{Review} Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

September 12, 2014 Review 1 ★★★★★

{Review} Dark Triumph by Robin LaFeversDark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #2
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 2, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 385
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.

But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...
My Thoughts

If you read my review of Grave Mercy then you know I LOVED the first installment in this series. I requested Dark Triumph from the library at the same time as Grave Mercy, and I didn’t bother reading the synopsis – I just assumed I would want to read book two right away. I did… until I realized Dark Triumph is NOT about Ismae, but her “sister”, Sybella. I was completely disappointed and actually held off starting Dark Triumph for a few days. I loved Ismae and wanted more of her and Duval!

However. I seriously underestimated Robin LaFevers’ skill as a writer. I loved the kick-ass heroine, slow-burn romance, court intrigue, intense and mysterious politics, weapons and fighting, and superb supporting cast in book one, and these same components were delivered once again in Dark Triumph. Also, I just love how LaFevers told Sybella’s story. It was not overshadowing or overtaking Ismae; instead, it is really just a continuation in a way that makes sense and feels natural.

Also, I think I MAY love Sybella even more than Ismae. She is fierce but so vulnerable. She is kind but pretends she’s not. She is witty and funny – see: “You are not my nursemaid. Remember, I am rescuing you.” She has a good heart, despite being affiliated with the God of Death.

At the beginning, I couldn’t believe that Beast was the love interest in this book. How I had imagined him from Grave Mercy just seem irreconcilable with a romantic hero. But man, LaFevers did a fantastic job with him. I loved that he is so humble, quiet, and respectful – despite his accomplishments, his confidence, and his size, he isn’t a pain in the butt! (Which was kind of how I envisioned him at first.) His loyalty – and the loyalty he inspires in others – was something that really stuck with me throughout the novel. Sybella says, “In the distance a wolf howls. Let it come, I think. Beast will most likely simply howl back, and the creature will either turn tail and run or fall into line behind him, like the rest of us have.” That basically sums up Beast’s character – he is definitely the strong, silent type, and he inspires hordes of people to follow his cause in spite of – or because of? – those characteristics.

Not only did I love Sybella and Beast, but the supporting characters were amazing, too. Dark Triumph stands out to me as a book that excels in characterization. There is a prison guard who is just fantastic. He always kept me guessing. There are some “Robin Hood”-esque men who had struggles of their own that made me question how we perceive and discuss race, even in modern society. There is Ismae and Duval, returning in little glimpses, which was just the perfect treat for fans of the series. There is Annith, who is always in the background – from book one, too – and my heart aches for her and her struggles. (Can’t wait for book three!) There is Julian, Sybella’s brother, who was equally disturbing and fascinating… and really demonstrated the horribleness of the villain of this book. It is clear that LaFevers has put care and thought into every character in this book, and it certainly paid off.

One of my favourite aspects of Dark Triumph is the focus on faith. Sybella has so many questions and doubts regarding the God of Death – also her father – Mortain. Like Ismae, she doesn’t know how to perceive the abbey and who to believe anymore. She see things outside the abbey that make her question her unquestioning faith in the abbess. On top of that, she often compares herself to Beast, seeing him as goodness, and herself as darkness: “[Beast] feels as bright and golden as a lion who roars in the face of his enemies and stalks them in broad daylight. Whereas I – I am a dark panther, slinking unseen among the shadows, silent and deadly. But we are both great cats, are we not? And do not even bright things cast a shadow?” I really love when characters question their faith in religion, an institution, a person, whatever. It’s something that I think everyone goes through at some point in their lives, and often one must choose to take a certain path. I think that reveals a lot about a person, or a character. With Sybella, I loved her moment of reckoning, and it felt so realistic (despite the fantastical elements).

On that note, Sybella, as I mentioned above, compares herself to Beast unfavourably. At first it seems like she is the beauty and he is the beast (obviously… his name is Beast because he’s so ugly!). And it seems to be following that traditional fairy tale story. But in so many ways I think Sybella actually sees herself as the beast and Beast as the beauty, because he is good, and she is bad – or at least, she carries out the God of Death’s wishes, which isn’t exactly positive. I love this kind of contradictions in books, and I love how LaFevers sets up these concepts and oppositions. Deciding how to perceive both Sybella and Beast, as individuals and as a couple, was an enormous part of the fun for me with this book.

