Revival, by Stephen King

Four stars (of five)

In this somewhat atypical work, King presents the reader with an interesting novel that delves into the depths of the mind and soul. As a young boy, Jamie Morton’s only concern is how to plot plastic soldier battles and wars, as well as play the role of the youngest child in a textbook family. One New England summer, Morton meets Charles Jacobs, the new minister who’s been assigned to their Methodist congregation, and they forge an interesting relationship, mixing life and religious lessons though the power of electricity. Tragedy strikes Jacobs’ life and he suffers greatly for it, soon forced out of town after a crisis of faith. It is only when Morton finds heroin as his new saviour, that their paths cross again in 1992. Jacobs is now a carnival headliner, wooing the gullible with his elusive use of electricity again. With strong dedication, Morton and Jacobs renew their acquaintance as the horrible addiction is sated, with yet more electrical innovations Jacobs has at his disposal. Jacobs is gone yet again and Morton must use this intervention to right himself on his life path. Their third crossing, in 2008, has Jacobs playing the role of a preacher whose fire and brimstone is matched only by his curious healing abilities, again with the power of electricity. Morton wishes to bring an end to their path crossing, seeking to reveal Jacobs as a con artist once and for all. All the healing must come at a cost, one that neither Jacobs nor Morton could have imagined. King at his best, keeping the chills high and the reader anticipating what might happen next.

The novel tells more than the ongoing struggle between two men, as their lives intersect at various points. These interactions show a growth in Morton and an ongoing distancing in Jacobs’ beliefs. King posits that the masses are as taken by religion and blindly accept its power in their everyday life, much as they do the mysteries of electricity. There are some, like Jacobs, who control these religious pulses and are dangerously capable of harming innocent bystanders. Nuanced as the themes may be to some, this theme finds itself embedded into the story from the opening paragraphs until the bitter end. The attentive reader will see King’s attempts to downplay religion as simply a dog’s breakfast, whereby everyone feels they have control over the ultimate answers to the world’s mysteries. Curiously different than much of the King work I have read over the years, this novel seeks to explore some of the deeper meanings life has to offer in unique ways.

Kudos, Mr. King for yet another thought-provoking novel. I always find myself thinking and not simply absorbing the text as the story flows.

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, by John G. Turner

Five stars (of five)

Turner tackles the ominous task of constructing the life of a 19th century historical figure, where documents are scattered and deteriorating. Add to that, the fact that the figure in question was a President of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Church and the scarcity of documents only increases as the veil of secrecy falls. This biography of Brigham Young is not only thorough, but also shows Young as being a man of multi-facets. Turner presents Brigham Young in three distinct (yet interconnected) personas: Young the prophet, Young the leader, and Young the politician. Turner is also able to shed light on the early days of the LDS Church, looking into its distinct beliefs, while leaving open a great debate in which the reader can engage, should they desire. Filled with quotes and pulling on scattered and sometimes elusive texts, Turner does Brigham Young and the LDS Church a great service in this biography, perfect for the curious reader.

Turner opens his biography noting that Young was not born into the LDS Church, nor was it his first religious community. Growing up on the fringes of the Methodist movement in New York, Young took his religious following seriously as he moved towards a more evangelical belief system. Crossing paths with Joseph Smith, Young became a follower and helped found the early Mormon movement, working to expand its growth. Young became an early prophet (small-p) by presenting Smith’s words and insisting on the gospel-like visions and writings of the early Smith life events. Young went so far as to push the movement West, into Illinois, as well as overseas by opening Mormon Church philosophy in the United Kingdom. While he missed his ever-blossoming family, Young felt passing along the Word more important than simply spending time with his wife and children. He prophesied wherever and whenever he could, all in the hopes of ensuring any who could hear Smith’s words did so. Young counselled so far as to delving into the Indian reservations in hopes that the ‘red man’ could see the light. Young would speak in tongues and was able, though scarcely, to convert many. Turner does posit that many likely had no idea what they were getting into, but that is not uncommon at this time when white-red relations were at the forefront. This prophet role undertaken by Young led to his rising in the movement and eventually leading the LDS Church in the mid-1840s.

