Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time the twelfth century; the place feudal England; and the subject the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.(Goodreads)

This is undeniably one of the best books that I have read all year. Although it took me almost a month to read this book, it didn’t feel a drag at all – on the contrary, it’s been quite a delightful ride. I had a great kick out of reading this epic book.

The plot is well-crafted and simply magnificent. It’s packed with suspenseful moments and lots of dramas, and most importantly, it’s got everything – literally everything – I want in a book rolled into one.
I loved reading how the undercurrent main plot of building the cathedral intricately and masterfully entwines with so many subplots happening in this book, and how the characters are embroiled in the things that are beyond their controls and are affected by them. They are literally adrift in the sea of fate; one minute they are at the height of their prominence and the next minute they find themselves plunged into a state of destitute. As soon as they see a ray of hope at the end of a tunnel, the light was extinguished the very next moment, having their hope crushed. Rise and fall, defeat and hope. They keep coming almost alternatively throughout the book, it kept me turning pages. I just wanted to know how the story unfolds, how the characters end up. How gripping and captivating it was. I was completely mesmerized by this epic, grand story.

The writing is consistently solid, strong and incredibly descriptive. The descriptions of the church in Saint-Denis, in particular, was simply magical and breathtaking; the stream of light coming through rows of tall windows, how all the sunshine seems to fill the vast empty vessel of the church with warmth and light… utterly captivating and hypnotic. I felt as though the time stood still in the church; I was in awe of his writing. It took my breath away.

However, it also means there are some caveats; this book does contain some (not so many, I recall) gory scenes and it is where I think his prowess in writing was amazingly well-showcased. If you are squeamish and cannot take such descriptions, you might want to prepare yourself for the jolt; it’s surprisingly vivid and graphic. It did keep me engaged in the story the entire time, but this might not work for some of you – be advised that you bear that in mind when going into this book.

There were actually some slight incongruities in his choice of words that I found a bit odd, words like ‘ultra-sensitive,’ for instance. I personally found this incongruent with the overall tone of his writing; it felt a bit too casual and it didn’t sit well with me, but it didn’t pose much of a problem. It didn’t stop me from enjoying this book.
Overall, his writing is simply magnificent and enthralling. I fell in love with it.

To me, this book felt like a massive, grand tapestry consists of numerous fragments of quilts weaving individual characters’ stories. Each quilt beautifully and meticulously depicts each character’s drama – life, romance, struggles, defeat, vengeance…, placing them at the right place and then putting them together towards the end. Each story, each subplot is carefully and thoroughly delineated and I literally felt as though I were experiencing and vicariously living their lives. The execution was beyond reproach.
The romance between the main two characters which spans over several decades is also dramatic and gripping. To be honest, this was not a twist what I was expecting from this book, but I liked the fact that it didn’t end up overly sugary nor saccharine. It’s dramatic, but not overly melodramatic. Their eventual reunion in the church of Saint-Denis which takes place right after the discovery of the ideal architecture for Kingsbridge cathedral was executed with the perfect balance, making this book even more entertaining. This was definitely one of my favorite scenes in this book.

The characters are all well-fleshed out and strong; I had a ‘love or hate’ connection with each character. Some characters are downright evil and despicable; no matter how many times they taste the bitterness of defeat, they keep coming back like a phoenix, concocting and conspiring another scheme to seize power again. They are driven by greed and lust for power, I no longer remember how many times I gritted my teeth with frustration and how strongly infuriated I was by them; I seriously wanted to strangle them, each and every one of them.
But then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have just relatable, loveable characters whom you want to root for no matter what. They are all impactful both in a good way and a bad way, I was so invested in them that I sometimes felt mentally drained. I can honestly say this emotional connection with these characters is what made this book so magical and captivating.

The only issue that I had with this book was the last part of the book, especially the last 70 pages.
The whole denouement segment felt a bit drab and lackluster compared with the other parts of the book.
It is indeed twisty down to the last minute, there is actually a shocker in store in the very end which made me hold my breath, but overall, I felt it kind of lost momentum, I was just along for the ride to see how this epic story eventually wraps up.

The very ending left me in two minds; I didn’t know whether I should feel happy, relieved or feel sad. It left me with somewhat a bittersweet, poignant feeling.

