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

Author:

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.

Story:

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

Quotes

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 Cool to Read!

Summer  time and the reading is easy…

At any one time I have a dozen library books checked out. A stack of bookstore purchased TBR. Numerous ebooks are just waiting for a flight or extended travel. Some of today’s list I have reviewed before, as Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, but reading a book in hardcover has such appeal to me. It was great, however, to have the ebook well ahead of publication! I was so pleased when a house guest recently discovered this series in my shelves and is now devouring them. Binge reading at its best. 

I love a good mystery, and many of my favourite authors have extended series. Three recent books are interesting page turners which keep you guessing. I caution you to read these in order, so if you don’t know these great authors, you’re in for a treat (and a lot of summer reading!): Charles Todd, Elly Griffith and Amanda Quick all write historical fiction, period suspense that never fail to charm me. Nothing too heavy for he hammock, but well researched, interesting characters and wonderful sense of place be it the Norfolk broads, Victorian England or post WWI England. 
A read surprise for me was Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. (I am now finding her earlier novels, Dust and Shadow, Gods of Gotham.). Each chapter of Jane Steele opens with a quote from Jane Eyre, which just might make you rethink Charlotte Brontes gothic tale. This Jane is fun, and finds a hidden knife quite useful in Victorian society. Perfect beach read.

There are also series that have made the move to television. The next Walt Longmire mystery The Highwayman is also now in bookstores, just as I’m catching up with Longmire on Netflix. And while I am addicted to the program, I love the these books more. I thought his last, Any Other Name was the best yet. Really. Normally I would say that with the character development and overlapping cases, you should read them in order. But this is a novella, classic Longmire, and something of a ghost story. It could be inserted almost anywhere in the series. There is a warmth, a sense of humanity and a wonderful sense of place (Wind River Canyon) perfect for the armchair traveler. Walt is the stuff of Wyoming legend and Johnson doesn’t disappoint. I can’t wait for the next book (Sept) An Obvious Fact.

And then there is the nonfiction account of The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu! I confess after the first two chapters I had to read the ending to make sure he (Haidara) was alive. That the books and manuscripts had survived. That I wouldn’t hyperventilate anymore. I was intrigued by the Arabic manuscripts themselves, and every introduction of what he saved from Al Qaeda was astonishing. It is a truly aspiring but short account.

Page-turning to a Riveting Crescendo!

School buses have appeared, daylight lasts not quite as long and there’s a night chill. That luxurious feeling of time, to sit on a beach to relax and read is silently slipping away with summer. It only takes one book to keep that feeling, and there are so many to anticipate, being published this month.
Title: The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing July 2015, 443 p.

Genre: mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, political intrigue

4.5 stars

Author:

Helaine Mario grew up in NYC, graduated from Boston University and now resides in Washington DC and Sarasota FL. She published her first book Firebird in 2013, and it is now on my TBR pile. She founded (1998) the SunDial Foundation which contributes to more than thirty nonprofits in the DC area concerning women and children’s issues. 

A portion of the proceeds are donated to this foundation (inner city food banks, education, health, shelter, arts and economic development). Not only are you buying a great book, you are donating to a wonderful cause. Her extensive travel has contributed to her vivid descriptive prose.

Story Line:

I was looking for a large, complex compelling summer read, a la Discovery of Witches or Outlander and found it in The Lost Concerto. Hitchcock would have loved this book. Sumptuous locations (Paris, Brittany, Italy, Boston, Cape Cod, sanctuaries, concert halls, coastlines), lyrical prose, heartbreaking protagonists, gripping fast paced complex plots which are funny, poignant, powerful and evocative. It has it all. The lyrical writing involves all the senses as we are submerged in a web of intrigue which involves lost music, lost child, lost love, lost souls, and terrorists.

The story is told from several perspectives, providing you with a greater understanding of individual characters and overarching plot. Johnny O’Shea was an award winning investigative journalist. He died suspiciously in a boating accident while investigating the death of his wife’s best friend Sofia and her son Tommy (Maggie’s godson). Maggie O’Shea (48) is grieving for all of them, unable to play the piano which up has been her career, her solace and her soul. She is a smart, strong, sexy almost understated heroine struggling to move on with her life. A photograph of Zach(ary) Law, pianist, her first love, father of her son, MIA 30 years ago sends her off to find answers with the help of a quiet, crusty military intelligence office. Michael Beckett (and his dog Shiloh) still recovering from wounds received in Afghanistan is recruited to protect Maggie from a truly evil villain. Read on!!

