narfna’s #CBR5 Review #104: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderWell . . . that was certainly an experience. Parts of it I LOVED and parts of it were SO WEIRD I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

It’s clear that Gabaldon pretty much wrote whatever the hell she wanted to, ignoring a lot of steadfast  “rules” in the process. The result of this is a book that could fit into dozens of different genres, and that contains dozens of scenes that make you go “wait, did she just write that?”

For those of you not familiar (and I’m betting there are still some of you out there), Outlander is the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s titular series about a nurse from World War II-era England who travels back in time two hundred years to Scotland, and among other things, is accused of being a witch, becomes a healer, is forced to marry a handsome young Scot, and deal with a psychopathic Englishman, all the while dealing with her reduced freedoms as a woman and navigating both the smaller and larger political and historical issues that she alone knows are coming.

It’s a long book, and it’s hard to describe. Even if you think you have a pretty good idea of what to expect, I guarantee there will be at least once scene you won’t see coming at all, and more than one that will make you need to put the book down, like under your pillow or in a freezer or somewhere else that is safe and away from you while you alternatively cool down/stop being weirded out/insert overextended emotion here. It’s a romance, and an extremely well-researched historical novel. And it’s speculative, and a bunch of other shit as well.

And I enjoyed it. And I was weirded out by it. And it made me need to go take a cold shower.

The most notable thing about it, of course, is the central romance between our time-traveling heroine Claire and young Scottish virgin, Jamie Fraser, which was extremely swoonworthy, excepting one notable scene involving corporal punishment. I realize Gabaldon needed to have Jamie conform to time-specific ideas about male/female relationships, but I really think I needed to see Claire be more vocal about refusing to be subjected to anything like that in the future, and I needed to see Jamie agree. The scene at the end with Jamie and Randall was . . . interesting. And I’m still not entirely sure what the point of all of it was.

Also, there was probably more sex in this book than in any other book I’ve ever read. Just . . . there’s so much of it. So, so much of it. I kind of wish she’d been a little more spare with it, because after the first three or four times so close together, the scenes sort of began to lose their spark.

Anyway, I’ll definitely be continuing with this series, but probably not until after the first season of the TV show airs on Starz next year. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Ron Moore can do with this story (and with it being on Starz, I’m sure the sex scenes will get their due as well).

And with that, I have finished my Double Cannonball goal for the year, and so now I shall go collapse into my bed and not wake up until Thursday.

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Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Review #10: The Angel Stone by Juliet Dark

The Angel Stone is the final chapter of the Fairwick Chronicles trilogy See my previous reviews here and here. Beware small spoilers to follow!

Callie McFay is a literature professor (at only 27, mind you) at a small liberal arts college in New England. In the previous books, she discovers her father was fey and her mother a powerful witch, their frowned upon union giving birth to her. On top of her mixed supernatural heritage, she is a doorkeeper – born with the power to open the door between Faerie and the human realm. She fell in love with not one (an irish professor named Liam) but two! (a handyman named Bill) incarnations of an incubus. Apparently, it was true love which restored the demon lover to his former human form. Shame it was two seconds before his throat was cut by a nasty fallen angel. Book 2 ends with Callie losing her true love and the door to Faerie closed forever…or is it?

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And so begins book 3 with things looking very bleak for the sleepy town of Fairwick. All the supernatural professors including the former dean were forced to return to Faerie leaving the school open for a fallen angel aka nephilim takeover. Duncan Laird is the big bad from book 2 and now has become dean, formed a fraternity full of bastard nephilim boys. It reminded me of the fifth Harry Potter novel, everything becomes more and more unbearable for the characters with each turning page.  In similar fashion, Callie and the remaining supernaturals in town form a secret resistance and vow to find a door to Faerie to uncover the angel stone, the only weapon again the nephilim.

I would recommend this novel for fans of scottish fairy tales, nephilim myths and novels about true love that doesn’t involve abstinence.

Read the full book review on my blog.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #23: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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The Shining Girls is a time-traveling serial killer cat-and-mouse thriller.  Got all that? Obviously, you have to check your disbelief at the door here.

Harper has had that killer urge since he was a boy, and as he grows older, it gets even stronger and he begins to kill when he can get away with it. After a fortuitous (and cleverly circular) string of events, Harper discovers a time traveling portal in a house in Chicago, and that’s when Harper begins his life as a serial killer. Harper will step out into different times and hunt girls, his girls – he knows them by their shine. He always goes back to make sure the job is complete and he’s always been successful – until Kirby. Kirby is the only girl to ever survive his attack (though just barely) and she spends her life after the attack searching for the man who nearly killed her. Kirby gains an internship at a paper and teams up with Dan, a sports writer (and former crime reporter), to hunt down a killer.

This book has so many outrageous elements that it just shouldn’t work. Unexplained magical time portal? Check. Vicious serial killer? Check.  Tough yet vulnerable survivor protagonist? Check, check and check. In the hands of someone with mediocre skills this would have been as schlocky as it sounds, but in Beukes hands, it just shines (I’m sorry. I had to.) Each of Harper’s victims is introduced to us and I found myself rooting for them, even though you knew what the outcome would have to be. Beukes creates more 3-D characters in a few pages than some writers can in entire books.

