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review 2018-05-08 16:18
Dragonfly in Amber / Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon

For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland's majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones ...about a love that transcends the boundaries of time ...and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his ....

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire's spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart ...in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising ...and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves....


Not a bad historical fantasy, but I have some issues with it. I kept putting off my reading until close to its due date at the library. Even when I got started and the deadline was approaching, I kept looking longingly at other books on my library book pile and had to force myself to keep reading this one.

First, the book starts with Claire returning to Scotland (in the 20th century) with her grown-up daughter Brianna. They meet a charming young Scotsman, Roger MacKenzie, and sparks fly between Brianna and Roger. Well & good, I am interested in this new plot line. But does Gabadon stick with it? No, everything takes an abrupt left turn, back into the past and we’re back in time with Claire & Jamie. And there are HUNDREDS of pages between appearances of Roger & Brianna.

The historical fantasy isn’t bad, as historical fantasies go, it just wasn’t what I was interested in. Claire & Jamie, blah blah, blah, Bonnie Prince Charlie, blah, blah, blah, Battle of Culloden, more blather. The manuscript is padded with all kinds of vignettes which do absolutely nothing to move the action along and only bogged me down (when Claire & Jaime discover the cave paintings, anyone?)

And this is going to sound very pedantic, but she mentions birds in the course of the book four times and only gets it right once. In the very beginning, chickadees are referenced. Well, there aren’t any chickadees in Scotland—they have related birds, the tits. If Claire had seen/heard Blue Tits or Coal Tits, that would be accurate, but not chickadees. At another point, Claire is woken by a mockingbird. No dice, there aren’t mockingbirds in France. Claire hears a meadowlark—impossible! Maybe a Skylark, but there aren’t meadowlarks in Europe. At least when Jamie feeds crumbs to some sparrows, she just leaves them as generic sparrows and doesn’t assign a species. I even hauled out my Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East just to check that I hadn’t lost my mind, but it backed me up. If you want accurate historical fiction, you can’t just go sticking North American birds into a novel set in Scotland and France!

Okay, bird rant over. I can tell how un-involved I was in the story that I’d be counting and evaluating the appearances of birds in the text.

One thing I did enjoy was the prominence of genealogical research in the plot line. Turns out that Claire’s 20th century husband, Frank, fortuitously counted some of the characters in this narrative in his family tree and had made a big enough deal of it that Claire was aware of these details. She spends a fair bit of time convincing the 18th century husband, Jamie, not to kill these relatives too soon, to ensure that Frank will be born. There’s more talk of the paradox of time travel in this novel, and I enjoyed those speculations.

Book number 283 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2018-01-08 18:21
The Great Hunt / Robert Jordan
The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.  And it is stolen.


My second step on the Wheel of Time! The best part about it was that it got me feeling things about these characters. I mean, I wanted to bash heads together with Rand being all stubborn and Mat not helping himself a bit and Perrin not accepting who he has become! And despite that, I realize that these would be hard realizations to come to—they aren’t just country lads anymore. Plus, Nyaneve irritated me every bit as much as I appreciated her.

The echoes of the King Arthur story are strong—Galad, Gawyn, and Elayne have been added to the cast. And there was a reference to a sword in a stone that only the Dragon Reborn could use. References to the legendary warrior Arthur, who is born again in the Dragon—like Arthur Pendragon, who is said to be asleep and ready to return to the world if he is needed.

The Horn of Valere and its ability to summon warriors of the past reminded me of Tolkien’s Paths of the Dead. It felt to me like this was being used up awfully early in the course of the WoT—after all, this is only volume 2 of 14!

There are obviously many unanswered questions and I shall look forward to reading The Dragon Reborn as soon as possible. (One of the advantages of getting a late start on this series is that they are all available now.)

Book 270 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2017-11-14 17:51
To Green Angel Tower / Tad Williams
To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams

As the evil minions of the undead Sithi Storm King prepare for the kingdom-shattering culmination of their dark sorceries and King Elias is drawn ever deeper into their nightmarish, spell spun world, the loyal allies of Prince Josua desperately struggle to rally their forces at the Stone of Farewell. And with time running out, the remaining members of the now devastated League of the Scroll have also gathered there to unravel mysteries from the forgotten past in an attempt to find something to strike down their unslayable foe.

But whether or not they are successful, the call of battle will lead the valiant followers of Josua Lackhand on a memorable trek to the haunted halls of Asu'a itself - the Sithi's greatest stronghold.


A satisfying ending to an engaging trilogy. I can see why this final tome was originally published in two parts—it was a definite door-stop! I sprained my wrist two years ago, and I found that old injury aching at the end of lengthy reading sessions!

