Robin Hobb- Royal Assasin: Book Two of the Farseer Trilogy

Royal Assassin

What it’s about:

The next stage of the story of FitzChivalry Farseer starts in the Mountain Kingdom, with Fitz attempting to recover from an almost deadly attack.  Accompanied by Burrich, Fitz begins to wonder whether his fate must always be aligned with that of the Royal Bastard, or whether another course might await him.  Despite his doubts, he is drawn back into the seemingly inescapable politics of Buckeep Castle, where it seems that those who have protected him grow weaker, whilst those that threaten him and the Six Duchies amass power and strength.

What I Love:

  1.  The deeper understanding we gain of the Beast Magic, and the ways it permeates the relationships of many of the characters we meet.  Our introduction to Nighteyes, and the exposition of ‘Heart of the Pack’ confirming much we suspect of Buckeep’s Stablemaster.
  2. The emotional strength of the Lady Patience in her attempt to ally herself with the cause of Fitzachivalry Farseer, and her fearless refusal to allow anyone to prevent him receiving what she perceives to be his birthright, despite the personal cost it represents.
  3. The relationship between King in Waiting Verity and his nephew.  This is a relationship on which much of the story of Fitzchivalry Farseer hinges, but it is elegantly done.  The true meaning and depth of their feelings is clear, and it is in part this intensity that allows the development of the story to be not only believable, but inevitable.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1.  “When he had exhausted himself I leaned forward over him.  I gripped his throat to lean down and stair into his eyes.  This was a physical message he understood.  I added to it.  I am the Wolf.  You are the Cub.  You WILL obey me!”
  2. This is not hunting, this.  This is no pack’s doing.  This is man’s doing.  His presence was gone before I could rebuke him for intruding into my mind again.”
  3. “Heart of the Pack, they will hunt well for you’, Nighteyes urged him.  ‘Burrich, take command.  They will fight with heart for you. ‘ My skin prickled to hear Queen Kettricken virtually echo Nighteyes’ thought.”

Annie Hawes- Ripe for the Picking

Ripe for the Picking

What it’s about: 

This is the first I read of Annie Hawes’ books and probably my favourite.  Annie (or Anna as the locals call her, what with ‘Anni’ being much to peculiar to be anyone’s name) is becoming altogether better established in the hills of Liguria.  She also encounters a whole new set of customs and expectations that revolve around the new man in her life, and even more so his mother.

What I love:

  1.  I love the new characters we meet, and their specific histories.  Some in particular provide a poignant insight into the realities of that time, and their seemingly old-fashioned preoccupations.
  2. Again, the food.  The descriptions of the culinary customs and their cooking methods draw you in to the pages, and are a not insignificant component of the charm of these books.
  3. The dating rituals!  The comparison between the seemingly anonymous and frequently fragmented nature of modern dating, and the all-consuming and expectant lore of Liguria is refreshing, comforting and something of a relief to the reader.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1. “Anna, registering the great competence of the Lad from the Restaurant, is clearly considering very carefully the correct moral position to take in this irregular situation.  After all, a man who bears himself so nobly in the teeth of a major tomato crisis is not easily come by.”
  2. “Salvatore saves me from answering by suddenly going ballistic.  I have no idea what it’s about- he’s shouting his head off, mostly in Calabrian dialect, and I will never be as multilingual as your average Italian peasant farmer.”
  3. “Do you have to be an Italian to get a decent meal round here?’ They will suddenly shout.  ‘Why are we getting this second-class treatment?  What have you got against Germans, anyway?’ they may add, if German.  ‘The war was over 50 years ago! ‘ And so on.  Having suffered greatly myself through not understanding this booking business in earlier times- though since I’m English I just took it personally and not politically’… I have no trouble understanding how Ciccio’s and Franchino’s poor clients must feel.”

