Review: Return to Christmas

Review: Return to ChristmasReturn to Christmas by Anne Stuart
Published by Impeccably Demure Press on November 12, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 316

FINAL DECISION: This was an enjoyable story that felt “old fashioned” in a good way – perhaps classic is a good word. The time jump to the 1940s and getting a mix of modern and history was a fun read. The story made me happy and is a definite feel good holiday story.

THE STORY: Madison Simcoe finds herself living an unfulfilling life and she’s had enough of the harassment she has had to deal with at work. She decides to visit Macy’s during the Christmas season and finds herself in transported 1947. There she meets Johnny Larson who has returned from the war haunted by what he did there. Johnny works at Macy’s and is grumpy towards the woman who invades his life. Madison needs to find a way back to 2020 but finds a deep connection to the people in the past.

OPINION: This book had the comfort of watching one of those old holiday movies. Iconic imagery, a sweet romance with characters who are good people, and a special magical bit of help in the end. It’s the kind of story that feels like it should be read on a cold winter’s day in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa.

I liked these two characters. Madison/Molly is a woman who feels empty in her present place and time. After traveling to the past, she finds meaning in her life with the right person. I especially liked how she sees parallels in her challenges in both times.

Johnny is a man who is broken but does his best to do good even while being a crusty recluse. I thought that the interactions with Molly and Johnny were the smart interactions that are in classic 1940s films.

The story was fun and definitely festive. Lovers of classic romantic films or time travel romances will like this. While there is definitely some heat, it is not as explicit of some of Stuart’s other stories. I will add this book to my holiday story rotation.

WORTH MENTIONING: Content warning for sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault.


STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Drums of Autumn

Review: Drums of AutumnDrums of Autumn (Outlander, #4) by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #4
Published by Delta on August 7, 2001
Genres: Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 880

FINAL DECISION: I ended up enjoying the story of Claire and Jamie establishing themselves in the American colonies. This feels like a transitional book getting all the characters in the right place and time, but I enjoyed the personal stories of Claire and Jamie and Brianna and Roger.

THE STORY: This book begins after the events of VOYAGER. Jamie and Claire have ended up in the colonies and begin building a new life together there as the settlers begin to have conflicts with the native inhabitants. In the future, Brianna has to deal with the loss of her mother. She and Roger also rekindle their romance but the discovery of a clipping announcing the death of Jamie and Claire due to a house fire forces Brianna and Roger to make a decision.

OPINION: While this book is filled, as all Outlander books, with various adventures, what attracted me most to this book was the personal relationship between Claire and Jamie. Here, the two are building a life together for the first time. The boring, daily details of life — cooking, cleaning, preparing the land — are what the two have to deal with (punctuated by various adventures). For the first time, the two have to learn to live together after so many years apart. This book feels like a settled and romantic couple which I really loved. In the daily living, true love is shown. And for the first time, there is no question that Jamie and Claire will be together throughout the book.

What I really didn’t expect was how much I would love the story of Brianna and Roger. With Claire and Jamie on a less extreme emotional path, the torch of young love is passed to Brianna and Roger. I ended up loving both of these characters and I look forward to seeing their relationship develop.

As the series has progressed, I’ve become more acquainted with the historical events which form the pillars of the stories where these characters exist and with each book, I have enjoyed the historical parts more. Perhaps because we have moved into more familiar territory for me, I found the historical events and tidbits here fascinating.

As with all the books in this series, parts of the story are resolved and then parts are left for future books.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book depicts a graphic rape.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DRUMS OF AUTUMN is the fourth book in the OUTLANDER series. The book assumes knowledge from the previous books and therefore the books should be read in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: Voyager

Review: VoyagerVoyager (Outlander, #3) by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #3
Published by Dell on October 26th 2004
Genres: Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 1072

FINAL DECISION: Very enjoyable entry in the Outlander series as Claire and Jaime spend their 2 decades apart but find their way back to one another — both physically and emotionally.

THE STORY:  This story begins after the events of DRAGONFLY IN AMBER. Claire returned to the 20th century pregnant with Jaime’s child and resumes her marriage to Frank. Now that twenty years have past, she has learned that Jaime did not die at Culloden as she always thought. Determined to find out what happened to Jaime, Claire and her daughter search the past. In the 18th century, Jaime lives a life without the woman he loves and attempts to build some life for himself.  Claire and Jaime will be reunited before this book ends (not really a spoiler since there are plenty of other books in this series about Claire and Jaime).

OPINION: This book reflects the journeys that Claire and Jaime take.  First the journey of loss where each tries to rebuild their lives after their separation. How do they live their lives where the other half of their soul is gone? Are they supposed to be alone for the rest of their lives? Although the two spend two decades apart and a lot happens for each of them, it is a time of pain for both Jaime and Claire. It does feel like forever as I waited for the inevitable reunion. Of course, Jaime and Claire have no hope for a reunion during those years so each makes the best of those years.

