FACE IN A BOOK | Book Review: "Fool's Assassin" by Robin Hobb

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Face in a Book is my weekly mini-review feature. This week I focus on the launch of Robin Hobb's Fitz and Fool Trilogy!

Fool's Assassin (Fitz and Fool Trilogy #1) by Robin Hobb (Del Ray; on sale August 12, 2014)

Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.

Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.

FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one...

This was a thrilling return to Fitz’s story – I was so excited to read this, and was honestly a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to all of the hype. Especially since George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire) called it, "Fantasy as it ought to be written . . . Robin Hobb’s books are diamonds in a sea of zircons."  Happily, I was wrong.

Mild spoilers ahoy, under the page break.

FACE IN A BOOK | Book Reviews: "Some Fine Day" by Kat Ross,"The Fortune Hunter" by Daisy Goodwin & "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Face in a Book is my weekly mini-review feature. This week includes a bunch of great reads, including a unique dystopian YA, historical fiction about Sisi, the Empress of Austria, and an eccentric genetics professor searching for his life-long mate - through statistics, of course.

Some Fine Day by Kat Ross (Strange Chemistry; on sale July 1, 2014)

Sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist is on the verge of graduating from the black ops factory known as the Academy. She's smart and deadly, and knows three things with absolute certainty:

1. When the world flooded and civilization retreated deep underground, there was no one left on the surface.
2. The only species to thrive there are the toads, a primate/amphibian hybrid with a serious mean streak.
3. There's no place on Earth where you can hide from the hypercanes, continent-sized storms that have raged for decades.

Jansin has been lied to. On all counts.

Jansin is a teenage girl training for a military life "underground." Her society left the surface of Earth after global warming created "hypercanes" - devastating storms that rage across the continents. While on a vacation above, she gets kidnapped and what she discovers will change everything she ever thought she knew.

While I'm getting pretty sick of dystopian YA - which has flooded the market lately, as I'm sure you know - this was a standout. Jansin is smart, brave, and best of all, she can sometimes be really flawed and foolish, all of which I loved. And she actually has both parents, which is new. She grows to care about her love interest, but it was still all a bit quick for my taste. I didn't really feel that their relationship was worth Jansin risking everything for and leaving her family behind, considering there wasn't much romantic development there.

However, Ross really delves into some deep topics: genetic engineering and mutation, man-made global warming, militaristic societies, biological and chemical warfare...all of which lead to an interesting and fast-paced plot that I zoomed through and ultimately enjoyed. It's a shame the publisher, Strange Chemistry, went out of business - I hope this title finds a new home soon.

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin (St. Martin's Press; on sale July 29, 2014)

In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.

Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything - except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.

Full of passion and drama, THE FORTUNE HUNTER tells the true story of a nineteenth century Queen of Hearts and a cavalry captain, and the struggle between love and duty.

I went into this knowing that Daisy Goodwin had written another title that I wasn't fond of - The American Heiress, but I like to give authors more than one chance. Especially when enough time has lapsed that there may be some improvement to the writing style, which was my issue with the last book. I'm glad I gave Goodwin another shot, because I enjoyed The Fortune Hunter.

Set in 1875, Charlotte Baird is the sole heiress to a fortune, who dreams of becoming a professional photographer. This obviously creates waves through her staunchly conservative society. When she meets and falls in love with Bay, she believes that her life is right on track for happiness. However, when "The Most Beautiful Woman in Europe," Sisi, the Empress of Austria, arrives - everything changes. Bay, an expert horseman and Captain of the Royal Guard, becomes infatuated with the Empress, who often takes him hunting. His relationship with Charlotte becomes strained, and gossip-mongers are tearing the pair apart.

I felt like I was immersed in the Victorian era, and Goodwin is skillful with her description of how the upper crust lives. I liked Charlotte very much, and I found Bay pretty fascinating as well. While I didn't feel any sympathy with Sisi, it was wonderful reading historical fiction about a historical figure you don't hear much about. The blend of fact and fiction kept me intrigued, but I did wish there had been more fact. However, this was a solidly good read.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Simon & Schuster; on sale June 3, 2014)

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a "wonderful" husband, his first reaction is shock. 

Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical--most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent--and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie--and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

This was one of the most unique (and adorable) books I've read all year. Don Tillman teaches genetics at a university in Australia - and he's steadfastly single. Not for lack of trying - he just hasn't met the right woman. He embarks on "The Wife Project" to find his perfect mate, using a hilarious questionnaire to weed out the most inappropriate.

When his best friend picks out a questionnaire - it turns out to be Rosie. Rosie is very much the "unperfect" partner - she smokes, she's a bartender, she drinks, and she can't cook! Don finds out, however, that Rosie is on the hunt for her biological father - and the "Father Project" begins. Slowly, you watch Don begin to fall for Rosie, and it's absolutely precious.

This was equal parts sweet, quirky, and intelligent. The narrator had a very distinctive voice, and I was definitely rooting for Don throughout the whole book. This is a novel I'll be recommending to people for a long time.

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY | "Bittersweet" by Colleen McCullough

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by the fabulous Jill over at Breaking the Spine.This week, I'm waiting for the release of...

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough (Simon & Schuster; on sale August 19, 2014)
This is the story of two sets of twins, Edda and Grace, Tufts and Kitty, who struggle against all the restraints, prohibitions, laws and prejudices of 1920s Australia. Only the submissive yet steely Grace burns for marriage; the sleekly sophisticated Edda burns to be a doctor, the down-to-earth but courageous Tufts burns never to marry, and the too-beautiful, internally scarred Kitty burns for a love free from male ownership.

Turbulent times, terrible torments, but the four magnificent Latimer sisters, each so different, love as women do: with tenderness as well as passion, and with hearts roomy enough to hold their men, their children, their careers and their sisters.

If you've ever read Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds, you'll know why this is on my to-read list. This is her first "epic romance," since the release of The Thorn Birds in 1977. This reminds me a bit of Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey, but set in Australia. MUST HAVE.

What are you waiting on this week?

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Top Ten Books I'd Give To Readers Who Have Never Read Fantasy

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the amazing Jamie over at The Broke and the Bookish! This week, I suggest a top ten list of books to readers who have never read any books in the fantasy genre!

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: This seven-book series is an ultimate classic - most children have grown up reading about the adventures of the four Pevensie children and their magical trip into a wardrobe, which is why it stands high on this list. 
  2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: While not my favorite series, it is absolutely a classic and deserves to be read. Tolkien's writing is pure poetry, and when you think of high fantasy - this is it.
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin: One of the very first "school of wizardry" books, this doubtless inspired Harry Potter and many more. Bonus points go to the LeGuin for the fact that the protagonist, and most of the main characters, are dark-skinned.
  4. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: I've gushed about this series a million - no, a bajillion - times, and for good reason. Lyra and her daemon, witches, armoured polar bears, and "Dust," all blend into an epic three-part series that will leave you equal parts broken and blessed at the end.
  5. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin: This is a masterpiece of modern fantasy. Dark, gruesome at times, and with more characters than you could possibly name, the series that inspired HBO's Game of Thrones will keep you breathlessly awaiting the next. Just don't wait too long, because the man is still writing them, and who knows when it'll be done.
  6. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Too few fantasy books focus primarily on female protagonists. Bradley relates the Arthurian legends through the eyes of its powerful women - Morgaine, Gwenhwyfar, Viviane, Morgause, and Igraine.
  7. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: One of the best-selling book series in history, this series focuses on the young wizard Harry Potter and his friends fighting Lord Voldemort (do I really need to recap? Please tell me you've all read this series. If not, go read it immediately. And if you hate it, DO NOT TELL ME, for my sanity).
  8. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss: Lyrical, exciting, with a narrator who is definitely unreliable, Patrick Rothfuss is making a name for himself as one of the premiere modern fantasy writers.
  9. Stardust by Neil Gaiman: I had a hard time narrowing it down, but this is Gaiman's most "fantasy" of fantasy novels. When a young man goes to fetch a fallen star to win the hand of his beloved, he stumbles into an enchanted realm and things get complicated.
  10. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb: A royal bastard with the "Wit" (the power to connect with animals) finds himself fighting for his life and to earn his keep as he trains to be a royal assassin. Perfection.

Honorary mentions: The Once and Future King by T.H. White, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and the Sandman series, and Wicked by Gregory Maguire. 

