Sunday, May 8, 2022

Book Review: The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon, Illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

Genre
Historical Graphic Novel

Series
Outlander (Companion)

Author Links

DESCRIPTION: 
Diana Gabaldon’s brilliant storytelling has captivated millions of readers in her bestselling and award-winning Outlander saga. Now, in her first-ever graphic novel, Gabaldon gives readers a fresh look at the events of the original Outlander: Jamie Fraser’s side of the story, gorgeously rendered by artist Hoang Nguyen.
 
After too long an absence, Jamie Fraser is coming home to Scotland—but not without great trepidation. Though his beloved godfather, Murtagh, promised Jamie’s late parents he’d watch over their brash son, making good on that vow will be no easy task. There’s already a fat bounty on the young exile’s head, courtesy of Captain Black Jack Randall, the sadistic British officer who’s crossed paths—and swords—with Jamie in the past. And in the court of the mighty MacKenzie clan, Jamie is a pawn in the power struggle between his uncles: aging chieftain Colum, who demands his nephew’s loyalty—or his life—and Dougal, war chieftain of Clan MacKenzie, who’d sooner see Jamie put to the sword than anointed Colum’s heir.

And then there is Claire Randall—mysterious, beautiful, and strong-willed, who appears in Jamie’s life to stir his compassion... and arouse his desire. 
 
But even as Jamie’s heart draws him to Claire, Murtagh is certain she’s been sent by the Old Ones, and Captain Randall accuses her of being a spy. Claire clearly has something to hide, though Jamie can’t believe she could pose him any danger. Still, he knows she is torn between two choices—a life with him, and whatever it is that draws her thoughts so often elsewhere. 
   
Step into the captivating, passionate, and suspenseful world of The Exile, and experience the storytelling magic of Diana Gabaldon as never before.

REVIEW: 
Diana Gabaldon's THE EXILE: AN OUTLANDER GRAPHIC NOVEL is not listed in the official Chronology of the Outlander Series, but I decided to include it in my read-through anyway. My integrity will be shot to hell for admitting it, but I didn't even bother to read the description before committing myself to this book. I simply enjoy graphic novels and couldn't resist the excuse to add another to my library.

My naïve enthusiasm is adorable in retrospect, but it didn't take long to realize it was grossly misplaced. THE EXILE lacks story structure, it is incoherent to anyone unfamiliar with the material, and the best of what it does offer (re: Kenneth's storyline) has virtually nothing to do with Jamie. After significant editing, you might call it a Murtaugh story or even a Geillis story, but it definitely doesn't live up to its description as a Jamie story.

That said, I don't think responsibility for this trainwreck rests with its author. Per the book's introduction, Gabaldon was tasked to write "a new Claire and Jamie story, set within the parameters of OUTLANDER." I'm no writer, but those parameters sound creatively suffocating. We don't want you to repeat yourself, but we don't want you to put out anything new either. I know editors are supposed to reign things in, but I can't help feeling that tightening the noose this far killed THE EXILE before Gabaldon drafted her first panel.

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained: Purchased
Read: May 8, 2022
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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Book Review: Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

Genre
Historical Short Story

Series
Outlander .05

Author Links

DESCRIPTION: 
A young Jamie Fraser learns what it really means to become a man in this Outlander prequel novella. Featuring all the trademark suspense, adventure, and history of Diana Gabaldon’s #1 bestselling novels and the Starz original series, Virgins is now available for the first time as a standalone ebook.
 
Mourning the death of his father and gravely injured at the hands of the English, Jamie Fraser finds himself running with a band of mercenaries in the French countryside, where he reconnects with his old friend Ian Murray. Both are nursing wounds; both have good reason to stay out of Scotland; and both are still virgins, despite several opportunities to remedy that deplorable situation with ladies of easy virtue. But Jamie’s love life becomes infinitely more complicated—and dangerous—when fate brings the young men into the service of Dr. Hasdi, a Jewish gentleman who hires them to escort two priceless treasures to Paris. One is an old Torah; the other is the doctor’s beautiful daughter, Rebekah, destined for an arranged marriage. Both Jamie and Ian are instantly drawn to the bride-to-be—but they might be more cautious if they had any idea who they’re truly dealing with.

