Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 13 (SEASON FINALE!)

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 413: “Man of Worth”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Jamie, Claire and Young Ian’s attempt to rescue Roger from his Mohawk captors goes awry when a ghost from Claire’s past lays waste to their plan. Meanwhile, Brianna worries Claire, Jamie and Roger might not return.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • Jamie, Claire, and Ian find the Mohawk camp where Roger is being held. Negotiations for his release don’t go well.
  • Claire’s opal upsets the Mohawk. A woman from the tribe shares the story of Otter Tooth.
  • Rescue plans are foiled. Eventually, Ian agrees to stay with the tribe in exchange for Roger’s freedom.
  • Brianna gives birth to a son.
  • Murtagh and Jocasta get busy. Oh my.
  • Everyone gets reunited in the end.

Insta-reaction:

I don’t know exactly why, but I was left feeling a little let down by the season finale. Maybe it’s just knowing that it’s the end of the season, and I’m already going into Droughlander shock. In any case, here’s what happened this episode.

Claire, Jamie, and Ian find the Mohawk village and ask to trade (pots, pans, and whiskey) for Roger. They seem to be making progress until someone spots the opal around Claire’s neck, which freaks everyone out. The trio is ordered to leave. Later, a woman from the tribe tells them the story of Otter Tooth, the man whose skull Claire found earlier this season. He showed up a few decades earlier and tried to convince the tribe to go to war against the white people and kill them all, in order to prevent their tribes from being wiped out in the future. No one believed him, and eventually his ravings were too upsetting, so he was killed. The woman offers to help them rescue Roger in exchange for the stone.

The rescue does not go as planned, and they’re caught. The woman ends up being banished by the tribe, and Jamie, Claire, and Ian are ordered to leave. The Mohawk will not release Roger, as no trade was completed. Jamie offers himself in exchange for Roger — but then Ian jumps in and makes his own bargain. Ian (and Rollo!) will stay and become part of the tribe, and Jamie and Claire are free to leave with Roger. Lots of tears at the good-bye!

Roger is naturally extremely pissed at Jamie, when all is said and done, and once they’re away from the village, he gives Jamie a very one-sided beat-down, since Jamie decides to take it as his punishment for beating up Roger and selling him in the first place. Once all the beating stops, Claire tells Roger what’s happened with Brianna — that’s she safe, but that she was raped after he left her, and that she’s about to have a baby, which may or may not be his. It’s a lot to take in, and Roger wants time to think. Jamie starts to get angry with Roger over his need to take a minute, but Claire basically snaps at Jamie to back the hell off. I mean, poor Roger has been to hell and back. Give him a second to breathe. Even though he really shouldn’t be hesitating for a second, but okay, let’s give Roger this moment to clear his tortured brain.

Back at River Run, Brianna is sad a lot. Then she has a baby. Then all of a sudden, the baby is two months old and Claire and Jamie arrive, but Brianna is heartbroken to realize that Roger isn’t with them. They prepare to return to Fraser’s Ridge. At the last moment, Bree sees a rider approaching and realizes it’s Roger! She runs across the lawn to him and they have a big, dramatic embrace. Roger asks her to take him to see his son. Awwwww.

Meanwhile, earlier in the episode, Murtagh and Jocasta argued and argued, she threw her drink at him… and they ended up in bed. Murtagh is quite the silver fox, amiright? Yowza. Let’s see if these two crazy lovebirds can make it work.

Maybe not, because the episode ends with redcoats arriving with an order for Jamie from the Governor: Form a militia to put down the Regulators, and find and kill their leader, Murtagh Fitzgibbons.

AND… fade to black! Bye-bye, season 4 of Outlander!

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Jamie and Claire have been absent or underused during the last set of episodes this season, and while they do play a role in this final episode, it’s not much, and definitely not enough. Their screen time seems to be shortened lately to make room for Roger and Brianna, and I get that there needs to be a balance, but I think it’s tipped too far over to the non-Jamie and Claire side. Their moments this episode were powerful, but just too short. Jamie in particular only really had one truly strong emotional beat, in his good-bye to Ian (sob), but I didn’t care for his scene with Roger.

