Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

My experience with Ken Follett has shown him to be one of my favorite writers. His descriptions of people and things and even of the dark side of the world are beautiful. Fall of Giants did not disappoint.

There are many characters involved in this book. Many lives intersect and move in different directions. There are those from different countries with strong differences in opinions, both political and otherwise. Sometimes, it takes focus to keep up with the direction things move in, but in the end is definitely worth the extra attention.

This book made for a great discussion with the club. We all wished there had been more to Katerina’s story. Maybe if her past had been a bit more discussed, she might have been a more likeable character. All enjoyed the emphasis on women’s suffrage and the dynamics of relationships because of it. How we saw the lives of everyday people made us better understand the war and how people on all sides were changed for good and bad. Everyone felt like we came away from the book with more knowledge about WWI and the politics of that time.

This book better taught us how war changed countries, molded them, and ultimately decimated some of them. In Russia during the war and revolution, they had hardly any bread. People starved to death or resorted to prostitution to feed their families. Germans lost homes to the war to be used for housing soldiers or weapons. German soldiers near the front line received very little food. When the Germans would take a British trench, they realized how much better the British were eating. They were so hungry that they would forget to be a soldier and become almost childlike over food.

The love aspects of the book add to the plot but are not a centralized part of the plot. I enjoyed seeing the evolution of the lives of the characters and what they thought about life, war, and politics.

The character of Ethel Williams seemed to be the book club favorite as she is a strong female and tends to think outside the box. Grigori was another favorite with his superhero complex and kind heart. Gus Dewar is also one of my favorite characters. I did not realize it until I began working on my plot summary. He interacts with almost every character in some way.

Would I recommend this book? It depends on the reader. If you love epic, historical, or war stories, absolutely. If you’re a romance or young adult reader, I would caution you that while there are love stories, they are not the focal points and following the story may not appeal you as much. However, the historical aspect is well worth it.


The following is a summary of the plot that does involve spoilers. If you intend to read the book, I suggest you stop at this point.

We begin with Billy who is just becoming a man and his concerns with what that means. He and his sister live with their parents and grandpa in Aberowen, a Welsh town. Billy has just finished with school and is off to work in the mines. Ethel, his sister, works at a wealthy family’s estate nearby.

Ethel works for an earl who is married to a Russian princess. The princess, Bea, is a hot and cold bride. Sometimes she welcomes her husband, but most often she is cold to him in the way of marital relations. The Earl Fitzherbert, or Fitz, is very fond of his liberal sister, Maud. Her political opinions are almost the complete opposite of his. Maud is fond of Ethel who is a maid turned housekeeper. Her brother is attracted to Ethel, and the feeling becomes mutual. The attraction leads to an affair and then a baby. Ethel is offered by the Earl’s lawyer to be paid off which she promptly refuses. She leaves everything she knows and sets off for London after her father rejects her because of her pregnancy. She finds work and starts making a life for herself. She runs into her old friend, Maud. Maud takes her under her wing. They both become active in politics and women’s suffrage. Toward the end of Fall of Giants, they have a disagreement and part ways. Ethel marries Bernie Leckwith, he adopts her son, Lloyd, and they make a life together. Their first issue is that Ethel is nominated for a political position that Bernie wants for himself. Ethel declines the nomination as she is pregnant. Ethel is a strong woman who knows her own mind and makes the best out of her situation. Although she made some decisions that were not ideal, she does not expect handouts from anyone and stands on her own two feet. She seemed to be a favorite with the book club and myself.

During this time, Billy is learning about the mines and getting better. There is a mining explosion where he earns respect and becomes somewhat of a local hero. Instead of running away from the danger, he faces it and helps others. He soon realizes that the safety precautions and emergency management of the mines is not up to par. He and his father take on local leaders to get this corrected to prevent future loss of life. The leaders also evict the families of the miners who died during the explosion. This leads to a strike from the local miners. Soon, almost everyone is evicted. The struggle to survive goes on.

