OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon

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Claire and Frank are on their honeymoon. Technically, it’s their second honeymoon, but the War came so close on the heels of their marriage, that now they are like strangers. Now that their services to England are complete, this trip to Scotland is a chance to get to know one another again, to rekindle their romance. But when Claire falls through a time portal in a henge, she winds up in the eighteenth century, swept up by a raucous clan and pursued across the moors by Frank’s sadistic ancestor, English officer Jonathan Randall. Though she initially earns her keep at Castle Leoch by sharing her skills as an army nurse, Claire must eventually marry a young Scot named Jamie in order to keep out of Randall’s clutches. And as her relationship with Jamie deepens, Claire begins to lose her resolve to find a way home.

OUTLANDER has everything I love in a novel: humor, romance, suspense, immersive world-building, and deep themes. The contrast between Claire’s “modern” 1940s background and Jamie’s life in the 1700s allows for thoughtful commentary on the shifting nature of love and war as people begin to distance themselves from one another–whether it is the polite distance of Claire and Frank’s marriage or the mechanized distance of bombers and automatic weaponry in the war. Everything in the past timeline, both good and bad, is close and visceral and as much as Claire rejects (for example) the sadism of Randall or the corporal punishment the clans inflict on women and children, the unreserved passion between herself and Jamie (and the closeness of families and clans) binds her to her new life much more fiercely than she initially anticipated.

This novel is difficult to put down, and a great book club book if all of your readers are ok with sex and violence. (As my above expostulations should suggest, it has a thematic purpose and isn’t there gratuitously.) OUTLANDER will appeal to historical romance readers as well as many historical fiction and suspense/thriller readers. The dash of sci-fi/fantasy of the time travel is negligible, so I wouldn’t necessarily plug it to SF/F readers.


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Hoping to get back home to his patients ahead of a snowstorm, Ben Payne charters a flight from Salt Lake to Denver and, on a whim, invites the bride-to-be that he met in the terminal, Ashley. She needs to get back home for her rehearsal dinner, and Ben can’t help think of Rachel and how special his own wedding was. They fly out with a chatty pilot and his little dog, only to learn mid-flight that the pilot never filed a flight plan, and the plane is only supposed to seat one passenger. Then, over the frozen mountain wilderness, the pilot has a heart attack. Although Ben and Ashley survive the crash, Ashley’s femur is broken, along with several of Ben’s ribs, and altitude sickness makes their predicament worse. With no one knowing where they are, Ben must use the few provisions they have to survive the snowstorm and drag Ashley down the mountain to safety. Throughout their weeks struggling in the wilderness, Ben composes letters to Rachel on his audio recorder, remembering their relationship and coming to terms with the horrible experience that brought it to an end–as well as the knowledge that, should they survive, his developing feelings for the soon-to-be-married Ashley must also end in heartache.

I really enjoyed this novel. The action of the survival-thriller plot neatly compliments the tragic love story told in flashback. Interestingly, though, it is the suspense of the love story–the desire to find out what happened to Rachel, who is implied at various points to be both dead and alive–that really kept me reading. I’m not sure I would enjoy the new film adaptation, which seems to focus solely on the survival plot. But I would recommend this novel to realistic fiction readers who like action-packed love stories. Although it is literary fiction, romance readers may also find this novel satisfying.

FRICTION by Sandra Brown

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The minute Judge Spencer starts asking about his past, Crawford knows he’s lost.  His in-laws will keep custody of Georgia, and his sweet little girl will only see him on weekends.  A split second later, a masked gunman enters the courtroom, kills the bailiff, and aims for the judge.  Crawford’s Texas Ranger instincts kick in.  He tackles Holly Spencer to the ground, shielding her bodily, and kicks out at the gunman, who flees the scene.  Crawford follows.  After a rooftop shootout, the man with the gun is killed, but no motive can be found.  And Crawford’s reckless pursuit has likely sealed the fate of his custody case.  But when Crawford  goes to Holly’s house to check in on her, things take an unexpected turn as their mutual attraction leads to one amorous encounter after another.  Their relationship gets more complicated as Crawford becomes a suspect in the shooting–and it turns out that Holly might not have been the target after all.

