Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Ninth Book Review: “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett

“Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett is the first book in the Century Trilogy and an amazing read. I’m not even sure the best way to convey how much I enjoyed this book without rambling on for pages and pages. In an effort to minimize my gushing, I’m going to try to keep this short.

Ken Follett begins “Fall of Giants” shortly before World War I breaks out. It was interesting to see how different parts of the world actually relished the idea of war. “Thinking it over as he smoked his after-breakfast cigar, Fitz realized that the thought of war did not horrify him. He had spoken of it as a tragedy, in an automatic way, but it would not be entirely a bad thing. War would unite the nation against a common enemy, and dampen the fires of unrest. There would be no more strikes, and talk of republicanism would be seen as unpatriotic. Women might even stop demanding the vote.” (Fall of Giants, pg 69). Fitz was one of the more frustrating characters in this book. At first glance he seemed like a good guy, but the more I got to know him, the more I came to dislike him. There were many characters that I had similar feelings for and then there were others that I loved who kept making such stupid decisions that I just wanted to scream at them! Following five different families as they navigate the unpredictable world at war made for such a good read.

I think a large part of what makes this book so successful is the steady progression through different countries before, during, and after World War I. Following the different families allowed for various perspectives during the same time period. There were so many moving parts to this novel that there was never a dull moment. Being able to pull off an exciting read with almost a thousand pages in your novel is admirable. Well done sir.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – Ken Follett is one of those writers that always tangles me up in his world. His writing is so good that I always give my husband a fair warning before I start a new one of his books. With his intricately detailed but exciting writing, Ken Follett is hands down my favorite way to read about history. I think “Fall of Giants” would appeal to a wide range of readers. Even if you don’t think that you can read a book that big, once you pick I up you won’t be able to put it down. I highly recommend this book and I cannot wait to start the next book in the Century Trilogy.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Third Book Review: “The Last Van Gogh” by Alyson Richman

When I saw “The Last Van Gogh” by Alyson Richman at the bookstore I knew I needed to read it, and bought it right away. Van Gogh is my favorite artist and a novel about him sounded amazing. It ended up sitting on my bookshelf for a bit because I was saving it. I know it’s weird, but when I’m pretty sure I’m going to love a book I wait until I’m in a book slump to read it. Unfortunately, it did not work out well for me this time.

I am a big fan of historical fiction, I love the combination of real events with a worthy artist taking the time to weave words together in a way that high school textbooks never did. I love learning bits and pieces about history in this way, and although authors usually take liberties, the story is all the better for it. I’m honestly not sure how much research went into this novel, but it felt like Richman sat in front of a Van Gogh exhibit and read a short biography about his depression during his short life and called it research. Then sat down and wrote this with the idea of ‘what if he had an affair with the daughter of a doctor he sought out for treatment?’ The description of his works was detailed, but that’s not really what I would be looking for in a novel about Vincent Van Gogh and one of his many messy affairs. I do think when writing historical fiction that you are more likely to be successful if your main character is more your creation than based on a real person. When I realized this book was being told from the perspective of the daughter of Doctor Gachet, I thought this was a formula for an exceptional novel.

It’s a nice concept, but where it fell apart was in the delivery. Marguerite could have been an amazing character that was inspired by love to do something with her life, and for part of the novel, that is just what she seemed like she was going to do: “I did not want to end up like Mother…stoically sacrificing my passion only to end up dying with regrets. It was so easy to imagine myself with a similar fate and I found myself yearning to create a more satisfying ending…” (The Last Van Gogh, pg 203). Unfortunately, by the end of the novel it didn’t seem like Marguerite did much at all with her life. I found her unendingly frustrating. When we first meet her, she is a servant in her own household and forced to wait on her father and brother. We learn about how she is treated by her family and the dreams she has for her life, and how she wants to escape it all someday…and by the end of the novel she is still the same. She never escapes to the life she yearns for, but somehow finds satisfaction in the brief affair she has with Vincent? He takes her virginity and she’s done with adventure and her dreams? I just found the whole situation exasperating. When I finished the novel I just closed the book and thought that’s it? Really? It was so unsatisfying and it made Marguerite such a disappointing character.

Would I recommend this book? Eh, it was a decent enough read but was by no means a page-turner. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but I was disheartened by the end of the novel. This was one of those situations where I judged a book by its cover and was disappointed that the writing inside did not match my expectations. I doubt I would pick up anything else by Alyson Richman.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Sixth Book Review: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

“World War Z” by Max Brooks was a really entertaining read. It isn’t written as a novel, rather the book is a series of interviews taken in a post-apocalyptic world. The content and style of this book is explained from the start: “Zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book.” (World War Z, pg 1). This made for a very interesting and dynamic read. I couldn’t put the book down.

Zombies are very popular nowadays, so it is challenging to write something that will stand out. Despite the fact that this book has been on shelf for a long while, I delayed reading it after seeing the preview for the movie by the same name. It looked like pretty much every other zombie movie. It wasn’t until I saw a review about the movie stating that it was nothing like the book that my interest was renewed and so I finally picked up the book.

I was impressed with Brooks’s ability to write from so many different perspectives. He has his own voice throughout the book as the interviewer, and then the people that account for their stories during the Zombie War range from all different ages, sexes, ethnicities, classes, locations, occupations, and so on. I thought this was an intriguing way to read a book. It is rare to jump from so many different perspectives, but it definitely kept the book interesting and made it stand out. I liked that there were those in denial during the beginning of the outbreak and just somehow managed to survive. There was one kid that was so wrapped up in the news about the outbreaks and communicating this over the web with others that his entire building including his parents either disappeared in hopes of refuge somewhere else or became a zombie. Then there were those that in a panic head north for the cold, packing their computers and chargers and not bringing enough warm clothes or food. These stories are what kept this book on a semi-realistic level. If there was an outbreak, this is the kind of thing that you would see happen. I liked that Brooks thoroughly explored different viewpoints.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I think it is one of those books that would appeal to a range of different kinds of readers. It is a history of the Zombie War, but it is much more interesting than any history book that I’ve ever picked up. It isn’t overly gruesome or violent, and therefore would appeal to those that normally steer clear of zombie books because of the gore. It was a very straight-forward and logical take on what the world would go through – and how people would be affected afterwards – in the event of a Zombie War. I would be interested to read more of Max Brooks’s writing, I would be curious to see if this is the only style he writes in or if this was just how he wrote “World War Z”, either way, I’m game.