REVIEW: 
I wasn't particularly impressed with OUTLANDER when I read it in 2014, but watching the television series made me wonder if I'd feel differently about the source material six years on. I wasn't sure, but there was only one way to find out, so I committed to giving Diana Gabaldon a second chance. In doing so, I also decided to read the books, companion novels, and short stories chronologically. I'm not sure I'll manage the entire canon, but that's the plan as it currently stands.

In May 2022, this meant starting with VIRGINS. This short story was initially released in 2012 as part of DANGEROUS WOMEN, an anthology dedicated to dispelling the image of women as hapless victims who stand by whimpering while a man rescues them from peril. It was re-released as a standalone in 2016 and was included in Gabaldon's SEVEN STONES TO STAND OR FALL short story collection in 2017. I own the last of these volumes, but I suspect I'd have enjoyed VIRGINS best in its original incarnation (more on that later).

I also want to note that this isn't my first reading of VIRGINS. According to Goodreads, I logged it read in 2020. I initially thought I'd fat thumbed the screen while using the app, but my purchase records revealed the read date aligned to my purchase of SEVEN STONES TO STAND OR FALL. I also started to remember the story as I moved through it, which was weird as I also remembered why I'd given it a three-star rating in the first place.

I've braced myself to be stoned by Gabaldon's fans for saying so, but I feel VIRGINS is a horrible starting point for new readers and am not convinced it holds any canonical value. Jamie and Ian appear prominently in the story, but the majority of what they experience in this short story was outlined in OUTLANDER (aka CROSS STITCH) and THE EXILE: AN OUTLANDER GRAPHIC NOVEL. The only fresh material pertains to Rebekah bat-Leah Hauberger, a dangerous young woman who dares defy both her family patriarch and the rule of law.

Think about that a moment. The most compelling aspects of VIRGINS are the components required for its inclusion in a non-Outlander publication. I enjoyed Rebekah and appreciated how her story would have featured in the framework of DANGEROUS WOMEN, but I also feel her content loses its import and relevance when approached in the context of the Outlander series. The story definitely delivers fan-pleasing facetime with Jamie, but it doesn't expand his arc or storyline, and it doesn't hook new readers into moving forward with Gabaldon's other books.   

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained: Purchased
Read: May 6, 2022
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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Review Notes: April Book Haul (Round Two)

The limitations of my wallet ensure this won't be a regular post, but in the interest of sharing my library, I thought it'd be fun to highlight some of my recent acquisitions. 

THE JOURNEY AFTER THE CROWN by Andrew Mackie

Description: 
A young Queen. Two sisters. A voyage that will change their fates forever.

Nineteen-year-old identical twins Violet and Daisie Chettle can hardly believe their luck when they are recruited as maids on newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II’s royal ship. It’s just the ticket they need away from cold, grey London and the tension that’s been brewing at home since the tragic loss of their parents.

But the 1954 royal tour to Australia, is a far cry from the glitz and glamour they had imagined. Life below deck is hard-work, and whilst Violet is prepared to keep her head down and be seen and not heard, Daisie has her sights on doing everything she can to hang up her apron and mingle above deck – even if it means leaving Violet behind. But as Daisie begins to win royal favour, she receives a letter from London. The sisters can’t outrun their past any longer… Violet has committed an unspeakable act of betrayal that will change their relationship forever.

With their positions on the tour hanging in the balance, have the sisters ventured too far from home to ever find their way back? Set against the stunning backdrop of Queen Elizabeth’s first royal tour with Prince Phillip prepare to be swept away with this upstairs-downstairs drama, perfect for fans of The Crown and Downton Abbey


My Two Cents: 
I pre-ordered THE JOURNEY AFTER THE CROWN on a whim and I intend to read it with BEFORE THE CROWN by Flora Harding. The books were not written as companion pieces, but I thought they would pair well and liked the idea of comparing each author's interpretation of a young Elizabeth II.

 

TAKE MY HAND by Dolen Perkins-Vadlez

Description: 
A searing and compassionate new novel about a young Black nurse’s shocking discovery and burning quest for justice in post-segregation Alabama, from the New York Times bestselling author of Wench.

Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend intends to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she hopes to help women shape their destinies, to make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart. Until one day she arrives at their door to learn the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.

Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace, and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten. That must not be forgotten.

Because history repeats what we don’t remember. Inspired by true events and brimming with hope, Take My Hand is a stirring exploration of accountability and redemption.

My Two Cents: 
I purchased TAKE MY HAND after reading a new release article that highlighted its unique adn relatively unknown historical content. I've no experience with the author and I've not read any of the reviews. I simply love compelling historical narratives and couldn't resist the potential in this jacket description.

