My Top 5 Books of 2016

Happy New Year everybody! I hope everyone is enjoying the festive period. I have to admit, I have been so lazy and indulgent over the past few weeks so I’m looking forward to getting back to routine. Anyway, it’s time for a round-up of my favourite books out of the 30 I read this year. If you’re interested in seeing what else I read in 2016, check my page out on GoodReads.

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I joined the Outlander fan club this year when I read Outlander in July. It was a perfect treat after four years of studying books I wasn’t always interested in and I completely fell in love with Gabaldon’s world and characters. I wrote a full review over here but I’ll give you a summary: it’s a love story set in 18th century Inverness, it involves time travelling and features a badass heroine at its centre. I loved reading about Scottish history and I especially loved our favourite Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Being a fan of Outlander has brought me lots of friends on Twitter and Instagram. I also wrote about the book-to-screen adaptation for Scottish Book Trust. A blog which even caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention!

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

Yet another book-to-screen adaptation, I wanted to read Room before I went to see it in the cinema. I read it back in January and I fell in love. Again, you can read my full review on my blog (it was one of my first ever book reviews) but here’s what I thought of it in short. It has one of the most wonderful first-person narrators I’ve come across: five-year-old Jack. It follows Jack and his mother as they live life as prisoners and are eventually freed. It’s a poignant and emotional story that’ll make you laugh and cry, as cheesy as that is. Mostly, I loved the portrayal of motherhood and the strength that Jack’s Ma finds through her son. It is wonderful – if you haven’t read it yet, do it now!

3. The Muse by Jessie Burton

It is no secret that I adore Jessie Burton’s writing. The Miniaturist is probably one of my favourite books of all time and I wasn’t disappointed with the release of The Muse this year. I wrote a full review which Jessie Burton was delighted with. I believe she said she wanted to laminate it and wear it around her neck, just sayin’. It tells the tales of two struggling female artists set across different time periods: 1967, London and 1936, southern Spain. It is one of those magical books that make you feel cosy and nostalgic but you don’t quite know why. If you haven’t discovered the beauty that is Burton’s writing then put that on your resolution list for 2017.

4. Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy

I read this surprising book in November because I was on the shadow panel for the Saltire Society Awards. Chitra won the First Book award jointly and it was well deserved. When I first saw it, I thought: ‘No way am I reading a book about pregnancy!‘ However, despite avoiding reading this on public transport or in front of my parents, I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Before you dismiss it as just another book about pregnancy, please give it a chance. It is one of the richest texts I’ve encountered in the past few years; it’s filled with metaphors and allusions to a wide range of literature and it is far from a fluffy read about giving birth. I’d recommend this to any literature lovers and not just expecting parents.

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I was in two minds about including this book on my list because, well, pretty much everyone except me had read it but I finally gave into my pride and decided to read Harry Potter in 2016. I read the first book in January and I have to confess it is magical. I only wish I had read it when I was younger so I could’ve marvelled at its wonders from a child’s perspective. Nonetheless, I can understand why people are so besotted with this series. I’ve read the first three now and the books are far better than the films which never excited me much. Hopefully, I’ll finish the series in 2017.


Other books I really enjoyed in 2016 include: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Girl on the Train, Ceremony, The Raven Boys, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. 

What books did you guys love in 2016 and what are you looking forward to reading in 2017? Let me know on Twitter and Instagram. I have so many books in my TBR pile for next year so I’ll hopefully get a post up about that in the near future. Happy reading and a very Happy New Year!

 

Christmas ‘Good Gift’ Guide – Under £25

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably have seen me talking about ethical shopping quite a bit. I am far from perfect (sometimes Amazon Next Day Delivery is just TOO CONVENIENT) but I have been trying to buy my gifts from local or independent sellers. It’s important to be aware of where your things come from and what you’re spending your hard earned cash on. A ‘good gift’ supports independent shopping and ethical products.
To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I have put together a collection of some gorgeous gift ideas from Etsy that won’t break the bank . I came across all of these while doing my own Christmas shopping but they didn’t make the final cut so I thought I would share them with you all instead.

Candles & Lights

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Song of the Sea Candle from Candleisima – £9.99

Candleisima candles are officially at the top of my wish list. They are so classy and this one is scented like juniper, salt and seaweed, which makes it a perfect gift for anyone that loves being by the coast.

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Floral Votive Gift Set from Lace Emporium – £16.99

These delicate floral candles are so pretty I would be too frightened to burn them. They’re also organic and come in recycled packaging!