This fast-paced romantic suspense novel is marred only slightly by the stereotypical tall-dark-handsome male lead.  But his love for his daughter rounds out his character a bit, and the compelling female protagonist makes the relationship more engaging.  The sex-at-first-sight is a little ridiculous, but it is not atypical for the genre.  Overall, a fun read for romantic suspense fans!

LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

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Georgie and her writing partner, Seth, are getting the break they’ve been dreaming of since college: a big time producer is considering picking up their show. Not the unbelievably successful sitcom they’ve been writing for the past 10 years–complete with obnoxious actors and even more obnoxious laugh track–but the show they’d been planning since they first started writing together in the ULA comedy magazine almost two decades ago. It’s a once in a lifetime chance, but there’s a catch. They only have one week to draft for new episodes before their pitch, and Georgie and her family have plane tickets to visit Neal’s mother in Omaha for Christmas. Georgie hopes that Neal will be willing to stay home for the holiday, but when he takes the girls to Omaha without her, Georgie is forced to consider the possibility that her marriage is falling apart–especially when he doesn’t answer any of her phone calls.

While staying at her mother’s house, Georgie calls Neal’s mother’s home phone from the old vintage telephone in her childhood bedroom, the one she used to talk with Neal when they were dating in college. But she is astonished to discover that whenever she uses the landline, the Neal who picks up is 22 year old Neal, 1998 Neal, the Neal that she never called after their fight 15 years ago–the last time Neal went to Omaha without her. As she comes to grips with the impossible reality that she has a magic telephone that communicates with the past, Georgie relives her past with Neal as she struggles to figure out a way to save their future.

This is the second realistic fiction love story from Rainbow Rowell that I have absolutely loved. This is not usually my genre, but Rowell has a way of inventing characters that are beautifully flawed, endearing, interesting, and in this case, quite humorous. And the relationships between her characters are incredibly accessible and raw. My husband was on a business trip when I read this book, and it made me ache for missing him. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy realistic love stories and don’t mind a twinge of fantasy– i.e., magic phones.

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell

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When the new girl with the weird clothes sits next to him on the bus, Park does his best to ignore her and hopes it is a one time thing.  If she wants to draw attention to herself by dressing oddly, that’s her business, but the last thing he needs is for Steve and the other kids at the back of the bus to start picking on him, too. He’s done a good job of keeping his head down so far.  When Eleanor gets on the bus for the first time, she knows the school year is going to suck.  Everyone makes it clear that they don’t want her to sit with them, so she takes an open seat next to an Asian kid and does her best not to bother him.  This is what she has come back to after her year of sleeping on a friend’s couch: a creepy stepfather who still hates her guts and a bus full of hateful high schoolers.

But as the year progresses, Eleanor and Park start to lower their barriers.  They begin to acknowledge one another, to read comics together, to exchange music.  And as their friendship grows into romance, they hesitantly allow one another to catch a glimpse into their deeper struggles, especially in their home lives.

It is hard to describe the brilliance of this book in a summary.  My mother (also a librarian) recommended it to me with no summary saying, “Just read it.  It’s wonderful.”  And it is.  It is one of those books where the words themselves are engaging.  The imagery is fresh and interesting.  Every word is deliberate.  Every character is nuanced and realistic.  The plot lines range from sappy and heartwarming to disgusting and horrifying.  Realistic fiction love stories are not usually my genre (I usually require some sort of thriller/sci-fi subplot to cut through the sap), but this book is incredibly well-written–and gets some bonus points for the very subtle Romeo and Juliet parallels (starting with the title).  I recommend it to teens and adults who like love stories and literary fiction.

If you liked Eleanor and Park, you might like Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.

