One of the best books of 2017, and all time

I read it like it was a library book due yesterday.

A year ago.

It has taken me that long to assimilate and absorb the impact of all the glorious stories. I had greatly anticipated this novel, from my discovery 7 years ago of this 20 year series. A chance view of a cover lured me to Fool’s Assassin, the first of this trilogy. Then I read ALL of her previous novels. I still shudder when I think about what I might have missed. At the end of this novel, I completely reread the entire series, 16 books. For the third time? If there was ever a time to immerse yourself in fantasy this is it and these are tremendous. I have only read Tolkien more. Patrick Rothfuss is perhaps the only other author/series I will continue to reread (and also can’t wait for the next installment). I have to say that slower reading revealed many hidden gems, within the writing and the story.

And wait for it. I was in a library bookstore and NINE (9) of her books came in as paperbacks, in pristine condition. I purchased them all, for copies to share. The Friends of the Rochester Public Library is one of the best bookstores around, I urge you to peruse the shop today! (And every week as the stock is always changing!)

Title: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Publisher: Del Ray May 2017 962 pp

Genre: fantasy, science fiction, coming of age, action and adventure, literature and fiction

5+ stars highly recommended


Robin Hobbs is the second pen name of American author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdon (b 1952). She also writes under Megan Lindholm. Her books number over 25 with numerous short stories. If you are still waiting for the next installment of Game ofThrones, pick up Hobbs.

This is another wonderful book in the Realm of the Elderlings, begun in 1995 with the first of the Farseer Trilogy Assassin’s Apprentice, which led directly into the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. This book in particular combines many of her other series; there are something of the order of 15 books that are referenced here. Don’t miss any of them (Farseer chronicles, Tawny man, Rain wild chronicles, Liveship traders). I’ve told you to start reading this author! I love books that build on previous stories, develop in different directions, shed new light on previous events and reverse roles. These are brilliant, clever, utterly absorbing stories.

Her writing is absolutely brilliant, extraordinary in her detailed storytelling. World building is taken to new heights. Every story is “unputdownable” you cant wait to finish the book, and life is out on hold while you are mesmerized in another magical realm. Her characters resonate in real life. Be warned, while it’s been an amazing journey, the beautiful ending is bittersweet.


To fully appreciate this book you MUST read the previous 8 featuring Fitz and the Fool in the Farseer world. But really there are 16 in the Realm of the Elderlings that altogether complete the intricate, complex story. That includes the Liveship Traders and the Rainwild Chronicles. Why not read them in order?!

Assassin’s Fate seamlessly picks up right after Fools Quest (yes, my last review complained of the abrupt ending). Fitz and the Fool are on their way to Clerres to rescue their daughter Bee, although they believe they are avenging her death. Her struggle is exceedingly painful ala graphic GRRMartin. Narration is shared between Fitz and Bee, with all my favourite characters present including nighteyes, the Fool, Paragon, Icefyre. Fitz is again introspective, but there is such depth to his struggle. It makes the ending even harder. Bee, like the Fool, is very much of the future, and both are game changers. Yes, there are endings, sorrow we neither expect nor want. But they always provide hope on a narrow horizon or in a darkened world. Changes are opportunities, not necessarily easily obtained but always worth striving for. There are many life lessons. I’m hopeful the story/world continues with Bee.

NB there have been some exceptional interviews with Hobbs this last year, which shed light on her writing and these books. Look for them. I’m ever hopeful that movies could be made, now that we have Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

Read on : this is perfect for summer reads, for any tween, teenager interested in fantasy. Adults will truly enjoy this magic. Typical read time is 19hours!

For fans of Patrick Rothfuss, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind, Sarah Maas, Robert Jordan


So I fled, knowing I could not escape but too frightened to let them reclaim me.

Death is better than the sort of captivity they plan for you.

It’s only a dream scarcely applies to what a dragon can do to one’s sleeping mind.

Sixty was not thirty, regardless of how I might appear.

Received as an ARC from Netgalley. Purchased my own copy to complete my set.

It’s a new book…. If you haven’t read it!

Title: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain4.5 Stars ****

Publisher: Random House 384 pp (July 2015)

Genre: literary fiction, memoir fiction, novelized memoir, historical novel, Africa,


Paula McLain is the author of several novels (including two poetry books), and the international best seller (2012) The Paris Wife. She has definitely found her niche writing gorgeous stories about interesting women. Her writing is richly evocative of time and place, the engaging characters are well developed, however famous, and they are well researched. Her books, best sellers and NYTimes listed, have won notable awards and nominations; NPR named Circling the Sun one of the best books of 2015. Film rights have been optioned!