With the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, Young rushed to take the empty chair left and lead the Church. While this was not met without controversy, Young filled the void and acted as the seemingly only alternative, letting LDS saints see that he would guide them into the Promised Land. Turner argues that he did so, acting as an American Moses, taking the LDS Church from Illinois after it became vilified, and chose Utah to settle. Under Young’s leadership, an expansion of the Smith teachings of baptism of the dead and plural marriage grew exponentially, but also a keen focus on rooting the church with temples and other permanent structures. This allowed the Church to flourish in an American Territory not yet established and, Turner loosely argues, Mormonising Utah for the future. Young’s leadership led him to be recognised by the President of the United States and Young became a conduit from the Gentiles (Mormon belief) to the Mormons, especially in Utah. This leadership would pave the way for Turner’s third view of Young; the ever-evolving politician.

Young assumed the role of Governor of the Utah Territory in 1851, juggling his leadership of the Church with economic control over the Territory. At this point, Young took to the pulpit and rallied for Mormon-favoured judicial appointments and a hands off approach to running the Territory. Young could liaise directly with those in positions of power and try to push for favourable decisions. This was not always possible, or at least Turner leads the reader to believe that Washington dug in its heels on certain occasions. Mormon beliefs fed nicely into the slavery movement and kept blacks subjugated, while also promoting polygamy on a regular basis. Using the Dred Scott decision in the Supreme Court, which argued that the federal government could not regulate slavery in the states or territories, Young pushed for its extrapolation onto polygamy. He argued that it was the Territory’s right to choose how to live, especially as there was no law forbidding it. Later, as Young was forced to hand over the gubernatorial reins, he sought to create the State of Deseret, an enlarged version of what is now Utah, but was refused by Congress. Young’s clashes with Washington solidify his political stances, as do his repeated sermons from the pulpit. As with any religious group, leaders are inherently politicians of some form and cannot divorce themselves from this. That Young wore both hats as a Church and political leader simultaneously only personifies an already well-held belief.

Turner also uses the biography of an early member of the LDS Church to enlighten readers into some of the practices undertaken by Mormons. Citing both baptism of the dead and plural marriages, Turner argues that both Smith and Young pulled support for these acts from Scripture and that they were only following what God sought them to do. While this may seem weak in the 21st century, at the time it was surely quite plausible and people accepted it, at least many within the fold. There were some who could not stomach plural and celestial marriages, which Turner shows repeatedly throughout the book, but the belief of the followers is supported by the ever-evolving religious movement the LDS Church became. The reader will likely marvel at the arguments and may even drop a guard for a moment, allowing an open mind to synthesize the beliefs. Young’s personal arguments about Adam being GOD fell on many deaf ears within the LDS Church, but Young did not become discouraged. He used the catch-phrase many leaders who present controversial beliefs present to the flock: “you are not yet ready for this, but one day you will come to accept it.” Even still, there was a schism in the LDS Church, with a reorganisation movement, led by Joseph Smith III, son of the Prophet. Smith sought to tame some of the beliefs that Young espouses, much to the latter’s chagrin. It began showing that there were cracks in the movements and that the beliefs Young professed might have been too intense, even for the religiously famished to stomach.

Turner’s presentation of the LDS Church and its tenets leaves the door open for debate by the larger academic and lay populations. Is the LDS Church a cult? A religious movement? A third fork in the pathway of Christianity? I will not lay out answers for these questions here, for I want all readers to have the chance to form their own opinions. Turner’s presentation of the facts is quite neutral and offers both mud and clean water as it relates to the Church and Young. It is the reader who must take up the cause, using this book as one of numerous sources to fuel their arguments. I must, however, rhetorically ask, as Turner does in his preface: for a group desiring a better understanding of themselves after decades of vilification, why are key documents kept hidden and opposition scorned so heavily? What is hidden behind that curtain, oh great Wizard?

Kudos, Mr. Turner for such a refreshing look at a man I knew so little about, telling his story in a clear and open fashion. Balancing one’s views is surely difficult, but you keep on the narrow path with few issues at all.

