Saturday, October 11, 2014

The New Moon with the Old (Book Review)

Publication: 1963, Corsair paperback edition 2012
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Since her mother died, Jane Minton has sought live-in positions and has no permanent home so is full of anticipation for her new job as secretary/housekeeper to the attractive Rupert Carrington, a London businessman.  When she arrives, luggage in hand, at the Carringtons’ country home she meets his children, three adults: Richard, a mid-20s aspiring composer; Clare, pretty and ineffective; Drew, determined to write a novel set in the Edwardian era; and 14-year-old Merry, a precocious teen planning to go on the stage. When disaster strikes, Rupert is exposed as an embezzler and flees the country, while the Carrington offspring and Jane must join forces to save their existence at Dome House.

Author: Dorothy Gladys "Dodie" Smith (1896 – 1990) was an English novelist and playwright.  Smith is best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians which became a Disney (ugh) movie and for I Capture the Castle which, amazingly, I never read until my Betsy-Tacy cohorts recommended it about 15 years ago.  The title of this book apparently refers to a Coleridge poem.

Audience:  Anglophiles; fans of authors like D. E. Stevenson, Nancy Mitford, Rebecca Shaw, Katie Fforde

What I liked: I enjoyed this from the first page: She did not believe in omens but instantly knew this was a good one: the afternoon sun, coming from behind the clouds, had turned the grey of the glass dome to a shimmer of gold.  Seen from this hill top where she had got out of her car to reconnoiter – and there could be no doubt that was Dome House – the effect was quite dazzling and extremely cheering. 

Think of all the wonderful books that begin with an intrepid heroine approaching a unique house, and you won’t be able to resist either, although this is not a gothic romance but is very funny, light English fiction.  Jane is older than the traditional heroine, late 30s, but I enjoy older heroines now more than I did as a teen.   The book follows the four Carrington offspring as they cope with their father’s disappearance and try to make their way in the world.  It becomes more about their, albeit improbable, efforts and adventures than about Jane, who has become so fond of the siblings that she wants to stay with them and help them stay together.

Incidentally, it doesn’t sound very stressful to be the housekeeper for a large house with two maids (at least, pre-embezzlement when there are unlimited funds). The book is dated, in a charming way, and nowhere more than in its depiction of the beloved and faithful retainers who are taken to lunch every week by the Carrington siblings and join them to watch television at night.

What I disliked: While some readers complain that nothing really happens in this book, I disagree; however, I have always been a fan of riches-to-rags-type books.  I will say that perhaps I have read too much chick lit and was hoping for a happier ending for the heroine, Jane!  Nor did I care for the storyline/romantic interest of the eldest son.  It is an unusual book but delightful. 
Source: This book and another by Smith, The Town in Bloom, were gifts from Emily Gold who was delighted to find I was unfamiliar with them. Thank you for a great read. What lovely new covers and they are now available inexpensively at Daedalus

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Outlander – Episode 6, The Garrison Commander – Recap

In the last episode, just as Claire had become extremely disillusioned with Dougal and his MacKenzie sidekicks, she is offered an escape by a gallant English officer, Lieutenant Jeremy Foster.  Claire hesitates, but tells the Lieutenant that she is the guest of Clan MacKenzie.  He insists that she accompany him to see his commanding officer, and Dougal says he will go with her (although Claire knows he hates the English soldiers).  A foppish English officer (Brigadier General Sir Oliver Lord Thomas) welcomes Claire to his dinner table – he appears to have wandered out of Georgette Heyer – and he and his pals insult Dougal, who says softly they should have stayed in London if they don’t like the local accent.

