Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

People disappear all the time.  Ask any policeman.  Better yet. ask a journalist.  Disappearances are bread-and-butter to journalists.

Young girls run away from home.  Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again.  Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station.  International financiers change their names and vanished into the smoke of imported cigars.

Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive.  Disappearances, after all, have explanations.

Usually.1

I find this to be a more intriguing introduction than the book summary itself.  As many of you know, I have issues with book summaries that give too much away.  There are things in the summary for Outlander which I think are better left to find out for yourself.

Sometimes there is something thrilling about being on the bandwagon for new releases. When something magical comes along and you are able to take part in the thrill of the discovery, connecting with others on the same subject and going on a journey inside the novels and out.  With that being said, there is also something satisfying about being late to the game.  When a series is well into its adventure or blessedly completed you are able to skip the agonizing wait for future novels and new releases.  Never has one ever felt a bleaker moment than completing a novel or movie and googling to discover that there is no set date or a date is set but well in the future for the continuation of the story.

I have stepped into the world of Outlander as part of the latter category.  The first book was released in 1991 which was a bit of a shock for me when I read this.  The TV series is also about to release its fourth season.  I’ve come to learn that each season is comparable to each book though having started the first season on Netflix I have already noticed a few minor differences, though nothing that crawls under a book readers skin like some other Hollywood adaptations of novels.

Claire Beauchamp has just survived the ravages of the second world war as a field nurse.    Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, are taking some much needed time to themselves vacationing in the Highlands of Scotland to recover and also to reconnect after being apart for so many years.  Frank has taken to genealogy, specifically his own, and is taking the time in Scotland to dig into the roots of his family tree.  While intriguing but not altogether that interesting to Claire, a few minor facts and bits of information provided by Frank’s digging become increasingly useful when Claire is thrust two hundred years into the past.  Without knowing how she came to be there or how to return, her situation becomes even more perilous being a British woman, alone in the Scottish Highlands with knowledge of such things that no one, let alone a woman, should know.

Claire has seen and survived many things during the war which allow her to endure things that most woman, and men, could scarcely imagine.  Together with her knowledge of plants, medicine, history, and politics, it is not hard to understand why many believe Claire to be a spy, or more fitting for the times, a witch.  There is a strength to Claire’s character as well as a vulnerability that makes her more relatable rather than some stoic heroine who appears to be on a predictable train track with the end planned and in sight.  Still, some of her choices are questionable, but without these choices, we wouldn’t have a series or a novel, now would we?

You can always tell an authors interests and education based on the details that are added to any novel and Gabaldon does not disappoint when it comes to details.  With that said there is a fine line between full of details and long-winded.  Gabaldon rates low in comparison to some other long-winded authors, but with the size of the books, I often wondered whether or not certain scenes were relevant to where the story was going.  Sometimes when an author creates a world it is nice to idle in the details for fear of rushing through, leaving the park with no pictures and only a blur of memories.  Other times you can’t help your mind from wandering while the tour guide drones on.

I must admit that there is some additional appreciation for the novel having discovered how old it actually is.  Outlander, known by various titles depending on what part of the world you hail from, was written by Gabaldon in an attempt to see if she was capable of completing a novel.  Having told no one about her plans she seems to have stumbled on a niche of avid readers which have created quite a following for the series.  I cannot say how my appreciation for the books would differ had I discovered them sooner, but in the post-Fifty Shades of Grey era that we live in I can’t help but have a few minor issues with the novel.  The history lesson and details of the past in the Scottish Highlands were intriguing at times, but let’s be frank (or more accurately, Jamie) can we please just get on with the fucking?  Give me a little less lecture hall and a little more Harlequin, am I right?  I’m not saying that it should be the pinnacle or focus of the book, but a little more barechested swinging from the stables would have been more interesting than picking weeds in the middle of nowhere.

Though I’ve had a rather negative opinion about the book thus far, you have to give credit to Gabaldon for some of the things I have harped on.  The attention to detail does make it a more sophisticated setting taking it from tween nipple tweaking to more realistic mommy porn.  I absolutely loved the characters from some of the more minor, to those of the more loathing in the spotlight.  At the time of this review, I have not completely decided where I stand on the series.  I am hoping once I complete the first season on Netflix I may be able to formulate a better opinion.  As things stand now, I am leaning more towards continuing the series through Netflix and enduring the length of time that will be required to complete the story rather than sifting through the Encyclopedia Gabaldontanica.

