The first is Origin, the latest by Dan Brown, author of the bestselling The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, among others. It’s set mainly in Spain in the near future. I know many don’t like Brown. Some feel he’s anti the Catholic church and I can see how they might believe that. I enjoy his tales, but what I really like is the detailed descriptions of the many historical sites arising in the stories. I’ve not heard of most of them, but he assures his readers they actually exist. I believe him because I googled several and found photos every time.
I think Ken Follett’s trilogy The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End and A Column of Fire is fantastic. While related, each stands alone and, although it’s probably wise to read in order, it’s not necessary. Collectively they take place mainly in England from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. Follett gives us insights into the daily lives of the various classes of the times: Royalty, nobility, warriors, clergy, businessmen, peasants. It was not a good time to be a woman! Characters come alive as we observe them grow through the span of decades, with the immature youthful traits blossoming into the cruelty, kindness or competence they portended. Multiple plots intertwine as the “good” folk overcome adversities only to have advances foiled by the evil of the greedy or inhumanity of the violent. These are not always easy reads with people you like being murdered, grisly descriptions of animal killings on the hunt, cruelty on the battle field and torture. But they are riveting and, despite each being massive in size, they are finished all too soon.
Set roughly in the same period as A Column of Fire is The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory. Most will recall that Lady Jane Grey was England’s queen for nine full days until deposed and then executed by Henry VIII’s daughter Mary. But I at least had no knowledge of Jane’s two younger sisters Catherine and Mary, both of whom posed possible threats to Mary’s successor, Elizabeth, who feared the birth of a potentially legitimate claimant to the throne. Being of noble birth in Elizabethan times had its drawbacks. This historical novel presents a captivating story of the sisters’ lives.
Another trilogy, this one set in the 1980’s, is as violent as Follett’s work, and equally enthralling. It’s Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree and Mississippi Blood. These should be read in order. The two series have several similarities. The subplots are many and cleverly contrived. In some ways the cruelty and brutality of Iles’ books are more difficult to endure, perhaps because the setting is in my own country in a time period not far past and related to an issue, segregation, which still haunts us. The story, and it’s really just one long story, intertwines with the Kennedy and King assassinations in a way that will delight conspiracy theorists. One might think the series, filling 2,300 pages total, could not possibly hold the reader’s interest the entire time. Not so. The narrative is mesmerizing and unpredictable without letup.
A completely different read is counting by 7s (the lack of capitalization follows the book cover) by Holly Goldberg Sloan, sent to me by my niece. I believe it’s considered a young adult read, But I consider it also an any adult read as well as a younger than young adult read. Willow Chance is an extraordinarily bright girl with loving parents who is dealt a cruel blow. How she handles it with the aid of special people who enter her life is a heartwarming story that brings laughter, tears, admiration and joy.
All these personal favorites have a common factor. They make me envious of the authors, each of whom possesses superb story telling ability. I would love to write like any one of them.