Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August Book Review Club

Epic is an often over-used term, loosely applied to any movie with a "cast of thousands" involved in battles, or to books that are especially lengthy.  But the term epic can be accurately applied to Ken Follett's latest bestseller.  Fall of Giants has a broad setting, encompassing most of the Northern Hemisphere, and it involves the fate of most of the earth's inhabitants. While it doesn't have one great hero on a quest to save the world, it does have several characters who exhibit some traditional heroic qualities. 

Giants begins in 1914 as Europe is poised on the brink of war. After attempts at peace-making fail, one country after another enters the war, impacting all of the major characters.  There are battle scenes, of course, but the most interesting parts of the novel involve the personal lives of the main characters  Their stories are intertwined, and Follett's technique of changing the focal character from one chapter to another makes the story faster-paced than one might expect.

Differing viewpoints on the war and social issues of the time are seen through the characters representing different countries:
  • Billy Williams is a young coal miner from Aberwen, South Wales, and his sister Ethel is a housemaid in the Welsh country home of a rich earl.
  • Earl Fitzherbert and his sister, Lady Maud, are English and part of the old aristocracy, though they spend time in their country home in Wales.
  • Walter von Ulrich is a German count and a military attache at the German Embassy in London.
  • Grigori and Lev Peshkov are peasant brothers who eventually rise above their poverty-stricken and violent surroundings in St. Petersburg, Russia.
  • Gus Dewar, an American from Buffalo, New York, meets all the other main characters in his travels throughout Europe as an assistant to President Woodrow Wilson. 

Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of Somme (photo from Wikipedia)

I didn't realize how little I knew about WWI until I began reading this book.   The novel is not just a war story, however, as it also deals with some major social upheavals of the time, including women's suffrage and the increasing power of the middle and lower classes, especially in Russia. But as interesting as the plot is, it is the characters who fascinated me and kept me reading.  The book ends in 1924, with each of the characters at a pivotal point in their lives.  Fall of Giants is the first book of a trilogy planned by Follett; I'm sure I'm not the only reader eager to find out what happens to Ethel, Grigori, and the others as the years pass by.

I must admit I was hesitant to start reading a book that was nearly 1,000 pages long during the height of gardening season, and I didn't expect to finish it in time for this Book Club meeting.  When I read Follett's Pillars of the Earth a few years ago, it took me nearly 100 pages to get "into" the book.  But Giants had me hooked from the beginning, and it was a great way to spend those hot afternoons the past two weeks, curled up with a book in the comfort of my A/C.  I can't wait for the next in the series to come out!


One more note . . .

I rarely see movies in the theatres, instead waiting until they come out on DVD.  But I will definitely be making a trip to my local multiplex in a few weeks to see The Help, which opens in theatres on August 10.  The movie is based on the bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, one of the best books I've read in recent years and one I reviewed here some time ago.  I can only hope the movie does the book justice; if you see the movie, be sure to read the book, too--you won't be disappointed.

After a few months' hiatus, I'm glad to be joining once again in the Book Review Club hosted by Barrie Summy .  Click here for more recommendations for summer reading.


  1. Ken Follet is one of my favorite authors. His book 'Pillars of the Earth' kept me going during my time in Saudi in the early 90s. I was hooked! The mini series is on Netflix and hubby and I recently watched it. I must check this book out too as I know it was superb and easy to finish once you get into it.

  2. Guns of August is a very good non-fiction book about the War and the Maisie Dobbs mystery series looks at its aftermath (Winspear). I have always found this was very interesting and the beginning of a century of horror.
    My whole book club is going to see THE HELP. It was one of their favorite books. Hope the movie is good.

  3. Hubby reads everything Ken Follet writes. And we're definitely going to see The Help.

  4. Sounds intriguing.

    It took you 100 pages to get into Pillars of the Earth? Does that mean I ought to give it another try? I think I gave up around page 50. :)

  5. I love Ken Follet, read 'Pillars of the Earth' after returning from Europe. Great book. He really spins a great tale. Will put this one on the list.

