Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing (Book Review)

Publication Information: HarperCollins hardcover, 2014
Genre: Contemporary fiction, set in England
Plot: Maud is an elderly woman losing her memory, devoted to her friend Elizabeth. Although confused by much of her daily life, she knows she hasn’t seen Elizabeth lately.  Convinced Elizabeth is missing, Maud is determined to find her.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Outlander – Season 1, Episode 1, Sassenach – Recap

As requested, I’ve gone back to the beginning of Outlander to recap the first episode.   For those who missed the 8-part series on Starz, it will probably be repeated in a marathon showing just before the second half of season 1 begins in April and is also going to be rerun on Christmas.  Outlander is based on Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling historical fiction series.  As I have told many people, as I left Bantam Doubleday Dell in May of 1991, I helped myself to two advance reading copies (arcs) from a pile on the 22nd floor that looked appealing.  One was The Firm by John Grisham and the other was Outlander.  I often think about how BDD (now Random House) launched two incredible franchise authors that year.
 
Episode 1 begins with a voiceover from Claire, the heroine of the series, describing how people disappear every day.  Most such disappearance can be explained, but not all.  (If you need an explanation for time travel, this is the wrong show/series for you.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Woman with a Gun (Book Review

Publication Information: Harper Collins, Hardcover, December 2014
Genre: Suspense
 Plot: This is a story within a story inspired by an unusual photograph of a woman in wedding dress approaching the ocean, holding a gun.  Stacey Kim is working as a receptionist at a law firm in New York to pay the bills while she nurses literary ambitions: 

"Stacey’s nonexistent social life and mind-numbing job would not have mattered if she was making progress on her novel, but she wasn’t . . . Each time Stacey stared at the blank page on her laptop she tried to rekindle the hope and excitement she had felt during her first days in New York, but all she felt was despair.
That was about to change."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You’re Welcome vs. No Problem

I am a serial thanker.  This may be partly because of my experience in service industries or due to innate courtesy.  When living in NYC, I always thanked bus drivers profusely, partly to be nice but also convinced that some day one would recognize me running to catch up and would wait for me.  Recently, I have noticed a disturbing phenomenon: the new default response to a thank you from the younger generation is “no problem.”   However, I do not consider that “no problem” is by any means an equivalent to “you’re welcome” or that it is appropriate in all situations.

When someone says “you’re welcome,” she is making an affirmative representation that providing service to you was, if not her privilege, something that gave her satisfaction.  The transaction is cemented by gracious thanks on your side and polite assurance on hers.

In contrast, when someone responds to thanks with a “no problem,” whether courteously or airily delivered, it implies that there was a problem or that he was not overly inconvenienced by the service provided.  “It was not a problem for me to assist you in this way” or “There is no need to thank me because it didn’t cause me a problem.”   Does that individual intend to communicate churlishness?  Probably not (although the service I receive from some would indicate otherwise) but why not send the thanker off feeling appreciated rather than grudgingly tolerated?  Otherwise, why acknowledge the thanks at all? 


Is this generational, mere informality or a real decline in manners?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Outlander – Season 1, Episode 8, Both Sides Now – Recap

This episode begins in 20th century Inverness showing Frank’s side of Claire’s disappearance.  I never cared that much about Frank’s suffering but Ron Moore, the producer of Outlander, decided to fill out that part of the story.  The police tell Frank that they have spent six weeks investigating Claire’s disappearance without results and they have concluded she is still alive, probably with the Highlander Frank saw lurking outside her window.   Frank is furious with their lack of effort and assumptions about Claire, and says emphatically that his wife is not with another man.   
Immediate cut away to Claire with her other man – her new husband, Jamie. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Sea Garden (Book Review)

Title: The Sea Garden
Author: Deborah Lawrenson
Publication Information: HarperCollins, hardcover, 2014
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Plot: This book consists of three interlocking novellas.  In the first story, set in 2013, Ellie Brooke, a landscape architect, has traveled to an island off the French coast to restore a long neglected garden. Her employer is an urbane older Frenchman with an eccentric elderly mother. Ellie’s visit has ominous overtones even before she reaches the decayed home of the de Fayols family, but she experiences the usual gothic intimidation once she arrives: hostility, a host who abandons her, mysterious strangers, her possessions rifled, and she becomes mysteriously dizzy.  Ellie’s narrative ends abruptly.