Claire appears quite at home with the nobility despite having been camping for weeks and wearing the same dress all that time.  At first she revels in the company of her countrymen and they are equally delighted to be entertained by a delicately bred Englishwoman.  Genially, Lord Thomas instructs Lieutenant Foster to escort her to Inverness, and Claire thinks she is home free until Captain Jonathan Randall, our villain, bursts in.  They glare at each other but pretend they haven’t met.  Lord Thomas suggests that Captain Randall bring Claire to Inverness so he can hear about her adventures.  Captain Randall tells Claire about an English private who was killed by the Scots, Isis-style.  While Claire expresses sorrow over his fate, she points out that she encountered some Highlanders who had apparently been crucified by the English without due process.  The English officers don’t see that both sides are exercising vigilante justice, and see Claire’s candid opinions as disloyal.  Captain Randall seizes the opportunity to impugn her morals and accuses her of sleeping with Dougal (in Dougal's dreams!).  Claire says that’s a scurrilous lie, and Randall pretends to apologize.   Claire is so angry she defends the Scots and their right to their own land, which offends her hosts.
There is a skirmish outside the town and Claire offers to help with the wounded, startling the English officers who don’t know she’s a healer.  She warns Dougal to make himself scarce because the English will want someone to blame, then she assists with an amputation without anesthesia (just in case you forgot that medicine in the 18th century is primitive).  When she returns to the elegant dining room, the English officers are all gone except Randall who is being shaved by his batsman.  Claire has a flashback to Frank, using the same blade, but with her affectionate assistance.  Randall dismisses the servant and tells Claire that her outspoken comments make her loyalty questionable.  However, he tells her he wants to apologize for their previous encounters and says he hopes they can start again with honesty on both sides.  “My honesty will match yours, Captain,” Claire replies warily.

Randall states her behavior labels her as a trollop or a spy.  Desperate, Claire makes up a new story, saying she was betrayed by a lover stationed in Scotland.   Randall doesn’t believe her, but says if she gives him evidence that Dougal is raising money for the Jacobites, he will bring her to Inverness.   Claire insists she never heard any discussion of treason.   Randall threatens to torture her to get the information he wants.   Furious, Claire tells Randall she’s heard about his notorious lashing of a young Scot and we get an unpleasant and way too long flashback to Jamie getting flogged while Randall enjoys it.  Jamie’s refusal to beg for mercy made his punishment worse, just as Claire refuses to back down to Randall.   If you had any doubt about Randall's character, hearing him talk about the beauty of the flogging shows you how sick he is.  Claire, revolted but trying not to show weakness, listens to Randall blame war and the Scots for what he has become.   She tells him he can choose to be the man he wants to be, despite what he has done.  He says he can start by escorting her to Inverness but he is toying with her; he calls his servant, Corporal Hawkins, back into the room, but when he helps Claire up, he punches her in the stomach.  As she lies gasping on the floor, he forces the corporal to kick her Kick her, milksop!”  Dougal bursts in just in time to rescue Claire, warning Randall to let her go unless he wants to start a war. here. on this day.   
Randall gives in reluctantly but commands Dougal, “Be sure to deliver her to Fort William by sundown tomorrow, if she is not present at the appointed time, you’ll be accused of harboring a fugitive from English law and you’ll hunted down and punished even unto death, war chief or not.”

How Claire could get on a horse after Randall’s abuse, I don’t know, but they gallop away and she manages stay on while Dougal leads her to a mysterious pool and tells her to drink.   Then Dougal pulls a sword and asks her yet again if she is a spy.   Angrily, Claire denies it.   He tells her he brought her to St. Ninian’s Spring; according to legend, anyone who drinks must tell the truth, so because she drank he finally believes she isn’t a spy.   Dougal explains the only way he can save Claire from Captain Randall is for her to marry a Scot: then the English would have no jurisdiction over her.  Claire refuses and asks suspiciously if she is to marry Dougal but he makes it clear that while he lusts for her (like everyone else), Jamie is the lucky guy.   

When Jamie appears, looking a million times more attractive than Dougal (although Dougal looked pretty good when he rescued Claire from Randall), Claire is reading her own marriage contract drafted by everyone’s favorite 18th century lawyer, Ned Gowan.   Claire is surprised that Jamie is willing to marry her and asks if there isn’t someone he is interested in.    Surprised, Jamie reminds her he has a price on his head so isn’t the most eligible prospect.  She can’t believe he is so willing to go along with Dougal’s plan and finally pulls out her last objection, “Doesn’t it bother you that I’m not a virgin?”   Jamie replies slowly, “Ah, no, so long as it doesn’t bother you that I am.” Shyly he adds, “I reckon one of use should ken what they’re doing!”   Stunned, Claire gulps down some convenient alcohol as Jamie saunters back to the men, who are waiting patiently for the wedding.

What’s Important About This Episode:

·        Claire is torn between the Highlanders who have more or less protected her and the English, her own people, who (by disappearing) allow Randall to mistreat her

·        Claire continues to be freaked out by Randall’s resemblance to his descendant, Frank, one who hates her and one who loves her. 

