Review: Finding Fraser by KC Dyer

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Dear Readers,

Before I get to the actual book, let me just tell you how excited I was when I found out there was a book called Finding Fraser (by KC Dyer) based on a woman traveling Scotland to find her own Jamie Fraser.

It sounded awesome.

However, you know what happens when you hype something up in your head. It needs to be perfect and exactly what you want in order to be great even though your own personal emotional state has nothing to do with the actual quality of the book.

That’s where I was when I started this, so to be honest, I was slightly more disappointed than I would have liked. It also meant I ended up walking away from the book for a while before going back to it instead of reading it all in one go. When I was done, I wrote a little snippet for Goodreads (add me!), but I knew I had to come back and write something longer for the blog. So here I am!

There were three things that bothered me about the book, and then I’m going to tell you why I loved it anyway.

So, the first thing I wasn’t super fond of was the portrayal of the Outlander fan. It was often a bit crazy, and definitely made it seem like fans of the show lose all sense of self when someone whispers “James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.”

On the other hand, I haven’t exactly spent any time at Outlander fan groups to be able to say what’s accurate or not. I also perk up any time I hear someone talking about the books or show, use JAMMF as a method of motivation, listen to the Outlander podcast, and have been recorded talking about Outlander on a boat on a river in the rainforest for twenty minutes, and to top it all off, I straight-up entered a Masters program (and possibly will enter a PhD) because of these books, so who am I to judge?

Also, the idea of a stripper dressing up as Jamie Fraser makes me smile, so why the Outlander fan portrayal bothered me can’t be explained by anything more than my own quirks. I imagine there are others that were bothered, but I know just as well that there were people thinking ‘That’s totally true!’

So I guess that one only half counts.

Anyway, bothersome thing number two was how convenient the plot was. Like, of course he’s there, of course she’s able to stay, of course they caught her…. That’s not to say there aren’t any obstacles and she doesn’t have problems (she does), but I wasn’t surprised when anything happened. Also, her ways around Scotland were certainly for convenience sake, considering it’s a bit clear that adherence to Scottish topography was not a top priority.

Third bothersome thing: Emma, the main character, is so clueless and fixated. It reminded me of Harry Potter, where Harry is so clueless but all the characters around him are lovely. I did like Emma most of the time, but some of the moments of cluelessness and holding on were dragged out and thoughts repeated to the point I had to walk away from the book. This was probably amplified by the amount of medieval Irish literature and modern Gaelic folklore I’ve been reading, which gets right to the point and moves on, but I’m also pretty sure some of it could have been removed and the story would have lost nothing.

So, that’s what bothered me. Now let’s talk about the reasons I loved it anyway, because that’s really important.

  1. It’s a book about going to Scotland to find a modern Jamie Fraser. I mean come on. What’s not to love?
  2. The successful romantic interest (who I was pulling for) is definitely within my realm of dream guy and I found him endlessly entertaining. By the end of the book, I smiled whenever he arrived. Modern Jamie Fraser? Maybe not, but certainly a lovely man.
  3. It’s sweet. I can feel the love in the words.
  4. The addition of the blog posts was delightful. They added humor, gave chances for reflection, and helped the pacing of the book.
  5. The fictional adventures through Scotland were fun to witness, especially with ideas of Highland ghosts floating around.
  6. The characters around Emma were, as a whole, charming.

All this said, I would recommend this to anyone that likes Outlander. I don’t think I would have liked it as much, or maybe even at all, without the starting connection to Outlander, but I also don’t think I would have wanted to read it in the first place without that connection. It’s not the sort of literature I would want to form a uni class to discuss, but it is the type of literature that passes the time and gives a few laughs.

And that, my friends, is just as good.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

Review: The Lass Wore Black by Karen Ranney

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Dearest Readers,

I really wanted to like this book. The premise of the romance was promising: a woman driven to hide herself from the world under a veil, a male doctor sent in to get her eating again, their romance, and an ex-lover with murder on his mind.

It sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, The Lass Wore Black just left me constantly wanting more or disappointed. It’s a romance, so it’s meant to allow for suspension of belief and escapism, but even then, I was unsatisfied. Some of the reasons are nitpicky, like the absolutely impossible suggestion that while in a carriage accident, Catriona (the woman in the veil) gasped in pain every time a shard of glass sliced her skin. That would be dozens of times within a couple seconds, and that’s just not happening.

Another thing is the way Ranney included ways of speaking that were ‘appropriate’ for the time, meaning more delicate about sexual matters and more set into gender roles and sexism. I’m not faulting her for that. However, the way it was incorporated was inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.

For instance, the doctor seems to equate Catriona, who went through trauma and is scarred/permanently injured from it, with wealthy old women that are clearly hypochondriacs. He goes from understanding and compassionate to irritated too easily and with little provocation.

By the end of the novel, I still wasn’t invested in the couple. Their big climactic moments, like sex for the first time and her removing her veil, are…anti-climactic. They’re over too soon or just feel strange. He gets described as kissing ‘like a demon’, and he keeps smiling and twinkling a lot at inappropriate moments. Catriona, although not dorky smiling all over the place, is really prideful, which makes her stubborn sometimes but bratty the next. Most of the relationship seems forced.

Even the villain of the tale, the ex-lover with murder on his mind, makes me cringe. He’s tried to kill Catriona multiple times and seems quite intent on doing it. But he waits for months while determining the right time and place, and then for some reason thinks the right time and place is the carriage house a couple days after she was seen there one time because even though she’s being watched all the time, that one-time trek into the carriage house means it’s time to set it on fire.

And then, after trying to stay secret and plotting murder while doing nothing else, he ends up trying to kill her in the middle of a crowded street and getting caught because of course.

Except wait…what? What villain that’s been plotting for months thinks that’s the best course of action?

Also, as far as I can tell, the cover doesn’t have anything to do with the book at all.

The redeeming qualities of this novel were the secondary characters. None were particularly thoroughly fleshed out, but they were more intriguing and worked better with the main characters than the main characters did with each other.

I find that unfortunate. The plot had so much hope, but it just fell short. Not something bad to read to pass time in an airport or something, but for serious enjoyment, I wouldn’t suggest it.

I would say, however, that on Goodreads the book has a 3.71/5 rating as of the end of March 2017, so some people really liked it.

I am not one of those people.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating: 3.5 stars.

This book was recommended to me while I was at work this summer by a philosopher. His description of it as a book with old gods, like Egyptian and Norse, interacting with new gods in a sort of war in America sounded interesting, and I started it two days later.

The premise is just as the philosopher described, except it revolves around the life of one man, Shadow, when he’s released from prison and taken into the employ of a mysterious Mr. Wednesday. He slowly, but also quickly, finds himself caught up in the war between the gods while trying to cope with his new life. There are gods from all over, from the Egyptian and Norse I already mentioned to Indian ones to ones I’ve never heard of.

The book itself is decent and based on a good premise. I like the idea of the gods of the internet, money, and media facing off against tricky gods that miss sacrifices, a good metaphor for the battle between the old and the new that is so common in many cultures today: tradition VS technology and changing ideals. The writing is high quality, which is unsurprising because it’s Neil Gaiman, and although I did find the book to be slow to develop sometimes, I was never truly bored.

Then why the low-ish review? Let me explain.

The gods in this book are physical manifestation of the collective imagination and worship of groups of people. For that reason, many of them are two-dimensional, and I could not truly bring myself to care about them. I mostly kept reading for Shadow, and because there was something that didn’t feel right about Wednesday.

The gods had too many rules to follow that were never explained, too many things going on behind the scenes. Shadow was often left to sit around and let the gods do their thing, even though he was more caught up in the middle than most of them. It was all almost pointless, because I got to the end, and I kept thinking “so what was the point?”

But I think there isn’t supposed to be a point, not truly. The point is whatever you want it to be. The point can be taken from a frozen over lake or a string of missing children or a carousel or the musings about humanity from Shadow, from Wednesday, from Ibis. It can be taken from how the gods interact, or how they react, or from the things they enjoy.

I don’t think the book was meant to be a profound story to rush you along and throw you into the action of a magical war.