Haunting, passionate, drama

Stolen art, poignant music, deadly terrorism

Stunning imagery, high adventure, nuanced characters, 

I love the literary and musical references and quotes. All relevant. And the puns, often on Maggie’s tshirts: Musicians Duet Better. I reread this as, in haste to turn the pages, I know I missed some of the nuances. It was fantastic. The author’s note at the end is insightful – plots straight from the news, places she has visited (now in my list), Maggie’s classical music favorites, her own rescue dog. This novel was inspired by her son Sean, a classical pianist.

Read On:

Rochester Public Library has a copy.

Helaine Mario Firebird (2013)

Stef Penny, Jennifer Lee Carroll, Diane Sutterfield, Lauren Belfer, Elizabeth Kostova, Kate Ross

Quotes:

You never know when you will be ambushed by grief.

The Steinway was deafeningly silent.

It was that magical moment just before the conductor strode onto the stage, when all things were possible.

The powerful notes of Zach’s concerto flew toward them like bright sparks in the pulsing darkness. 

Full of pain. And passion.

And promise.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

  

Summer Fantasy!

Robin Hobb Fool’s Asassin
Review by Helen McIver
How did I never read Robin Hobb? Recently I fell down the Farseer rabbit hole and disappeared for several days, because once I understood this was a continuation, I had to read ALL of those books. GRR Martin recommended, and I agree.

I was thumbing through the NetGalley ARCs and was drawn to this cover. Knowing none of the prehistory I was immediately cast into this well written, thought provoking story. I often wondered what a rich and varied past led this intricate man to this point in his life. To discover there was a trilogy was like discovering Terry Pratchett for the first time. I am not sorry I started at the end, with Fitz a grown man as the early tales have a lot of teen angst and messy life choices (sometimes I think girls are just smarter!). I can’t wait to read the next two installments because yes, there are cliff hangers. She clearly loves these characters.

Robin Hobb is the second pen name for Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden (also Megan Lindholm). (If you’re in London in August she will be sharing a stage, in conversation with GRR Martin!) She has been writing tremendous, imaginative, award winning science fiction and fantasy for over twenty years. In addition to the Farseer trilogy, there are the Liveship Traders trilogy and the Rain Wilds chronicles. She has a wonderful imagination and clear, detailed writing which captures your attention. There is action, drama, torment, love, family, dragons, magic, and new worlds to explore. I have warned you that you will lose a few days reading!

Fitz (FitzChivalry) is a royal bastard, former King’s assassin now living a quieter life as Tom Badgerlock, with the love of his life Molly. But Tom/Fitz has the Wit, the dangerous ability to touch minds. His previous world collides with his new life and the adventure begins anew. I was delighted with the addition of his new daughter, watching her character develop and slowly reveal secrets. She is definitely her father’s daughter. There is a rich cast with diverse characters, more so with the history of the earlier trilogy. Concepts of loyalty and honour, steadfast love and friendship bonds, good and evil provide counterpoint. Not every battle is won, but they are bravely fought (or not with wisdom). And you discover what matters in life. The story is well paced, richly detailed, multi-layered and full of developing characters. This promises to be a satisfying and unforgettable serious fantasy series.

If you like Patrick Rothfuss, Naomi Novik, Kristin Cashore, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind: You will love this series. Her early work is especially suitable for teenagers (YA). There’s still a lot of summer reading left!

Received as a NetGalley ARC

4.5 stars

Not a full fifth star because I like stories in series that are complete in themselves. People often read slower as they get to the end of a book because they don’t want the fantastic story to end. I felt it couldn’t end. And no doubt I have to wait until the end of the trilogy. I had not read Hobb before but she is now on my favourite list.

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

 

Literary Hitmen?!!