The second story appears unconnected.  Set during WWII, it is about a blind young Frenchwoman who works for a small family perfume business in Provence.  Slowly, Marthe becomes aware that her employers are involved in the Resistance and are sheltering English and American pilots and agents, later to be smuggled past the German soldiers to safety.  Can shy but appealing Marthe play a part in this dangerous undertaking?

The third and most appealing story, also set during WWII, is about Iris Nightingale, a young woman working for British intelligence in London.  Part of her job is preparing men and women to go undercover in Occupied France.  We see Iris gain in confidence as the war goes on and her responsibilities increase (although the condescension of the men she works for is infuriating); then she falls in love with a dashing French agent, and her life will never be the same.     

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and of “past-present” books; those interested in WWII.

What I liked:  Overall, this book was a good blend of suspense and enough romance to make it interesting.  At first, I had a hard time getting into it because the first novella, Ellie’s story, was very dark and seemingly disorganized, and left me wondering what I had missed.  However, Marthe’s narrative, although familiar to me from many books about occupied France (for example, Fair Stood the Wind for France, which I enjoyed last year), was somewhat different because told through the prism of her blindness.  It was improbable but dramatic and unexpected.   Most of all, I enjoyed the third story, which was set in WWII London and had a dramatic and magical feel.  Iris was a delightful heroine, practical and good humored, but capable of a great romance with a dashing French stranger.  I also liked Iris’ friendship with another young woman working in British Intelligence and her work for a formidable boss, Miss Acton.  Several times, I found myself wishing the whole book had been told from Iris’ perspective because (as has been well disclosed) I love books about young women’s war work. 

The author left it very late to reveal the mystery connecting the three novellas, and while I had somewhat figured out where she was going I was still surprised by some of the outcome (and admired the unexpected ending, despite not liking it).  Once I finished the book, I had to reread the entire first section to see if some of my confusion would be alleviated.

What I disliked:  As mentioned elsewhere, the three novellas were uneven and I am still perplexed by some of the things that happened to Ellie, including the significance of the man who committed suicide on the boat, and how a newspaper story about her landscape work caused a woman on a remote French island to seek her services (well, I understand how but wish it were a little more plausible). And I can’t help feeling it is a pity to have a devastating hero like Xavier but give him so little time on stage.  

Source: I received an advance copy of this book from Harper Collins in return for an honest review.  Despite some unanswered questions, I recommend The Sea Garden enthusiastically, especially to friends who share my passion for fiction about WWII – four stars.  Let’s compare notes about Ellie’s part of the story when you finish. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Outlander – Season 1, Episode 7, The Wedding – Recap

This is the episode everyone was waiting for, whether she (or the occasional he) had read the book or not, and the ratings reflected this anticipation: the highest for any episode.  The Wedding was watched by 3.8 million viewers and broke ratings records for Starz. Pretty amazing for a station people either didn’t know they had (yours truly) or subscribed to just for Outlander.
In the previous episode, Dougal extracted Claire from a vicious confrontation with Captain Randall and told her he couldn’t protect an English citizen but even Black Jack would not dare touch Claire if she were married to a Scot.  Still stunned from being punched in the stomach by someone who so closely resembles her lost husband Frank, Claire reluctantly agreed to marry Jamie – after ascertaining Jamie didn’t object. 