·        Randall’s obsession with torturing Jamie is made all too clear – both in the flashback and in his delight in recounting it to Claire

·        Fabulous scene with Claire and Randall with incredible tension and great acting on both sides.  Just as in the book, the viewer forgets to breathe and is stunned by Randall’s unexpected brutality at the end.

·        Lord Thomas may be the garrison commander but it is Captain Randall who decides who gets kicked

·        Despite Dougal’s flaws, he protects Claire even when dangerous to do so (partly because she is the clan’s guest and partly because he hates Randall)

·        Claire and Jamie to marry!  Isn’t that what we’ve been waiting for since episode one?!  But what role reversal – it’s the hero who is young and so-to-speak untouched and the heroine who is experienced.

Images copyright to Starz

Monday, September 22, 2014

GI Brides (Book Review)

Title: GI Brides
Author: Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi
Barrett and Calvi are also the authors of The Sugar Girls, which chronicled the story of young women working in the factories of East London.
Publication:  HarperCollins Trade Paperback, September 2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Description: The subtitle of this book says it all: The wartime girls who crossed the Atlantic for love.  Between the years 1942 and 1952, about one million American soldiers married foreign women from 50 different countries.  Somewhere between 70,000- 100,000 war brides were British, 150,000 to 200,000 came from continental Europe, and another 16,000 were from Australia and New Zealand.  In this book, Calvi, the granddaughter of one such British war bride, and co-author Barrett take a look at four British women who followed their US husbands back to America after WWII and how they coped with the challenges of their new lives.
  
What I liked: Most of my friends know of my interest in women and war, particularly the work that women did outside the home during WWI and WWII.  I couldn’t put this book down!  While I am a fan of the stories about falling in love with a tall dark stranger, the stories in this book reveal the brash appeal of some of the GIs but the less obvious charm demonstrated by others.  It shows how many GIs were welcomed into British homes because they were far from home, even though many parents worried about their daughters falling for Americans.  The difficulties many of these women experienced when they arrived in the US after the war (or the challenges they had getting to America) are not ignored; instead, the book captures the excitement and the angst of their new lives.   

Audience: Fans of Homefront, one of my favorite TV shows ever, and of Call the Midwife; fans of historical fiction set during WWII. It reminded me of books by Lucilla Andrews, Lilian Harry and Margaret Mayhew. For those who like this genre, I also recommend Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes.
Source:  I received GI Brides from the TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to read other reviews.  

Tuesday, September 9th: BookNAround

Thursday, September 11th: Book Loving Hippo

Wednesday, September 17th: Doing Dewey

Thursday, September 18th: A Novel Review

Monday, September 22nd: Alison’s Book Marks

Wednesday, September 24th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Thursday, September 25th: A Bookworm’s World

Saturday, September 27th: Great Minds Read Alike

Thursday, October 2nd: Book by Book

Wednesday, October 8th: Diary of an Eccentric

Wednesday, October 15th: Sammy the Bookworm

Monday, September 15, 2014

Outlander – Episode 5, Rent – Recap

This is a somewhat depressing episode in which Claire spends weeks on the road with Dougal and his occasionally merry men in what appears to be an annual trip to collect rent from the MacKenzie tenants.  Claire had hoped she would get an opportunity to escape to the Standing Stones of Craigh na Dun but she is still under close guard. Would you want to spend the night in this pitiful tent with no running water and half cooked animal legs to nibble?  Claire escapes down to the water and wistfully recites:
Against thy strength,
Distance and length:
Do what thou canst for alteration;
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join, and time doth settle.

An older man joins in to recite the words with her and Claire meets Ned Gowan, an Edinburgh lawyer who joined the MacKenzies to seek more adventure than a traditional city legal practice provides (isn’t there a clan that will take me and my legal skills?).  Claire recognizes a friend and possible ally, and immediately treats him for asthma - successfully, of course.  By the way, Claire thinks John Donne is the author of this poem but it is also attributed to John Moses Hoskyns.  This ambiguity is what happens when you add something that isn’t in the book and expect a History and Literature major not to look up the poem!