All the President’s Menus (A White House Chef Mystery), by Julie Hyzy

Four stars (of five)

Hyzy returns to the kitchens of the White House for another Ollie Paras mystery, sure to pique the various buds of the curious reader. When a chef foursome from Saardisca arrive for a two-week learning experience, Executive Chef Paras is sure she’s bitten off more than she can chew. The president is negotiating the end to a spending freeze, in which all non-essential staff are on furlough, leaving Paras to run things on a cheesecloth budget . Faced with a collection of misogynistic sentiment from the Saardiscans, Paras must work through the issues and try to teach these four men the ins and outs of White House culinary experiences. When two chefs fall victim to food poisoning, one fatally, Paras begins sleuthing and hopes to get to the root of the issue, all while Saardisca’s first viable presidential alternative, a woman at that, is touring the US and spending time in Washington. If that were not enough, Paras’s new husband, Gav, receives some enticing news that might change the future for everyone involved. Hyzy entertains and intrigues all while keeping her series reading regulars happy as can be.

Those who have read and followed my Hyzy reviews in the past will know that I have a soft spot for her writing. While it is nothing stellar, its pace and flow makes it easy to digest. There are the odd hokey moments, but Hyzy redeems herself with attention to detail and unique ideas. Pitting most, if not all, of the story within the White House adds a certain spice to the tale that keeps the reader wondering how much is fiction and where reality might be added to the literary roux. Decadent, but not too heavy, this is the perfect novel to keep the sleuth in everyone from wilting.

Kudos, Madam Hyzy! Another successful White House Chefs novel, with just the right amount of je ne sais quoi.

My Life with Piper: From Big House to Small Screen, by Larry Smith

Two stars (of five)

Having recently finished Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, I thought it poignant to tackle the short audio-bio of one Larry Smith. Smith is, of course, the real-life Larry Bloom from the show and offers his own perspective on the phenomena that is burning up the Netflix airwaves. Smith uses his short platform to offer up some of his own backstory about meeting Piper and correcting some of the views presented in the show and Piper’s own memoirs. In his short tell-some essay, Smith talks about meeting Piper, their struggles with her incarceration on both sides of the bars, and building a life after Piper’s release. Smith’s audio version includes an interview that includes Piper, where they laugh and offer cucumber sandwich banter about her new-found successes. Tepid seems too stiflingly hot a moniker for this.

Smith’s piece of literature is but an essay, which is made clear in its brevity and the interview portion added to the end of the audio rendition. This short insight into the life of a man whose lesbian girlfriend went off to face punishment, only to return to marry him, is light and even weak at times. Funny, for the reader (listener) to process, Smith makes it clear that he is a writer and lives off the spoils of his writing, yet his prose is so brief and seems to ride off the coattails of Piper’s life, memoir, and the Netflix adaptation. I would have thought, liked even, to get a full perspective of Smith’s struggles with the Piper situation and how he coped. With Piper’s book publication in 2010, and its subsequent success, one would think that Smith could take the time to put together some of his own thoughts in a full-length book over the past four years and not pen a short essay on his sentiments, riddled with Piper events and Netflix show insinuations that he wanted to correct. To show the other side of the coin, Smith had so much potential, but like the character depicting him in the show, he falls flat and looks like an oaf. As it is under 2 hours, I would recommend it to any reader who wants to see the epitome of riding another person’s coattails. Use it for the rush hour commute one day, or even for your jogging regimen, but do not spend money on this. Public libraries use our tax dollars for this reason, though even I would likely critique my taxes being used to obtain such drivel.

Mr. Smith, you shame yourself with such a weak dive into the literary world. Are you sure you are actually published in magazines anyone would have heard of, or are the titles you gave simply more name dropping to bolster a lacklustre image?

Edge of Eternity (Century Trilogy #3), by Ken Follett

Five stars (of five)

What a sensational series to begin 2015 reading!!!

