Monthly Archives: February 2014

Locklear Library: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Last summer, I noticed many of my online friends were discussing a series of novels and becoming quite frenzied over it.  Knowing their collective great taste in books, I followed up and asked them about it during our vacation together in September. Seeing their enthusiasm was high and knowing a television adaptation of the story was in the works, I sat down in October to immerse myself in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  Before I could finish the first book, I knew I’d found something exceptional and issued a reading challenge to Morgan.  There was no way I was going to leave him out of this incredible reading experience. I loved what I was reading so much, that I read the book a second time, out loud to Morgan.

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Jennifer: I knew right from the start Outlander was your kind of book. When trying to describe it to you, I hesitated to call it paranormal, or fantasy, although both elements are present. So I went with my instincts and told you it was a great historical fiction utilizing time-travel.  How do you feel this book compares to others you’ve read in this genre?

Morgan: I bet it won’t surprise you to learn that this book is totally unique in its approach to time-travel.  Most of the books I’ve read, and indeed my own narrative when I tackle the subject as an author, focus on the technical aspects of the phenomenon.  Outlander was told in first person, so we got to FEEL the time-travel from the inside out, and from the point of view of someone who had no idea what was happening to her at the time.

Jennifer:  I vividly remember when we reached that point in the story when Claire travels through time. It was the moment I saw your excitement for the book ignite.

There was a deep humming noise coming from somewhere near at hand. I thought there might be a beehive lodged in some crevice of the rock, and placed a hand on the stone in order to lean into the cleft.

The stone screamed.

I backed away as fast as I could, moving so quickly that I tripped on the short turf and sat down hard. I stared at the stone, sweating.

I had never heard such a sound from anything living. There is no way to describe it, except to say that it was the sort of scream you might expect from a stone. It was horrible.

The other stones began to shout.

Morgan: Of course, this book is only about time-travel in the most basic of descriptions. The core of the story is a witty and staggeringly poetic romance amidst cultural chaos.  I have agreed to continue reading the series with you, and it’s been one of the highlights of my day to lie on the bed and listen to your cute Scottish pronunciations.

Here’s my question for you. I know that women love a well-written leading man, and I’ll admit that Jamie is as dreamy as a walk through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  Is he an especially tortured, but loveable protagonist?

Jennifer: From the moment Claire meets Jamie, we can see he’s suffered physically. He’s been through some terrible experiences which come to light as Claire gets to know him better. But one of the things I personally found attractive about his character is how he didn’t close in on himself, or become angry with the world for the things he’s been through. Jamie is as strong in spirit and in mind as he is in body. He’s also intelligent, educated and possesses the best sense of humor I’ve ever experienced in a fictional male character, bar none. Without giving anything away about the overall story, I would say that a reader’s inclination would be to resist falling in love with Jamie, but I defy anyone to  succeed in that.  I think it’s next to impossible.

“Before I tell ye, Claire, there’s the one thing I’d ask of you,” he said slowly.

“What’s that?”

“Honesty.”

I must have flinched uncomfortably, for he leaned forward earnestly, hands on his knees.

“I know there are things ye’d not wish to tell me, Claire. Perhaps things that ye can’t tell me.”

You don’t know just how right you are, I thought.

“I’ll not press you, ever, or insist on knowin’ things that are your own concern,” he said seriously. He looked down at his hands, now pressed together, palm to palm.

“There are things that I canna tell you, at least not yet. And I’ll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye – when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I’ll promise ye the same. We have nothing now between us, save – respect, perhaps. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?”

Since we’ve disclosed that Jamie is a character who experiences some awful things, I’d like to hear your thoughts about the author’s fearlessness.  Once you read Outlander, it becomes clear that she’s willing to put her beloved characters through more than their fair share of suffering. Without giving away spoilers, how do you feel about this?

Morgan:  I’ll admit I was shocked at times.  As you know, I read post-apocalyptic men’s adventure books in between my more “learned” novels and seldom have I witnessed the depths of human suffering like I endured in Outlander.  It was not graphic, of course, but it was dramatic and deepened my concern for the characters.

