I jumped into Outlander ...

... and then rolled back on out of it two weeks later.

Let me preface my first post in over a month with a warning, sensitive topics ahead. And spoilers, this review is chock full of spoilers so if you are contemplating reading or watching Outlander in the future, be warned.

So it has been a quiet month at the newspaper. The kids have been spending their time with various grandmothers and I thought that it might be time to check out this book/TV series that I have heard so much about. While ginger beefcakes are not usually my jam, strong and sassy heroines most certainly are. Quick synopsis:

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I have spent the last two weeks immersed in the Outlander series, both books and TV show. I found the first book to be intriguing, if uneven. I loved the second book. The third book was a curious experience. I have never started a book with such a level of excitement, only to finish it with such overwhelming apathy. I also read book 3 while watching season 1 of the television show. The storylines are so different (twenty years has passed between Outlander and Voyager) that I don't recommend doing that.

The television series is marvelous. I enjoy everything about it and the long-dormant sociology major in me is intrigued by how this series is crafted in the female gaze. Some of my favorite courses in college were the ones which analyzed popular culture and entertainment. One of my favorite projects was watching several NC-17 movies at the indie theater close to campus and then breaking them down. To this day, I cannot read anything about the movie Kids without feeling disturbed.

However, the TV show took a controversial turn for its two last season 1 episodes with the brutal torture and rape of its main male character, Jamie Fraser. I knew it was coming and I will admit to being intrigued by how they were going to pull it off. I thought I was ready. After all, I hide my head behind a pillow watch Game of Thrones, a show on which men's heads are squeezed to death, babies are eaten by dogs and tween girls are set on fire. I was prepared although I had really started to enjoy the character of Jamie. Who would have thunk? Maybe ginger beefcakes (who actually turn out to be quite witty) are my jam.

While a master class in acting with an absolutely gut-wrenching performance by Sam Heughan, I shall never watch the Season 1 finale again. By the end of the episode, I was looking for my own Craigh Na Dune stones to get me the hell out of there. I can't help but wonder if that was a goal of the show makers. They took it to a place that I have not seen on television before and it provoked some uncomfortable questions. Was I that disturbed because the victim was male? Or was it because of the ep's graphic nature? Did the show take it too far, could they have gotten their point across with less? Rape should be disturbing. It should not be easily digested by the viewer, whom I don't think would have registered the complete degradation of Jamie without those scenes. But Good Lord, they were hard to view. I might have broken out the highlanders' favorite drink -- in my case, The Engineer's Jack Daniel's Single Barrel -- that night to attempt to erase the images in my head.

What troubles me is that with the intent and carefulness that was very obviously crafted into the last episode is not reflected in the books. As I was devouring everything I could find online about this series, I stumbled across a spoiler that was a game changer for me. Every main character save one in this series is raped at one point or another. Full stop. By this time I was reading the last third of Voyager and that little snippet of what was to come combined with the tediousness and meandering of the book's plot drained what enthusiasm I had left. Let's call a spade a spade. That is sloppy writing. That is hubris.

When author Diana Gabaldon gets it right, it is riveting. When she gets it wrong, it is so spectacularly wrong that readers don't just put the book down, they set the book on fire. And then they walk away for good. I have read many farewells by frustrated readers who have given up on the series due to what I have listed and other problems, i.e. the density of the books and a storyline stretched to fit nine books when it should have stopped long before. These are long books and they don't always have to be. In my own personal opinion, it is an indulgence that I have seen with other writers -- the opinion that more is better. More is most certainly not better, it only serves to dilute what is good about a story.

So I skimmed the last hundred pages of Voyager and then with regret, put the series away. I am regretful because there are so many things about Outlander that I love -- the attention to historical detail, the love story (the ghost of Jamie staring up at Claire through her window in 1945 squeezes my heart), the humor. But the cavalier use of rape as a goto repeated plot point is not something that I am interested in experiencing.

