A Review of Under the Same Sky by Genevieve Graham

I received this as a review request from the author, Genevieve Graham.  I was going to pass on it, in part because of the cheesy cover, but Graham’s email insisted this is not a romance novel.  She also compared it to one of my favorite books, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, so I decided to give it a try.

Under the Same Sky is the story of Maggie and Andrew, who are mentally and emotionally linked from the time they are children.  Andrew grows up in the Highlands of Scotland, and Maggie in the colony of South Carolina.  It’s the 1740’s, which means devastation is on its way for the Highland clans.  As Maggie and Andrew grow to understand each other and the strange link they have, they also use it to protect each other from harm and give each other strength in times of need.  Will they ever find each other?  Is this true love?

There’s good and bad in this review, so I’ll start with the good: it had a good, fast-moving story, strong, likeable characters, and was a fun read.  It’s really not a romance novel, in that it’s not one of those contrived stories of misunderstanding and drama between two people who clearly just want to have sex with each other for days on end.  I read it quickly and found it hard to put down.

I’m a sucker for anything to do with 18th Century Scotland, especially the battle of Culloden, and this didn’t disappoint, although only a small part of the book.  Still, colonial America makes for a pretty interesting setting too.

Another good: besides a fairly unique storyline, I liked that the author didn’t dance around sexual violence like most romance novels do.  By that I mean, setting up your female character to be raped but then having her rescued by Mr. Dashing Hero before the dress can be ripped from her heaving bosoms.  Diana Gabaldon, as you may know, doesn’t hold back when it comes to sexual violence against her characters.  It turns a lot of readers off but at least it’s taken seriously.  The real question for me isn’t whether sexual violence occurs but whether the aftermath is handled thoughtfully, and I thought it was here.

But I have to say, since the author opened herself up to the comparison, this book is no Outlander.  For one thing, it lacks the thing I love most about Gabaldon’s writing which is the level of detail.  Gabaldon’s books go on for thousands of pages and focus on the minutest details.  You see every every hair gone awry or blade of grass trampled.   Gabaldon’s stories also ramble all over the place – she includes plenty of incidents, characters, and events that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the main storyline. Her writing drives a lot of people crazy, so those who don’t enjoy that style of writing will appreciate this book, which is fairly short and focuses on one main storyline.

Gabaldon is often accused of needing a lot more editing; but I love her writing style so much I want her books to go on and on.  Graham’s book felt so lacking in detail, I couldn’t picture the characters or the setting.  For example, at one point a main character is in prison for what seems like weeks, yet there’s no real description of the setting except to describe one of the guards.  In an 18th century prison I’d expect to read about smell, slime, rats, moldy bread, etc.  I expect fungus and rot and darkness and the sound of dripping water.  Yes, these are clichés but better than an absence of sensory detail altogether.

I also felt there was way too much “telling”; we hear about emotions rather than feel them.

And, the telepathic powers that Andrew and Maggie have are vague and change throughout the story – there don’t seem to be any rules.  Sometimes their contact is limited to dreams, while other times Maggie can read minds; sometimes they see the future, sometimes only the present.  I realize this will matter to some readers, and not matter to most.

And here’s probably my biggest problem with this book (as it is with many books) – the characters and settings are just too black and white.  For example, Maggie settles effortlessly into Cherokee life, and it doesn’t seem realistic that the tribe is perfectly understanding of their differences at all times.  The author does note that the Cherokees are a more peaceful tribe than others, yet it still seems way too easy (for example, Maggie sort of “absorbs” their language using the powers of the tribal wise woman, rather than having to learn it).  There is one character, Joe, that’s a mix of good and bad, but otherwise all the characters are completely good or evil.  There’s very little dramatic tension between any of the characters.

This isn’t meant to be a book you overthink, so I realize this may sound a little heavy-handed.  In truth, this was a fun, enjoyable read for someone who likes a romantic book without all the clichés of a romance novel.  It’s also a great story for the romantic – that person who wants there to be an absolute soulmate for everyone without the head-scratching of “does he or doesn’t he” and even if the story doesn’t get into the why and how of it.  Think, The Time Traveler’s Wife but a little less complicated.

But I’m afraid I’m more of a cynic.  I want a book where the characters wrestle and question and worry, even if it’s fluffy historical fiction.  This book just didn’t have enough of that for me.

Note: I received a free copy of this book but did not receive any additional compensation for this review.  The author had no input into the content of this review. 

  7 comments for “A Review of Under the Same Sky by Genevieve Graham

  1. April 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Excellent review. Thanks. Gabaldon inspired my writing, but I’d never claim to have even a fraction of her genius, so you’re perfectly right in all your comments on that! I would also like to thank you – of all the reviews, you’re the only one to mention Joe! I love Joe. He mystified me. I wish there was more of him, but that’s all he was willing to tell me. Thanks again for taking a chance on my book, and I’m glad you had so many ‘goods’ to say!

    • April 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      Genevieve, thank you for the nice feedback! I worried a little about your reaction to the review. Joe was a really interesting character and one of the things I wished I had more detail about. Congrats on what looks like a very successful first book and sequel!

  2. April 4, 2012 at 6:23 am

    When I saw the cover of this book I had the same reaction – it wouldn’t be for me. That said, havind read your review (and despite your few misgivings) I actually think I might like this. Sometimes all I want is “a good, fast-moving story, strong, likeable characters, and was a fun read”. Hmmm, maybe I should keep this book on my radar. Thanks for the review 🙂

    • April 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      Thanks for reading, and if you do pick it up, I’d love to know what you think! It actually made me think about romance novels quite a bit and now I’ve got a little bit of a craving for more…

  3. April 4, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I’m definitely with you on liking lots of detail in my historical fiction and also on the conflicting characters. I possibly won’t read this because of the downsides that you’ve mentioned but you have reminded me that I really want to read some Diana Gabaldon so thanks! 🙂

    • April 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm

      Thanks for commenting! Outlander is kind of a love-it or hate-it book, but it’s one of my all time favorites. If you pick it up I’d love to hear what you thought.

  4. Angela MacNamara
    October 17, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    View Genevieve Graham Sawchyn’s views regarding the romancing of rape culture on the Talkin Recklass blog. According to her, 1) “NO” does not mean NO, and 2) it’s okay to TITILLATE readers with descriptions of rape because rapes happened in history…CONSTANTLY. Perhaps soon we will see prepubescent girls and boys on the covers of her bodice rippers–they were raped a lot in history, too.

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