The King plans to visit Aberowen after the explosion. He is invited into the house of Edward “Fitz” Fitzherbert, Earl Fitzherbert. Fitz is a very conservative politician and when rumors of war begin, he is for it. His sister, Maud, is the complete opposite. She desires peace and is considered liberal, to her brother’s chagrin. They have something akin to a house party while the king is visiting and Maud finds herself attracted to her brother’s German schoolmate, Walter von Ulrich. The attraction is mutual. After spending time together, they find themselves sneaking off for stolen kisses. They both try to deny their feelings at first then realize that they are very much in love despite the tension between their countries. Because of this, they have to keep their relationship a secret. As a war builds between all countries involved, they marry in secret and as Walter becomes a German soldier in the war, they are separated for five years. Their love endures and eventually, they are reunited. By the end of the book, Maud and Walter make their home in war ravaged Germany and start a family.

We also have the story of Russian brothers, Lev and Grigori Peshkov. Grigori works in a local factory and is saving to go to America. Since the death of their mother, Grigori has taken care of Lev. While their lifestyle is meager, Lev has become a bit spoiled with his brother always getting him out of tight situations. Once in America, Grigori plans to save for Lev’s ticket to America.

One night on his way home from work, Grigori comes across a woman being accosted by the police. He knows some of the local officers are crooked. He steps in to try and help her and ends up fighting the officers involved. An American, Gus Dewar, is passing by when he notices what is going on. He stops to assist. Everyone parts ways, but not without a warning that the officers would get revenge. The woman’s name is Katerina. Grigori is stunned by her beauty and offers her a place to stay. She has reservations but not much of a choice. She goes home with Grigori and stays with his female neighbors.

Once Lev sets eyes on Katerina, he makes her his next conquest. Grigori is dismayed and knows that it won’t end well. He feels some resentment toward his brother because he is able to attract Katerina in a way that Grigori is not. Lev and Katerina begin seeing each other. Soon, Lev finds himself in trouble once again. To keep him from being arrested, Grigori gives Lev his ticket to America that he finally acquired. Grigori sees him off and goes to find Katerina. Once, they talk, Grigori finds that she is expecting. After cursing his brother, he gives in to his feelings for Katerina and in true Grigori fashion, resolves to take care of her and his brother’s baby.

The beginning of The Revolution starts in Russia. Grigori is excited to see it and participates in protests.

Once the war begins, he’s off to fight it. When higher officers than he make bad decisions that lead to unnecessary loss of life, Grigori defies orders to keep his men safe. During the revolution, he becomes an official himself. He and Katerina move into a nice home and have a baby girl.

Lev is not sent to America as he thinks he, but to Aberowen where the miner strike is taking place. He is told to work the mines in place of those on strike. He sticks to his rogue ways and is soon cheating other miners at cards. From his ill gotten winnings and with the rush of finding himself in trouble, he is finally able to go to America.

He begins working for someone akin to a mob boss, finds himself attracted to the daughter of the boss, and is once again in trouble. When it comes about that she is expecting, he is forced into marriage and into the “family business” running a club. Still, he looks for trouble. Grigori is no longer his bail out, and so his father in law sends him into the military and off to war.

Strangely, he finds himself captured and comes face to face with his brother. Grigori listens to his tale, and fills in Lev on what’s gone on in his absence. When Lev offers his brother the money to travel to America, Grigori refuses, saying he has important work to do in Russia.

The only person Lev cares enough about to return to is his daughter, Daisy, in America. He goes home and finds that his mistress is also pregnant. His wife and her mob boss father finds out. The father demands a fight and when the fight is done, Lev’s father in law is dead, presumably of a heart attack. He flees to Canada, and then comes home to take his place in business.