The Roger punching Jamie in the face bit wasn’t fun to watch, and didn’t feel true to the character. I get that Roger has a lot of rage and frustration to deal with, but by this point he’s heard the story of why Jamie did what he did. On top of that, Roger isn’t a fighter — he’s a history professor, for heaven’s sake, and isn’t someone who ever has had to use his fists to express his feelings. Roger is much more a man of peace and reason, so I just didn’t dig this scene at all.

Young Ian seems happy where he is, and seems to be excited about the new adventure ahead of him. In the book, one of the attractions for him was that he’d already fallen for a girl from the tribe and wanted a life with her. I wonder if we’ll see him at all in season 5? As far as I recall, Young Ian isn’t in book #5, but I suppose they could easily find a reason to have him show up for a visit if they wanted to.

I was really frustrated by the end of the episode. Why end with the Regulators business, the absolutely least interesting aspect of season 4? I get that they’re trying to set up the central conflict for the next season, but it just was not satisfying.

My preferred ending would have been Roger and Brianna holding the baby, with Roger naming the boy and claiming him as his own. It’s not enough that we see him telling Bree to take him to his son — after all the turbulence in their relationship and all the pain and suffering, we needed the pay-off of seeing the family together, with Brianna and Roger united and ready to start a new chapter. Wouldn’t that have been lovely?

And furthermore…

Overall, it’s been a good, strong season, despite the show moving the central storyline away from solely focusing on Jamie and Claire. There were some lovely moments along the way for the two of them, and it was nice to be able to spend time with Lord John and Murtagh again, as well as introducing teen Willie and Aunt Jocasta.

Now we start the waiting game again! Here’s hoping that season five comes along before the end of 2019!

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Book Review: Unmarriageable (Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan) by Soniah Kamal

 

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

Pride and Prejudice retellings come in so many flavors and varieties — but Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal makes it all feel new and fresh again by setting the familiar story in her native Pakistan in the early 2000s.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.

So begins this enchanting story. You know the basics, of course. A formerly prosperous family, rather down on their luck, has five daughters in need of husbands. Their small-town life gets a dose of excitement when a new, very eligible, very wealthy young man arrives on the scene and instantly attracts attention from all the mothers dying to make good matches for their daughters.

In Unmarriageable, the Binat family lives in the less-than-exciting town of Dilipabad. Having been cheated out of the family fortune, they’ve adapted to their reduced circumstances, and meanwhile mother Pinkie obsesses over the futures of her single daughters, exhorting them to make sure to “grab it” whenever they have a chance to meet a wealthy man. The oldest two sisters, Jena and Alysba (Alys) teach English at a private school for girls. In their early 30s, the sisters are practically over the hill, but Pinkie has not given up on them just yet. When the family is invited to the big society event — the NadirFiede wedding — it’s another opportunity to find eligible men for the girls to make “you-you eyes” at.

Alys, our main character, is smart and independent, not willing to accede to her mother’s insistence on marriage as the be-all and end-all of a woman’s purpose. She loves her family and her friends, loves to read and think, and is not about to pursue a man or agree to a match because it’s expected or provides access to a fortune. At the wedding, she and Jena meet Bungles, a lovely young man who’s instantly smitten with Jena, but his friend Darsee is rude and stand-offish, and Alys takes an immediate loathing to him.

We all know where the story goes, right? Unmarriageable hits all the major marks of the Pride and Prejudice story, but the Pakistani setting keeps it fun and different. Some retellings just don’t work within a 21st century timeframe, because the emphasis on social standing and marrying for money doesn’t necessarily translate well in a way that makes sense. Here, though, we’re led to understand that among the upper class society circles (and those longing for acceptance into those circles), the pursuit of successful marriages is everything. It’s really entertaining to see the traditional butting up against the modern, whether through the descriptions of the clothing, the marriage rituals, or the expectations for women to fulfill their prescribed roles in respectable society.

