Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber

Book #49: Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll know I fell in love with the Starz series Outlander about this time last year. I started watching it after reading good reviews and was instantly hooked by the characters, drama, romance, and beautiful setting of the show.

Though I knew the series was based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series, I didn’t really pursue reading the books until this past spring when the first season of Outlander returned for the second half of its premiere season. I soon became too anxious to find out what would happen next, so I decided the only way to find out was to get to reading.

Since season two of Outlander (sadly) won’t premiere until the spring of 2016, I haven’t tried to rush through Dragonfly in Amber, the second installment in the book series. My copy of the book rounds out at just under 1,000 pages, so it doesn’t exactly make for quick reading. But after starting the book at the very end of June, I’m happy to say I finished it on this crisp fall afternoon.

Though the majority of the action in Dragonfly in Amber takes place in the 1740s like Outlander, the opening and conclusion of the novel are set in 1968, with Claire as a mother revisiting Scotland for the first time, hoping to share her story with her daughter, Brianna. This frame narrative was quite surprising for me, but worked in a way I really enjoyed; it kept things in perspective about the future for Claire, but didn’t skip over any of the story that I was so intrigued by in the previous novel.

In the most general sense, this novel sees Claire and Jamie doing what they can to keep the war between the Scottish highlanders and the English at bay, since Claire knows the Scots fight a losing battle. The story takes them on a journey to France where we meet several new characters. By the novel’s end, we’ve also seen the deaths of several familiar characters, all of which were surprising to me. It’s important to note that Gabaldon is the type of writer who isn’t afraid to kill off major characters.

There were times in the novel when I felt like the pace dragged a bit, but I love that it ended with some very tender moments between Claire and Jamie and a pretty fantastic cliffhanger (though I must say it was less surprising for me since I know a bit about where the series is headed). I’m especially interested to see how Gabaldon plays with the time changes throughout the rest of the series, and I’m curious to see if the TV adaptation follows this same structure.

At this moment, I’d love to dive into Voyager, book three of the series, but I know that my seriously heavy semester of coursework won’t allow it. Thankfully I haven’t bought the book so I won’t be too tempted to abandon my required reading just yet. For now, I’ll keep myself busy, but I’m hoping to journey back to the Outlander world sometime this winter. Here’s hoping!

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Summer Ends, Real Life Begins

Oh, world, how is it possible that my summer is already over? Wasn’t it just May?

Okay, I’m whining, but the prospect of returning to school this Monday, even though I’m pretty well prepared, just isn’t my idea of fun at the moment.

I’ve definitely reached the point in my summer when I need school to start back because I’m feeling especially lazy lately. Who says it’s wrong to watch an entire season of a TV show in a day? Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of day I need to rejuvenate, but I should probably get some real work done before I deserve a day of laziness.

In my final weeks before real life resumes, I haven’t totally wasted my time. In fact, only a few hours ago I returned home from a quick road trip up to Chautauqua, NY with my mom to visit my roommate, Ryan, during the final days of his internship at the Chautauqua Institution. Our visit to Ryan wasn’t entirely selfless, though; since Ryan has interned for the Chatauquan Daily, he was able to score us free passes to a sold out event at the Institution. That event just so happened to be An Evening with Carol Burnett, a woman who doesn’t need much introduction. My mom has loved Carol Burnett for most of her life, so the opportunity to see her on stage was one we couldn’t miss. We attended a Q&A featuring classic clips from “The Carol Burnett Show,” and Mom was even lucky enough to get to ask a question (Q: If you were making your show today, who would you want to work with? A: Steve Martin, Kristen Chenoweth, and George Clooney for obvious reasons).

We had a whirlwind of a trip, particularly because we woke up this morning at 5:00 AM to get an extra early start to our drive home, but the satisfaction of seeing a TV legend was totally worth it. Here are a few photos from our time.

A lovely sunset on Chautauqua Lake

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Enjoying our tour of the grounds on a chilly evening

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A failed attempt at finding an appropriately lit setting for a portrait

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The incomparable Carol Burnett taking her bows  


Now, onto the sad news: like I said, this summer is breathing its last, so my time will be far less available for my own entertainment. Sigh. In my attempts to soak in as much as possible before reality sets in, I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching lately. Here’s an update on all things pop culture in my life.

