Posts Tagged ‘Diana Gabaldon’

Romance for Men?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011Apparently, apart from these two books, the vast majority of L’Amour’s novels were set in the American West, and certainly I can see how they relate to classic Westerns. These are decidedly genre fiction, and follow a path laid out more (Last of the Breed) or less (The Walking Drum) explicitly. They seemed like there was going to be a romance as major subplot in each, and while it’s there, in neither does any woman ever REALLY seem to matter to the hero in the long term. To me, anyhow.

In each case the main character has a (geographically) long and dangerous journey to take on his way to a stated goal that even when fulfilled at the end (because this is genre fiction I don’t think it too much of a spoiler to say that they do each succeed) is certainly not presented as the end of the character’s adventures.

First edition cover

Image via Wikipedia

38. The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour

This one is where I decided the women didn’t matter as people in this book, and although in many ways the other is quite different, it ‘proved’ the point. Among his many adventures and accomplishments, Mathurin Kerbouchard falls desperately in love, rescues the maiden (usually), at the risk of his own life at least once, and then circumstances separate them and he heads off to the next place where he he finds another young woman with whom to do it all again.

I suppose I was just very frustrated by this book, because Mathurin goes through all sorts of fantastic adventures, picking up or displaying all sorts of implausible skills along the way specifically with the goal (beyond keeping himself alive) of saving his father, and then when he does, at great risk obviously, and after many years of separation, they basically just say, “Hi there, nice to see you again. We should catch up sometime,” and ride off in separate directions. Nothing ever has any real importance. (And no, barring a complete change in personality I don’t really believe Mathurin has actually fallen in love forever by the end.)

Cover of Last of the Breed

Cover of Last of the Breed

48. Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour

At least in this one Joe Mack only has one semi-romance, but then he does only meet one young woman on his journey across Siberia. There is in general a greater attempt at plausibility in this volume, but the protagonist is still a mystical superman from an ancient race. (Kerbouchard was the descendent of Celtic druids who had somehow passed down all their knowledge to him despite having been wiped out in Roman times, whereas Major Joseph Makatozi is Sioux, and of course has all the possible skills of the greatest Sioux hunters, trackers and warriors ever, as well as those of a specialist US Air Force experimental pilot.)

I suppose I’m just not a genre fiction reader – too much predictability is annoying, and while some of my favourite books have Renaissance men as heroes (Francis Crawford of Lymond and the later Niccolo in Dorothy Dunnett’s two major series, and Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon‘s), they do have to have real flaws and weaknesses, with the ability to build emotional relationships and go through both the real highs and lows involved, for me to actually care about the characters. They have to be individuals, not automata.

Giving In

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but I hadn’t been going to read this seventh book in the Outlander series. Don’t get me wrong – I think Gabaldon is a great novelist, who writes absolutely engaging stories that are well put together, and historical fiction that shows the extensive research behind it in the best possible way. The things that happen to her characters aren’t always what one would call plausible (time-travel is at the core of them, after all), but they fit together, given the premise don’t stray too far off recorded history, and the protagonists do stay in character. The things they do may still surprise, but there will be a reasonable explanation (even if it’s for someone behaving irrationally). Basically I like Gabaldon’s books a whole lot.

So what’s the problem? Well, given the times, places and events her characters live in and through, there’s a whole lot of violence of all kinds (including emotional and psychological abuse) that happens to them, and since she doesn’t shy away from showing their personal and sexual relationships, there’s a fair amount of sexual violence through the series as well. (Including the Lord John Grey books and stories here, too.) While I completely respect Gabaldon’s reasoning for including such harrowing events and scenes, I had got to the point of deciding I just didn’t need to be reading that any more. So I gave away my copies of all the previous books, this one not having come out yet.

So what changed my mind? Temptation, pure and simple. We made the mistake of going into a bookshop while celebrating DH getting a new (and hopefully better) job, and I saw the paperback. I dithered quite awhile, but gave in to wanting to know what happened to the characters.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

4. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

So, the book. Well, it’s generally up to Gabaldon’s normal high standard. My main quibble would be that she’s brought in quite a few people from way back in the series, requiring a fairly high level of coincidence to bring them together. In at least one such case, the connection is so far only for the reader, since the people who meet Randall-Isaacs didn’t know Black Jack Randall, let alone his various connections to people they do know. Thankfully, considering my issues above, no-one we know actually gets raped in this volume, but there are a fair few violent incidents of greater and lesser emotional intensity, and, rightly, characters are still getting over previous attacks. There’s a large cast of point-of-view and otherwise significant characters (including some new ones of apparent ongoing importance).