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Harry Potter Fairy Lights from Bristol Folds – from £22.50

OMG. These origami heart fairy lights are made from pages of Harry Potter making it the most adorable and unique gift for your favourite muggle.


Kitchen & Bathroom

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Girl Boss Mug from TheBestOfMeDesigns – £10

This mug is ideal for any badass women who are getting sh** done. Be quick: if you want to get this mug in time for Christmas you need to order by the 12th December.

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Personalised Breakfast Tray from Applecratescouk – £15.99

I actually saw this a few months ago and added it to my own personal wish list. It’s a lovely idea especially for a couple who have just moved into a new home.


Edible

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Vegan Drinking Chocolate with Raw Chocolate Hearts from Lovelight Chocolate – £12

Why don’t you spread a little cruelty-free cheer this Christmas with Lovelight’s vegan and organic chocolate gifts? All the festive indulgence with none of the guilt.

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Tea Taster Selection from Tea Belly Teas – £10

This gift box is the ultimate pressie for tea lovers. It contains Double Mint Brew, Sleepy Brew, Lemon & Ginger Brew, Detox Brew & Rosen-Berry Brew and each taster pack makes 3-4 cups of herbal tea. Absolute bargain!


Beauty

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Men’s Grooming Gift Set from Emina Botanic Boutique – £20

I don’t know about you but I really struggle to buy for the men in my life but this dreamy gift set (all natural and vegan) would make a gorgeous gift for under the tree. Hey, eucalyptus and peppermint aren’t reserved for men so it would be a lovely gift for ladies too.

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It’s a Wonderful Life soap from Wee Tree Soap – £4

You guys already know I love Wee Tree Soap so I don’t need to tell you why these vegan, natural soaps are awesome but this limited edition has the added bonus of Christmas joy! At four quid, it’d make a brilliant stocking filler.


What ethical gifts have you bought this year? I’d love to chat all things Christmas over on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan

So I’m posting this on a bit of a delay and, for once, it’s not because I forgot or ran out of time but because I wanted to wait until after the Saltire Literary Awards took place before I posted this review. Thanks to the Society of Young Publishers, I was lucky enough to join the Shadow Panel for the First Book Award at the annual Saltire Society Literary Awards. Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan was the first book I picked up on the list and while it was a slow starter, I enjoyed it in the end.  I wrote this before the awards took place so the winner (a joint victory for Trials and Chitra Ramaswamy’s Expecting) has no bearing on my thoughts.

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Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan is a non-fiction book written by Scottish lawyer, Isabel Buchanan. It chronicles her time working in a new legal chamber in Lahore, Pakistan under the watchful eye of a young and forceful Pakistani lawyer, Sarah Belal, who has made it her life’s mission to defend those condemned to death row in Pakistan. It follows the stories of several condemned inmates, short biographies of the other employees at Sarah’s chambers and tales of controversial blasphemy and unjust laws.

I studied Postcolonial Literature in my undergrad so this isn’t a text that I felt completely unfamiliar entering into. However, because of my studies, I’m hyper aware of the Western desire to portray Pakistan and the “mysterious East” as uncivilized, unfair and  inferior to Anglo-American society. So I approached Trials with enthusiasm to read something different after a summer of Young Adult fiction but also with caution after a year of studying Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said.

Buchanan treads a fine line between hard-hitting evidence and enchanting storytelling in this book. The opening page is a perfect example of this as she begins with the story of Mr Hussein who makes “the best chips and curry sauce in East Lothian.” For someone with an aversion to all things legal, except maybe binge-watching Suits on  Netflix, I was put at ease by the gentleness of this opening but make no mistakes: Trials is not a light or easy read and it quickly takes a turn towards a factual hurricane. Case after case, law after law, I was thrust into a world of blasphemy, bad handwriting, and badass women. All of which were, at times, intimidating.

The strong women are my favourite thing about Trials. Gayatri Spivak once said: ‘If, in the contest of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is, even more deeply in shadow.’ (Spivak, Cambridge: 1999) So it was refreshing to read a book set in Pakistan that features two women at the centre fighting for a cause they believe in as opposed to being portrayed as victims. Sarah Belal is one of the coolest women I’ve read in contemporary literature. I’ve since researched Belal a little and she is just as brilliant in real life as Buchanan portrays her in Trials. She’s the founder of Justice Project Pakistan which aims to serve the poorest prisoners facing the harshest punishments in the courts of law. She is incredibly intelligent and relentless in her pursuit of justice. If you don’t read this book then at least google her!

