Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Don Quixote

Book Name: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
First Published:1605 (part one) 1615 (part two)

Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. His father’s profession was that of a barbar-surgeon from Cordoba. He set bones, performed bloodlettings in addition to shaves and haircuts. Cervantes’ mother was the third child of a poor nobleman who sold his daughter into matrimony to pay his debts. Although their marriage was not a happy one, they still managed to produce seven children together. When Cervantes was a young man, he fell in love with a girl named Josefina, but because of his family’s poverty and Cervantes’ poor prospects, the girl’s father forbade her to see him.

Cervantes left Spain and enlisted with the Spanish Navy Marines in Naples in 1570. The following year, he sailed with the fleet of ships that defeated the Ottoman forces in the Battle of Lepanto. Cervantes had a fever during the battle but he chose to fight for his King and his God instead of hiding below decks. He was shot three times, which left his left arm immobile, but he considered his combat as a badge of honor.

In 1575, Cervantes sailed to Barcelona. His ship was attacked by Algerian pirates near the Catalan coast. It was a terrible battle in which the Captain and many of the crew were killed. The survivors were captured and taken to Algiers. Cervantes was enslaved for five years as a prisoner of war. He was returned to Madrid only after his parents paid his ransom. It was this period in his life that inspired much of the subject matter for several of his later literary works, The Captive’s Tale in Don Quixote and two plays that were set in Algiers, El Trato de Argel and Los Banos de Argel.

Cervantes life settled into middle-class normality after his return to Spain. Like many authors of his time, he was not able to support himself via his writings. Instead, he worked as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Navy. He also took the position of a tax collector, moving from town to town demanding the back taxes due the crown. Many of the characters and situations in Don Quixote were inspired by these “day jobs”. In his senior years, he managed to gain a sponsor and was able to turn to writing full-time.

In 1584, he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, whose uncle was accounted the basis for the character of Don Quixote. He remained poor until 1605, when his novel Don Quixote was released. The book was written as a satire of chivalric romance and the general public enjoyed Cervantes’ use of everyday speech in his writing. The book did not make him rich but it made him a popular writer internationally.

Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, a year after the second part of Don Quixote was published, of type II Diabetes. He was buried the next day in a convent in Madrid. Later his remains were lost due to construction work at the convent.

Coincidently, William Shakespeare also died on April 23, 1616. To honor the date when two of the greatest authors of all time died, UNESCO established this date at the International Day of the Book. What is not often acknowledged is that Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, but England was still using the Julian calendar. There is actually a eleven day difference in the date of these two author’s deaths. But why ruin a good holiday concept over a few dates?

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” -Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote the novel begins with Alonso Quixano, almost 50, lives in La Mancha with his niece and their housekeeper. He is rational for the most part but his obsession with books about chivalry has distorted his perception into believing that those books were real. Inspired by the stories, he decides to be a wandering knight and look for adventure. He wears an old suit of armor and renames himself “Don Quixote”, refers to his thin horse as Rocinante and recruits his illiterate neighbor Sancho Panza to be his squire.

He goes out and arrives at an inn, believing that it is a castle, and asks the innkeeper to make him a knight. The annoyed innkeeper agrees just to make him go away. It is at this inn where Don Quixote spies the barmaid Aldonza Lorenzo and re-imagines her as his lady love, Dulcinea del Toboso. Next, Don Quixote discovers a man who is beating a boy and the mad knight forces this man to swear that he will treat the boy well. The man, however, continues with the beating once Don Quixote is away. When an encounter with traders ends in a fight, after the men insult Dulcinea, Don Quixote is beaten. It is then that Sancho and a peasant return him to his home and worried family. While he is unconscious, his housekeeper and his niece, with help from other local residents, burn the man’s chivalric books and close his library. They hope this will halt the old man’s dreams of adventure and keep him sane.

When he recovers, Don Quixote and Sancho continue with their journey and meet different characters, with Don Quixote’s imagination turning these meetings into quests. The man’s tendency to intrude in other people’s affairs and to skip paying his debts results in injuries and embarrassments. He tilts at windmills with his lance, believing them to be vicious giants and he ambushes a group of friars traveling with a lady.

