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?

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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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Shelf Control #142: The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick

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: The Foreshadowing
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Published: 2005
Length: 304 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It is 1915 and the First World War has only just begun.

17 year old Sasha is a well-to-do, sheltered-English girl. Just as her brother Thomas longs to be a doctor, she wants to nurse, yet girls of her class don’t do that kind of work. But as the war begins and the hospitals fill with young soldiers, she gets a chance to help. But working in the hospital confirms what Sasha has suspected–she can see when someone is going to die. Her premonitions show her the brutal horrors on the battlefields of the Somme, and the faces of the soldiers who will die. And one of them is her brother Thomas.

Pretending to be a real nurse, Sasha goes behind the front lines searching for Thomas, risking her own life as she races to find him, and somehow prevent his death.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book several years ago from an online resale site.

Why I want to read it:

After reading Midwinterblood, I just had to read more by this author. I’ve read a few of his books now, and to be honest, I haven’t loved any nearly as  much as I loved Midwinterblood — but I keep trying! The synopsis of The Foreshadowing definitely caught my attention. World War I books are always harrowing, and I like the sound of the supernatural element combined with the war story.

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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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Top Ten Tuesday: Backlist Books I Want to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Backlist Books I Want to Read. For my list, I’m focusing on new (or new-ish) to me authors whose books I’ve enjoyed recently — and now I want to dig deeper and discover what they’ve written earlier in their writing careers. And yes, a couple of these backlist books go WAY back.

Because I’ve read…

by…

I need to read…

Bannerless and The Wild Dead Carrie Vaughn The Kitty Norville series
Scythe and Thunderhead Neal Shusterman Challenger Deep
Rebecca Daphne du Maurier Jamaica Inn
The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal The Glamourist Histories series
The Binti books Nnedi Okorafor Who Fears Death
NOS4A2 Joe Hill 20th Century Ghosts
Eligible Curtis Sittenfeld Prep
The Great Alone Kristin Hannah Night Road
Unbury Carol Josh Malerman Bird Box
Great Expectations Charles Dickens Bleak House

 

What books are on your list this week? Please share your TTT link!

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 1

Season 4 has begun! 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 401: “America the Beautiful”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie cross paths with Stephen Bonnet, a pirate and smuggler who enlists their help. Claire illuminates Jamie on some of America’s history, leading him to wonder if it’s possible for them to lay down some roots.

My take:

Major plot points:

Aaaaaand we’re back! It’s 1767, in North Carolina:

  • Jamie’s friend Gavin Hayes, who was imprisoned with him at Ardsmuir and came on the journey last season to find Ian, has been sentenced to death for killing a man. While Jamie had an escape attempt planned, Gavin feels he deserves to pay for his crime and asks for the rescue attempt to be cancelled.
  • Gavin is hanged, but other prisoners escape.
  • Jamie and Claire plan to sail back to Scotland as soon as they can sell some gemstones in order to afford the voyage. First, they need to bury Gavin, and take his body to a cemetery.
  • They find one of the escaped prisoners hiding in their wagon, a man named Stephen Bonnet, who describes himself as a smuggler and a pirate, and asks for help in escaping. Because he claims to have been a friend of Gavin’s, Jamie agrees to help.
  • Jamie and Claire, along with Ian and Lindsay, sail upriver. They’re heading toward River Run, the plantation owned by Jamie’s aunt Jocasta.
  • On the river, they’re attacked by a band led by Stephen Bonnet. He kills Lesley, beats Jamie, and steals their gemstones and one of Claire’s wedding rings.

Insta-reaction:

Season 4 opens rather quietly, all things considered. It feels like the start of a new chapter — which it really is. Jamie and Claire are together, Culloden and the Rising are long in the past, and they have an opportunity to start a new life in a new country.

Of course, if life went smoothly, it wouldn’t be Outlander. What would Jamie and Claire do with peace and quiet?

The episode begins with a scene from 2000 BC, somewhere in North America, as a primitive tribe constructs and dances around and through a circle of stones**. Claire’s voice-over muses on the meaning of circles and the importance people attach to them as symbols… and we cut to the hangman’s noose, shortly before the execution in 1767. Jamie, being Jamie, can’t stand the idea of letting one of his men die (although he did actually kill a man, in self-defense) — but Gavin doesn’t want any thrilling heroics. He just wants to meet his end while seeing the face of a friend, and Jamie agrees.

**Sorry, I thought the dancing at the stones scene was a little silly. I suppose the show needed to demonstrate that there are stone circles everywhere, so when they stumble across one later on, it won’t be completely out of the blue… but really, 2000 BC? It came off a bit silly. (It also reminded me of the First Slayer from Buffy, but I digress.)

Anyhoo…

There’s a lovely moment later in a tavern, after Gavin is already dead, when first Lesley and then the entire group begin singing a Gailigh song in Gavin’s honor. Quite beautiful. (Of course, book people will be shaking their heads a bit, since book-Jamie is utterly tone deaf, can’t recognize songs, and certainly never sings.)

The priest has denied burial to the hanged man, so Jamie determines that he and the gang will take Gavin’s body to consecrated ground under cover of night and give him a decent burial. While driving the cart, Jamie and Claire discuss their gemstones and the plan to sell the stones so they’ll have enough money for all of them to book passage back to Scotland. Little did they know that a living man was snuggled up with the corpse in the back of the wagon… listening to every word.

At the cemetery, Jamie and Ian dig a grave. Ian has a flashback to Geillis (season 3) and freaks out, and Jamie has to talk him down. Ian describes being forced to have sex with Geillis, even though he didn’t want to, and asks Jamie if he’s ever lain with someone against his will. Yes, he has, Uncle Jamie tells Ian, and he offers him words of wisdom for getting past it. It’s a touching scene, showing Jamie at his paternal best, being strong for someone who needs him.