For me, the story really begins when Jaime and Claire are reunited. The journey becomes how do they find one another again emotionally. Because just as the two had to live alone, they have changed from the two people who were in love decades before. Not only have the years changed them, but both have had experiences which bring a challenge to the love they share. Yes, they still feel that love for one another, but the question here becomes how do they deal with the changes and experiences each has had to rediscover one another.  In that way, the physical journey to come together again is only a pale reflection of the emotional journey that challenges them.

This book continues the Outlander tradition with the intriguing mix of history, adventure, time-travel, and romance. Old story threads are picked up as well which makes me wonder if there is an overarching storyline in this series beyond Jaime and Claire’s romance. (I’ve only read to the third book, so I know there is much more to go).

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a long wait in this book until Claire and Jaime are reunited so be prepared.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  VOYAGER is the third book in the Outlander series. As this series tells the ongoing story of one couple (well actually many couples but one main one), the books should be read in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: Beyond the Highland Mist

Review: Beyond the Highland MistBeyond the Highland Mist (Highlander, #1) by Karen Marie Moning
Series: Highlander #1
Published by Dell on May 29th 2007
Genres: Historical, Paranormal, Time Travel
Pages: 375

This cannot be happening.  This is not possible.  This cannot be happening.  Yet in the forefront of her mind, realist that she was, she understood that the words can’t and impossible had not bearing when the impossible was indeed happening.

Unless she woke up soon from a nightmarish and vivid dream, she was in Scotland, the year 1513, and she was indeed getting married.”

FINAL DECISION:  An enjoyable and interesting mix of genres, I thoroughly enjoyed the story but felt that the mixture was clunky at times.  I was both compelled by the story and also felt that this book needed more in the way of world-building to make this a great book.  I would definitely read more based on the romance alone.

THE STORY:  Adrienne de Simone has been cured of the attraction to handsome men.  After the horrible experience, Adrienne knows that she will never trust a handsome man again.  For this reason, Adrienne is chosen by a vengeful fey to bring her back in time almost 500 years in order to torment the fey’s enemy.

Highlander Sidheach James Lyon Douglas, third earl of Dalkeith, known as The Hawk, has been a womanizer and has become a great lover.  When the queen of the fey praises him too much, the Fae king and fool seek revenge by saddling him with a wife who will never love him and might even be persuaded to betray him.  As a result of their intervention, Adrienne ends up taking the place of the Hawk’s betrothed.  Adrienne and The Hawk begin an contentious relationship.  While the Hawk begins to fall for his wife, Adrienne remains committed to not being foolish again.

The two have to confront Adrienne’s distrust, Hawk’s painful past and lovers, and the enmity of the Fae.

OPINION:  I thought this book was an intriguing mix of genres.  That was one of its great strengths because it felt intriguing and fresh.  It was also its greatest weakness because the mix didn’t always mesh well.  In the years since this book was written, many authors have taken to the mixing of genres and this early innovator suffers a bit in comparison.  That being said, I enjoyed the romance and the interaction between the characters and I am willing to read more of the series to see how Moning developed the mixture of genres in future books.

The interaction between Adrienne and Hawk was a highlight of the book for me.  Hawk was not what I expected in the book.  It was especially nice to see such a strong, sexy, handsome historical character who really just wanted peace and a family.  I liked how Hawk is a little clueless about how to have a relationship with Adrienne and continues to make mistakes that complicate his courtship.  The book contains an interesting twist about his reputation with women that gives him a sympathetic past.  At the same time, his painful past was written in a lighter fashion than I generally prefer.  Despite his history (and that of Adrienne as well) the emphasis in the book is on the present story.  While the characters have a history, it is quickly subsumed in the drama of the present.

Adrienne is a modern woman who is swept into the past.  One of the problems I had with the book was that she didn’t seem to have any trouble with adapting to the past.  There was little time paid to the disorientation that would have to result.  (I thought that the similar A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR by Jude Deveraux did a better job with dealing with that complication).  But this book seems to be more of a paranormal fantasy book in that regard than a true time-travel.

As for the romance, I loved it and really connected with the characters.  If this had been written as a historical or time-travel book, I might have given it a higher rating.  At the same time, the paranormal elements are what make this book unique and memorable.  I just felt that this book reads as a historical/time-travel in which the paranormal elements were not integrated as well.  The Fae seem a bit disjointed from the rest of the book because they remain without a true history or world.  There is some of the feel of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM where the fairies interfere with the mortal world, but the Fae here feel less developed than I need to truly love this book.

While I didn’t love this book, I was intrigued and fascinated by it and the possibilities as the author developed her craft further. This was my first book by Moning, but I definitely will continue reading the series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book mixes paranormal, historical and time-travel.  It definitely pushes the boundaries of what can be expected in one romance book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  BEYOND THE HIGHLAND MIST is the first book in the Highlander series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.