This episode begins with a flashback to Claire and Frank’s wedding: she is about to meet his parents for the first time when he sweeps her off to a registry office, and their kiss fades into Claire and Jamie’s wedding kiss.  Then the newly married 18th century couple is alone at last in their wedding chamber, both nervous.  Claire suggests a drink and Jamie makes a gallant toast.   Although he is clearly very eager to consummate the marriage, he knows she is apprehensive and tells her not to be afraid; he won’t jump her.   She tells him she has some questions and he warily agrees to answer them.   Claire asks why he agreed to marry her.  Jamie flashes back to Ned Gowan and Dougal telling him this was the only way to protect her from Randall.  Dougal then made a lewd comment about Claire (implying anyone would enjoy having sex with Claire) and Jamie said angrily that if she becomes his wife, Dougal will have to refer to her with respect.  “So you married me to keep me safe?” she asks.

“You have my name, my clan, my family and, if necessary, the protection of my body as well,” Jamie promises. Swoon! Claire is nearly as affected as I am, and sits beside him and he is about to kiss her when she panics and asks about his family as a distraction.  Time goes by while they get to know each other slightly better and Claire relaxes.   Rupert and Angus burst in to see whether Jamie has done the deed.  Once Jamie has got rid of them (one hopes he locked the door this time), Claire suggests they go to bed.

“To bed or to sleep?” Jamie inquires with a meaningful look.  “Either way” he offers politely to help her remove her corset.  He undresses her very carefully and they kiss, accompanied by lots of heavy breathing. 

“Where did you learn to kiss like that?” Claire asks, surprised.
“I said I was a virgin, not a monk,” Jamie tells her, with a triumphant smile.

Their first encounter is over quickly, perhaps because Jamie is a novice (albeit very enthusiastic) or impatient but also because they have both been told the marriage must be consummated with witnesses nearby.  Talk about embarrassing!   Jamie and Claire appear very comfortable together afterwards but when she starts feeling guilty about Frank and darts out of the bedchamber to get them food, she is caught off guard by all the MacKenzies who are lying in wait and shout out all sorts of inappropriate questions.  She is barely dressed and frozen with horror but Jamie gallantly guides her back into the bedroom and takes the brunt of the abuse.   

While he is gathering food, Dougal glares at him and says resentfully Jamie hasn’t thanked him properly for his bride.  Dougal is hating Jamie’s wedding night, which is not good uncle behavior.   He warns Jamie not to rush back to Claire or she’ll have too much power over him.  Dougal doesn’t realize Claire already has so much power over Jamie that Jamie repeats the whole conversation to her!  Claire secretly likes that but gulps down some more whiskey anyway (she has been drinking pretty steadily since Dougal told her about the wedding).  Her hard head for alcohol is one of the ways in which she fits right into the 18th century!

Jamie, getting back into the mood, leans over Claire and calls her “mo nighean donn”  (my brown haired lass) for the first time.  More swooning.  He tells her how he obtained a Fraser tartan for their wedding (he had not been seen in one previously because that would be advertising his identity and remember there’s a bounty on his head).  It may be hard for a modern audience to understand how important wearing the tartan was for a loyal clansman, but the English knew, thus banned it after Culloden so as to completely wipe out whatever sparks of rebellion might be left.  There is a flashback to a very improbable chat with stern-looking Murtagh – Jamie says he wants to look his best at the wedding to honor his mother.  Murtagh was sweet on Ellen MacKenzie who chose another man and died when Jamie was a child but when Jamie asks what his mother would have thought of Claire, Murtagh says, "Do I look like a gypsy?"  

Jamie tells Claire he gave Dougal some conditions about their marriage (Dougal in disgust, “It would be easier to kill you both!”): first, that they be married by a priest (they are both Catholic); second, that a special wedding ring be made for Claire from a key he’d been carrying around in his sporran; and third, that someone find Claire a suitable wedding dress.  I could have done without seeing Ned Gowan being “entertained” in the brothel where he locates a dress for Claire, but he certainly found her a lovely gown, although much too low cut.