This series is amazing, and I think Dark Triumph topped the first book by far. I wish I had purchased these because I ALREADY want to reread them! I am so excited for book three, Mortal Heart, out in November… I simply can’t wait. I have a feeling Sybella may remain my favourite, but Annith’s story is one that really intrigues me. If you like fantasy of any form, strong-willed heroines, books about a loss of one’s self-identity, or slow-burn romances… Dark Triumph‘s for you. Without a doubt, it will be a favourite I return to again and again.

Collected Quotes

“Some days, like today, my aim and timing is so true that it takes my breath away and I feel certain Mortain’s hand guides my own.”

“Do I love killing? Of a certainty, I love the way my body and weapons move as one; I revel in the knowledge of where to strike for maximum impact. And of a certainty, I am good at it.”

“The dinner is as satisfying as any feast I have ever eaten. Not only is the goose cooked perfectly, crisp skin and juicy succulent meat, but there is a thick, hearty stew of mutton, leeks, and cabbage, dark brown bread and new cheese, thin red wine and pear cider, as well as baked apples with cream.”

“Mayhap my short time away [...] has reminded me that there are things worth living for. [...] There is the thrill of a fast horse, and the sun and wind in your face. The rare – and all the more precious for it – moments of laughter to be had. The excitement of seeing Mortain’s marque and knowing the hunt is about to begin. The look in someone’s eye when he truly sees you – not just your face and hair, but the very essence of your soul.”

5 Stars

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{Review} The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby

September 8, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan JubyThe Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby
Published by HarperCollins on March 8, 2011
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Woefield Farm is a sprawling thirty acres of scrub land, complete with dilapidated buildings and one half-sheared, lonely sheep named Bertie. It's "run" - in the loosest possible sense of the word - by Prudence Burns, an energetic, well-intentioned 20-something New Yorker full of back-to-the-land ideals, but without an iota of related skills or experience. Prudence, who inherited the farm from her uncle, soon discovers that the bank is about to foreclose on the property, which means that she has to turn things around, fast. But fear not! She'll be assisted by Earl, a spry 70-something, banjo-playing foreman, with a distrust of newfangled ideas and a substantial family secret; Seth, the alcoholic, celebrity-blogging guy-next-door, who hasn't left the house since a scandal with his high-school drama teacher; and Sara Spratt, a highly organized eleven-year-old looking for a home for her prize-winning chickens, including one particularly randy fellow soon to be christened Alec Baldwin.
Some Brief Thoughts

Oh, man. THIS BOOK. I don’t even know how to begin to explain it. First things first, the best thing about this book is the characters. Their special brand of hilarity reminds me a little bit of The Big Bang Theory – like, hilarious, but they’re not trying to be funny. They aren’t “nerds” like the show, instead they are a crazy cast of misfits… there is Earl, an old guy with his eye on retirement, who is a farmhand with basically no farming skills. There’s Seth, who is an irritating, sloppy blogger who is incredibly self-centered and conceited – but as he is forced to work on the farm, his character development is truly amazing. I was rooting for him in the end, which is NOT something I thought I’d be saying when I first opened the book! There’s Sara, who is also annoying, but in a much more endearing way; she only wants the best for her prize-winning chickens and is determined to get it from the folks at Woefield. And finally, Prudence… so sweet, hard-working, and determined, she’s a city girl and a “retired” writer who wants to make it on a farm. She reminded me so much of myself – her ideals, not necessarily her personality – and it was hilarious to see her try to make it all work.

Which is, essentially, the whole kit and caboodle of this book. Prudence wants to make the farm into a utopian land that is sustainable and profitable, but all she has for help are Earl, Seth, and Sara… which leave something to be desired. Each of these characters is prone to hair-brained ideas, and the best part is seeing how they turn out. You just never know, and I can honestly say EVERY “solution” had me busting my gut and shaking my head in wonderment.

Part of that is the animals – Woefield is pretty pathetic, especially at first, and all they have for animals are Bertie the sheep and Sara’s chickens. But holy cow, do they ever get up to some crazy shenanigans with these animals. You would think it would be pretty easy to take care of one sheep, but Earl and Seth show that is not the case….

