The Monday Check-In ~ 11/19/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Still in the midst of family stuff, but all is well. How’s that for vague? The upside of the semi-craziness of the past week is that I ended up with a lot of sit-around-and-wait time on my hands, which of course translates to sit-around-with-a-book time for me.

What did I read during the last week?

The Human Division (Old Man’s War, #5) by John Scalzi: This is a set of interconnected stories rather than a novel, but it’s still set in the Old Man’s War universe and quite fun. I have one more book left in the series, and then I’ll write up some thoughts to wrap things up.

Pulp by Robin Talley: A terrific YA story set in both contemporary and historical time periods. My review is here.

Elevation by Stephen King: A surprisingly moving novella. My thoughts are here.

In graphic novels:

Saga, volume 9: Wow, this one really hurt me. That ending! And I’m more than a little heart-broken that the creators are taking a one-year break before returning to the story. I need more Saga, now!

Runaways: Best Friends Forever: The new Runaways run, written by Rainbow Rowell, continues to be light and fun.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 401, “America the Beautiful” (aired 11/4/2018) – check out my thoughts here.
Episode 402, “Do No Harm” (aired 11/11/2018) – my reaction post is here.
NEW: Episode 403, “The False Bride” (aired 11/18/2018) – my reaction from last night is here.

Pop culture goodness:

I saw TWO movies this weekend!

Quick take: I loved the music and the performance scenes, but wish there’d been more actual insight into Freddie as a person. A lot, whether about Freddie himself or Queen as a band and family, felt too surface-y. Actually, this movie made me realize that I’d be perfectly happy with a 2-hour long movie of Queen’s performances! *scurrying off to watch Queen videos on YouTube*

Quick take: Hmm. Quite a lot of spectacle, but I’m not sure what the movie was hoping to achieve. It’s pretty dark, losing most of the quirkiness of the first Fantastic Beasts movie in favor of dark-wizard doings. My copy of the screenplay book arrived this week, but I didn’t want to read it until I’d seen the movie. And now that I have, I’ll pick up the book and see if reading the story gives me a different feeling. Overall, my issue with the Fantastic Beasts franchise is that they’re kind of kids’ movies (or so it would seem), but since all the characters are adults, we lose the sense of wonder that the Harry Potter films provided as we saw this incredible world through young, unjaded eyes. The Hogwarts scenes in this new movie stand out as lovely little moments, but they’re really just minor snippets. (But hey, it was fun to see a different take on Hogwarts robes!) Overall, the movie is very dark and crowded, and definitely the middle of a story that’s still has plenty left to unveil. Maybe it’ll take a repeat viewing to find the charm that must be there.

Fresh Catch:

This week’s new book arrivals:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: I’m at about the half-way point. It’s fascinating to read this book about the Trojan War so soon after reading The Song of Achilles.

Now playing via audiobook:

Squire (Protector of the Small, #3) by Tamora Pierce: I do most of my audiobook listening while out walking, and there just hasn’t been much of that this past week… hence a lack of any real progress with this book, despite loving it. I hope to get back to it this coming week.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, aiming to finish in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December.

So many books, so little time…

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 3

Season 4 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 403: “The False Bride”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Jamie and Claire search for a place to call home. Meanwhile, in the 20th century, Brianna and Roger’s romance heats up and then fizzles during a road trip that winds up highlighting their differences.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • Jamie and Claire leave River Run to set out for the mountains, planning to settle in a town there and start a new life.
  • A thunderstorm strands them in the woods, where Claire discovers a strange skull.
  • They find a beautiful location and decide to settle there.
  • In 1970, Roger and Brianna go to a Scottish festival in North Carolina.
  • Roger proposes to Brianna, but she’s not ready for marriage.
  • This seems to be the end of their relationship. *sniff*

Insta-reaction:

Episode 403, “The False Bride”, is not particularly action-packed, but it does present some iconic moments and emblems near and dear to book-readers’ hearts, and sets the tone for both Claire and Jamie’s new life as well as the 20th century story involving Brianna and Roger.

