Sunday, August 17, 2014


I've been an unabashed fan of romance novels for years, ever since the first time I snuck a read of a total bodice-ripper at my grandmother's house as a young teen. In high school, my friend got me stuck on the likes of Jude Devereaux, which led to LaVyrle Spencer, Nora Roberts, and many, many more.

These days, as vampires and werewolves and self-publishing takes over the genre, my tastes have narrowed. I mostly enjoy the feminist-friendly heroines and whip-smart dialogue of Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Tessa Dare. My romance reading has slowed somewhat, as I explore "regular" literature, travel and non-fiction, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Hey, I just like to read.

The "Outlander" series has been on bookshelves since the 90s, and I have, a couple of times over the years, picked them up and read the description on the back. Then, for whatever reason--possibly thinking that 800+ page books can't be all that easy to follow--I put them back and moved on to other books.

Then, last weekend, I noticed ads and trailers for a TV series to be based on the books. And, while I've known, all this time, that the books rely heavily on dudes in kilts, and I love me a dude in a kilt, it took seeing the ads, with a very fine young a kilt...for me to show any interest in Outlander.

Of course, Starz, a subscription-only station, is making the series. In a clever move designed to get everyone hooked on the show and subscribing to the channel, they put the whole first episode online, free. So I watched it.

And holy men in kilts, it was really good.

This was Saturday night, and I decided right away I ought to buy the book. I usually prefer to read actual books, but in this case, I wasn't about to get dressed and make the 10-mile trek to Barnes & Noble, so Kindle Edition it was. I started reading, and Lordie. I couldn't stop.

Warning!! From here on out, spoilers abound. Read at your own risk.

The book is not perfect. I mean, it's not Shakespeare. And one complaint I've seen a lot is that it relies on some violence too much, with one husband-beating-wife scene and another excruciating man-on-man rape scene. As a feminist who thinks about how women and romance are portrayed in popular culture, I understand some of the concerns about the violence. Though it must be said that Claire, after being spanked (with a belt) by her back-in-time Scottish husband Jamie, makes things fairly miserable for him to the point where he promises to never raise a hand to her again. And, while the 21st Century woman reading the book cringed at his high-handedness and his reasons for punishing her in the first place, there's a part of my brain that acknowledges that in 1740-something Scotland, husbands beat their wives for far less. It's not pretty. I don't love reading about it. But it's a reality.

As for the man-on-man rape, I'm not entirely sure it did anything to move the plot forward, aside from proving--again--how much Jamie loves Claire, that he'd take it. Perhaps there might have been another way.

If the violent parts of the book are a turn-off, they're no match for the romance and adventure. I almost cried when Jamie, having just been told by his wife that she actually comes from the 1940s, not only decides to trust her and believe her, but takes her back to Craig Na Dun, the stone circle where her whole adventure began...then gives her the choice to stay or go.

Her 1945 husband, Frank, is nice and all, but come on. Who's going to say no to Jamie and his kilted sexiness? Or, you know, his shirtless sexiness as Claire stitches a gunshot wound in his shoulder?

The books are obviously full of drama and melodrama on an epic scale; Outlander itself is over 800 pages, and the subsequent books are comparable in length. I just downloaded the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, to my Kindle this afternoon and started reading it. Anxious to see how Claire and her daughter by Jamie ended up in 1968.

I will likely read all eight books over the next few weeks, dragging Kindle or paperback (I intend to switch over as soon as the used bookstore is open, as it was closed today) with me to the gym, around the house, etc. I won't quite take it to school because, well, you know, I have an actual job to do when I'm there. It wouldn't do to neglect that by camping out in my beanbag chair with my book.

I have a feeling I'm in for an emotional roller coaster over the next seven books. Friends who read the series long ago have told me, "Keep reading!!" And so I shall. I'm also going to keep watching the series, already renewed for a second season after only one episode aired. Having seen the characters before ever reading the book, I now imagine them looking as they do on screen--definitely not a bad thing, especially in the case of Jamie/Sam Heughan. I'll just leave you with one last picture of his soulful gaze and finish this post up. I'm only on Chapter 4 of Dragonfly In Amber, and I have an early wake-up tomorrow.

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