At times I struggled to understand what this book was supposed to be doing. Is it simply a chronicle of Buchanan’s time in Pakistan? Was it supposed to be provocative? Subjective or objective? I appreciated that Trials takes a step away from “court-drama Hollywood portrayal” of advocates and law firms but, at times, I felt like this book lost its path.

At times I got lost in the legal facts and for this reason, I wouldn’t recommend Trials to everyone. However, I do think the stories Buchanan is telling in this book are insurmountably important. Women like Sarah Belal are role models for the next generation of lawyers and activists so I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read it. Mostly I’d recommend this book to budding lawyers and maybe to anyone considering applying to study Law or Sociology at University but unless you have an avid interest in the world of law or postcolonial studies, I’m not too sure this is one for the Christmas list.


Spivak, Gayatri ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ from Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) p32

The Diverse Books Tag

I was tagged by The Bookie Monsters a long time ago to do this book tag. It was created originally by Read Diverse Books and it encourages us all to reach out of our literary comfort zone to read widely and deeply. This is a fantastic tag and I can’t wait to buy the two books from the categories I haven’t experienced yet!

Find a book starring a lesbian character

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So it turns out I have never read a book with a lesbian character in it. Now I don’t know if that is a massive failing on my part or a harrowing fact about the lack of diversity in modern day literature. I have had a browse and I am going to buy myself a copy of The Sealed Letter. It sounds fascinating, I did promise I would read more books by Emma Donoghue in my review of Room and it’s encouraging me to read more diversely as Donoghue has written a number of important books in British Lesbian Fiction.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist

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I’ve read quite a few books with Muslim protagonists throughout my time at University studying English Literature, particularly in Postcolonial studies. They’re all fascinating and I’ll maybe write a separate post with some of my favourites at a later date. I loved Minaret because Aboulela’s portrayal of a Muslim woman living in Britain was really refreshing. Although she has many weaknesses, Najwa’s religion is her strength. Amidst a sea of “Imperial Sisterhood” literature, in which all Muslim women are portrayed as needing saving from their Western sisters, it was a breath of fresh air. I wrote an essay on the way Aboulela uses language in relation to gender in a post-colonialist context in Minaret, contrasting it with Labou Tansi’s Life and a Half. If anyone is interested in reading it, I’d be happy to send it over.

My mother is Egyptian. I’ve lived everywhere except Sudan: in Oman, Cairo, here. my education is Western and that makes me feel that I am Western. My English is stronger than my Arabic. So I guess, no, I don’t feel very Sudanese though I would like to be. I guess being a Muslim is my identity.

Find a book set in Latin America

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The House on Mango Street is another Uni read and it is a unique collection of vignettes about a young Latina girl. I didn’t think it was a remarkable read but its poignant writing style and very subtle way of dealing with harrowing subjects like sexual abuse make it worth checking out.

The boys and girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours.

Find a book about a person with a disability

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The Curious Incident is the tale of a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome on a mission to discover the truth behind his neighbour’s dog’s death. Although incredibly mathematically gifted, Christopher is at times restricted by his need for patterns and routine. This is the most heartwarming and gentle tale that will make you ponder the “true meaning” of life.

I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them

Find a Science-Fiction or Fantasy book with a POC protagonist

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I don’t read much (any) sci-fi and I’ve only recently started dipping into fantasy fiction so this was always going to be one I had to go and research. The Bookie Monsters pointed me in the direction of a fantastic list by The Illustrated Page called Non-white Protagonists in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Check it out. After careful deliberation I have chosen Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor as the book I’m going to read. According to GoodReads it’s a tale that combines everything from superhero comics to Nigerian folklore and that sounds pretty awesome to me!

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa

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Again, I’ve read a lot of books sets in Africa because of my interest in postcolonial literature at University. I’ve chosen Life and a Half by Sony Labou Tansi because I paired it with Minaret, which I mentioned previously, in an essay. It is one crazy ride of a book but I recommend it especially for its female lead, Chaïdana. She’s a female rebel who uses the power of the written word to fight her corner.

If I don’t speak, I die slowly from the inside.

Find a book written by an Indigenous or Native author.

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Ceremony is a truly gorgeous book based upon the oral and ceremonial traditions of Native Americans. It’s the first time I had read anything about the plights of indigenous Americans and I found it fascinating. Its protagonist, Tayo, is a hybrid of modern day “rational” America and the spiritual Navajo and pueblo people. Its author, Leslie Marmon Silko, is a Laguna Pueblo writer and one of the key figures in Native American renaissance literature.