I loved the introduction to Pakistani culture — the foods, music, clothing, literature, and unique ways that the English and Pakistani languages are interwoven. The use of close-but-not-exact names to mirror Austen’s characters is really clever too.

My only minor quibble is that it doesn’t quite work for me to have an Austen retelling in which the characters read Jane Austen! In many of the modern-day retellings I’ve read, it’s never acknowledged that the original stories even exist. But here, in Unmarriageable, Alys teachers Pride and Prejudice in her English classes, and returns again and again to thinking about Austen’s themes. So given that, how does she understand her own life and the people in it — sisters Jena, Mari, Qitty, and Lady; her suitor Kaleen; Darsee and his sister Jujeena; and the dastardly Mr. Jeorgeullah Wickaam? Wouldn’t you think she’d end up in some sort of existential crisis, wondering if she really exists or if she’s just a character in a book?

That silliness aside, I do love the writing in this story, which captures some of the archness and intelligence we’d expect in a P&P retelling:

The clinic was an excellent facility, as all facilities that cater to excellent people tend to be, because excellent people demand excellence, unlike those who are grateful for what they receive.

The story doesn’t dwell on serious matters for too long, but there are little moments that let us know that the lives of women are particularly fraught at that time, and that the issues facing women go well beyond securing a rich husband:

She grabbed the newspaper no one had opened yet and flipped through the usual news of honor killings, dowry burnings, rapes, blasphemy accusations, sectarian violence, corruption scandals, tax evasions, and the never-ending promises by vote-grubbing politician to fix the country.

But overall, there’s plenty of lightness and joy to go around:

Alys laughed. “O’Connor, Austen, Alcott, Wharton. Characters’ emotions and situations are universally applicable across cultures, whether you’re wearing an empire dress, shalwar kurta, or kimono.”

And finally, something that I know will ring true for all the booklovers out there:

It was a truth universally acknowledged, Alys suddenly thought with a smile, that people enter our lives in order to recommend reads.

It’s my pleasure to recommend Unmarriageable! If you love Austen and are ready for a new take on a well-loved story, definitely check this one out!

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The details:

Title: Unmarriageable
Author: Soniah Kamal
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Audiobook Review: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro


The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets—a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she recently made about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden story of her own life.

What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.

Timely and unforgettable, Dani Shapiro’s memoir is a gripping, gut-wrenching exploration of genealogy, paternity, and love.

I picked up Inheritance on a whim, after a book group friend mentioned plans to attend a talk by the author at an upcoming event. The little bit I heard sounded interesting enough to make me want to know more: The author, raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, discovers through DNA testing that the man who raised her wasn’t actually her biological father.

With the proliferation of inexpensive testing resources like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, anyone can learn a little bit about their genetic background. Author Dani Shapiro’s half-sister had done DNA testing, and Dani decided to do it as well. But when she got her results back, she was startled: According to the data, she was only 52% Ashkenazi Jewish, not the 100% she was certain was her correct heritage. She’d been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, and her father’s lineage in particular was practically a who’s who of important people in the Orthodox world. She and her half-sister shared a father, but when she compared their results, it turns out that the two women were not actually biologically related at all.

The author was in her mid-50’s at this point, and both her parents were already deceased. She began to follow the scanty available clues, among them memories of her mother stating that she’d been conceived thanks to a medical institute in Philadelphia, and within days, made the discovery that her parents had turned to a fertility center that relied on donor sperm to help infertile couples have children. With only the most preliminary attempts at sleuthing, the author was able to trace connections and find her biological father, a man who was a sperm donor for a period of time as a medical student in Philadelphia in the 1960s.

The book focuses on Dani Shapiro’s search for both the facts of her heritage and conception, and the bigger truth about her identity. Much of Inheritance is spend on understanding the essential question: Who am I? The author, in discovering that the facts of her entire life were false, found herself unmoored and in desperate need of answers. Did her parents truly understand the treatment they sought? Did they know that donor sperm would be used? If they truly knew, how could they hide the truth from her for her entire life? Does this truth change her history, her understanding of her parents’ marriage, her place in the family history?

