Starz, Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, Claire Randall, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Fraser, Sam Heughan,
Jamie, Claire, and Murtagh in Outlander, “The Way Out” || Photo: © Starz

This weekend brought us episode four of Outlander, “The Gathering”. With a title taken from the ninth chapter of the novel we’re moving along through the story with keen observance and, in this episode, with a dabbling of humor. As the men of Clan MacKenzie gather to pledge their oaths to their laird, Colum, Claire hopes to take advantage of the gathering’s opulent festivities with a deft escape from Castle Leoch whilst the clan is distracted. With painstaking dedication she settles her plan, formulating the best routes around Colum’s sentinels and deciding which way to best distract her personal shadows, Rupert and Angus. But when new circumstances waylay her, she may be forced to devise a new strategy – with unforeseeable dangers in her path. Meanwhile, Jamie struggles with his devotion to his own clan in the event of the MacKenzie gathering, and his only options – to pledge his oath to Colum or retain his fidelity to his clan – could cost him dearly.

Outlander, Starz, Diana Gabaldon, Gary Lewis, Colum MacKenzie, Graham McTavish, Dougal MacKenzie
Dougal and Colum in “The Gathering” || Photo: © Starz

As Castle Leoch divulges in the utmost resplendence for “The Gathering”, we viewers gain an understanding of what such a lavish affair for a Scottish clan would have looked like. (And no Outlander celebration would be complete without a cameo from Diana Gabaldon herself, who, as it happens, wears 18th century Scottish chic quite well. I loved seeing the creator within the world she created. Did you catch her brief appearance?) The show continues its deep journey into the richness of the history, and here special attention is given to the importance of a clansman’s oath to his laird. The ceremony calls on the Scots’ dedication to their tradition and the formality – as well as the dire seriousness – with which they handled such matters. Tension comes in the shape of Jamie’s dilemma, which illustrates just both how fierce the lairds were in their wishes and how fierce the clansmen were in their defense of their clans. This bit of history sets the stage for what Claire considers a perfect distraction on the night of her escape, which makes it as much an intriguing backstory as it is an integral part of the plot.

Outlander, Starz, Diana Gabaldon, Caitriona Balfe, Claire Randall
Claire in “The Gathering” || Photo: © Starz

I loved the way this episode focused so dearly on not only the relationships of the historical figures – clansmen and their laird – but also on the relationships between the Outlander characters. From Dougal’s relationship with Colum to Jamie’s connection with the clan as a whole, many of the complexities are set out and examined, bringing us closer to the characters as they continue to leap from the pages. Additionally, we see a bit more of the dynamic between Claire and Dougal here as well; from the danger he may pose to her into the ways she’s able to surprise him. There are plenty of opportunities in “The Gathering” to observe and absorb what it meant to be a in the world of Scotland’s 18th century as well as what it means to be in the world of the Outlander novels.

You can catch this and other past episodes of Outlander OnDemand or on the Starz Play app, as ever. Find more info about this episode and go behind the scenes at Starz.com, plus catch sneak peeks from next week’s new episode, “Rent”.

Disclosure: Access to the programming was made available for the purpose of review.

Ann Hood and Susanna Kearsley are back with new novels this week, as is Jan Karon with a new Mitford story; poet Tyler Knott Gregson also has a collection of poems from his typewriter series, which have become quite popular online. In mystery Tana French has a new Dublin Murder Squad story and there’s also new work from Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, and others. In sci-fi and fantasy Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell returns, and there’s also new work from Kay Hooper, S.M. Stirling, and more. Romance has series additions from Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and many others. In young adult, Sarah J. Maas is back with the Throne of Glass series (of which I’ve been hearing nothing but tremendous things!). In new adult, popular authors Erin McCarthy, K.A. Tucker, Abbi Glines, and Alice Clayton all have new work. Meanwhile in nonfiction, Oprah Winfrey has a new book, eighty-six year-old Bergdorf’s personal shopper Betty Halbreigh shares her story, and advice in life and style comes from the ladies of How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are. Lastly, new in paperback are recent works from Sarah J. Maas, Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison, Sandra Dallas, and Susan Gloss. Enjoy, readers!

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Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

by Casee Marie on August 29, 2014 · 1 comment

in Fiction, Reviews

Across the landscape of his career, author Chris Bohjalian has written novels about a murderer’s plight against a privileged family in World War II Italy, about a young social worker driven into Jazz Age Long Island by a homeless man’s photographs, of an American woman’s love for an Armenian man in early-twentieth century Syria, and more. In his contemporary classic, Midwives, he tells the unforgettable story of midwife Sibyl Danforth and a home birth gone tragically wrong. Narrated by Sibyl’s fourteen year-old daughter Connie, Midwives is a chilling and evocative account of what one woman will endure for the sake of protecting her name and standing by her choices. When Sibyl Danforth experienced challenges in the delivery of a client’s child, she would have called the hospital and sent for an emergency rescue squad. But in a small Vermont town in the throes of a winter storm, help is an impossible distance away and Sibyl finds herself the only hope of a helpless, unborn child. After the mother has expired, Sibyl takes matters into her own hands and performs an emergency cesarean section to save the child. But what if, as the prosecutors of her court case are determined to prove, the mother had still be alive when Sibyl cut the baby from her?

