Kim’s Review of Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen (The Man Who Loved Jane Austen #2) by Sally Smith O’Rourke

16064895A bajillion years ago (read: three years) I read The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke.  I was at once fascinated by a story that was able to take time traveling, Jane Austen, traditions of horse farms in Virginia, and newly discovered letters authored by Jane Austen to Fitzwilliam Darcy work.  The main plot followed a young man (named Fitzwilliam Darcy!) from preset day Virginia who ends up traveling back to Jane Austen’s time!  I won’t tell you all the plot details, but suffice it to say Jane and Fitzwilliam shared a brief romance before he headed back to the future, a future in which a woman named Eliza found unread letters from Jane Austen to a Fitzwilliam Darcy in her vanity. Her search leads her to Virginia to try to discover who the inspiration behind the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy was.  Fast forward to a few months ago when I found out that O’Rourke decided to write a sequel! Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen thrusts us back to present-day Virginia, and Regency England and back to the lives of Eliza, Fitz, and Jane to show us that sometimes happily-ever-afters take some work.

I’ll let Goodreads do the talking for the plot:

Was Mr. Darcy real? Is time travel really possible? For pragmatic Manhattan artist Eliza Knight the answer to both questions is absolutely, Yes! And Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley Farms, Virginia is the reason why!

His tale of love and romance in Regency England leaves Eliza in no doubt that Fitz Darcy is the embodiment of Jane Austen’s legendary hero. And she’s falling in love with him. But can the man who loved the inimitable Jane Austen ever love average, ordinary Eliza Knight?

Eliza’s doubts grow, perhaps out of proportion, when things start to happen in the quiet hamlet of Chawton, England; events that could change everything. Will the beloved author become the wedge that divides Fitz and Eliza or the tie that binds them?

Those of you who have been reading my reviews for a while know that I will love most books inspired by P&P, regardless of what form they take.  This series has been no different, for although time travel is in the mix, reading about Darcy still makes the story just as fun and exciting as it was the first time I read P&P.  Add to this though the fact that we get to get inside Jane’s head, as well as see a whole new relationship evolve between Fitz and Eliza and I was drawn in from page one.  I especially loved Jane’s involvement in the whole story, adding in her thoughts and input was a great move that added a complexity to the novel and an alternate point of view that we don’t usually see in P&P inspired novels.  The only two downsides I would have to point out was the fact that Fitz’s character seemed to be all over the map emotionally at times and the fact that Jane’s scenes were a bit confusing chronologically.  Other than these points, O’Rourke should be commended for her strong follow-up work in her The Man Who Loved Jane Austen series.  Between the exciting love story between Eliza and Fitz and the intriguing point of view from Jane’s incorporation in the story, it’s a great read that will make fans of the series eager to move on to the next work!

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my fourth completed review for the Pride and  Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke
Victorian Essence Press (2012)
Paperback 380 pages
ISBN: 99781891437038

Special thanks to Ms. Smith O’Rourke for my review copy!

Kim’s Review of Sever (The Chemical Garden #3) by Lauren DeStefano

sldsAs I’ve said before, the third book in a trilogy is usually my least favorite.  This is mainly due to the fact that expectations become so high that it becomes extremely difficult to meet them, if not exceed them.  After reading the spectacular first two books in the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, Wither and Fever, I knew that the stakes would be just as high for her third and final book, Sever.

From Goodreads: With the clock ticking until the virus takes its toll, Rhine is desperate for answers. After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.

In this breathtaking conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered.

After reviewing many a suspense/thriller novel over the years, one of my favorite attributes of the genre is the plot twist.  I love a good plot twist.  There was no question that Sever fit in this category, as the plot twists came hard and fast.  When I thought I had a plot line figured out, DeStefano went in a whole new direction.  When I thought I knew what one character would do, a completely different character did it.  More than that, DeStefano was able to make these changes on the fly, making the plot seem like a jumbled puzzle that came together at the last second.  Even though the pace seemed frantic, the plot development was well-paced and the overarching storyline was moving along well, that is until I got to the end.  I felt as though there was enough time to bring the book to a great conclusion, but instead it felt rushed and abrupt.  Although it was the only fault I found with this book, it did put a damper on my feelings upon finishing.  Despite this, however, DeStefano should be lauded for her ability to create such a great ending piece for an amazing trilogy.  You can definitely count me in as a huge DeStefano groupie that will be eagerly awaiting her next series, The Internment Chronicles.  Book one is entitled Perfect Ruin.  Exciting!

4 out of 5 Stars

Sever by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (2013)
Hardcover 371 pages
ISBN: 9781442409095

Kim’s Review of Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

dragonfly2bin2bamber2bmodernAs I stated in my review of the first book in the Outlander series, I never thought someone would replace Darcy as the leading man in my life.  That was before I met Jamie Fraser.  Then everything changed.  After reading Outlander I finally found out what all the fuss was about.  I needed more.  Jamie has everything I could ever ask for, and the story of Jamie and Claire kept me captivated from the get go.  So, where do we go from here?  On to book two: Dragonfly in Amber.

