The Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (#2 in the Farseer Trilogy)

‘Wolves have no kings’.

I appreciate that I wasn’t blown away by the first installment to Hobb’s Farseer Triology, as you can read here, but something drew me back in. Lad-at-home continued to wax-lyrical about this series, and I didn’t dislike the first book, I just found it a little bit slow. I’m aware that I have the concentration-span of a springer spaniel and it had been a while since I’d read a fantasy books so thought I’d have a go at Book Number Two, The Royal Assassin.

This installment certainly isn’t slow. It picks up after a cliffhanger, with Fitz a shell of his former youthful self, and rushes straight back into the action. The characters that are introduced in the first book develop further, all with very interesting and often unexpected arcs. The Fool in particular begins to reveal more of his true self, whilst also totally baffling me. Which I loved. We follow Fitz into his near-adulthood, whilst he stumbling-ly finds his place within this world of treachery, intrigue and class war-fare.

The concept of the Forged Ones is brilliantly clever; we are made to fear them, but also pity them. And it allows us to explore the complex range of emotions that the families and communities must go through. It also allows us to see a new side to Fitz, as his skills develop.  I won’t say anymore about the Wit and the Skill as I don’t want to spoil it for any other readers but the ‘magic’ elements if this series as fantastic. I love that these skills have to be developed through hard work and connection to others, rather than just ‘boof’ magic-done-type magic of Tolkein ilk. Its why I love Ursula La Guin so much. Brilliant. 

Like a few reviewers on Goodreads, I feel fairly meh over Fitz’s relationship with Molly. I understand it as a plot device but care less about his romantic relationships that his much more interesting relationships with the royals, Burrich and Patience. There was a lot less of Chade is this book, which I hope that is meant to create more mystery around him, and hopefully he’ll play more of a role in the concluding book. 

This was a much more compelling read than Book #1. And I really hope that readers that find the first installment a bit slow aren’t put off trying the next one as it really is worth sticking with. I believe that I have read enough fantasy series over the years to confidently say that Hobb’s voice is wonderful and that the world that she has created is all-encompassing. Even if I haven’t read enough, sod it. This is my blog so I can say what I like!

Anyone ever had a similar experience with a series before? Is second-book-syndrome really a thing? Chat ahead in the comments.

Kelly

Review-ish: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

‘Mademoiselle, I speak as a friend. Bury your dead! … Give up the past! Turn to the future! What is done is done. Bitterness will not undo it.’

I am mightily ashamed to say that this is my very first Agatha Christie novel. I couldn’t begin to give you a reason for it, I like a good murder mystery Agatha and I share a birth-place, so I have been surrounded by her presence my entire life. Big thanks to Amy G for encouraging me to have a go and for kindly lending me this copy from her precious (and impressive) collection.

Accepting that you have to look past language that wouldn’t be appropriate if it was written today, Death on the Nile is a good ol’ romp. I loved it. It is a comfortable read. The characters are mainly ghastly (thank you Agatha, for making me want to talk like a 1920’s It girl) but are very fun in their despicable-ness. I enjoy the clashes between the different classes (which are pretty polarising) and the way that Poirot breezes past them all to wrap it all up beautifully.

This book forced me to avoid skim-reading, although not entirely. I still had to go back and re-read bits, and also read an online synopsis to write this review as I read this a while back now and have read another Poirot novel since!

With 66 novels and 14 short stories under her belt and well as two characters that are house-hold names, Poirot and Mrs Marple, Christie truly is the Mother of Murder Mystery. Her impact on story-telling, and more specifically on female writers cannot be denied. I’m aware that the majority of readers of this blog will be more than familiar with these works and I’m stating the very obvious, but just on the smallest of off-chances that someone out there hasn’t read any before, then I highly recommend dipping into a Poirot. And Death on the Nile is an excellent place to start. Bon voyage!

Insole Court Book Club – May

Eight Months in Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel

This months book club read was chosen by one of our dear members. I was really interested in the choice as I had heard so much about Hilary Mantel and knew that Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies were mega popular (but a bit big for a one-month turnaround for book club, so grateful for that they weren’t recommended!)

I managed to get myself one of the original prints by Penguin which I enjoyed for its vintage look and small size. Insole Court managed to get in a lovely looking version for the shop, and we spent a good few minutes at the start of the meeting having a chuckle about one print that exists which has the most irrelevant stock-photo image on the front that I have ever seen.

Eight Months was first published in 1986, pre-Wolf Hall, and is a reflection of the few years that Mantel spent living in Saudi Arabia. I mention this to give some context to some later comments! As always, feel free to comment below, and get involved.

Struggled to get through it. Surprised by the quote on the book ‘horrifyingly gripping’.