The Way of All Fish by Martha Grimes

review by Helen McIver

Martha Grimes is a superb mystery writer, official Grand Master, known for a number of series (the proper British Richard Jury/Melrose Plant, the teenage amnesiac Andi Oliver who battles animal abuse, and the literary mysteries of 12 year old sleuth Emma Graham). I highly recommend her poetry and short stories/novellas.
In 2003 after Grimes was “let go” from her long time publisher Knopf, she published a wickedly funny satire on the publishing industry, Foul Matter. Now in a sequel The Way of All Fish, we meet again Candy and Karl, the two literary hit men with conscience. This time they can’t take out the target (a literary agent) because they want to protect the writer Cindy Sella. She would become the prime suspect as the agent has a nuisance suit against her. Instead, they develop a zany rather convoluted plot, with a motley crew to harass him, and succeed admirably! There are many laugh out loud moments during the literary ride from NYC, to the Florida Everglades to Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh to a Pennsylvanian monastery. There are many clever literary allusions to classical mystery writers which you will enjoy. I am still laughing a few months later over some of the Monty Pythonesque moments and their amateur literary critiques/ opinions, and thought this would be a good beach read. It is more romp than mystery but very entertaining. I would like to see Candy and Karl again in another mystery.
I just saw it on display at Barnes and Noble and know the library has her mysteries. Altho not necessary, I would recommend reading Foul Matter first (to be familiar with many of the characters who reappear).
“Oddly, given all the cordite misting the air like cheap champagne, the customers (of the Clownfish Cafe) didn’t get shot; it was the owner’s aquarium…that exploded.”
(40 fish flopped around, 1/3 clownfish and were rescued by customers to water pitchers and wine glasses in the opening sequence!)
“They holstered their weapons as efficiently as they’d drawn them, like the cops they were not……the book business is like rolling around Afghanistan on skateboards” ….
“Books had added a new dimension to their lives. Books were to die for. Literally….how would they have ever guessed that the publishing world was so shot through with acrimony that they’d just as soon kill you as publish you?”
“Lawyers to the right of her, lawyers to the left, lawyers in front, lawyers behind,” one person remarks. “Is there a vision of hell, even in Dante, that could possibly compete with that?”
If you liked Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants (humour) or Richard Condon’s hit man Prizzi, you will like this. I would also suggest the Thomas Perry mystery series featuring another hit man, beginning with The Butcher’s Boy (1982). These are not for the feint of heart, but are tremendous reads.

 

Time Abroad is Never Wasted

 

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. Given the title and the name of the author I thought “Oh! Another Victorian mystery, but set in Oxford!” As in the gentlemen detective Charles Lennox in 7 erudite mysteries, with the 8th to be published this year The Laws of Murder. This book, however, is contemporary literary fiction, with more than a twist of memoir I suspect. It is also a well written, readable, interesting thought provoking novel. The privileged WASP protagonist is in his mid twenties, somewhat immature, naive and untempered, feeling adrift with the political campaign loss. He decides to take a hiatus/sabbatical (i.e graduate studies in literature) at Oxford. It is an older coming of age story, concerning a contemporary generation and gender I am somewhat removed from. I thought Will was a cad with unusual remarkable American charm, but still a bounder. That you like him and sympathize with his interior life is due primarily to excellent writing, clever plotting and intriguing host of characters which are integral to the story. Certainly an interesting perspective of the younger generation, with literary twists. The atmosphere is spot on, with wonderful descriptions of British academia and Oxford. The title is a relevant, haunting Mathew Arnold quote from his Essays in Criticism (1865): “Oxford whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age . . . Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!”

Thoughts of this book lingered over several discussions concerning the themes of this book. Who are the speech writers of campaigns, how young is idealism, what differences in American and British universities, cultural differences in generation and privilege (the phrase American pet irks), noting marriage is no longer the next step on graduating (either high school or college), men’s behaviour vs women’s, teenage to adult angst – while I am also hunting for the greater good and personal responsibility. I understand a sense of greater freedom, perhaps more potential, but those aren’t irrevocably lost by aging.

“When you’re finally grown-up, one of the things you find is that there are no grown-ups.”

You will like this if you are a reader (great literary references), an English major (including former degrees!), an expat, anyone who loves the magic of Oxford (as the town plays a central character) or an academic (without having to experience office politics). I am ready to go back to his Victorian era any time too.