to Rupert, the younger son and now Earl of the family, to take it upon himself to save the family estate and marry into a wealthy family. Here enters the title obsessed and pure blood fanatic character of Rupert’s fiancée, Murial Hardwicke, who uses her wealth to buy her own status. Rupert is blind to her evil side as with all stories such as these. Despite being engaged, Rupert regularly finds himself seeking out the company of Anna, which should be frowned upon due to the fact she is a servant, but she is unlike any female Rupert has ever met, and her mystery and her clearly well educated conversations, have lead him to become quite besotted with Anna. Anna is also deeply attracted to the young Earl. Nonetheless the issue of Rupert being engaged and Anna’s mysterious past threaten to separate them. 

This novel is your classic Disney storyline. In fact there are so many ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Anastasia’ type moments in the book, it is difficult not to feel as if one has witnessed or experienced this plot before, many times. However having said that, it is truly a heart warming story. Anna as a character is beautiful, and I’m not speaking of her looks, more of her attitude to life and her wonderful personality. She constantly seeks to help others in need and she genuinely cares for every type of human being, regardless of social background. (Homage to snow white anyone?). Rupert is the classic knight in shining armour who needs to just wake up and realise what exactly he is marrying into. Murial is an excellent antagonist, a spoilt, racist, self-righteous, interfering know-it-all, who provides all the much needed drama needed to make this novel entertaining. Also I must say I absolutely adored the downstairs staff moments of the novel. It literally reminded me of the goings on in shows such as ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’, a must read for fans of those shows. 

This book is probably classed as a young adult book, however there are such seedy moments in it, I’m not sure if I would recommend it for young adults. For example the character of Dr. Lightbody is so disturbing. His desire for pure bloodlines has led to a slightly perverted obsession with Murial. He is also a married man, whose description of his home life is horrible in comparison with the sugary moments of the rest of the novel. The doctor literally made my skin crawl and his impure thoughts regarding Murial are not quite appropriate for the younger audience. Such racism does occur throughout the novel by characters such as the doctor and Murial and so at times it can be uncomfortable but I do think that this is a sign of good writing, when you actually feel horrified at characters in the story. So I congratulate Ms. Ibbotson on this note.

I have heard others complain that this story has so much dialogue, that is dragged out and lengthy to read and caused confusion. I can see where they are coming from but I don’t know if I would agree with that. In my opinion, the author has a lovely way with language and her descriptions of events in the story and the surrounding are quite magnificent at times. I think with books such as these, one needs to be in the correct mind frame to read them. I will admit I found the story a bit predictable, as with so many Disney inspired moments it would be. It is also sugary sweet, once again like Disney stories, that a reader might feel like they have had a sweetness overload. Sometimes I found myself wishing the character of Anna to be a bit malicious, even just for a second to try to get one over Murial or even just to change up her usual happy go lucky personality. The book also, is slow to get going but once it picks up pace, it is most entertaining and most certainly kept me reading.

Overall I would only recommend this book to fans of the era and to those who love predictable stories with a happy ending. As previously mentioned, this reflects Disney movies to the maximum. It is a beautiful story and well written, the characters are engaging and the plot, after the first few chapters, does keep the reader absorbed. While being slightly over the top in sweetness, it does have darker moments and I would describe it almost like the Grimm brothers version of fairy tales, a happy love story told with some disturbing junctures.  With any book there are pros and cons, with this book slightly more than I would like but I am honestly glad I read it. It isn’t as terrible as other reviewers have mentioned. It is a charming read and I would definitely recommend it to those who love ‘Downton Abbey’.

Finally I would like to stress that no book should be judged by it’s cover, and that every book deserves a chance. I therefore ask you all to give this novel a chance. It may not suit you all, but it is a touching story that deserves some recognition.

As always, would love to hear some feedback on here or my twitter page.

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: twitter.com/theavidreaders