You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)

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As the name suggests this memoir is set in Iran and it tells the story of a group of women who meet illegally to discuss books. I have a love/hate relationship with this book. While it is beautifully written and full of humour whilst also dealing with some uncomfortable themes, I felt it sways too strongly to the New Orientalist side. After reading Jasmine and Stars (a come-back book). I felt like this plays into the Muslim woman stereotype of victimhood. However, I do want to revisit it. If anything, it explores the power of literature to change lives.

Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist

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I really loved this book about the trials and tribulations of a young mixed race boy living in London. Karim attempts to reconcile the difference between his English and Indian heritage and goes on a good old-fashioned journey of self-discovery. The downside is Karim is still a selfish and irritating character by the end of the novel. Nonetheless, this novel does dig deep into the dark underbelly of multicultural modern Britain.

My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old historie

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues

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I’ll admit I never actually finished Orlando in my first year at Uni when it was assigned but it is pegged as one of the most important pieces of literature when it comes to transgender studies. Written in 1928, it tells the story of a man of noble birth, living during the reign of Elizabeth I, who mysteriously changes sex one day and goes on to live for three hundred more years. It’s very Woolfian in its eccentricities and I hope I get the chance to read it properly one day.

As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.


I’m supposed to tag more people to join in but since I was tagged in this so long ago, I’m guessing it’s done the round already. Instead, I invite you to write about your own experience of diverse literature if you haven’t done so already!


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Work In Publishing Week

You may, or may not, know that it is #workinpublishing week this week. It’s basically a week where everyone in the publishing industry exchanges wise words and pass on their knowledge to newbie publishers. If you don’t already, go follow Publishing ScotlandBook CareersPublishing Interns, SYP Scotland, Hachette Careers, Atwood Tate, The Bookseller and, of course, The Publishers Association. There are loads more brilliant Twitter feeds with inspiring career advice but these are some good places to start. I guarantee you there will be loads of brilliant tips for working in the publishing industry. One thing’s for sure, publishers love to tweet.

You may, or may not, also know that I am an MSc Publishing student at Napier University. Being a publishing student isn’t just about assessments and deadlines, it also marks the start of my publishing career. With only one month left of my first trimester and #workinpublishing week in full swing, I can’t think of a better time to reflect on my time as a wannabe publisher and share what little knowledge I’ve gained with you all. A few people have already asked me about applying for publishing courses so I hope this is helpful!

Here are the things I’ve learned so far:

Get Online

Like I said, publishers love to tweet and Twitter is just one of the many tools you can use to get your name out there. There are hundreds of publishers on Twitter just waiting to hire you so instead of tweeting about your hangover, use it as a versatile CV. Showcase your talents and skills in a fun and personable way and use your social networking sites as a portfolio for your work.

But remember that while Twitter can be your best friend in publishing, it can also be your worst enemy. Be careful what and when you tweet. The same goes for Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Don’t lose your personality but maybe filter through some of those embarrassing photos of you during freshers week.

Instead, connect with future colleagues and employers. Engage in conversations about books and magazines. Make new friends. Live tweet any events you attend. Update your feed with projects you’re involved in. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of room for the odd cat meme too.

Network, network, network!

The word that instils fear into every graduate in history: networking. This runs along the same vein as my first point but making connections with future coworkers and bosses seems to be the key to a healthy career in publishing. Even before you’re ready to get a real job, it is never too early to get yourself known in the right circles.

I’ve joined the Society of Young Publishers, which is an amazing organisation for anyone with fewer than ten years experience in publishing, to keep updated with publishing events in my area. As a class, we attended #MagFest16 and are going to London Book Fair in March: all fantastic opportunities to meet new people in the industry, ask questions and impress them with our dazzling personalities and experience.

Know Who You’re Working For

This has been a big thing whenever my classmates and I have asked about CVs and job applications. One size does not fit all when it comes to applying for jobs in publishing. You can’t write a cookie-cutter cover letter and expect your dream employer to come knocking at your door.

Read the job postings – carefully! Explore the company you’re considering working for. What are they good at? What kind of books do they publish? What can you bring to the table? Do you even want to work for them?

If you can answer all these questions then it’s time to tailor your CV to fit that individual role. Make every bit of experience you have sound like it was made for this specific job and company. Cut out the irrelevant crap and focus on what makes you an irresistible candidate.

There’s More to Life Than Editorial

I’ll admit it: when I first considered publishing as a career, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into or what it was that I wanted to do. A lot of people don’t actually understand what publishers do and most of us think of publishing books as glamorously editing at a candle-lit desk reading manuscripts through the night.

In reality, there are so many other exciting job opportunities beyond editorial. So far I’ve discovered that I really like marketing but there’s also sales, rights, design, production, distribution… The list is endless and it’s important to be honest with your own skills and nature before choosing your career path. Find out what each role in the publishing process requires and ask yourself if you’re cut out for it. Then curate your experience to suit that career path.

There’s Also More to Life Than The Big 4

Contrary to popular belief, the Big Four (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Hachette) do not publish all the books in the world. There are hundreds of independent, small and awesome publishers to consider working for.

Likewise, there’s more to publishing than fiction. As much as it is my dream to market pretty novels, I am becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities in academic publishing and am even writing a case study on scientific and medical publishing. Learning to be open-minded about my future in publishing is one of the most important things I’ve picked up since starting my course in September. There is no prescribed route to success!

Volunteering

Anyone in a creative industry will read this with a heavy-hearted sigh. We all know what it’s like to work for ‘exposure’ instead of dolla dolla bills. But volunteering and working as an intern is incredibly valuable. The people you will meet and the experience you will gain is too indispensable to pass up. After all, the more you do, the more you can do.

I’ve been so lucky to have briefly worked as a PR intern for the Scottish Writer’s Centre, volunteered as a panellist for the Saltire Society shadow panel and travelled across Edinburgh for the Creative City Challenge. I’m currently undertaking a PR internship at Scottish Book Trust. I’ve been scheduling tweets for the Book Week Scotland Twitter page and editing Author Confession videos for writers like Sarah J Maas and Simon Mayo. All of this has felt more like fun than work, to be honest. The people at SBT are so helpful and welcoming and it has really cemented my desire to work in marketing.

Having said all this, it is also important during #workinpublishing week to remember your value as an employee. Take every experience that you can get and be eternally grateful that busy and important people are willing to show you the ropes. However, set goals and know your worth. Don’t take on free labour if you don’t think you can add value to the project or extract experience and skills from it.


So these are just some of the tips I have picked up about working in publishing over the past two months at Napier. There’s probably loads more and if I remember them I will tweet them over at @aprilsmyth.

For more updates follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

img_4361This blog is long overdue. I started reading Voyager in August but so much has happened since then (I moved to a new city and started my Masters degree) so it has taken me a bit longer to finish it and write a review. If you read my post on Dragonfly in Amber, you’ll know Gabaldon broke my heart with that ending so I was really eager to find out what would happen next. Without further ado, here’s what I thought about the third book in the Outlander series.

This review contains some *SPOILERS* so I won’t be held accountable for ruining anyone’s experience of the book or the third season of the TV show. If you’ve not read it and still want to, avert your eyes to another review!

All Outlander themed candles are from Meraki Candles.

 


1. It’s long.

This might be stating the obvious but I wanted to get it out of the way. I love Outlander, I adore Jamie Fraser but, gosh, these books are too long. On one hand, it means more time to enjoy the characters and Diana Gabaldon’s fascinating world but it also means I am deprived of the sense of achievement I should get when I finish a 400-page long book – three times over. It’s around 1500 pages long and for the first time in the series, I really felt some parts of the story were over-indulgent.

2. Everyone’s old!

Voyager takes place 20 years after Dragonfly in Amber and after the Battle of Culloden. For me, this wasn’t easy to adjust to. No longer is Jamie Fraser a youthful and rampant Highlander completely besotted with Claire. Well, he’s still rampant and besotted just without the youth. So much happens in the time that Jamie and Claire are separated, I felt like they were meeting again as completely different people. Like Claire, I felt like I had to decide whether or not I was willing to love Jamie despite not knowing what kind of man he had become in the twenty years we were apart.

Will ye take me and risk the man that I am, for the sake of the man ye knew...

3. Or dead!

If they’re not old and cynical, they’re not there at all. I was pretty upset about the way Voyager sweeps over some of my favourite characters in the jump through time. There is a very brief mention of Murtagh about 3/4 of the way through the book (I think?) but that’s all. For a character who was so important in the first two books and who meant a lot to me, I would’ve liked for him to feature in Claire and Jamie’s memories more. Every book in the series has a totally different mood and setting but with this means there is a whole host of characters that I grew to love but are left dead and buried in the previous book with no mention in the next. Having said that, I really loved the moment when Claire meets Mother Hildegarde in Paris again and they have a poignant moment for Claire’s first baby, Faith.