As the plot is fairly complex and involves time travel, I’ll let Goodreads do the talking here:

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….

I think the most important thing to say about this series is how multi-dimensional it is, not only on a genre level, but on an emotional level.  On a genre level, this is more than just a series about Jamie and Claire’s love, it’s about political upheaval in Scotland, witchcraft and women’s rights, honor, integrity, standing up for what you believe in, and accepting the repercussions of being/doing wrong.  This is a historical fiction novel at heart, but it’s also an adventure novel, a romance novel, and a science fiction novel.  There’s so much passion in Gabaldon’s writing and storytelling that it becomes difficult to find a place to begin speaking about why these books are so amazing.  I’ll admit, the book did move a bit slower than the first in the series, but there were a good number of surprises sprinkled throughout the plot that made the book seem fresh and intriguing.  That cliffhanger at the end?  Utter perfection.  Another integral part of this book (and this series in general) is how Gabaldon is able to manipulate the reader’s emotions.  It’s like an abusive relationship: she rips out your heart with amazingly heart-wrenching scenes and then puts it back together by restoring your faith in her characters, only to then repeat the cycle all over again!  Her ability to elicit such strong emotion in her readers is one of the reasons why she is such a phenomenal writer.  I strongly urge you to not only read this book, but the series as a whole.  I’ve heard amazing things about book three, Voyager, which I’ll be sure to finish in the coming weeks.  Look out for my review!

4 out of 5 stars

This is my fifth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my third completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Random House (2001)
Paperback 752 pages
ISBN: 9780385335973

 

Kim and Sam Review Shades of Earth (Across the Universe Trilogy #3) by Beth Revis

shadesI get REALLY nervous when I start reading the first book in a trilogy.  Not because I think it’ll be bad, but because I’ve had the luck where I get sucked in by the first two books, read the third, and find myself incredibly disappointed.  This happened to me with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games ( 1, 2, 3), Tessa Dare’s Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, and Lauren Royal’s Flower Trilogy just to name a few.  Now this isn’t to say that I’ve had bad luck with ALL trilogies, I had just enough of the above experience happen to cause a nervousness when an author announces a trilogy.

When I first heard about the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis I’ll admit I was excited at the prospect of a dystopic sci-fi adventure in space.  When I finished Across the Universe and A Million Suns my nervousness hit an all time high.  A Million Suns had blown book one out of the water for me.  I was so impressed with the new heights that Revis had taken Amy and Elder to, that I knew she had set an unattainable (in my eyes) precedent that book three just would not be able to reach.  Now that I’ve read book three, I’m happy to say that Revis has proven me wrong.  I’ve asked fellow staffer Sam to join me today to discuss Shades of Earth, book three in the Across the Universe trilogy.  I hope you’ll join our discussion below!

From Goodreads:

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They’re ready to start life afresh–to build a home–on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience.

But this new Earth isn’t the paradise Amy had been hoping for. There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, purple flowers with mind-numbing toxins, and mysterious, unexplained ruins that hold more secrets than their stone walls first let on. The biggest secret of all? Godspeed’s former passengers aren’t alone on this planet. And if they’re going to stay, they’ll have to fight.

Amy and Elder must race to discover who–or what–else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. They will have to look inward to the very core of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed–friends, family, life on Earth–will have been for nothing.

Kim: I am so (x 100) impressed with Shades of Earth.  I think it’s the most beautifully written of the three and the most mature.  I don’t say mature as a bad thing (like risqué content), I say mature because we see Amy and Elder in these massively responsible roles, with the weight of a new society on their shoulders.  The people of Godspeed look to them to help transition them from “space folk” to “Earth folk.”  Not only is this massive transition happening, but people are going missing, strange animals are popping up, people are having weird reactions to the natural fauna, etc.  Throughout all of this they must deal with their own personal relationship and how it fits into their new lives.

Sam: My biggest problem with trilogies is that they tend to be a major letdown by the third book. However, like Kim, I was very impressed and satisfied with Shades of Earth. What I really enjoyed about the writing was that Revis stays true to herself as a science fiction writer. She didn’t disappoint with her beautifully crafted alien planet. Every detail that she included was purposeful and painted a clear picture of a world unknown.

Kim: I have to agree with your statement about the alien planet being beautifully crafted.  Revis’ descriptions of the flowers, the mountains, the lake, etc were exquisitely detailed.  The world visually came to life right before my eyes.  I especially liked the first rainstorm and how all the Godspeed folk thought the sky was exploding.  Their responses to things that we as “Earth folk” just “know” was humorous but also eye-opening.  It made me think, gee, if I had never been outside before how would I react to rain, snow, thunder, or lightening?  Not only was the world beautifully crafted, but the characters were too.