YOU BELONG TO ME by Karen Rose

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When Lucy first sees the body slumped over the table at the park, she is sure that it is her former music teacher, Mr. Pugh.  After all, he is wearing Mr. Pugh’s clothes and sitting where Mr. Pugh always sits.  But the initial shock of thinking her mentor is injured is immediately overwhelmed by two more horrifying discoveries: first, the body is horribly mutilated—face and teeth pulverized, fingers sliced off, bones shattered and heart cut out—and second, it is not Mr. Pugh after all; the killer clearly dressed the body and left it for Lucy to find, to torture her emotionally.  Being a police Medical Examiner, death doesn’t usually phase Lucy, but as the gruesome bodies begin to stack up—and all in places where Lucy is sure to find them—it becomes apparent that this killer is targeting Lucy as he executes people from her hometown.  Detective J.D. Fitzpatrick is determined to catch the ruthless killer and to keep Lucy safe, but as their professional relationship blossoms toward romance, J.D. realizes that Lucy has a lot of secrets, and their only hope to solving the case might be to delve into her past.

This book kept me reading through to the very end!  In addition to the main plot with Lucy and J.D., concurrent plot lines give you glimpses of the serial killer and the PIs who unwittingly helped him change his identity—all of which just ramps up the intensity.  Although you know the serial killer’s main motivation from the start, readers have to put the puzzle together to figure out how Lucy fits in and how the killer is able to track her every move.  And the relationship between Lucy and J.D. throws in a bit of romance.  I would recommend this book to readers who like a fast-paced mysteries, thrillers, and/or romantic suspense.

BORN TO DARKNESS by Suzanne Brockmann

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Mac and her Obermeyer Institute colleagues aren’t sure what to expect when they begin their mission to take down and contain the latest Destiny user.  The drug enables its users to integrate their brain function at a much higher level than the average 10%, which could give them any number of superhuman abilities, including flying, telepathy, and in this case deflecting bullets. Mac and her colleagues (all of whom have integration levels of 50% and above without chemical enhancement) are finally able to take him down, but not before Mac injures breaks her ankle.  Stopping at a bar on her way home, however, she meets a former Navy SEAL, Shane Laughlin, and discovers that just by touching him, her powers to heal increase.  And their night of sex does wonders.  Thinking she can leave it as a one-night-stand, Mac is dismayed when Shane shows up at the Obermeyer Institute the next day—identified as a “potential” for high integration himself.  Though she fears where a relationship with Shane could lead, a little enhancement may come in handy when an opportunity arises to take down the merciless criminal organization that manufactures Destiny by abducting and torturing gifted teen girls and draining their blood.

I loved this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller!  The science of the sci-fi isn’t fully realized (and the directer of the OI is totally a rip-off of Professor X), but it is a cool concept.  There is lots of graphic sexual content, so if that’s something you like to avoid, this is not the book for you.  But if you like sci-fi thrillers with a bit of romance, this was an exciting one!

ALL THE QUEEN’S MEN by Linda Howard

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Niema and Dallas Burdock both love their jobs as CIA operatives—and of course they love each other.  But when a mission to the Middle East goes south, Dallas forfeits his life to achieve the objective, and Niema falls apart.  She only makes it out of Iran thanks to the care and sacrifices of another agent on the team: “Tucker,” who turns out to be the CIA’s most deadly and elusive agent, John Medina.  Five years later, Niema and Medina cross paths again in a dangerous undercover mission surveilling a French terrorist.  But new details about the terrorist’s personal life force Niema to question their objective, while the growing attraction between Niema and Medina complicates the mission even further.

I read a bunch of Linda Howard books this week (15 to be exact) and this was definitely my favorite.  The thriller plot was incredibly engaging and even though I knew it was a romance and therefore had to have a happy ending (the fundamental law of the romance genre) the characters and situation were so complex and nuanced that the resolution was neither obvious nor above moral scrutiny.  Like all Linda Howard books, this is a steamy romance and has a couple of sex scenes, although far fewer than many of her books.