In the second part of Don Quixote, published 10 years after the first, the people that Don Quixote and Sancho meet already know about the duo. Some of these characters trick Don Quixote to entertain themselves, sending the pair to adventures that end in practical jokes. This tests the knight’s sense of chivalry and his professed love for Dulcinea. Even Sancho tricks him one time, bringing back three peasant girls and claiming that they are Dulcinea and her two ladies-in-waiting. Near the end of the story, an encounter forces Don Quixote to reluctantly go home and possibly cease his chivalrous acts.

Don Quixote Book CoverMy first exposure to this classic tale of madness, fantasy, and ideas of what is important as citizens of the world, was a live performance on Broadway of Man of La Mancha. It was my first time in New York City as a young woman and my cousin suggested that I pick this play because it was classic theater, and it was a little less expensive being a revival. I was traveling on the cheap, so it seemed a good idea to me at the time. As I sat in the darkened theater, I was carried away by the scenes of Cervantes in the Algerian prison, pleading for his life by playing the tales of Don Quixote to his fellow prisoners, amusing them enough to spare his life. The songs from this play haunt me still. Later, I read the book Don Quixote and was transported into a world very different from modern America, a story that would be considered the first modern European novel and is regarded among the greatest works of fiction ever written. Cervantes’ himself was dubbed El Principe de los Ingenious, ”The Prince of Wits”.

If you have not read Don Quixote, I urge you to place it in your to-read list. You can find a free download of this classic novel at Project Gutenberg. There is also a movie version of Man of La Mancha (1972), starring Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote, Sofia Loren as Dulcinea, and James Coco as Sancho Panza. If you would experience the beautiful music of the Broadway play, I can recommend the film as well.

Book Review: Solaris

Book Name: Solaris
Author: Stanislaw Lem
First Published: 1961

Stanislaw Lem was born on September 12, 1921 in Lwow, Poland. He was Jewish, but he and his parents were able to survive the Nazi occupation during World War II by using falsified documents. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, but later would turn from this faith and declare himself to be agnostic. Lem was quoted as saying, “for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally.” He worked as a science research assistant during his college years and it was during this time that he began writing his stories. Later, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, he worked as a mechanic and welder, becoming active in the resistance. When the Polish territory Kresy became part of Soviet Ukraine, he and his family moved to Krakow. His father, a doctor, wanted him to study medicine at Jagiellonian University and Lem enrolled but he intentionally failed his finals to avoid being forced to become a military physician.

Lem began writing poetry, stories, and essays while working as a research assistant. The Man from Mars, his first science fiction novel, was released as a series in a Ukraine magazine called New World of Adventures. During the Stalin regime, when works had to be approved by the government before publication, he had to include in his books content that put socialism and communism in a good light. When the de-Stalinization period in the Soviet Union started the “Polish October”, Poland celebrated a rise in political free speech. Free of the shackles of having to bow to the promotion of communism in his writing by the Soviets, Lem wrote 17 books from 1956 to 1968. It was during this time that he met and married Barbara Leśniak, a radiologist, in 1953. Their son, Tomasz, was born in 1968.

One of the novels during this busy writing period was his highly popular novel Solaris. In the book, Lem presents the recurring theme of how futile it is for humans to understand things that are extremely alien. Solaris has had three screen adaptations: a two-part Russian TV film in 1968, a full-length Russian film in 1972, and a 2002 Hollywood film.

In 1973, despite being ineligible due to his non-american status, The SFWA awarded Stanislaw Lem an honorary membership. Lem accepted the membership at that time, but thought of American science fiction as ill thought-out and poorly written, being created to make money instead of the formation of ideas or new literary forms. After Lem’s work was published in America, and he became eligible for a regular membership, his honorary one was rescinded. It was thought that this was intended to be a rebuke toward Lem and his contempt for American science fiction writers, certainly Lem seemed to think that it was. Many SFWA members protested Lem’s treatment, including Ursula K. Le Guin, but Lem declined the regular membership, even though the membership fees were offered to be paid by a fellow member.