This spread of focus since the first book (told in first person from Claire’s perspective) shows us a few battles in a year or two of the US War of Independence/American Revolution from both sides, as well as a variety of lives taking place around that war. As in the other books we get a sense of just how hands on medicine and all aspects of care were in the 18th Century, as well as a reminder of how things have changed even in the past thirty years. It’s intriguing starting to see Gabaldon’s writings get to a time I can remember.

While apparently some people thought book six (A Breath of Snow and Ashes) was the last in the series, there’s little risk of anyone getting that impression here, since there are several rather large questions left open at the end of the book (there is a reasonable amount of resolution within the tale, however). In fact the latest extract of book eight put up on DG’s blog continues directly on from the events in this book.

And now, of course, having sated curiosity for the time being, I have to decide do I keep the book (pretty sure it’d go in a flash on Bookmooch). Stay tuned. You’ll see do I give in further…

Past Migrations

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The next set of books are nearly all about journeys in the past, in one way or another.

41. Richard the Lionheart by David West & Jackie Gaff, illustrated by John Cooper

This is a consecutive art depiction of the life of King Richard the Lionheart, from his childhood as a younger son of Eleanor of Aquitaine (I own a biography of her, and really must read it, once my books arrive) and Henry II. Both men were kings of England, but certainly wouldn’t have recognised that as an adequate description of their rank. Richard, particularly, was not especially interested in England, and preferred to crusade. (More on that below.)

42. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

This was part of the same reread I mentioned yesterday. I am torn. I love Gabaldon’s writing and characters, but her skill at expressing characters and what they experience can be more graphic than I felt comfortable with this time through. I’d like to say that’s less of an issue in this volume than some of the rest, but seeing as this is the one with the ’45, that just wouldn’t be true!

43. The Travelling People by Anthea Wormington, Sian Newman & Chris Lilly

As the title suggests, this is about the Travelling people(s) of Great Britain, and to an extent of Ireland. It is a thin glossy book produced for children about the various groups of nomadic communities. There is a focus on Irish Travellers and on Roma/Gypsy Travellers, as the most numerous such groups, but there is also information on several other groups. The title link includes PDF files of many or all of the pages of the book, and it is well worth reading, for adults as well. There are links to other related resources as well.

44. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

This one isn’t about war so much as its aftermath of suffering, death and separation, and how ultimately love can overcome them. But being Gabaldon, that doesn’t mean everything ends up sugar and roses…

45. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

Now though, we’re in the prelude stages to another war, on another continent…

46. The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott

The next audiobook was my second read of Scott (I have a print copy of Ivanhoe, which I could probably stand to reread), and takes us back to King Richard and the Crusades. The former seems a favourite of Scott, and here is definitely portrayed as the absolute flower of chivalry. Richard (and to an extent Sir Kenneth, narrator and protagonist of the tale) far prefers an honourable enemy (as he considers Saladin) to a dishonourable ally (all those who feel it’s time to give up the crusade), but can he really fight on honour alone?

47. Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker

The last ‘travel book’ tells of two young girls raised in slavery in 19th century America, who upon being ‘sold South’ choose to flee North along the Underground Railway. It isn’t a long book, and gets across the horrors of slavery without being too graphic for even a sheltered adolescent. It’s well written, and includes both adventure and emotion.

Stories overlapping and intertwining

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

I’ve just started reading Trinity: a novel of Ireland by Leon Uris, as I finished The Professor and the Madman this morning, and this was one my DH expressed an interest in my opinion of. I’ve seen novels by Uris before, but not read any of them. At the moment this is sharing the opening set-piece of Dubliners: the wake of an old man, respected in the community (if not by all), as viewed by a young boy connected to his family. I haven’t got far enough in it to say more than that as yet. Already, though, it’s got my DH and I discussing Irish history again, which is never a bad thing.