4. Trust nobody.

And we quickly realise that Jamie really isn’t the same anymore. He lies to Claire about having a kid and being married… TO LAOGHAIRE!? This was pretty unsettling and I’m not sure if I can bear to watch it unfold when Season 3 airs. Marrying Laoghaire was one thing but the constant secrecy and lies really stuck in my throat. And Claire’s ability to gloss over his life after throwing a small temper tantrum? I’m not sure I would forgive my Jamie quite as easily.

4. That Reunion Though.

 

Now that I got my least favourite bits out of the way, I can tell you all about the best bits and the moment I was desperately waiting for was the scene where Claire and Jamie see each other again after 20 years apart. It didn’t disappoint. Gabaldon kept me waiting and the tension that builds from the moment Claire returns to 18th century Scotland is unbearable. Will she find him? What will he say? It turns out nothing: when they do meet again, Jamie faints. And it is perfectly adorable in every way:

“You’re real,” he whispered. I had thought him pale already. Now all vestiges of color drained from his face. His eyes rolled up and he slumped to the floor in a shower of papers and oddments that had been sitting on the press – he fell rather gracefully for such a large man, I thought abstractedly.

He quickly wakes up and from this point on I’m just a big ball of messy emotions.

The tears spilled down my cheeks, only to soak into the rough cloth of his shirt as he pulled me hard against him.

Oh and…

I don’t know how long we sat there on the dusty floor, crying in each other’s arms with the longing of twenty years spilling down our faces.

For every time I complain about the length of these books or some of the absurd decisions made by the characters, Gabaldon wins me over again with her ability to break my heart and mend it over and over again. I know Gabaldon doesn’t want Outlander to be known as a love story. It is so much more than that but, for me, and I’m sure most fans of this book, it is the way Gabaldon writes Claire and Jamie’s epic love story that captures my heart every time.

5. Jamie’s a Publisher!

Many of you will know I’m studying a Masters degree in Publishing in Edinburgh so I was over the moon to discover Jamie’s new career in Voyager is running a printing press in Edinburgh under the guise of ‘Alexander Malcolm.’ It was fascinating to read about printing presses in the same city that I am studying the art of making books myself. Now when I wander around the cobbled streets of the old city, I can envision wild Highland Jamie up to no good with Fergus by his side. Jamie and I really are soulmates after all.

6. Lord John Grey

While some of my favourite characters are left behind in Dragonfly in Amber (Murtagh and Master Raymond), there are lots of characters introduced (or re-introduced in this case) in Voyager. Lord John Grey did, in fact, appear in Dragonfly in Amber as the young boy who tries to “save” Claire from Jamie and the brutish Highlanders on the eve of the Battle of Prestonpans. We see a lot more of him, all grown up, in this book and he is a really intriguing character. He’s homosexual at a time when it was very much illegal and, like everyone in the Outlander world, he’s got the hots for Jamie. What intrigues me is the feeling that Jamie has a deep affection for LJG in return. There is a bromance going on there in the end that I want to read more of and I know that Lord John plays a big role throughout the series so I’m excited to see how he develops as a character!

7. Geillis Returns (Again)

Oh My God. This was the big shocker that redeemed Voyager for me when I thought I was going to give up. Why didn’t I see this coming? I really enjoyed reading about future Geillis (a.k.a Gillian Edgar). Partly because it was fun hearing that she was a righteous SNP activist. One of the best scenes in the novel is when Roger, Claire and Brianna watch Geillis travel through the stones after sacrificing her husband. Gellis is one of the most badass characters in the whole series and her crazy return at the end as Mrs Abernathy was chilling.


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Overall, I really enjoyed Voyager – I just wish it was 400 pages shorter! I guess I just keep looking for that magic spark I had with Outlander but every book brings something completely different: different settings, characters and moods. I am (trying to be) on a book buying ban for the next few weeks/months until I work my way through my ever-expanding TBR pile so this time I mean it when I say I’m not buying Drums of Autumn for a long time or at least until I can no longer withstand not knowing what happens next.

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

This book was recommended to me by an old friend from school and I’d seen the series floating around the Bookstagram world for a while so in the midst of my Dragonfly in Amber book hangover, I picked it up because I knew it would be a quick and fun read and what a ride it was. I can’t wait to read the next in the series and would definitely recommend this to any Young Adult/Fantasy lovers.

