Review: Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Winter of the World (Century Trilogy #2)I always knew I was going to love this book. After falling in love with Follett’s writing whilst reading Fall of Giants, the first book in the Century trilogy, I knew I would love its sequel, Winter of the World, even more. For starters, this novel takes us through the Second World War, which is one of my favourite periods to read about. After getting to know several beloved characters of American, British, German and Russian nationalities during Fall of Giants, I was also eager to see how Follett would link the lives of the next generation of their families.

So I did go into this with high expectations – and I’m delighted to say that even those high expectations were surpassed! I genuinely couldn’t put this down, finishing it in less than two weeks – quite ironic since I’d put it off for so long due to a fear of its enormous size! To anyone put off by the size of Follett’s novels, I would say that once you get started, his writing style is very easy to read. He isn’t one for flowery prose; the beauty in his writing is its simplicity, allowing the plot and characters to shine.

A particular strength in Follett’s writing is his ability to simultaneously display the best and worst of human nature. He didn’t shy away from the brutalities of the bloodiest conflict in the world’s history, but dealt with them in a sensitive way, capturing the atrocities faced by victims whilst maintaining a sense of hope.

Another quality I loved about Winter of the World was the opportunity to experience so many different perspectives of the events of the Second World War. In writing characters with vastly differing beliefs and backgrounds, Follett managed to make their motives believable, and as a result I found many of the characters very easy to connect with.

Covering a span of fifteen years, I was worried that even in just under a thousand pages the story might feel rushed – but the plot moved seamlessly through the buildup to the war, then through each year of the war itself. The various narratives were woven masterfully together in the way I have come to expect in Follett’s writing; there are few authors who manage it as well as he does.

It may only be January, but I loved this so much that I’m going to boldly say that Winter of the World will be a strong contender for my top books of 2018. For lovers of WWII historical fiction, this is definitely a must read – I would definitely recommend reading Fall of Giants first, though, in order to gain the maximum enjoyment from the story.

For now I’ll be taking a bit of a breather from this epic trilogy – but I’ll be to sure to post a review of Edge of Eternity, the concluding novel, when I do read it.

 

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Review: Before the Rains by Dinah Jeffries

Before the RainsThis was my first Dinah Jeffries book – and if I’m honest, it was the beautiful cover which first sparked my interest. The setting of 1930s India also intrigued me, as I’d never read a novel set during the time of the British Empire in India.

The protagonist is Eliza Fraser, a widowed photographer who has travelled to India to photograph the family of a state prince in Rajputana. At twenty eight years old, Eliza is widowed and doesn’t conform to the expected norms of a woman in the 1930s, choosing to further her career rather than seeking out another husband as her mother desires. Finding herself in an environment full of powerful men, where women have very few rights, Eliza’s firm beliefs and strong personality make her instantly likeable.

I loved the descriptions in this story – Dinah Jeffries captures the vibrancy and colour of India perfectly, so that you find yourself completely transported there as you read. Because of the heavy focus on describing Eliza’s surroundings, however, I found the first 100 pages or so very slow going, with little in terms of plot progression.

When the plot eventually got going, I enjoyed the development between Eliza and Jay, the state prince’s younger brother. Meanwhile Eliza began with her photography work, which offered a very interesting look into how photography worked in the 1930s, and the relative newness of photography as an art form.

The sections about Eliza’s photography were probably my favourite, but unfortunately as Eliza and Jay grew closer, their storyline began to take over the entire plot. In fairness, this novel was advertised as “romantic” – but I didn’t expect it to become so heavily focused on the romance. It also got pretty steamy at times, so if you don’t like reading steamy, passionate books then that’s something to note.

Another issue I had with the novel was the language used in the dialogue. Considering it was set in the 1930s, I felt some of the language used was far too modern, and some of the topics Eliza discussed with Jay and her friend Dottie would have been strictly taboo during this time. I’m all for stepping outside the boundaries from time to time, but I didn’t think it was particularly well done in this novel, making it read more like a contemporary romance at times.

The story was enjoyable enough, with a few “twists” at the end which to me felt a little clichéd. Nevertheless, it was a light and fluffy read with plenty of nice descriptions. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.

My top priority reads for 2018

1. Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy #2)After reading Fall of Giants last year and loving it so much, I really want to get on to the second novel in the Century trilogy, which covers the Second World War. To be honest, the only reason I haven’t picked it up yet is the sheer size of the thing – I read the first book on Kindle so I didn’t ever quite comprehend what big books they are until I saw them in Waterstones a couple of months ago and panicked slightly!

If my first Ken Follett novel was anything to go by, though, Winter of the World will definitely be worth getting through – and it’s probably my top priority historical fiction read for this year.

 

2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

This novel was pretty high on my TBR throughout 2017, and I’m really sad that I didn’t get around to reading it, as I’ve heard brilliant things about it from so many people.

Beginning with the lives of two sisters in Africa, one of whom is sold into slavery whilst the other is a slave trader’s wife, the story then continues to follow seven further generations of each of the sisters’ families.

To me, this sounds like such an intriguing style of writing – I am always very interested in stories which explore how the lives of previous generations impact those of the younger generations. This is another must read for 2018, and I can’t wait to pick it up!

 

3. Glass Roses by Britain Kalai Soderquist

Glass Roses: A Victorian Fairytale

I first read the original draft of Glass Roses on Wattpad – in fact, it was one of the very first books I read when I joined, and Britain was one of the very first authors I got talking to on the site. It captured my interest straight away, as it is a Victorian retelling of both Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast in epistolary form, with no magic!

The beautiful historical detail along with Britain’s effortless way of capturing the style of the period makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it the first time round, so I can’t wait to read the published version and fall in love with this novel all over again.

 

So those are the three historical fiction novels I’m prioritising for 2018! I’m sure there will also be some more Philippa Gregory and Georgette Heyer mixed in – both of whom were newly-discovered authors for me in 2017.

2018 looks like it’s going to be an exciting reading year for me – I can’t wait to get started!

 

Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

This novel had been on my TBR for most of 2017, so I was very keen to get to it – but unfortunately it ended up as a pretty disappointing read.

The premise was full of promise: a story involving a New York socialite, a German doctor and a Polish prisoner in a concentration camp during the Second World War. I didn’t really know what to expect beyond that, but I love intertwining stories told from multiple perspectives so I had high hopes.

Unfortunately, though, New York socialite Caroline Ferriday’s story hardly linked with those of the other two narrators, only becoming relevant in the very last portion of the book. This was surprising, because Caroline Ferriday was a real person – the very person, in fact, who inspired the author to write this novel in the first place, though I would never have guessed this whilst reading.

The story of Kasia, the Polish prisoner, and Dr Herta Oberheuser, a doctor working at Ravensbrück concentration camp, was a lot more brutal than I anticipated, so that is something worth bearing in mind if you do choose to read this novel. Despite being written in the first person, however, I never felt very connected to any of the three narrators – though perhaps this was intentional due to the difficult subject matter.

An impressive aspect of this novel was its rich historical detail; extensive time and effort had clearly been expended in researching for this story. However, this unfortunately led to book reading more as three autobiographies rather than a novel. There was little fluidity to the narrative, giving the impression of jumping between three separate stories which felt jarring and confusing.

This novel does have several glowing reviews and is a New York Times bestseller, so the fact that I did not enjoy it may be simply down to personal taste. Unfortunately this did end up as something very different to what I expected and quite a disappointing read for me, but that’s not to say it won’t be for you.

Do let me know what your thoughts on this novel are if you have read it – I’m always keen to hear other people’s opinions on books I’ve read.