Starting the 1980s, he focused more on philosophical essays and over the years became critical of science fiction and pessimistic about modern technology. He also had a falling out with his previous agent Franz Rottensteiner, who contributed in introducing him to Western readers. In 1996, Lem was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest decoration of merit for civilians and military personnel.

Lem died on March 27, 2006 of heart disease. The urn containing his ashes was laid at Salwatorski Cemetery. Although he declared himself an agnostic, Lem’s funeral was conducted in accordance with Roman Catholic rites at his family’s request.

Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed. – Stanislaw Lem

The planet Solaris is covered by a vast ocean that is possibly a giant, sentient organism. Scientists, referred to as Solarists, have been studying the planet and its ocean for decades. They have been recording and elaborately classifying the complex phenomena that happen on the ocean’s surface but they do not really understand what those activities mean. The psychologist Kris Kelvin travels from Earth to the Solaris Station, a research station hovering near the planet’s surface, and meets Snow and Sartorius, two of the scientists there. He finds the station in chaos and the scientists near madness. Another scientist, Kelvin’s acquaintance named Gibarian, has killed himself just hours before.

The crew has aggressively bombarded the ocean with high-energy X-ray as part of an unauthorized experiment shortly before Kelvin’s arrival. The ocean has responded by creating exact copies of people from the scientists’ most painful memories. These mysterious human-like beings with superhuman abilities are in the ship and are psychologically tormenting the researchers. The visitors and the real humans differ from each other sub-atomically – the visitors’ bodies are made of stabilized neutrinos that give the visitors great strength and regeneration capabilities.

The visitors of Snow and Sartorius are anonymous but Kelvin encounters Gibarian’s visitor, a “giant Negress”. Kelvin also meets his own visitor: a duplicate of Rheya, his lover who has injected herself with poison when he left her. Rheya does not know that she is just a copy. Kelvin feels conflicting emotions upon seeing her but decides to lure her into a shuttle then eject her into space to get rid of her. A second Rheya appears with no memory of the shuttle and this time, Kelvin decides to stay with her because he is still in love with the original Rheya. The second duplicate, however, hears a recording made by Gibarian and learns that she is just a copy and is not really human. She drinks liquid oxygen to end her life but her body heals itself. The other Solarists work to discover a way to destroy the visitors but Kelvin decides that he will protect Rheya no matter what happens. Later, the researchers decide to record Kelvin’s electrical brain impulses and beam them into the ocean. Nothing happens at first, then Kelvin begins having weird dreams. Several weeks later, a strange ocean storm occurs and Snow sees a possible way for humans to communicate with the giant alien organism.

Solaris-bookcoverMy interest in the author began when I saw the 2002 movie Solaris, staring George Clooney. It intrigued me and I went on to read the novel and look at other works by Stanislaw Lem. He has a literary style to his writing that conveys deeper ideas than many science fiction novels do today. If you haven’t checked out work by this classic science fiction author before, Solaris would be a good one to sample first.

Book Review: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Book Name: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Author: Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
First Published: 1889

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Missouri, two weeks after Halley’s Comet appeared in 1835. After his father died of pneumonia, young Clemens apprenticed at the age of 12 as a typesetter for his brother’s newspaper, the Hannibal Journal. It is there that he gained his first writing experiences by creating articles and funny sketches for the newspaper. Instead of attending school, he learned by reading at the public libraries. He claimed that he found more information at the library than he ever would at a traditional school.

When he was 18, he left Hannibal and went to work as a printer in New York City among other places. He joined the newly formed International Typographical Union. He moved around a great deal, traveling on the packet Keokuk in 1854 and lived in Muscatine during 1855. The Muscatine newspaper published eight of his travelogues.

During a journey to New Orleans down the Mississippi river, steamboat pilot Horace E. Bixby talked Clemens into becoming a pilot himself. Clemens studied for two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. A steamboat pilot eclipsed the prestige and authority of the captain of the vessel due to the extensive knowledge that was needed to guide the boat down the ever-changing river and knowing the hundreds of ports to access. A pilot also earned a rewarding salary for his efforts. It was during this time when Clemens developed the pen name of Mark Twain, taken from the cry “mark twain” for a measured river depth of two fathoms. He might have remained a riverboat pilot but for the start of the American Civil War. When war broke out in 1861, all traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed.

At the start of the war, Clemens enlisted briefly in the Confederate military, but soon left for Nevada to work for his brother Orion, the Secretary to James W. Nye, the Governor of Nevada Territory. Eventually, Clemens settled in Nevada as a miner on the Comstock Lode. He did not make a good living as a miner and soon returned to writing. He wrote under his new pen name, Mark Twain, for the first time at a Virginia City newspaper called The Territorial Enterprise. Later, his experiences on the American frontier would inspire his famous short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County which was published in The Saturday Press, a New York weekly. Twain continued to write and travel all across American and even to the Hawaiian Islands, as a reporter for the Sacramento Union. His travelogues were popular and would become the basis for his future lecture series.

During a trip to the Holy Land, Clemens met Charles Langdon and the man happened to show Clemens the picture of his sister. Later, Clemens would admit that he had fallen in love with Olivia Langdon that day solely on viewing her image. He later met and pursued Olivia until she agreed to be his wife. They moved to Hartfort, Connecticut and lived there for almost two decades. It is at the home in Hartford where Clemens wrote most of his popular novels including: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, features a time traveler from his contemporary American, using the knowledge of science to introduce modern technology to Arthurian England. This type of storyline would later become a common feature of the science fiction sub-genre, alternate history. It also reads as a good fantasy novel.

Clemens grew wealthy from his writing, but due to several poor investments, such as the Paige typesetting machine and by buying into a publishing house that picked poor performers, his gains all but disappeared. In 1895, Clemens organized a world tour with the help of his friend, Henry Rogers, where he gave lectures about his travels and of his famous stories. It was a five year journey, but would prove to be a hit. He was able to repay his debts and to continue to support his family.

Disaster struck the Clemens’ household in 1910, a decade after his successful world tour. One by one, his wife, two of their daughters and his friend Rogers all died within a short time span. This put the author into a spiral of depression that he never quite recovered from. All his life he had told of having visions of the future. Clemens predicted that he would die on the return of Halley’s Comet and he was right – he died on April 21, 1910, a day after the comet reappeared.

My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death. – Mark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court begins with Hank Morgan, a 19th century gunsmith from Connecticut, gets hit on the head during a fight and wakes up in Camelot. He thinks that he should run things since he is the most advanced man in the world, but instead he is ridiculed for his odd appearance and is sentenced to be burned at the stake. Hank knows from his study of history that his execution date coincides with a famous solar eclipse. He threatens the king that he will make the sun disappear if he executes him. When the eclipse occurs, the people are convinced of Hank’s power and the King appoints him as chief minister.

Hank observes the medieval ways of the people and sees the rampant ignorance and suffering of the poor. He clashes with Merlin, the king’s previous chief adviser and top sorcerer in the land. In a fit of jealousy, Merlin spreads rumors that Hank is a fraud. To combat this, Hank rigs Merlin’s tower with explosives and a lightning rod, causing a fire that Merlin fails to prevent with his magic. In another incident, Merlin declares that a fountain has dried up and will never work again because of a demon haunting it. Hank fixes the leak and gets the fountain flowing again.

Hank also uses his knowledge and his authority as the king’s minister to modernize the country and contradict medieval teachings. Assisted by a young boy named Clarence, he sets up secret schools and factories of tools. Hank only allows his hand-picked open-minded people to enter. He goes on to construct modern infrastructure and goes on an adventure with a girl named Sandy. One day, Hank and King Arthur disguise themselves as peasants in order to see how the poor people really live. They get arrested and sold to slavery, and are about to be hanged. Sir Lancelot and the other knights rescue them but the king, horrified by his experience, promises to abolish slavery, which delights Hank.

Sir Sagramore, challenges Hank to a duel to the death upon his return from his Holy Grail quest. Hank wins the day by enlisting the help of a dozen other knights, a lasso, and a revolver. He then reveals the modern infrastructure he has created. He later marries Sandy and they have a child together.

Strangely enough, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is the first Mark Twain novel that I ever read. I was inspired to pick up the book after seeing the movie by the same name starring Bing Crosby. Later, due to prodding from English teachers, I would go on to read his more famous works, but this novel has always stuck with me. The satire about the politics of his day reminded me of other classic authors such as Lewis Carrol, Charles Dickens and others of that time period. It is an early novel of alternate history and a true child of the speculative fiction genre. I fully believe that by reading the classics in a genre, you learn the conventions and gain a stronger understanding of it as a writer. That is why I would recommend this novel to be on a must-read list, in addition to his other more well known titles.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Book CoverMark Twain was more than an author, he was an inventor, an adventurer, a steamboat pilot and more. His writing and wit inspires me as an author, but his life inspires me as well. Samuel Clemens did not succeed at everything he attempted, but he never gave up and continued to search for what worked for him. Now he is remembered for being one of the best American authors in history.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is available for free download at Project Gutenberg.

Book Review: The Children of Men

Book Name: The Children of Men
Author: P.D. James
First Published: 1992

Phyllis Dorothy James, commonly known as P.D. James, was born on August 3, 1920 in Oxford. She studied at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. Her father, Sidney James, was a tax inspector.

Due to financial constraints and her father’s belief that girls did not need higher education, James left school when she was 16 years old. She worked for several years before she married army doctor Ernest Connor Bantry in 1941. The couple had two daughters, Jane and Claire, but when her husband returned from World War II, he was mentally ill and was placed in a psychiatric institution. James was forced to be the family breadwinner until her husband died in 1964. She studied hospital administration and worked in the National Health Service from 1949 to 1968.

James began writing in the mid-1950s. Two years after her first novel Cover Her Face was published, she began working in the criminal section of the Home Office in the UK. She continued being a public servant until her retirement. James used her work experience in many of her novels. Much of her work feature UK’s bureaucracies, such as the National Health Service and the criminal justice system.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Literature. She has won several awards for her writing and was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983. She became a life peer in the House of Lords in 1991 and President of the Society of Authors in 1997. In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

P.D. James is most popular for her detective series starring the policeman Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard. In the 1980s, several of James’ mystery novels were made into television shows and aired in the UK as well as in other countries such as the USA. Her dystopian novel, The Children of Men, was adapted into a 2006 feature film starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

Charm is often despised but I can never see why. No one has it who isn’t capable of genuinely liking others, at least at the actual moment of meeting and speaking. Charm is always genuine; it may be superficial but it isn’t false. – P.D. James

It is the year 2021. The world population is steadily decreasing and there is mass infertility. People last gave birth in 1995 and humanity is facing imminent extinction. In desperation, people are treating newborn animals as their babies. The members of the youngest generation, called “Omegas”, are now all adults but are spoiled, violent, and contemptuous of their elders. Nevertheless, they are prized for their youth and are thus treated to luxurious lifestyles and are never punished. The British Omegas are prohibited from leaving the country but workers from poorer countries are lured and made to do the undesirable work then sent back once they reach 60. The old and the sick are considered a burden, with only the privileged ones given care while the rest are encouraged or even forced to kill themselves in a legalized mass drowning called Quietus.

The rich and influential Xan Lyppiatt is the self-appointed Warden of England and has replaced democracy with an egalitarian regime due to the people’s lack of interest in politics. Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, a historian at the Oxford University and Xan’s cousin, is approached by Julian, a female dissident who belongs to the group Five Fishes. The group wants Theo’s help in asking Xan to implement reforms before they start a revolution. The rebels want Xan to bring back democracy, to shut down the isolated penal colony on the Isle of Man, and to stop the mass suicide of the old and the infirm. Theo agrees but his meeting with Xan ends up being a meeting with all the five members of the Council of England, the country’s governing body. The meeting is a failure as Xan does not agree with the demands. Xan suspects that Theo’s suggestions come from others and plans to move against the dissidents.

The State Secret Police visits Theo and the latter tells Julian about the visit before traveling around Europe for several months to see the continent before it becomes overrun by nature. When he returns, he finds out that the dissidents have continued the revolution by distributing pamphlets and sabotaging wharves and that one of them has been arrested while attempting to blow up a mass suicide facility. Theo also learns that Julian is pregnant. At first, he thinks Julian is just delusional, but changes his mind when he hears the baby’s heartbeat. The group now struggles to keep Julian and her baby safe during their flight.