There’s also a hunky guy, which in my opinion never hurts. BUT my favourite thing about this hunky guy is that, while I was rooting for him and Prudence to get together, HIS role, from his perspective, was about saving the animals at Woefield. (He’s a vet… even better.) He’s concerned about Bertie the sheep, not Prudence – and I love that he’s not playing her white knight.

Other things I loved: the farm life (I love farms), the fact that it’s in Canada, the grumpy characters yet the way they’re totally endearing, and the constant laughing out loud. I can’t even begin to describe the humour. I’ve tried to include some of the funniest quotes I could pull below, but I don’t know if just a few lines will accurately convey the situation. It is one of the funniest books I can ever remember reading, and if you are in need of something light, fun, and wholly entertaining, this should definitely be next on your list!

A few notes: This book was published in the US under the title Home to Woefield. Also, both Earl and Seth like to swear a lot, so this book is definitely at least a PG-13.

Collected Quotations

“My heart kind of hurt when I looked at her. Not because I was in love, but because I could tell from looking at her that she didn’t hate herself. Not only didn’t she seem to hate herself, she barely seemed to think about herself. How fucking glorious must that be?”

“It’s been a pretty tough day,” he said. “No sense making it worse with a salad.”

“The old man kept going about how he could never keep her home, how she loved to roam. He said she should have been a sheep in the foothills of Scotland. Now if that wasn’t a load of shit I don’t know what is. I’ll tell you why that sheep roamed. The fences around here was held up with goddamn binder twine and half-assed prayers. That’s why.”

“I think Prudence is one of the busiest people who ever lived. Probably only God and Jesus and the devil are more busy than Prudence.”

4 Stars

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Announcing the 3rd Annual Sunnydale Project!

September 5, 2014 Sunnydale Project 0

We’re doing it again! Going to Sunnydale that is and celebrating all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And if you like Buffy, you can join us. During the week of October 27th through the 31st, we’re hosting our third Sunnydale Project. Who is we? Me, Rachelia and Karen from Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Sunnydale Project Banner 2014

Do you want to write a post and pontificate on all things Buffy and Joss Whedon related? This is your chance. Let us know by the end of September by leaving a comment below with contact information or emailing Karen directly at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. You can talk about the show, the characters, the writing, or more! Share great programming and craft related ideas. Or create a list of YA lit titles that you think Buffy fans might want to read. You can post on your blog and we’ll cross post some of them here at Bookish Comforts and some of them at Teen Librarian Toolbox, linking back to your blog as well, of course. If you don’t have a blog don’t worry, you can still participate – we’d be glad to host your post and give you a chance to share your Buffy thoughts.

Oh and look, if you sign-up feel free to grab a button. We have buttons!

Here’s a look at some of the previous year’s events and posts we’ve hosted here:
Slayer Saturday: Halloween Party, Buffy Style
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 10+ Years Later: The Joss Factor
Season 4 Episode “Hush” Picture Review
Watching Buffy as an Adult… and Loving It!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Feminism: An Analysis & Discussion, Part 2
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Feminism, Gender & Sexuality: An Analysis & Discussion, Part 1
Buffyisms: Season 3
My Favourite Buffy Episode: Smashed (6×09)
Trivia Tuesday: BtVS Season 2
“Everyone Forgets, Willow, Knowledge is the Ultimate Weapon”: Buffy & Academia
Buffyisms: Season 2
Trivia Tuesday: BtVS Season 1
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Companions: A Buying Guide
Slayer Saturday: Season 1
Fangirl Friday: Art
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Books & Covers
Buffyisms: Season 1
Trivia Tuesday: General Buffy the Vampire Slayer Facts
Review: Blood and Fog (BTVS, Season 6) by Nancy Holder
“Love Makes You Do the Wacky”: How Buffy Slayed My Heart
Welcome to the Hellmouth: The Sunnydale Project Schedule
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Project Pinterest Board
Previous posts on Teen Librarian Toolbox:
Embrace the Slayer: Embrace (Jessica Shirvington) will make Buffy fans happy with Karen J
Who watches the Watchers? A guest post about librarians by Ilsa J. Bick and why Ashes is a great read for Buffy fans
Being the “Slayer” Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes with Karen J
Buffy and the Reversal of Halloween, a guest post by Nancy Holder

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{Review} I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

September 2, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★½

{Review} I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabeI Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Crown Publishing Group on January 28, 2014
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Author
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An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War. 

Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.   With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives.

Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.From the Hardcover edition.

Disclosure:I received this book for free from Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Cover Talk

love it! I think you can tell that it is historical fiction, if not historical romance, from the cover. It’s an actual photograph of a disguised female Civil War soldier. You can’t see in the photo, but the spine also makes use of an old map, and is absolutely gorgeous. The book releases today in paperback, and while the cover has a different feel to it, I still love it (especially the blue dress!).

My Expectations

I first heard of this book through Cassie’s Just Read This feature. Being interested in gender issues, feminism and history I thought the book would definitely hold my interest! Then I read Hannah’s review and I just knew I had to read it! When the author, Erin Lindsay McCabe (who, I must say, is absolutely lovely!), contacted me and asked if I’d like to review her book, I jumped at the chance.

My Thoughts

Wow. As longtime readers know, I’m not actually a huuuge fan of historical romances (really, romances in general, unless they avoid many of the genre’s tropes).  I am, however, a big historical fiction fan, and I Shall Be Near To You is definitely one of my new favourites. I just know I’ll be recommending it to everyone that I can (and I’m already on a mission to get Katy to read it, hehe!).

At the start of I Shall Be Near To You the Civil War has broken out, and Rosetta has just married the love of her life, Jeremiah. Much to her dismay, Jeremiah sees it as his duty to enlist in the army along with his friends just weeks after their wedding. Not one to adhere to gender roles (she does hard labour on her father’s farm, and has no interest in mending shirts and doing dishes), Rosetta sets out to join Jeremiah at the forefront, fashioning herself a new identity as Ross, and hoping that once the war is over, the two of them can purchase their own farm and start a new life together. Along the way, Rosetta and Jeremiah’s relationship is strengthened and tested, as they inch closer and closer to the violence of the battlefield.

You can definitely tell that McCabe did extensive research for this book! The little details that are sewn into the narrative, and the richness of the story attest to this. The beautiful writing, engaging cast of characters (Will was my favourite!), and setting make the story come alive before you on the page. It was a book that I could read slowly (as I prefer to do), so as to absorb every detail, but it also stayed with me after I had shut the book for the night. I went about my day wondering where Rosetta and Jeremiah were in their journey, if they would be safe, and what would become of their group of friends! The history, their romance, and the thrilling situation enthralled me, and had me feeling sad as I came to the end of their story. Without giving away any spoilers, I cried a good deal!

One thing I especially loved in the book was Rosetta’s experiences with other women in the army. There are three instances where she witnesses, or interacts with other women. It was really interesting to see a spectrum of women’s experiences during this time! I also think the fact that Rosetta’s experience was based on the experiences of real women who disguised themselves and joined the army during this era really brought to life the story. While it isn’t non-fiction, you are reading an imagined, but informed, experience that these women might have lived through, which is truly fascinating and harrowing! I got chills just reading about the real women at the end of the book that inspired the story!

As I said before, I can’t help feeling like I want to recommend this book to EVERY single person who is interested in adult fiction, historical fiction and/or romance. Even if these aren’t your usual genres, I’d urge you to try this book (and what better time, than now, as the paperback releases today!). I am sitting on pins and needles just thinking about what McCabe could write about next! Whatever it is, I know that I’ll definitely be picking up a copy, and losing myself in her enchanting words!

Join the Convo!

Have you read I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU? If so, what did you think? If not, is it on your TBR list? Do you like stories about women subverting gender roles? What other stories are there of women being directly involved in the front lines of war? Is the Civil War a time in history that you like reading about? If not, what is? 

4.5 Stars

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{Review} Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

August 27, 2014 Review 0 ★★★

{Review} Outlander by Diana GabaldonOutlander by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #1
Published by Bantam Dell on June 2, 1992
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 850
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift
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Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon - when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach - an "outlander" - in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord... 1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life... and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire... and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

My Expectations

Outlander is a book I have known about for so long I can’t even remember when I first heard of it. I have had Outlander in the back of my mind for years as a book I thought I would like. I love Scotland and especially the highlands, and since that is the main setting of this book I was immediately endeared to it. When my aunt offered to lend me her copies of the series, I was so excited to dive into these massive books – especially with the TV series starting soon!