  1. Prologue courtesy of Diana Gabaldon’s webpage.
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King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.1

King’s Cage starts back at one of the few memorable things we had to take with us from the last book… you know… (quick google search) Glass Sword.  Held prisoner to the now King Maven and held on a leash at his feet like a dog, Mare finds herself in a very difficult position.  We have come to know that Mare Barrow does not give up without a fight, but it becomes apparent very quickly, that any ability to have any fight will be quickly snuffed out.

To allow for a change of pace of the monotony of palace life as a prisoner we do bounce from one side of the war to the other to pick up the stale bread crumbs along the way.  Like Mare, we have been beaten into submission with the only thought keeping us going is the knowledge that something sweeter and bigger than the stale breadcrumbs is bound to come along at some point.  Give me my mutant powers and give me my deeply disturbed hunky princes, but don’t give me minuscule pieces of information that will not amount to anything in the end.

King’s Cage follows a few different points of view for obvious reasons, but others are a bit more of a surprise and a grateful reprieve from some of the more stale moments.  With the break in time between reading the last book and this one, and the large amounts of filler scenes I couldn’t even remember a character who came to be one of our narrators.  While I couldn’t remember where she came from and I can’t relate to our main character of Mare, I could relate to our new part-time author’s very honest opinion of Mare Barrow.  These comments from one character about the person who is to be our main character and the one we should be rooting for were very interesting.  I can’t tell if Aveyard was looking to just add another side of the story, or if she too was starting to see the flaws of one of her own characters.

We continuously find ourselves in these stop and go situations where there is high impact in the beginning, a large lull throughout the middle, then more impact in the end.  This trilogy-now-endless campaign could have easily been shaved down to fit that glass slipper trilogy status.  One cannot really harp on Aveyard too much on this point.  You are a successful writer who struck gold with an idea and people seem to be sticking along for the ride, are you really going to opt out on those additional pay days and the chance to explore more of that world as a writer?  I thought not.

While I should be thankful for the opportunity to explore the series further and hopefully get some of the answers and fulfillment that we are all wanting from this, I thought we had a deal?  You know… Red Queen… the trilogy…..  Yet here we are.  King’s Cage has left us on the edge of yet another undetermined expanse with a fourth novel called War Storm due out in 2018.  Fool me once…. I am not getting my hopes up that this will be the end of our story especially with a fifth novel deal to arrive at a later date with an unknown title and subject.  It could be a fifth book in the series, effectively turning book four, our conclusion, into another place holder filler. I suppose there is the possibility we will get our resolution in War Storm and that a mystery guest will linger in the shadows as book five.  This is not including the two novellas already slotted into the series.  I am aware that I sound like a spoiled child.  What we all want as avid readers is for authors we like to continue making books, especially in a world we have come to love and adore.  The whole mutant abilities thing has always been something of an interest to me since my young knowledge of X-Men, though this whole dilly dallying and random events stalling our journey are really starting to piss me off.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Harper Collins King’s Cage book page.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

 

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.1

We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland and the wretched Queen of Hearts, but where does her story begin? How did she become the Queen of Hearts and  how did she become so heartless?  Set in the Wonderland universe we are introduced to some new characters of the story we know so well, as well as a few familiar characters.

Catherine Pinkerton is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Turtle Rock Cove.  She was born to privilege and her parents have their sights set on ensuring her happiness through marriage to the king of Hearts.  Our story is set in a town called Hearts where the silly little giggle king sits upon the throne.  While born to privilege Catherine would give nothing more than to bake all day, everyday.  With the help of her maid servant and confidant, the two have created a dream of opening up a bakery in Hearts to share their sweets and creations with all the people of Hearts.  When Cath dreams of a mysterious man with lemon coloured eyes, she wakes to find a lemon tree growing from her bed posts.  Though her dreams are literally coming to life, the dreams of those around her war with her own sending Cath’s destiny down the rabbit hole and along a path that none of us could have expected.

I absolutely loved the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer and I was really looking forward to reading more of her work.  The familiar setting of Wonderland was too enticing to resist with new and loveable characters blending together with old, we experience a side of Wonderland we have never seen before.  Meyer’s strength seems to come from her ability to create memorable and loveable characters and in Heartless she had no shortage of those.  Some mysteries were easier to solve before the narration came to the conclusions, but the most mysterious was connecting who was to become the Queen of Hearts and how she came to be so Heartless.  Catherine is a sweet dreamer who wishes for nothing but to bake goods to make the people of Hearts happy.  This couldn’t be the same girl who would become Queen and demand heads, could it?

As much as I loved the story, I have to admit that the element of baking was far too prevalent in every inch of the story.  The need, desire, dream and expectation of baked goods was so heavily ingrained into the story that it really overshadowed the rest of the tale.  Looking back on the events of the story, it would almost seem that Meyer had a few good points littered around the focal point of the story behind the Queen of Hearts, but these ideas were only enough to fill a few chapters.  Thus we add the element of baking which consumes our tale.  There were so many old and new characters and so many different elements from Wonderland that were already brought into the story, it was a bit disheartening that Meyer would not take advantage of these.

While I still very much enjoy Meyer and once again applaud her amazing characters, I must admit I am slightly disappointed with the bulk of the story.  The final chapter of the story finishes strong, but there are many in between that are rather flimsy and I could have done without.  This only adds fuel to my resolution that perhaps as a writer I only need one good idea and stuff it into a big fluffy package rather than filling out a carefully crafted adventure.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Marissa Meyer’s webpage.

Half Lost by Sally Green

 

 

Nathan Byrn is running again. The Alliance of Free Witches has been all but destroyed. Scattered and demoralized, constantly pursued by the Council’s Hunters, only a bold new strategy can save the rebels from total defeat. They need the missing half of Gabriel’s amulet – an ancient artifact with the power to render its bearer invincible in battle.

But the amulet’s guardian – the reclusive and awesomely powerful witch Ledger – has her own agenda. To win her trust, Nathan must travel to America and persuade her to give him the amulet. Combined with his own Gifts, the amulet might just be enough turn the tide for the Alliance and end the bloody civil war between Black and White witches once and for all…1

I seemed to have been much more motivated to read the final book than I was reading Half Wild.  It may have also been the fact that the third book has the least pages of them all which seems a bit backwards, but if you have read my review for Half Wild it is likely due to the lack of Annalise (cheers).  The readers (and by readers I mean me) sure got what they were asking for when it came to the relationship between Nathan and Gabriel.  Things progressed nicely for the relationship between the two and I was pleased to be rid of Annalise, though we didn’t lose her entirely.

With most books we are all leading up to a focal point and for the Half Bad trilogy it is our epic battle between the Alliance and the tainted white witch counsel lead by Soul and his evil scientist Dr. Wallend.  Every step we have taken, every character we have met and every character we have lost along the way has led us here and because of that a certain amount of respect should have been paid.  There were at least 60 pages fewer than the other books which could have been used to expand on this battle, and certainly handle or at least give some sort of backstory and explanation as to certain characters who shall remain nameless.  The only thing that seemed to happen correctly was that lives were lost, and while it may have been expected, there was one in particular that still came as a bit of a shock.  I continued reading and waiting for something epic to happen to right this wrong.  There were hints, notions, expectations and yet things did not turn out the way I had hoped.  In the end things turned out quite differently than I had expected.  Despite the question marks hanging over the heads of many characters it was an interesting and somewhat romantic touch that distracted us and seemed to appease us of our ill will.  That is of course until we have had time to process and the questions begin to pop up.

I loved many of the main characters and I wish that the series was more than just a trilogy.  If we were able to have less dilly dallying in Half Wild we might have had more time to expand on some things.  It may just be the fact that I am sad to leave these characters that I have come to really enjoy.  I managed to catch a couple interviews with Sally Green and by this time all three books had been released.  Something she continued to repeat was that she truly did not believe that she would receive such success with the series and be signed to such a well known publisher.  She had even refrained from sharing with friends and family which does ignite a little flame of hope that I would like to continue to let burn.

Many comparisons have been made to that of Harry Potter series to the Half Bad books, but I feel like there are more differences than similarities to truly believe that.  The use of magic and the great characters are similar but I’m not sure that should really be enough to hold such a prestigious title.  As time passes and things set in I begin to think more on the things that I would have liked to have happened differently with the series, but rather than spoil it I will continue to think of the good characters, take this as yet one more building block of knowledge for my writing journey and continue to grow.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Penguin book page for Sally Green Half Lost

 

Half Wild by Sally Green

 

“You will have a powerful Gift, but it’s how you use it that will show you to be good or bad.”

