A Review of “Winter Of The World” – By Ken Follett

Winter Of World  Winter Of The World by Ken Follett, is the epic second novel in the Century Trilogy and revisits the lives of the characters created in Fall Of Giants.   The original cast of characters returns along with their now growing children as they face the most terrifying years we’ve seen as a planet.  The Second World War.  This historical fiction follows the lives of American, British, Russian, and German families as they struggle and battle to survive the horror that becomes the Nazi Party in Germany.  Brilliantly set against the backdrop of World War Two, the conflict is depicted through the personal stories of the characters as they develop, grow and triumph…or are lost.

Brilliantly told, these families who’s lives seem to intertwine time and again, paint an epic picture of the age and fit seamlessly into the historical events of the era. Follett leaves one wanting to immediately pick up the final book in the trilogy Edge Of Eternity. 

The Review!

This is my second Ken Follett novel, having read Fall of Giants almost two years ago.  It was easy to fall back into the story of these characters as they struggle through the historical events of World War Two.  Follett’s style with this novel is to have each character appear briefly on the stage that is the page before you to share a part of their struggle. Their own personal point in the history that was unfolding over the planet, and brings home to the reader an intimate story of one persons place in the grand scheme.  As each character rises to the foreground and then fades back as the next character comes to light, Follett builds an epic tapestry of life with each individual becoming rich and full in its moment.

The story itself has moved ahead in years from the first novel and the original characters slide slightly into the background as their children take the reins of the storytelling and the transition is both seamless and well written.  It maintains enough of the original novel while bringing a new set of stories to life.

Some of the novel is a difficult read as Follett is a master of making his words create a mental picture in the reader’s mind.  One such picture deals with the horrific murder of a German citizen arrested because he wouldn’t sell his restaurant.  The writing is bold, graphic and leaves nothing to imagination, leaving the reader to fully experience the raw horror that was the Nazi party Germany in the 1930s.

Other reviews have hinted criticism of the length of the piece.  Nine hundred and sixty pages, which are jam packed with story.  To this one can only respond that it is World War Two! To tell it in any less detail or space would have drawn away from the conflict and Follett’s style of looking at the conflict from all sides.  The only true disappointment comes from a lack of view from the Canadian perspective, and maybe more importantly the Japanese (two of their cities were bombed with massive casualties) who’s voices seem silent in this piece.

Jumping Off Points!

Too many to list them all…however, here are four that caught my interest.

Homosexual concentration camp    Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany

Cable street Cable Street Battle

Reichstag fire Reichstag Fire

Auschwitz Auschwitz Concentration Death Camp

The Rating!

This one gets a rare five out of five.  The writing is detailed and accurate, the characters are deep and memorable and the combination of history and fictional story fitting together brilliantly leave me anxious to read the third and final in the series.

Well done Mr. Follett, well done!

The Author!

Follett, Ken  Ken Follett arrived in 1978 with his first novel Eye Of The Needle, and has written over 20 novels, he has won several awards including The Edgar for his first novel Eye of The Needle which also became a movie.  Born in 1949 in Cardiff Wales we was the son of a tax inspector and attended University College London. He has an extensive website which outlines his life and novels.  Please check it out for further information.

ken-follett.com

Prudence – by David Treuer

Prudence

Prudence by David Treuer Published by Riverhead Books (part of the Penguin Group)

Release date February 2015

The Novel. 

August 1942, Frankie Washburn is returning to his parents summer home (“the resort” as his mother Emma sees it) in Minnesota, to spend two weeks with his family and say his farewells to his boyhood.  Frankie is heading off to join the Airforce as war unfolds in Europe, to become a man.  A Man, the one thing no one has ever seen him as, especially his father Johnathan. Upon his arrival however tragedy strikes in the worst possible way, and the lives of Frankie, his parents, the old caretaker Felix, and Billy are changed forever.   Billy, who has been Frankie’s friend and more.

No life in this novel however is more changed than that of the title character Prudence. A young native woman, who has her own story to share in this mesmerizing tale of how even the smallest of decisions impacts so many lives.

The search for a runaway German soldier ends in a violent act that reverberates through all their lives for years to come.

The Review!

Treuer captivates his readers in this intricate tale, which begins in the early years of World War Two. Titled Prudence, which means among other things good judgement, it draws the reader in when lack of good judgement sets off a series of events which impacts all of the main characters in ways that will change all of their lives forever.

