Category: Adult

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

If you’ve been around the fantasy world at all in the last fifteen years, you’ve probably heard of Diana Gabaldon. The Outlander series is one of the most popular and best selling series in that world. It’s been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time. But now that they’re making a TV show (Starz) out of it, I knew I had to read it before the show ruined it for me forever.

Outlander is many things. Part time travel, part fantasy, part romance, part adventure, and a WHOLE-LOTTA-BOOK. It’s a long book. It’s sequels are long too. It’s a daunting task to think about taking on a series full of eight-hundred page books, but in this case I think it’s worth it.

Set against the backdrop of tribal Scotland, Outlander follows Claire on the adventure of a lifetime. She disappeared from post world war two Scotland, and into the middle of the English oppression of the scots. Things only get crazier from there as she meets and falls in love with the notorious Scot and outlaw Jamie Fraser. (Who, of course, is a hero any woman would wish for.)

In the attempts to clear Jamie’s name of a crime he did not commit there are many injuries, near-death experiences, torture, wolves, perhaps a wedding, and lots of sex. Without spoilers, I think that this book (and it’s new TV show) is about to spring into the world and be called the ‘new’ Game of Thrones for both it’s scale and it’s addictive story.

The TV show is premiering August 9th, so read it before it’s too late!

Blog Tour: #FridayReads, The Books that Got Me Into Shakespeare

SWheaderIt is true. The Jedi Doth Return. In a series that has broken all kinds of barriers since the first book released, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is one of those literary phenomenons that cannot be missed. With the third book in the series releasing in just a few days on July 1st, Quirk Books asked if we’d like to have the author, Ian Doescher, on the blog to talk about Shakespeare himself.

I’m so thrilled to not only be a part of this blog tour for such a fantastic series but to also live in a time where these books actually exist. Stick around after the post and you can enter for a chance to win the first book in the series! Take it away, Ian!

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When I was in eighth grade, my brother Erik (then a senior in high school) was studying Hamlet in his English class.  Like most younger brothers, I thought my older brother was pretty cool—though I never would have told him—so I bought a copy of Hamlet at a used bookstore on a family trip to the Oregon coast (shown here).  I think I found the “To be or not to be” speech and pretty quickly put the book aside.  But from that point forward I called myself a Shakespeare fan.

The next year, as a freshman, I read my first Shakespeare play when we studied Othello.  I did a lot of theater back then, and here was a play—meant to be performed!—that we were reading in English class.  When we had to memorize Othello’s “It is the cause” soliloquy from Act V, I was excited about the assignment and was the first to raise my hand to perform it in front of the class (yes, I was that guy).

My interest in Shakespeare snowballed from there.  Sophomore year we studied Julius Caesar, and I adapted it with the idea of performing it with some friends (it never happened).  That summer, Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing came out, which I saw in the theater with my mom about ten times.  This tells you something about my interest in Shakespeare and my social life at the time.  Junior and senior years my interest in Shakespeare continued—I started seeing Shakespeare performed live in Portland, memorized some soliloquies just for fun, and started building my Shakespearean library.  After that first copy of Hamlet, the first three Shakespearean books I owned were The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard by Norrie Epstein (still a personal favorite), Shakespeare A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times by Charles Boyce, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare.   (The summer after my junior year of high school, the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus was filmed at my high school, and I stalked Richard Dreyfuss to get him to sign my complete works.)  As a budding Shakespeare devotee, Kenneth Branagh’s book Beginning was significant—it’s not a book about Shakespeare, but about how he became an actor and, ultimately, how he made his debut with the Royal Shakespeare Company and his first film, Henry V.

In college, I would discover The Riverside Shakespeare—still the best complete works available—and the Arden Shakespeare series, which are the best individual versions of the plays.  (I’m proud to have Sir Patrick Stewart’s autograph on my copy of The Riverside Shakespeare.)  It was also while I was in college that Looking for Richard came out, Al Pacino’s performance of Richard III/documentary on the difficulties of the play itself.