Robin Hobb- Assassin’s Apprentice: Book One of the Farseer Trilogy

Assasin's Apprentice

What it’s about:

A mesmerising introduction into the magical world of the Farseers and the Six Duchies.  This story begins with our introduction to Fitzchivalry Farseer in far from auspicious circumstances.  Following his royal father’s ill-advised liaison with an unnamed woman, we witness the ceremonial dumping of Fitzchivalry on the court of King Shrewd, who decides to train him to be a tool for the crown, rather than against.  This book is the start of a magnificent journey, and one I heartily and repeatedly recommend to everyone.

What I love:

  1. Hobb creates an all consuming world overflowing with valour, corruption and magic, that leaves the reader in no doubt of its existence.
  2. Hobb manages to adhere to many of the best loved components of a fantasy novel, yet combines this with characters who are diverse, unique and capture the heart of the reader, despite their many and varied flaws.
  3. This is a political novel in which Fitz is constantly torn, not just by right and wrong, but by which identity he must assume in order to survive.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1. “I jerked awake before the moon had surrendered her reign over the sky, amazed that I had slept at all.” Fitzchivalry Farseer
  2. “Her scent rolled over me like a wave, and it too smelled of coin more than flowers.”
  3. “But in every case,” Chade told me wearily, ‘it matters not what they decide; it weakens their loyalty to the kingdom.  Whether they pay their tribute or not, the Raiders may laugh over their blood-ale at us.  For in deciding, our villagers are saying in their minds, not ‘if we are Forged’ but ‘when we are Forged’.  And thus they have already been raped in spirit if not in flesh.” Chade Fallstar

Phillipa Gregory- The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl

What it’s about:

Most people now know this story through the film, though (obviously) I think the book is much better.  This is the story of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, told from the perspective of her sister Mary.  Much like all Gregory’s work, whilst fiction, the historical accuracy seems exceptional, and you find yourself gripped throughout (I’ve lost most of the afternoon rereading the book, as writing this post reminded me how much I like it).

What I love:

  1. I love the complexity of the characters.  Again this is true of all her novels (I particularly like those set in the Tudor court- read them all), but the relationship between George, Mary and Anne is brilliantly portrayed.
  2. I love how Gregory provides ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ with a new narrative.  Obviously inextricably bound with the lives of her siblings, nonetheless Mary treads her own path.
  3. Through Mary’s eyes, we gain new insights into the myth of the notorious Anne Boleyn.  Without doubt driven, strong, and occasionally cruel, Mary also describes the story of a woman striving for perfection, and what this quest ultimately costs her.

My Favourite Quotes: 

  1.  “You’re a man’ I said.  ‘It’s different for a woman’. ‘Yes’ he acknowledged.  ‘Unless she was to marry me.  Then we could make our own way together.’ William Stafford
  2. “No.  The only way I know is always to be the best there is.” Anne Boleyn
  3. “I enjoyed the twelve days of Christmas more than I ever had done before.  Anne was with child and glowing with health and confidence, William was at my side, my recognised husband. I had a baby in the cradle, and a young beautiful daughter at court.” Mary Boleyn.

Gretchen Rubin- The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

What it’s about:

This is Gretchen Rubin’s account of how she created a 12 month ‘Happiness Project’ to see if she could create a happier life within her existing circumstances.  She chooses a different area of focus for each month of the year, and creates a series of resolutions to help her improve her own behaviour, and establish whether this has an impact on her personal happiness, and that of those around her.

What I love:

  1. The systematic and thorough way in which she approaches the project.  This is a really practical and empowering guide to improving existing circumstances, but more importantly evaluating how one’s own behaviour and outlook can have a transformative effect on personal happiness.
  2. I found her honesty on what she considers her flaws to be refreshing, and it gave clear emphasis to the individuality of each person’s journey.  This book is about sharing ideas for how to make your own life happier, not a ‘How-To’ guide.
  3. This is a really funny book! Tackling a subject that could easily be didactic and overly earnest, Rubin combines insights on her own (undoubtedly extensive) research, with amusing anecdotes about her own successes, failures, and the impact on her often unsuspecting family and friends.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1. “One day I’d stop twisting my hair, and wearing running shoes all the time, and eating exactly the same food every day.” (I could literally have said these exact words, and the moment I saw this, I was in).
  2. “Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate, and a fresh opportunity.
  3. “The First Splendid Truth: To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”

Annie Hawes- Extra Virgin

Extra Virgin Annie Hawes

What it’s about:

Another that I first read several years ago, and now reread without exception before/ on every summer holiday.  In a nutshell, this is the first in a series of books written by Hawes (though the second one I read) accounting her move to rural Italy (Liguria specifically).  It details her attempts to befriend the locals and generally function as one of the very rustic community.

