Category Archives: Book Reviews

Outlander

 

 

My mother gave me the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series books for Christmas several years ago.  I was intrigued by them, I loved them on my shelves, but quite honestly I was a bit intimidated by them. They were large, and heavy, and well, there are seven of them (at this time I believe an eighth installment has been released, but I don’t yet have a copy). At the time I received them, I only had one child & I thought I had a full plate then.  Now that I have three, reading epic volumes just doesn’t happen anymore.  But, my mother kept asking if I’d read them yet, they were calling out to me, and I really needed something for my eight hour plane ride. So, I decided to grab the first book in the series and give it a go. imageOk, so right there on the front cover it reads; “Discover the New York Times best selling saga that has enthralled millions.”  It’s a popular novel and well, everyone I know who has read it has loved it.  To make things clear, I do not typically read NTB list books, nor do I participate in cult followings of books.  This read was an exception, and sadly, not a pleasant one.

The novel is about a young English woman on a holiday in Scotland with her husband who inadvertently stumbled through some type of time portal at one of the stone henges and finds herself thrown back roughly two hundred years in an untamed Scottish countryside, on the run from Redcoats, and married to the gallant young Jamie Fraser.  The story is fantastical, historical, inspiring, enrapturing.  Truly, the story is great.  The novel on the other hand; not so much.

First of all, NO ONE TOLD ME IT WAS A ROMANCE NOVEL! I do not read romance novels and would have never bothered with it had I known.  The story it’s self is so great that I was honestly thrown for a loop when I got to the first sex scene.  But, I figured it made some sense in context and moved on.  It was when I had gotten to the third and fourth sex scenes that I became incredibly annoyed.  These two characters engaged in awkward sexual relations at strange and awkward times.  Their encounters are unbelievable and entirely unnecessary.  Not to mention the repeated attempted rape.  And why oh why is there a “passionate” sex scene immediately after the two escape & kill an attempted rapist?!  I’m sorry, but if I had to fight off a rapist & then kill him, I would not then turn to my husband and get it on right then & there in the middle of the woods.  It may simply be my prudish nature, but I also felt that the sex distracted from the story more than it helped it.  Instead of moving the plot forward, I felt that it was temporarily halted so that the writer could blurt out some weird fantasy.  Even the perverted sexual molestations and rapes aren’t really necessary to the over all plot.  Jamie would still be a wanted man, Randall would still be a heinous bad guy, Clair would still be the savior without it all.

Like I said earlier, I found the story brilliant.  Ms. Gabaldon is an excellent story teller with a knack for reeling in her reader and keeping them hooked.  However, there are details through out her tale that bothered me as a reader.  First of all there was the timeline.  In one paragraph Clair has been married for three months, in another six months, then the next page she mentions that they’ve only been married a year.  Then, even though the reader is following nearly every move she ever makes including eating, sleeping & not bathing, we are suddenly from six months to BAM, a year has gone by. And it’s Christmas time, even though the novel began in the Spring.  So…yeah.  It was confusing and annoying trying to figure out how much time had passed and not knowing if it was important or not.  There are other slips in time in regards to a pregnancy.  The pregnant woman says at one point she has only a few weeks left until the birth, but then several months later it is implied that when she goes into labour it’s early.  There is also a gathering taking place and the October sunshine is mentioned at the beginning of the day before the event begins.  However, at the end of the chapter, after the event and at the end of the same day the mid-November skies are mentioned.

A few other odd details threw me off here and there; a character is in the throws of labour with her second child, but it is not progressing and she is in pain.  Clair, who knows nothing about pregnancy or babies suggests that the baby has not turned.  Only then does the midwife turn the baby between contractions and it is born without further complication.  Having had three children I have an issue with this. 1. Why didn’t the mother, let alone the midwife know before labour that the child hadn’t turned?  When I was 36 weeks I knew my daughter (third child) was transverse and that I was running out of time to turn her. Luckily I was able to do it myself.  2. I honestly don’t believe it is as easy as simply pushing down on the abdomen to turn an unborn child, especially at term.  There isn’t much room in there and contractions would have made it impossible.  Sorry, but to this reader it was unnecessary drama that is just a wee bit unbelievable.

Another thing; if Clair is considered old at 28 in terms of not yet being married or having children yet, then why doesn’t Jamie’s sister Jenny, who is at least ten years older than him (making her at least 33) have more children, or at least older children? When we meet her she has a two year old son & is pregnant with her second.

At the end of the novel I became annoyed with the writer.  Instead of SHOWING the reader or simply telling the action as it happened, she felt compelled to skirt around it and then retell it in a (rather boring) series of dialog.  I was irritated at two things by this 1. I felt that the writer wanted to write about something riske, something “wrong” and obscene, but really didn’t have the guts to just do it.  She couldn’t go that far and had to deliver the information in a softer way, and a recount is softer and less emotional than the actual action.  I think she was wussing out.  2. I felt as if she were treating the readers as if they were dumb and couldn’t infer some of the information on their own.  When she skipped over certain events, it was pretty evident what had happened by the REACTIONS of the characters, even out it being spelled out.  However, she still felt the need to circle back, more than once mind you, to retell and drive home the details.