Gus Dewar is an important advisor to the president. He has worked his way up and is a big man about town. Unfortunately, he has bad taste in women. He finds himself with a married woman who promises, as they all do, to leave her husband. She finally comes to Gus, and tells him that her husband has been given a promotion that will move them away. She is going with him. Gus is heartbroken and focuses on work for sometime. Soon, he finds himself taken with Olga, who happens to be the daughter of the mob boss. Her father approves the match because he wants a good life for his girl. Of course, since her father approves, Olga finds him boring. Olga and Gus are all but engaged when it comes out that she is pregnant with her father’s employees baby. Gus is once again on his own. With the war beginning and America possibly getting involved, he is too wrapped up to think of dating. He travels to Germany and finds Walter. Walter asks Gus for a favor. Since Gus is headed next to England, he asks Gus to deliver a message to Maud. Gus is in Paris with President Wilson when he runs into his friend, Rosa. She is a tough, brassy journalist with a lovely exterior. After spending more and more time with her, Gus finds himself taken with Rosa. He thinks about how she told him he was a fool when he sought to marry Olga. He and Rosa fall for one another, and finally, Gus finds happiness.

Romance

I feel like the romance genre is the red headed step child of reading. There. I’ve said it. I’ve asked people what genre is their favorite and get responses like, “Anything, but romance.” That’s great and all, but have you seen those proud romance fans? They are some of the most devoted fans in the world. I mean, they are super devoted. I love that. I love that you love what you love.

Some of my first chapter books were romance. I’ve evolved to enjoy a lot more, but I’ve devoured many romances in my day. I am still a fan of some of those writers as well. Romances are what I like to use as palate cleansers after a serious, dark, or disturbing reading.

Romance writers like Colleen Hoover are really talented with words. Colleen is a particular favorite of mine simply because she writes very well and tells stories with a quirk or a twist. Her Slammed series introduced me to spoken word and slam poetry, and I’ll be forever thankful for that. She has deep, flawed characters that really speak to me. I draw the line at the erotic romance section, though. I’ve tried it, found it not to my taste, but if it’s yours, then let your flag fly.

I got a lot of weird looks when I brought my mom’s Danielle Steel books to read during quiet time in fifth grade. One of my teachers even sent me to the library to find something more “age appropriate.” Honestly, when it came to intimate scenes, they were not as graphic as what could be seen on T.V. at the time. Books like Zoya were set in countries that intrigued me and gave me insight into remarkable places. The Born In Series by Nora Roberts solidified my desire to see Ireland before I die. You have to remember, this was back when the internet wasn’t always at our fingertips.

I am not the biggest romance reader just because I am not a super romantic person. Gift wise, I usually feel silly if I get jewelry or things like that. My husband knows the most romantic thing to get me is a Barnes and Noble gift card or something useful. Romance has one of the biggest followings of all the genres. I get that. Love stories are mostly happy and leave you feeling happy after they end. So, my serious reading, romance-hating friends (including me), be kind to those who enjoy romance. Keep the comments and jokes to yourself, and let folks do what they do. The reading world will be better for it. Read on, y’all!

Do Your Heartwork

I was admiring a drawing a friend of mine did recently. I told her she did lovely artwork. She told me it was because she did the work from her heart. I said, “So, it’s your heartwork.” She laughed and said that she hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, it was.

I remember my friend, La Rue, telling me to work at what I love and do good work. She said it was important to carve out time to do what has meaning to you and to work at it. She gives good advice. If I did not make time to write or read, I would probably die. Maybe not physically, but emotionally and spiritually I would wither.

I went through a period where I did not write. I did not pick up a pen. I tried not to create in my head. I abstained completely. At the time, I did not realize just how miserable I was. I was lonely for characters that lived only in my mind and longed for words. I needed to create and do good work. It makes life bearable.

When I don’t have an outlet, I feel like I’m imprisoned in myself. It’s odd to think about it, but when I write, it’s like I’m plucking thorns from my skin. I need to do it so that the wound can heal. When Tony and I were dating, I wrote him letters all the time. Sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes, they were several pages long. And bless his nonreading heart, he read every word. I’ve never been great at verbalizing what I want to say, and it was my way of telling him how I felt. His taking the time to read them was his way of telling me how he felt.

Writing is what I do to deal with my reality as much as reading is what I do to escape it. It keeps me sane.

