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A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

After 8 years of writing mystery and thriller reviews I felt a need for a rest.  My mother died in late February and work to do to setter her affairs.  There were taxes to complete and also a new business to start so my reading time was curtailed for a couple months.  When I finally emerged with enough time to read books again I found a challenge that was not exactly in the mystery genre, although there are murders, mysteries and swashbuckling thriller plots throughout.  I took up the challenge of reading all 8 of the books in Diane Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series– not a small task as most of her books in this series are over 1000 pages in length.

I have just completed number six in the series, “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” and I think other than the first book, “Outlander,” this is my favorite.  “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” finds the entire Fraser family together on Fraser’s Ridge in the wilds of colonial North Carolina where Jamie has been granted a large range of land to parcel out to other Highlander settlers and eventually a variety of other pioneers.  The Highlanders all share something in common:  in order to be allowed to emigrate they had to swear allegiance to the British king.  The tenor of the times, 1767-1776, makes it increasingly difficult to keep up loyalty to the crown.  Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna, and the man she meets in 20th century Scotland, Roger, like Claire, time travel through a Celtic stone circle in order to find Brianna’s father and her mother who traveled back in time earlier.  They need to warn them of a news clipping from 1776 that suggests Claire and Jamie will be killed in a fire in their home at Fraser’s Ridge in January of 1776 and they want to stop the disaster from happening.  Do they survive? You must read to the end of the sixth book to find out!

Meanwhile, there are a variety of heart-pounding narrow escapes, murder plots and mayhem to keep the incredibly detailed plot threads moving along so that it is very hard to put the book down, and especially this sixth novel in the series. Claire gets kidnapped by some militiamen who do not care for Fraser and his family.  She is accused of killing a young woman who serves as Claire’s apprentice healer, Malva Christie, and Claire is taken to New Bern to be tried.  Brianna, earlier in the book, is kidnapped by a smuggler and there is some question initially as to whether Brianna’s son, born 9 months later, is actually the smuggler’s or Roger’s.  There’s a mystery surrounding the appearance of a skull with a distinctly modern set of teeth and eventually that mystery is revealed by other time-travelers who demand Claire’s help in getting back to the 20th century.

As much as I enjoy reading about the amazing Fraser family, I am going to get back into reviewing newer mysteries and thrillers now.  A large number are still stacked up waiting for my attention.  But for those who are as hooked on the “Outlander” series as I am, and eagerly await the third season of the Starz drama (should coincide with the third book “Voyager“) I do particularly  recommend the sixth book “A Breath of Snow and Ashe” which is set in colonial North Carolina.


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The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

It has been awhile since I’ve read one of Gabaldon’s Outlander series and “The Scottish Prisoner” is a worthy addition to the historical spy thriller series.

In “The Scottish Prisoner” the series’ hero, Lord John Grey, takes charge of a Scottish lord who is now a paroled prisoner worker under a false name as a groom at a Lake District manor.  Grey takes the prisoner, Jamie Fraser, to London to meet with Grey’s brother and to plan a visit to Ireland in order to determine the meaning of an obscure poem written in Erse, the Gaelic common to both Scotland and Ireland.  The translation heightens the suspicion that there is a plot afield to reignite the Jacobean uprising against the British monarch, King George II.

Gabaldon must live and breath this Georgian period of British history because she tells the tale in convincing detail that the reader feels transported to the 18th century. The author’s descriptions take into account all of the senses so that the reader can visualize what it was like to live in that period in Ireland, Scotland, the Lake District or in London in 1760.  As one who has ancestors from England, Scotland and Ireland, I could put myself into that era and picture what life was like for my own kin.

I enjoyed getting reacquainted with this era and with these characters and look forward to the next installment in the Outlanders series.

Liz Nichols

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