In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, seventeen-year-old Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most powerful and violent witch. Nathan is hunted from all sides: nowhere is safe and no one can be trusted. Now, Nathan has come into his own unique magical Gift, and he’s on the run–but the Hunters are close behind, and they will stop at nothing until they have captured Nathan and destroyed his father.1

All his life Nathan grew up being told that black witches are bad and that his father was the worst of them all.  For years he was monitored to see which side he would have more of an affinity for.  Would he remain pure like the white witches around him and raising him? or would he turn dark like his father and be something that needed to be wiped out immediately.  Warring over the white and black qualities within him, it was the white witches that caged Nathan and tortured him for years.  Despite what they have said about black witches, it was black witches that have helped him and it was his father, the darkest black witch there is that gave him his three gifts.  These gifts helped unlock his witches gift, a gift very much like his fathers.  While Nathan’s father, Marcus, has many gifts, they have all been stolen by eating the hearts of his victims and taking their gifts for his own.  His original gift was that of shifting into the form of an animal, which Nathan shares.  His transformation was a shock to him, and even more shocking was the fact that he could not control this new beast inside him.  Nathan must try to understand his new gift while being cautious of those around him and deciding on who he can trust.  A war is starting and sides must be taken, but who do you side with when both sides have shown their dark sides?

Nathan and his friend Gabriel have the best relationship of all the characters in the book.  I absolutely love Green’s ability to create these unique characters that you can love with barely any information.  There are also those that you hate, and in Half Wild, there are those characters that I feel like we should like them, but I hate them.  I have to side with Gabriel when it comes to his feelings for Annalise.  Nathan has been damaged throughout his life and it is understandable that he would have feelings for Annalise.  She is pure, she is beautiful and she is all around perfect on the surface.  Nathan’s feelings for Annalise have always been known but they seem forced in this book and each time we hear about them we can’t help but cringe and wonder aloud, What about Gabriel?  It is not common for a main character and a strong aggressive male at that, to have feelings for another male character, but I am loving it (naturally).  I love Gabriel’s character and I wish that him and Nathan could move passed this whole Annalise phase and that she could get out of the picture already.

Nathan is an interesting character for me as I find most of the books I read and enjoy revolve around female leads.  I feel like if I were to read more male lead fiction I wouldn’t be able to relate to them as much and this is where his random tendency to lean towards Annalise and the disconnect comes in.  Nathan is rude, crude, violent and aggressive, and all these things teamed together with his unique relationship with Gabriel appeal to the girls and us gays.  I can’t say how most straight guys would react to this series, but I can only assume that the majority of the readers of this series are either female or gay.  If I’m wrong please let me know!  Straight boys, I’d love to hear your thoughts…. crickets.

A war is coming and while there are some pretty intense battles won and lost, I feel like it has only just begun.  Half Wild takes a bit of a nose dive in the series losing my interest just a little bit, but still managing to keep me around.  This is likely due to any scenes with Annalise.  We get to do a lot of travelling and the details around the witch world are growing and creating more of a story for us to enjoy.  There are new witches and new abilities, but the characters remain the focal point of the story for me.  There are some characters that come and go and as much as I love many of them, I have to wonder what was the point of including some of them.   There are these side bits of information and things that we know must happen for the story to progress but I enjoy the time that Nathan is around other characters, rather than when he needs to be alone.

A convenient sale online where I purchased Half Wild in hardcover for only $6 and the fact that Half Lost was readily available in the library have helped greatly in moving on with the series and keeping me engaged.  I have already started Half Lost and I can’t wait to finish things to see what happens and to be able to share with you all.  Stay tuned.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Half Bad World book page.

Half Bad Novellas: Half Lies & Half Truths by Sally Green

 

If you have read any of my book reviews you know I am a big fan of novellas, and who wouldn’t be?  You are basically given all the little tidbits of information that couldn’t fit into the books served on a small little platter that is both simple and satisfying.  The two novellas have an odd coding used for their placement in the series.  Half Lies is considered 0.5 in the series and Half Truths is considered 0.6.  Listing the books 1-3, this means the novellas are considered prequels to the first book Half Bad.  Now you could read these two before reading Half Bad and everything would still make perfect sense.  Technically you would be reading the events in chronological order, but Half Truths jumps into Gabriel’s story whom we are introduced to later on in Half Bad.  Because of this I would still prefer having read Half Bad, then the two novellas after.