Still, if I’m to get to even having read a quarter of last year’s total books (320), I do need to get a move on, as I’m at precisely a fifth (64) today. Not that anyone besides me does or should care about that…

37. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

I believe I was given one copy of this and offered two or three more. Not sure if this says more about me or the book (I was being offered once read copies, where the purchaser thought it unlikely they’d reread the book). It is perhaps more of a book of children’s fairy tales than might be expected from Hermione’s fascination with it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but for those who enjoyed the Harry Potter series in its totality it’s certainly worth reading once, and for more than the sake of completeness.

38. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

After 2008’s reading of the original American version, this was me going back through the series as I knew it originally. As I pointed out then, they are only fractionally different. I still love the story and the writing in this series, but on this reread I was getting disturbed by the huge amount of violence (sexual and non) within the books, so it may be awhile till I go back to them, presuming I do. I haven’t even got hold of or read An Echo in the Bone (the newest book, which came out this September just gone) because of this.

39. What Diantha Did by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I listened to this back to back with Mr Hogarth’s Will, as described two days ago, and since they have some overlapping themes I thought I was going to get them thoroughly mixed up, but I think I have them more distinct now than I did at the time!

Unlike Mr Hogarth’s nieces, who are educated to provide for themselves, and then turfed out to do so, Diantha has to do a lot of persuading of her family that she be allowed to try so to do (so far so like Agnes Grey), especially since she has a young man desperate to marry and look after her (so not like any book I’ve come across before the current generation). This is a clever, practical, principled young woman with her own plan of action, to benefit many women young and old, who will not be deterred from her path, especially by those she loves.

40. Posing for Portrait Photography: a head-to-toe guide by Jeff Smith

One of those random books I read for work, but I like to think it has and will help in my snapping, even though it’s decidedly written for those in or going into professional portrait photography. (I did some ‘proper photography’ courses in school, after learning a lot from my father, but these day I use an automatic digital camera mostly to record my crochet here and on Ravelry, and otherwise to snap pics of friends, family, and touristy stuff.)

Oh, and while I’m discussing improving photography skills, I just came across a really interesting photography blog. It is aimed towards proper photography, but those of us trying to get beyond ‘just snaps’ (again) can learn and be inspired too.

Between two lists

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Well, I’ve the first book of 2009 to report on, and I still haven’t finished the ones from 2008.

1. Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon

It’s a bit of a cheat, since the first of 2009 is actually a reread of one from 2008 (last March, so not that recent), which I can’t do better than explain as I did on the Outlander board over at Ravelry:

I just reread Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (we were going to go to Coram’s Fields and the Foundling Museum, and I thought I’d share the bit about Dr Rigby’s Foundling Hospital – thankfully I skimmed it first and didn’t, as that is not a chapter to read out of context – suffice it (for those who’ve read the book) to say that that’s the chapter directly after the one entitled “Finally”, but anyhow I then reread the whole book) and noticed even more sly references to modern culture. There’s the obvious “She ain’t heavy, she’s his sister”, but has anyone else felt shades of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride from the last scene in the regimental offices?

Oh well, I definitely was going to reread stuff from last year (I’m just impressed at how this whole thing stopped me – mostly – from rereading stuff within 2008), so I might as well be upfront about it from the beginning.

And now to confuse you, let’s skip back and do some more of the last of 2008:

314. Transfused With Hope by B. Berger

This genre within Jewish non-fiction of inspirational biographies of families dealing with severe medical issues seems to be increasingly popular, but thankfully also increasingly well-written. It certainly inspired me to go back to my platelets donation (I’d only missed one month, but still!) even from the beginning (I finished the book during my session).

315. In the Dark by Deborah Guttentag

Another newly published book from the Orthodox Jewish publishers, but this is different from any I’ve read before, and very good. It kept me guessing right till near the end (some of my early guesses turned out to be right, but I couldn’t tell that for sure for a long time). The plot doesn’t always move along as fast as one might expect, but in many ways that adds to the realistic feeling.