Jamie tries to cheer Claire up from her depression: she doesn’t seem to mind the endlessly crude conversation of the Scots but she is lonely and resents being distrusted.  She worries when she sees poor villagers tithing to Colum and leaving themselves with very little, and she also begins to suspect Dougal is diverting funds to himself.  At one village, she befriends a group of women who are singing merrily while softening wool with urine.  She asks the women about Craigh na Dun and finds it is a three-day journey.  Suddenly, Angus bursts in and drags her away – I can finally tell Angus and Rupert apart: Angus is meaner and uglier.   Claire protests his rough treatment and tries to remove a goat from the MacKenzie tribute so a baby doesn’t go without milk.  This does not go over well with Colum.
Suddenly, a young Englishman appears out of nowhere and asks if Claire is all right.  Colum says she’s their guest and Angus insults the man until he realizes he is outnumbered and retreats.  It is never explained why he is hanging out in this Scot settlement by himself or why the locals didn’t warn Colum he was a Redcoat but the viewer sees him put on his red uniform coat so we know what he is when he disappears.

The road trip assumes a routine in which they visits villages and receive rent in various forms in the daytime and Colum holds court in pubs at night.  Claire resents the fact that she doesn’t understand Gaelic so she doesn’t know what he is up to but each night Colum rips Jamie’s shirt off to reveal the scars and she knows Jamie does not like anyone to see his back (see episode 2).

Best line of the night:

Ned Gowan:  You have a good head on your shoulders and a tongue for argument as well.  You’d make a fine advocate yourself.  It’s a pity they don’t allow women to practice law.

Claire: Not yet.

Ned: It will be a few centuries before that happens!

Claire: Only two.

(This is not in the book but it's funny and so far there is not as much humor as in the book)

The MacKenzies come across a house being burnt down by the Watch, and Claire learns the owner was suspected of being a traitor.  She is upset that the MacKenzies seem to be looting and says she won’t eat stolen food.  Angus pulls a knife on her for the insult and Jamie has to calm him down.  Jamie then tries to talk some sense into Claire, tells her not to judge them because she doesn’t understand everything that’s going on.  Dougal seems to be getting more and more irritated that he brought her along.  Eventually, Claire picks up enough Gaelic to figure out that Dougal is raising money for the Jacobite cause, to fund an army to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie to Scotland to oust the Hanoverians.   Long live the Stuarts!  She has a flashback to Frank and Reverend Wakefield discussing the Jacobite uprising, and realizes Dougal’s machinations are political, not criminal.  

Dougal finally asks Jamie if he is committed to the Stuart cause (while Claire eavesdrops) and points out that a Stuart king would help him to save his neck (because the British put a price on his head).  Jamie retorts that his neck is his own concern, as is his back.  “Not while you travel with me, sweet lad!” Dougal tells him, clearly planning to go on using his scars to show the brutality of the English.  Jamie is furious and stomps away but seems to soften when he encounters Claire.  He's mumbling, which is a bad habit of his, but I think he tells Claire each person needs to determine for himself what’s worth fighting for.  

Claire now has a different problem: she knows the rebellion will not nly be unsuccessful but also disastrous to the Scots; however, there is no way to alert them without their thinking she is crazy or a witch.  At one point, she tries to warn Ned Gowan, the most sensible member of the group but he dismisses her warning.  The journey takes a dark turn when they discover two Scots who have been nailed to crosses by Redcoats and left to die as alleged traitors.

That night, the MacKenzies stay at an inn and Claire actually gets to sleep in a real bed, but she hears a noise outside her room and opens the door, accidentally stepping on Jamie (again) and wonders what the hell he’s doing.  He reveals that he is sleeping there to protect her from drunks.  Once  she understands, she urges him to come sleep inside the room (on the floor) but that shocks Jamie, who says, “Your reputation would be ruined!”  Claire thinks this is silly when she’s been traveling with these men for weeks without a chaperone and persuades him to at least take a blanket.   They exchange a meaningful look before she firmly closes the door.  Gallant Jamie!  This is the best part of the episode.

There is a brawl in the tap room the next morning and it isn’t until Claire is mending the men’s boo-boos later that Murtagh tells her they were fighting to defend her honor!  This is a turning point in her relationship with the men, and she later makes a lewd joke about Rupert which the men love.   As the group passes over Culloden Moor, Claire has another flashback to Frank telling her about the extreme loss of men in 1746 and how the British subsequently ended the Highland way of life by disbanding the clans and forbidding the wearing of kilts.   Claire knows the battle of Culloden is three years away and wonders how many of the men she’s with now will die there.

She goes down to the river to wash and Dougal follows her and demands (again) to know who she really is.  She says she isn’t a spy, and while they are arguing, the young Englishman she met earlier appears, armed and in his uniform, with several other English officers.