I think it was supposed to be melancholy, hopeful, subdued, teasing, and thought-provoking. I think everyone who reads it is supposed to get something different out of it, something they need or want.

The book averages over a 4 star rating on Goodreads, but from what I’ve read, some people adore it and some people hate it and many people simply don’t know what to do with it. And the answer is: do whatever you want and think whatever you want.

There isn’t a particular moral to the story, but I think that’s fitting because there isn’t a particular moral to a life, or a year, or even a day.

If you’re a serious reader and can get through a book more than 500 pages long, feel free to pick this one up and decide what you think for yourself.

And now for the good part: the thing that makes this book relevant to this blog.

It includes Celtic gods/mythological figures. There is a leprechaun, from Irish mythology, and there is Gwydion, from Welsh mythology, and it was fascinating to see how Gaiman chose to portray these figures.

The Leprechaun: Mad Sweeney

Mad Sweeney might be my favorite character in this book. Whenever he’s around, I smile or laugh, even if something bad is happening. His personality, which is snarky, straight-forward, and earnest, is lovely. One quote from page 32 lets his personality shine:

“I’m a leprechaun,” he said. Shadow did not smile.

“Really?” he said. “Shouldn’t you be drinking Guinness?”

“Stereotypes. You have to learn to think outside the box,” said the bearded man. “There’s a lot more to Ireland than Guinness.”

“You don’t have an Irish accent.”

“I’ve been over here too fucken long.”

“So you are originally from Ireland?”

“I told you. I’m a leprechaun. We don’t come from fucken Moscow.”

At a later point, Mad Sweeney is described, and it goes a little something like this:

Mad Sweeney had started his life as the guardian of a sacred rock in a small Irish glade, over three thousand years ago. Mr. Ibis told them of Mad Sweeney’s love affairs, his enmities, the madness that gave him his power (“ a later version of the tale is still told, although the sacred nature, and the antiquity, of much of the verse has long been forgotten”), the worship and adoration in his own land that slowly transmuted into a guarded respect and then, finally, into amusement…

What I like about that passage is how it shows a gradual shift in the views of society until it reaches the current impressions of leprechauns as little men in green that like to try to find gold at the end of a rainbow. The same idea of shifting views and beliefs is shown in another bit a little later, which will be the last quote about him:

Sweeney was trying, with both hands, to explain the history of the gods in Ireland, wave after wave of them as they came in from Gaul and from Spain and from every damn place, each wave of them transforming the last gods into trolls and fairies and every damn creature until Holy Mother Church herself arrived and every god in Ireland was transformed into a fairy or a saint or a dead king without so much as a by-your-leave….

Gwydion

I know Gwydion from The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, in which he’s not a very good person. Manipulative and selfish is an easy way to describe him. Or a spoiled teenager with no regard to his own safety or anyone else’s, with a sense of honor that leaves no room for hesitation, which is basically how he’s described in the book.

There was a young fair-haired man, little more than a boy, restocking the breakfast cereal shelves.

“Hey,” said Mr. Nancy.

“Hey,” said the young man. “It’s true, isn’t it? They killed him?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Nancy. “They killed him.”

The young man banged several boxes of Cap’n Crunch down on the shelf. “They think they can crush us like cockroaches,” he said. He had an eruption of acne across one cheek and over his forehead. He had a silver bracelet high on one forearm. “We don’t crush that easy, do we?”

“No,” said Mr. Nancy. “We don’t.”

“I’ll be there, sir,” said the young man, his pale blue eyes blazing.

“I know you will, Gwydion,” said Mr. Nancy.

Mr. Nancy later says,

He’s a good boy. Came over in the seventh century. Welsh.

It’s touches like the Gwydion’s bracelet that were one thing I liked about this book. Although I couldn’t pick up the same sort of detail about the gods from other places, I feel that Gaiman put the same sort of thought into the other characters as he did Mad Sweeney and Gwydion.

That’s all I have to say about this one, folks. If you have any thoughts about the book or disagree with me somewhere, feel free to let me know in the comments!

Have you read it? Did you like it? Do you think it does have a point? Or did you hate it? Why?

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani