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Recommendation: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess

by Sophie Kinsella

As I sat down to make my recommendation today, I was having a hard time.

One goal with this year’s blog is to not repeat authors. That is already proving to be difficult; as I have weekly combed through my extensive library of over 700 books, looking for just the right title to recommend to my loyal readers, I have learned one very obvious thing – I get attached. By that I mean, once I have read a book and I enjoy it, I will then go out and buy every single book that author has written. And I particularly love series. I could spend nearly four months recommending Sookie Stackhouse novels for you. But I can’t do that because. . . I just really don’t want to repeat authors, with as many talented writers as there are out there.

So anyway, I sat down with a stack of Sophie Kinsella books and spent a good hour trying to figure out which one to recommend. I was originally going to fill the author’s space on my blog this year by reviewing one of her books that I have not yet read and desperately want to – Finding Audrey, the YA tale of a girl suffering from anxiety; something that is very near and dear to my heart. But I have so many wonderful authors already lined up for reviews, I decided I would fill my terribly lacking recommendation slot instead.

But which one to choose? Kinsella has written a whopping 25 novels (both as herself and under her nom de plume, Madeline Wickham) and I have loved so many! I mean hello – Shopaholic?! Remember Me?! Twenties Girl?! You see my dilemma.

I finally decided on a book that I picked up last summer off the clearance section at my local Half Price Books and devoured in less than a week (I had lots of reading time last summer, as my newborn nursed literally every two hours, for 40 minutes each time). This book kept me giggling, nodding my head in agreement, and generally smiling as I made my way through it.

So, today’s recommendation is The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella.

Samantha Sweeting is in denial that she’s a workaholic. Sure, she measures every single minute she spends in the office and catalogs her progress obsessively – she is paid by the six-minute increment, after all. No, she hasn’t taken a vacation in years – she can barely find time to get her nails done (and that’s only if her best friend bodily drags her away from her desk). Of course she spends 8. . .10. . .12. . .okay, 15 hours a day at work. She’s an attorney trying to make partner, and so it just makes sense that she spend most of her time trying to stay on top of things. And it’s not as if she has much to go home to anyway; in fact, she has nothing waiting on her at home (unless you count the nosy neighbor who lives down the hall).

” ‘Your job is obviously very pressured.’

‘I thrive under pressure,’ I explain. Which is true. I’ve known that about myself every since. . .

Well. Ever since my mother told me, when I was about eight. You thrive under pressure, Samantha. Our whole family thrives under pressure. It’s like our family motto or something. 

Apart from my brother Peter, of course. He had a nervous breakdown. But the rest of us. “

But sometimes all work and no play can make for a few careless mistakes. As Samantha realizes with growing dread that an oversight has cost her client upwards of £50,000, she goes into panic-mode. Instead of fighting, she chooses flight, and off she walks straight out of her office at Carter Spink, down to the station and eventually hopping on a train bound for nowhere.

Samantha distractedly unloads herself at the last stop makes her way through town in a daze, desperately running things over in her mind and trying to figure out what to do to amend the situation. Before she knows it, she’s pushing open a wrought iron gate and knocking on the heavy front door of an impressive country home. The woman who answers the door hurriedly ushers her inside, ignoring Samantha’s request for a simple glass of water, and instead tells her some surprising news – Samantha has got the job!

” ‘I’m very grateful, really.’ I manage a half smile. ‘You’ve been very kind, letting me trespass on your evening.’

‘Her English is good, isn’t it?’ Eddie raises his eyebrows at Trish. 

‘She’s English!’ says Trish triumphantly, as though she’s just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. ‘Understands everything I say!’

I am really not getting something here. Do I look foreign?

‘Shall we do a tour of the house?’ Eddie turns to Trish. 

‘Really, it’s not necessary,’ I begin. ‘I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful –‘

‘Of course it’s necessary!’ Trish stubs out her cigarette. ‘Come on. . .bring your glass!’ 

What Trish and Eddie Geiger are looking for is really quite simple – they need a housekeeper. Someone to do the laundry, dust the mirrors, prepare the lunch, and especially. . . impress their friends and neighbors. Samantha seems so perfect for the job that they can’t help but hire her on the spot. Dazzled by her articulate conversation and very impressive references, they guide her down to her tidy living quarters and insist that she stay the night so that she may begin work immediately the next day. There is no way they can let this highly recommended and beautifully charming young woman leave – especially as she is so accomplished in the culinary arts.

Except, none of that is true. Samantha, overwhelmed by her desire to stay in the quiet, comforting home and hide from her problems has embellished her talents. . . more than a little. She has no idea how to properly make a baked potato, let alone a meal complex enough to be worthy of a five-star restaurant (unlike the Cordon Bleu-trained housekeeper before her).  Her reference is indeed a Lady, but Freya Edgerly is her best friend – not her former boss. And of course she speaks well – she’s British! But Trish and Eddie are just so nice, albeit a little eccentric, and she really has nothing left for her in London anyway. Hiding out in their home seems like the perfect solution to all of her problems.

Except the plan isn’t quite working as she’d thought it would. Sure, she’s got a place to hide, but she has no idea what she’s doing! Samantha is trying so hard that you really feel sorry for her when she fails again and again, but luckily for her – the resident gardener, Nathaniel, is more than willing to help Samantha with anything and everything she needs to learn. Not to mention, the one thing Samantha didn’t lie about was her tenacity and her smarts – two things that are imperative in job so complicated as the one that she signed up for. Eventually, life catches up to Samantha and she must decide which path she wants to spend the rest of her days walking down.

” I don’t know what’s happened. Brown bubbles are expanding out of my gravy saucepan, all over the cooker, and down the sides on the floor. It looks like the porringer in the story of the magic pot that wouldn’t stop making porridge. 

‘Get it off the heat, for God’s sake!’ exclaims Nathaniel, throwing his rucksack aside. He snatches up the pan and moves it to the counter. ‘What on earth is in that?’

‘Nothing!’ I say. ‘Just the usual ingredients. . .’

Nathaniel has noticed the little pot on the counter. He grabs it and takes a pinch between his fingers. ‘Baking soda? You put baking soda in gravy? Is that what they taught you at –‘ He breaks off and sniffs the air. ‘Hang on. Is something burning?’

I watch helplessly as he opens the bottom oven, grabs an oven glove with a practiced air, and hauls out a baking tray covered in what look like tiny black bullets. 

Oh, no. My chickpeas. 

‘What are these supposed to be?’ he says incredulously. ‘Rabbit droppings?’

‘They’re chickpeas,’ I retort. My cheeks are flaming but I lift my chin, trying to regain some kind of dignity. ‘I drizzled them in olive oil and put them in the oven so they could. . .melt.’

Nathaniel stares at me. ‘Melt?’

‘Soften,’ I amend hurriedly.

Nathaniel puts down the tray and folds his arms. ‘Do you know anything about cooking?’

Before I can answer, there’s the most almighty BANG from the microwave. “

What culminates is a hilarious and often cringing account of how Samantha begins to navigate her new life as a not-so-domestic goddess. Kinsella has a way of turning a phrase and painting a picture with rich description that leaves you chuckling and culminates in the endearment of the character(s) to you.

I give The Undomestic Goddess 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to lovers of Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner (although Kinsella’s subject matters are less serious than Weiner’s) and general chick-lit. It’s a book you can read quickly and enjoy as much as a slice of freshly baked chocolate cake.

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Review: Scoundrel In Disguise

Scoundrel In Disguise

by Shaela Kay

Sarah waved her hand impatiently in the air. ‘There is no such thing. None of the men I have discouraged are truly in love with me, and I am not in love with any of them.’

Amused, Rex sat back in his chair, contemplating her. ‘They have all been going about it wrong, have they?’

‘Going about what wrong?’

‘Making you fall in love with them.’ “

There are few things that I love more in a good book than a bad boy, especially when he is hiding a heart of gold.

Scoundrel in Disguise certainly lives up to its name, providing a charmingly witty rogue to fall in love with.

The young and bright Miss. Sarah Mendenhall is anxiously awaiting her first social season in London. The prospect of spending her afternoons strolling through the busy city admiring ribbons and hats through spotlessly clean shop windows  and spending her evenings being twirled around a dance floor and admired by a room full of handsome beaux has Sarah positively giddy. She’s dreamed of this since she was a child, growing up along the banks of India, the smell of sweet jasmine a hazy companion to her sharply detailed reveries. And so finally, with the time finally here, she becomes wrapped up in all that society has to offer. But she has made a solitary solemn vow not only to her companion and keeper, Lady Rockwell,  but most importantly to herself – she will not marry any time soon. She will instead focus on enjoyment and pleasure, soaking up everything London has to offer — no matter what man catches her eye.

Sarah throws herself onto the scene like an excitable puppy, barely able to contain her excitement even under the strict eye of her caretaker. Her endless amounts of energy and her broad smiles instantly capture the heart of London society — from the male persuasion, anyway. The females are of course wary, sensing sizable competition in the cheerful brunette, but Sarah is lucky to make the acquaintance of a shy and kind young lady, Rosemary Reed.  The two quickly become friends and confidantes, and even Rosemary is left in awe of Sarah’s ingenuity and outgoing nature. Of course there are a few rotten apples in every bunch, and Sarah has the poor luck of also becoming familiar with Peter Mills, a spoiled and snobbish young man full of derisive conversation and idle gossip. Peter taints Sarah’s splash into society only a tad, because as is befitting her bubbly and flighty personality, Sarah moves on to the next man on her dance card — doing her best to leave the negativity behind her.