He says to Claire, “Once more I ask you, is everything all right?” and introduces himself as Lieutenant Jeremy Foster.  He’s not in the book but there is something sweet about him and his appearance is very dramatic.  Dougal says the lady is none of his concern and explains he is a big scary war lord and ignores the fact that he is outnumbered. 

Lieutenant Foster asks Claire again, “Are you here by your own choice?” and while Claire tries to determine the best answer, the episode ends.

What’s Important About This Episode:

·        Claire’s improved relationship with Dougal didn’t last, and she is too willful to make an effort to get along with him – although she realizes this will hinder her escape

·        Dougal is using Jamie’s scars as shock value to persuade Scots to give money to the Jacobite cause, ignoring Jamie’s feelings (but are you allowed to have feelings when you are a warrior?)

·        Jamie is not committed to the Jacobite cause even though he has more cause than Dougal to hate the British.  Or is it that he wants to make the choice, not be Dougal’s pawn?

·        Despite the dreariness of the extended road trip, there is growing friendship between Claire and Jamie and growing sizzle

·        The appearance of Lieutenant Foster may provide the escape Claire has been hoping for

Images copyright to Starz

Friday, September 12, 2014

Outlander – Episode 4, The Gathering – Recap

As the episode begins, we see Claire running urgently and it seems as if she is making her escape and is about to be shot by a sentry, but after a nervous minute for viewers it turns out she is playing with some castle children – clearly getting the lay of the land and discarding her fichu to mark her escape route.  Falling down, she gets an unpleasant view of what Rupert is not wearing under his kilt, and manages a put down with typical aplomb and sarcasm.  Her two unofficial guards whine about her prolonged playtime with the children because they don’t want to miss any of the festivities (Angus and Rupert resemble Shakespearean buffoons in this episode) and Claire pretends to give in, so they can all return to the castle where everyone is arriving and gearing up for the Clan Gathering.
Diana Gabaldon as Lady Iona MacTavish
Claire stops in the stables, ostensibly to pick out a horse to use at the Hunt the next day which she’ll be attending in her healer role, but really to earmark one for her planned escape that night.  Oh so casually, she asks where Jamie is because there’s nothing like a flirtation when one is planning to steal a horse, and old Alec, always a downer, warns her to leave Jamie alone because of the Gathering.  “I didn’t think I was a bother,” she mutters with annoyance.   Alex tells her she can use a horse called Brimstone, promising its personality belies the name.  We can only hope.

Returning to her medical scullery in the Castle basement, Claire is startled by nosy Geillis, uninvited and as curious as when we last saw her quizzing Claire about her upbringing.  She notices Claire’s stash of food and jumps to the conclusion that Claire is pregnant.  Startled and indignant, Claire tells Geillis she has never been unfaithful to her husband.

“It’s not unfaithful if he’s dead,” responds Geillis, pragmatic but sensing something off.

“He’s not alive,” Claire says bleakly.

“So he’s dead, then,” replies Geillis. If Claire weren’t so desperate for a bestie, she’d realize Geillis is worse than no friend at all!  Claire admits that her husband is dead, and Geillis asks some impertinent questions about whether Claire is barren.  Then she moves on to another topic, noticing that Claire has gathered a large quantity of valerian, which can be used as a sleeping potion.   Geillis tells Claire that when she arrived in town, she had nothing but her wits to survive.  She found an affluent husband and doesn’t mind that he’s not much too look at because she can do as she pleases (famous last words).

“Sometimes you find yourself on a path you never expected.  It doesn’t mean it can’t lead you to a bonnie place,” she tells Claire.   Geillis’ semi-accurate guessing is making Claire nervous so Claire says she’ll see Geillis at the Gathering.   Geillis warns Claire that being a woman alone in the Highlands is dangerous.
However, the Highlands are very welcoming to Diana Gabaldon, who snagged herself a speaking role in this episode as an elegantly dressed guest at the Gathering (although Mrs. Fitz comments that it’s the same dress Lady Iona wore at the last Gathering – burn!).  Then Mrs. Fitz finds Claire looking for a knife in the kitchen and dragged her away to be dressed up.  The purpose of the Gathering is not just fun but for pledging an oath of allegiance to Colum, Laird of the MacKenzie.  Murtagh translates the symbolic language for Claire while Colum presides, newly shaven and likely wearing the garments he terrorized the tailor about in the previous episode.  Dougal is the first to pledge his loyalty (the women are ignored but get to clap at dramatic moments) and sips from the special chalice.  Claire takes the opportunity to withdraw, pretending she wants to prepare for the next day’s Hunt, but Rupert follows her, begging her to stay so he doesn’t have to miss the fun.   Acting as if she’s given in, she smiles and offers him a swig of port from her handy-dandy Valerian-dosed flask (spitting her mouthful discreetly on the floor).  “It’s a sedative,” she says.   “Is that Spanish?’  Soon Rupert (unless it is Angus) has passed out, which was her goal.     