My first exposure to PD James was via the motion picture The Children of Men starring Clive Owen and Micheal Cain. I found the storyline and concept of the movie to be unique and later, I went on to read the book that the movie was based on. I discovered that the film and the book are rather different. The movie had plenty of suspense and action, while the book delved more into the political makeup of this futuristic England and had long passages of description that perhaps could have been shorter and to the point.

The Children of Men Book CoverThe idea of the Omega generation is chilling. The thought that this was the end of humanity and no more after us, is heartbreaking. I can see some of the behavior of the women in this book in today’s culture. Many people are child-free and do dote on their pets as if they were children, just as the characters in James’ book would push dolls around in prams or christen their cats. After I finished the book, I confess that it was good to see our neighborhood kids playing outside as usual. Global infertility has not quite reached us yet.

Dystopian science fiction lets us see into a dark possible future, but shining a light into those shadows is often a way to avoid the pitfalls ahead. I recommend reading The Children of Men, it is a classic that should be experienced.

Book Review: Outlander

Book Name: Outlander
Author: Diana Galbadon
First Published: 1991

Diana Galbadon grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona where she earned a BA in Zoology from Northern Arizona University. Later she would gain a Masters of Science in Marine Biology from UC San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Then she returned to Arizona to earn her PhD in Behavioral Ecology from Northern Arizona University.

She would become a full-time assistant professor in the Center for Environmental Studies at Arizona State University where she did research, scientific computing and database management and taught classes in anatomy among other subjects. She was the founding editor of Science Software Quarterly and would later write software reviews and technical articles for computer publications as well as popular-science articles and comic books for Disney.

In 1988, Gabaldon began to write a novel “for practice” and without any intention of showing it to anyone. As a research professor, she thought that a historical novel would be the simplest novel for her to write, but she had no particular time period that drew her. It was during this time that Galbadon happened to see an episode of “Dr. Who” entited “War Games”. One of the doctor’s companions was a Scotish Highlander from around 1745 by the name of Jamie MacCrimmon. This character became the spark for her novel’s mid-18th century Scotland setting and one of the lead main characters of the book, James Fraser. However, during the writing, her female lead, Claire Randall, took over the book, making smart-ass comments that were decidedly modern throughout the story. To explain this character’s mindset, Gabaldon added the element of time travel to the story. And as they say, the rest was history.

“You are my courage, as I am your conscience,” he whispered. “You are my heart—and I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach?” – Diana Galbadon

Outlander begins just after World War II. A British Army nurse and her husband, an Oxford history professor, are together at last after being separated by the war. They travel to Inverness, Scotland in order to have a second honeymoon and for Frank Randall to research his family history. As Frank digs into his research, his wife Claire Randall gathers plants near a circle of standing stones on a hill known as Craigh na Dun. After witnessing a pagan ritual being performed at the stones, Claire returns the next day and is distracted from her plant gathering by a strange humm in the rocks, she touches one of the standing stones and is overcome briefly.

She awakens to the sound of a distant battle and as she wanders about, she is apprehend by a group of Scotsmen that believe her to be a British spy. Claire is confused by the speech and dress of these Scotsmen who later reveal to her that they are members of Clan MacKenzie. They wear clothing that is centuries out of date and their speech is difficult to understand. As the MacKenzie Clan departs the battlefield, one of their own is wounded. Claire uses her nurse’s skill to reset a young warrior’s shoulder. He is called Jamie MacTavish and the Scotsmen put him in charge of taking care of Claire as they continue on their home, Castle Leoch, the seat of Clan MacKenzie.

At the castle, Claire is questioned by the laird, Colum. By now she has figured out that she has traveled backwards in time via the stones of Craigh na Dun. Claire believes that she needs to return to the stones in order to find her way home to the 20th Century and back to her husband. The Scots see Claire as an “Sassenach”, an Outlander who is ignorant of Highlander culture and one of the hated English. Claire pretends to be a widow who has lost all her possessions in order to hide her secret. Colum does not believe her and forbids her from leaving the castle.