Follett ties up the Century Trilogy with the best novel yet, Edge of Eternity. Tackling the largest historical arc, Follett brings his characters to life at a time when the world saw epic change, continuing storylines from past novels and adding new layers with another generation of characters to push the trilogy ahead. Follett continues to follow five intertwined families through the major social, political, and economic turmoil of the 1960s through the 1980s. Follett addresses the rise of civil rights, assassinations of key political figures, development of political movements and Vietnam, which touched America and shaped the world. International historical events such as the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, numerous communist revolutions, and rock and roll. Readers of the first two Trilogy novels will bask in this most powerful novel, leaving not a page free of major character development and dramatic build-up. Follett remains a master of his craft and many others could learn from his ease of presentation.

Follett skips ahead a dozen years in this last novel. With the country firmly divided, East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman learns the Stasi has been invading her life for years, choosing to alter her own history in hopes of betterment. George Jakes, a young man of mixed-race joins Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department, where the civil rights movement develops around him as American history is also shaped in the evolving 1960s. Cameron Dewar ignores his familial political history and joins Nixon’s team to shape a country tired of Vietnam’s casualties. Dimka Dvorkin, working for Nikita Khrushchev, witnesses the height of Cold War tensions as nuclear war becomes an almost-certain reality. Dvorkin’s twin sister, Tania, leaves the comforts of Moscow to shape communist sentiment in Cuba and behind the Iron Curtain, where the Soviet nucleus wanes and political discord waxes. These are but a drop in the bucket of the characters, storylines, and dramatic narratives that pull the novel and the saga together once and for all.

Over a twenty-eight year historical arc, from 1961 through to 1989, Follett presents his brilliantly researched novel, picking key events and weaving backstories for a plethora of characters, whose lives are more than vessels for the political and social upheaval seen throughout. Even the most attentive reader may struggle with how the characters tie together, crossing national backgrounds and creating relationships that are best plotted on a genealogy tree. The novel is about more than living through history, but also using history as an ever-shaping backdrop. However, Follett pushes the argument (in all three novels) that history shapes not only borders and elections, but also those who create it, from commoner to political giant alike.

For those, like me, who invested the time in the audio version of the novel, a word about John Lee is surely in order. Lee, a master story teller with his nuanced accents and narrative abilities, brings the story to life with his ever-changing voices and calm style. He takes on so many characters, but is sure to give each their own voice and personality. He is a Follett favourite when it comes to audiobook renditions, and Lee has done a wonderful job in colouring the narrative from the opening pages in a Welsh coal mine through to the election of a black president of the United States of America.

Kudos, Mr. Follett for this literary gem. I have and will continue to recommend the series to friends and fellow readers alike.

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, by Robert M Gates

Four stars (of five)