Half Lies follows the story of Gabriel, his father and his sister Michele as they move to America.  We know why Gabriel ended up in our story in Half Bad, but we don’t know how.  After receiving his gift, Gabriel discovers that he has the ability to transform into anyone he wants.  The gift is unique and very strong, too strong, as Gabriel finds out when he transforms into a regular human and gets trapped in that form.  Effectively stripping himself of his magical powers, Gabriel takes away the qualities that make him notable to other witches.  This also gives him the advantage of being able to slip in and out of situations without gaining the attention of other witches.  More importantly though, the story is about Gabriel’s sister Michele.  We don’t know much about his sister, or Gabriel for that matter, from Half Bad.  Half Lies is a novella so it is short and sweet.  We get a taste of what Michele was like, but it is the effect she had on Gabriel that adds to our story.

Half Truths builds off of Half Lies as well as Half Bad expanding on the story of Gabriel, a character we met later on in Half Bad and whom we love.  Nathan may be our main character of the series, and while we do side with Nathan, our loyalties also lay with Gabriel.  More importantly, they lay with Gabriel and Nathan together.  Through this glimpse into more of Gabriel’s story we also get more of a glimpse into the dark witch Mercury and the world that Gabriel must do for her to gain her trust and her help to gain back his true witch self.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, novellas are a must read when it comes to any series so I don’t need to tell you again…. read them.

Half Bad by Sally Green

Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?1

With our affinity to love witches after J.K. Rowling blessed us with the magical world of Harry Potter, one can easily slip into this world of witches reminiscent to that of the later Harry Potter years.  Witches have been around for centuries, but over time they have been separated into different factions.  There are the white witches, pure blooded and good, though it is difficult to see how they are the good ones after all the atrocities that have occurred.  On the flip side there are the black witches, obvious for their dark natures and dark magic, though not all entirely evil.  Over time there has been interactions between the two groups which have created half bloods or half codes.  Nathan is known as a half code, both white and black though not entirely enough to be one or the other.  Shunned by both sides, Nathan is monitored his whole life to determine if he will one day show which side he falls into more.  The White council could easily just kill Nathan, though the prospect of using him to get to his father is just too tempting.  Nathan’s father just so happens to be the most feared and dangerous black witches.  Having killed hundreds of both white and black witches, Nathan’s father Marcus, has the ability to turn into animals.  With this ability he has transformed into an animal to kill his victims, eating their hearts and adding his victims abilities to his own.  Marcus has been able to harness the abilities of shifting into the form of an animal, invisibility, stopping time and even flying, or so it has been said.  Little is known of the whereabouts and details of Marcus who is as hard to locate as he is dangerous.

Nathan is now in his teens, having gone for testing each year and receiving a half code status each year.  This year is different though.  Nathan has been assigned a guardian and is immediately taken to a remote location.  Here he is trapped in a cage like an animal, beaten and trained to fight every day with no chance of escape.

Young witches are known as Whets until their seventeenth birthday when they are given three gifts and the blood of a relative.  After this ceremony, the Whet becomes an adult witch and begins to harness an ability that is unique to them.  Some learn their abilities quickly, while others take months to learn and harness their strengths.  Female white witches are the strongest of the whites gaining unique and strong abilities.  Many white female witches become Hunters for the white council.  Their strengths and abilities allow them to hunt down black witches and those who defy the council.  There are some female white witches who have the common ability of potions which many male white witches obtain.  It is rare to find a white male witch with a strong ability.  Black witches have the same ceremony though many Black witches, male or female, will gain strong abilities.  Along with their tendencies to prefer being alone and killing those of their own blood line, it is not hard to see why black witches are viewed as dangerous.

As Nathan’s seventeenth birthday approaches he must find a way to escape to get his three gifts and his ability.  The only catch is he would need the blood of a relative, the blood of Marcus.  Not belonging to the whites or the blacks Nathan must journey across the globe in search of the darkest witch in history and ask for his help.  When Nathan learns of a prophecy involving himself and his father, his hopes of receiving any help or contact from his father become even more unlikely.  Thankfully Nathan gains the help of some very interesting characters and some of our favourites from the series.

Green has created a new world of witches built on our love for the Harry Potter universe.  The magic and adventure in the Half Bad world is too tempting not to fall into. With the diverse group of witches and their unique abilities, Green has created an array of intriguing and loveable characters.  Though it is not always easy to see good and bad in others and while we are taught to be good and want to be good, we can’t help but be bad and be drawn to the darkness of Black witches and the Black witch characters.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Half Bad World webpage.