I ignore genre labels. Some of my favorite books are outside my genre comfort zone. Listening to audiobooks is still reading. Not theater.
I had read a few audiobooks and had even joined Audible. But until I read this book I did not understand the magic of the format. Before reading this book I had no interest in1) romance 2) science fiction or fantasy and 3) time travel genres. I'd heard enough about the series that it piqued my interest because I loved historical fiction. Especially the period of time I knew the book covered. And I always found the challenge of tackling a big book rewarding.
This book changed so many of my perceptions of genre and reading format. While I still argue that though there is definitely a romantic and sexual relationship at the books core, it was only one part of the adventure. It still doesn't fit the romance genre to me, but it did such a good job of weaving romance and sexuality into the adventure it made me curious to read more traditional romance novels and see if they handled the topic as well. They didn't, but I discovered other good books I never would have tried of not for Outlander.
Likewise, other than Anne Rice's Vampire series which I had read many years ago, this was one of my very rare ventures into fantasy-science fiction. Setting aside my understanding of reality to accept someone else's is always difficult. But reading Outlander and the subsequent books in the series, I found myself trying to work out in my mind how this might have happened. It encouraged me to explore this genre more thoroughly as well. Even more surprising, it made me evaluate my perception of "time", what it means and how it works. I found myself paying more attention to physics and the study of the time and space relationship.
The twists and turns of the plot kept me turning the page just like the best mysteries I read. While reading the book there were enough unanswered questions, clues and short glimpses of scenes or events that caught my attention and made me store them away to remember "when all was revealed." But all was not revealed at the end and I found myself turning over these clues and snippets, trying to determine their significance, what I thought they meant and what their purpose was. One requirement of a great book is that you cannot get it out of your mind after you turn the last page. This book met that criteria. I thought about it for weeks.
Most importantly I learned that other voices can bring a whole new level to the reading experience, if it is the right voice for the right book. I would have enjoyed this book regardless, but if I read it myself and heard my voice in my head the characters would never have come so alive as they did in Davina Porter's voice. This is a perfect marriage of book and narrator. I was so surprised when I later discovered more about Porter's age, experience and background. She made a 21 year old Scotsman come to life. Her voice is Jamie to me. She handled each character wonderfully, although it is the first and only time I have ever listened to a book or series of books and thought a woman narrator did a better job on the men's voices than she did on the women's. I have loved hearing how the narrator has aged the character's voices throughout the series. You hear the young Jamie in the middle aged Jamie's voice, but you also hear the growth and maturity. I have accepted the narrators in the Lord John series, even when the book includes Jamie and actually think they are narrated well. But I am not certain I could accept another narrator for future Outlander books.
Finally, my initial interest in this book was from a historical fiction viewpoint. A good historical fiction novel, by Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Kay Penman sticks to as much historical fact as possible but presents it in an engaging and relate-able format. It makes you interested enough in the times and events that you will endure the dry-er, less lively recitation of facts of that same event or time in a nonfiction book, just to learn more. Outlander and this series delivered that in spades.
It is difficult for me to be objective about Elizabeth Hunter's books. I am not a huge fan of her primary genre - sci-fi fantasy. But the genre is the last thing I am thinking about when I am buried in the midst of one of her books. I can become so engrossed and wrapped up in them, it is difficult for me to point to the one thing that sets her books apart. Her characters are always well developed and sympathetic (even the bad guys), her plot is logically laid out, but not overly predictable, her prose flows smoothly and her books are always well-edited.
Shifting Dreams was no exception. I read this in ebook format several months ago, before it became available on Audible. I was so impressed with her Elemental World series I wanted to read everything she had ever written. I liked it so much the first time I was eager to listen to it as soon as the audiobook was available. The plot revolves around a quirky little southwestern town with a "magical" spring - drinking from it gives some people and their offspring the ability to shape-shift. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of how that actually works, she focuses on the inter-relationships in a town that is full of eccentric and unique characters, with the least of their eccentricities being the ability to shift into another creature. And by allowing her characters to shift into several different species, many of which don't co-exist well in the wild, she adds another layer of complexity to the inter-relationship difficulties. She doesn't capitalize on this aspect too much in the first book, but seems to be laying a foundation.
The characters at the center of the story are sympathetic, each coming to the relationship slightly damaged with considerable baggage. The kids weren't too cute or too annoying, but seemed pretty realistic - at least as realistic as the plot would allow.
The narrator did a good job. My only criticism is that she wasn't Dina Pearlman. Just like the voice of Molly Harper will always be Amanda Ronconi to my ears, Elizabeth Hunter now speaks to me in Dina Pearlman's voice.
There are a couple of ebook novellas that provide some background to the series that I recommend reading. If they become audiobooks, I will reread them. The sequel to Shifting Dreams is now out in ebook format. I am going to try to wait until it is in audio format to listen to it.
I have enjoyed everything Diana Gabaldon has written, but am most fond of the Outlander series. While this third book in the series isn't my favorite, there is so much to recommend about it. First, it fills in gaps. This is where you learn what happened in the 18th and the 20th century during the years between Culloden and when Jamie and Claire are finally reunited. It also deals with the fact that the lovers are middle aged when they reconnect and yet the passion remains. The characters are fully developed, older and wiser. It also introduces and fleshes out secondary characters that play important parts going forward. And finally, like all of her books, it provides several great jumping off points - those story-lines in her books based on real events and/or real people that encourage you to investigate and learn more about that time, place or person on your own.
I think some of her very best writing is in the book's beginning, at the end of the battle when Jamie is waiting to die. And in the middle of the book in the scenes where Jamie and Claire are nervously and clumsily reunited. The section written that introduces Mr. Willoughby is priceless. As are the sections dealing with everyone else's reactions to Claire's return.
The end gets a little confusing and bogged down, but the first 9/10ths of this book more than make up for that.