Sam: I was the most taken by Elder’s evolution. In this book he becomes a true leader in his own right, the one that all of his people needed and that I as a reader really wanted him to be. In the previous installments we see him training to be a leader, then trying desperately to actually be one without much guidance. When Amy shows up in his life, all of his thinking starts to change. By book 3 we see him taking what he’s learned from his leadership training and fusing it with what he now knows to be true. This book is the first time that we see Elder making his own decisions without someone prompting him. I like that way that his people seem to follow him, not just because he’s the Eldest, but because he has finally earned the title. He can hold his own now and his merit as a leader is clearest when we realize all of the sacrifices he is willing to make for those who love and respect him. I think that’s what I love most about this character.

Kim:  Ditto to everything Sam said about Elder.  I think that I’ve seen him evolve so much in the past two books and Amy so little, that I expected Amy’s transformation to take center stage in Shades of Earth.  Revis does an incredible job of maturing Amy.  Amy has seemed super selfish at times in the past two books (and in the beginning of Shades of Earth).  Here, dealing with all she is forced to, she begins to see things in a new light and begins thinking of how much she’s grown, changed, and learned.  At one point her father (now unfrozen) asks her what she’s learned during her time awake in space.  Her response (below) definitely shows a new, mature Amy.

I learned that life is so, so fragile. I learned that you can know someone for just days and never forget the impression he left on you. I learned that art can be beautiful and sad at the same time. I learned that if someone loves you, he’ll wait for you to love him back. I learned that how much you want something doesn’t determine whether you get it or not, that “no” might not be enough, that life isn’t fair, that my parents can’t save me, that maybe no one can.

I think that Amy’s transformation is due in part to two things. 1. She sees how much Elder has taken responsibility for and tries to emulate him. 2. The way her parents treat her when they wake up definitely impacts her future behavior   Her parents just continue to treat her like a spoiled brat and ignore the changes she knows have personally happened.  When her parents refuse to see the changes she’s made, that’s when I think she realizes that maybe those changes aren’t so visible after all.  Maybe she needs to work on herself just a bit more.

Sam: One theme that really resonated with me was the idea that no one is ever completely trustworthy. No matter how much Amy tries to find someone who she can confide in and really rely on, they always seem to let her down. Even Elder keeps certain truths from her in an effort to protect her. The one character who seemed to be the most likely to betray Amy and Elder, was Orion. Yet, in the end, it was his knowledge and wisdom that helped them discover the truth about Centauri Earth.

Kim: I have to agree here.  It’s the old adage of don’t judge a book by its cover.  Orion is definitely the one in A Million Suns that you just wanted to smack by the end.  The scavenger hunt (while awesome as a plot device) was so frustrating for Amy and Elder.  Orion refuses to cooperate and just help.  I found it interesting that he always made you earn the knowledge he had.  Every time I think about him, I think that he would have made a horrible Eldest.  Had he truly cared about the people on Godspeed he would have shared all the knowledge he had, instead of slinking around everywhere making Elder and Amy search for clues.  And even when they did figure out what the clues meant, he still wouldn’t be upfront. (Can you tell he frustrates me!?!)

Sam: “To be a Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light or give off darkness. Be a candle, or the night.” I am not going to go so far as to say that Orion is Yoda in this book, however, I think that Elder never would have made the choices he did if Orion had simply told him what was happening below Godspeed. I think that he had to lead Elder on that scavenger hunt, to uncover the truth. As a good leader, Elder had to choose. Be the candle to lead them all to the unknown, or, like so many Eldests before him, be the night that kept them “safe” in the shadows. Perhaps he would have been a horrible Eldest, but I think he was a pretty decent if not slimy mentor.

Kim: Damn. You’re good.

Sam: I was disappointed in the way that Amy’s parents, particularly her father, couldn’t see how much she had grown and changed. He didn’t take the time to see that she was an equal in terms of leadership capabilities. As Kim mentioned before, Amy has matured a lot on this voyage. She has completely transformed into such an intelligent woman. I think her father didn’t know quite how to handle that.

Kim: Yes! Amy’s dad was THE WORST.  When he’s initially unfrozen and finds out that Amy’s been awake for a few months he freaks. Instead of taking a few minutes and letting her catch him up on what’s been going on, he delegates her to a corner to just sit quietly.  He refuses to accept that his daughter and her teenage boyfriend could have any knowledge or authority that could help him.  He was extremely nazi-like to be honest.  I get that he just woke up after being frozen for hundreds of years, but have some faith in your daughter.  His complete dismissal of anything she said from beginning to end of the novel really irked me.  And his attitude toward Elder? COMPLETELY uncalled for.  He deserves everything he got.

Amy’s mom on the other hand seems incredibly naive.  She can’t even fathom that Amy’s father is hiding things from her and the others.  At times she reminded me of a battered woman.  Her husband’s word was law and there was no disputing it.  She focused on her research and Amy, two things that served to be the beginning foundation towards her “new” life.

Sam: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what it was about Elder that bothered dad so much, given the company that he was keeping. Also, mom. I think Kim said it all. She was so absorbed in her research that she couldn’t see anything that was going on around her, and there was A LOT to take in. This family just doesn’t really stand a chance for getting back together. They’ve moved so far away from each other even though they had been just inches from one another for hundreds of years.