Those were the books and films that led me to Shakespeare.  Today, I would add into that list Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom and Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson.  How about you?  What are your favorite editions of Shakespeare or books about the Bard?

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To keep up with the rest of the blog tour, CLICK HERE!

Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

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All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman
who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

In the last few years there’s been an upswing in the amount of mainstream books about dragons, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I’m pretty sure ‘More Dragon’ will always be one of my mottos.

When I first saw the cover of A Natural History of Dragons, it turned me off. I thought that this book approached the subject somewhat like a mythical textbook, and I couldn’t imagine that that would be anything but boring. So I put it on my long-term reading list, and put the thought out of my head. But I recently picked it up, and discovered that I loved it!

Written, not like a textbook, but as a memoir from an aging dragon naturalist (and explorer, adventurer, and all around breaker-of-rules) Lady Trent. The voice of this book is very unique. It blends the clear and ironic observations of hindsight with the firsthand sensation of memory, and weaves a truly fantastic tale. The society and manners of period England, combined with an alternate world provide something that is oddly familiar and strange at the same time. Natural History is the first in a series of books chronicling the adventures of Lady Trent, and this covers a good part of her childhood, her marriage, and her first expedition with her husband.

One other unique thing about this book are the illustrations. They are beautiful, and scattered throughout the book to help us picture key creatures and moments. If you’re a fan of dragons, than this is definitely a book you shouldn’t leave off of your list.

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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The war begins…

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable – and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda…

I admit that it was the blurb on the front of the book that made me pick it up and read the synopsis. That’s not often the case, but it said something about this character being the next Ender and Katniss, and even though I was rolling my eyes at the overblown comparison, I was still intrigued enough to read the synopsis. What I read made me curious enough to buy the book and read it.

I may not agree that Darrow from Red Rising is the next Ender or Katniss, but that is because the character doesn’t need the comparison to stand on his own. I usually am not a fan of characters driven by revenge, but I found this one rather intriguing. The depth of his rage drives him in an almost inhuman way that many writers don’t dare to go to. A truly dark place filled with hate that is, in it’s way, completely and utterly raw and human.

Born on Mars, Darrow believes that he is part of the effort to colonize Mars so that people from Earth can come and live. Almost instantly we find that that’s not the case. In the intricate color-based caste system, Darrow is the lowest on the totem pole, and he has been lied to. Mars is already colonized, and he is a slave.

What follows is almost a twisted Captain America-esque transformation as Darrow is changed from a Red to a Gold–the highest of castes–undergoing a complete and painful body transformation through surgery and training. Once he’s there the darkness I mentioned earlier truly begins to shine as Darrow infiltrates a society he absolutely hates.

With references to Greek mythology, war games, and the colonization of all the planets of the Solar System, this is a sci-fi that’s bound to take the world by storm. I can’t wait to read the sequel Golden Sun (Jan. 2015), and in my opinion anyone who is a sci-fi fan will be a fan of this book.

Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

marinakeeganAn affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world’s attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

The story of Marina Keegan isn’t a happy one. In 2012, five days after she graduated from Yale University, Marina was killed in a car accident. Shortly afterward, the essay she had written for the Yale commencement program The Opposite of Loneliness went viral on the internet receiving millions of views. Now, a collection of her works–both fiction and non-fiction–has been released for the world to read.

I was one of the people who read the essay in 2012. I was incredibly struck by her untimely death as Marina is only three weeks younger than me. We were born in the same month. To know that, and then to read words like “We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.” struck me deeper than I thought it would. So when I head that Scriber was publishing Marina’s works posthumously, I knew that I had to read the book.

And wow. Marina may have been young, but her talent was not. In both her essays and her stories, she has a unique voice that not only pulls you in, but leaves you thinking afterwords. Her stories are about corners of life you would never have thought to visit, and make you wonder what made her think to write about something like that. Her essays range from funny to frank to heartbreakingly candid, and I know that if Marina had lived, the words she would have written would have changed the world. It saddens me that we will never read those words.

This book is both moving, and stunning. I hope that as you read this book, at no matter what age, you remember that you have so much time, but never ever take that time for granted.

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