Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Quite often I find my to read list being influenced by TV and film. If I watch something and enjoy it, then it’s only natural that I want to read the book that inspired it, as most of the time the book is so much better.

This is how I came across the  Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. I’d been watching the TV series, when I found out it was based on a book of the same title and thought, why not give it a go?

The plot is the same for both: nurse Claire Randall is on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank, getting to know each other again after spending much of their marriage so far apart due to World War 2. Their travels lead her to visit the circle of standing stones at Craigh na Dun where she is dramatically pulled 200 years into the past, to 18th century Scotland. The first person she encounters in this time period is her husband’s ancestor, ‘Black Jack’ Randall, who attacks her, before she is then ‘rescued’ by a group of highlanders, who are also suspicious of her unusual appearance and strange manners.

Claire’s only objective is to return home, but that is easier said than done when you are viewed suspiciously by both redcoats and Jacobites; she is quickly drawn into an epic adventure which puts her in both physical danger and also a moral dilemma, when she is forced into marriage with charming outlaw Jamie Fraser.

Now, when I say I enjoyed the TV show, there are a fair few eye-rolling moments. It seems that every episode is marked by Claire being in danger in some way and ever-so-handsome Jamie rushing to her rescue (although sometimes the other way round; she does her fair share of healing his wounds). Cue simmering looks, followed later by a whirlwind romance. And, to be honest, the book is pretty much the same – in fact maybe I probably rolled my eyes even more! In fact one thing that can be said is that the TV series is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book.

There are things that are difficult to get around: negative reviews that I’ve seen focus on the presence of violence in relationships (yes, historically accurate but critics are quite right to point out how unnecessary and unsettling this is) and absurdity of some scenarios (the heroine killing a wolf with her bare hands, I’ll say no more!). Positive reviewers seem to think the book is the best thing since sliced bread  (not necessarily something I’d agree with; it is after all a bit of a ‘bodice-ripper’).

The truth, as always, lies somewhere between the two. The book is probably over-long and spends way too much time describing the bedroom (or outdoor) antics of the main characters. But I also sort of enjoyed the over-dramatic adventurous plot line, and I liked the fact that Claire challenged the 18th century belief of her new husband that a wife is a man’s property to own and punish: she is a heroine with a strong-will and mind of her own. 

Definitely one to be filed away under ‘guilty pleasures’: the sort of book you feel like you shouldn’t enjoy, but do anyway.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Not everyone can be the hero, saving the world from invasion or disaster. This is the focus of Ness’s young adult novel: Mikey and his friends just want to graduate before the school gets blown up. Again. 

This is such a well-told story that gently pokes fun at a lot of teen fiction out there (but in the nicest possible way). Mikey is a normal teenage boy; well, as normal as it gets when your dad is an alcoholic and your mum is in politics and the story focuses on the very real story of him navigating the last few weeks of high school. In the background of this, very strange things are happening, including zombie deer and weird blue lights… but Mikey’s not particularly surprised by any of this: how can you be when you’ve already witnessed soul-eating ghosts and vampires? Besides, it’s not Mikey or his friends that these new dangers are aimed at. That’s for the indie kids, who always seem to be dealing with some kind of drama. Mikey’s got other things to worry about, like his feelings for his friend Henna, and whether his anxiety is getting out of control again…

What’s so brilliant about this story is how well Ness captures the teenage voice. He uses the ordinary to tell an extraordinary tale, in which the characters learn about themselves and each other. I also particularly enjoy that each chapter begins with the ‘highlights’ of the melodramatic teenage apocalyptic story but then focuses on the real human drama going on elsewhere.

I would definitely recommend this story for teenagers and adults alike. Good fun but with plenty to learn from too.

Rush Oh!

Rush Oh! first came to my attention a while ago and the interesting front cover combined with the blurb about a love story within a whaling community in Australia both put the book on my ‘To read’ list.

The story is told by Mary Davidson, whose father and eldest brother catch and kill whales off the coast of Eden, New South Wales, with the assistance of a group of Killer Whales. Mary tells the story of one particular whaling season where there are several encounters with whales, with varying degrees of success, and where Mary herself falls in love with the enigmatic John Beck.

I’ve read nothing but positive reviews of this story so was very much looking forward to it. However, it just didn’t draw me in the way I would have liked it to. Maybe it was the very forthright, practical voice of Mary that put me off, or the fact that the drama seemed anti-climactic at times. One thing that did interest me was discovering that the accounts of Killer Whales assisting in the capture and kill of humpback and southern right whales was actually based on fact – I’d been completely ignorant of this before (not that I’m an expert on whaling in any way).

Overall, not really my cup of tea – I’m sure others might enjoy the tale but it just felt a little ‘plodding’ at times.