Yes, there are a lot of discrepancies that I could pull out of this novel, but I haven’t the time nor can I remember them all.  And I don’t blame it all so much on the writer.  On her Website she does state that the first novel, Outlander was written for herself and not meant to be seen.  She called it a “practice novel” to see if she really could write a book and if it was a passion she really wanted to quit her job for and peruse.  However, enough people were able to convince her to go for publication.  I do have to say, not bad for her first novel!  What is majorly lacking in this whole endeavor is a good editor. Or maybe some good old fashioned proof reading.  I’m sure that a decent editor and a close read through would have picked up (and corrected) the numerous foibles throughout the novel.  While I can forgive her for the story’s sake (I guess I should cut her some slack since it was her first), I just can’t help but feel that some other people who were involved in the making and publishing of this book seriously dropped the ball.

All in all, the story is great, but the telling of it could be much better.  While I was annoyed and even angered at some points, I will read the next book in the series since Amazon reviews have insisted that it does get better.  So, since I already have the books, I will try the next one.  But I am going to go into it with a bad taste in my mouth.

The Life of Pi

I saw the preview in the theaters for Life of Pi.  It looked amazing.  I read an amazing book, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccomatios, and the back cover said that it was the same author as Life of Pi.  Then I started seeing it pop up on my news feed on Facebook.  Ok.  I HAD to read this one!
Despite some poor reviews online, I ordered the book & dove right in.  As always, I felt compelled to read the book before I watched the movie.  I have learned that movies & novels are not always telling the same story…and I’m lazy so if I don’t read the book first, chances are I’ll find excuses to never get to it.  And in this case, I am so glad I read the book first.  While the novel & movie tell pretty much the same story, there are huge differences.  There are just some things that can’t be portrayed on film, just as some things can’t be seen in print.

The novel was phenomenal!  While some people found the beginning slow & dry, I was enraptured by it.  It sets the whole foundation & inner strength for the main character.  While I myself am not a religious person, I found this teenagers’ grit, steadfastness, and faith as a true inspiration.  Despite adversary, he could stay true to what truly mattered to him.

Pi’s time at sea was long…227 days long.  He should have died.  The reader (or viewer) isn’t thrown for a loop or ever really fears for Pi’s demise because he’s the one telling the story, so we know he lives through it.  Both the novel & movie show how he makes it 227 days without being eaten by the tiger he shares his lifeboat with.  Both show that he starves; that he cries; that he survives.  Yet the stories just don’t compare.  The movie brags with it’s cinematic talents that the book cannot.  The movie illustrates the beauty and mysticism of the sea.  The movie is just beautiful & enchanting.  Everyone should see this movie.

But the book…oh the book!  The book shows the savagery, the mental anguish, the desperate cling to humanity that the movie just doesn’t touch.  The book illustrates the intense parallels between reality and imagination…and then it gloriously blurs the lines.  The book, once you’ve finished the last page, forces you to think back on everything you’ve just read.  You spend the rest of the day thinking about it.  You’re left in shock…horror…and awe.  Everyone should read this book.

Tell me, do you have a preference–book or movie?

College Reading Lists Need Expanding

This week I read two random books; Nella Larson’s Passing and Arthur Miller’s Enemy of the People.  Neither had anything to do with the other, though both made me socially & politically aware.  One is about the colour divide in Harlem during the 1920s & the racism that goes with it, while the latter is about freedom of speech from the 1950s.  Yes, both go other details & other topics, and yes, both apply today for many reasons.

After reading both pieces & starting a third, I started to question what was going on with my education.  I attended an excellent school.  A state school, yes, but excellent none-the-less.  I am an “English Major” and am starting to get very upset at the lack of reading material that was required.  From 7th grade on I have been obsessed with literature, but, honestly, have read very little of it.  While I was in college I mostly only had time to read what was assigned.  And what I was assigned was not some of the best stuff.  Sure, much of what I read was great, but to be honest, my entire college career couldn’t have consisted of more than 100 or so titles.  In my book, that doesn’t make me very well read.