My Thoughts

Well. Frankly, I was disappointed. Unfortunately, there was so much in this book that didn’t work for me (spoilers ahead!):

1. The Rape
The book starts with an “almost” rape scene, and it just keeps going from there. Gabaldon frequently uses rape to indicate the “bad guys”, which I find problematic. It’s also completely excessive: reading about rape constantly and with such explicit detail left me with an icky feeling throughout my entire reading experience. I understand and enjoy historical accuracy but Gabaldon’s use of rape just felt superfluous. (This article from Bibliodaze talks about the issue intelligently with Game of Thrones and Outlander as examples.) In particular, there was one rape incident at the end of the book that I felt was extremely overdone; leaving the book with that fresh in my mind was not a pleasant experience.

2. The Beating
Again, I appreciate that Gabaldon was trying to be historically accurate (at least I assume that’s what she was doing…), but her use of beating hurt my stomach. There is one violent scene that I felt was sexist and repulsive. One of my favourite characters was the offender in this scenario, and I never really got over it. To make matters worse, several characters continue to bring up corporal punishment as a discussion point throughout the rest of the book – even laughing about it at times – and each time, it just brought my memory back to that one horrible scene.

3. The Adultery
In general I don’t like books that involve cheating because it’s not something I’m morally comfortable with. In Outlander, I was able to get past it to a certain extent because the little we see of Claire and Frank’s relationship at the beginning of the book did not feel convincing to me. That being said, I never felt like Claire made a conscious choice and I was frustrated with the way she handled her two relationships.

4. The Romance
This is mostly my fault, but I had NO idea that the Outlander series is a romance series, until I got to all the sex. I’m not a prude (and I have read romance novels before!), but I just felt that it was WAY over-the-top. I really enjoyed Claire and Jamie’s romance, but I didn’t like how explicit Gabaldon was with her frequent sex scenes. I also find it frustrating (after doing a little research) that apparently Gabaldon refuses to call this series a romance.

5. The Writing
For me, I felt 50/50 on this – while I loved Gabaldon’s writing in parts, and felt that her knack for description and humour was completely on point, at other times it felt very blah. I would read passages, then think that a whole five pages had been useless in terms of plot advancement, characterization, etc. While I don’t think this is a reason to not read the book – especially since Gabaldon has some real gems in Outlander – her writing style didn’t make the reading experience particularly pleasurable for me. I think if I had loved her writing more, some of my other issues with the book would have been more easily overlooked.

While I certainly have some complaints, I also really did love some things about Outlander. Here’s what I did like:

1. The Setting
As I said before, I love the Scottish highlands. I visited about a year ago, in June 2013, and it was the best trip I have ever been on. There’s something that I find so appealing – the climate, the landscape, the culture… in general, it’s almost a guarantee that if something involves the Scottish highlands, I will love it.

2. The Characters
Claire I found a bit annoying, stupid, and frustrating at times, but I loved her all the same and her difficult journey through time is fascinating. She really weathers it admirably considering how difficult such an experience would be. But Jamie is the real charmer of this book, and he’s what really drew me in. There’s not much to dislike about him, and I can’t imagine a better hero of such an epic story.

3. The Premise
Time travel is something that has always fascinated me, and some of my favourite books (My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares, Pilgrim by Timothy Findley, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson) involve time travel in one way or another. It’s interesting to consider the moral, ethical, and of course, practical implications of time travel, and I love to see how different authors explore this difficult topic. No exception here – Gabaldon’s theory of time travel was completely absorbing!

All in all, this was not an immediate favourite; the bad outweighed the good for me. I’m not sure if I’ll be picking up book two. For one thing, the synopsis of Dragonfly in Amber sounds so different from Outlander that it has me intrigued (but also wary in other ways). I think I will return to the Outlander series, but after a long break. As for the TV show, I’m definitely going to give it a try – I can see Outlander working so well in a visual form and perhaps some of my issues with the book will be alleviated in cinematic form.

Collected Quotes

“For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough.”

Join the Convo!

Have you read Outlander? Is it on your TBR list? What did you think about the beating, the rape, and the adultery? Did you love the premise but ended up being disappointed by the content, like me? How did the second book compare to the first, if you have read both? Please leave your thoughts below… I really want to discuss this one as I’m still conflicted!

3 Stars

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