The elephant in the room is of course, Chris. From the moment he waltzed up behind Amy’s Dad and totally stepped into Elder’s territory, I did not like him. He did NOTHING to try to redeem himself throughout the story, and in the end turned out to be even worse than I wanted to imagine. So what if he has big blue eyes, Amy! This is not the man who helped you survive for three months without any family, or protected you from ridicule, or loved you for you. This is just some guy your father is obsessed with because he’s some kind of super soldier tech guy.

To her credit, Amy does figure this out eventually. But it took far too long if you ask me. I was not a fan of her whole “what if Elder wasn’t the last guy on Earth” routine.

Kim: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  I found myself getting so angry with Amy at multiple sections of this book. My biggest yelling out loud moment? The time she leaves Elder’s house and goes for a stroll with Chris and kisses him. WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU, YOU BIG HUSSY? Elder has protected you, saved you, trusted you, shared himself with you, and basically (in essentials) given his life to you. Do you disregard the value of his love so much that you can just turn your back on him and go for midnight strolls with anyone giving you attention!? Jeez.

Sam: Absolutely! The other part, and I still don’t know how I feel about it, is that Elder just lets it go. He spies on them, gives her space, but never once makes her feel bad about blatantly flirting with Chris, sometimes RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. On the one hand I respect Elder for letting her be her own woman and trusting Amy that much. On the other hand, come on… stand up for yourself, Elder!

Kim: This is just another example of why Elder is the better guy.  He never tries to force Amy to make a decision to be or not to be with him.  I find it interesting that the people of Godspeed had no religious belief.  Interesting, because Elder has a lot of faith that things will be ok and will work themselves out.  He lets Amy have her space and do what she wants with it, knowing that his love is the strongest and will win.

Sam: I wasn’t going to go for the religious belief stuff, but since you mention it 🙂 I really loved that Amy’s faith was so strong in this series. There were so many references to her cross and her faith in something more. I think that it was that faith that helped her stay strong and really gave her something to latch on to. In this series, Revis asks these characters to have a lot of faith in things unseen. Planets and people far away. I think that Amy was better prepared to handle the faith in something unknown because of her religion. As for the people of Godspeed, I found that in the absence of religion they put all of their faith in the “Eldest” system. The Eldest was the one person who was going to make choices and decisions for them all, he was the one they looked to when they weren’t sure of their fate.

Kim: Exactly! The “Eldest” of the time became their deity and the one they looked to for guidance and leadership.  Their faith didn’t have to follow a sight unseen rule as Amy’s did.  I actually think that theirs might have been a more difficult road to follow.  If something happened that wasn’t to their benefit or how they wanted it to be, they could directly go to their “deity” and complain and wish it wasn’t so.  They could tangibly make their “deity” change things for their benefit or their detriment.  If the Eldest didn’t change it for you, the road stopped. No matter how much you “prayed” on it, it wouldn’t change. I believe that this in essence is a more difficult faith to have, because your life (and the control to change it) is completely out of your hands.

Sam: Earlier we talked about Orion’s little scavenger hunt for Elder and Amy. In that he gave them clues to try to find a deeper meaning, to uncover the truth about what was really going on with Godspeed and Centauri Earth. Ever since Revis released the title of this third book, Shades of Earth, I’ve felt a little like Elder. I am a VERY BIG fan of the Beatles so I noticed right away that the lyric wasn’t quite right. It’s meant to be “shades of life.” Why would she just go for it with the Beatles lyric in the first two and then change it up for the last book? Now, maybe there’s nothing to it, but maybe, just maybe it means something.

This whole series really centers around what it means to be alive, really living. Amy can’t really cope with life on Godspeed. To her it is too confining. She can’t run. Can’t feel the real sun on her face or the real rain on her skin. In that way, it is just a shadow of a life. For Elder, he can’t really cope with being the only one his age, groomed for his position as Eldest. His life without a true companion and confidante is a shadow of a life that he desperately wants. So there are the dark shades of their lives.

But, what about the light parts? First, Amy’s bright red hair. A color so vibrant that all at once it makes Elder come to life and he has to know her, to unfreeze her and see such a color for himself up close. Next, the adventure. A shade of life that both terrifies and excites them. Finally, their love for each other. All of these elements combined create the canvas of a life so bright, yet dark that it seems to mirror one of Harley’s haunting yet beautiful paintings. The shades of their life together. The life that they are going to create here on Centauri Earth, which is merely a different shade of the same planet they left behind.

Kim:  Fellow readers, there you have it.  Sam couldn’t have said it any better.  The Across the Universe trilogy is filled with amazing imagery, exquisite characters, thrilling plots, and above all else, depth.  Beth Revis may have written these books with the young adult crowd in mind, but she has written with such vitality that she’s hooked the adult crowd too.  This trilogy defies convention and refuses to be boxed in for a certain genre or age group.  Sam and I both highly recommend it.  There is so much more within these novels than what meets the eye.  Give them a shot and see what you make of them.

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Sam’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Razorbill (2013)
Hardcover: 369 pages
ISBN: 9781595143990

Kim’s Review of Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderPride and Prejudice has been my favorite novel since I read it for the first time over a decade ago.  In that time period the ONLY book to produce a hero that could come close to Fitzwilliam Darcy was Persuasion.  Captain Frederick Wentworth and Darcy were, in my opinion, the epitome of what you wanted in a man.  They both were strong, confident men who were able to admit they were wrong and change for their lady loves.  Come on ladies, who wouldn’t want a man like them?  Fast forward to last month when I was on Twitter and saw an infographic that allowed readers to select their favorite male literary hero.  Maybe it’s just me being arrogant, but I thought Darcy had it in the bag.  I clicked on the link, and to my great surprise the name that popped as the winner was James Fraser.  I immediately did a Google search to figure out what book he was from.  Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, was the response I got, and thus began my journey to figure out how this Scottish Highlander could possibly beat out the love of my life, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Claire Randall is a combat nurse back from World War II in 1945.  Married before the war began, Claire is separated from her husband during the war and is finally reunited with him after hostilities are over.  Out on their second honeymoon in Scotland, Claire falls through a portal that transports her to the year 1743.  Once there she must find a way to become part of the past until she can return to the future.  Her journey is filled with a forced marriage, an attempted burning at the stake, claims of witchcraft and prostitution, and countless other atrocities.  The silver lining in this, however, is her forced marriage to a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser.  He pledges to protect her, body and soul, and in many instances, does.  Will she ever be able to tell him where she really comes from?  Will they ever be able to figure out a way to get her back to the present?  With her growing feelings for Jamie, will she even want to go?

Let me start out by saying: JAMIE FRASER. OH MY GOD.  I totally “get” how women ranked him higher than Darcy!  He’s mysterious, funny, kind-hearted, at times arrogantly confident, strong, and devastating.  There are times you want to smack him for his cockiness, and other times you want to hug him for the brutality that he’s had to face.  In short, he is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read.

At times Jamie and the other men of the period are barbaric, but when you look at the time period (the 1700’s) it’s historically accurate.  There is one scene in the book where Jamie whips Claire for disobeying him and putting his clansmen in extreme danger.  While I don’t agree with the beating, his explanation of why he did it (it’s expected by his clansman for retribution due to the danger they’ve been placed in) makes sense.  Even Claire understands and accepts it (and she’s a modern woman!)  Jamie is extremely remorseful over the entire incident and agrees to make a pact to Claire that he’d never do it again, regardless of the traditions he lives by.  This brought a question to my mind: are we able to accept abuses of women when placed into the context of the past?  If I read a book that took place in contemporary times there would be NO WAY IN HELL that I’d accept abuse as a viable plot point.  But when placed into a story where it’s truly indicative of the way people acted, I can accept it as “historically relevant.”  Do you agree?

Now, on to Gabaldon’s writing style.  At times the book got a little wordy, but by and large it created a world that you can’t help but  become mesmerized by.  Jamie’s revelations near the end of the book about what happened to him in prison are probably some of the darkest and most heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever read.  His vulnerability as he is telling Claire of his pain and shame is both awe-inspiring and deeply depressing.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as deeply for a character as I did for Jamie in that scene.

A word of caution: there is a rape scene in the novel, and as I’ve stated in other book reviews in the past, I feel that this should be noted somewhere.  You never know what a reader has gone through in his/her own life and what a scene like that (explicit or not), could trigger for them.

In all, I think this work is incredibly multidimensional.  It fits in so many genre “boxes” that you can’t help but identify with it.  It is heartwarming, touching, and a beautiful piece.  I urge all of you to see for yourself how great of a work Gabaldon has created.  Maybe Jamie will rate as high on your list of male heroes as he now does on mine?

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Book to Movie Challenge

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Random House Publishing (2004)
eBook: 818 pages
ISBN: 9780440335160

Todd’s Review of Timeline by Michael Crichton

MichaelCrighton_TimelineAh, Michael Crichton.  What a genius.  I’m sorry, I just get a bit caught up when talking about Mr. Crichton, whom I believe was way ahead of his time in his depth and breadth of knowledge of both science and technology.  Reading his works are just as relevant today as they were a decade or more ago when they came out, as the predictions he made about the advancements of science are not only just as valid as they were then, but they’re even coming true in some instances!  Anyway, after reading Jurassic Park (and I was long overdue for that) I was hooked.  After a trip to the Strand I picked up a copy of Timeline after hearing multiple good things about it.  I was excited to see what Crichton could do with a more science-based story line  and I can happily report I was not disappointed one bit.