So, do your heartwork. Whatever that may be. Create. Run. Save lives. Write. Be a good parent. Whatever you love being in your life. Be that. Whatever you love doing in your life. Do that. 

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Stephen King is known for horror and suspense. However, for me, The Gunslinger is more a mystery of sorts or maybe the building up to a grand mystery. It is a different creature than the King books I’ve read in the past. It has a lot to offer the reader; like a really great gun fight scene that your imagination can run wild with. It still has the powerful descriptions, a bit of gore, and the wonderful macabre things we expect from the mind of Stephen King. For me, it is his rabbit hole.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Roland Deschain is not a hero. He is not a good guy, but he’s not a bad guy. He is a determined guy and a very complicated guy. He is everything I could ask for out of a character. He is the last Gunslinger. In a world that seems to be an alternate or dystopian future of ours, he is on a journey to seek out the man in black and kill him. The Gunslinger’s world is not so different from our own. You have those on drugs or devil grass as it is in The Gunslinger. You have a religious leader that makes me think of Westboro Baptist Church. You have crazies who follow the insane religious leader, and you have those who are possessed by something unknown. Sometimes, in our world as well as Roland’s, those last two intersect.

“My name is John Chambers. You can call me Jake.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

On his journey, Roland meets many people. He finds a town, he finds a lover, he finds a hippie farmer, and after all this, he finds Jake. I swear if I could pull a character from a book and into reality, it would be Jake. I would adopt him. He is a young boy who got mixed into something he can’t understand, and all he has in the world at this point in his story is Roland, the rough gunslinger who will not be deterred from his mission. Jake was in his own world, in his own time, minding his own business when he is shoved into Roland’s path.

Roland became a gunslinger at a very young age. He did so in a fit of rage that led him to the challenge to receive his guns. Roland relives stories about his childhood while traveling with Jake and gives us a glimpse at how he became who he is.

“I am the furthest minion of the Dark Tower. Earth has been given into my hand.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

The man in black is part of the mystery. He is always just out of the gunslinger’s reach. When you read of the actions of the man in black, you realize how truly evil his character is. He brings a drug addict back to life just so that he can prolong his suffering. Being a seer, he gives a barren woman a child that he knows will face an end. He does both of these things without a second thought and only to bring destruction. Roland seeks to end this and end him.

“Go then, there are other worlds than these.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

I hope after this review that you are standing at the rabbit hole. I hope you are intrigued enough to take the plunge. Make no mistake that this book is only the rabbit hole, though. This is only the beginning of the journey to rid the worlds of the man in black and finally see The Dark Tower. I am not half done with this series of books, but it has been a fantastical and suspenseful journey thus far. Be ready if you intend to venture into the rabbit hole. I recommend that you do, and if you do, then go, for there are other worlds than these.

***The remainder of this post contains SPOILERS. Plot and otherwise. If you intend to read this book, please stop at this point.

The Gunslinger begins with Roland trailing the man in black across the desert. He and his donkey are worn to the bone and suffering from dehydration and heat. Stephen King uses some of the descriptive writing here that I am so fond of. They come across a small house where a dweller lives. He offers shelter and food. Roland accepts and sleeps. The dweller, Brown, wakes Roland to let him know that the donkey has died. The man has a raven named Zoltan that mostly spews nonsense and silly things.

While visiting, Roland tells Brown the story of himself and the town called Tull. Entering town, he finds that it is not much more than a few buildings and a saloon. He goes into the saloon and meets the local druggie who is on the wasting drug they call devil weed. He takes the barmaid as a lover, and she fills him in on some of the locals. She tells him how the man in black came in on the same day the druggie, Nort, died. She explains that the man in black brought the dead man back to life.

Roland’s lover, Allie, tells of the local crazy religious leader whom she says preaches poison religion. The woman, Sylvia, calls Roland an interloper and turns the town’s people against him. She has been touched by the man in black. Between the living dead druggie and the crazy religious lady, the trap set for Roland is set into motion and ends with the one of the best written gunfights I’ve read to date.

