Book Review

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Fall is the season when publishers put out their big books in preparation for the holiday season. This month, I chose a book that is sure to top the bestseller lists and a second book from a less famous, more local author whose books deserve wider recognition.

Ken Follett is an internationally bestselling author, known for both his thrillers and his historical fiction. Pillars of the Earth, his novel set in the 12th century, was broadcast this summer as a television miniseries; its sequel, World Without End, picks up the story of the same town 200 years later. 

Fall of Giants, Follett’s newest book, begins a new trilogy which will span the 20th century and I expect it will be as widely read as his previous tomes. Fall of Giants begins in June 1911, and traces the lives and loves of five families (Welsh, German, English, Russian and American) and the major historical events that affect their lives through the end of 1923. Major historical figures (Woodrow Wilson, Kaiser Wilhelm, George V and others) make cameo appearances during pivotal moments. Follett does a masterful job of explaining the forces that led to the outbreak of the First World War by having his characters involved on the political periphery before the war so he can illustrate, step by step, why the world’s balance of power went haywire in 1914. Causes abound – votes for women, the labor movement and Bolshevism attract several of the protagonists. Most of the characters are sympathetic, the plots are interesting and the political intrigue is exciting. Fall of Giants is a meaty chunk of history, leavened with plenty of romance and action. If you are looking for a long (over 1,000 pages), juicy, informative novel, this is it.

Jennifer Donnelly, who lives part-time in the Hudson Valley, has written four previously published books – one picture book, two adult novels and a young adult novel. Revolution, her newest book, is ostensibly a young adult novel, but don’t let that stop you from reading it; it is a wonderful mix of contemporary teen problem novel and historical fiction. Andi Alpers is the teen with problems; her dad moved out and her mom is falling apart, all because of the biggest problem of all, her younger brother’s accidental death a year ago. Unable to cope with her grief and apathetic about her classes, she is on the verge of being expelled when her father reappears to whisk her off to Paris for winter break where she can research her senior thesis and then possibly graduate with her class. In the course of her research, Andi finds a 200-year old diary written by a girl during the French Revolution, a girl whose involvement with the royal family and especially the young dauphin, put her at risk of execution during the madness of the Terror. Fascinated, Andi reads the diary whenever she gets a chance, but then, when a party she attends is raided by the police, she finds herself actually living Alexandrine’s life, and a dangerous one it is. Donnelly does an excellent job of portraying Andi’s despair, Alexandrine’s bravery, and the atmosphere of 18th century revolutionary Paris. A wonderful, triumphant novel.

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.

 
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