The author narrates the audiobook, which lends it greater immediacy and emotion. When she describes her soul-searching and her moments of pain and shock, it feels genuine — as though the author was allowing us a peek inside herself, letting us see the turmoil she experienced.

I must admit that there were sections that made me feel very impatient. The degree of shock and dislocation experienced by the author was hard for me to fully understand. I mean, I get being shocked by learning in midlife that there’s a big family secret that was hidden all this time — but the extreme questioning about whether she was still herself and whether she still belonged to her family struck me as over the top. What about people who’ve been adopted? What about all the other people out there whose parents used assisted reproductive technologies involving donor sperm or donor eggs? Why should the use of donor sperm in conception mean that the father who raised her wasn’t really her father?

As a whole, Inheritance spends a great deal of time on introspection and the search for meaning. Which I guess is the point of a memoir, so maybe I’m just not a particularly good memoir reader? In any case, I was much more interested in the unraveling of clues, the discussion of the medical ethics, and the research into fertility approaches in the 1960s than in the contemplative sections on identity and belonging.

That being said, I did find Inheritance quite fascinating as a whole. It’s a relatively quick listen, with lots of food for thought, and elements focused on the author’s Jewish upbringing and how that carries through to her current life particularly resonated for me.

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The details:

Title: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Author: Dani Shapiro
Narrated by: Dani Shapiro
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: January 15, 2019
Length (print): 272 pages
Length (audiobook): 6 hours, 44 minutes
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased

Shelf Control: Taking Stock

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!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngA question came up last week as a comment on a Shelf Control post:

Of the 152 books I’ve highlighted so far in my Shelf Control feature, how many have I actually read?

Wow. That is a BIG question.

Shelf Control has been a way to force myself to go back, again and again, to my overflowing bookshelves and take a look at what’s already there. I pick up new books all the time, usually through Kindle deals or at library sales or at used book stores, but still, the fact remains that I buy more and more books when I already have enough unread books on my shelves to keep me busy for years!

So, rather than feature another Shelf Control book this week, I thought I’d take stock and try to answer the question. Luckily, I organize Shelf Control (as well as so much else in my life) through the glory of spreadsheets, so it’s not that hard to figure out.

According to my worksheet:

Total Shelf Control books so far: 152
Number of Shelf Control books I’ve read since posting about them: 14
Number of Shelf Control books donated or otherwise discarded: 9
Number of Shelf Control books that I doubt I’ll ever read (I still have them, but they may be next to go, whenever I do another shelf purge): 12

Which means:

Of the books I’ve featured, I have…

117 books still to read! 

Will I read them? I hope so! I bought them for a reason… and I still find them interesting enough to hold on to. It’s always hard to strike a balance between new books, ARCs, library books, and books on the shelves, but sooner or later, I do end up going back to books I already own. Of the 14 featured Shelf Control books that I’ve actually read, there was only one that I’d consider a dud. As for the others, I’ve read a classic I’ve always meant to read, gotten hooked on series that I’d been curious about, and have read some amazing fiction that moved me and entertained me. I call that a win!

Maybe I’ll do one of these “taking stock” posts once a year (or more often) to see where I stand. Meanwhile, pardon the interruption in my regular schedule! Next week, I’ll be back with yet another book from my shelves… and hopefully, I’ll actually read it before too much time goes by.

If you wrote a Shelf Control post this week, don’t forget to share your link!

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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: Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To

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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 Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To.

I could easily come up with way more than 10… but I’ll stick to ten books I bought in 2018 but still haven’t read:

1) Becoming by Michele Obama

2) Someday by David Levithan

3) There There by Tommy Orange

4) A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

5) The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

6) Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

7) Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow

8) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

9) Witchmark by C. L. Polk

10) The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Have you read any of these? What books from 2018 do you still need to read?

Please share your thoughts… and if you have a TTT post, please share your link!

Book Review: The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

 

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

The Wartime Sisters is the second novel by Lynda Cohen Loigman, whose debut novel The Two-Family House came out in 2016 (reviewed here). Both books focus on women’s lives during the 20th century, and both examine the intricate relationships between sisters, friends, and the people who come into their lives.