While Jamie was being so thoughtful, Claire was hung-over, but both she and Jamie look resplendent when it’s time for the wedding.  It’s the first time we’ve seen Jamie dressed up (his hair looks a bit odd) and he is more stunning than she is!   Overcome, she says she doesn’t even know his name!   He looks into her eyes, and says, “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”   The wimpy priest Dougal frightened into performing the wedding without bans does his part and they are married in a church we’d all like to visit, full of candles and clansmen in attendance.  At the end of the ceremony Claire is startled when their wrists are slightly cut (by helpful Dougal) and bound together so they can utter a Gaelic vow of unity.  (In the book, Claire and Frank got married at the same church as Claire and Jamie, but London makes more sense.)

After they discuss their recollections of the wedding, Claire is touched by the care Jamie took to make her wedding day memorable and she expresses her appreciation by asking him to remove his shirt so she can show that his scarred back is not repugnant to her.   After a few minutes, Jamie asks her to remove her shift and then gazes at her carefully.

“Have you never seen a naked woman before?” she asks gently.  

“Aye, but not one so close. And not one who’s mine,” he says, and carries her to the bed.  This time Claire uses their encounter to show him what pleases her, to explain about orgasms, and stun him with oral sex.   Afterwards, Jamie falls asleep and Claire ventures outside the bedchamber where Dougal is lying in wait.  He reports that he visited Captain Randall and broke the happy news that Claire had married his nephew.
“I commend you for doing your duty but it needn’t stop you from sampling other pleasures.  I find you to be the most singular woman, Claire.”   He caresses her chin.
“I’m Jamie’s wife!” she protests.  This is absurd!  Has Dougal ever looked in a mirror?  Probably not often, due to a general scarcity.  But, seriously, even if Claire weren’t falling in love with Jamie, why would anyone want to sample Dougal?  In his dreams!
Luckily, Rupert interrupts.  Claire thanks him for getting her wedding ring.  After she returns to the bedchamber, Rupert jokes to Dougal that Claire looks “well ridden” – gross.   This annoys Dougal so much he slaps Rupert and sends him away.

Back in the bedchamber, Jamie wakes up and sees Claire looking melancholy (well, you might feel guilty too if you were a bigamist who enjoyed having sex with your new husband).  He gets up and removes a string of pearls from his handy sporran and drapes them over Claire’s bare shoulders, telling her they belonged to his mother.  They have sex again and this time it shows that Claire really cares about him, and is not merely doing her duty/saving herself from Captain Randall.

The next morning Jamie heads down to breakfast ahead of Claire.  As Claire picks up her wedding dress from the floor, her Frank wedding ring falls out and bounces across the floor symbolically, landing between floorboards.  I was afraid it was going to disappear but Claire pulled it out and put it on her left hand.  She holds her hands out and surveys both wedding rings as the episode ends.
What’s Important About This Episode:

·        This episode is primarily eye candy for the loyal fans and was beautifully done.  The sex scenes were broken up by flashbacks to advance the story (not to mention the dark bedchamber must have been challenging to film in).  There were some humorous interludes in and out of the bedroom (but what was with the creepy cat?).  My friend Carla complains that the miniseries omits the humor that made the book unique, so it was good to see some laughter that didn’t involve pervy clansmen crudeness.

·        Claire feels very guilty about marrying Jamie when she is already married to Frank.  Hence all the scotch.   However, Jamie is sufficiently attractive that anyone would forget Frank temporarily. 

·        It wasn’t quite as obvious in the book that Dougal lusted for Claire (he does have a wife *and* a girlfriend), although he did kiss her on the night of the Gathering, and there’s another incident later on.   But he is delusional if he thinks he’s competition for Jamie. 

·        Diana makes it clear that she wants Claire to be perceived as very comfortable with her sexuality, no matter what century she’s in.  Claire is confident about everything, however.  People are attracted to her not just because she is beautiful but because she is courageous and self-possessed – look at the way she stood up to Captain Randall.  They don’t know she’s a time traveler but they know she’s not like the women they know.

·        Will Claire’s handsome husband make her forget her determination to return to the standing stones?

Starz has just announced that Outlander will return for its midseason premiere on April 4, 2015.  Can't wait!

Images copyright to Starz

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 – Season 1, 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 – Season 1, 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

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