However, the size of the volume was necessary in order to tie up the many, many loose ends from the first two books. I especially appreciated the return of “Rachel the Dragon” as an honoured elder lady, even as I grieved the loss of other characters. I also have to say that I appreciated the focus on Miriamele, despite the fact that she often came across as spoiled and irrational. I was able to endure that portrayal because Simon was often angry and petulant for no particular reason that I could discern either. Equal opportunity bad behaviour!

I appreciated that Osten Ard was not just a clone of Middle Earth. Williams gave the world his own structure and rules, and created unique creatures and challenges for his characters. I really liked the ending--it worked for me. I always feel the tug of emotion as the war ends and the circle of friends must split up to return to their own lives—happy to get back to normal, sad to be parted.

Book number 267 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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review 2015-07-29 15:19
Forever Amber / Kathleen Winsor
Forever Amber - Kathleen Winsor

Wow, this is a door-stop of a book and apparently when the publisher accepted it for publication, they cut it down to one fifth of its original size. I can’t imagine having to wade through even more pages to get to the conclusion, so I thank the editors profusely!

It’s difficult, from our 21st century perspective, to see what the fuss was about in the 1940s. This is one of the novels that began the path that led us to 50 Shades of Grey. It caused a stir for all the sex (which is not graphic at all) and for the sexual manoeuvring of the main character, Amber St. Claire. I suspect some of the fury was about the depiction of a woman who (gasp) enjoyed sex and had some ambition to rise in her society. Maybe the female ambition was even more objectionable than the frank discussion of sex, who knows?

I was reminded of some other novels that I enjoyed in the past, namely the Angelique series by Anne Golon (under the pseudonym Sergeanne Golon in the 1950s). Angelique is a French adventuress, in much the same vein as Amber. Instead of one huge novel, Golon published about 10 books, each detailing its own swatch of history. I blush to confess that I learned a lot of French history from these books--when other university students complimented me on my knowledge, I did not admit that I learned it from somewhat erotic novels!

Also brought to mind was Victoria Holt’s book My Enemy the Queen, published in 1978 and set in the court of Elizabeth I of England. It was the sexual rivalry of its main character Lettice with Queen Elizabeth that reminded me strongly of Forever Amber.

I was frustrated by several personal beliefs of Amber’s, namely that sexuality was the be-all and end-all of life, that conspicuous consumption was THE way to go, and that everyone thought about life the way she did (and if they didn’t, then they should).

I think that we 21st century women can view Amber, et al., as markers of how far we have come—to a place where women are actually considered to be persons, i.e. we can vote, we can choose who we marry or if we marry, we can support ourselves—at least here in the Western world, we are no longer completely dependent on men to defend and support us and we have more autonomy than ever before. I think my biggest annoyances in reading Forever Amber were the limitations that Amber put on herself. She keeps saying that she won’t remarry—until a man shows up who is richer or of higher station than herself, and then she just can’t seem to resist the urge to jump into matrimony again. Plus, being an introvert myself, I couldn’t empathize with the constant drive to be at court, to be involved in all the back stabbing and plotting that went on there.

Incidentally, I believe I have added a new word to my vocabulary—I can hardly wait until I encounter someone who I can call a “varlet.” I think it will be highly satisfying.

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review 2015-02-12 19:14
The Luminaries / Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.


For me, this book rated about 3.5 stars—somehow in that netherland between “I liked it” and “I really liked it.” I’ve rounded the score up to 4 stars, because it really was better than average despite the fact that I doubt that I will ever re-read it.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “intricate.” Despite its 2013 copyright date, to me it read like a book from the 19th century, very slow building in the beginning but reaching a feverish pitch by the last several chapters. I found myself wishing that I knew a little bit about astrology, so that I could appreciate the horoscopes at the beginning of each section and mentioned in the various chapter headings. Each of the 12 men introduced to Walter Moody in the first chapter represent a sign of the zodiac and are given suitable personality characteristics; their involvement seems to wax and wane according to astronomical charts. They may also have overtones of the 12 disciples, matching Mr. Staines, who is presumed dead, and who becomes a somewhat Christ-like figure in the end.

Having briefly visited New Zealand, I was reminded of the landscape and the weather I experienced there (thinking of the pouring rain while we visited Milford Sound, the temporary waterfalls cascading from the tops of the cliffs surrounding the Sound). I also enjoyed a couple of mentions of the tui, one of the most common birds seen and heard on that particular trip, and of the albatrosses following the ships.


It was in the nature of the time period chosen (a pioneering gold-rush time in N.Z. history) that there would be few female characters in the novel. Anna and Lydia are very much in the minority, but despite that the entire plot hinges on the two of them, especially Anna. I also appreciated the multiculturalism of the cast of characters, with one Maori and two Chinese characters firmly entwined in the tale.

It all comes down to who knew what when—and then what are they going to do about it? The interplay of personalities, the roads chosen or not chosen, the back-stories that inform the current story, all enjoyable parts of a very detailed and fiercely planned piece of writing.


Cross posted at my blog, including bird photos:


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