Book Review: Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

Cross Stitch is the first book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. If I’m not mistaken, it was released in the UK with this title, but elsewhere it was just called “Outlander”, which makes a lot more sense to me, I have to say.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Not necessarily an easy read, but this is a well-written piece of historical fiction, with a cast of well-crafted characters but most of all, a stunning setting. Not for the faint-hearted. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

CLAIRE RANDALL IS LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE, SHE HAS A HUSBAND IN ONE CENTURY – AND A LOVER IN ANOTHER…

In 1945, Claire Randall is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds.

A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence, the superstition , the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties, Claire is in danger from James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Favourite Quote

‘I can bear pain, myself,’ he said softly, ‘but I couldna bear yours. That would take more strength than I have.’

(From Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon, page 671)

Review

This is a story of conflict. Of emotional conflict. Of Claire and her love for her husband, and of her greater love for Jamie Fraser. It is chaotic, powerful, and more than anything else, dangerous. It is also a story of physical conflict, of action, of armed conflict, where people often get hurt in horrible ways, and some of them end up dead. It’s quite brutal and tumultuous, really. Yet it is also a very good book.

This book is so well-written. A lot of thought has gone into the characters, especially Claire so that although she might be out of time, she isn’t necessarily out of place. Jamie Fraser is the perfect hero: a warrior, but understated; he’s not out for power or glory, he just wants a quiet life, yet he tries to speak out against injustice. Other characters I was fascinated by included Geillis Duncan who seemed to reveal in the idea that the local populace thought she was a witch, Murtagh who came across a little bit like a small wiry guardian angel, and I was also intrigued by the comparisons between Frank and Captain Randall.

There are some pretty unsavoury passages in Cross Stitch / Outlander and Captain Randall must be the cruellest creature I have ever come across in a book. There is also a lot of adult content (if you weren’t aware), including, sex, violence, what we would call domestic violence today, torture, and more besides. (Would the story read as well with this reduced or removed? I wonder…) It’s complex and gritty and harrowing, and the characters, mostly at the mercy of others (or lack thereof), are emotional, vulnerable, angry, desperate. This book is not an easy read in places. Yet there is also love, and kindness and compassion, to be found here too.

However, in terms of historical fiction, this book feels like it has gone the extra mile to make the time it is set in as realistic as possible. Life was dangerous, hard and often cruel, even more so for women. The author doesn’t believe in sparing the reader from the details of what her characters face, including their suffering.

What’s interesting in terms of the time travel aspect of this book compared to some that I’ve read, is that Claire has a very keen understanding of the history she is living through. She knows of the life changing historical events to come, and the stronger her connections with the past become, the more likely she is to interfere with the timeline, and this burden weighs on her.

The dialogue is well-crafted. I don’t often like dialogue written in dialect or accents because it can often pull me out of the story while I try and work out what is being said. However, here the dialogue, even written with a Scottish accent, is easy to read and understand, and adds to the reading experience, rather than detracts from it.

My favourite part of the whole story (perhaps even more than the love story aspect) is, unsurprisingly if you’ve read any of my reviews before, the setting. It is stunning, and the descriptions throughout the book bring eighteenth century Scotland to life. They are rich in flora, fauna, changes in the landscape and how people interact with their environment, and how mythology, folklore and superstition weaves through it. It’s mind-blowing in its richness and the level of detail.

My big problem with this book was with how long it was. It felt like I was reading it forever. That being said, I can’t call to mind where exactly I would have trimmed the book down. Everything felt relevant when I was reading and while I was reading it, I didn’t feel like I wasn’t enjoying it.

Following on from this, given how it is said readers tend to have a shorter attention span for reading today compared to thirty years ago when the book was first published, I wonder if the book was published today whether it would have been split into two, or even three volumes.

Will I be reading the next book in the series? Probably, but just not yet. It is a big time commitment to read such a vast volume, and I have a TBR list so long that it hurts just thinking about it. So for now, I am going to read some shorter, lighter stories…

Rating

4 / 5
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ARC Book Review: Wrong Line, Right Connection by Karina Bartow

My thanks to the author, Karina Bartow, for sending me an ARC of her latest release to review. You can learn more about her books by visiting her website. She’s also my latest guest for Afternoon Tea at Sammi Loves Books. You can find Wrong Line, Right Connection on Amazon. Also her 2018 novel, Forgetting My Way Back to You, which also features Mabel, is available for $.99 on Kindle September 5-10.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Wrong Line, Right Connection is a light, sweet, whirlwind of a romance read. I loved the characters and the setting, but most of all I loved how Mabel and Roy connected! Fresh and entertaining, I enjoyed it from start to finish. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Could a mortifying day on the job end up netting you true love?

When switchboard operator Mabel Jennings reports to work on a Monday in the summer of 1964, she doesn’t have any interest in finding love again. A visitor from Coatesville, Pennsylvania changes that. On a business trip, Roy Stentz calls her station, and his deep yet kind voice intrigues her. She tries to remain professional, but in her smitten state, she connects him to the wrong line…twice, in fact. Finally, Roy invites her out to dinner, saying he wants to see if she’s a better date than an operator.

The haphazard introduction sets an unexpected romance into motion. Going out every night while he’s in town, their bond deepens as they share the tragedies they’ve endured and observe each other’s beautiful qualities. Mabel’s past travails with love, however, hold her back from committing to anything permanent. Will she overcome her reluctance and open her heart to the love calling out to her? Or will she hang up on her chance for happiness?

Favourite Quote

“Like a wounded soldier, she didn’t yearn to take in the battlefield one last time.”

(From Wrong Line, Right Connection by Karina Bartow, page 2)

Review

This was such a sweet, enjoyable read. Full of emotion and sentimentality, Wrong Line, Right Connection is a story of love after loss and heartache.