Kirby is a great character, she’s smart and ambitious and she’s driven to find her attacker, and she is hell bent on revenge. I loved that she wasn’t 100% healed, and likely never would be, and sometimes she was bitter as hell. I liked her friendship with Dan and there was a lot of humorous moments peppered in to make the story not so heavy. Beukes really has a wonderful way with creating characters and that’s where the strength of this novel lies. There are some clichés to be found (sociopath with no empathy, bohemian free-spirited mother, disillusioned reporter) but she takes them just a step above so that even when I knew something was coming, I enjoyed the journey she took me on to get there.

If you’re a mystery/thriller fan and are looking for something outside of the box, this is definitely the book for you. It’s smart and funny and really just fun as hell.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #97: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I am definitely of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I thought the premise was brilliant: a time-travelling serial killer who targets women when they are young girls with “shining” attributes—precocious, talented, ambitious, or just plain plucky—and comes back to kill them and snuff their glow decades later, always leaving behind mementos taken from a previous killing and, most importantly, from a different era, often the future! How do you catch a killer in the 90’s who is living in the ‘30s, or ‘50s, or whatever? One of his victims survives, however, and is determined to find him against all the odds, and the chase is on.

So, the story is set for some challenging writing and plot sequencing. And this is where Beukes fails. Each chapter slips back and forth in time, focusing either on the killer, his victims, or our traumatized but determined heroine and her journalist sidekick. It’s not that there isn’t some kind of sense to what Beukes writes, but it’s all over the place. The timeline shifts so often that it took a notepad and pen for me to keep track of who, what, when and where. And there is never an explanation of how the killer is time-traveling, except for some tenuous link to The House, which is a sinister portal to past, present and future squatting in the midst of one of the most wretched neighborhoods in Chicago. Okay, Beukes isn’t obliged to cross every “t” and dot every “I”, but this is a big plot point—the biggest, in fact—and a totally mystery from beginning to end. Left me frustrated!

Beukes does some lovely things with her story, particularly with her effort to flesh out all of her victims and give us their back stories. They are for the most part fascinating women, and their stories generally reflect the author’s thoughts on such social issues as race, male chauvinism, transgender, poverty, etc. She even makes a stab at giving us a little background on the killer himself, but that falls much flatter, and he remains for the most part a predictable psycho-killer who mutilated small animals as a child, who has delusions about his “mission,” and who wears a cliché rictus grin and an erection at the moment of the kill—and who just happened to luck out on finding a time-travelling portal through which to cover his tracks. What really put me off, though, were her all too lovingly detailed descriptions of each killing, from the sounds his knife made as it plunged through the necks, abdomens, and hearts of his victims, the obsession with looped intestines, the gushing blood, and so on. Enough already!

We know from the start how this novel will end, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are lots of thrills and chills along the way, and even some much needed light moments. What does disappoint is that Beukes had a gem of an idea, and just wasn’t able to polish it to a shine.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #30 – Replay by Ken Grimwood

I’ve had this book for years, moved across the country and then sitting on my nightstand, collecting dust. It came highly recommended from members of a science fiction book club, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it.

It is a time traveling story, a la Groundhog Day but with a darker bend. Jeff Winston is in a dead-end job with a souring marriage and finds himself suffering chest pains and in his office, dying. A moment later, he is back in his college dorm. Reeling with confusion, he comes to terms with his situation and discovers that he is somehow reliving his life. Why is this happening? What does it mean? He wrestles with these questions.

This mystery is complex and rich and will leave you with more questions than answers. It’s an unsettling book, but I think you need to read something that shakes you every now and again.

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #16: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

shining-girlsThe Shining Girls is about a time-traveling serial killer. For a reason that really isn’t explained, Harper Curtis is tasked with traveling through time to kill ‘shining girls’ or girls who have great potential. The book jumps from present to past and back again as Harper meets, stalks and kills his victims.

Kirby Mazrachi is the only woman who survives a gruesome attack by Harper. The great potential Kirby promised as a young girl (Harper often meets his victims as girls or young women to give them a token and tell them he’ll come back for them in the future) may have been squashed but now she is determined to find Harper.

Kirby gets an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times and persuades sports reporter Dan Velasquez to help her. Velasquez covered Kirby’s case years ago but moved to the sports beat after years as a crime reporter left him jaded.

As with any time travel book it can be difficult to keep track of Harper’s travels. Since he meets the girls multiple times in their lives I had to flip back and forth a bit to keep track of everyone. The concept is interesting and the story is compelling but it is also extremely violent – think what you will about the fact that all the victims are women, all are intelligent or compassionate or promising, most are also ethnic.

For me, this book suffers for two major reasons. Firstly, there are a number of clichés. Of course there is a simmering romance between Kirby and Dan. Of course Kirby, an inexperienced reporter, is able to track down a serial killer that no experienced professional could find. Of course, there is a vague ending that could lead to a sequel.