Books — I’ve been a bit slower than usual with my reading projects of late, but the fact that I only have 5 more books to read before reaching my goal of 50 books in 2015 seems like something to be happy about. I just wrote my reflection on reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicidesand prior to that I worked quickly through Tim O’Brien’s war novel The Things They Carried I’m still working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series. I still have a bit over 300 pages left, but in a book of 947 pages, that seems pretty doable. I’m looking forward to dedicating my free reading time to finishing this one before moving onto something else (if there’s any time for personal reading this semester).

Movies — I don’t have anything terribly interesting to report in my movie-watching life, though I’ve been doing plenty of it. I’m just 5 movies short of my goal to watch 100 new (to me) movies in 2015, so it won’t take me any time to finish that list. I’m still lacking in one area, though; I hope to watch 8 movies I’ve never seen from the AFI Top 100 list, but I’ve only done 3 so far this year. I plan on dedicating some of my next movies to hitting that goal.

The one movie I do have something to say about is the German indie Wetlands. Wetlands screened when I went to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but I didn’t watch it until Wednesday. A good friend of mine saw the film while we were at Sundance, and she recommended it, but told me some of it could be embarrassing to watch with other people. I wholeheartedly agree, but I really enjoyed the film. Essentially, Wetlands tells the story of a neurotic teenager exploring her sexuality and body in disturbing, hilarious, and rather repulsive ways. This is not the kind of movie you watch with family, but I still totally recommend it (to the strong-stomached, anyway). I also thought Carla Juri was superb in the film’s starring role. If you’re will to spend a sometimes uncomfortable hour watching a funny/sweet/sad film with subtitles, Wetlands is for you.

TV — If I’m good at anything, it’s watching TV. Though I’m still keeping up with a handful of TV shows this summer, I’m anxiously awaiting the return of real TV in a few weeks (I really need more “Empire” in my life). My favorite show of the summer was Lifetime’s UnREAL,” which sadly ended a few weeks ago. If you’re looking for some high drama binge-worthy TV, devote yourself to a day of “UnREAL.” You won’t be disappointed. I’m still keeping up with MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and “Scream: The TV Series” as well as NBC’s “Hannibal” and “Hollywood Game Night.” I’m wishing I was more interested in these final episodes of “Hannibal,” but mostly I’m just hoping for a satisfying conclusion at this point.

My TV-streaming life still consists of powering through “Frasier,” of which I’m proud to say I’ve watched 206 episodes so far. I had no expectation I’d get this far before starting back to school, but I definitely expect to finish the series sometime in September. Though I’ll feel accomplished in finishing such a big series, I’ll certainly be sad to say goodbye to such a thoroughly entertaining show.

While I’ve spent most of the summer watching only “Frasier,” I added a second streaming project on a whim last week, and so far I’m pleased with my decision. On Tuesday I started season 1 of the Sundance Channel’s Rectifyvia Netflix and I’m really liking it so far. The show is dark (it tells the story of a man who’s just been released from prison after 19 years on death row and his extended family) but it’s got a good balance of drama and humor to keep it from seeming to heavy. I’ve heard and read good things about the show in the past, so I’m glad I’ve started. There are only 16 episodes of the show on Netflix since its third season just finished airing, so I expect to finish watching it all pretty quickly.


All right world, now is the moment of truth. I have to face the reality that soon my time won’t always be my own, which sadly means I won’t have so many chances to fill my life with good books and movies. What are you watching and reading in these last weeks of summer? If nothing else, I hope your lives keep you entertained.

Reading and Watching: My Summer Activities

It’s been about a month since my last all inclusive post about what pop culture I’m enjoying these days, so let me grace you with an abbreviated version of my current interests.

Movies — Mom and I are still going strong with our VHS viewing schedule this summer (though we haven’t watched anything in a few days, but I’m assuming we’ll start back tonight). We’ve covered more than half of the movies on the shelf, so I’m feeling good about our progress. In theaters, we’ve only seen four movies this summer: Spy, Inside Out, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Trainwreck. They’ve all been worthwhile experiences, though, so I can hardly ask for anything more.