” Across the room, Peter Mills leaned casually against the wall and watched the scene before him with amusement. Another young gentleman came and stood beside him, following his gaze. Turning to Peter, the gentleman smiled.

‘Is not Miss. Mendenhall the most enchanting creature you ever beheld?’ His voice betrayed his admiration, and Peter turned his lazy eyes upon him. 

‘She is certainly causing quite a stir in society,’ he agreed. He looked back towards Sarah, whose musical laughter could be heard across the large room. Her cobalt eyes were bright with excitement; she obviously enjoyed the attentions of her many admirers, despite her flippant regard for any of them. She turned her head and caught Peter’s eye just then, and he winked at her. 

Sarah deliberately turned her head. “

But the impression Sarah has made on Peter is one that will follow her throughout the season, unbeknownst to her. For Peter, the activities of the season are nothing but boring traditions and tedious encounters with the same uninspiring women. Sarah has left him intrigued but not so much in the romantic sense, and when he finds out a secret that his old friend Jameson Rex has been fruitlessly attempting to hide, Peter sees an opportunity to exploit the young woman and provide himself with a bit of cruel entertainment. He seizes the moment and latches onto his Rex’s vulnerability, anxious to exploit and tarnish Sarah’s reputation.

Jameson Rex is a gentleman fallen from grace, and almost completely of his own doing. The whispers behind gloved hands and the assumptions made in mixed company have left him a man marked for exclusion. But if being included and free from scandal meant having had made a different choice, Rex would take the ostracism a hundred times over. High society has never meant anything more to him than shallow relationships and stiflingly polite airs. But with the threat of financial ruin on the horizon, and a household to provide for, Rex finds himself in a most inconvenient and wearisome position. He needs a wife. And a rich one at that. Leaving behind the only thing he loves, Rex has made his way into the city and used the last bit of money he has to procure a respectable place to live, where he prepares to engage himself with every eligible lady in town.

Rex is irritated and dismayed to find that his secret has already made its way into London and is circulating like wildfire. Yes, it’s true that he is the caretaker of a child.  Yes it is true that the child was born out of wedlock. A beautiful child. A perfectly sweet little girl named Caroline, who is the very epitome of everything good and pure that her mother possessed.  And while it was unfortunate for him that his uncle (the holder and distributer of the bulk of Rex’s financial means) found out about the child and cut him off monetarily, Rex has a plan. Find a suitable and financially flush wife. End of story.

” But Rex also knew that Peter Mills had connections that might help him. Among Peter’s varied acquaintance were many wealthy women friends — with as little desire to marry as he himself possessed. Women whose wealth and status in society meant that most people turned a blind eye to their actions. 

The thought that had formed in Rex’s mind as he first observed Peter Mills had filled him with abhorrence, but he knew that Peter could help him in ways that others could not. His stomach turned as he considered what he was about to undertake. Desperate times, he rationalized again. 

All this had passed in a moment, and Peter was still leaning forward, waiting for Rex’s reply. 

‘I plan to marry an heiress, of course,’ Rex said with forced calm. “

Regrettably for Rex, this is proving to be a problem. The women of London want hardly anything to do with him, given the scandal swirling around him like the coming breeze. Mothers are clutching their daughters close as if he is no better than a thief, no better than a. . . scoundrel. Following through with his plan is proving to be a difficult task, so when the rich Peter Mills comes to him with a proposition, Rex has no choice but to listen and accept.

The bet is simple : Rex must make Sarah fall in love with him.

The reward: five thousand pounds; a veritable fortune.

While Rex does find the bet to be rather uncouth and certainly not befitting of a gentleman, he is desperate. His little girl is counting on him and he cannot fail her. And so while he begins to woo the spritely and beautiful Miss. Mendenhall, he is working another plan behind the curtain. An old acquaintance is newly in town and she brings new prospects. But while Isabella is attached to an attractive fortune, she is also attached to spite, revenge, and jealousy — and Rex may have bitten off more than he can chew, especially as he is now balancing the two ladies.

Sarah finds Rex to be a perfectly reasonable friend and good man, regardless of what society is whispering about him. She’s heard the rumors and the insults masked behind good manners. Lucky for Rex, Sarah is a simple girl who always looks and tends to believe the good in people, even if it is to her detriment. She has no idea that there is an uncivilized undertone running through the veins of their budding friendship, especially since she enjoys her time with Rex so much. She finds herself looking forward to their driving lessons and her eyes search for his figure every time she enters a ballroom. But if she had fallen in love, wouldn’t she know it?