In The Wartime Sisters, Millie and Ruth couldn’t be more different. Ruth is three years older than Millie, and spends her entire childhood and adolescence hearing about her sister’s beauty and charm. Millie is the one their mother pins her hopes on, fantasizing about how the endless crowd of suitors will yield the perfect man to propose to Millie and make all her dreams come true. Meanwhile, Ruth grows up realizing that she’ll never be the pretty one, and resents Millie for always being the center of attention… never stopping to ask herself if Millie actually wants or enjoys the attention that comes her way.

The story flashes back and forth between the late 1930s, as the girls approach womanhood, and 1942/1943, as they settle into life at an army base in Massachusetts. We learn over time how they came to be there, and how they became so estranged from one another following their parents’ death.

Interwoven throughout their chapters on their earlier years is a nice evocation of Jewish life in Brooklyn at that time, showing the ways in which the family’s religion and culture define their world, their friends, and their approaches to life. Meanwhile, in Springfield, both Millie and Ruth form new bonds among the military wives and base workers, who represent a different but no less vibrant sort of community.

The Wartime Sisters shows the damage done to women’s souls through neglect and abuse, and also by the small and large cruelties carried out through resentment and gossip. In Springfield, we meet two additional women who fill large roles in the sisters’ new lives: Lillian, the base commander’s wife, with her own troubled childhood, is a pillar of strength and goodness amidst the turmoil; and Arietta, a motherly woman with a talent for both singing and cooking, takes Millie under her wing.

It’s sad to see the conflict between Ruth and Millie. As Ruth’s husband is sent overseas as a wartime scientist and Millie arrives, husband-less, impoverished, and burdened by secrets, it would seem that the two women finally have an opportunity to reclaim their relationship and establish a new closeness. Sadly, although Ruth offers a home to Millie, the warmth and ease that should come with it is missing. While the author lets us see why Ruth feels as she does and how her resentments built over time, it’s still hard to empathize. As far as we can see, Millie has never done anything wrong, has never set out to hurt Ruth or to undermine her. Ruth blames Millie for the incessant comparisons unkind neighbors have made all their lives, but it’s clearly just so unfair. Because of Ruth’s animosity, Millie is left to deal with their parents’ death on her own, and makes some calamitous decisions that bring about hardship and suffering. It’s hard to forgive Ruth for what she put Millie through.

In terms of the historical settings, I enjoyed learning about the Springfield Armory and the role women played in wartime readiness and production. The characters are colorful and memorable, and Arietta in particular is a delight to meet.

Overall, I found The Wartime Sisters to be moving and engaging. The story is crisp and nicely constructed, and the length means that it never feel draggy. I enjoyed the exploration of Ruth and Millie’s relationship, and despite being super annoyed with Ruth for much of the story, I thought the build-up of their history together and the explanation of all the baggage they carry with them was really effective and realistic.

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The details:

Title: The Wartime Sisters
Author: Lynda Cohen Loigman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

The Monday Check-In ~ 1/21/2019

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.

What did I read during the last week?

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire: My review is here.

Roomies by Christina Lauren: My review is here.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: My review is here.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4. Here are the two most recent:
Episode 411, “If Not For Hope” (aired 1/13/2019) – my reaction post is here.
Episode 412, “Providence” (aired 1/20/2019) – my reaction post is here.

Season finale next week! Where did the time go?

Pop culture goodness:

The Game of Thrones binge continues! We finished season 5 this weekend. Probably my least favorite season of the entire show, but even a less than stellar season of GoT is better than most other TV out there!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week! Amazing, right?

… although I did pick up a stack of library books, but at least I didn’t BUY any books this week!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman: I’m about halfway through this historical novel about the strained relationship between two sisters, set against the backdrop of an American military town during WWII.

Now playing via audiobook:

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro: A really interesting memoir focusing on the author’s discover in her mid-50s that her father wasn’t really her biological father. I’ve listened to about a third so far — quite intriguing.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our next classic read starts the end of January. Can’t wait!