Jocasta blames Claire for denying Jamie a good life as a landowner, a chance to become the laird he was meant to be, but Claire holds her own. Jocasta is one tough cookie, but Claire’s spine is just as strong. Meanwhile, Ian asserts himself to Jamie and makes Jamie see that Ian isn’t a “lad” to have all his decisions made for him anymore. Jamie graciously concedes that Ian is man enough to make up his own mind now, and Ian chooses to stay in America with Jamie and Auntie Claire. Luckily for all concerned, there aren’t any telephones, so they won’t be on the receiving end of some choice words from Jenny when she finally finds out that her boy isn’t coming home to her after all.

And we meet yet another important four-legged Outlander character: Clarence the mule! I admit it — I giggled when he was introduced. Clarence, like Rollo, is a part of the story and a member of the Fraser family.

Claire and Jamie get some quality time together in the woods, riding, talking, and camping under the stars. Jamie worries that he has nothing to offer Claire, but as she makes clear, all she really wants and has dreamed of is the chance to finally create a home with him. Just think of it — all these years, all these adventures, and yet Claire and Jamie have never truly had a home together. They also discuss Brianna’s future and her lack of career plans. For Jamie, it’s unheard of for a young adult to be trying to find their direction in life — either they have a calling, such as Claire being born to be a healer, or they go into their family’s trade. No such thing as being “undeclared” in the 18th century!

The discovery of the skull and Claire’s vision of the Native American ghost is pretty much straight from the book. Hate to say it, but the bit with her shoes comes off a bit silly on the screen, but that’s okay — I don’t suppose it’s any sillier than touching a big stone and traveling 200 years, is it?

There are key discoveries on the trip — a patch of strawberries, the opal, the silver fillings on the skull. I love how the show keeps to the important visuals that really call back to the source material, yet feel organic as presented. The view of Fraser’s Ridge is just absolutely lovely. It’s easy to see how Jamie and Claire could be swept away by the sight, and feel so strong a connection to this place, enough to want to make it their own.

Meanwhile, I was really charmed by the 20th century storyline. As always, the show does a great job of setting the tone through the clothing, music, cars, and even fast-food choices that surround the characters. It was so nice to see Brianna and Roger again, and the juxtaposition of a Highland fair in the North Carolina hills with Jamie and Claire’s travels through the same land worked really well. The festival was perfect, and I loved seeing Brianna and Roger enjoying themselves together, especially in a setting where Brianna could feel connected to her Scottish roots.

Ah, and let’s not forget the silver bracelet! Another book element, nicely done.

It all falls apart, of course. Roger is in love with Brianna, and while she’s ready to sleep with him, he only wants her sexually in the context of committing to a life together. He is a bit much in this scene, although with the best of intentions and the biggest heart. Still, he’s not doing a great job of reading Brianna — the more he gushes on about getting married, having a home, having a bunch of kids, the more freaked out Brianna gets. It’s not just that she’s young, still in college, still trying to figure out what she wants in life. She’s also haunted by not knowing what’s become of her mother. Did she make it back to Jamie? Are they together? Are they safe? What’s more, Brianna is well aware of her mother’s own history, having fallen in love at a young age and gotten married, then finding that her heart belonged elsewhere. Brianna is worried that it’s too soon for her to make a big decision like marriage, but Roger takes this as rejection.

I can relate to Brianna’s reaction, absolutely — it does feel quick, and so much in her life is up in the air. She has feelings for Roger, but she’s not ready to decide her whole life at the moment. Sigh. An ongoing refrain for so many fans while reading the books is “Poor Roger!” — Diana Gabaldon just isn’t kind to his character. Sadly, the end of this episode is the first “Poor Roger” moment, but it won’t be the last.

(Poor Roger!)

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

This was a slower episode, in many ways, yet I loved it. The focus here is on the characters and their relationships, and I felt like this episode gave the two couples room to talk, to relate, and to plan. Sadly for Roger and Brianna, things are bumpy, but of course this is just the beginning of their story. Meanwhile, Jamie and Claire have a mostly peaceful ride together, and it’s just right and sweet and deserved for these two to have time to be happy and safe in one another’s company.

And furthermore…

I know this season was filmed in Scotland, but damn! They’re making fake North Carolina look so, so beautiful!

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Take A Peek Book Review: Elevation by Stephen King

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

The latest from legendary master storyteller Stephen King, a riveting, extraordinarily eerie, and moving story about a man whose mysterious affliction brings a small town together—a timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences.