Colum wants to learn more about Claire and decides to send her with his brother Dougal’s party as he collects the rents from the tenants on MacKenzie land. Dougal is collecting more than rent, he is also taking donations for the Jacobite cause. At each village, he orders Jamie to remove his shirt so that the farmers can see the whip marks on his back, gained during an interrogation by Captain “Black Jack” Randall. When the villagers see the marks, they donate more money. Claire is appalled by the way that Jamie is being used and the two begin to form a friendship.

Later, Captain Randall demands that Claire be given up to him so that he can question her. The clansmen do not wish to turn her in due to the Captain’s reputation of brutality. The lawyer who travels with them, in order to oversee the processing of the rents, notes that the only way to keep Claire safe from the English is to make her legally a Scotswoman. He proposes that one of the men marry the widow. Dougal considers marrying Claire himself, but then decides to force Jamie to do it since he is more expendable. Claire balks at the idea, but after many arguments and fear of facing the English Captain, she agrees.

Young Jamie also agrees to the marriage. He insists that he and Claire are married properly in kirk. He informs her that his real name is James Fraser, not MacTavish. Jamie is a wanted man with a price on his head. He wants to start this marriage with honesty and to marry her with his real name. Claire is touched by the kindness Jamie shows on their wedding day. She is also surprised to find her wedding night with the young highlander to be more enjoyable than she expected. She is torn between love for her husband Frank, who is on the other side of the standing stones, and her growing fondness for Jamie. However, she is still determined to return home if the opportunity presents itself.

As the collection party travels near Craigh na Dun, Claire escapes from the Scotsmen and attempts to return to the stones. She nearly drowns in the process and is captured by the British. After much daring, Jamie manages to rescue her and the pair, along with Dougal and the party, return to Castle Leoch.

Claire and Jamie settle into married life in the castle. Jamie works in the stables and Claire continues her work as a healer. She befriends Geilis Duncan, the wife of a town official who shares her love of medicine. While Jamie is away, Claire and Geilis are charged with witchcraft. It is during the time that the pair wait to be tried and burned at the stake when Claire realizes that her friend is also a time traveler like herself.

Jamie manages to arrive in time to save Claire from being burned at the stake and the pair of them are forced to flee from Castle Leoch. When they find themselves safe, Claire confesses her secret to Jamie. She is a time-traveler and she is not exactly a widow, her husband is alive and well in the future. Jamie believes her story and takes her to Craigh na Dun himself. He tells her to make her choice. He will wait for her at the bottom of the hill until morning. Claire finds herself near the humming stones and knows that she could return to the 20th century if she wished, but at that moment, she realizes that she loves Jamie and wishes to remain with him.

Jamie and Claire travel to Jamie’s home and live with his sister and her husband. Although Jamie is still an outlaw of the British army, he decides to take on his role as Lallybroch’s laird. They are somewhat isolated on Jamie’s land, but it is not long before the new laird is betrayed by one of his own and is taken to Wentworth Prison where Black Jack Randall is waiting. Claire is determined to rescue Jamie against impossible odds. This leads to a highly charged climax to the novel.

I always intended to read Outlander. Honest, I did! However, I was in a place in my life when books took a back seat to filmmaking and other artistic pursuits and stayed that way for well over a decade. So the series remained undiscovered by me until three years ago when I heard a few of my artist friends talking about An Echo in the Bone and I thought that I should at least give the original book a try.

I was transported into this romantic world full of beautiful historical details that had an interesting time travel element. It was like nothing I had read before. The story between Claire and Jamie is rich and full featured, their love simply grows as they age, like the complexity of a fine wine. It has since become one of my favorite book series. I’m discovering that most of my friends are fans of this series as well. 2014 will see the debut of Outlander on cable television as Starz begins to produce the story, one book per 16 episode season. It has won an award for best new television series in the UK.

Don’t make my mistake and put off reading Outlander. If you like romance, historical fiction, Scotland, or time travel stories, Diana Galbadon will deliver.

Outlander Book CoverOutlander (1991) (published in the UK and Australia as Cross Stitch)
Dragonfly in Amber (1992)
Voyager (1994)
Drums of Autumn (1997)
The Fiery Cross (2001)
A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005)
An Echo in the Bone (2009)
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (2014)