Plus, our book of the month for January is The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. I haven’t even started yet, so I’ll be late to the discussion — but I’m hearing good things from my book group buddies so far!

So many books, so little time…

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 12

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 412: “Providence”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Brianna confronts a violent figure from her past in an attempt to cope with her trauma. Roger befriends a fellow captive and endeavors to escape the Mohawk Village, while Fergus and Marsali plan a dangerous mission.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • Roger suffers. Poor Roger!
  • Seriously, this episode is about 90% Roger, and I’m not complaining.
  • Roger deals with life as a Mohawk prisoner, and tortures himself over all the idiotic ways he acted in pursuit of Brianna.
  • Brianna goes to see Stephen Bonnet in prison where he awaits execution.
  • The Regulators break Murtagh out of jail.

Insta-reaction:

Roger — actor Richard Rankin — owns this episode, and kills it. Yes, other stuff happens too, but at its heart, this episode is the Roger show. Breaking it all down:

Roger has arrived at the Mohawk village in New York (and wow, that’s a long way to walk from North Carolina!) Because he fails to make it all the way through the gauntlet before collapsing, he’s informed that he remains their captive. Would he have been freed otherwise? Unclear. In any case, Roger is wounded, with his arm in a sling and all sorts of cuts and bruises on his face, and is basically put to work as a servant in the camp.

A nice Mohawk woman offers him some herbs to ease his pain, but no one else seems to want to interact with him except to yell or push him around. Eventually, he does something to piss people off (pointing and interrupting, apparently), and gets put in a leafy shack that seems to be the Mohawk equivalent of a jail cell. There, he meets Father Ferigault, a Catholic priest who the Mohawk welcomed — but he fell in love with a woman from the tribe and had a baby with her, and now he refuses to baptize the baby as the tribe wishes. He won’t baptize the baby because he considers himself a sinner, but the Mohawk see this as an insult to the tribe and have threatened to kill him unless he performs the sacrament. Roger tries to convince him to give them what they want in order to save his own life, but he refuses.

Roger finds a way to escape and starts running off through the wood, but his damned sense of honor won’t let him run when he can hear the screams of the priest, who’s being held over a fire, where he’ll slowly burn to death. He runs back to the village and hurls a cask of alcohol on the pyre, setting the priest fully on fire so he can die more quickly. The priest’s lover kisses her baby good-bye and then walks into the fire to die with him.

That’s the bulk of the episode, but additionally, we spend some time with Brianna, Lord John, Fergus and Marsali.

Fergus and the Regulators have decided to bust Murtagh out. Not really worth going into the details. Suffice to say, the jail break works, and Marsali drives the getaway horse and cart, with Murtagh hidden in the back, headed for Fraser’s Ridge.

Brianna asks Lord John to take her to WIlmington to see Stephen Bonnet. She reads Jamie’s letter to her, encouraging her to seek forgiveness rather than vengeance, for her own well-being. For Brianna, this means going to see Bonnet in prison, chained up, on the eve of his execution. She tells him about the baby, saying that her way of forgiving him is to give him the peace of knowing that some part of him will live on after his death — although she also stresses that this is HER baby, and he’ll never know a thing about Bonnet. Okay, Bree, so your point is??? I’m not a big fan of this scene, either in the book or the show. Surely there are better ways for Brianna to heal than to go and talk with her rapist, who is not the least bit repentant. And why give this man a piece of information that may come back to haunt her? Brianna believes it’s safe to tell Bonnet about the baby because he’s about to die, but this is a man who’s escaped death sentences before — and as we see at the end of the jail break, it would appear that he got away yet again.

No Jamie and Claire this episode! We get just the briefest bit of Jamie as Brianna reads his letter to her, but that’s it.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Any episode without Jamie and Claire feels incomplete to me. Let’s face it — they’re the true reasons we watch this show, and their story is always the most compelling. As in the books, as the story progresses, Roger and Brianna become much more prominent, but particularly on TV, losing Jamie and Claire screen time does not feel like a satisfying trade-off.