” ‘You do not believe I am dangerous?’

‘Not in the sense you mean.’

In two steps he was at her side, wrapping his arm around her waist and crushing her to his chest. She gasped, and he reached his other hand up, twisting his fingers into her hair. tipping her head back, he looked into her eyes. A wicked smile slid across his face, and he bent his head down. She turned her face away. 

‘Do you still think that now?’ he murmured, his breath tickling her ear. She trembled, but did not push him away. 

‘Mr. Rex, please — you are a gentleman!’

Rex laughed humorlessly. ‘That is not what I hear.’ “

When Peter Mills decides to up the ante on the bet and forces Rex into an even less desirable position than than the one he’s already in, Rex finds himself hesitating — the money is seeming less important when it comes up against Sarah’s feelings and reputation. Or rather, Rex is beginning to realize that his own feelings are leading him down a path that he did not intend, as he has regrettably found himself caught up in the spell that is Sarah Mendenhall.

But how could he ever expect her to love a scoundrel?

Scoundrel In Disguise is a proper historical romance written by author Shaela Kay. It comes after her first book, A Heart Made of Indigo, which follows the story and romance of Sarah’s brother and is set in India. While young Sarah is a supporting character in A Heart Made of Indigo, Scoundrel In Disguise is a standalone book, and I liked it better. I recommend reading the other if you enjoy the author’s style and are interested in learning more about Sarah.

 The historical references are well-researched and the romance is light and refreshingly full of morality, while the humor is witty and the characters are richly drawn. I really enjoyed this book and feel quite comfortable comparing it to the likes of Jane Austen; the time period is much the same and the romance is very similar. The story flowed brilliantly with almost no lull, and the character development was strong — especially for Sarah — who transformed from a silly and childish girl into an understanding and mature woman. Rex was dashing and full of wit, but I loved seeing his softer side. I am anxiously awaiting the story of Lady Rockwell; the author has teased a telling of the matriarch’s tale and I believe it would be a fine accompaniment to the world Kay has dreamed up.

I give Scoundrel In Disguise 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who loves a sweet romance with a twist of scandal.

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Recommendation: The Selection

The Selection

by Kiera Cass

” 35 girls. 

1 crown. 

The competition of a lifetime. “

There are few books that I have come across that have such beautiful covers as those of The Selection Series, by Kiera Cass. The series spans three books with an additional two in a spin-off series, along with one companion book full of novellas. All six books are undeniably lovely with vibrant colors and elaborately dressed young ladies.

It was the cover of the first book, The Selection, that made me pick it up off the shelf at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was the middle of summer and I was looking for a book to throw in my purse to read at karate lessons, gymnastics classes, and by the pool. I’d never really been into YA books until then, but the mysterious young lady in blue peeking over her shoulder at me pulled me in. And while I guess this novel is technically considered YA, it is my opinion that it is appropriate for mid-grade as well, appealing to ages as low as 10. The dialogue and subject matter are not overtly unique or high-end, but it’s an entertaining fairytale that young girls will swoon over.

The Selection’s plot is in short, a combination of the caste system and culling of The Hunger Games and the awkward and strange romance of The Bachelor. The time period appears to be set in the future, not quite dystopian, but with major faults.  Countries that are in creation in our modern day are now called by different names and are grouped together differently. The United States of America no longer in existence. The entire population is sorted into castes that each have their own way of life. Some are singers, some are actors, some are factory workers; it all depends upon your caste. There are a few hints as to what has happened to the former world, but a clear answer is never given. In any event, Caste 1 is the royal family, and their crown prince is in need of a wife.

Cue, the Selection.

America Singer is a member of Caste 5, set almost directly in the middle of the system. She is neither rich, nor poverty ridden. As a family of artists, her family has nearly everything it needs but not nearly enough of the things they want. Work is guaranteed but a few times per year, and times can definitely be hard with a family of seven. When news of the Selection breaks, her mother and younger sister May encourage her to enter, caught up in the hope that America could win and their situation could have forever stability. America is of the right age and has a quiet beauty; she’s also hardworking and talented. But the love she carries in secret for a boy in a caste lower than hers gives her severe pause. Only when Aspen, the sweet boy she’s known all her life, pushes her towards entering does she agree. He also sees the Selection as a step forward to a better life – for them both – as any young lady who participates will be rewarded with an immediate elevation of caste. For the people in America’s life, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime.

” ‘I think you should do it,’ he said suddenly.

‘Do what?’

‘Enter the Selection. I think you should do it.’

I glared at him. ‘Are you out of your mind?’