Treuer’s style of writing in this piece brings the inciting incident to the page early, and then allows the characters in turn to share their thoughts and memories, and how one moment in time changes you forever.  Through this the story unfolds brilliantly and with a depth that leaves a reader emotionally involved on so many levels.  Also stunning in this piece is the ability of the author to change his writing by character, so that as the words are read the voice of each individual is so clearly heard in the readers mind.

Treuer, an Ojibwe Indian from Northern Minnesota who’s father was a holocaust survivor from Austria, clearly draws on his life and background for elements in this particular tale.  His descriptions of Northern Minnesota make you feel as though you are truly present, and the tale of Gephardt feels almost a tribute to the struggle the Jewish people faced during the war. Writers who write from where they know, have that innate ability to draw you into their fictional world with a realism that comes with first hand experiences of similar memories and feelings.  Its a captivating read for this reason and many others.

The story unfolds superbly, whether its leaving the reader feeling despair for the characters, or chuckling at some of the very smartly written humor (which was unexpected and thoroughly enjoyed) which made this piece a complete five out of five reading experience.

Can only say…Brilliant!

The Author!

David Treuer, is an Ojibwe Indian from northern Minnesota, his father was an Austrian Jewish holocaust survivor and mother was a tribal court judge. He attended Princeton, and in 1992 published his first novel Little. He also teaches Literature at USC.

David’s works include:

The Translation of Dr. Apelles (named Best Book Of The Year by Washington Post 2006) 

Little

The Hiawatha

To learn more about David visit his website. http://www.davidtreuer.com/

David-Treuer

Jumping Off Points!

Anthony Beevor’s books The Second World War and D-Day: Battle For Normandy. 

or perhaps David’s novel The Translation of Dr. Apelles.

Enjoy your reading as yours books take you to the edge!

After The War Is Over: A Novel – By Jennifer Robson

After the war

Loved this  one, and not sure how to describe it. Its a historical fiction, which I love, and also a romance in some measure which are usually not my cup of tea. However in this mix it works brilliantly. Robson, has done her homework, both of the time period and the people. Charlotte Brown, the main character is extremely well written and draws you into her story quickly. A young woman who is struggling to find her place in this changing post WWI world, torn between her belief in a life of service and the life she doesn’t feel she deserves.

Robson seems a stickler for detail, and it shows. Even small points like dates being accurate to the day of the week (Yes I checked Dec 27 1919 did indeed fall on a Saturday), and the inclusion of real life Historical figures such as Eleanor Rathbone give a solid base of realism to this wonderful journey back in forth through Charlotte’s story.

Thoroughly enjoyed the story, and found the author’s writing style, gave me enough detail to enjoy each chapter but left plenty of space for me to visualize these wonderfully written figures and locations.

If Hollywood still made stories such as these into movies, this one would be a beautiful choice.

Definitely recommend this one. Its good through to the end.

PS. This is a sequel to her earlier book “Somewhere in France” however reads perfectly well as a stand-alone…Yup I was down to 20 pages left when I discovered its part of a series, so no need to read the other…But I will!

The Author!

Jennifer Robson is the author of two novels – Somewhere In France, and After The War Is Over.  She studied at Oxford and holds a doctorate in British economic and social history, both of which shine in this novel.  She is the daughter of historian Stuart Robson, who also read and provided feedback on this novel.  Robson resides in Toronto Canada.

Jennifer Robson

Jumping Off Points!

* Eleanor Rathbone who figures in this novel is an actual historical figure, who’s presence in this novel adds to its believability and accuracy as a piece of historical fiction.  Johanna Alberti has written a non fiction piece called Women of Ideas – Eleanor Rathbone, if you are interested in reading more.

Eleanor Rathbone

The Shipping News – by Annie Proulx (author of Brokeback Mountain)

Shipping NewsThe Shipping News, written by Annie Proulx, tells a story of the rebirth of Quoyle, a man suffering after the tragic loss of his wife Petal. Quoyle takes his family; two small daughters and aging Aunt, back to Newfoundland and the family home. The Green house on Quoyle’s point, dragged their by the Quoyle family across the ice, in what sounds like a previous attempt by the family to start over. A move that left the house not quite true.

In many ways the house represents the family’s fresh start, not quite right, and always at risk of toppling over into the sea. Quoyle, struggles with many things on this journey, being father to two little girls, and his developing relationship with Wavey Prowse.