Secondly, the book tries to be a science-fiction/horror/mystery and each genre ends up diluted. Add to that some extremely graphic, misogynistic attacks, a couple implausible plot points and a silly, climactic snowball fight and the result is disappointing.

Owlcat’s CBR5 review #18 of Timeline by Michael Crichton

This is an older book that Michael Crichton published in 1999 and frequently while reading it, I had the feeling I might have read it back then but wasn’t remembering characters or the storyline specifically.  But several times, I would feel, “I think I read this,” but not knowing (or remembering) anything about it, I continued on and the more I got into it, the less I felt like I had read it.  A friend suggested, when I mentioned this to her, that maybe I’d read too much Michael Crichton and that could well be the case.  I loved his books from his first publication, “The Andromeda Strain,” but gradually felt many were too similar in both characters and plots, namely the effects of time travel.  They were different in their locales but they had a formula to them of good people, bad people (especially those who want to exploit the benefits of science and time travel), well-meaning people, idealistic people, ruthless people, and people getting stuck in and at the mercy of the time period, etc.  There were frequently variations on the theme but the theme remained, and this book is included in all of these points.

The book opens with a mysterious seriously ill man whom a vacationing couple find wandering in the New Mexico desert.  When they bring him to a local hospital, his condition creates all kinds of unanswerable questions for both the medical personnel and the police, who are called in because of the unusual situation.  They learn he was a physicist and employee of ITC, a high tech company that on the surface is developing technological advances, though much is kept secret from the media and the public.  They are, however, funding historical and archeological research medieval towns in the Dordogne region of France, and the leader of the historical and archaeological team, Professor Johnston, goes to their New Mexico headquarters with suspicions about detailed knowledge of the site that the ITC staff who visit seem to have.

While he is gone, archaeologists at the site discover an anomaly that appears directly but impossibly linked to Professor Johnston, including a piece of parchment on which he appears to have asked them for help. This makes them question what has happened to him and what ITC really is doing.  Consequently, they fly to New Mexico and discover that ITC has been using quantum technology to travel to Dordogne in 1357 and that Professor Johnston did so but had not returned. Three of the researchers agree to go into time to retrieve him, knowing they are limited by a window of time;  if they and he are not at the transit pad within a specific amount of time, they will be forever in 1357. The fourth researcher, however, chooses not to go, distrusting, Doniger, the founder and the owner of ITC, as well as its technology, convinced they haven’t been told everything regarding the time travel, which according to ITC isn’t really time travel by multiverse travel (as opposed to universe) through quantum wormholes.  Gradually, too, Doniger reveals the evidence of “transcription errors,” which occur when people go back and return too often in time;  physical and mental issues develop, at first not too seriously but eventual become too dangerous for the traveler.

Naturally, the three who do go encounter the expected problems that all residents of that time period experience, and become victims of the war that is occurring there and the barbarism of the medieval way of life.  Included among these trials is the fact that their transit pad has been inadvertently destroyed by one of the military escorts from ITC when he tries to return to the present.  At this point, they attempt to blend in with the populace, which isn’t always feasible, despite their medieval clothing and earpieces that translate the archaic language, and which are communication devices among themselves, as well.  This is how they begin to realize there is someone among the warring factions who also has an earpiece and hears them and is determined to kill them to avoid detection; they don’t know why or how he is there, and are initially unaware of which knight or nobleman he might be, and unaware of the phenomenon of transcription errors that have affected him mentally.

Meanwhile, as they try to rescue the professor and keep themselves safe until they can use a ceramic piece they still have that can call a transit pad to them from the other side, they are unaware of that in the present, a huge explosion has occurred at ITC and they are trying desperately to repair the transit pads so when they are ready to transport back, they will be able to.  Toward the end of the book, there is tremendous suspense, typical of Crichton, within both stories – timing the repair on one side and the attempts of the three rescuers and the professor to be at the right place and time, while fighting for their lives.

What I liked about this story was the details Crichton included around the medieval way of life, not romanticizing it at all, although one of the characters, Marek, who has been totally immersed in medieval history for years, has romanticized it and is shocked when he realizes what a brutal society it was.  Still, he was the most prepared to endure, understand and accept it, which helps him as they try to negotiate their way through the war battles and their personal battles.  I didn’t like the detail that Crichton went into around quantum physics, because even when explaining it, it was so difficult to understand and at some point, I began thinking he was not really explaining it but justifying it as it applied to his story.  I wasn’t sure what was accurate and what wasn’t.

This was a fun and exciting book and if you like stories about time travel and particularly if you like history, you would enjoy it.  Crichton was very good at developing his characters and most acted the way you expect them to act from when you first meet them.  The story moved along well, except at times when ITC was being described, and I admit having a tendency to skim those parts.  I thought the physical landscape and architecture and lifestyle described of the medieval villages and castles were rich in detail and most of that was through the characters’ eyes and experiences, making it more digestible than the ITC-type descriptions.  Toward the end, I didn’t want to put the book down because I wanted to see what was going to happen with each of the characters trying to return and in that respect, was not at all dissatisfied.