‘Mer, listen to me.’ His mouth was right to my ear. It wasn’t fair; he knew it distracted me. When his voice came, it was breathy and slow, like he was saying something romantic, though what he was suggesting was anything but. ‘If you had a chance for something better than this, and you didn’t take it because of me, I’ never forgive myself. I couldn’t stand it.’

I let out my breath in a quick huff. ‘It’s so ridiculous. Think of the thousands of girls entering. I won’t even get picked.’

‘If you won’t get picked, then why does it matter?’ His hands were rubbing up and down my arms now. I couldn’t argue when he did that. ‘All I want is for you to enter. I just want you to try. And if you go, then you go. And if you don’t, then at least I won’t have to beat myself up for holding you back.’

‘But I don’t love him, Aspen. I don’t even like him. I don’t even know him.’

‘No one knows him. That’s the thing, though, maybe you would like him.’

‘Aspen, stop. I love you.’

‘And I love you.’ He kissed me slowly to make his point. ‘And if you love me, you’ll do this so I won’t go crazy wondering what if.’ “

America is (of course) picked to join the formal group of Selection candidates and heads off to the castle for her extended stay with much trepidation. She is anxious about leaving Aspen behind and worried about fitting in. She’s never had fancy dresses, nor does she possess any refined skills; and the other ladies in the Selection have been culled from every caste from 2 to 8. She quickly befriends a sweet girl named Marlee and just as quickly, makes a frenemy with a higher-casted girl named Celeste.

Overcome with emotion and anxiety, America attempts to take solace in the castle grounds. The trees, grass, and flowers are nearly the only thing about the massive castle that seems the least bit familiar. But as she soon finds out, no one is allowed out of the castle proper without express permission, especially the Selection ladies. As she struggles to regain composure and push down her panic, she is met with a surprise – the handsome Prince Maxon. He escorts her outside and they share a few private moments together where she finds herself surprised to see that this process may not end up being as terrible as she’d initially thought.

All of the challenges, heartbreak, and frivolity of the Selection process is captured by cameras that are stream the footage to the outside world. Everyone in Illéa is anxiously awaiting each elimination, hopeful that their favorite will pass through to the next round. America and Maxon soon strike a deal – she will stick around to keep him company and help him make his final decision as long as he understands that he will never have her heart, and he will allow her to stay so that she may continue to send money and favors home to her family.

” ‘Wouldn’t it be much better for you if you had someone on the inside? Someone to help? Like, you know, a friend?’

‘A friend?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Let me stay, and I’ll help you. I’ll be your friend.’ He smiled at the words. ‘You don’t have to worry about pursuing me. You already know that I don’t have feelings for you. But you can talk to me anytime you like, and I’ll try and help. You said last night that you were looking for a confidante. Well, until you find one for good, I could be that person. If you want.’

His expression was affectionate but guarded. ‘I’ve met nearly every woman in this room, and I can’t think of one who would make a better friend. I’d be glad to have you stay.’ “

When Aspen, the boy from home, shows up unexpectedly, America is put in a terrible position. Having feelings for any other man while engaged in the Selection is considered treason, and she must choose which path to go down. Does she follow her heart? Or does she play the game?

The Selection is not a book that goes deep into any physical romance, so it is appropriate for most ages. It’s definitely a fairy tale and not written in an elevated form, so it is easy to grasp the concept and follow along. All in all, it’s a fun and quick read that any budding teenage girl would love to get wrapped up in. America is a strong and faithful girl with a great heart, and her love interests are positively dreamy. I give The Selection 3.5 stars (mostly because I am quite a bit older than the targeted audience).

The Selection is followed up by The Elite and The One. Several novellas have been compiled into The Prince and the Guard, and readers who enjoy America’s story will also enjoy The Heir and The Crown, two books that follow the Selection process of King Maxon’s daughter, Eadlyn.

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Recommendation: Outlander

Outlander

by Diana Gabaldon

“ Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone,
I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.
I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done. ”

 The Second World War is at an end and British Army nurse Claire Randall can finally pick things up where they left off with her husband, Frank. On a second-honeymoon spent in cozy Inverness, she spends her days gathering interesting herbs and flowers along the rich hills and lush valleys while Frank becomes immersed in the task of researching his family lineage. After hearing of an ancient ritual involving a secret cult of women around a set of standing stones on nearby Craigh na Dun, Claire decides to sneak down and have a look, finding herself mesmerized by the dancing and traditions of years long past. But when she backtracks to the area to recover something, she gets more than she intended, essentially falling through the stones into another era.