The knots in the story tell their own tale and overall the author winds the reader on a magical discovery of Newfoundland and what it offers.

For me a few of the plot elements felt unresolved, and at least once I felt the story got a bit far fetched, but on many levels it resonated with me, and like all good novels, I was unable to put it down and took away a lesson or two.

Recommend picking it up

The Author!

Annie Proulx Annie Proulx, born August 22, 1935 Norwich CT. Has a Master Arts Degree from Sir George Williams University.  She is credited with nine novels and short story collections including The Shipping News, That Old Ace In The Hole and Close Range – which formed the basis of the film adaptation of Brokeback Mountain. In 2012 she received the United States Artist Fellow Award. In 1994 she received the Pulitzer for The Shipping News.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger_Abbey_by_dop12  Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is the tale of Catherine Morland, a clergyman’s daughter.  Catherine is invited to Bath by friends the Allen’s and there embarks on a journey of learning the social ropes and graces.  It is in Bath that she first meets Henry Tilney whom she secretly adores but as in all novels of this era, happenings, misinformation and misunderstandings keep the couple from becoming involved.  Eventually, Catherine is invited to the title location and learns more of the Tilney family, the General, and his mysterious deceased wife.

This one was a mixed read for me, while I love the genre and the time period, I do get frustrated by Catherine and what I call being an intentional air head.  There are times throughout the novel that you want to yell at her to open her eyes and ears.  I found myself asking, can she truly be that backwards and socially unaware.

The majority of the other characters are the stereotypes of their worst traits and gives one a very skewed, or perhaps very accurate account of society in Bath at the time.  It was a bit disappointing that some aspects of the story related to Northanger Abbey itself were not more developed.

Overall the novel is worth the read, and easily can be picked off in one to two days.  For me it ate up the better part of a cross country bus trip.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, was educated by her father and brothers and from her own reading.  Her works have garnered her a permanent spot in the history books and a favorite with critics.

Jane Austen

Blood Wine by John Moss – Nice Neat Package We Can All Take Home

Blood Wine

So this book came to me by way of a Goodreads.com giveaway.  The story is part of a series written by author John Moss (YAY! for Canadian authors) about homicide detectives David Morgan and Miranda Quin.  The story opens with Miranda Quin waking in her bed to find her lover Philip Carter shot to death by her gun, the bed blood soaked with Philip’s entrails and  cryptic writing on her bathroom walls.  As the novel unfolds the two are left trying to solve the crime, where the body count continues to go up and their only really strong lead is the blonde woman “Elke” who shows up at Miranda’s door with a severed hand in her purse.  The plot unfolds in Toronto, New Jersey and even across the pond in England, and builds towards a climax in the heart of Canada’s “world class” city.

This novel had a lot of potential to be a great read.  The mafia, homicide detectives, Al Qaeda, mysterious blonde bombshell with a severed hand…it should be a page turner…and in some places it was.  For me, it only missed on the ending, and I say that because too much of the mystery was explained before the end of the book.  Miranda’s lover, Elke (the bombshell), and the story behind the wine operation all explained away way before the end of the novel.  Which left me reading a final chapter or two where the interest level was already down because I knew too much.  Other than, that small point, this was an excellent read, and hats off to John Moss for selling me on Canadian style mysteries.

The characters are strong and interesting and I like the relationship between the two main characters.  A few loose ends tossed in would encourage me to read another or go back and read the others prior to this one.  I am happy as well to find a Canadian author who can  turn out a decent murder mystery set primarily in Canada, and tie it in to Canada’s place in the world scene.

The Author

John Moss was born in 1940 in Galt Ont, and now resides in Peterborough with his wife Beverly Haun. In 2005 he was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences of The Royal Society of Canada. He has three children.  Author of over 16 works, he has lead quite a career, and still finds time for canoeing, cross country skiing and scuba.  If you are interested to know more about John and his Quin Morgan Mysteries, check out his site

http://www.johnmoss.ca/index.html

John Moss

The novel is published by Dundurn in Toronto

Others in the Quin Morgan series:

Still Waters

Grave Doubts

Reluctant Dead

The Dead Scholar

Boyden’s Latest Creation is a Canadian Epic – The Orenda will captivate you.