The Raven Boys is the first novel in The Raven Cycle series and it tells the tale of a girl called Blue who lives in an all psychic household with her clairvoyant mother. The only thing is Blue doesn’t have any psychic abilities of her own – except that she makes other people’s power stronger like a walking battery charger. Blue crosses paths with a group of boys from the local private school, Aglionby, otherwise known as Raven Boys. However, Blue has met the leader of the pack, a rich student called Gansey, before… on a soon-to-be-dead-people-march. Also, add in the fact that Blue has been warned that she cannot kiss her true love because he will die! Yeah, it gets weirder. The novel follows Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah as they hunt for Glendower: an ancient Welsh king who is said to be laying dormant awaiting a true hero to awake him from his permanent slumber. Whoever wakes him up is granted one very special wish.

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This book is crazy. It is filled with awesome and very quirky characters and I get the impression Maggie Stiefvater is not in the least bit interested in making her YA novels seem realistic. I actually detected a hint of magical realism in the way that all of her characters just seem to shrug and accept the magical and fantastical events that take place. Oh, my friend that I’ve been hanging out with has actually been dead this whole time, whoops oh well let’s go for ice-cream. At times it was difficult for me to invest in these eighteen-year-olds who were chasing down ancient Welsh kings and speaking Latin to trees but once I looked past that, I really got hooked on this story.

Like I said, the characters are really what make this series great. The protagonist, Blue, is unashamedly weird and embraces both her quirkiness and feistiness. Also, it was really refreshing that Blue didn’t have to slam the popular girls just to prove she’s ~different~; that’s a YA cliché that I despise. As for the Raven Boys, I love Gansey. I know a lot of people online seem to favour Ronan but his moping just annoyed me, to be honest. Although that last line really startled me, I think I’m going to like him a lot more in the next book if we learn more about his past and why he is such a phenomenal a**hole. Adam as the romantic interest of Blue didn’t really work for me. Again, I just felt he spent too much time moping. Gansey is the most dynamic character in the book and I felt frustrated on his behalf that everyone kept seeing him for his money and not his soul. Maybe I just like boys who are really passionate about stuff but he was my favourite out of the boys. If you’ve read the series, let me know who your favourite Raven Boy is.

“Crushed and broken,” Gansey said. “Just the way women like ’em…”

One of my favourite things about this book is Maggie Stiefvater’s talent for description. Sometimes she would describe something in the background, something unimportant, but it would stick out to me because her language is so vivid. For example, I actually felt like I was standing amidst this scene where Blue first sees Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah in the diner:

Close to the beginning of her shift, four boys came through the front door, letting a cold hiss of fresh air into the room that smelled of oregano and beer. In the window beside the boys, a neon light that said Since 1976 lit their faces a Limesicle green.

I swear I must have read those lines about twenty times because I just loved the description. That Limesicle green, the oregano and beer, it’s so tangible. Stiefvater’s world building ability is something I noticed throughout. I’m not sure if it’s the pretentious literature graduate coming out in me but for what I thought was going to be a “fluffy” read, the writing was stunning.

In addition to all the magic and the chaos, The Raven Boys also deals with more serious issues like domestic abuse and, oh yeah, murder. The way Stiefvater intertwines magic, fantasy, comedy and fun with dark issues like Adam’s poverty and the abuse of his father is carefully done. She shows family life as complex and sometimes painful and that’s not just Adam’s. At times she suggests that you make your own family by surrounding yourself with the people you love (your friends) The little circle of Aglionby boys was really heartwarming to read. They protect each other and look out for one another no matter what.

Basically, The Raven Boys is worth the hype. I thought I had fallen out of love with the Young Adult genre after reading a few that fell flat but this has restored my faith in all things hyped up. I look forward to diving back into this tumultuous adventure soon with The Dream Thieves.

Have you read The Raven Boys yet? What did you think? Let me know on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

I’m such a bad book blogger. This has taken far too long to post so I apologise for that. If you haven’t already then check out my review of the first Outlander book before you read this.

You’ve probably gathered by now that I am Outlander obsessed. The first book captured my imagination unlike any other book has in a long time and I have been fangirling ever since. I’ll start off by saying I didn’t enjoy the second book in the series as much as the first and I feel like I’ve been putting off writing this because I don’t want to feel sad again. Bear with me here, it might seem like I didn’t love this book but I did. This series has me transfixed but I did spend a lot of time comparing Dragonfly in Amber to Outlander so this review might seem negative at times. Probably because it ripped out my heart and stomped on it. Am I supposed to enjoy being heartbroken?

Synopsis

Dragonfly in Amber is split into four parts: Scotland 1968, Paris 1744, Scotland 1745 and back to 1968 again. It begins at the end as we are thrusted back into the twentieth century as Claire tries to piece together a life for herself and her daughter without the love of her life, Jamie Fraser *weeps gently* … who am I kidding? *ugly sobs*  and without her first (second?) husband, Frank Randall.