We have been talking a lot about the romance and the serious nature of some scenes, but I was delighted to find that I was laughing my way through nearly every exchange between Jamie and Claire.  This book is as funny as a Christopher Moore novel while maintaining the passion of something by Sylvain Reynard.  I don’t know of any other author who can have her cake and eat it too.  She is deeply detailed without an ounce of superfluous information.  She has more swordplay than The Princess Bride and more tits than a Vegas stage show.  I don’t get jealous reading other authors very often, but I am as green as Kermit the Frog half the time I’m reading this masterpiece.

How do you keep from laughing when you are reading such funny scenes?  What do you think of the other Scottish men?

Jennifer: It really helped that I’d already read the book when I started reading it out loud to you. Even so, Gabaldon has that special gift that makes a reader laugh out loud or burst into tears or fume in rage right along with the main characters.  It’s not always easy to maintain my composure while reading to you, but I tend to release those feelings in the moments when you stop my narration so that you can react to something. Thankfully, you seem to interrupt my reading at all the perfect moments.

As far as the other Scottish men in the story go, I’ve found every character in Outlander to be fully-drawn and to serve a specific purpose. There are no aimless wanderers in this story and I really appreciate that the author took the same careful precision with every “minor” character we meet as she does with her main cast of characters.  As a result, I hate to gloss over any interaction in the story because they all seem to have meaning for the bigger picture.

I mostly discuss this book with female friends, and they’ve all been curious about your impression of Claire as a leading lady. I think it’s safe to say that my friends and I find her to be one of the strongest women we’ve read about in any novel. Would you agree with our assessment? And as a male reader, what are your favorite things about Claire?

Morgan:  Well, she undresses a lot, that’s a plus. But seriously, she is a great personality – a sassy 1940’s war nurse who gets sucked back in time two hundred years and immediately starts pulling leeches off of sick people.  She is the kind of person who is determined to make a difference wherever she goes and I admire that about her.  She is as stubborn as the tides, but that only makes her a perfect match for someone like Jamie.  Claire can sure get herself into trouble also, which happens to be another reason she’s a perfect match for Jamie, who excels at problem-solving.

We were almost nose to nose by this time, shouting into each other’s face. Jamie was flushed with fury, and I felt the blood rising in my own face.

“It’s your own fault, for ignoring me and suspecting me all the time! I told you the truth about who I am! And I told you there was no danger in my going with you, but would you listen to me? No! I’m only a woman, why should you pay an attention to what I say? Women are only fit to do as they’re told, and follow orders, and sit meekly around with their holds folded, waiting for the men to come back and tell them what to do!”

He shook me again, unable to control himself.

“And if ye’d done that, we wouldna be on the run, with a hundred Redcoats on our tail! God, woman, I dinna know whether to strangle ye or throw ye on the ground and hammer ye senseless, but by Jesus, I want to do something to you.”

At this, I made a determined effort to kick him in the balls. He dodged, and jammed his own knee between my legs, effectively preventing any further attempts.

“Try that again and I’ll slap you ‘til your ears ring,” he growled.

“You’re a brute and a fool,” I panted, struggling to escape his grip on my shoulders.

Jennifer: I’m pleased to say that Morgan and I have already started reading the second book in this series, Dragonfly in Amber, and we’ll be continuing our discussion of  the Outlander books in future posts.

If you’ve enjoyed our talk today and would like to look up Diana Gabaldon and her works, here is the goodreads link for you to check out.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3617.Diana_Gabaldon

Please also feel free to friend us on goodreads to see what else we’re reading and to share your recommendations with us.

Morgan’s: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5033084-mog

Jennifer’s: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4482712-jennifer

Pop Talk: 1975 Called…

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Hello again and welcome to another edition of Pop Talk, where we crank up the volume on our music while reading with 3D glasses all while the DVR stores the latest offerings from the idiot box.

I have seldom spoken about it publically, (this is MOG writing) but I have a soft spot for pop duos.  Erasure, Yaz, Tears For Fears, Savage Garden, Capital Cities, Pet Shop Boys, Daft Punk, I love them all.  I can usually tell a pop duo when I hear them and I was convinced that I was hearing one when I picked up the debut album by The 1975, The City, has the energy and emotion of a bubbly duo like Wham!, but alas, there are four fellows in the group.

This is fine by me of course, but I can usually tell these things.  It’s the same with power trios like The Police, The Outfield, Green Day, Nirvana and The Presidents of the United States of America.  Certain line-ups have distinctive sounds that can be recognized.  Any more than four members however, and your guess all goes down to how big their horn section is.