At least I still have the television show. Which is a curious feeling -- when is the last time that an adaption is actually better than its literary source material? I think that is due to the the talent of everyone involved, from the executive producer Ron Moore (he did Battlestar Galactica, natch) to the entire cast, who are all fantastic. I am not sure I will ever be able to watch Tobias Menzies in anything ever again -- except GoT, long live Edmure (he will probably die in the first ep next season). And I am a total Murtagh fan girl.

But because it is my first post in a month and to end on a cheerful note, I will leave you with these. Enjoy!


Not Goodbye ... Farewell for Now

I know that I have been radio silent here and I debated whether it would be pretentious to write this post, but I have read comments elsewhere from disappointed readers who wondered what happened when a blog just ceased to exist. It seems fitting to be writing this last entry on the seventh anniversary of our move to Huntsville. A few months after the move, I created Team Skelley -- at the time named Yoga Gal. It has been a hell of a ride for the last seven years and I have met some wonderful people from across the world.


This honestly is the only picture I could find of the four of us from the last half of 2009. We had gone to see Peanuts on Ice at Opryland that November.


In the past few weeks -- or probably more accurately -- months, the creative well has run dry. I started posts and deleted them, brainstormed content and came up empty, and more than once wondered if traditional blogging has become a medium of the past. When I started blogging in October of 2009, there was no Instagram or Pinterest. Only the hip used Twitter. And very few members of my family were on Facebook. Blogging was a way to communicate with my friends and family back in Tennessee, while meeting new people at a time when I was feeling a little isolated in a new city.

Once I started, I loved it. Blogging reawakened my love of writing. And that passion gave me the courage and desire to pursue freelancing, which gave me the experience and exposure that led to my being offered a staff writer position at the newspaper three and a half years ago. Today I can truthfully say on my LinkedIn account that I am an award-winning writer. I am still shocked about that too. None of that would have ever happened without this blog.

This is not goodbye forever, internet. I just think that as online communication and the demands of my 3-D life change, I will focus more on microblogging via mediums like Instagram and share my projects and ideas via Pinterest. Book reviews will probably move to Goodreads and writing will be devoted to the Redstone Rocket. I also handle the newspaper's social media and would love for you to connect with us via our Facebook and Twitter. You can also usually find me on my personal Twitter during football season and Game of Throne nights.

Thank you for reading. I wish I could properly convey how much that has meant to me over the years. Thank you. Don't be a stranger.


Book Review | The Bird and the Sword

I don't think it is a coincidence that my post topics this week can be viewed as escapism. Music and books are both tools that can help us take a break from reality for awhile. I am not normally a fan of fantasy novels (unless they are about a certain boy wizard) but I am a fan of author Amy Harmon so I took a chance on her newest novel, The Bird and the Sword. I am so glad that I did.

Swallow, daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips. Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow. Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour. You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heaven or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, daughter. Stay alive. 

The day my mother was killed, she told my father I wouldn’t speak again, and she told him if I died, he would die too. Then she predicted the king would sell his soul and lose his son to the sky. 
My father has a claim to the throne, and he is waiting in the shadows for all of my mother’s words to come to pass. He wants desperately to be king, and I just want to be free. 
But freedom will require escape, and I’m a prisoner of my mother’s curse and my father’s greed. I can’t speak or make a sound, and I can’t wield a sword or beguile a king. In a land purged of enchantment, love might be the only magic left, and who could ever love . . . a bird? 

The world that Harmon has created is so vivid and creative, I just fell into the story. It was departure from her other stories and I wondered how she would handle that. Beautifully, she handled it beautifully. This book has action, romance, humor, and a spunky heroine, who doesn't start out that way but becomes pretty kick-ass throughout the story. And you know how I like a kick-ass heroine.

This was a five basset hound read and a definite addition to my favorites. 


When you are done with this, read all of Harmon's work. Making Faces is sad and beautiful and perfect, and a book that I go back to and read again often. It will stay with you. 

For more of my favorite books, check out my Goodreads page.