Book Review: A Column of Fire

In 2007, I was the young mother of a one and four-year-old. I wrote a column for our city paper, and I had just started running long distances to eventually run a half marathon. I was 29 years old, and I relied on Oprah’s Book Club recommendations in between the release of Harry Potter books and films.

It was in 2007 that I saw her enthusiasm for Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and wondered, “Do I really want to read a 900-page book about the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages? Seriously, Oprah. That’s a lot to ask.”

Oprah’s Book Club selections had never failed me. It was how I came to love Wally Lamb and Barbara Kingsolver. It was how I found The Rapture of Canaan and Middlesex and Midwives. It was pre-social media, pre-Google, pre-GoodReads. If Oprah hadn’t failed me yet, why would she fail me now? I bought the book and started reading.

Pillars of the Earth was life-changing, and I’m not being dramatic. Only in the Harry Potter series had I experienced the weaving of plots with such fluidity, but even then, the writing was basic and everything had been created from the ground up. I loved the series, but I was inspired and entertained by the content, not the writing.

Pillars of the Earth upped the game tenfold. It was this sweeping, engulfing, epic story that opened my eyes to what storytelling was all about. I was hooked. World Without End came out shortly after, and I was hooked all over again. It took place two hundred years after the Kingsbridge Cathedral was built and focused, this time, on the building of a bridge and a hospital during an outbreak of plague.

I’ve been itching for A Column of Fire ever since I heard it was being released. A true fangirl, I checked websites and blogs regularly looking for any information I could find on plot summaries. Though this is the third in the Kingsbridge series, it, like the others, can stand alone. The books have a shared history, but on account of the time span, they don’t have shared characters. You can read A Column of Fire without knowing how Prior Philip and Tom Builder struggled to get the church built in Pillars of the Earth.

In A Column of Fire, there is no great structure to build, and the story stretches beyond fictional Kingsbridge. Instead, it focuses on a large-scale problem in the 16th century – the Reformation. Europe is divided, so readers leave Elizabethan England to experience the Spanish Inquisition, the power struggle in France, and a hotbed of budding religious ideas in the Netherlands. Though we don’t officially meet Martin Luther or John Calvin, they are mentioned, and we get a keen view into the three groups – the Catholics who wanted to kill Protestants, the Protestants who wanted to kill Catholics, and the peacekeepers in the middle who fought for religious tolerance. 

In between the fictional bits is actual history – the rise of Elizabeth I and her creation of the first secret service, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, the mass murder of French Protestants in Paris, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and the thwarted Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (Guy Fawkes, anyone?).

Though you could read A Column of Fire independently, I recommend you start from the beginning and read all three, and when you’re done with Kingsbridge, jump into the 1900s and read Follett’s Century Trilogy – Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, and Edge of Eternity.

When you’re done, let’s discuss!

Edge of Eternity and the 50 Book Challenge

So I finished the third and final installment of Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, Edge of Eternity, and I can say with certainty that he’s still one of my favorite fiction writers. However, this was my least favorite of the three (Fall of Giants and Winter of the World), but that’s only because the pacing of the book was imbalanced, as were the politics of the characters. The bulk of the book is spent in 1960s – a huge chunk just in 1968 – and then all of sudden we jump to the mid-70s and get a short whiff of the 80s. Then boom – the Iron Curtain falls and the book ends. It was a glorious end, but we arrived there swiftly, which is odd to say about a book that’s more than a thousand pages.

The political persuasions of the characters would’ve been fine had there been a better balance of sides, however the only conservative Republican character was a self-centered, deceitful white man who was distasteful in every way. The only other characters that were equally despicable were the Communist leaders. It was an obvious slight that became annoying in the end.

Still, Follett is a beautiful writer and, per usual, I’m left feeling sad that his characters and I have parted ways. I’m mourning appropriately by starting a new book, Horrorstör.

Speaking of books, I’ve joined a group of BookTubers and thousands of fellow GoodReads members by taking the 50 Book Challenge – reading 50 books in one year. Click on the image in the sidebar to keep track of what I’m reading.

One down, 49 to go.

Book challenge start

Buy Edge of Eternity here. 

My ten most influential books

I was tagged by our cousin, Annette, to list the ten books that have had the greatest influence on me or have presented me with some sort of challenge. To use her words, these are the books I’d grab if the house set fire. It’s hard to list only ten, but here goes.

1. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (fiction) – Impeccable writing, inspiring story. I loved every word. (Buy it here.)

kiterunner2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (fiction) – I think I read this in two or three days. Many tears. Amazing storyteller. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on my shelf, so I must have lent it out. Thank goodness this book has made it into classrooms alongside the likes of Jane Eyre, King Lear, and Catcher in the Rye. (Buy it here.)

3. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (historical fiction) – This was the gateway book to reading all of Follett’s work. He is by far my favorite fiction writer. If only I could be half the storyteller he is… (Buy it here.)

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (fantasy fiction) – Though I could easily say the entire Harry Potter series is a favorite, I thought it best to pick the one I love the most. The Half-Blood Prince taught me that things aren’t always what they seem. (Buy it here.)

5. One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (fiction) – Laugh-out-loud hilarious. (Buy it here.) 

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir) – When read in the proper time and context, this one is enlightening and reflective. (Buy it here.)

7. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (non-fiction/inspirational) – I’m still reading this one very slowly, but that’s only because every page is worth inhaling and digesting. (Buy it here.)

Middlesex8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction) – Once I got use to his writing style, the story poured out like paint on a canvas. Simply beautiful. (Buy it here.)

9. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans (non-fiction/memoir/spiritual) – I could’ve have written this book, though not in the same esteem. Rachel is definitely more qualified to tackle religion, but we share similar experiences. (Now call Faith Unraveled, buy it here.)

10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction/memoir/instructional) – Essentially, this is my writing bible. (Buy it here.)

 


 

Sanctuary

My nerves have been on edge this week. I could list about ten reasons why that is, but I’ll save you the invitation to my Pity Party. Instead I’ll say that it’s completely ridiculous to stand in front of a dermatologist (so she can look at one little questionable spot) and be told that it will be a year’s wait for her to look at the rest of my body.

Yes, I have a dermatologist appointment for July 31, 2013. Gosh! Hope I remember.

Two years ago I had a small spot removed. I remember it clearly because the procedure was scheduled for the same day we had Hank put down. It was an intentional double-whammy so I could get all my tears out at once.

Anyway, it appears that the same type of spot has regrown in another place so after a three-month wait to get it checked, the doctor indeed performed a biopsy. Afterward, I fully expected her to ask about the rest of my skin, and when she didn’t, I asked her about it. She said I could have a full-body scan done in a separate appointment.

Okay, I thought. In a few weeks?

Nope. One year. That’s how long the wait is. I stood there looking at her with all my skin right in front of her face, including a patched-up spot she just butchered, but she will not look at it intently for another year.

This is why I have chosen to bury my nose in a book every morning, every afternoon, and nearly every night. It’s my favorite form of escapism, and currently, that’s just how I deal.

Warm enough for bare feet

Yesterday was remarkably beautiful. The boys chose to play outside while I sat on the porch to read. It was warm enough for bare feet and a war between cowboys and indians.

I’m nearly done with The Hunger Games and not fully committed to finishing the trilogy. The book is… okay. It’s been a quick read and all, but I’m not hooked. In fact, I keep getting distracted by wondering if I should just scrap it all and start Fall of Giants. Y’all know I love me some Ken Follett.

Happy Weekend!