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face–including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.

My Thoughts:

I’m not sure what to say about Elevation, or even how to categorize it. Is it horror? Not in the jump-scare, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, monsters-eating-your-face sort of way. But does the idea of losing weight without losing size, and with a day you’ll weigh zero pounds looming, scare you? Then yes, you might call this horror. Or fantasy, in that I’m pretty sure there’s no such documented case of a person being perfectly healthy, losing weight, and causing anything he/she touches to have zero weight — sounds pretty fantastical to me.

All that being said, my main take-away here is that Elevation is a truly excellent read — brief, spare, and finely crafted, with sharply defined characters, mounting tension, and an overall feeling of both well-being and loss permeating the entire story. Scott Carey is a likable guy stuck in a weird situation, who tries to make the best of things by doing his part to make a small difference in the lives of the people he cares for.

And despite the short length of the story, it was plenty of time to get emotionally involved. Was that a lone tear making its way down my cheek as I read the last few pages? I’ll never tell.

Beautifully written, Elevation is a quick, low-commitment read that will leave you feeling — dare I say it? — elevated.

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The details:

Title: Elevation
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: October 30, 2018
Length: 146 pages
Genre: Fantasy/horror
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.

This remarkable book pulls off the tricky feat of making us care about characters in two separate narratives, with neither one feeling like filler or killing time before returning to the important part of the story.

In Pulp, we follow a contemporary storyline about a high school senior, Abby, who is out and proud and very matter-of-fact about how diverse and free her world is. Most of her friends fall somewhere within the queer rainbow, gay, bi, non-binary, and various permutations of all sorts. And it’s all good. Abby is part of a close-knit group of friends who delight in being politically active, attending rallies, fighting for justice, and making demands for society to be better than it is.

Abby’s life is not perfect, though. She still pines for her ex-girlfriend Linh, she’s stuck on her senior project, and her parents are doing a lousy job of hiding their inability to tolerate one another. She chooses the topic of her senior project at the last possible second, deciding to study lesbian pulp fiction of the 1950s and write her own version of these novels, inverting the tropes that were mandatory in the genre.

In the historical timeline, we meet Janet Jones, also a high school senior, whose life is highly regimented by her overly protective and rigid parents and their world of country clubs and social correctness. Janet stumbles across a lesbian pulp paperback, reads it, and realizes that these unnamed feelings of hers are actually shared by other people. She becomes desperate to connect with the author of one of these books, and at the same time, realizes that her feelings toward her best friend Marie are much more than just friendship.

The two narratives intersect in fascinating and unpredictable ways. Janet’s storyline is the more upsetting of the two for much of the book, largely because the world it shows is so hostile and repressive. Pulp does an excellent job of showing the terror of being gay at a time when there were no legal protections or rights for anyone who dared step outside the bounds of “normal”. Set during the Lavender Scare, this novel shows good, decent, hard-working people being hounded out of their families and jobs, spied upon, and having their lives ruined, all because of who they love and how they identify. Being closeted was a necessity, and the danger of discovery drove countless people to deny their own identities out of a desperation for survival.

Through Abby’s eyes, the awfulness of the 1950s for the LGBTQ community is especially vivid, as Abby’s modern perspective is challenged by her research into what others’ lives once were like. Seeing Abby come to realize the importance of the brave people who created new ways to live, form a community, and remain true to the themselves is quite beautiful.

I was less invested in the love story aspects of both Abby and Janet’s arcs, but very much loved getting to know them as people, to appreciate their challenges and strengths, and how each struggled in different ways and at different times to find themselves and to find a way to lead an authentic life.

Pulp is both a great novel and a great lesson on 20th century history. Reading about this chapter in LGBTQ history is moving and upsetting. The world has come so far, and there’s still a long way to go, but I think especially for the target YA audience, Pulp provides a fascinating and important perspective on social action, diversity, and identity.