Back to The City. The album begins with a song named for the band, (not the other way around).  It’s a sweeping instrumental that serves mostly to set up the title track. It, like nearly all the songs blaze along with childlike joy reserved for bands like Hello Goodbye and Oingo Boingo.  I particularly like the songs Chocolate, Sex, and Menswear.  If you like your music fun and airy with a dash of lovesick serenades, then you’d be riding the crest of the wave by getting in on the ground floor with The 1975.

The Locklear family also saw The Lego Movie this week, and I would rank it among the finest Pixar-esque films out there.  It was funny enough to make me laugh through half the jokes while maintaining a surprising hold on my empathy for a computer generated Lego man.

From The Lonely Island song, Everything Is Awesome, to the TV show Honey, Where Are My Pants, the Lego world is rich with pokes at our society’s hunger for the asinine.  The action is great, and even though Will Ferrell’s cameo is wonderful, it’s Liam Neeson that stole the show as far as I’m concerned.  The TV ads say it’s the most original movie since Toy Story, and I am not disagreeing. But I think I must have liked A Bug’s Life more than whoever made that bold statement.  It is a great movie for the whole family and worth seeing on the big screen.

Lastly, we are eating up the Olympic coverage with an ice cream scoop.  I get nervous watching the ice skaters, but we have really been getting into the games.  We’re proud of anyone who competes for their country and have been happy to see that the biggest problems there have been murky water and slushy snow. Frankly, it could have been much worse.

Until the next nugget of tasty pop goodness compels me to share more words, farewell friends.

Charity Spotlight: American Heart Association / Go Red For Women

 

goredforwomen-logo

American Heart Association – Go Red For Women

Mission Statement: Go Red For Women encourages awareness of the issue of women and heart disease, and also action to save more lives. The movement harnesses the energy, passion and power women have to band together and collectively wipe out heart disease. It challenges them to know their risk for heart disease and take action to reduce their personal risk. It also gives them the tools they need to lead a heart healthy life.

Website: https://www.goredforwomen.org/

Twitter: @GoRedForWomen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GoRedforWomen

Heart disease is rampant on my mother’s side of my family.

My great-grandmother died from it at a relatively young age.

My grandmother lived into her early eighties, but suffered multiple heart attacks. Eventually her heart gave out on her.

My mother has suffered from high blood pressure since her forties.

This year I turned forty, and by coincidence things became hectic in my life.  I received a promotion at my job and my workload (although rewarding) provided new challenges. Both of my parents are now in various stages of decline and since they’re divorced (and I have no siblings), I find myself having to run back and forth between the two of them, depending on who needs me more.  Beyond this, my seventeen year old son is engaged in his own health battles, having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2011.  As a woman with a full-time career and a family to look after, it was no surprise when I noticed my level of stress was on the uptick.

Last spring, I experienced a medical issue that resulted in a visit to the doctor. During that visit, it became apparent that my blood pressure was running a bit higher than normal. But my doctor wanted to give me a little time to see if my short term medical issue was the culprit for that.

It wasn’t.  Over the course of several weeks, I noticed ongoing symptoms of hypertension, including mild headaches and jaw pain. Plus, it became apparent that once my stress level hit a certain high, I found it quite difficult to bring it back down. I would get worked up over something and then found it impossible to relax or shrug it off.

Keeping my family’s history of heart disease in mind, I saw my doctor again and we decided to take treatment to the next level.  I had blood work drawn and I monitored my blood pressure three times a day for several weeks.  When I met with my doctor again to go over all the results, we determined that my blood pressure readings tended to skew toward the higher end of normal and I learned that my cholesterol was slightly elevated. It all means that I’m not hypertensive yet, but there are indications I’m headed that way.

Whether or not this is due to genetics or lifestyle is what we have to figure out next. So this meant that I needed to commit to some changes in my lifestyle.  I’ve been focusing more on my diet and making sure I take time each day for some light exercise.  I joined Weight Watchers in October and I’m making headway, having lost nearly twenty pounds in the past four months.  In Weight Watchers, we celebrate certain milestones and for good reason.  Just by losing 5%-10% of your total body weight, your health can be positively impacted. Just this amount of weight loss “can reverse or prevent diabetes; lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; and improve sleep apnea and other sleep problems.” It can also bring about positive changes in your mental outlook. Many people notice a reduction in depression symptoms and experience increased energy.