Thankfully, we do go back to eighteenth-century life to spend time with our fave ginger hunk as Claire convinces Jamie to prevent the Jacobite uprising in order to save thousands of Highlander lives. Claire and Jamie spend some time in Paris gallivanting with prostitutes and Bonnie Prince Charlie before returning to Scotland to settle into agricultural life and win the war after failed attempts at prevention.

I won’t spoil too much. There is a whole lot of drama in between but, finally, we go back to the beginning again as Jamie forces Claire to travel through the stones to her “own time” where she and her unborn child can live in safety under the protection of another man who loves her too *heart shatters into a thousand tiny pieces*

Characters

Reason number one to love this book is tall with a mop of red hair and his name begins with the letter J. You guessed it Jamie Fraser is and always will be one of the best parts of this series. If you’re looking for a new book boyfriend then look no further than Gabaldon’s wild Highland warrior. He is sweeter than ever in this book and I liked that we saw an insight into his intelligent and calculating side. While Outlander very much focuses on him as a fighter and a lover, Dragonfly in Amber really showcases Jamie as a clever and educated young man. Plus there’s this:

I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest … Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.

Excuse me while I take a moment to drown in my own tears… Anyway!

My favourite new character from this book was Master Raymond: a weird and frog-like apothecary who Claire befriends in Paris. You never really know where his loyalties lie and his mysteriousness really adds a sense of magic and fantasy to the series, which I felt was perhaps lacking in the first text. He is also a badass in the herbal department and manages to save Claire’s life when she is on the brink of death. What’s not to love?

Other favourite characters include the new and adorable, Fergus (real name Claudel), a Parisian street rat who Jamie takes under his wing and fosters as his own son. Fergus is the comic reprieve from what can be an otherwise dark and heavy read. Similarly, Claire’s new friend Louise de la Tour is a really fun and sexy character who provides some levity to the story.

Plot & Setting

Dragonfly in Amber is undoubtedly a lesson in history. Compared to the first book, it was far more focussed on the history of the period and, for me, this could be difficult at times. In my first review, I mentioned that I loved the romance of this series but I felt that Dragonfly in Amber was very much focussed on being a historical fiction piece than a love story. Which is great if that’s what you’re into but, as I’ve said before, I am a sucker for the soppy stuff. Literally, I just groaned every so often: “SO MUCH WAR.”

I feel like the phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind when I complained that Outlander lacked in the history and magic departments. Because Dragonfly is not only packed with history, it was also a lot more magical than the first book. This book brings in mysterious folklore like La Dame Blanche and plenty of cults and strange rituals which were fascinating to read about. I feel like Paris worked well for this reason.

However, I want to point out just because Dragonfly in Amber didn’t feel like as much of a love story to me as Outlander does not mean that Gabaldon scrimped on the soppy love stuff. We get some classic quotes from Jamie Fraser who just won’t quit. Like this:

If it was a sin for you to choose me . . . then I would go to the Devil himself and bless him for tempting ye to it.

In terms of setting, I much preferred being back in the Scottish Highlands. The Parisian world is incredibly descriptive but I enjoyed it a whole lot less than I would have thought. In theory, eighteenth century Paris should be right up my street. It exudes luxury, sex and, violence, which is always going to make for a great book. Yet it fell flat for me. I found myself longing for the familiarity of the rolling green Scottish hills. I don’t know if it’s because I am Scottish or because one of the reasons I love Outlander is its exploration of Scottish heritage and culture. Maybe I’m just a creature of habit, I’m not sure, but I loved the second half of the novel so much more than the first.

Overall

Dragonfly in Amber made me feel like the honeymoon was over. Outlander  was a delicious and sexy romp filled with the excitement of first love. Dragonfly is beautiful and poignant in its own way but even all good love affairs become a bit dull over time. It is one of those books I will enjoy more as time passes when I have the gift of hindsight. I spent so much time comparing it to the first that I probably didn’t value it in its own right enough. I’m probably just bitter at how much it made me cry.

Anyway, like I said, it sounds like I didn’t love this book but I did. It just broke me a little by the end. It will have you sobbing your eyes out. I didn’t know so much heartache could be contained in one book, excluding Me Before You. And, I have just ordered Voyager. I can’t wait to start it because I am suffering from a seriously bad case of Droughtlander right now. I need me some Clan Fraser.

What about you? Are you an Outlander fan? Let me know on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.