SEA OF SHADOWS by Amy Maroney

Description: 
1459. A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with dangerous consequences. 

No one on the Greek island of Rhodes suspects Anica is responsible for her Venetian father’s exquisite portraits, least of all her wealthy fiancé. But her father’s vision is failing, and with every passing day it’s more difficult to conceal the truth. 

When their secret is discovered by a powerful knight of the Order of St. John, Anica must act quickly to salvage her father’s honor and her own future. Desperate, she enlists the help of a fierce Scottish privateer named Drummond. Together, they craft a daring plan to restore her father’s sight. There’s only one problem—she never imagined falling in love with her accomplice.

Before their plan can unfold, a shocking scandal involving the knights puts Anica’s entire family at risk. Her only hope is to turn to Drummond once again, defying her parents, her betrothed, even the Grand Master of the Knights himself. But can she survive the consequences? 

My Two Cents: 
SEA OF SHADOWS is the second installment of the Sea and Stone Chronicles. I hadn't intended to add it to my shelves until I'd finished its predesscor, but it is hard to turn a blind eye to a good sale. I don't think I'll get to this one for a while as I want to read the series in order, but it will be nice to have it on hand when the time comes. 


 BURNING UNCLE TOM'S CABIN by Carl Waters

Description: 
The classic tale reborn as an inspiring runaway slave thriller!

Young slave George Harris is a self-taught inventor with an owner who despises him. Slavery has forced him apart from his wife, Eliza, and their three-year-old son Harry, who belong to another owner. George dreams of the day he can escape north and work for his family's freedom, but no amount of careful planning could prepare him for what came next.

When Eliza learns that her owner plans to sell Harry to pay off a debt, she runs north at once. George must escape, too, if he has any hope of finding his family before the slave hunters do. They'll all travel to Canada, a journey that's treacherous, long, and often deadly. Will George and Eliza find their freedom or die trying?

Burning Uncle Tom's Cabin is the first book in a series that nimbly reimagines Harriet Beecher Stowe's original novel. It includes nerve-wracking suspense, memorable characters, heartbreaking cruelty, and a compelling story told through powerful and refreshing writing.

My Two Cents: 
BURNING UNCLE TOM'S CABIN has been on my radar for a while, but I was hesitant to take the plunge as I've never read the original story. Will my lack of familiarity matter? I'm not sure. The jury is still out, but we'll know sooner rather than later as the book is now part of my digital libary. 

Have new books of your own? Leave a comment, find me on Facebook, or reach out to me on Goodreads. I'd love to connect!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Book Review: Honour of Thieves: A Highwayman of Moot Hill Short Story by Cryssa Bazos

Genre
Historical Short Story

Series
Quest for the Three Kingdoms .05

Author Links

DESCRIPTION: 
An ill-gotten treasure, an old betrayal and an impenetrable castle. Can James Hart, a Royalist highwayman, break into Warwick Castle and prevent a nemesis from destroying a friend?

Warwick Castle by William Pitt
REVIEW: 
When the opportunity exists, I prefer to read chronologically. I don’t argue many series can be enjoyed perfectly well out of order, but I genuinely appreciate the slow burn of multi-volume story threads, so I tend to start at the beginning of most line-ups.

This reader’s quirk is how I came to start Cryssa Bazos’s Quest for the Three Kingdoms series with HONOUR OF THIEVES. The short story takes place just before TRAITOR’S KNOT and was originally published in 2020 as part of an anthology, BETRAYAL: HISTORICAL STORIES. The volume was re-released as a standalone in 2022 and, as of this writing, is freely available online.

The story doesn't seem to have been revised, but I am glad I did not read HONOUR OF THIEVES as part of the anthology, as the collection places such heavy emphasis on betrayal and deceit. Bazos represents both in this short, but I feel the context of the collected works would have made it harder for me to appreciate this story's strengths as neither concept resonates as strongly as those of honor, loyalty, justice, and revenge.

I enjoyed Bazos's description of the Parliamentarian garrison at Warwick Castle and thought the way she developed her characters through political opposition creative. I'm not sure I have a great sense of her creative voice as HONOUR OF THIEVES has such a modest page count, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it and am looking forward to reading more of the Quest for the Three Kingdoms series. 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained: Purchased
Read: April 13, 2022
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