If you find this book compelling, it is the second in a trio of novels involving CIA spies.  The first is Kill and Tell and the last Kiss Me While I Sleep (both of which I also enjoyed, particularly the latter).

I won’t bore you with a bazillion Linda Howard posts, but if you are wondering about any of her books, I have now read All the Queen’s Men, Blood Born, Burn, Cover of Night, Cry No More, Death Angel, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Dying to Please, Ice (by far the worst), Kiss Me While I Sleep, Prey, Shadow Woman, To Die For, Up Close and Dangerous, and Veil of Night.

SHADOW WOMAN by Linda Howard

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Lizette is having a perfectly normal morning when she glances in the mirror and realizes that the face staring back at her is not hers. When she looks closely, she can see the faint scars from plastic surgery she doesn’t remember having.  In fact, there is a huge gap in her memories starting three years earlier.  And now when she tries to recall what happened, she experiences violent physical symptoms.  What she knows instinctively—although she cannot say how—is that someone has bugged her house and her car.  The same people who are watching her are the people who took her memories.  She also realizes that for some reason, she has significant training in espionage and combat.  Knowing that her life hangs in the balance, Lizette must put on a show for her observers as though nothing is wrong while she struggles to figure out what happened to her three years ago–and how she can escape.

Xavier has been observing Subject C for three years, looking for anything out of the ordinary.  When she begins making slight alterations to her behavior and habits, Xavier notices.  He doesn’t know whether Al and Felice have picked up on the subtle change, but then they never knew her as well as he does. Xavier knows the old Lizzy is coming back, and he knows that if Al and Felice realize it, her life will be in grave danger.  What Xavier doesn’t know is whether he can get close enough to protect her when the sight of him might bring her memories flooding back and put them all in even more danger.

Linda Howard is a bestselling thriller-romance writer.  I had previously read several of her books which I had hated (Ice, for example).  But I loved Shadow Woman.  The thriller plot and romance plot were fairly well integrated in this novel.  The suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I literally read the book in two hours because I couldn’t stop turning pages.  So if you like thrillers and steamy romances, I think Shadow Woman is one of Linda Howard’s best.  (If you don’t like steamy romances, there are about 3 or 4 sex scenes, none of which are essential to the plot and can be skimmed over; but if you don’t like romance at all, Linda Howard is not for you.)

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

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The village of Wall sits on the border between the mortal world and Faerie.  Usually, guards stand at either side of the break in the wall that separates the village from the faerie meadow.  But once every nine years, the faerie market comes to the meadow at Wall, and the villagers and Faerie folk mingle freely.  It is on one such market day that the ordinary shepherd Dunstan Thorn meets the beautiful young woman, slave of a witch merchant, who is his heart’s desire.  And it is nine months later that an infant is left in the gap between the wall bearing the name Tristran Thorne.

At age 17, Tristran finds a love of his own and vows to retrieve a falling star from Faerie so that Victoria will agree to marry him—or at least to give him a kiss.  But with ancient witches, ruthless assassins, murderous trees, and other strange magics, Tristran’s quest into the land of his birth turns out to be much more challenging and exciting than he expected.

Another awesome Neil Gaiman audiobook narrated by Neil Gaiman!  Stardust is a true fairytale romance for adults.  Gaiman draws on the tropes and laws of traditional faerie lore to craft a compelling and dangerous magical world.  As usual, his storytelling is masterful; he brings together numerous plotlines and resolves them in complex, unexpected, yet perfect ways.  One word I will say against Stardust as an audiobook: Gaiman has a habit of writing some excruciatingly long and confusing sentences.  This is more of an issue in his adult books than his children’s books, and there were definitely a few points where I was jerked out of the story as I tried to decipher what exactly all of the clauses in the last sentence meant.  But it was not egregious, and I still think that Gaiman’s marvelous reading enhanced the story on the whole.

If you liked Stardust, you might like William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, or Cornelia Funke’s Reckless.