Timeline begins with a couple on vacation driving in the New Mexico desert who come upon a man named Joe Traub that is seriously dehydrated and babbling incoherently.  After finding help, he is taken to a local hospital, where he soon dies of cardiac arrest, but it’s not due to the dehydration.  Chillingly, an MRI appears to show that the man’s blood vessels do not line up correctly, which led to his bleeding to death.  They discover that Traub is a physicist for a company called ITC, although its headquarters are miles from where Traub was actually found.  We then learn that ITC is attempting to cover up a large and expensive project that Trub had been working on.  Meanwhile, we are introduced to a team of researchers in France led by Professor Edward Johnston that are studying the ruins of the medieval towns of Castelgard and La Roque.  When Johnston realizes that ITC, who funds a major portion of their work, is holding out on him and has way more detailed information about the sites that he is researching than he has himself, he decides to fly to ITC to voice his concerns.  While he’s gone, however, his researchers discover a chilling find: a note, written in the medieval time period and buried in the ruins, that is not only written in modern English, but is from Johnston himself asking for help!  What happens next is a story of quantum technology, time travel, the year 1357, and much, much more.

I think the best part about Timeline is the detail.  Don’t get me wrong, the plot is quick and the characters really come into themselves over the course of the novel, but I think Crichton’s attention to detail really made this novel shine.  The way in which Crichton explains the quantum technology behind time travel is amazing, and the detail he goes into when describing the actual construction of the machine and how the characters are transported back into time is fantastic.  I could almost feel myself in the chamber watching the characters get smaller and smaller as their bodies are compartmentalized and sent back in time.  Of course, just like his other works, the human aspect of his stories are spot on as well, as they had me rooting for Chris and Kate’s romance to finally happen and laugh at how seriously Andre took his preparations for traveling back to medieval time.  In all, Crichton has created another awesome addition to his already solid portfolio of science fiction work, and it is serving as more impetus for me to go out and read all that he has to offer.  I’m leaning towards Airframe next, although preferably not when I’m on a plane!  So, if I haven’t convinced you already, go out and read Timeline, or any Michael Crichton for that matter.  You can thank me later.  Happy reading!

5 out of 5 Stars

Timeline by Michael Crichton
Fredrick (1999)
Hardcover: 464 pages
ISBN: 06794557815

Todd’s Review of The Ups and Downs Of Being Dead by M.R. Cornelius

After reading H10N1, I was a newly converted fan of M.R. Cornelius (you can read my review here).  An addicting adventure/thriller, H10N1 was quite different than her next novel, The Ups and Downs of Being Dead.  Although still enveloped in the sci-fi genre, Dead seemed to me to be more of a futuristic take on the science of cryonics, and a tale of where things could go in the future if certain advancements were made.  Add to this an intriguing tale of a man caught up in the midst of an unexpected experience during his cryopreservation and you’ve got the recipe for another great book.  With that in mind I began reading!

Robert Malone is a typical suit.  He’s always concerned with business, unemotional, and so addicted to his work that he barely spends any time with his family.  Not that he would want to spend time with them even if he could; his wife is a model who is as unemotional about their marriage as he is, and his son is a drug addict who has never worked a day in his life.  Thus, everyone found it quite odd when he decided to cryogenically preserve his body in the hopes that future scientists would be able to invent a way to bring him back to life.  After finding out that he was terminally ill he had the procedure done, and to his surprise he awakens in suspended animation, neither living nor truly dead.  He meets a woman named Maggie, who states that she is a “temp” just like him: a person who has been cryogenically frozen and is waiting around until he or she becomes unfrozen.  She states that her job for the next month is to take new additions to their ranks (like Robert) and teach them the ways of the undead.  They can float, move through walls, and even feel the pressure of buildings and physical objects, but they are basically invisible to the living.  Maggie and Robert are walking in the street when they meet Suzanne, a woman who literally died in a car accident right in front of them, yet didn’t “cross over” to the other side despite her physical death.  Robert is leery to begin a new life as he prepares to wait out the decades that will pass before he can reawakened, yet he learns a lot more about his family, his friends, Suzanne, and himself before that day comes.  What he does in this “in-between time” will change his life forever.

I admit, it doesn’t take much to pull me in if you’ve got a good sci-fi storyline.  I’m already a sucker for science, so I was definitely intrigued at Cornelius’ intention on building a novel around cryonics (I admit I had to look up the distinction between cryonics and cryogenics).  Although the real science of cryopreservation is a long ways off, it was really awesome to see how much she had researched and was able to put in the book and build a great story around it.

The real meat of the story is Robert’s transformation from an unlovable, cold businessman to someone who we can identify with and rally around, and I think the best part of the story by far was Robert’s relationship with his son Robbie.  Taking the main stage at the end of the novel, it was amazing to see their journey together and it did a great job of hooking me until the end.  I liked how Cornelius was able to weave Robert’s relationships with his various family members as well as Suzanne to create many dimensions to his character and show how he was able to change over time.  Suzanne is also interesting in her own right, and a great counterpart to Robert’s character.  All in all, it’s a great story of personal growth and change that will leave you wondering about whether or not we can actually be preserved and revived in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

The Ups and Downs of Being Dead by M.R. Cornelius
CreateSpace (2012)
eBook: 390 pages
ISBN: 9781477471630

Special thanks to M.R. Cornelius for my review copy!