Story line:

Much of the story takes place in Kenya, Africa during the 1920s and 1930s. This is a short chapter in the life of Beryl Markham, ending with her transatlantic flight in 1936 (she lived another 50). Her life is full of bad choices and tragedy, but also held together by an indomitable spirit. Her love of Africa was a driving force, while social conventions were mostly to be ignored. So although this is white colonial Africa, she appears to be a much more modern, complicated woman. I thought her unruly girlhood (wild Masai tribe) was a rather romanticized, but the social frustration with conventional expectations were truly appalling. I keep thinking how far we’ve come, and then wondering if we really have. She was an extraordinary woman, adventurer and aviator. Her story deserves to be more widely known. She was the first and youngest woman to be a licensed horse trainer and the first woman to fly solo transatlantic (east to west), 1936).

While Beryl is the main character, Africa is an immense, constant presence, beautifully detailed and enjoyed by the reader. I also love her realistic descriptions of flying, which also show the love affair with the African landscape. This would be a perfect summer read.

Read on:

Beryl Markham West with the Night (1942)

Isak Dinesen Out of Africa


Prologue 1936. The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I’ve known, and somehow mine to fly.

First Line 1904. Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet somehow still new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).
Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, issued in paperpback, just discovered or recently recommended. Don’t miss this author visit!!

The last of the Summer Reads

Title: House of Hawthorne by Erika RobuckPublisher: NAL/Penguin. 402 p. May 2015

Genre: biographical historical fiction, literary fiction

4 stars narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal


Robuck is the bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl as well as several other novels : Fallen Beauty (poetess Edna St Vincent Millay, 2014), Call me Zelda (2013), Receive me Falling (2009). Each of her books is well researched, and her writing style is appropriate for the subject period. She is a member of the Hawthorne Society, Hemingway Society, Edna St Vincent Millay Society and the Historical Novel Society.

Story Line:

Evident from the title, this is the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody. The story is told primarily from her perspective as a fictionalized memoir (b1809-d1871). She is looking back on a rather tumultuous life from the 1830s to the Civil War. She was the invalid of the famous intellectual/artistic Peabody sisters, with crippling headaches but she became a powerful muse, inspiring he always financially struggling Hawthorne. But she was also a gifted amateur artist in her own right (painter and illustrator, as well as author of her journals) and married life was both a grand passion and a burden. She gives up so much for his happiness, yet knows more joy than her childhood allowed her to dream. There are timeless gender questions of identity and self expression. There is an interesting look at the 19th century intellectual class with romanticism, transcendentalism, women’s independence/social reform. She outlived Hawthorne by 7 years, was buried in London, reburied in Sleepy Hollow next to her husband (2006).

There are lovely glimpses of Thoreau, Melville, Emerson, Fuller and others as well as interesting travel details of life in England, Portugal, Italy and New England. Having read Marshall and Capper, I found her writing style rather emotional and idealistic. But I enjoyed the charming period prose, in this first book I have read of hers. It won’t be the last as I already have Hemingway’s Girl and am intrigued by Fallen Beauty.

The Rochester Public Library has both book and audio version.

Read On:

Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe

Naomi Wood Mrs Hemingway

Paula McLain The Paris Wife

Elizabeth Berg The Dream Lover

Nathaniel Hawthorne House of Seven Gables, Twice Told Tales, Scarlet Letter

NF: Megan Marshall The Peabody Sisters Charles Capper Margaret Fuller


He has fought the coils and stain of the black weave of his forefathers. Even changing the spelling of his surname.

Nathaniel’s need for elevation inspired the tower of the third floor of our home The Wayside…. The only home we have ever owned…the dear rooms have embraced our family…now hosts a stubborn ghost. 

The courtship letters, the marriage journal, the sketches and pressed flowers brought back from the places we traveled….artifacts from our past that are calling to me, urging me to look for something that I do not know is missing.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