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The details:

Title: Pulp
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication date: November 13, 2018
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #143: Secrets of the Sea House

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Secrets of the Sea House
Author: Elisabeth Gifford
Published: 2013
Length: 303 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In 1860, Alexander Ferguson, a newly ordained vicar and amateur evolutionary scientist, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the remote Scottish island of Harris. He hopes to uncover the truth behind the legend of the selkies—mermaids or seal people who have been sighted off the north of Scotland for centuries. He has a more personal motive, too; family legend states that Alexander is descended from seal men. As he struggles to be the good pastor he was called to be, his maid Moira faces the terrible eviction of her family by Lord Marstone, whose family owns the island. Their time on the island will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after they are gone.

It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child’s fragile legs are fused together—a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why? To heal her own demons, Ruth feels she must discover the secrets of her new home—but the answers to her questions may lie in her own traumatic past. The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford is a sweeping tale of hope and redemption and a study of how we heal ourselves by discovering our histories.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy several years ago, after hearing recommendations from book group friends.

Why I want to read it:

Okay, a) Scotland! But b) it just sounds like a good story, with a dual timeline, the myth of the selkies, and family secrets. I’ve heard really good things about this author, but haven’t read any of her work. Have you?

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 11/12/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I may be a little absent during the coming week due to some family happenings, but hope to be back in the swing of things ASAP. Meanwhile, I have plenty of books and my Kindle to keep me company, even if I’m not posting much.

What did I read during the last week?

Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey: I finished this the previous week, but finally posted a review.

The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn: I loved this book, a sequel to last year’s Bannerless. My review is here.

I also read two super cute, super fun young adult books this week. Check out my thoughts, here.

In audiobooks:

Page (Protector of the Small, #2) by Tamora Pierce: I loved this book! The series is terrific so far — continuing onward.

In graphic novels:

I enjoyed The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds, a pretty great graphic retelling of the classic. He has a new version of The Iliad coming out in the spring, and I’m already looking forward to it!

Outlander returns!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 401, “America the Beautiful” (aired 11/4/2018) – check out my thoughts here.
Episode 402, “Do No Harm” (aired 11/11/2018) – my reaction from last night, here.

Fresh Catch:

A few new books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

So many books — it’s so hard to choose! I finished a book late Sunday, which means I need to pick something new to read. I’ll probably bounce between these two for the next few days.

Now playing via audiobook:

Squire (Protector of the Small, #3) by Tamora Pierce: Such a fun series!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, aiming to finish in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 2

Season 4 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 402: “Do No Harm”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie visit his Aunt Jocasta at her plantation, River Run. When tragedy strikes at the plantation, Jamie and Claire find themselves caught between what’s right and the law of the land.

My take:

Major plot points:

Picking up on the river:

  • Jamie, Claire, and Ian arrive at River Run, Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta’s prosperous plantation.
  • Claire makes her feelings about slavery very clear.
  • Jocasta announces that she’s named Jamie her heir and manager of her business — meaning he (and Claire) will be de facto slave owners.
  • A slave named Rufus injures an overseer. Claire saves him from a gruesome death, only to discover that the law is not on her side.
  • The neighboring plantation owners and overseers demand that Jamie hand over Rufus, or they’ll attack River Run.
  • Claire and Jamie face an impossible choice — turn Rufus over, where he’ll be tortured and killed, or give him a painless death themselves.

Oh, and Ian learns about that fearsome North American mammal, the skunk.

Insta-reaction:

Episode 402, “Do No Harm” does not mince words when it comes to making clear what an awful chapter of American history Jamie and Claire find themselves in. The show tackles slavery head-on, and despite wanting to do good, Jamie and Claire are pretty much slapped in the face by how powerless they are to make any difference.

First, though, we have the aftermath of the attack on the river. Jamie blames himself, of course, both for trusting Stephen Bonnet in the first place, and then for failing to protect the people under his protection. Poor Lesley has been buried on the riverbank. Now that Bonnet has stolen all their money and gemstones, Jamie and Claire arrive at Jocasta’s as poor relations, with basically nothing to their names but the clothes on their backs.

Auntie Jocasta, played by the amazing Maria Kennedy Doyle, is glorious. She’s self-assured and regal, and it’s not until Ian tries to present her with flowers that the Frasers realize that she’s blind. Aided by her right-hand man, the house slave Ulysses, Jocasta is always in control. Jamie is fond of her, especially as she reminds him so much of his mother (her sister), but Jocasta and Claire butt heads pretty quickly, as Claire expresses just how wrong she thinks slavery is.