Took a while to get going.

Mantel comes across as racist, not just the characters. Uncomfortable.

Expected a big revelation about how similar we all are really, but no.

Maybe more of a lack of understanding. ‘Back to the real world’ Western is right.

Too easy to say that she was expressing common viewpoints from that era, maybe it would be address more directly if it was written now?

Not sure what happened at the end? Felt a little bit rushed. Preconceptions proven right?

What happened on the balcony??!! Was it all just her paranoia?

What happens in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw for a reviewer to make this comparison? (None of us had read it!)

Some of us enjoyed the descriptions of the apartment block and the surrounding area and felt she built tension well, particularly the description of the tiles watching. Others could have done without it.

Directionless – is it a psycho thriller or a murder mystery?

One member decided to google real-life stories from Saudi to compare.

‘I’m not a racist, I’m a xenophobe’. Double standards. She doesn’t like anyone.

Chasing the money – criticism of expat lifestyle. Giving up the little things in life for the paycheck. Going for one year, staying for longer.

Francis formed her opinion of Saudi on the plane. Not that well-informed.

Irony of someone getting lost with a map she’d created as a cartographer. Only real time that her career is really mentioned.

We all thought that the Fairfax bit got interesting. Felt like things were going to start connecting.

We discussed the similarities to Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies to compare. Style is similar, lots of attention to detail. Measured. But had a much stronger plot. Is it because she was following the historical events?

It reminded one member of the film, Lost in Translation.

Lack of distinction in any of the other characters. Struggled to distinguish one expat man from another, and the same with the expat women and Saudi couples. Very 2D.

What about the burglary? Was it just to highlight how important home-made wine was to them?

No point to the different formats, eg diary, letter.

Some found it interesting to read about Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s. Some were able to compare it to what they had heard about people living ‘compound life’ in South Africa.

Blurb made it sound good. But one member found it quite miserable and depressing.

We thought that her isolation and how insular she became was interesting. The atmosphere that was created. Quite a poetic style at times.

‘Travel narrowing the mind’. Francis is testament to it. Self-aware. Quite witty in some ways.

Different editing might have improved it.

The memo at the start, we assumed was pre-action. If there had been names mentioned or more obvious hints, we would have paid more attention to it.

Unreliable narrator?

  • Hilary Mantel on the Reith Lectures, BBC Radio 4
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • Wolf Hall & Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

So there you go. Not an overwhelmingly positive response to Eight Months on Ghazzah Street but a lot to talk about! Next months book club meeting (Tuesday 25th June) will be hosted by Natasha Wilson as I am off to a wedding! She’ll be chairing the discussion on Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox which is available now in the Insole Court Visitors Centre or widely available online.

I’m off to Hay Festival tomorrow for the first time so no doubt I’ll post some over-excited photos on Instagram @offbeatbookclub. I’m trying to limit myself to two new books but we’ll see. That’s probably not realistic…

Enjoy your weekend!

Kelly

Review-ish: Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I can’t find a quote for this book so that might suggest how little I enjoyed it. Plus the fact that it has taken me WEEKS to get around to writing it up. I just couldn’t think of enough to say about it.

I guess what made me pick it up was the name of the author, as I was looking for more of a variety of voices to read. And I have since realised that I have read one of her books before, The Forty Rules of Love, which was a book club read from many a moon ago. The Forty Rules focused on Rumi the poet and although I found that slightly interesting, the writing left me cold then. And this was more of the same.

Although the subject matter was different, and on paper, it should be right up my street (feminism, friendship, travel) I just found it very dull and a bit of a slog. The characters weren’t just unlikeable (I can get around that if they are written well) but they were caricatures; there was the timid one, the sexy one and the righteous one. Maybe I liked Peri’s Dad? But I genuinely can’t remember.

Shahaf must be doing something right as Goodreads shows huge numbers of 5 star reviews, and I am very respectful of her ability to write in both Turkish and English, but I don’t think I’ll be actively seeking out any more of her books, they’re just not for me. And that’s fine!

So I’ll keep it short and slightly-less-than-sweet on this glorious Bank Holiday Monday and focus on catching up with the rest of my reviews!

Have a good one!

Kelly

Insole Book Club – April

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Huge apologies for the delay in getting the notes up for last months Book Club meeting. I’ve got a busy month in work at the moment and I have been trying to buy a house! So sorry that I am only getting around to this now. A few notes below as well as some further reading, watching, viewing etc. Really interested to know if this format is useful to those who aren’t able to make it to the meetings… please feel free to comment below!

Uncomfortable.

Informative.

Whole other perspective.

The lack of hope was quite depressing at times.