Orenda

The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden

Published in Canada by Penguin Canada 2013

Orenda:  invisible magic power believed by the Iroquois to pervade all natural objects as a spiritual energy.

Fox calls the new ones charcoal. “They are as heavy and as dumb,” he says as we watch two of them ahead of us in their hosts’ canoe lamely attempt to paddle. With their fresh robes, so black they absorb the late summer sunshine. I think Fox’s name for them is very good. But I will still call them all crows for the way they hop around and peck at the dead or dying things. 

Ok, so I’m going to change up my format here and just talk free form about this book. I picked this one up in my favorite Chapter’s at MicMac Mall after seeing it on the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The subject matter caught my eye because I know little about early First Nations people, and I was curious if a story about Huron’s and Iroquois would hold my interest for 500 pages. I have to add here I did not recognize the authors name at this point.

The Orenda, is a story of an Iroquois girl named Snow Falls, who is captured by the Huron war bearer named Bird, after he slaughtered her family in what can be best described as a blood bath by Bird and his men during a winter expedition. Bird also has in tow a man who is first described as “the crow” and it is decided that he will take the two back to his village to live. Snow Falls, is carried by “the crow” to the village and they nearly don’t survive the journey. Once back home, Bird decides to adopt Snow Falls, and it is here we learn that the “the crow”, is a Jesuit Priest, who’s come to the new world to minister to the sauvages and convert them to Christianity.

This beginning paints a beautiful backdrop to an epic story that spans the years, as Snow Falls adjusts to being the daughter of a man she despises for killing her real family. A hatred that drives her to cut off her adopted father’s finger and her own in the attempt as he sleeps. It’s also the backdrop for the story of Pere Christophe “the crow” and his time in the new world living among sauvages that he does not understand. And lastly, this story is also about Bird, a warrior, who has lost his own family at the hands of the Iroquois and has now taken his revenge by capturing Snow Falls.

To say the least there is a lot in this novel. The highlights for me are that it tells the story of the Wendat (Huron) people in a way that no history book in highschool ever has. The story this novel tells, draws the reader into the lives of these people, and for me allowed me to develop a deep admiration for their way of life, and left me with a sadness, knowing that the arrival of the Europeans on this soil forever changed this culture. To go even deeper, it asks of the reader, have we lost something that should not have been lost? The book only offers the following answer and leaves the reader to decide that question for oneself

Now what is most important, Aataentsic says, Orenda can’t be lost, just misplaced. The past and the future are present.

Snow Falls is the perfect heroine of this novel. She’s independent, strong, courageous, and fearless, and yet at the heart of it all, she is still a frightened girl who’s seen things no child should have seen. Her relationship with Bird is magic to watch, as she goes from terror, to hatred to revenge, and finally to love and respect. The moment in the novel when their fingers are simultaneously severed by her hand, binds the two together. By the end of the novel, their bond is strong, and some of the pages are hard to read as this piece draws to a close.

If I were to rate this book, it is an absolute five out of five. That rating surprises me, I have to add, and here’s why…when I got the novel home, excited to start…it was then that I discovered that Joseph Boyden had also written “Through Black Spruce” which I had not enjoyed at all when I read it two years ago. So to all of you, who say…I’m never reading him/her again…please remember this…always give an author a second chance…they may surprise or even stun you with their next piece.

I often feel I should offer a criticism when doing these reviews, but for this one, I cannot find anything negative. One bit of advice I can offer if The Orenda turns out to be your first Boyden novel…He unfolds the story in first person through first person account, rotating between two to three characters, at first this can be annoying, but once you get a feel for the characters, their voices become distinct and a pleasure to read.

Love it. There is little else I can say. I wish it had won the Giller Prize, it truly deserved the acknowledgement and its place on the best-seller list speaks for itself. Congratulations Joseph on a magnificent piece.

In closing I will add, for all readers in Canada…this is one to definitely add to your collection. It will forever change how you think about early Canadian history and the part the Huron and Iroquois played as well as the early church influence with these people.

 

The Author

Joseph Boyden, Born 1966, North York Ontario Canada, is a novelist and short story writer. His books have won several prizes and his work Through Black Spruce, won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Joseph’s background in a Jesuit run College school and his Anishnaabe heritage lend themselves well to his novels about First Nations heritage and culture.

His other works include Three Day Road, and Born with a Tooth.

To learn more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Boyden

Joseph Boyden

Jos