Royal Assassin

January is always a depressing month, the bitter wind bites at your nose and cheeks and the weather never allows for a moment of unadulterated sunshine.  This year I decided to not let the weather interfere with my mood, instead I would use the gloomy days and early fading light as an opportunity to get cozy by the fire and delve into the world of fantasy.

As a, mainly, classics reader, I find the fantasy genre very overwhelming. I am not intimidated by large classic novels but something about the size of a fantasy novel terrifies me. This month, casting aside my fear, and putting on my ‘big girl’ reading cap, I decided to start the second book in the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I must now take the opportunity to congratulate myself on that wise decision.

Claiming only two fantasy novels under my belt during my reading career, I can already state that I do not think any other book in the genre will compare to The Farseer Trilogy. I cannot get enough and am so delighted that I have not yet made a dent in Robin Hobbs’s oeuvre.

Royal Assassin continues from where the first book leaves off. FitzChivalry has yet again to outwit and outmaneuver intriguers within Buckkeep, all the while trying not to get himself and the people he loves killed. With the Red Ships raiding the coastal villages and reeking havoc on all who dwell there, King-in-waiting Verity takes on a quest to find the Elderlings; beings that,according to legend, aided the royal house in troubled times.

Of stones were their bones made, of the sparkling veined stone of the mountains. Their flesh was made of the shining salts of the earth. But their heats were made of the hearts of wise men. ‘They came from afar, those men, a long and trying way. They did not hesitate to lay down the lives that had become a weariness to them. They ended their days and began eternities,they put aside flesh and donned stone, they let fall their weapons and rose on new wings. Elderlings.

With Verity away from court, and his new wife left lost and alone among strangers, who will protect his claim to the throne, his abandoned wife and battle against usurpers- well none other than loyal FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard nephew.

Hobbs writing is remarkable for both its poesy and also its accessibility. The narrative is captivating and gripping, and is not so plot heavy that she entirely ignores character development. This book has plot and character in spades. The world is incredibly well imagined, and we are slowly introduced to new concepts and ancient lore, not beaten over the head with it from the first page. I highly recommend this book for readers, who like me, are only beginning their journey into Fantasy.

 

Image citings-  http://www.hdwallpaperscool.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/rainy-day-hd-wallpaper-download-rainy-day-images-free.jpg

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Royal-Assassin-Farseer-Trilogy-Book/dp/0007562268

 

 

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”The Robber Bride” by Margaret Atwood

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I am a classic’s girl, I always have been and I always will be. However this past week I have had such an almighty craving for modern literary fiction, I am going to put it down to all the wonderful booktube videos I have recently watched.  As I perused my bookshelves I realized It was lacking in contemporary fiction; of course the shelves heaved with Dickens, Thackeray, the Bronte’s and Austen but nothing in which the heroines can wear trousers without scandalizing society. The only solution was a quick trip to the library and what a rewarding excursion it was. My arms were stiff and sore ,by the time I got home, with the amount of books I borrowed and the first thing I did was pop the kettle on a snuggle up with Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride.

This book is set in late early 90’s Toronto and also the 1940’s and 1960’s. Each decade witnesses major world events such as World War 2, the Vietnam war, and the beginning of the Gulf war and recession. There is an element of unrest and unease from the beginning of this novel and it is with these events playing out on the world stage that we meet our characters.
Tony,Roz and Charis come together to lunch, in 90’s Toronto, in a restaurant called ‘Toxique’. We are introduced to them in turn and find out that though they are very different, they have remained good friends for a particular reason. Each woman has been hurt, manipulated and betrayed by another woman,Zenia, now believed to be dead but who, we soon find out, is very much alive and kicking.
The three ladies leave the restaurant in total shock and the narrative then takes us to the defining moment in their lives when they first encountered Zenia. However, the narrative does not stop there it also takes the reader back further into the past and we witness the horrors and disappointments of their childhoods.
The Robber Bride focuses heavily on mother-daughter relationships and shows the marks and scars it has left on the three women.
Due to their negative pasts Tony, Charis and Roz have created another self and each woman has a split personality of sorts, which helps them deal with their lives and themselves as individuals.
After reading about each of their childhoods, the reader can understand why they have allowed themselves to be taken in by Zenia and her lies. Each woman wants to fill a space, or an emptiness within them and Zenia, with all her skills, knows exactly how to worm her way in and be the person that can fill that void.
The character of Zenia is a mystery, she tells three different tales of her childhood,and lies and manipulates with such ease. We never learn what her modus operandi is and that is one of the interesting parts of this novel.

