Tag Archives: Scotland

Outlander series by Diana Galbadon

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I’m pretty sure that the majority of America knows about the TV show, Outlander. Most people have been introduced to Jamie and Claire through Starz hit show, including me, an avid reader who must read the book before watching adaptations. However, that wasn’t the case with Outlander. I was three episodes in before I discovered that this awesome TV show was a book, and not just one book but an eight-book series! So I stopped watching and picked up the first book from my library.

I was hooked from the very beginning. Claire visits Craigh na Dun, a stone circle near Inverness, with her husband Frank.  She ends up falling through the stones to 18th Century Scotland, arriving on the eve of what would become known as the Rising of 45, the last of the Jacobite rebellions. This set up gave my adult self what my childhood history nerd self could only dream about, traveling back in time to witness first hand a historical event. And it is set during one of my favorite periods of history, the Scottish Highlands before 1745.

The Clans system, still intact, plays a strong role in the storyline and how the characters interact with each other. Claire, a modern woman, is definitely not prepared for the past. Soon after arrival, she is rescued from Black Jack Randall (her husband Frank’s ancestor) by a ragtag group of Highlanders led by Jamie Frasier. Jamie Fraser is pretty much a man of the 18th Century. He’s used to the mild and submissive women of his time, not one as strong-willed and slightly foul-mouthed as Claire.

These two seem the least likely to fall in love. Love, at first sight, it is not; Claire can’t stand his old fashioned views and he calls her “Sassenach,” meaning “outlander” or “outsider” as an insult. Eventually, this turns to a term of endearment. The two become part of a hasty marriage to protect Claire from the English, but it’s not a happily ever after. Claire gets sent back through the stones and the couple ends up being separated by over two centuries.

While Outlander is the love story of Jamie and Claire it is also a family saga of survival. Both Claire and Jamie survive a war and terrible times but still manage to find each other again, as well as expand their family through blood, marriage, and adoption. Outlander was Jamie and Claire’s love story while Dragonfly in Amber is the story of war and how they became separated. The follow-up installment, Voyager, is the story of how they find each other again. Drums of Autumn, my favorite book in the series, is the story of their family, blood or otherwise.

The series has something for everyone – history, time-travel, romance, and adventure – which is what made the series so enjoyable for me. When I read historical fiction I don’t mind romance but I don’t want it to take over the story. I want the history of the time to play a role as well as a nice balance. Gabaldon does that well you can tell that she does her research on the period  before sitting down to write. Each book is filled with rich historical detail that translates well to the screen.

If you’ve read the books and enjoyed them I would recommend watching the show. Keep in mind the show is an adaption of the books, so scenes may differ. If you’ve only seen the show and are experiencing Outlander withdrawal (a.k.a. Droughtlander), I would highly recommend reading the books. The library has copies of the first eight books as well as the DVDs of the first three series.

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves

thinaircleevesThe Shetland Islands, the northernmost fragments of Scotland, are so far out into the North Sea they are often pictured as an inset on maps of the United Kingdom.  Windy, treeless protrusions of earth where the sun hardly sets in the summer and barely rises in the winter, they are the atmospheric setting for Ann CleevesShetland Islands mystery series.

In Thin  Air, the sixth installment of the series, Detective Jimmy Perez is called to the island of Unst, the the most northern island of the Shetlands, to investigate the murder of Eleanor Longstaff,  She was one of a group of mainlanders visiting the islands for a hamefarin’, a traditional Shetland wedding celebration, for one of their friends. Lowrey, who grew up on the island but went to college in England, has just married Caroline.  Eleanor and Polly are bridesmaids, attending the hamefarin’ with Eleanor’s husband Ian and Polly’s boyfriend Marcus.ravenblackcleeves

Cleeves uses details of the culture and history of the islands that have grown up from the isolation and geography of the islands as springboards for many of the stories in her series.  Jimmy Perez, her most consistent character, claims to derive his Spanish heritage from a sailor shipwrecked way off course from the Spanish Armada of the sixteenth century.  Perhaps the most dramatic is her first novel, Raven Black, which culminates on the night of Up Helly Aa, a fire festival held in coldest January that celebrates the islands’ Viking heritage, complete with a parade of a Viking re-enactors and the burning of a replica Viking longship.

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(Image courtesy of Shetland.org: http://www.shetland.org/things/events/culture-heritage/up-helly-aa)

Cleeves portrays the islands both traditional and modern, a landscape that draws artists, tourists and other mainlanders.  One story features a fiddler who is becoming known worldwide for popularizing the islands’ traditional music.   The tension between these two groups, those who perpetuate the old way of life, living in their croft houses and farming neeps (turnips), and those who arrive to create art and exploit the islands’ old ways, often lead to the violent feelings that fuel murder mysteries.

In Thin Air, we learn the legend of Peerie Lizzie, a 10-year-old daughter of the rich family who drowned almost 100 years before the story takes place, supposedly because her nanny wasn’t watching her.  In her white dress and Sunday curls, Peerie Lizzie has appeared to people throughout the years, her appearance gaining the reputation of presaging a pregnancy.  Ironically the victim, Eleanor, who is recovering from a miscarriage, and her friend Polly, the other bridesmaid, both see a little girl who fits this description the day of the hamefarin’.  Eleanor wanders off during the night and her body is found posed on the beach the next day.

Detectives Perez and Willow Reeves explore the complex relationships among the participants in the hamefarin’ – both the wedding guests and the islanders, mostly Lowrey’s family, but also the couple who’ve bought the house where Peerie Lizzie lived and have converted it to a Bed and Breakfast.  Perez takes a trip to London to explore Eleanor’s family and life.

Perez shifts points of view, sometimes taking us inside the mind of Jimmy Perez or Willow Reeves, but most often she focuses on Polly, whose insecurity in her relationships with her female friends and her boyfriend possibly distort her reality. And it’s Polly who ends up in danger from the killer as the story races to a close.

Circumstances, culture, environment, personality, folklore, finances – all figure into the intricate mystery current day mystery and mystery of Peerie Lizzie’s death, which Perez and Reeves unravel in time to save Polly at the climactic ending.

Finishing an Ann Cleeves Shetlands Islands mystery always has me checking airfares for the Shetlands so I can experience this fascinating set of islands for myself.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Ann Cleeves’ website for more information about the Shetland Islands, the author, and her other series!

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), Downloadable Audiobook

Reviewed by Laura, Main Library