#95 A Review of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Narrated by Alison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, and Mark Boyett

Last year I got addicted to audio books!  Simon Vance, the BEST audio book narrator in the world in my opinion, roped me in to the audio book world when I listened to him narrate The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.  I find myself always picking audio books that are for long and complex novels.  Something about listening to complex novels vs. reading them makes them more approachable for me.  When I finished listening to The Millennium Trilogy I immediately began searching out my next audio book.  I was hearing a lot of mixed things about a book by Haruki Murakami, 1Q84.  The book was originally published as three novels in Japan and was translated and compiled as one book upon its release in the US.  When I read the plot summary I was immediately drawn into what I knew would be an intriguing journey.  That journey turned out to be more complex than I thought, and instead of summarizing the plot and trying to explain it myself, I’ve decided to let Goodreads do it for me:

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

There is no question that Murakami is an awesomely talented writer.  He is able to weave several peoples’ lives across time and space with this completely unique storyline.  While the concept was awesome and unique, its execution fell flat for me.  I understand that it was originally published as three novels and translated and published as one, but even when taking that in to account a good 30% could have been cut out.  By the end of the book I wanted to rip my hair out with the constant repetition of dialogue.  One character would make a statement, “You’re being watched.”  The other person would respond, “I”m being watched?” To which the first person would again repeat, “You’re being watched.”  After 40+ hours of dialogue like that, I’m sure it’s easy to understand my frustration.

The narration of the novel by Alison Hiroto and Marc Vietor was well done.  I enjoyed their renditions and felt closer to both Aomame and Tengo as a result of it.  The only part of their narrations that threw me off a bit was their pronunciations of the names of characters/places present in both of their stories.  Vietor’s pronunciation of Aomame was different than Hiroto’s, which confused me slightly the first few times I heard it.  However, besides that snag, the different tones they each used to represent different characters helped alleviate any confusion when the dialogue were being read.

So, despite the lackluster ending and multiple plot holes left open I still enjoyed taking the journey with Aomame and Tengo.  I wouldn’t be opposed to trying another of Murakami’s novels, but I definitely won’t attempt another of his works at this length.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the Audio Book Challenge

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Brilliance Audio (2011)
CD: 46 hours, 46 minuts
ISBN: 9781455830503

Todd’s Review of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Ever since that fateful day at my 10th birthday party (it was a sleepover, of course) I’ve had a love of all things Jurassic Park.  I watched the VHS until it almost broke, and I collected and played with Jurassic Park action figures.  This spun off into a separate (but just as awesome) love of dinosaurs, where I collected everything I could relating to them, including, yes, dinosaur sheets for my bed.  Now, many years later, I still love the movie, and am somewhat embarrassed to say that it took me this long to read Michael Crichton’s book!  So, I immediately picked up a copy (at the Strand, no less) and got to it.

Jurassic Park begins with various isolated incidents of mysterious attacks on people by an animal or animals of some sort in or around Costa Rica and Isla Nubar, a small island approximately 100 miles off shore from the mainland.  The focus then moves to Dr. Alan Grant, a paleontologist working on a site in Montana, and his graduate assistant, Dr. Ellie Sattler.  Both have been asked by a man named John Hammond to come and consult on a project that he has been working on near Costa Rica.  The founder and CEO of a technology company known as InGen, Hammond has created an island filled with genetically recreated dinosaurs that he intends to open as a theme park.  Using DNA found in dinosaur blood found in fossilized mosquitoes, Hammond’s team pieced together DNA fragments and filled in extra segments with reptile DNA, eventually hatching and raising multiple species of dinosaurs.  Grant and Sattler are joined by Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematician, Donald Gennaro, a lawyer representing the investors in the park, and Tim and Lex Murphy, Hammond’s grandchildren.  All are put to the test when a power failure causes the massively complex computer system that controls the park to go down, releasing all the dinosaurs from their holding areas.  To make matters worse, they are stuck in the park during the power outage, as they had just completed a general tour of the park.  Will they be able to survive?

As some of you know, I am a science geek.  Alas, it was not always this way.  I must give a ton of credit to Mr. Crichton for his work and its impact on my life.  Jurassic Park opened my eyes to the world of science fiction, and I was hooked from the opening scenes of the movie.  I know this review isn’t really about the movie, but this book reads every bit like I thought it would after knowing the movie so well.  All of the characters read like old friends that I haven’t seen in a while.  Grant is still as much of a badass as I remember him, and Lex and Tim are still basically just as annoying.  I found Hammond’s character to be a bit more interesting in the book, as Crichton goes into more detail when describing Hammond’s thought process on the park itself.  It was amazing to read how he truly believed (and was deluded) in the park so much that he would do almost anything to see its final creation and grand opening.  In one of the final scenes (where the focus switches to Hammond’s point of view), we can see that even in the midst of everything that has gone wrong, the colossal failure of the park itself, Hammond still feels that there is a chance.  It was smaller details like this that made me appreciate the book even more.  The more I read his books the greater appreciation I have for Crichton and his amazing work.  It’s definitely sad the world lost such a great man at a young age.  Even if you’ve already seen the movie, give Jurassic Park a try.  It will be a whole new experience that will make you enjoy this story all over again!