With the sort of harsh but deeply emotive freedom that makes his work so singularly compelling, Bohjalian unravels the story of Sibyl’s journey to clear herself of being labeled a murderer. Is she suffering vulgar mistreatment at the hands of others, or did she truly make an atrocious mistake? There’s something quiet and vulnerable about Sibyl as a character, which makes her no less vivid, but where the novel really excels in its character depiction is in narrator Connie. In Connie we see a strong, determined young woman represented with the same clarity and depth as many of Bohjalian’s other memorable characters, whereas Sibyl sometimes seems to be hiding behind a smokescreen (a necessity, I think, if we readers are to form our own judgments of Sibyl’s story).

Much like The Double Bind, Midwives plays very steadily on Bohjalian’s knack for psychological mischief; through a fairly quiet and unhurried story he seems to know how to guide his reader into a false sense of security before sweeping revelations come in to knock us off our feet. Also as with The Double Bind, I’m left to wonder exactly how he manages to know what to put in and what to leave out. For me, Midwives worked really well from beginning to end; it had me riveted, yet never able to guess exactly how the ending would play out – and then thrown for a few final loops just when I thought I couldn’t be caught by surprise.

Additionally, the level of research that Bohjalian undertook to make Midwives such an engrossing novel is quite fascinating. Not only does he explore the details of midwifery in 1980s America with astonishing acuity, but the novel’s two acts documenting the subsequent manslaughter trial include some aggressively researched and impressive court room drama. This is an interesting novel in its many assets and its many areas of strength: once again the narrative carries off of the pages to envelope the reader in the setting, and young Connie – thirty at the time of her narrative, but fourteen in her memories – is as vividly imagined as the midwife at the center of the plot. Bohjlaian has proven himself as a masterful storyteller and as particularly adept at creating multi-faceted, deeply intellectual drama, but Midwives delves also into an element of the profoundly human, glimpsing the vulnerabilities of human nature and exploring the emotional ways in which we deal with those imperfections. At times challenging, often raw in its uninhibited exploration of truth, Midwives relays much heart and determination even amid the most devastating of tragedies.


Midwives was my August pick for the TBR Pile Challenge, and my fourth overall Chris Bohjalian novel. (I’ve also reviewed The Sandcastle Girls, The Double Bind, and The Light in the Ruins.) I’ve enjoyed each of his stories so much, and it consistently impresses me how well he writes stories with so much diversity to them; I can’t think of many other authors who write about such vastly different times, places, topics, and people – and make them all seem realistic to boot!



Title: Midwives
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Genre: literary fiction, mystery
Publisher: Vintage (paperback)
Release date: November 8, 1998 (April 1997, original)
Source: personal collection
Buy the book:
Amazon/Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BWB
More on the author:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Starz, Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, Claire Randall, Caitriona Balfe, Gellis Duncan, Lotte Verbeek,
Gellis and Claire in Outlander, “The Way Out” || Photo: © Starz

This weekend Outlander continued with its third episode, “The Way Out”, following Claire on her journey to understand her new life in Scotland’s 18th century. Under the watchful eye of the castle laird, Column MacKenzie, and his brother Dougal, Claire is clinging desperately to her memories of Frank and the world she left behind. Attempting to make the most of her position as Castle Leoch’s healer, however, she sets about to observe and treat some of the curious maladies that cross her path. Claire’s 20th century medical prowess is not only stunted by the lack of technology and development, but also by the severity of religious superstitious and its hold on the beliefs of the villagers. When a young boy is deemed possessed by a demon, Claire is determined to uncover the truth behind his illness, but contesting the spiritual beliefs of the people around her and exercising too much medicinal intellect could raise dangerous suspicions.

Outlander, Starz, Diana Gabaldon, Claire Randall, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Fraser, Sam Heughan, Nell Hudson, Laoghaire MacKenzie
Claire, Jamie, and Laoghaire in “The Way Out”
|| Photo: © Starz

In the way that episode two (“Castle Leoch”) played upon details of daily life in the Scottish highlands, episode three is abundant with insight into the history’s cultural nuances. The show is quickly setting something of an intellectual pace, giving viewers time to soak in every aspect of the Outlander world and making each episode a steadily immersive experience. One of my favorite things to enjoy here is the dialogue on women and healing in this era; can a woman’s knowledge be trusted over the male-dominated authority of religion? It’s exciting to see Claire work through that question with her spirited obstinacy, and equally intriguing to see the impact that question has on the world around her, specifically on Castle Leoch’s cook, Mrs. Fitz, who is on tenterhooks with the idea of trusting Claire completely. There’s also the mysterious village healer Gellis Duncan. Claire seems both intrigued and wary of Gellis, and in this episode we see that tension of the relationship heightened while also exploring a bit of how and why Gellis does what she does – and how much of her principles she may be willing to risk.

Outlander, Starz, Diana Gabaldon, Caitriona Balfe, Claire Randall, Frank Randall, Tobias Menzies
Claire and Frank in “The Way Out” || Photo: © Starz

Meanwhile, as Claire tries to kindle the aspiring flirtation between Jamie and Laoghaire, her feelings send her on a deeper emotional journey through memories of Frank; but more time – and a bit of conspiring – with Jamie gives us a glimpse at their natural chemistry and genuine spark. Claire continues to be an inspiring heroine in the way that she allows herself to be emotionally connected with her feelings for the people around her while also being steadfastly strong in her own will and independence. In all, I love the way Outlander is balancing the romance of the story with Gabaldon’s deeply-ingrained insight and her knack for drawing the marrow from the bones of history.

As ever, catch up on Outlander with the latest episodes available OnDemand or on the Starz Play app. Find more info about this episode and go behind the scenes at Starz.com.

Disclosure: Access to the programming was made available for the purpose of review.