Roland moves on and comes to a way station where he finds the boy, Jake. He goes down into a cellar and faces a demon. He leaves with Jake and travels through mountains and tunnels. They come across slow mutants and other issues. Roland tells Jake the story of his youth and how he earned his guns and became a gunslinger at an unheard of age. Jake comes to realize that if he continues on with Roland that he will die. Roland knows this as well.

In the end, Jake is lost and Roland faces the man in black, but this is far from the end of the saga. Read on, my friends. 

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett


“When things are simple, fewer mistakes are made. The most expensive part of a building is the mistakes.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors. Mainly because he writes books made up of many stories of many people and shows how they merge and intersect. They are well researched and usually have a healthy dose of historical accuracy. He writes on the edge as well. He touches on stories that would be taboo in their time, but writes them in a way that is both knowledgeable and considerate.

You never know,” Jack said speculatively. “There may come a time when savages like William Hamleigh aren’t in power; when the laws protect the ordinary people instead of enslaving them; when the king makes peace instead of war. Think of that – a time when towns in England don’t need walls!” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

He writes a good bad guy. Some are just outright horrible and his descriptions make you love to hate them while others are bad but likeable. Most of what I have read has had more than one bad guy which also is how our world works. Sometimes the bad guy is just the world itself. His characters tend to go through things that your everyday person might go through.

I picked up The Pillars of the Earth as a preteen. It was my very first historical fiction. Being over 900 pages, it seemed a daunting task to someone who had previously read nothing thicker than Goosebumps  and Animorphs. I’d already cut my teeth on romances from Danielle Steel and Katherine Stone. This book was a whole other creature.

The first few chapters gave me a more detailed look into the time in which it was set. There are just some things that schools and textbooks cannot include even as important as they may be to history.

“He wondered if he really was capable of it. Then he thought what a thrill it would be to create something from nothing; to see, one day in the future, a new church here where now there was nothing but rubble, and to say: I made this.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

The book begins with the family of Tom Builder. He’s a man with big dreams, but the wrong circumstances to achieve them. He wants more than anything to build a cathedral. He wants to build high glorious ceilings and long open windows that will shed light into the grace of a house of God. To him, it was much more than a building. In his eyes, a cathedral is its own entity.

He has a wife he loves, two children, and another baby on the way. We meet him as he is building a house for the son of a wealthy man who is set to marry. When the wedding is called off and the son decides not to finish the house, Tom and his family are left destitute. Their luck steadily falters. As they are travelling by foot in search of work for Tom, tragedy strikes. I won’t go into detail for those that want to read the book, but Tom’s life will never be the same.

“She had resolved not to let people make her a victim, and she had proved she could keep her resolution.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

Next we are introduced to Aliena. Her jilted betrothed ruins not just her life, but that of her family as well. She has to fight to survive and to live her life on her own terms. She is a bit of a flawed character which is why she is one of my favorites. She is proud and haughty and has to learn her lessons the hard way.

“How terrible, Jack thought, to be old and know that your life has been wasted.”― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

One of the most important characters, and my personal favorite, is Jack. Jack is intelligent but quiet. He is unfortunate looking and has been dealt a difficult hand. However, no matter what happens to him, he knows exactly what he wants and nothing deters him from it. His life is fraught with unfortunate incidents and circumstances. I can’t explain much more about Jack without giving away anything.

“The first casualty of a civil war was justice, Philip had realized.” ― Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

Around the stories, there are political and religious issues, raids, and something similar to a civil war. The Catholic church and monarchs are working both for and against one another in true political form. Lies are told, lives are disrupted, and people are used for political and monetary gain. It follows the seesaw exchange of power.

The book at its heart is about cathedrals and the building of them. It compares the building to life and the lives that are going on around it.

If I had to say a book was my favorite, this would be it. It may be because it was one of my first serious reads, but I am quite partial to it. I was able to read it while on summer break and finished it within a few days. At first, I looked at the book and  wondered if I could finish it, and yet when it ended, I thought 900+ pages were not enough. It’s no secret that I highly recommend it.