Between middle school and the completion of my college degree, I was assigned The Canterbury Tales five times, Moby Dick four times, The Iliad/The Odyssey maybe three or four times, then a plethora of titles two or three times (especially Crane, Swift, Twain, Shakespeare, and nearly all of the poetry).  I spent so much time re-reading what had been assigned the year before & regurgitating the same papers.  Only NOW am I realizing that there is more out there than just what the Norton Anthology had to offer!  All I had ever known of Arthur Miller was Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, yet Enemy of the People was an excellent read & holds so much weight, even with today’s society.  Why wasn’t that ever assigned?  Ulysses of the all important Odyssey was assigned again & again either in whole or in part, but it’s not the only epic out there.  But it was the only epic I was ever assigned.  I am currently reading the Finnish epic, Kalevala, and feel that anyone who calls him or herself a scholar ought to read it.  It is fantastic!  I took a whole class on the Harlem Renaissance, but had never heard of Nella Larson.  Passing completely encapsulates the divide between the races and the “need” for crossing over.   Again, why hadn’t I read this?

I am slightly more than peeved that all this reading has not been done.  I feel that it is very important, nay, essential!  No, not everything  needs to be read, and I am not trying to lessen any of of the great books that I have read, but I’d like to champion for the importance & inclusion of a few others.  As I read them I will be adding them to my Must Be Read By Literature Majors’ list & hopefully convincing others to read them as well.

Review for Carrie Pilby: A Novel by Caren Lissner

Caren Lissner.  Carrie Pilby.  Ontario, CA: Red Dress Ink, 2003

Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner

Carrie Pilby book cover

Carrie Pilby doesn’t fit in–and she’s pretty much given up trying. A year out of college and settling in to life in the big city, this nineteen-year-old genius believes everyone she meets is immoral, sex obsessed and hypocritical, and the only person she sees on a regular basis is her therapist. When he comes up with a five-point plan to help her discover the “positive aspects of social interaction”, Carrie, who would rather stay home in bed, is forced to view the world in a new light.

This novel was in the discard bin in the library’s lobby earlier this week.  I’m a sucker for all things free, so I grabbed it along with a heavily highlighted Arthur Miller play & tattered Jonathan Swift.  It was a title & an author I had never heard of, but I loved the first two pages, so I kept going.  All in all, it’s a “good” book.  Caren Lissner is witty & smart.  Every page held a paragraph that I wanted to highlight & quote some place because it was just worded so perfectly & was exactly what I’ve been trying to say!  Every time I turned a page, I was yelling “Yes! I concur!”

I related to the character, Carrie, but I’m not so sure if she can be considered a universal character, though the book had universal themes.  When I was 19, I was exactly like the main character. Actually, I was exactly like her well beyond 19 as well.  The only other person that I know that’s remotely like her, is my own brother.  Her constant questioning of morals & ethics in others, as well as her need to only include friends like her was something that we held in common.  I take an all-or-nothing approach as well, and I think that’s why I liked this book at first.  But as I neared the final chapter, the author’s agenda became apparent.  That was a turn off.

I absolutely hate it when an author cannot be creative enough to disguise their philosophical agendas within a book.  If you can’t weave it into the characters, settings, actions & dialog, then why are you writing fiction?  If you have to step outside of the characters’ voice to tell the reader something, then you aren’t doing it right.

I was right there with the main  character until the last quarter of the book when she agrees to join the church & become an active member. I felt that “finding God” was a bit of a cop-out & awfully trite.  She could have found folks with like minded-morals some place else, anywhere else! Perhaps that’s just my personal preference on churches…either way, it felt cheap.

Despite Carrie’s choice in what type of organization to join, there were a few other things that nagged at me through the whole book.  The character was supposed to be a prodigy that entered Harvard at age 15.  Yet, she didn’t strike at all as smart, let alone a prodigy.  Sure, she knew a lot of information & obviously could retain most of what she read. She knew a lot of SAT words, but really didn’t showcase her knowledge in any other way. She couldn’t think for herself. She claimed to never give in to peer pressure, but did just that by refusing it. By refusing absolutely everything that was popular, without knowing what it was, she was giving in just to a different “group”. If it were a popular hair style, television program, or puff of pot, it was all rejected with the same amount of disdain.  She complained that the rest of the world mindlessly did these things, however she herself mindlessly rejected them.  She also never applied any of her “smarts”.  Even by the end of the novel, I was not at all impressed with any of her actions and choices, even the “right” ones.

The novel comes to a magnificent climax on New Year’s Eve, when she obviously makes some new changes & gets the opportunity to start over.  She doesn’t totally give up herself or give in to others, but she does make steps to reaching outside of her comfort zone. It’s uplifting.  She crosses off the final step on her list & is on her way to be a new person.  But then the novel continues for another eight pages or so.  The author basically steps in & rationalizes why she wrote this book & regurgitates the philosophies, morals, ethics, blah, blah, blah.   It doesn’t do anything for the novel.  I felt as if Ms. Lissner just didn’t know how to end the book, so she kept writing.  I got the sense that the first & last chapters had been a part of a short story or essay as some point & the rest was just mashed into the middle.  This book is definitely worth the read or a lot of reasons, however, stop at the scene in the diner, since that’s probably the most important part of the book anyway.

Happy Reading!