Chances are, one or more women in your own family has suffered from heart disease. And these are the facts:

  • Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.
  • Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, but is often undiagnosed.
  • Cardiovascular disease kills more women than men.
  • Heart disease affects women of all ethnicities.

February is National Heart Awareness month in the United States. Eleven years ago, the American Heart Association launched it’s Go Red For Women campaign with the goal of raising awareness about women and heart disease.  Women are asked to commit to a healthier lifestyle and to wear the color red to signify a united front in the ongoing battle against this silent killer.  Much progress has been made spreading the word about heart disease over the past decade, but the truth remains that nearly 1,100 women die from heart disease each day.

Women who are involved with the Go Red movement live healthier lives.

  • Nearly 90%have made at least one healthy behavior change.
  • More than one-third has lost weight.
  • More than 50% have increased their exercise.
  •  6 out of 10 have changed their diets.
  • More than 40% have checked their cholesterol levels.
  • One third has talked with their doctors about developing heart health plans.

 When you join Go Red and share your story today, more lives will be saved tomorrow.

 
go red

Wordslinger

Vocabulary, it’s one of the ways in which we measure a person’s intelligence.  A rich vocabulary has traditionally been seen as a high-born, well-educated trait and regularly celebrated.  However, when you’re trying to relate to a reader, fancy words can derail them and slow down your story.

Did you know that a nomadic portion of the metamorphosed igneous or sedimentary deposits of the Proterozoic ear accumulates no bryophytic plant life?  Did I lose you halfway through the question due to my aggressive vocabulary?  What if I had said that a rolling stone gathers no moss?  Better?  A big vocabulary doesn’t make a smart book smart, it makes it boring.  Worse yet, it makes the author look pompous.

I’m a talker, and I have a proclivity for the prolific approach to my narrative.  So for me, it is imperative that I don’t burden my reader with unnecessary work just because I know fifteen different words for dildo.

As usual, my posts come with a warning not to over-correct and abandon the ideals of great writing to spare a few indulgent sentiments.  Being able to describe things in a multitude of ways is a great tool for avoiding using the same word over and over again and it’s not the same as deliberately and consistently choosing laborious ways to get across the same point.  The line between poetry and pedantic pros is a blurry one and wide enough to pitch a tent on so there is a lot of room for interpretation.

Using unexpected words from time to time is definitely worth doing, but I have read some books lately that have been laughable in their insistence on subjecting me to a barrage of obscurity that even the New York Times wouldn’t try to cram into a crossword puzzle.

Am I forced to conclude that a verbose author must certainly be intelligent because they have such a command of the English language?  No, I am forced to conclude that the author is desperate for approval and needs an editor.

I guess moderation is the key here, too much of a good thing and all.  That’s the challenge of writing in general.  There are a lot of rules that you must follow, but only so far and then you have to pull back lest you alienate your audience.

Here’s what I do.  If I break out a twenty dollar word and I like its placement and sentiment and don’t feel that it jars the reader out of the moment, I’ll allow it under the condition that I don’t plump up the paragraph with any more shiny syllables.  Keeping my extra-curricular vocabulary separated is a great way of having my cake and eating it too.

I have read chapters of mine and wondered if I thought I was getting paid a nickel each time I used a certain word.  Objects are the worst, chairs, beds, the house, it can get monotonous.  I encourage you to seek a thesaurus to smooth out moments like these only.

This really can be a tough aspect to negotiate.  I love to see a new turn of phrase and highlight them on my iPad when they come up.  But a collection of monster words just makes me roll my eyes, (which also makes me lose my place).

A good editor will help you determine what is indulgent and what is prudent.  Some of the best writing I have done in the last few weeks has been what I cut out of a story to strengthen it.

In parting, I should like to observe that some characters have big vocabularies and using such language in the course of dialogue from that person does not count as indulgent.  It’s a loop hole that can be exploited as long as it serves a purpose, (which is to say that it serves your story).

I hope I have not just confused the issue further.  I do believe that that if you can recognize the difference between situations in which to use alternate wording, you will be able to still produce flowery writing without heaping on too much honey.

Your Pal,

Morgan