Jocasta invites all her neighbors to a party welcoming Jamie and Claire, and makes the surprise announcement that Jamie will be both her heir and her business representative, effective immediately. As Jamie points out, it’s quite the Mackenzie move — by announcing it publicly, she basically backs Jamie into a corner and doesn’t leave him any room to decline.

Jamie immediately jumps in with his intent to free all the slaves once he’s in control and pay the men and women a wage for their work. His idealistic views are quickly shut down by Jocasta and her trusted friend Farquard Campbell. The law of North Carolina places so many obstacles in the way that even with the best of intentions, Jamie could not possibly hope to afford the amount that would be necessary to pay as bond for all of Jocasta’s slaves, not to mention being able to prove that each freed slave had earned their freedom through meritorious service — saving a life.

Jamie and Claire are never not in trouble for very long. When word comes that an overseer has been attacked by a slave, Jamie and Claire rush to the scene. The slave, Rufus, is being strung up on a tree by a hook through his belly. Claire has him cut down and brought back to the main house, where she proceeds to perform surgery on him right on Jocasta’s dining room table. Claire’s amazing, so of course she’s successful, and Rufus stands a good chance at recovering…

… but that sucks too, because the overseers are demanding blood. They want Rufus, or they’ll attack River Run and take him. A deal is struck — Jamie will hand him over at midnight. Ulysses points out to Claire that it would have been better for her to let the boy die. At least, it would have been relatively quick. Now with the furious overseers demanding “justice”, he’ll be ripped apart.

Jamie points out to Claire that perhaps her oath to “do no harm” might mean in this case that she give poor Rufus an easier death than the one that awaits him at the hands of the mob. In tears, Claire agrees, giving Rufus a tea laced with aconite, then talking quietly with him and holding his hands as he dies. As the clock strikes midnight, Jamie carries Rufus’s body outside, where the angry mob drags him through the dirt and strings him up from a tree.

Welcome to the South, Claire. Maybe North Carolina isn’t the best place for the Frasers to settle down after all.

Further musings:

We meet a favorite book character in this episode, John Quincy Myers, a mountain man who will interact with the Frasers in their future adventures. He and Ian share a very cute scene in which they treat Rollo after his encounter with a skunk and talk about Myers’s experiences with Indian women. Ian seems to be finding a lot to admire about Myers. It’s pretty much the only light scene in the episode, which may be why I enjoyed it so much.

I assume since we just saw Claire doing surgery on the dining room table, we won’t get the book scene of Claire doing surgery in the same location on John Quincy Myers’s… um… private parts… during a dinner party, with a crowd of onlookers. But damn, that would have been funny.

Other key book characters introduced include Phaedre, Farquard Campbell, and Lieutenant Wolff. These are all characters we see a lot of in the books, but I suppose it’ll depend on how much emphasis and screen time River Run gets in the TV version whether we see much more of them.

And one more thing:

Claire is gorgeous in red — reminded me of those bad old days at Versailles! She looks lovely in Jocasta’s white dress too. I really liked the scene of Jocasta deciding how Claire should look, even though she can’t actually see her. Jocasta is no one to be trifled with.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Another strong episode, although the romantic in me missed having any Jamie/Claire intimacy this episode. Oh, get your minds out of the gutters! It’s not about the sex, but I missed seeing them having any deeply connected moments. (I know, it wouldn’t have fit at all in the mood of the episode… but I just love them together, always.)

And furthermore…

It was good to see that Jamie and Claire are on the same page when it comes to this chapter of history. In their earlier days together, Claire was often at odds with Jamie, who struggled to understand her point of view and often ended up explaining traditions and customs of the times to Claire. Here, they’re both strangers in a strange land, figuring it out together, and they’re a united team. Despite the painful subject matter and the no-win situation they’re in in regard to Jamie being Jocasta’s heir, it’s clear that Jamie is on the same side as Claire when it comes to slavery and the impossibility of them accepting the status quo or being a part of it in any way.