Lord John is always a delight. He’s such an upright, honest, and devoted man. I love how his feelings for Jamie and Claire have translated so easily into caring for and protecting Brianna. He’s the perfect gentleman, truly. And I suppose it’s a plus that his status as a Lord helps open doors for Brianna that might have otherwise been closed. Still, it feels like a needless move on Brianna’s part to travel (pregnant!) to Wilmington to confront Bonnet. Why not just practice forgiveness from a distance?

The Regulators storyline continues to be my least favorite part of the season. Just not engaging at all — give me the human drama any day. That said, here’s hoping that the jailbreak will result in Marsali, Fergus, and Murtagh settling at Fraser’s Ridge. It would be nice to see the whole family together again… but first (next week), Jamie and Claire need to find Roger!

And furthermore…

It was good to get more of a view into the Mohawk village’s life, beyond Roger getting beaten up all the time. I liked the little glimpses of children playing and families gathering. If the show is trying to break away from the stereotypes of fierce Native warriors acting inscrutably, they need to give us more of this — opportunities to understand their customs, their values, and their way of life, and not just viewing them as the mean people doing bad things to Roger.

Next week is the season finale! It’s all gone by so quickly. I know what’s coming (according to the book), but can’t wait to see the drama and excitement on the screen.

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Audiobook Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon


Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet, fun young adult romance, focusing on two teens, fresh out of high school, dealing with the expectations of their Indian families while also trying to find their own way in life.

Dimple is passionate about her future as a coder, and despite her mother’s focus on finding a husband for her headstrong daughter, Dimple swears that she’s going to be laser-focused on her education and career. Rishi is devoted to his parents and is determined to make them happy, by becoming an MIT-educated engineer and settling down with a nice Indian wife.

Dimple and Rishi meet at Insomnia-con, a six-week coding competition held on the campus of San Francisco State University. Students work in pairs to develop their own  unique app, and the winning team gets a chance to work with a successful web developer, Jenny Lindt — Dimple’s idol, who is everything she aspires to be.

Things are rocky right from the start for Dimple and Rishi. He greets her as his “future wife”, and Dimple throws her iced coffee on him. Yeesh, not good. It turns out that their parents have conspired to bring them together, and while Rishi is totally on board for this, Dimple isn’t. Not only is she not on board, she’s also completely unaware — her parents didn’t share their plans with her. Dimple is furious, even more so when she learns that Rishi and she have been assigned to be partners, so she’ll be spending oodles of time with him over the next six weeks.

Once past her initial anger, Dimple starts to appreciate Rishi. He’s not a hardcore coder like she is — in fact, he doesn’t care all that much about Insomnia-con, whereas she’s been living for this opportunity. Still, realizing how important it is to Dimple, Rishi throws himself into it as well. As the summer progresses and their tech ideas take wing, a friendship blooms between Dimple and Rishi… and from friendship, attraction and romance start to bloom as well.

The characters are really engaging and likable. Even though they have very different outlooks on life, it’s clear to see that they’re both passionate in their own ways. Rishi, it turns out, is following his parentally approved path to MIT, but in his secret heart of hearts, his true calling is to become a comic book artist. Through Dimple’s eyes, we learn just how talented he is, and it’s hard to understand how he could shut off that piece of himself in order to please his parents.

The two main characters’ Indian heritage adds so much to this story, as we see the weight of family traditions and expectations, but also see the cultural aspects in everyday aspects of their lives such as clothing, food, music, and more. When Rishi and Dimple are required to compete in the Insomnia-con talent show, they choose to perform a Bollywood-inspired dance, from this video:

I felt that the inner struggles both Dimple and Rishi face were portrayed really convincingly. Dimple is completely thrown off guard by her feelings for Rishi, and desperately wants to avoid allowing romance to derail her from her career aspirations into a life more suited to her mother’s preferences. And Rishi is so afraid of letting his parents down that he refuses to even consider taking the opportunities that come his way in the art world.