The Robber Bride is a wonderful novel the about rich inner lives of woman and the conflict fought in everyday life and not just on the battlefield. I highly recommend it.

Adapting Thomas Hardy (Part one)

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It is no secret that I adore the great Thomas Hardy. His use of language, imagery and characterization are unsurpassed  (in my humble opinion). His words intoxicate and captivate and in a couple of sentences he can create characters that are so real one could almost reach out and touch them.  A great character description can be found in the opening lines to Tess of the D’urbervilles.

On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor. The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line. He occasionally gave a smart nod, as if in confirmation of some opinion, though he was not thinking of anything in particular.

Hardy is an artist, with his words painting vivid scenes and landscapes. Many of his detractors have scoffed and rolled their eyes at his over use of descriptions and find no merit in such a style of writing. I wholeheartedly disagree as I find the setting of a Hardy novel to be as important as the characters and so I enjoy the developing  sense of where the story is located and relish the descriptions of fields and farms.  My love affair with Thomas Hardy began when I was about 16 or 17 when I discovered my granddad’s classics collection locked away in the sitting room. I perused in earnest and discovered so many wonderful titles that day, but the one that beckoned me was ‘ Far from the Madding crowd’. From the moment I read the first page it was love, and  it is still going strong.  The wonderful thing about Hardy for beginners is that there are so many film adaptations and the majority of them are wonderful. I have compiled a list to take you through some of the adaptations.

Far from the Madding Crowd

Dir- John Schlesinger                                                                                                                         Date- 1967                                                                                                                                               Starring- Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch.

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This was the first Hardy film I watched and fell in love with.  It is about the headstrong Bathsheba Everdene, who inherits her uncle’s farm and decides that she will run it herself without a bailiff.  However, an independent,single woman is not the norm and so she is constantly pursued and urged to marry. Three suitors appear on the scene, the steadfast Gabriel Oak (sturdy as his name), the dashing soldier, Frank Troy and the older, reserved Mr Boldwood.  Bathsheba must decide who she will marry and risk losing her independence and freedom. This story line sounds very simple,but believe me when I say there is much more to it than as described.  I have watched a few adaptations of this novel and none of them have impressed me as much as the 1967 version. It remains incredibly true to the book,not only in terms of plot line but also pacing and tone. I find it is easy to put a story into film but much harder to capture the intangible elements, but this one manages it perfectly.  The cinematography is breathtaking and the score is wonderfully haunting. As much as I adore the wonderful Carey Mulligan, in my opinion she did not capture the spirit and vanity of Bathsheba the way the beautiful Julie Christie did in the 60’s version. I found the new adaptation to be much too reserved and contained and I was constantly waiting for the eruption of  feeling and wildness.  If you want a great adaptation I recommend the 1967 version.

The mayor of Casterbridge                                                                                    

Dir- David Thacker                                                                                                                               Date-2003                                                                                                                                              Starring- Ciaran Hinds, Polly Walker, Jodhi May, James Purefoy

Michael Henchard ( Ciaran Hinds) is a down-on-his-luck drunk who sells his wife and daughter  to another man at a fair. Guilt ridden he vows to not touch a drop of alcohol for the number of years he has lived. Years later Michael Henchard has taken control of his life, he is sober and wealthy and the mayor of Casterbridge. Everything appears to be going his way until one day his wife and child enter the town and the story takes a number of dramatic twists and turns. To add salt to an already festering wound, a younger man, Donald Farfrae, enters the scene and he is everything that Micheal has wanted to be and more.