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YA double feature: What If It’s Us and The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Two delightful YA books this week! Once again, a big THANK YOU to the public library for being all-around awesome and for getting me my hold books in record time. Here’s my quick take on my YA reading from the past week:

 

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera: Two YA authors come together to give us a romantic New York story of first love and do-overs. Arthur is a Georgia boy spending the summer in the big city; Ben is New York born and bred, stuck repeating chemistry in summer school so he can graduate on time. A chance encounter at a post office makes a big impression on both Arthur and Ben — but in the blink of an eye, it’s over, without names or contact info exchanged. But the sparks that flew can’t just die… so each boy does we he can to track the other down — and when, miracle of miracle, they actually find one another again, a sweet romance blooms. What If It’s Us is utterly charming, with plenty of laughs and tears. The ending may disappoint folks who believe in happily-ever-after, but I found it hopeful, grounded in reality but with a definite sense of optimism for whatever might yet happen. And I couldn’t help but love the endless geeky pop culture references, from Hamilton to Harry Potter!

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee: The sequel to the super fun The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a treat, shifting the focus from trouble-making Monty and his true love Percy to Felicity, Monty’s younger sister (who was a delight in the first book). Felicity is a scientist and scholar, but with one problem: In the 18th century, no medical school or physician will deign to even consider taking on a female student. But that doesn’t stop Felicity, who is so determined to achieve her dreams that she ends up traipsing all across Europe and getting into all sorts of wild adventures in pursuit of her goals. Along the way, she teams up with two fabulous friends, young women with their own hopes and dreams, and shows just how strong a woman can be. This book has it all — friendship, adventure, feminism, and fun — and is a terrifically entertaining read. I hope there will be more about these characters in the future — I’d love to know how their lives turn out!

Two terrific teen reads! Check ’em out! You don’t have to actually be a young adult (*cough* I’m not! *cough*) to enjoy these.

Book Review: The Wild Dead (The Bannerless Saga, #2) by Carrie Vaughn

A century after environmental and economic collapse, the people of the Coast Road have rebuilt their own sort of civilization, striving not to make the mistakes their ancestors did. They strictly ration and manage resources, including the ability to have children. Enid of Haven is an investigator, who with her new partner, Teeg, is called on to mediate a dispute over an old building in a far-flung settlement at the edge of Coast Road territory. The investigators’ decision seems straightforward — and then the body of a young woman turns up in the nearby marshland. Almost more shocking than that, she’s not from the Coast Road, but from one of the outsider camps belonging to the nomads and wild folk who live outside the Coast Road communities. Now one of them is dead, and Enid wants to find out who killed her, even as Teeg argues that the murder isn’t their problem. In a dystopian future of isolated communities, can our moral sense survive the worst hard times?

The Wild Dead is a sequel to last year’s Bannerless, which I loved. (Check out my review of Bannerless, here.) In Bannerless, author Carrie Vaughn does an amazing job of creating a post-apocalyptic world in which the focus is not on the disaster itself (known here as the Fall), but on life 100 years later. Humanity has survived, and in the Coast Road community (California), life revolves around households — groups of adults who build a home together, a communal dwelling where all are invested in the success of the whole. Communities are groups of households with a central committee and a commitment to the greater good. It’s a mostly agrarian society, where everyone contributes according to their abilities, and all are provided for… provided, that is, that some basic rules are followed.

The guiding principle in this world is producing enough, but not more. Quotas govern all farming, so that no one destroys the scarce natural resources by using up too much, too quickly. Households that demonstrate that they can support themselves may be granted banners, the most coveted reward of all. A Banner is a license to have a baby. A household may earn a banner through hard work and dedication — but a household that tries to skirt the rules may be denied a banner forever.

Enid of Haven is an investigator — the closest thing this society has to law enforcement. In this post-technology world, Enid can’t rely on firearms or fingerprint dusting or forensic science; she has to use her brain and her people skills to ask questions, dig deep, and find the truth of a community’s secrets. Enid is good at her job, but as The Wild Dead opens, she’s mostly annoyed about being called away from her home in Haven to carry out a seemingly pointless investigation right as her household is expecting its first baby.

The investigation is set in the community of Estuary, a marshy, unpleasant location where the people live in uneasy proximity to one another. There’s no true closeness or cooperation in Estuary — the people seem argumentative and suspicious. And while Enid’s case is simply about determining whether an old house should be preserved, the situation becomes complicated by the discovery of a body belonging to an outsider. As the investigation shifts from mediation to a murder case, Enig and her partner Teeg try to find a way to get the people of Estuary to share their secrets.