After finishing the Rumsfeld memoirs, I was curious to see how the man who took over the reins at Defence would handle the task. I knew little about Robert Gates going in, but that soon changed as I was pushed into his chaotic life from the opening paragraph. Gates is clear in his analysis and fills the pages with a strong argument for why the US belonged in Iraq and Afghanistan, while also stressing that he is no ‘clean-up man’ for the Bush Administration. Gates inherited a mess in both wars, from command posts to troop morale, through to dealing with an ever-elusive list of enemies and political land-mines. Gates argues thoroughly about all aspects of his job, at times going into their minutiae. His arguments, while quite in line with a pro-war stance, is nowhere near as ‘yes man’ as Rumsfeld and many of the other Bush Administration senior administrators whose memoirs have flooded the publication world over the past number of years. As Gates mentions in his opening, he pulls no punches and will not back down from his comments, no matter who ends up in the crosshairs. This makes this memoir well worth the time of the reader, if for no other reason that a frank assertion of arguments awaits the patient student.
Gates holds the dubious role of being the only Secretary of Defence to ever hold the position throughout the passing of a presidential administration torch, made all the more spectacular that it crossed party lines. This is an added spin to the memoir, in that it gives a dual perspective, while also showing the continuity of leadership from the Pentagon. Gates is an admitted Republican, but does not stand in the way of Obama’s Democratic agenda and makes it clear that he is there to serve his country, not his party. The memoir does reflect (and Gates comes out to say it at times as well) the shift in roles from the Bush to the Obama administrations. In the former, it was a “we got into this, let’s keep it going” mentality, perhaps the main reason Gates was brought in to decipher the Bush-Rumsfeld mess. The latter sought to look at the precarious pull back from both Afghanistan and Iraq, which had its own awkward moments. However, Gates offers that wonderful perspective that rises above the fray and sells the message clearly.
Perhaps one interesting thread that appears throughout the memoir is that Gates did not want the role of SecDef, nor did he want to stay on when Obama took the reins. That said, he agreed (and stuck it out) because of his service to the country. How someone could be so frank and forthright baffles me, in that I am used to reading about honour and praise at being chosen. That being said, Gates breaks all the stereotypes in this memoir. Perhaps Gates could read the writing on the wall and noticed how much of a clusterf*** this whole set of decisions ended up being and wanted no role in it. As an academic, Gates was surely aware of the theoretical positives and their practical negatives and preferred to leave it well alone. However, having held many key posts in six administrations before Bush 43 sought him out, Gates felt the impetus to put America before himself.
One stereotype shattered in the book is the historical arc of the person’s life. A politician is never one to shy away from telling his life story and how he got the spark to run or get involved. Gates chooses to parachute into the SecDef role from page 5 or so of the memoir, giving only a brief intro to his life as a university president. While there are insinuations to his past roles in previous administrations, the arc is lost and this lessens, in my opinion, the strength of the memoir as a political or personal life reflection. Add to that, Gates fills chapters with page upon page of detailed analysis of the war effort, offering much for those whose greatest interest is military manoeuvring but not as much for the person looking for a greater knowledge of the man in general. I critiqued this aspect in Rumsfeld’s work and I will do so again here; it bogs the flow down and forces the reader to focus on the wars rather than the man. I found myself skimming, yes SKIMMING over sections, to get to the point and hoped to pull out an anecdote or two. I won’t slam Gates for this, but it was just not what I expected or hoped for in such a long memoir.

The book is a fresh look at a set of issues the general public surely tires of hearing about, all these years later. To call Iraq and Afghanistan the 21st century Vietnam would likely not be hyperbolic, though the comparison would be a cup of banana pudding to Bananas Foster in this day and age of media coverage and congressional-influence therefrom. Gates opens the floodgates with information and candor, something missing in political memoirs of late.

Kudos, Dr. Gates for such an interesting approach to what has become a horrendously stupid set of wars. While a little dense in spots, I get the gist of the argument, for which applause is well deserved.

Winter of the World (Century Trilogy #2), by Ken Follett

Five stars (of five)

Follett continues his epic Century Trilogy with the middle instalment. The journey resumes with the story of five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, Welsh— as they progress through a time of enormous social, political, and economic uncertainty. While Hitler and Franco push fascist regimes onto their respective populations, Stalin holds firm to the reins of power in Communist Russia, and Roosevelt is accused of being too leftist with his New Deal. Follett’s characters, dominated by a new generation tell of trying times in a period of drastic change, which will shape them and their subsequent offspring. Carla von Ulrich, half German and half English, finds her life engulfed by the Nazi tide, but refuses to stand down, while facing her worst fears. Woody and Chuck Dewar, sons of now US Senator Gus Dewar, harbour dark secrets while playing key roles for the United States in the war effort. Lloyd Williams discovers that the Spanish Civil War highlights problems with both Communism and Fascism, but also makes some important self-truths sure to unsettle his entire familial structure. Daisy Peshkov climbs society in both America and England until the war transforms her life and changes her outlook on life. Finally, Volodya Peshkov rises in Soviet intelligence and helps solidify the Red Army’s hold on Eastern Europe before a secret threatens to pull everything apart. Follett is a master storyteller and uses these vessels to tell one of the most historically varied and interesting stories I have ever read.