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One of the reasons I loved this adaptation is Ciaran Hinds, I think he is a remarkable actor and his handsome ,albeit slightly,  weathered face conveys so much emotion.  Micheal Henchard is not a noble character, he has done a lot of bad things and made some poor choices but with Ciaran’s portrayal one cannot help but root for him and sympathize with his failings.  The pacing is excellent and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this particular adaptation was broadcast as a series for ITV.  I truly believe that every book adaptation should be made into a series and not a film as there is not a lot of time to fit in every incident, or character, whereas in a series there is ample time and therefore atmosphere and tone are not lost in translation.  Like the 60’s Far from the Madding Crowd, the musical score is sublime and whilst writing this blog I went back and listened to it on youtube; my breath literally caught in my throat, it was so beautiful.  Wonderful adaptation and I dare you not to cry at the end.

This is the first part of my ‘Adapting Thomas Hardy’ and I will be back with more very soon. Take care xxx

”Oranges are not the only fruit” by Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges are not the only fruit is a beautifully told story about a young girl, Jeanette, coming to terms with her sexuality in a Pentecostal community.  Each chapter title is taken from the old testament, and so the story begins with Genesis. Jeanette ‘s adoption is depicted like a scene from the nativity,  as her mother

 followed a star until it came to settle above an orphanage, and in that place was a crib, and in that crib was a child.

The young Jeanette is not allowed to attend school as it is a ‘breeding ground’, and she learns what she can from home.

I learned that it rains when clouds collide with a high building, like a steeple, or a cathedral; the impact punctures them, and everybody underneath gets wet. This was why, in the old days, when the only tall buildings were holy, people used to say cleanliness is next to godliness. The more godly your town, the more high buildings you’d have, and the more rain you’d get.

In the chapter Exodus, Jeanette does eventually go to school but it is not what she imagined, and she struggles to connect her religious upbringing with the demands of her school. Jeanette’s school days were full of disappointments,fighting and feeling like the outsider.  Her mother does not care about her daughters schooling as she is preparing Jeanette to be a missionary and for a long time that was what the young Jeanette believed she was to become.   One day Jeanette meets Melanie and she begins to develop feelings for her which at first she does not understand.  The two girls begin a friendship which blooms into relationship and this cause major problems for Jeanette, whose mother abhors ‘unnatural passions’.

In the introduction,author Jeanette Winterson writes that

Oranges is a threatening novel. It exposes the sanctity of family life as something of  a sham; it illustrates by example that what the church call love is actually psychosis and it dares to suggest that what makes life difficult for homosexuals is not their perversity but other peoples.

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Oranges is a wonderful novel; sensitively told, funny and beautifully written. It is a 5/5 without question.

Children’ s Literature

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Whether one is 8, 18 or 80, children’s literature will always hold a steady place within a person’s heart. Everyone has a favourite childhood book that their mother or father read to them as they drifted off to sleep. I am sure many a child have succumbed to the land of nod and dreamed of flying with Peter Pan or having a crazy tea party with the mad hatter and march hare. Other children, I have no doubt, have drifted into the land of dreams with a smile on their lips as they accompany Matilda to the library or travel with James in his giant peach.  Children’s books were our first introduction into the land of the imagination. Sometimes the world was funny,sometimes weird and even scary but always rewarding.  I must admit that I have a large gap in my list of children’s books that most children have read, and so now as an adult I intend to immerse myself again within the pages of Children’s classics.

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Reading Alice in Wonderland or The Railway children is much more thrilling to my adult self than my younger self.  I am able to appreciate the language,the beautiful imagery, cultural context, the metaphors and symbolism within the text.  Humour is another thing that I may have missed out on as a child and coming back to my favourite novels now in my mid twenties, I can understand and laugh at the subtle humour and implied jokes throughout a cherished book.  Recently I read Watership Down by Richard Adams and it took my breath away. There is no way I could have felt like that as a child reading the novel and I am glad I choose to pick it up when I did. Watership Down was influenced heavily by the epic texts from Ancient times; The Aeneid and The odyssey play a great role in the development of plot and character. Having a degree in Classical civilizations I appreciated Adams employment of classical motifs and characterization throughout the novel, something my younger self, even with all her precocious mannerisms, would never have picked up.