I was also thinking about adding the Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth series by Robert Jordan  and Terry Goodkind, respectively, but I could barely get through those books and can't recommend those bloated creatures to anyone with a good conscience. Unless you're my enemy - but still, I'd rather thump you with them and save you the misery.

Which fantasy books would you add to this list? Which of these would you take off?

FACE IN A BOOK | Book Reviews: "Prototype" by M.D. Waters and "The Lost" by Sarah Beth Durst

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Face in a Book is my weekly mini-review feature. From the buzzworthy conclusion of the Archetype duology, to the latest by Sarah Beth Durst, you'll get lost in these reads.

Prototype (Archetype #2) by M.D. Waters (Dutton; on sale July 24, 2014)

Emma looks forward to the day when she can let go of her past—both of them. After more than a year on the run, with clues to her parents’ whereabouts within her grasp, she may finally find a place to settle down. Start a new life. Maybe even create new memories with a new family.

But the past rises to haunt her and to make sure there’s nowhere on the planet she can hide. Declan Burke wants his wife back, and with a little manipulation and a lot of reward money, he’s got the entire world on his side. Except for the one man she dreads confronting the most: Noah Tucker.
Emma returns to face what she’s done but finds that the past isn’t the problem. It’s the present—and the future it represents. Noah has moved on and another woman is raising their daughter.

In the shocking conclusion to M.D. Waters’s spectacular debut, Emma battles for her life and her freedom, tearing down walls and ripping off masks to reveal the truth. She’s decided to play their game and prove she isn’t the woman they thought she was. Even if it means she winds up dead. Or worse, reborn.

I read this back to back with the first in the series, Archetype. I couldn’t believe it was a debut – it’s incredibly well-written, thrilling, and “unputdownable.”

Emma has left her “family” – the love of her life Noah, and her “daughter” (hard to explain, but boy, is the biological process interesting!) to find her parents, who she believes are rebels on the run. However, her desire for independence and an escape from a ethically confusing life is thwarted when her ex-husband, Declan, puts out a reward for her “rescue.”

Yes, there are a lot of words with quotations – and that’s because in the Archetype series, nothing is what it seems.

When Emma returns, she faces an uphill battle. She needs to regain Noah’s trust, get to know her daughter, and deal with the fact that another woman will do anything to keep up the status quo.

Not only was this a exhilarating thrill-ride, you’ll be turning the pages to see who Emma ends up with – and whether Declan still has the power to make her life a living hell. Who is Emma, really? Is she the “old” Emma, or is she simply entirely herself? Not even Emma knows.

The characters are deftly drawn, with motivations and thoughts beyond the clichĂ©, which turns this from a sci-fi romance to one with major teeth. Honestly, I’m sorry the series is over, and I’ll be looking for more from M.D. Waters.

The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst (Harlequin MIRA; on sale May 20, 2014)
It was supposed to be a small escape. A few hours driving before turning around and heading home. But once you arrive in Lost...well, it's a place you really can't leave. Not until you're Found. Only the Missing Man can send you home. And he took one look at Lauren Chase and disappeared.

So Lauren is now trapped in the town where all lost things go-luggage, keys, dreams, lives-where nothing is permanent, where the locals go feral and where the only people who don't want to kill her are a handsome wild man called the Finder and a knife-wielding six-year-old girl. The only road out of town is engulfed by an impassable dust storm, and escape is impossible.... 

Until Lauren decides nothing-and no one-is going to keep her here anymore.

I moved a little bit out of my comfort zone on this one – it wasn’t something I would typically read, but the description sounded intriguing, and the premise reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is one of my favorite novels. So, I dove in.

The writing was a little unsettling for me – first person present in short, terse sentences that I can only describe as “choppy,” and which could sometimes be confusing. I would have to re-read lines of text, because I wasn’t exactly sure what the author meant. However, it fit the atmosphere of the book – Lauren is going through some sort of trauma, and is lost in multiple ways.

I enjoyed that Lauren wasn’t always likeable; she can be stand-offish, and sometimes cruel. She abandons her ailing mother at first because she can’t handle taking care of her, or the very idea that she’s sick. She’s also incredibly paranoid.

The conceit that this is a town where you go to “find yourself” was very unique, but I didn’t enjoy the creepy love interest, or the romance, and I didn’t feel invested in any of the characters. Time passes without any sort of recognition, and overall I just felt an interesting plot line was poorly executed.