Explanations were good.

Meditative. But had to concentrate.

Quite intense. Felt sad for him that he felt , maybe rightly so, that there’s no hope for the future. Poor son.

Comparison to the way education is discussed in Becoming by Michelle Obama.

‘Those who believe themselves to be white’ really interesting concept.

The Dream. Picket fence. American Dream. Alignment of values.

Contrasted Coates’ description to our perceptions of the experiences of people of colour in the UK. Despite the UK’s heavy involvement in slavery, it seems different.

Discussed the fact that one National Trust building has started to have open discussions with their visitors about its history.

Felt a bit like a dissertation at times.

‘The black body’ so raw. The physicality of his writing is powerful. Some were able to relate to the lack of ownership of our bodies as women.

Some have criticised the lack of women’s perspective. We didn’t agree.

Some found it to be poetic.

Pre-Trump/Pre-Brexit, when the book was published, we’re more used to discussing the darker side to life and culture. Landscape has changed.

We also discussed young peoples relationship with police in Paris after talking about Coate’s experience there. You can read more about it here, thanks to Grace for sharing.

  • Toni Morrison
  • Beyonce’s Homecoming on Netflix
  • Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • explained: The Racial Wealth Gap on Netflix
  • Black in America CNN Documentary
  • Dear White People on Netflix
  • Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright

Looking forward to discussing Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel on Tuesday 28th May at 7pm, at Insole Court.

Review-ish: The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White

‘The more environments that say yes to feminist, female and other marginalised voices, the bolder those voices will become and the louder and clearer they will ring out into the wider world.’

Firstly, I have to thank Dai Brows and Anna for introducing me to The Guilty Feminist pod-cast in the first instance, and to my step-mum for buying me this book for Xmas. Nailed it. Pretty on-brand.

For those that are already fans of The Guilty Feminist in its pod-cast form, you will be pretty familiar with DFW’s style of writing and presenting, which is both warm and inviting. She has, along with Sofie Hagan and other incredible guests and guest hosts, made it ok to be a less-than perfect feminist, as long as you have good intentions. It’s been a breath of fresh air, and has brought much-needed lightness to what has become such a contentious issue.

Much of what is discussed in this book has been examined in great depth on the podcast and but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it in a new form. It’s a really easy read, even when the subject matter isn’t, and is such an effective how-to guide for all humans, on how to be better humans, not just better feminists.

The important point that the podcast and the book raise, is how vital it is to learn and listen to those different from ourselves. Part of the guilty part of The Guilty Feminist is not always recognising where our privilege allows us to act in a way that isn’t respectful of the intersectionality of feminism. By reading and listening to The Guilty Feminist, and by hearing new voices and learning about the guests varied experiences, I feel confident to admit when I’ve messed up but also to always be open to learning.

I have a shelf full of books considered to be ‘must read feminist texts’ and as much as it pains me to admit it, I haven’t always gotten on all that well with them. This doesn’t mean that I don’t absolutely recognise their importance and the massive impact they often had but we will always need books like this that can cut through some of the noise and just celebrate being perfectly imperfect.

This really is a joy and can and should be read by everyone.

Feminist book recommendations always appreciated, just commend below!

Happy Sunday.

Kelly

Insole Court Book Club – March

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

A quiet book club this month, but no less interesting. As always, it was fascinating to hear what everyone connected to in this book, in particular, which characters/chapters stood out. One of the things we discussed was the authors choice to use different characters viewpoints throughout the novel, which was also reflected in Fingersmith, and a book that I am reading currently. Although Homegoing takes this one step further but adding in the new dimension of time.

Anyway, thoughts and comments below. Feel free to join in and let us know what you thought!

The difficulty of reading about the slave trade

Repercussions

Some read it one chapter at a time, so they could take a break and process

Others read in chunks

Following characters quite hard, even with the family tree

Some felt it spoilt the flow

Read like a collection of short stories

Some found the ending predictable

Sliding Doors / The Butterfly Effect

Educational and informative

Questioning history – fact / emotionally truthful / politically truthful

Important to not forget about Britain’s role in this part of history

Story shows a lot of nuance

Integration into new worlds without forgetting roots

Akua’s chapter is very hard to read – she bears the brunt of the family’s history

Water. Green

Some found the American characters relatable

Early chapters are about survival, tradition and ritual

Each generation is trying to connect to the past

Homegoing – all of them are looking back

No sense of oral history, the link is broken due to circumstances

History is traditionally written by the victors

All isolated

A snapshot

Is it important that the characters are all related?

Liked the way it was written

 

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Our next book club meeting is Tuesday 30th April at 7pm in the Reading Room of Insole Court House, where we’ll be discussing Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.