5 out of 5 Stars

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Random House (1991)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9780345370778

#58 A Review of A Million Suns (Across the Universe Trilogy #2) by Beth Revis

Todd and Kim here!  Back again to continue our joint reviews of the Across the Universe trilogy! (Book 1 review is here).  Picking up shortly after the end of book 1, Revis takes us back into space aboard the Godspeed.  Unfortunately, the ship, which was once governed by lies, is now fueled by complete chaos.

At the start of A Million Suns, we pick up soon after the death of Eldest and the beginning of Elder’s rule as the leader of the ship.  Phydus use has been discontinued, and Elder and Amy have agreed to keep the population Phydus-free in order to preserve everyone’s sense of individuality and commonality.  You’d think we were at the dawn of a new and happy age for the people of Godspeed.  Unfortunately, however, this cannot be further from the truth.  Once the workers of the Feeder Level realize that they can get away without coming to work, or relying on others to do work for them, discord begins to spread.  Fights break out, and many doubt Elder’s leadership.  Bartie, once Elder’s friend, has now risen to an almost cult-like status, with many viewing him as the face of the revolution that seems to be building momentum.  Adding to this, Elder and Amy discover a series of clues that Orion left behind that lead them to a secret so huge and unthinkable that it will change the face of life of Godspeed forever.  Will Elder be able to keep control of the ship’s population?  Will Amy still want to be with him after he has to make unpopular decisions for the good of the ship?  What is this massive secret that Orion has alluded to?

Kim: I seriously have never been so angry at myself for picking up a trilogy before it’s been completely published.  Revis is a mastermind at making the reader CRAVE more.  There were so many twists and turns in A Million Suns that as Todd was reading the book I’d grab it out of his hands and count the pages until the next “big event” happened so we could discuss!  I was so antsy reading the entire second book!  Following the scavenger hunt all along the entire ship and trying to decipher what all of the clues meant was absolutely riveting.  I haven’t been glued to a book series like this since The Hunger Games!  

Todd:  I definitely agree with Kim!  I cannot wait for the final book in this trilogy to come out.  Revis has written an amazingly good follow-up to Across the Universe.  The character development of Elder and Amy is fantastic, as Elder is thrust into a job that is made for someone with a lot more experience, all genetics aside.  The interplay between his character and Amy is really interesting, as they represent such polar opposites that it’s so cool to see how they interact and bring out different parts of each other.  Adding to this the backdrop of the HUGE secret that comes out towards the end of the novel, and I was flying through the pages trying to finish reading.

Kim: When I was reading the tag line for A Million Suns about how the ship was run on lies and is now fueled by chaos, I couldn’t wait to see what that all meant.  The transformation of the ship’s passengers from one book to the next was really well done.  Imagine finding out that you’ve been drugged and lied to for years…of course you’re going to start rebelling and mistrusting everything that you’re being told.  I found the deeper character conflicts taking centerfold in A Million Suns vs the individual conflicts that occurred in Across the Universe.  We’re treated to the bigger picture this time, and it’s just as hectic and chaotic as the relationship between Elder and Eldest was in Across the Universe.  In Suns we’re offered an opportunity to learn more about the ship, its history, and the other people living/working on board.  By taking this route Revis has made Godspeed its own character – complete with secrets and stories still waiting to be told.

Todd:  I agree completely.  I happen to like this work better than the first based on the inclusion of more “big picture” events.  I don’t want to downplay the importance of the relationships between the characters, or the fact that the first novel had to spend a good amount of time introducing us to this whole world of The Godspeed in the first place, but I kept thinking about what all the lies in the first book were actually covering up.  After I finished it, I was so excited to start this book as it’s really the “meat” of the story.  We find out that lies that seemed big in the first novel are minuscule compared to what Elder and Amy find out about the ship in this novel.  Revis’ writing style is great because she is slowly leading us to the big reveal: her third work.  The scale has increased from book to book, and she’s definitely set us up for an amazing story in Shades of Earth.  I don’t know if I can stand the wait!

Kim: I know I am DYING, waiting for Shades of Earth. Anyone else out there read this series and losing the will to wait longer?!?

So there you have it, both of our takes on Beth Revis’ wonderful second book in the Across the Universe trilogy.  If you haven’t read the first one yet, go get it.  And if you have read Across the Universe, why are you wasting time reading this review?  Get reading!

Kim’s Rating: 6 out of 5 Stars

Todd’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

A Million Suns by Beth Revis
Penguin (2012)
Hardcover: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781595143983