316. Elephants on Acid by Alex Boese

I picked this up as a Chanuka present for my brother on the way to meet up with him, dipping into several chapters in the shop, and then sneakily going back to the beginning and reading it cover to cover very carefully indeed so I could still give it to him in pristine condition a few days later! It’s both amusing and thought-provoking (which I prefer to ‘educational’, as that could mean almost anything), and includes the classic horrific psychological experiments that went wrong, like the Stanford Prison experiment, as well as plenty of bizarre scientific experiments I never had. (All of the experiments included were written up as peer-reviewed studies.) People’s curiosity does lead them some strange places…

317. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I picked this one up at the same time as the Elephants above, after reading the comments of several school librarians on how popular they are with teenage girls, and discussions on the series’ actual merits. The nature of these discussions left me remarkably unspoilered, so I basically only knew it was a teen romance involving vampires, that apparently suggests sex should only take place within marriage.

Anyway, it was far better than I expected from that introduction, and I went straight out and got the other three in the series (so nice to come to a complete series, and not have to wait!). They’re not high literature, but I did find them thought provoking, and a step up in my reading mood from wallowing in classic children’s books I’ve read dozens of times before. You’ll see do I read them again anytime soon, however…

318. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Probably my least liked of the series, because depression is not a fun read, and it takes up a lot of the book.

319. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Hm, I liked New Moon least, but I can’t really remember what happened in Eclipse… (I lent the books on, so can’t remind myself.)

320. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

So no sex before marriage, then, but once marriage takes place, why think of anything else unless it’s life-threatening?

Future Travels

Monday, 21 July 2008

Luna the Moon Bear (teddy)
So I told you I’ve signed up for Travelling Teddy number 2, where one teddy is visiting 15 of us around the world. That teddy is already at his first host, and I’m looking forward to greeting him in a few weeks.

I’ve also now signed up for round 7, which is a group round, where ten of us around Europe are due to each send our teddy representative around the group and around the continent. I’m thinking Luna, here, will be the one to go. I’m about halfway through making her rucksack (how does one travel without a rucksack?); I’ve made the back itself, but still have the button and straps to fit and make.

The actual travelling this round may not begin until September, because of participants being abroad themselves in August. There are still spaces in the round, so go sign up!
Luna the Moon bear (teddy) and her crocheted bag
I hadn’t thought of the fact that an ecru bag won’t photograph well against a black bear, which is why you’re getting two photos. Unfortunately I don’t get the opportunity to take my pics in natural daylight all that often, which would help.

So far Luna’s not due to go to Scotland, so far as I know (although she’d love to) but I should go again someday, and in the meantime I’m reading up.

213. Step-Up Geography: Scotland by Alan Rodgers and Angella Streluk

This covers the physical geography of the country, both internally and in relation to the rest of the British Isles, and then the social and political impact that physical state had and has, as well as the modern impact of history.

214. Step-Up History: Famous Scots by Rhona Dick

The book isn’t bad, but I don’t like it so much as the rest of the series. Many of the featured Scots seem rather arbitrarily chosen, and I either wanted more information or rather less on each. That’s just my opinion, of course.

215. Step-Up History: Robert Bruce by Rhona Dick

I’m a novel reader at heart, and must admit that the thing that struck the greatest chord for me in this book was the context and explanation of the Declaration of Arbroath, as quoted by Jamie Fraser in A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. I did once upon a time mention Bruce in a project I did for school, but only in the context of a family story, and had to be corrected (before the project was in) as to his first name being Robert. Having this book then might have spared me some blushes! Better late than never, I suppose…


Sunday, 11 May 2008

The computer’s been playing up, still, and I’ve had hundreds of things on (some good ones, but they still throw my priority list out of the window) and basically I must just apologise, both for the horrendous delay in writing, and for how harsh I might have been in a previous post.

I’m mostly keeping up with the Braille lessons, and I had a great walk on Monday, during which I took lots of photos I’ve been trying to get up for you, but that’ll have to wait, but I’ve finished just three (I thought it was four, but have only noted down three) books, done hardly any crocheting, and no laundry. (No, thinking about it, there was one load; that’s okay then.) I did buy a little more yarn, but there’ll be more on that when I can put up more pictures and/or when I use it. I’m sorry there’s so little to say on the crochet, but even had I been doing more, the two blankets I’m working on aren’t really going to be very interesting again until I finish them, I think…

114. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

This book is very well written and put together, and I can see why many have it as a lifetime favourite. Cassandra, the narrator, tells both the bad and the good of the dramatic changes in her family and its circumstances over several months, and while she doesn’t consciously foretell disaster, her “conscious naivete” does foreshadow problems, for the reader.