French Illusions

Title: The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
Publisher: Random House
368 pp
Genre: historical fiction, biographical novel, literary fiction, George Sand
5/4.5 stars****
Author: Elizabeth Berg is a NYTimes best selling author (25 books). Open House was an Oprah a bookclub select (2000). Durable Goods and Joy School were selected by ALA as a Best Book of the year. Talk before Sleep was shortlisted for an ABBY Award (1996). She won the 1997 NE booksellers Award for her body of work. A nonfiction work Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True was published in 1999. I was introduced to her writing when I lived in MN as she was born in St Paul. I would rate her novels consistently 4 stars, although I have always found them sentimental. This novel is different from her others, in that it is a biographical novel of a famous literary bohemian, George Sand. I personally think it is her best novel (5 stars for the writing/ emotion and 4 stars for the technical plotting, although her life is quite difficult to sort out). I put this book on several friends must read list two months ago when I first read it. A second reading was equally rewarding.
Story Line:
This novel reads like a memoir, in lyrical first person. It concerns the French romantic writer George Sand, (1804-1876) the pseudonym for Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin/Dudevent. Here, as an older woman, she is retracing her steps. Memories which can always be somewhat unreliable can also be vividly informative with the distance of time.
Berg has an intimate, sympathetic voice. From an unusual and unhappy childhood, to a disastrous marriage, her early years reveal her intelligence and understanding of an unforgiving society. In Paris she gives herself a fresh start pursuing her dream of writing and a new name. The success of her first novel gives her a degree of independence as her husband continues to squander her inheritance.
She embraces life, unconventional and scandalous to the times, a pioneer feminist. There is a cast of characters (and lovers) in her life that is larger than life: Alfred de Musset, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Marie Dorval, Frederic Chopin, Pauline Viardot. Many appear in her works. She wrote five memoirs, 42 novels and 12 plays which gave her some financial security to live an independent life. She was also conflicted, always seeking love while being independent. I was surprised by her vulnerability, yet in relation to her childhood, understood her choices. Her lasting love (10 years with Chopin) is a small portion of this novel, almost an afterthought for an extremely complicated relationship: friend, lover, confidante, nurse.
Sand was strong and disciplined with her writing, yet vulnerable and influenced by her passions (children, artists, lovers). Is it not telling that Victor Hugo could boast of 2000 conquests, while Sand had perhaps 20 lovers? Much criticism and antipathy has been generated of her and her works simply because she was not a “proper lady”. If it seems like a sad novel, the timelessness and resilience of her art shines through.
In The Dream Lover, there is an everyday, ordinary feeling for what was then an unconventional and controversial woman. It is a well researched and thoughtful account, true to the character of a unique literary figure. The reader will note many parallels to current affairs: wide ranging book club discussions are expected. The pace of this novel is leisurely and descriptive, almost the 19th century writing style. Yet these were also turbulent times with enormous social and political change. It was also very interesting to get the feel of her life in conjunction with what she was writing, a perspective on her work. This is beautifully written (I have 1/3 rd of the book highlighted for lyrical passages). I would have appreciated a list of sources, as well as excellent translations. (I can still remember considering one novel dreadful in English class and being completely changed by a different translation. See Kathleen a Robin Hart.) There are fabulous descriptions of the beauty and energy of Paris, gardens and estates of France, the sublime nature of the countryside as well as interesting portraits of social interactions and mores. I hope this novel brings her work more exposure. There is also an interesting PBS series on her life.

“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” George Sand

Read On:
George Sand Story of my Life, Indiana, Gabriel (translated by Kathleen Robin Hart)
Susan Cheever American Bloomsbury
Megan Marshall Peabody Sisters and Margaret Fuller
Benita Eisler Chopin’s Funeral
Dan Hofstadter The Love Affair as a work of Art
Nancy Horan Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Robin Oliveira I have Always Loved You
Susanne Dunlap Liszt’s Kiss
Lucasta Miller The Bronte Myth
Nancy Milford Savage Beauty
Dea Birkett Spinsters Abroad
AS Byatt Possession
Quotes about her:
“What a brave man she was, and what a good woman.” Ivan Turgenev
“George Sand was an idea. She has been released from the flesh, and is now free. She is dead, and now she is living.” Victor Hugo
To George Sand: A recognition Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“What inexhaustible goodness, always so quiet and calm, always such an essential part of her character.” Pauline Viardot

RPL has two copies (6 holds) and an audio version. And all of Berg’s novels.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley!


Good reads all summer long!

Review by Helen McIver

Summer is a time for indulgence – a time to get away from it all.
You don’t have to travel, skip the trip and get lost in a good book!
Enjoy the ‘forbidden’ pleasures of reading by the pool, in the shade, in a hammock, on the beach. And remember to read to your child, a grandchild, any child!

Sarah Jio. Goodnight June 2014

I have recommended several of her books before: I simply loved her first novel The Violets of March (which also won a library journal best book of 2011 award, and especially Blackberry Winter and The Last Camellia (still my favourite). Her books take place in a variety of places, from NYC to PNW to England to the Pacific and are often historical love stories/mysteries. I think they are perfect summer reads, for escapes in time, place with fascinating characters and interesting historical events. This tale is also published by Penguin Books, notes for their good literary reads.

Once again she has written a lovely tale, this time about one of our favourite childhood stories Goodnight Moon, (Margaret Wise Brown 1947) because no one knows what inspired her to write this story.
This is a delightful heartwarming story that will make you wish you had a bookstore. It is an important story about installing a love of reading in children (and grandchildren). There are a number of mysteries and secrets that are uncovered mostly through letters between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown. Don’t miss this tender story, foremost of family and the importance of being there, forgiveness and second chances.

“When you are looking for something, it is right where you find it.”

“We didn’t have much, but we always had books.”

4 stars (only because, while charming, it was predictable. And disbelief with Bill Gates)
Popular with book clubs