Stephen Bonnet turns up in the back of the wagon, and turns on his charm. He speaks fondly of Gavin, and asks Jamie to give him the chance to escape. He doesn’t seem particularly dangerous. Jamie and Claire agree to drive him in the cart into the woods and to a meeting point near the river, where he’ll find a way back to his friends. Despite a close encounter with a redcoat roadblock, they make it and say good-bye to Bonnet. Jamie and Claire settle in for some sexy cuddles and a night of camping in the woods, then wake to appreciate the beauty of the land all around them.

Back in town, Jamie and Claire prepare for a fancy dinner where they expect to meet a man who’s known for collecting expensive things, including gems. The governor of North Carolina will also be there. At the dinner, Claire wears a beautiful ruby around her neck, which definitely catches eyes as intended. Meanwhile, Jamie has caught the governor’s eye. He offers Jamie the chance to settle on his own piece of land and start a community of his own in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s a tempting offer. Claire reminds Jamie that the American Revolution is only a few years away, and they don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history. Jamie thinks about Brianna growing up in the United States, and sees this as an opportunity to help create a country that will be a home for his daughter in the future.

Ian wants to stay with Jamie and Claire, but Jamie wants to send him home to his mother. Fergus and Marsali will stay in town, since she’s pregnant and not up to traveling. Yet another lovely bit, when everyone celebrates Marsali’s pregnancy. I love the look on Claire’s face — last season, Marsali and Claire first broke the hostility between them when Marsali asked Claire for advice on birth control. Guess she didn’t stick with the plan for very long! In any case, all are happy, and since this is Outlander, it’s actually a rare treat to see a group of happy people all at once.

And one of the most eagerly awaited moments happens this episode:

ROLLO!! Ian won a beautiful dog named Rollo in a dicing game. Awwwwww, Rollo! This is the start of a beautiful relationship. Rollo is the best.

So, things go south, as they tend to do for the Frasers. After a lovely day on a river barge on the way to visit Aunt Jocasta at River Run, near Cape Fear, the boat is tied up for the night. Stephen Bonnet turns up — because no good deed goes unpunished — and he and his men attack the Frasers’ company, beating Jamie fiercely, stealing the gemstones, slitting Lesley’s throat, and being super mean to Claire! Bonnet tries to take Claire’s rings from her. Thinking fast, she tries to swallow them, but he forces a finger into her mouth (gross, and also super intimidating) and gets the silver ring — Jamie’s ring!! — away from her.

And the episode ends, with America the Beautiful playing over the horrible scene.

Further musings:

Claire’s knowledge of the future is coming in handy once again. With the Revolutionary War on the way, America might not be the safest choice for a new home, and Jamie doesn’t want to fight any more wars — so it’s touching that he wants to help make a home for Brianna. At the same time, with the current state of affairs in 1767, sides aren’t neatly drawn, and Jamie has sworn an oath of loyalty to the King. But as Claire points out, they know the outcome of the coming war already. This time, they need to be on the right side of history.

We’ve had two scenes this episode of Claire asserting her 20th century view of the 18th century. First, when Claire describes a future US that will stretch all the way to the Pacific, Jamie asks about the people who already live there. Bad things, Claire explains. We’ll see how the show handles the upcoming encounters with native tribes. Later, Claire tries to criticize the boat captain’s treatment of his slave, only to find out that the man is free, working for a wage. Slavery will be an ongoing issue — Claire and Jamie’s next stop is Jocasta’s plantation. And yes, as you’d expect on a tobacco-growing plantation in the south, Jocasta is a slave owner.

And one more thing:

Spoilery bit ahoy: In the book, Stephen Bonnet takes Claire’s gold ring (she manages to swallow the silver ring.) Later, it’s that gold ring that catches a certain someone’s eye and leads to all sorts of trouble –and that always bothered me, because really, it’s just a plain gold band. How could someone recognize it as Claire’s while seeing it in passing in a crowded tavern, completely out of context, and with no idea that Claire’s ring had actually been stolen? So yeah, this way is much better. I’d wager all my gemstones that Claire is the only person in North American (or possibly the world at that time) with a silver ring made from a key — definitely recognizable as something quite distinct and unusual. So in my mind, the changing of the rings is big improvement. Yay, show.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Such a great new beginning, promising new adventures in a new land. I love the changes to the theme song, as it now sounds more like an American folk song. Lovely, lovely version.

As I said earlier, this episode mostly feels a bit quiet, but that’s okay. It has to reintroduce us into the lives of the characters, establish their new circumstances, and set out their goals and challenges. The Frasers are at a crossroads, living in the colonies but aiming to return to Scotland. Their lives are in a lull as they prepare, but they seem to mostly be enjoying their rather peaceful times together as a family. The peace and quiet don’t last, of course — the last few minutes of the episode make clear that the new land has its own dangers in store for the Frasers. Still, Jamie and Claire are obviously still very much in love, Fergus and Marsali are happy and beginning a new chapter in their own lives, and Ian is… well, Ian is precious and wonderful, as always. So this episode can be excused for feeling like a family reunion at times — it’s nice for us to get a chance to appreciate some smiles and happiness before diving back into the drama and life-threatening peril around every turn.

And furthermore…

Once again, the start of a new season makes me happy all over again that so much care has been devoted to turning our beloved books into a beautiful TV series. Kudos to the cast and crew for making it lovely and special. It’s obvious how much love goes into each and every episode.

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