While the story is long and the details are plentiful, one cannot simply ignore the amount of history that took place over the 16 year arc depicted in the novel.
These were key years in the 20th century and Follett has taken many of the lesser discussed events, weaving the characters into the historical cracks. While some may lament the need to go into as detailed a narrative as is presented, it serves to distract (if I may be so bold as to use the word) from the well-known historical horrors taking place at that time. I have read too much on the Nazis related to this time period, so it was nice to see Follett expanding the possible historical threads on offer. The reader cannot lose sight of the trilogy nature of the story, forcing storylines on many levels to develop in offshoots not easily predicted, which keeps the story’s momentum.

Kudos Mr. Follett for this powerful instalment. As you created gold with your Kingsbridge books, this series is sure to be sensational and I cannot wait to see how you tie all these families together in the final instalment!

The Perfect Mother, by Nina Darnton

Three stars (of five)

Darnton provides an entertaining second novel, even if its foundation is pulled from the headlines in a case most tabloid-hungry folks know all too well. When Jennifer Lewis receives a frantic phone call from her daughter, things take a dramatic turn. Emma has been detained in Seville, Spain and is being questioned about a murder within her flat. Jennifer drops everything and heads to Europe, keen to clear things up and bring Emma back to the States. When Jennifer arrives, she discovers that things are more complex than first presumed. Jennifer secures legal counsel for Emma and waits to see the Spanish wheels of justice move. When an investigator is brought onto the case, Jennifer forges a bond with Roberto and tries to work with him to clear Emma, while digging up dirty on a supposed boyfriend, the mastermind of the murder. Jennifer’s family suffers back at home and her husband, Mark, must straddle both sides of the Atlantic to pay for the legal fees, while Jennifer remains in Spain, searching for answers. Lines are blurred with Roberto, and the tabloids take advantage of these weaknesses to exacerbate Emma’s problems. With Emma’s life hanging in the balance, Jennifer must play the role of the perfect mother to ensure her eldest is protected, but at what cost to everyone else?

Darnton is surely a competent writer, though this novel leaves me a little less than impressed. The story is not only ‘ripped from the headlines’ but also uses the Amanda Knox story and almost replaces names and locales. It has little, if any, unique attribute and is superficial in its departure from the Knox version. Creating a less than stellar romantic connection between ‘perfect mother’ Jennifer and trial investigator Roberto seemed a little more trivial, especially since the story’s depth did not extend into the full legal battle of the event. I would have preferred more nuance or a deeper tale to flesh out more development and less sickly-sweet weak mother trying to put her daughter first.

Kudos for the idea, Mrs. Darnton. While you have the ability to convey a story well, perhaps it’s time you focus less on the structure of a well-known case and create one yourself.

Known and Unknown: A Memoir, by Donald Rumsfled

Four stars (of five)

I was pleased to have the time to delve into the mind of the man at the helm of the Department of Defence post-September 11, 2001. Rumsfeld does a great job of showing that his life was more than playing the Defence role for Bush, carving a name out himself over five decades. Rumsfeld details his life, from a childhood on the outskirts of Chicago through to his navy service and eventually introduction to the political sphere. In detailed chapters, Rumsfeld explores how his ties to the Illinois GOP machine allowed him to earn an upset victory that saw him in Congress by the time he was thirty and how that political acumen grew as his hobnobbed with those in positions of power, on both sides of the aisle. Rumsfeld’s inclusion in the Nixon inner circle played a decisive role in his politic future, but his true launch into the political stratosphere came in the Ford Administration, both within the West Wing and eventually as Secretary of Defence. Though short lived, Rumsfeld made the most of his time in the two years between the Nixon gaffe and (in Rumsfeld’s mind) America’s gaffe in choosing Carter. Rumsfeld faded into the background for a while, as the Democrats cleaned house and Reagan used Rumsfeld sparingly in the 80s, followed by a continued distancing by Bush 41.