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I will allow Clive Staples Lewis to end this blog with these eloquent and veracious words.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Literary dinner- Authors edition

Whenever I am sitting on a train, or waiting in a doctor’s surgery I always amuse myself by imagining a literary dinner party. Questions such as, who would I invite and what would I serve the esteemed guests spring to mind as I prepare my mental invitations. Tonight I am hosting a candlelit dinner, worthy of the great Hyacinth Bucket, and I have decided to invite the creme de la creme of the literary world. The invitations have been sent and I am delighted to announce that they have all RSVP’d. Tonight I shall be entertaining Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Peters, Nancy Mitford, Agatha Christie,Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy.

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As it is a rather female dinner party, Hardy and Dickens will provide a male point of view to the conversation. I have invited Ms. Austen for her sharp wit and impeccable observational eye. Nancy Mitford will add the glamour to the proceedings and I am sure she can stir up an amazing cocktail treat for us all. My dearest Elizabeth Peters has a great knowledge of history and archaeology and I look forward to her conversation at the dinner table. Naturally with Agatha Christie present something untoward will occur, I wait with bated breath. Lastly Charlotte Bronte, a woman veiled in a cloak of mystery, I look forward to hearing her regale us with her tales of the Yorkshire moors, and perhaps she may tell us more about her talented siblings.

Next the seating arrangements, a crucial element to a successful dinner party. If you get this part wrong, it could lead to a deathly silence for the whole party which would be a total disaster and I may never show my face again in society. I will seat Austen and Mitford together, they can cast critical glances over the party and make subtle jokes at everyone’s expense. Christie and Peters shall sit next to each other as both have a firm grip on archaeological matters and I am sure their conversation will be stimulating.  I have heard it said that Charlotte is rather shy and reserved, so I shall place her between the rambunctious Dickens and the eloquent Hardy.

It would not be a dinner party without food. After raiding the pantry I have decided on the menu, I think it will be well received. For starters I will serve the traditional soup or fish, next will come the Partridge or pheasant,  dessert will consist of plum pudding, Charlotte russe, strawberries and jelly. Drinks are a simpler affair, and I shall lay out a little bar on the sideboard for guests to help themselves,consisting of a fine Madeira, port, sherry, whiskey, gin and flavoured ice.

Now everything is prepared. The flowers and candles are displayed on the dinning table and the food is cooking nicely in the kitchen. The only thing left to do is wait for my guests. xxxxxxx

The merry month of May

It is the merry month of May and it is only natural that one would think of sandy beaches, soft lapping waves, Ice cream, and walks through the park. I am sorry to say that none of the above has happened this month. Forgive me; I forgot to mention that it is summertime in Ireland. It is a light sun for breakfast, grey clouds for lunch and rain for dinner. However, I am a bookworm and so I do not mind what the weather outside may be, as long as there is light to read by.  In September I will begin a busy month which will, most likely, continue that way for the next two years and I do not envision having as much reading time as I do now. I am determined to make the most out of this summer and read until my eyeballs hurt. I have many unread books on my two bookshelves which stand proud and majestic in my little sitting room. It is my intention to whittle down the TBR between now and September.

DSC01602The beginning of my Summer TBR

I have recently started a new book this week and I don’t know about you but I love the feeling of beginning a new book, there are endless possibilities and adventures waiting within its pages. The book I have chosen this week is ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins.

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It is a beautiful Penguin English Library edition with a lovely purple cover and it has been waiting patiently on my shelf for one whole year. I was starting to feel guilty every time I went to my shelf and ran my hands along the book spines seeking a new thrill, only to pass poor Mr Wilkie Collins over for a newer purchase. I have been meaning to read it for ages (a sentence many bookworms have uttered a least once in their life) and I plan to create the perfect, cosy environment to sit and tackle this 700 page beast. Coffee will definitely be in order.  Enjoy your reading adventure. Take care xxxxxx