This is a very humorous but endearing account of her plight as an ignorant foreigner, and she writes with evident affection for the community in which she lives, despite her ability to offend all and sundry at every opportunity.

What I love:

  1. I can’t open this book without feeling like I’m about to eat delicious Italian food and drink delicious Italian wine (not that awful shop bought stuff of course) ideally at a festa of some description.
  2. The vivid descriptions of the sights, sounds and customs of the locals provokes a real sense of peace as well as providing entertainment with numerous anecdotes that are at times humorous and at others deeply poignant.
  3. Gaining genuine insight into the history and customs of rural Italy, and Liguria in particular.

My Favourite Quotes:

    1. “Luigi has taken to sitting and chatting with us whenever he has a quiet moment.  He has educated himself in defiance of the class system that would keep him down; and he is still busy researching.  Why, he wants to know, has the British aristocracy bred so many radicals? Is there any connection between the Labour party and socialism? What is our attitude towards the Irish struggle for national liberation?”
    2. “Franco is the only one who has fathomed the depths of the profound misunderstanding going on here.  Pompeo is selling fifty olive trees and a piece of arable land that just happens to have a useless rustic building on it… We on the other hand, are buying a lovely rustic dwelling with a large garden which just happens to contain fifty olive trees.”
    3. “Tonight we obligingly horrify everyone by putting salad on the plate with our pasta.  Salad, of course, is not eaten with the pasta.  Salad comes afterwards.  It could easily, Maria explains. snatching it back off again with her serving tongs, make the pasta curdle in your stomach”.

 

Susan Howatch- The Wonder Worker

Susan Howatch The Wonder Worker

What it’s about:

I first read this book probably about 15 years ago.  It was my first example of the wonderful work of Susan Howatch, and probably still counts as my all time number one.

This story starts with Alice Fletcher, encountering the staff and the existence of the Healing Centre of St. Benet’s by the Wall, and a version of faith that is quite at odds with her experience.

Written in beautifully evocative language, with characters of incredible depth, every time someone asks me for a book recommendation, this is one I unfailingly refer to.

What I Love:  

  1. How the story is told from the perspectives of several of the novels’ centrals characters- it’s amazing how Howatch is able to encourage the reader to deeply empathise with all the characters, even whilst they’re not at their best.
  2. Alice- The story of her personal evolution is extremely touching.
  3. The way (and this is typical throughout many of Howatchs’ novels) she utilises both psychological and spiritual language to express complex truths, about the people and the world in which we live.

My Favourite Quotes:

  1. “I go back to the Rectory for lunch and find Stacy chasing a mouse around the kitchen with a frying pan.  Bad news.  The mouse escapes and Stacy breaks the frying pan.  More bad news.” Lewis Hall
  2. “Yet I found I could do nothing with that statement because in our family women always did go on.  They kept a stiff upper lip and never complained because, as Mummy had always said, that was the spirit which built the Empire.  But in 1988 the beat of a very different drum was now thundering in my ears and I suddenly found myself asking the revolutionary question: What Empire?” Rosalind Maitland
  3. “Alice had the most beautiful psyche, supple as an athlete’s body and glowing in richly patterned strands of warmth, compassion and understanding.  I’d been aware of it as soon as we’d met, though at the time it had been disfigured by so much anxiety and pain.  The extreme beauty of this aspect of Alice, an aspect invisible to the eye, was why I’d taken such a special interest in her.” Nicholas Darrow