On the negative side, the pacing is a bit… off. It felt as though the first three weeks of the summer took up most of the story, and then suddenly we jump to the final days of the competition. That means a lot of time is spent on the early days, and then, somewhat bizarrely, on the talent show. I didn’t quite get why a talent show was at all relevant in a coding program, except for the fact that the winners get prize money to put toward their project development. Still, there’s way too much time spent on Dimple and Rishi rehearsing their dance number, and as adorable as they are together, it didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the story.

Some of the emotional crises in the relationship felt rather hollow and immature. They each goad each other and mistrust each other in some pretty petty ways… although to be fair, they’re young, and I suppose the depiction of a turbulent first love is probably pretty realistic.

My other issue with the story is that Dimple is so focused on winning the competition that there’s not much consideration given for any of the other students involved, other than a group of “Aber-zombies” who rely on nepotism rather than talent to get ahead. Granted, Rishi came to Insomnia-con to meet Dimple, but it bugged me that they’re always referring to their project as Dimple’s, and the focus is on whether Dimple wins, not them as a team.

A note on the narration:

The dual narrators, Sneha Mathan and Vikas Adam, take turns narrating sections told from each of the characters’ perspectives. We bounce back and forth between “Rishi” and “Dimple” sections, and the narrators are great at capturing their voices, inner thoughts, and emotions — love, frustration, anger, disappointment, laughter, and more. Plus, they’re able to convey other characters, like their parents or other Insomnia-con participants, in a way that makes the story feel energetic and full of life.

Wrapping it all up:

When Dimple Met Rishi is truly a lot of fun to listen to, although the pacing issues with the story occasionally made the audiobook feel like it was dragging. Overall, though, I really enjoyed it. Dimple and Rishi are great characters with good hearts, and the storyline as a whole is engaging and hopeful, and sends some good messaging about being true to oneself and following your dream. I’ll definitely want to check out more by this author.

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The details:

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Narrated by: Sneha Mathan, Vikas Adam
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: May 30, 2017
Length (print): 380 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 45 minutes
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

Take A Peek Book Review: Roomies by Christina Lauren

“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)

Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

For months Holland Bakker has invented excuses to descend into the subway station near her apartment, drawn to the captivating music performed by her street musician crush. Lacking the nerve to actually talk to the gorgeous stranger, fate steps in one night in the form of a drunken attacker. Calvin Mcloughlin rescues her, but quickly disappears when the police start asking questions.

Using the only resource she has to pay the brilliant musician back, Holland gets Calvin an audition with her uncle, Broadway’s hottest musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until his reason for disappearing earlier becomes clear: he’s in the country illegally, his student visa having expired years ago.

Seeing that her uncle needs Calvin as much as Calvin needs him, a wild idea takes hold of her. Impulsively, she marries the Irishman, her infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves and Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway—in the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting—will Holland and Calvin to realize that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

My Thoughts:

Yet another sweet, wish-fulfillment romantic story by the amazing writing duo Christina Lauren! There’s not much of a shred of realism in the plot, but it’s oh so fun to just kick back and go with the flow.

We have Holland, mid-twenties, with an MFA that she’s not using, living a comfortable New York life (thanks to her amazing, generous uncles) — who decides that marrying her crush is the best way to help him get legal residence in the US so he can pursue his musical career. Of course, Calvin is both incredibly gorgeous and unbelievably talented, as well as being sweet, smart, and a considerate and passionate lover. Of course, Calvin shoots to instant stardom. And of course, their fake marriage turns into a real marriage, although not without the requisite trust and communication issues that plague any good contemporary romance.

It’s all good fun, and the happy ending is never in doubt. It’s an entertaining, sexy romp, and even though we know that these two crazy lovebirds will end up together, the excitement is in seeing how they get there. The book is quick and light, and despite the moments of emotional turmoil and illogical behavior, the characters are always likable (and have enough of a sense of humor to get past some super awkward situations.)

This is my 4th Christina Lauren book, and I have yet to encounter a dud! Not exactly deep reading, but great for when you need something cheery.

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The details:

Title: Roomies
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

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