Books — A few days ago I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, which was my biggest reading goal of the summer, so that felt like quite an accomplishment. After finishing that, I did a quick reread of John Green’s Paper Towns since the movie is coming out this week (you can read my comments on the book here). Now that the beginning of my semester is looming closer, I’ve started some of my school reading with Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, which I’m really enjoying so far. It’s satisfying to head back into academic territory without it feeling like a burden. Though I haven’t picked it up in more than a week, I’ve read just under half of the second book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber. I made myself leave it alone until I finished The Grapes of Wrath because I’d been spending too much time on it, and since then I’ve been concentrated on other things, and keep forgetting to go back (I realize this is a silly problem to complain about). The fact that it’s there for me to read is making me happy enough at this point, so I’ll eventually reward myself for completing my school reading by heading back to something I chose for my own reading pleasure.

TV — As per usual, this is the area where I’m really succeeding these days. Summer TV can be a big bore, but I’ve got several things on my plate this year that are keeping me happy. I’m keeping up with Teen Wolf and True Detective, both of which are shows I’d watched previous to this summer. Here’s hoping True Detective ends on a strong note. I felt like it was totally overhyped the first time around, so I’m glad the rest of the world is starting to see that in season two. I’m also still watching Hannibal, which has had a fairly lame season in my opinion, but the last episode and the preview for the final three are giving me hope it’ll end strong. Side note: I cannot STAND the recasting of Mason Verger for this season (so last week’s episode was pretty satisfying for me). In my mind, he was some weird version of Jim Carrey’s The Grinch, so good riddance.

As for new summer shows, I’m totally obsessed with Lifetime’s UnREAL after I marathoned the first six episodes last Monday. It’s just the right amount of funny, campy, silly and crazy, and the performances by Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer are wonderful. Plus it stars a member of the Harry Potter cast, so I have to love it. I’m also really enjoying MTV’s Scream, another crazy campy show that’s thoroughly entertaining. My roommate and I watched all four of the Scream movies fairly recently, and the show has enough of over-the-top quality that makes the movies so fun that it’s totally worth watching. And the pop culture references are top notch, so good job, people.

Finally, I’m still making good progress with streaming Frasier, undoubtedly my biggest undertaking of 2015. With long shows like this, I often watch something else to break it up a bit, but I haven’t started anything else yet, so we’ll see what happens there. I started season one on June 3, and as of today, I’m on episode 17 of season 5, so I think that’s pretty good progress. I wasn’t sure I’d finish the whole show before the end of 2015, but that prospect is looking brighter now.

outlander

Book #30: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

Confession: I’d never heard of the Outlander series until last summer, when I kept reading about the Starz television adaptation of the book series. A number of sources I trusted kept saying that the show was great, like a female-centric version of Game of Thrones. Obviously, I was intrigued.

I’m not sure the Game of Thrones comparison is totally accurate, but I was immediately hooked on the show. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are both beautiful and perfect, and the story is interesting and exciting and I’m kind of completely in love with it. Is that a positive enough assessment?

Anyway… I’ve been interested in the book series since I started the show, but I’ve had a weird journey reading it. I’d hoped to find a second-hand copy of the novel like I buy most of my books, but didn’t have luck. My roommate did, though, so I borrowed his copy for a while. I started reading, but felt like the show was doing an incredibly accurate job of representing the text, and since I had grad school to contend with, I abandoned the book after about 200 pages.

Flash forward to May. With the second half of season one of Outlander airing, my love for the show was in full force, and I was desperate to get as much of the characters as possible. I bought the book on my iPad, and it kept me company during my last weeks of school and work.

I’m fully enmeshed in the world of these characters and desperate to find myself a nice Scottish fellow to fall in love with. It’s not often that I sit down with a book that totally pulls me in. While reading Outlander, I often got annoyed if I heard an alert that I had an incoming text. Leave me alone while I’m reading!

Note: If you’ve seen the book series advertised as a simple romance, take a minute to reconsider. Sure, the heart of the story is the romance between Claire and Jamie (which is pretty great, by the way), but the story wouldn’t be half as interesting if it didn’t also feature the backdrop of 18th-century Scotland, the horrors of war, and a great ensemble cast of characters.