When Claire gets back to her surgery, who is waiting for her this time but that annoying, big-eyed Laoghaire and she wants Claire to provide a love potion to secure Jamie’s affections!  This is not in the book and I don't approve for several reasons I don't have time to go into now.  Claire gives the girl some horse dung (ugh) to sprinkle outside Jamie’s door (but doesn’t he sleep in the stable?).  “Good luck,” says Claire with seeming sincerity but it’s not as if she gave Laoghaire a potion that would actually work . . . so Jamie is safe.  

Ready to make her escape, Claire heads outside where she is immediately waylaid by some drunken Scots.  This is not the first or last time in the series Claire is nearly raped.  She is rescued by Dougal but he steals a kiss (which sounds lighthearted but isn’t) and warns her to be careful or someone will want more.  Claire first slaps him and then hits him with a nearby chair, knocking him out cold.  Good work!

She heads for the stable, looking for the horse, but steps on Jamie who is napping there.  He guesses instantly what she is up to but tells her she wouldn’t have got far with all the MacKenzies after her.  He says he’ll bring her back to the castle, and Claire reveals her disappointment that her plans are being thwarted, plus tells him she can’t go back because she walloped Dougal with a chair, which makes Jamie laugh.  Then they are discovered by some drunk clansmen who realize Jamie should be inside the Great Hall and drag him inside to get ready.  Angus (surely Rupert is passed out somewhere?) appears in time to help Jamie defend Claire’s honor and hands him a MacKenzie brooch which Claire translates (forgetting she shouldn’t show off her education).  Jamie looks at it and says it’s not his clan, that his clan’s motto is Je suis prest (I am ready). 

Claire doesn’t realize it but Jamie has been strategically avoiding the Gathering because he does not want to pledge his loyalty to Colum.  As popular nephew to the ill Colum, Jamie could be considered a possible heir and he knows that Colum and Dougal want Colum’s son to succeed him.  Jamie is afraid that if he doesn’t take the Oath, his uncles will think he is disloyal but if he does, the rest of the clan might think he is jockeying for position (think Scott Brown moving to New Hampshire to run for office) and his uncles will have him killed. Claire realizes it is her fault Jamie left the safety of the stables and is now forced to make a strategic decision.

Jamie magnificently hedges his bets by making a pledge of loyalty to his own clan, but swearing his obedience is to his kinsmen, the MacKenzies.  While everyone in the Hall holds his or her breath, Colum decides to accept the pledge and Jamie drinks up.  And finally it's party time!  Stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance!

The next day is the Hunt, and although Claire makes fun of all the men pursuing one little pig, what we see is an impressively rendered boar and I wouldn’t go anywhere near it!   Claire is not as lucky – she nearly gets trampled by the boar but Dougal shoots it just in time.  However, there is a casualty, which Claire's healing skills can't mend.  She and Dougal keep Geordie company as he slowly dies.  Dougal is grim at losing a friend but suddenly all the men are playing field hockey and he grabs a stick and joins in (okay, it turns out to be an obscure Scottish game called shinty) .  The tension and rivalry of the oath-giving seem to return and Dougal goes after Jamie aggressively.  As a former field hockey player myself, I was taken aback by their rugby-like approach to the sport but the ultimate result is that Jamie is victorious!  Take that, Dougal!

Afterwards, Dougal comes to visit Claire in her scullery (as Jamie predicted, if Dougal remembers about being hit by the chair, he is not going to admit it).  “You’ve seen men die before, and by violence,” Dougal observes, and Claire admits it.  He thanks Claire for helping Geordie die peacefully.  Then he tells Claire he is going to take her with him on a trip to collect the rents from Colum’s tenants because a healer might be useful.  “We leave at first light,” he says.  Perched (presumably) on Brimstone, Claire leaves Castle Leoch with Dougal, Jamie, and what look like Rupert and Murtagh (wearing an elegant coat with furry cuffs and collar – thanks, Mrs. Fitz!), and although she doesn’t know where they’re going she is secretly rejoicing because she figures it must be closer to the Standing Stones than staying at the Castle as Colum’s guest.