There are many levels of tension Cassandra is or becomes aware of (for example of class, finances, religious belief, love and attraction), but she obviously doesn’t know about the coming war. The book is set in the 1930s, but was first published in 1948/9, so the reader would always have known that Thomas and Steven are most likely destined for the army, and in fact, it might end up being a time of opportunity for Cassandra herself.

115. Everyday Dress of Rural America, 1783-1800 with instructions and patterns by Merideth Wright. Illustrated by Nancy Rexford

This will be of especial interest to those of you who are Diana Gabaldon fans, as it covers the period specifically that her books are getting to, and helps my imagination better see what the characters are likely to be wearing. This book is based on research done in and about Vermont, rather than North Carolina, but the basics will be very similar. The descriptions are clear and informative, as are the illustrations, and each chapter includes a basic pattern and discussion of materials especially for those hoping to recreate the clothing.

116. Recycled Crafts Box by Laura C. Martin

Lots of fun both to read and look through, and, I am sure, to follow and be inspired for. Plenty of information on recycling there too.

Reading Amusement

Sunday, 9 March 2008

66. Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon

67. Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon

I finally finished my read of the whole Lord John sequence in order (the three stories/novellas in Hand of Devils sandwich the two novels) of which the last novella (“Lord John and the Haunted Soldier”) is the only one I hadn’t read before. This story is about the aftermath of one of the more minor events of Brotherhood, restoring that event to a significance even beyond the one Lord John thought it would have. There are rather a lot of major events of Brotherhood that aren’t referred to in more than passing, but it does need to be kept relatively short, and as Gabaldon has explained, she wrote these two at the same time, and was not given sufficient copy-editing time in between. The two books were published literally within days of each other in the USA, although annoyingly in the UK we had to wait months for Hand of Devils, for no discernible reason.

Anyhow, I was also checking through the silly number of programs I have on my computer, and noticing Family Tree Maker 2005 I wondered whether it would complain about Gabaldon’s time-travellers, so I made a new file and put in some of the characters from her main series. As I suspected, it didn’t much like someone from the 20th century getting married in the 18th, but not because they weren’t born yet, just because the bride was under ten years old! That made me giggle, anyhow.

Sewing up loose ends

Thursday, 28 February 2008

58. Sew What! Skirts by Francesca Denhartog & Carole Ann Camp

See, when it’s a craft I don’t do, I can read the book as a book. (I haven’t put down Search PressBeginner’s Guide to Crochet by Pauline Turner that I skimmed at work today, again because I don’t really read crochet books – just skim them for what might be new or interesting to me.) Anyway, this (the skirts book) actually reads quite well, unlike many craft books, and seems to give very clear instructions as to making, improvising and embellishing one’s own skirts, with good personal fit and fashion.

59. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

I’ve read this a few times before, but am going back through all the Lord John stories now that I have the newest book (Lord John and the Hand of Devils) which includes the three shorter stories that sandwich the two novels. I like Lord John largely because he’s an interesting honourable man inside whose head we get to see. The mysteries of the stories are complete and engrossing, but not really the point for me (I amn’t someone who seeks the genre out).


Saturday, 9 February 2008

I feel like I haven’t been reading at all this week, but I have finished another book this evening, at last!

40. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I put this down as a partial reread on my list, which I don’t think I would have done had I just been in the States and picked it up to reread Cross Stitch for the umpteenth time, but I actually specifically got it to look for the changes, so…

Obviously, it really isn’t that different, and to be honest I think most of the changes were good edits, although there are a few extra details that were nice to read. I think I’ll go back to the one I’m used to the next time to go through the series, though.

So as you can probably guess, I do really like Gabaldon‘s writing, even if I actually might not have started with her books these days. Time travel is fun, and works when it’s been well-thought out, as here. Historical fiction has long been a favourite of mine, when well researched, which this has. Character development is the big thing over a long series, though, and she can do that, so it’s a winner.

The only thing I’m really surprised at is just how long this reread has taken (months) as it normally wouldn’t have at all. I must have been distracted. Or perhaps I just obtained Outlander too soon after rereading the whole series!

I also wanted to add that I’ve just found out that DG now has a blog herself, which proves to also be well written and interesting.