Dazed and confused, Claire rushes through the thick trees in a panic, trying to find some semblance of normal. She runs into a man who looks uncannily like her husband, putting her even more off balance. Claire can tell by his uniform that he is from no time period even close to the one she came from, and she begins to suspect that she is stuck in some crevice of history. Captain Jack Randall spends the few moments they are together showing Claire that he and her husband, while they may look the same, have absolutely nothing in common. How her gentle Frank could be related to this brute of a man, she has no idea. Before the Captain can arrest her, he is knocked out by what appears to be some sort of band of Scottish bandits, and while she is initially grateful for the help, she is unwillingly taken as a hostage anyway.

Upon arrival at a secluded shack in the woods, her nursing skills are put to the test. One of the bandits has an arm out of socket and various other injuries. Under the tough and intense scrutiny of the rest of the supposed outlaws, she mends the man as best she can, all while trying to ferret information out of her captors. But as they suspect her of being a British spy, she does not get far in her queries, and is spirited off instead to their Laird’s home, Castle Leoch, despite her pleas to the contrary.

” ‘You’re hurt!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have you broken open your shoulder would, or is it fresh? Sit down and let me see!’ I pushed him toward a pile of boulders, rapidly reviewing procedures for emergency field treatment. No supplies to hand, save what I was wearing. I was reaching for the remains of my slip, intending to use it to stanch the flow, when he laughed. 

Nay, pay it no mind, lass. This lot isna my blood. Not much of it, anyway,’ he added, plucking the soaked fabric gingerly away from his body. 

I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy. ‘Oh,’ I said weakly. 

‘Dougal and the others will be waiting by the road. Let’s go.’ He took me by the arm, less as a gallant gesture than a means of forcing me to accompany him. I decided to take a chance and dug in my heels. 

‘No! I’m not going with you!’

He stopped, surprised at my resistance. ‘Yes, you are.’ He didn’t seem upset by my refusal; in fact, he seemed slightly amused that I had any objection to being kidnapped again. 

‘And what if I won’t? Are you going to cut my throat?’ I demanded, forcing the issue. He considered the alternatives and answered calmly. 

‘Why, no. You don’t look heavy. If ye won’t walk, I shall pick you up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me to do that?’ He took a step toward me, and I hastily retreated. I hadn’t the slightest doubt he would do it, injury or no. 

‘No! You can’t do that; you’ll damage your shoulder again.’

His features were indistinct, but the moonlight caught the gleam of teeth as he grinned. 

‘Well then, since ye don’t want me to hurt myself, I suppose as you’re comin’ with me?’ “

While under house arrest, Claire can think of nothing but finding a way back to the standing stones that brought her here – back to Frank. She is able to ascertain that she is trapped in the year 1743, in a precipitous and politically-charged Scotland. But although getting back to Frank and the 1940’s is occupying the better part of her mind, Claire is drawn to the russet-haired man she helped back in the shack. His name is Jamie Fraser, and in addition to being a resident horse-breaker at the castle, he is also the Laird’s nephew, a fugitive from the Crown, and a bit of a ladies man.

Because of her skills as a nurse, she is ordered to accompany Dougal MacKenzie and his men to collect rents around the area. Although she thinks this will finally be her opportunity to escape back to the stones, Claire cannot deny there is a hold on her here in the past. The trip to collect rents is an arduous one and full of all sorts of interesting characters. But Claire is not a fool; she can see that on top of the rents collected, Mackenzie is also soliciting funds for a Jacobite rebellion against the Crown. His tactics are, in her opinion, barbaric, and again she is drawn towards the young and roughy handsome Jamie Fraser. Much to her digress, Captain Jack Randall floats back into her life and begins to try and cause trouble, insisting that she is a spy that needs to be dealt with accordingly. While it is again disarming how much his face resembles Frank’s, their demeanor and character could not be more different. Jack Randall is cruel and sadistic, and to escape his evil clutches,  Claire is forced into a position that she does not want – she must marry a man for protection. Namely, she must marry young Jamie Fraser.

” It was a ‘warm’ Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either. Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James. If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent. My mouth fell open and stayed that way. 

A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight — any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breath-taking. 

The thick red-gold hair had been brushed to a smooth gleam that swept the collar of a fine lawn shirt with tucked front, belled sleeves, and lace-trimmed wrist frills that matched the cascade of the starched jabot at the throat, decorated with a ruby stickpin. 

His tartan was a brilliant crimson and black that blazed among the more sedate MacKenzies in their green and white. The flaming wool, fastened by a circular silver brooch, fell from his right shoulder in a graceful drape, caught by a silver-studded sword belt before continuing its sweep past neat calves clothed in woolen hose and stopping just short of the silver-buckled black leather boots. Sword, dirk, and badger-skin sporran completed the ensemble. 

Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion, and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to — and he knew it. Making a leg in courtly fashion, he swept me a bow of impeccable grace, murmuring ‘Your servant, Ma’am,’ eyes glinting with mischief. 

‘Oh,’ I said faintly. “

Back at the castle as a newly married woman, Claire attracts not only new friends but also her share of enemies. While Jamie is keeping her occupied in most arenas, she finds time during her days to journey down into the village and make acquaintance with Geillis Duncan, a peculiar and somewhat eccentric woman, the two bond over their collected knowledge of herbs and natural remedies. There is more to Mrs. Duncan than meets the eye, and when the two women are accused of witchcraft, Claire learns something shocking about her red-haired friend.

After the unfortunate incident, Jamie and Claire flee to his childhood home of Lallybroch, and there stay under the care and judgmental eye of his older sister. Jenny is happy to have her little brother home for the time being, but she cannot help her suspicions about his new wife – Sassenach that she is. Jamie struggles with his desire to be man of the house and the ever-watchful eye of his stubborn older sister. He is eventually taken by British soldiers and in a reversal of roles – Claire must save him. . . from none other than Captain Jack Randall.

What comes next is a story not just of romance, but of deep-rooted love and genuine affection, of undeniable courage and the upmost honor, and of the understanding that using your wits and intellect is imperative. Claire finds herself thrust into an unknown and initially unwanted world, but she soon finds that the past can bring you to your future in more ways than one.

The Outlander Series is a set of novels that reach epic proportions, spanning 8 (and counting) novels and several companion books. They are not easy reads due mainly to their size (the debut novel clocks in at over 625 pages, in the large paperback version, with each novel growing larger and larger) and also to their somewhat elevated vocabulary. It is very obvious that the author, Diana Gabaldon, is an educated and intelligent woman, and the fact that she has spent many hours doing extensive research on each historical fact is extremely clear. Over the year that it took me to read all 8 of the novels and the Lord John Grey accompaniments, I did occasionally find myself groaning at all of the intricate detail. But my grumbling wasn’t enough to ever cause boredom or make me put the books down. It is very easy to fall under the spell of Claire and Jamie, and the rich history that surrounds them. It’s also very easy to stay trapped in that spell.

Outlander has been made into a popular television series by the Starz Network, and is currently filming it’s third season, on location. The first two seasons followed the path of the first two books closely, with few adjustments. The costumes are beautiful and the scenery is impressive, making it difficult for anyone to not want to book a plane ticket straight to Scotland in an attempt to fall through the stones.

The order of the Outlander books can be found on Diana Gabaldon’s website. Lord John Grey’s books are wonderful additions to the world that any fan will come to love, and I highly recommend them as part of the series proper. I also recommend the few novellas featuring other characters from the books, and they can be found separately or in compilation form on Amazon.

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Recommendation: Me Before You

Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes

“ …I told him a story of two people. Two people who shouldn’t have met, and who didn’t like each other much when they did, but who found they were the only two people in the world who could possibly have understood each other. ”

Sometimes I wonder how publishing houses feel when they give a hard pass to a book and it ends up becoming a national bestseller. Do they have regrets? Is it just a drop in the bucket? Does it even bother them at all, considering how many novels are pushed out each year by countless houses? Does someone get fired? Yelled at? It intrigues me.

Jojo Moyes wrote Me Before You in 2012, after a multitude of other novels that garnered reasonably good numbers and critical acclaim, as well as a few awards. Previously a journalist of more than a decade, she decided that full-time novel writing was her future. But when she brought Me Before You to her longstanding publishing house, they passed, and so she moved along and sold the book elsewhere. Subsequently, the romance novel featuring a quirky girl in bumblebee tights  and a wheelchair-bound boy with hair that’s too long sold over six-million copies in countless countries and ended up in Hollywood as a film starring two impossibly good looking actors.

Makes you wonder, right?

I’ve read a lot of romance novels. I’ve read the quickly turned-around and recycled babble of Harlequin authors. I’ve read the slightly more scandalous authors like Lori Foster and Patti Berg. I’ve read 50 Shades.  I’ve read historical romance, contemporary romance, sci-fi romance, teen romance. I just like to read, so no genre or author is off limits (unless you ask me to read Ayn Rand. That’s a hard no). But even with all of my reading, I still found Me Before You unique.