The second half of the memoir, or close to it, shifts its focus onto the man whose name peppered the headlines post-September 11, 2001. In George W. Bush’s Cabinet, Rumsfeld was able to forge Defence policy from his office in the Pentagon and sought to work with Bush to craft the ultimate response. Rumsfeld lays out his arguments in favour of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also pulls out the soapbox as it relates to ignoring the Geneva Conventions and detention of prisoners during the aforementioned wars, making it clear (in his eyes, though jaded for many others) that the Bush Administration followed the letter of the law as it related to the wars and its prisoners, as well as outcomes best for the world and not just as a means of retaliation. Tossing what he calls DoJ approval and trying to parallel his actions with those of FDR, Rumsfeld attempts to shield himself and Bush 43 from scorn for their treatment of other human beings, however heinous the acts might be. Rumsfeld uses the final few parts of the book to explore non-war related causes the Bush Administration took, as if to show how they were able to handle both war and world leader paths effectively. These latter chapters were much less detailed and surely served as patches to help offset the soapbox tepid defence for suspension of human rights.

The memoir, in my mind, sought not only to defend Rumsfeld’s decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but to show that he was much more than SecDef during that trying period. For a person of my age, I have come to see that many of the political figures with whom I am familiar had lives, even important political ones, before I knew them. Rumsfeld’s ties to the likes of Nixon, Ford, Cheney, and even Reagan fleshed out a career full of political importance during a point of history when much was going on that shaped current America. One downside to the written content of the memoir would be that Rumsfeld glosses over his non-political employment, a drop in the bucket of the entire story. While surely not as exciting, it would help portray the memoir’s true sense of a life history rather than a politics-only approach. Additionally, the war-centric sections of the book were thorough and quite detailed, telling much of the inner thoughts of Rumsfeld and others in the Administration, which was lacking in the first part of of the book. It was as though time served under Nixon and Ford was less intense and worth only a passing description.

Kudos, Mr. Rumsfeld for your dedication in putting this memoir together. While I can see that you toe the Administration line on a lot, I was at least able to get some thorough understanding on where you felt you were coming from, even if riding on a ship with an inept captain.

Fall of Giants (Century Trilogy #1), by Ken Follett

Five stars (of five)

First and foremost, happy 2015! What a novel to begin a new year reading and absorbing!

After being highly impressed with the Pillars series created by Follett, I hoped to find as much depth and development in the Century Trilogy.The premise, following the fates of five interrelated families against a backdrop of world events is brilliant in its imagining and stellar in its delivery. The reader is introduced to Billy Williams early in the novel, as he enters the Welsh mining pits. His family acts as a wonderful bridge as Billy’s sister, Ethel, a housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts, takes a fateful step outside her accepted caste. Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory, bridging the story into another family, when she falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a German living in London while tensions mount and the Great War is imminent. Filling out the cast of characters is Gus Dewar, an American law student who begins new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House, and two Russian brothers, Grigori and Lev Peshkov, who seek the freedoms that America alone can offer them. Follett lays the early foundations of a very powerful and deeply intertwined novel sure to grow as history progresses, putting families, nationalities, and alliances to the test throughout.

The historical arc of the novel, 1911-1924, covers a great deal and touches on some very important events. With the rise of the Great War developing throughout the early part of the novel, the reader is pulled in to view things from all sides. Additionally, the snapshot of Russia shows the discontent seen in the streets and the eventual rise of revolutionary sentiment. Underlying these political changes, discussion about universal suffrage cannot be ignored or discounted as important both within Europe and North America. Follett captures these threads and spins them inside the larger character development seen throughout the novel. It only adds to the greatness and intricate detail of this novel.

This was my second reading of this novel, the first coming soon after its release. I felt that once the trilogy was done, I ought to take the time to read all three and see, with no interruptions, how the series grows and its characters develop. Fans of the Edward Rutherfurd multi-generational sagas will surely fall in love with this book, as will those who loved the nuanced character development of Jeffrey Archer (who is currently penning his own multi-generational series). Follett has bitten off much in this trilogy, but has shown his ability to keep all his characters under control and following a decisive path. He captures the reader’s attention and allows them to choose a favourite storyline, knowing full well that it may merge with another before the novel is done. I cannot wait to see how things develop as families intermingle and offspring hold alliances that may and will clash. Stellar work and I am so glad I came back to this for its full effect.

Kudos, Mr. Follett for this wonderful opening novel in the series. You have my rapt attention.