  6. I do not read fiction, but my daughter does, she's 17 and I called her over to read this post. She cannot wait to see The Help and didn't know there was a book! She's on her way to the library as I type!
    Thank you for the recommendation!

  7. This book might appeal to my son - thanks for the recommendation. We're more game about longer books now that we have Kindles.

  8. Interesting! I have some other books by Ken Follett...always good books. I also want to see The Help on the big screen...looking forward to it.

  9. This sounds like a book I would enjoy since I love historical fiction. The length is daunting though and I know I don't have the time right now. Years ago I read James Carroll's A SUPPLY OF HEROES, about WWI and the 1916 Irish Rebellion and it was very good also.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog.

  10. David used to read Ken Follett books, among others. I don't think I've ever read any of his.

    I remember your book review on The Help and I did not read it. Totally forgot, but will look for it tomorrow. Sounds like a good read.

  11. I'm definitely planning to see The Help, although I'm not sure who I'll find to go with me. A thousand pages is quite the time investment. The fact that it hooked you from the start makes me more willing to give it a go. Thanks!

  12. Hello Rose !I.m coming in on tips on how to travel w/ cats.
    We drive to AZ with cats in their "own" crates lined with their favorite soft lining. I "Always" travel with spare/extra towels just in case there is an accident while on route and I then can throw bedding out and wipe cage down with disinfectant wipes.(this rarely happens..twice in 5 trips with Babie becasue I rushed her to do buisiness before we left in the morning.We stop several times on route just to pet them and reassure them..I offer water and food but they seldom take it. It seems as though they prefer to eat or drink when we reach destination. We NEVER drive more than 8 hours in a day..because these girls hold it in while travelling and we don't want to encourage bladder infections!
    When we get to our pet friendly hotel we bring the cats into room first set up litter pan and food stations then let them loose.
    In five trips and a 4 day stay in different hotels we've never had accidents or problems.
    Warning:Be very careful in opening cage door while on route as you DONT'T WANT THE KITTY TO ESCAPE!
    hope this helps..
    Anna sesoned traveller with kitty cats

  13. Tina, "Pillars" must have been a great escape during your stay in Iraq. I know you'd enjoy this one, too.

    Pattinase, I'm hoping the movie of "The Help" is good, too--I'll be very disappointed if they don't do the book justice.

    Kathy, I've only read two of Follett's books, but one day I intend to catch up with the rest of them!

    Stacy, Ha, ha:) I was determined to read "Pillars" so I kept on going:) It does get you hooked...eventually.

    Janet, I loved all the history, too, but the characters are especially compelling.

    Sissy, I'm so glad you recommended "The Help" to your daughter! If I were still teaching, I would add it to my list of recommended reading for students. I hope she enjoys it.

    Sarah, I picked up my copy at the library (forgot to put in a disclaimer in my post). I love big, thick books!

    Sage, I'm really excited about seeing the movie version of "The Help." The Netflix mini-series of "Pillars" is really good, too.

    Linda, This is a book to read during the long winter, I think. But it worked out for me this summer while I escaped from the heat.

    Wendy, Oh, I think you would love "The Help"!

    Barrie, I was surprised at how fast I read this book--even with everything else going on, I got it back to the libary before it was overdue!

    Anna, Thank you so much for these tips!! I've been worried about Widget escaping, even though Daughter bought him a little harness for walking outside. The blanket over the crate sounds like a great idea. Thanks again!

  14. A must read for me, Rose. I loved Pillars of the Earth! Thanks for the review. Now all I need is time ...

  15. The Help definitely looks like my kind of book. I'll look out for it.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  16. I loved "Pillars of the Earth" too. And my dad said the second one in the series is just as good. I'll have to consider "Fall of Giants." Thanks for the recommendation.

  17. They've made a film of The Help? Do review it when you've seen the film!


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