Mabel is a genuine, likeable character, and as the tale unfolds, you can’t help but root for her. She is also strong, caring and independent. Roy is sweet, charming and determined, yet his perseverance isn’t overbearing. He is the perfect gentleman, and I just love how their paths cross.

For a story where the couple in question fall almost instantly in love, there is nothing artificial or unbelievable in this tale. Rather, their romance is not only convincing but perfectly plausible in the way it’s told. The writer does well in showing the reader that although the relationship appears fast-moving, the couple don’t ignore their sensible reservations either. The story is fresh and entertaining and I enjoyed it from start to finish.

My favourite character (besides Mabel, of course) was Mabel’s friend Evelyn. Their friendship was heart-warming to read, and the way she always knew what to say to Mabel to either pick her up when she was down or in an attempt to make her see the error of her way, was fantastic. Everyone needs a friend like Evelyn.

I know very little about 1960’s America, but the setting was brought wonderfully to life. I could easily envisage where Mabel worked, the truck Roy drove, the theme park they went to, as well as all the other locations visited. The flashbacks included in the narrative added another dimension to the story, helping not only to bring Mabel’s backstory to life but to illustrate the thinking behind some of her motivations.

If you’re looking for a quick, gentle, but above all sweet romance read, I can happily recommend this story to you.

Rating

Book Review: The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick


The Wild Hunt is the first book in the Ravenstow trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Very readable and addictive.  The Wild Hunt is everything I enjoy in historical fiction: rich, historical detail intertwined with intriguing fictional elements.  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

In the wild, windswept Welsh marches a noble young lord rides homewards, embittered, angry and in danger. He is Guyon, lord of Ledworth, heir to threatened lands, husband-to-be of Judith of Ravenstow. Their union will save his lands – but they have yet to meet…

For this is Wales at the turn of the twelfth century. Dynasties forge and fight, and behind the precarious throne of William Rufus political intrigue is raging. Caught amidst the violence are Judith and Guyon, bound together yet poles apart. But when a dark secret from the past is revealed and the full horror of war crashes over Guyon and Judith, they are forced to face insurmountable odds. Together…

Favourite Quote

Panic was like fire when it spread – difficult to contain and very destructive.

(The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick, page 323)

Review

This is the first of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books that I have read, and must say, I found it compelling, addictive reading. I’m looking forward to reading more from the author, and not just the remaining books in the Ravenstow trilogy, but her others as well.

The two main characters are Guyon and Judith, forced together by an arranged marriage, courtesy of King William Rufus.  Somehow these two strangers – one worldly and experienced, the other terrified and naïve – must find a way to make their marriage work, for they are besieged on all sides by danger.  They cannot afford discord at home as well; there is too much at stake.

The age gap between the two was handled sensitively (if I remember rightly, it is twelve years; Judith is sixteen years old), yet it kept in mind that their respective ages wouldn’t have caused a stir in the 1090’s.  It’s interesting to read how their relationship develops over the course of the book, and how Judith grows from not-quite-a-woman at the start of it to a woman by the end of it.  The transformation is written perfectly.

The politics at this time are complex, especially in the region of the Marches, where the Norman nobility are trying to subdue the Welsh.  To complicate matters further, the Marcher Lords are not together united, but rather striving for their own personal power and wealth.  These issues are dramatized well in the story.  Indeed, the historical detail, whether in terms of events, or descriptions of castle features, or the fashion of the time period, is richly described, and the fictional elements combining with it create a captivating tale.

My favourite character was probably Rhosyn.  I found her intriguing; her position, her life, her story. I would love to read a novella that focuses on her life on the other side of the border.

Tis story is very readable.  The narrative captures the imagination, bringing the beauty and the danger of the Marches in the eleventh century to life with ease.  The author’s writing style helped the story flow; it was engaging and entertaining.  It had everything: politics, history, emotional conflict, an unusual love story, and main characters that are believable and flawed.

I’m eagerly anticipating reading the second book in the trilogy, The Running Vixen.  Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction set at the end of the eleventh / beginning of the twelfth century.

Rating

Book Review: The Wild One by Danelle Harmon

The Wild One is the first book in The de Monteforte Brothers series written by Danelle Harmon, a set of historical romances set during the Regency.

Juliet Paige has travelled from Boston to England to meet the family of Charles, the man to whom she was engaged, and the father of their daughter.  However, he died before they could marry, and now, all alone in the world, that is apart from her young daughter, Juliet decides to cross the ocean and put her faith and trust in the family of the man she so desperately loved.  However, Charles was a de Monteforte, second in line to the dukedom of Blackheath and Juliet was the daughter of a colonial shopkeeper.  She is certainly unsure of the welcome she’ll receive.

Lord Gareth, now second in line to the dukedom of Blackheath after his older brother Charles died in the colonies, continues to do what he does best…drink and joke around as the leader of the Den of Debauchery.  However, that all changes the night that he stops a stagecoach from being robbed, a stagecoach on which Juliet Paige and her daughter are travelling, taking a bullet in the process and becoming a hero overnight.

Through the calculating manipulations of Lucien, the Duke of Blackheath, not to mention the fact that Juliet and Gareth have fallen in love with each other but have yet to acknowledge it, the pair’s fate becomes entwined.

How will they survive?  Will Juliet be rewarded for her courage for travelling such a vast distance alone?  Will Gareth prove himself the responsible and reliable man Juliet needs him to be?

The author brings Georgian England to life with ease; her characters are believable and the storyline engaging from the very first page.  The Wild One is full of action and romance, and I would certainly recommend it to those who enjoy Regency romance stories.