If I had to compare this book to work by another author, I would say it is most like a Nicholas Sparks novel. But even then, it’s not. Nicholas Sparks always ends up killing off the characters we fall in love with in some tragic, heart wrenching way that can almost always be avoided. I think Sparks needs some serious therapy, and maybe needs to buy a puppy or something. He seems very unhappy. He just can’t let his characters have a happy ending. The Notebook? Okay, I’ll give him that one. But I have literally stopped reading so many of his books because I could see what was happening. . . the main character was going to die, after falling in love, and then you know, his heart will be cut from his chest and go to save his teenage love’s son or something. Me Before You is kind of like that, but also so unique that it’s difficult to compare it to anything else. There is such an undercurrent of humor and sweetness, and even though you know what is going to happen – there is just no getting around it – you are okay with it. Yes, you cry, but you are okay. What happened needed to happen. And you can enjoy the book for what it is, not feeling ripped off as you finish the final pages and find everyone dead – either literally or just on the inside.

Louisa Clark doesn’t have it easy, but you won’t hear her complain. She comes from solid stock, and they all stick together.

The cafe she has spent years working in is closing up shop, and the loss  finds her at the doorstep of the Traynor residence, anxiously pushing through an interview for a job that she doesn’t really want – but needs. She has a family to help support and the Clark’s are all in it together. Being a caretaker is very low on her list of dream jobs, but it’s better than the other prospects, and so she accepts the offer and is grateful for the adequate pay.

But when she meets Will, her moody, strange, and sometimes downright insufferable ward, Louisa’s mind starts to backtrack. She is usually so adept at maintaining the pep in her step and has a positive attitude that is beyond reproach, and Will’s bad temper is starting to rub off on her. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like him. But she does need the steady work.

Will was a larger than life personality before a freak motorcycle accident took his body. He is now a shell of his former self, passing his time with a cynical attitude and plenty of music and film. He’s not much of a people person anymore, being not only bound to a wheelchair but also in the unusual space of being rather vulnerable emotionally. As a quadriplegic, he is completely dependent on other people for every single aspect of his bodily life. He in turn, finds the entire situation depressing and humiliating, leaving him full of enmity towards everyone and everything.

At first, Louisa’s bubbly persona only seems to irritate Will further and she finds herself questioning her abilities for helping him. He has a physical therapist who does the majority of the grunt work, and she knows she is there mainly to lift Will’s spirits and provide him with quiet companionship. But after she overhears his parents discussing Will’s plans to end his life in six month’s time, she becomes determined to change the inevitable outcome. She reaches into the depths of her resolve and patience, and vows to make Will’s life better and a as full as she can.

“ ‘Just hold on. Just for a minute.”
“Are you all right ?”
I found my gaze dropping towards his chair, afraid some part of him was pinched, or trapped, that I had got something wrong.

“I’m fine. I just…I don’t want to go in just yet. I just want to sit and not have to think about. . .I just. . .want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more. . .’ “

She has some bumps along the way, mostly due to her inexperience with Will’s lifestyle in the wheelchair, but the pair find themselves growing closer. They take in a concert together, they watch horse races, and they attend a wedding. They slowly and organically find themselves confiding in each other, and Louisa learns all about how big Will’s life was before his accident. She listens with rapt attention as he describes places like Paris and the outrageous hobbies he used to have when he had control of his body. She has always lived in a very small world, feeling the burden of her family on her shoulders, and Will encourages her to get out and take risks. Louisa finds herself questioning her longterm relationship with her boyfriend, Patrick, as she begins to see him through new eyes – she sees how superficial and shallow he is, compared to the depth and thoughtfulness of Will’s attentions. Louisa sees more and more how hard it is for Will to sustain life. He is easily fatigued and susceptible to illness, and his frustrations at not being able to do the most simplest things (like button his own shirt or hold a woman he is kissing) breed sadness in her.

“ ‘You cut yourself off from all sorts of experiences because you tell yourself you are ‘not that sort of person.”
“But, I’m not.”
“How do you know? You’ve done nothing, been nowhere. How do you have the faintest idea what kind of person you are?’ “

Despite the hiccoughs in their relationship, of course, the inevitable happens. . . Louisa begins to fall in love. She doesn’t even seem to realize it’s happening until it’s too late and she can’t stop it. Will has already been there, just waiting for her and her feelings to catch up, but he’d never say a word because he doesn’t want her to live her life for him. He wants Louisa to live her life for her – for once.

“ I realized I was afraid of living without him.

How is it you have the right to destroy my life, I wanted to demand of him, but I’m not allowed a say in yours?
But I had promised. ”

Me Before You is a novel that will make you cry, so be prepared. But I promise it will be bittersweet tears. Will and Louisa couldn’t possibly spend an entire lifetime together, but the time they do have is special beyond measure.

I give this book 4.5. out of 5 stars, and I recommend reading the last quarter of it in private. You can read the rest of it by the pool once the sun finally comes out and we sail into summer, but leave the rest for when you are alone and can ugly cry in peace. It also has a sequel, Me After You, and the movie is a beautifully scripted adaptation that follows very closely to the novel.