What’s Important About This Episode:
·        Geillis continues to be suspicious of Claire
·        Jamie prevents Claire from escaping and she prevents Jamie from avoiding the oath-taking to Colum
·        Jamie shows great diplomacy in his pledge to Colum, and we learn that he is taken seriously as a young warrior by the Clan.  Murtagh reminds Claire that Jamie has a price on his head.
·        Dougal begins to take Claire more seriously after the shared death of Geordie
·        Leaving the Castle may give Claire an opportunity to escape

Images copyright to Starz

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bergdorf Blondes (Book Review)

Title: Bergdorf Blondes (10th Anniversary Edition)
Author: Plum Sykes
Publication Information:  Harper Collins Trade Paperback, 2014 (originally published 2004)
Genre: Chick Lit
Plot:  This is a satirical look at the beautiful people of New York City, specifically a nameless heroine and her friend, Julie Bergdorf (supposedly the heiress to the department store where I could barely afford to buy Laura Mercier cosmetics), 20-somethings who spend their time partying and wearing designer clothing.  When it seems like everyone they know is getting engaged and glowing attractively, she and Julie decide they too need to find eligible husbands and the rest of the book is about their misadventures as they try out various men as I would try out a new purse.  It is no surprise who the nameless heroine ends up with but it is amazing the poor choices she makes along the way.   It is hard to believe anyone who went to Princeton, even fictionally, could be quite so dimwitted.

What I liked:  The book is entertaining, if implausible; in fact, it is not meant to be taken seriously.  This glimpse of the idle Manhattan rich was a quick read for a hot summer day, and I liked the new packaging.   However, I think it would be more fun to read all day than to party with these heroines!

What I disliked: I enjoy well done chick lit but found this book very silly and predictable, albeit funny at times.  I did not care for all the (admittedly admiring) references to Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and at first wondered if the book had been written before her death (it had not).  This gave it a dated feel.   And unless you are Daphne DuMaurier, please give your heroine a name, if just for the sake of the reviewer!
Source:  I received Bergdorf Blondes from the TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about Plum Sykes and another of her books, The Debutante Divorcee.   Here are some recent stops:

Wednesday, September 3rd: Reading in Black & White – The Debutante Divorcee
Thursday, September 4th: booknerd – The Debutante Divorcee
Monday, September 8th: Mom in Love With Fiction – Bergdorf Blondes

Sykes was a Vogue editor who moved to NYC so presumably was acquainted with the sort of people in this book.  Most of the people I worked with in book publishing had too much work to go out every night, although there were a few blonde women at Wiley who were hung over every morning...


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Early Decision (Book Review)

Publication Information:  William Morrow, Trade Paperback, 2014 (originally published 2013)
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Anne Arlington is the brilliant young woman who advises (mostly) affluent high school seniors on the perfect essay that will make the difference in their college applications.  But while Anne is gifted at helping an inarticulate student find his or her voice (and thus the way to an admissions officer’s heart), she lacks confidence in every aspect of her life – career, boyfriend, and dealing with neighbors and parents.  Distracted by parents zealous on behalf of their privileged children, when will she be able to figure out the key to her own success?

Audience: Fans of chick lit; parents of high school seniors; anyone who remembers procrastinating about college applications

What I liked:  I could not put the book down, although as an alumni interviewer for Harvard myself, there was not much in it that was new to me.  I have often heard that a great essay can make the difference for an applicant, and I enjoyed how this story was told by looking at several different (and surprisingly appealing) applicants in a combination of narrative and essays.  It was extremely funny while simultaneously convincing and at times horrifying.  I am not sure I have met any parents as dreadful as those in this book but I have seen lots of people lose all sense of proportion during their children’s application process.   And in NYC where I used to live the competition begins with preschool admissions, long before college! 

What I disliked: I didn’t understand why Anne was so ashamed of her job, given that admissions consultants can be well paid and successful, and she was clearly very skilled.  Nor did I understand the appeal of her boyfriend, so wondered why she put up with him so long.  She suffered from working at home and not having any friends her own age except former grad school acquaintances.  I got depressed reading about her depression, and was impatient for her to come to her senses. 
Source:  I received Early Decision from the TLC BookTours and recommend it as a fun read.  Click here to buy a copy.   I also urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other reviewers had to say about this book.