The Bannerless world is opened up further in this second book in the series. In the first book, the author did an amazing feat of world-building, showing us the Coast Road society, the nature of this post-tech world and how the people live. At the same time, she gives us a glimpse into the history of the Fall and how civilization re-formed in the century since then. In The Wild Dead, we explore further, and learn for the first time about the people who live outside the society of the Coast Road, choosing to live wild and with fewer resources rather than be restricted by the rules that dictate so many basic elements of life, including child-bearing.

The puzzle of the dead body is intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing Enid use her wits and intuition to read the situation in Estuary and finally arrive at the truth. The mystery aspects of the story are quite good, and held my attention from beginning to end. But truly, what I really love about these books is the detailed description of this unique world and how it works, and getting to understand the psychology of a society which has survived what could have been the end and has created a new version of the future.

(In some ways, I’m reminded of The Walking Dead — minus the zombies, of course — particularly the newest season, when the communities have rediscovered non-industrial era technology such as plows and windmills as a way of surviving and building after a disaster. But I digress…)

Enid is a terrific main character — smart, strong, fair, and devoted to her people and to doing what’s right. She’s not perfect, and she struggles with herself quite a bit, but in the end, she’s committed to the essence of being an investigator: helping others, and being kind.

I highly recommend both Bannerless and The Wild Dead. I’m really hoping this will be an ongoing series. I can’t see myself ever getting tired of Enid or her world.

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The details:

Title: The Wild Dead
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books
Publication date: July 17, 2018
Length: 264 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey

SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.

There are actually two interwoven storylines focusing on two different characters in Someone Like Me. First, there’s Liz, a single mother whose ex-husband is an abusive creep. Second, there’s Fran Watts, a 16-year-old girl who’s known at school as a freak. Ever since a bizarre and traumatic abduction ten years earlier, Fran has suffered from a host of symptoms of mental illness, and fears that she’s just plain crazy.

During a particularly bad encounter with her ex, when he turns violent and seems on the verge of killing her, Liz finds herself responding by bashing Mark with a broken bottle — but she’s not the one controlling her own body. Someone else seems to be pulling the strings, and yes, it saves her life, but it also leaves her terrified.

Meanwhile, Fran is accompanied by an imaginary friend, a fox known as Jinx, who has been with her ever since the kidnapping and who’s always ready to protect her. And sometimes, Fran sees the world change — the color of a blanket or a figurine or something else in the background will change from one thing to another. Desperate, Fran returns to her psychiatrist to beg for stronger meds, anything to make these hallucinations go away. When Fran sees Liz and her teen-aged son Zac at the clinic as well, a strange connection is forged between the two teens, and they start to discover that the oddities in Fran and Liz’s lives may be linked.

Someone Like Me is a gripping story of psychological terror. We alternate between Liz and Fran, seeing their world views and the (figurative) demons they each battle. Each is desperate to just live a normal life, and fears that she’s losing her grip on sanity and reality. Of course, there’s something else going on here, and it’s weird and scary — and neither Fran nor Liz feel that they’ll be believed if they find a way to describe it to anyone.

At 500+ pages, Someone Like Me is a bit longer than it needs to be. Some of the chapters, particularly the chapters focused on Liz and her family and her struggles, seem overly long, and the story takes a while to really build up steam. Still, it’s worth sticking with. By the halfway mark, the plot really picks up and the crazy twists become more and more absorbing.

M. R. Carey knows how to tell a fast-moving story with great action sequences. I loved The Girl With All The Gifts. This book doesn’t quite measure up, possibly because it’s a story set in our day-to-day world, with just a taste of supernatural/mysterious forces/unexplained phenomena, whereas The Girl With All The Gifts was a marvelous example of horror world-building, creating an entire post-apocalyptic new world order for the characters to navigate. But leaving the comparisons aside, Someone Like Me is very good, very creepy, and very inventive. Definitely check it out if you enjoy stories of psychological horror and twisty mindgames!

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The details:

Title: Someone Like Me
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Length: 500 pages
Genre: Psychological horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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