Review: Dragonfly in Amber

Review: Dragonfly in AmberDragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2) by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Published by Bantam on August 7th 2001
Genres: Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 743

Political Intrigue and Romance With Claire and Jaime

FINAL DECISION: I ended up liking this one better than OUTLANDER itself. The story seemed tighter, the relationship between Claire and Jamie more complex and although there is plenty of death and pain in this book, it felt more civilized after the events of the first book. And I ended up in tears for most of the end of this book.

THE STORY: After the events of OUTLANDER, Jaime and Claire have fled to France. There they will try to prevent the coming battle of Culloden in order to prevent the destruction of the Highlanders culture. Their scheme requires them to participate in Eighteenth Century French court politics and intrigues with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the King of France. There are still repercussions from Jamie’s torture and rape at the end of OUTLANDER. Intrigues, danger and the past threaten to tear Jamie and Claire apart even at the point where they share joy at the coming of their child.

OPINION: I liked OUTLANDER, but I liked DRAGONFLY IN AMBER more. OUTLANDER was about Jamie and Claire discovering one another and falling in love. This book is about letting their love and marriage mature. In OUTLANDER Jamie and Claire ran the gauntlet of danger. This book is a slow burn. Things are quieter, more outwardly civilized and yet even more complicated and dangerous. Politics, society and intrigue take up the majority of this book.

For those readers who read OUTLANDER but don’t know more about the series, they will be surprised by the beginning of this book. (I don’t want to give it away, but it is a clever story device to begin the narrative there instead of being strictly chronological). The book feels fresh and different after OUTLANDER. The characters have grown and changed (not always for the good) and there are lots of new characters to get to know. Old friends and enemies also have returned so there is a good reason to review the events of OUTLANDER if you haven’t read it in a while.

Jamie is more remote in this book after the events with Jack Randall in OUTLANDER. He is still struggling with the aftermath and the pressures of trying to save the entire Highlands. Being involved in the political intrigue means that he and Claire spend less time together and thus immense pressure is placed on their relationship.

Claire is also struggling to find her role in this new situation. The new life in the Court of France has new conflicts and restrictions upon this twentieth century woman. She has to use her imperfect knowledge of the past to help avoid Culloden while know knowing whether such a thing is possible. She is also struggling with her relationship with Jamie. She gave up her entire life to be with him and now she has to deal with those consequences.

On a more philosophical point, the book also investigates the idea of changing the past. Is it even possible for Jamie and Claire to change the events that lead to Culloden or does everything they do actually cause that event to happen? Can the past be changed at all? These are universal themes in time travel stories and this book examines those issues with complexity and subtlety. Even better, there are no real answers.

I began reading OUTLANDER when the television series started because I always want to read the books first and I began reading this one in preparation for Season 2. I don’t know if I have been influenced by the series, but I felt that this book went more quickly and the events were clearer, the characters more defined and the outcome more devastating. I cried through the end of the book because it was incredibly well written and sad. At the end of this book, I desperately wanted to begin VOYAGER (book 3) to find out what happens.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book ends on a cliffhanger.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DRAGONFLY IN AMBER is the second book in the Outlander series. It can be read as a standalone, but why do that. Read OUTLANDER first to really appreciate DRAGONFLY IN AMBER.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.



Review: Outlander

Review: OutlanderOutlander (Outlander, #1) by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #1
Published by Dell Publishing Company on July 26th 2005
Genres: Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 896

Epic Scale Romance

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

THE STORY: Claire Randall and her husband Frank have been separated by war for years. They are having a second honeymoon when Claire finds herself transported back in time two hundred years. There, she meets Jamie Fraser, a young Scotsman. Although Claire wants to return to her time and her husband, she keeps finding herself in dangerous situations. To save her life, she ends up having to marry Jamie. As Claire begins to know and have feelings for Jamie, she is torn between the two men she loves.

OPINION: OUTLANDER is an epic romance. It is larger than real life and has a grand and sweeping landscape. Jamie is adorable and I really liked the story of how Claire eventually decides to stay with Jamie. I thought that her confusion in being torn between two men as well written. My one complaint was that after Jamie and Claire get married, I found that the plot of the story got more and more complicated and I got bored in places. I really just wanted to get to the parts with Claire and Jamie. I thought the character of Jamie was especially well written and although the book is told from Claire’s point of view, at times I felt that I understood Jamie better than Claire.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a graphic novel called THE EXILE which tells the story from Jamie’s point of view. It was an interesting companion after reading this book.

FINAL DECISION: I liked this book although I did get tired of it somewhere after the wedding. I persevered and ultimately really did like the book. This is a book where I liked the main characters more than I was interested in the plot.

CONNECTED BOOKS: OUTLANDER is the first book of the Outlander series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.