Now that I’ve finished Outlander, the good news for me is that there are many more books in this series I can look forward to reading. I’ve already purchased the sequel, and I’m excited to dive into it soon. So far, summer is looking pretty great.

Ah, Summer

In the merest of blinks, I have somehow already completed my first year of graduate school. Actually, I’ve been done for almost two weeks now. How could that possibly have happened?

Maybe I haven’t really processed it because I haven’t finished any books since the semester ended (this is tragic and unusual for me, and a real sign that I’m spending my time strangely). But that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, exactly. Actually, I’ve been finishing up at work and managed to squeeze in a quick jaunt to New York last week. Weird.

Anyway, here are some of the things that have been happening in my life.

  1. School ended and many of my friends graduated. Hooray for them! The distance between me and undergrad life grows every day (but, like, it really does. That’s how time works). While they celebrate freedom, I find myself thinking more and more about how I’ll have students of my own come January. What a weird thing to be true.
  2. New York, what? I flew in for a quick visit last Thursday, meeting my dad and stepmom there. We had a fun whirlwind of a trip, but one that was long enough for me to catch up with them and spend a lovely afternoon with some super cool people. Also, this lady sat next to me in the airport with a carry-on bag which she promptly unzipped to reveal a mannequin head wearing a wig. Then she zipped it back up and walked away and I pretended I hadn’t jumped at the sight of it. Things can get pretty weird at Laguardia.
  3. Literarily speaking, I’ve felt kind of stagnant, but that’s actually not the case. I’ve been working my way through Outlander, but that is a long book, you guys. I’m close to finishing, but I just never seem to make as much progress as a expect. My goal is to finish by the end of this weekend. I’m also still inching along through Flannery O’Connor’s complete short story collection. My goal is to read one story a day, which works sometimes. This is bound to be my long-term summer reading project.
  4. As for TV, I’ve been a bit of a lost soul (pun kind of intended) since finishing Lost. This often happens to me after long TV projects; I spend so much time with one thing that I don’t know where to go. After toying with a few ideas, I ended up starting the HBO miniseries John Adams, of which I have watched three of the seven episodes. I’m really enjoying it, but it’s not a project I feel the need to speed through. I’ve also been watching Wayward Pines since summer TV is such a draught, and it’s fun enough to maintain my interest.
  5. I’ve not been doing much movie-watching, but EX MACHINA IS GREAT, YOU GUYS. Like, crazy-amazing-wonderful-I can’t stop thinking about it great. My thesis advisor recommended it to me because of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl presence, and that was really the only expectation I had going into it. I sat in the theater by myself in awe. Now I just need a friend to see it so I can discuss it.
  6. Friday is my last day in my current job, then I get to head home for the weekend before my mom and I head out on a pretty crazy road trip en route to Austin, TX for the ATX Television Festival and I AM SO EXCITED. The TV fest is our reason for traveling, obviously, but we’re going to make it interesting by heading to Graceland and finding reasons to drive through Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

All right, summer, you seem pretty cool.

Dead to the World

Book #65: Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris

Dead to the World was essentially my last fun reading rendezvous before starting grad school (though, to be fair, I didn’t finish it until yesterday, a week into my semester). I didn’t enjoy the overarching plot of this novel as much as the two preceding books in the series, but it was still short and fun enough to keep me interested.

In fact, I felt the same way about the “True Blood” plot that covered this same story line. I guess something about the were-panthers seems a little ridiculous and unnecessary to me. However, this was also the book when Eric has lost his memory, which is one of my favorite plots on the show, probably because I think Alexander Skarsgard is really funny playing confused Eric. 

Now that school is officially back in session, I’m probably not going to make much headway in my personal reading projects, but I’ve started Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander on this long holiday weekend in the hopes that I’ll be able to make some progress in it before dealing with my assigned readings. I’ve really enjoyed the Starz TV adaptation of Gabaldon’s series so far, so I’m hopeful that I like the books as well. 

Now, I’m off to start my first real reading assignment of the semester: Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Wish me luck!