That said though, again, this is undeniably by far the best book I’ve read this year. 1088 pages didn’t feel as long as I had thought. In fact, I didn’t want it to end; it would have been totally fine if there were another few hundreds of pages to go.
It was quite a delightful, exhilarating ride. I thoroughly enjoyed living in the town of Kingsbridge, witnessing all the dramas involving building the cathedral.
I ended up docking a half star, but I highly, vehemently recommend picking this up. It’s definitely worth your time.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light we Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel


This book literally shattered me emotionally. I’d heard a lot of amazing things about this book, but I would never have imagined this book would be THIS good and haunting.
I just can’t gush enough how much I adore this book. No words could ever describe how enthralled I was. Whatever I say could never be enough.

I honestly don’t know how to sum up this book; I can hardly find any words to describe it nor do I even know in which category I should pigeonhole this book. THIS BOOK, this story transcends and reflects time, space, history… simply breathtaking.

Some may find the constant back and forth between the perspectives and timelines a bit confusing and it might take some time to get used to. If you don’t keep in mind which time flame you are currently in (that’s shown at the beginning of each chapter), you’ll easily let it slip your mind and get lost. However, the plot is stunningly well-woven and captivating enough to make up for a little confusion.

Tugging along the threads of the two stories of a blind French girl and a 18-year German boy, we explore what happens to them and how they feel under the difficult time in a small town under German Occupation.
Both of them – Marie-Laure and Warner are both at the mercy of fate and the shadow of War that’s slowly encroaching on their lives breaks them both in different ways.
Intricately entwined with the plot involving the Sea of Flames, which is said to curse its keeper, this book kept me glued to the story most of the time.
While the first half was very strong and gripping, the latter half, especially around 300 pages felt a bit slowed and dragged; I felt like I was reading plot-less parts and wondered why it had to drone on and on and on.
That said, beyond that part, pieces and hints started to make sense to me – everything that I once deemed inconsequential and irrelevant fit together perfectly and the story started to drive towards the stunning finale.

What happens on page 483, the very last sentence on that page literally threw me for a loop – I was shattered to bits by the development and was momentarily lost for words; my brain couldn’t function. I felt Broken. Devastated.

Haven’t you felt that all you can do is just laugh out loud or breathe a sigh of despair when you’re completely mind-blown or something really upsets you? You just can’t process all the feelings and emotions inside you and can do nothing but laugh or sigh.
That’s exactly what happened to me this morning; I was up since 4:30 am reading this book and then I reached page 483 just around the time I was supposed to prepare for work – since I was so invested in this particular character, it took my breath away. Although I knew that I needed to snap out of it, I was bombarded by the whorling emotions. The gobsmacking development totally rendered me dysfunctional. All I could think was:

Oh, my God. Anthony Doerr, WHY??? Look at what you’ve done to me!!!

I honestly didn’t want to read any further, I totally lost steam, but from there, the story moves on towards the present and ends with a breathtaking, beautiful closing.

The writing is absolutely beautiful and really INTENSE. The delivery is on point and consistent, seamless. There were scenes where I found myself holding my breath and hearing my heart pounding against my chest – it’s astoundingly evocative.
The characters are also beautifully drawn and well-realized. I simply adored Marie-Laure’s papa and his affection towards his daughter as well as the heart-warming father and daughter relationship between Marie-Laure. The sacrifice he makes for the love of her daughter… my goodness, how poignant it is…
The portion with Fredelik was also harrowing; Werner’s inner torment from his conscience and cowardice was simply tough to get through. I had to put the book down to take it all in and brace myself for what’s coming next.

Frankly, I wasn’t fully convinced of the whole Sea of Flames plot, I felt it a bit far-fetched, but reading how it eventually ends up and how it works to connect the two dots, I can totally make sense out of it. I’m sold.

To put in a nutshell, I LOVE everything about this book. I literally ate this book up.

I’m still not happy with that particular development (absolutely Not), but this book definitely stole my heart and ripped it in two in a sad, but a good way.
An enthralling, magnificent masterpiece to sink your teeth into – this book will always, ALWAYS have a special place in my heart and totally deserves 5 out of 5 stars.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

the book thief

The Book Thief

I wasn’t quite sure if this book was really going to live up to my expectation until I reached the very end. Although it did move me to some extent, the tidal wave of emotions that I had been expecting didn’t arrive;

Until I reached the chapter, The End of the World (Part Ⅱ)  to be more specific.

Set in the years 1939 – 1943, Nazi Germany, The Book Thief weaves a story of a German girl, Liesel, and her encounters with the inhabitants on her street.
She loses her brother on their way to their new foster parents’ home and she commits her very first thievery after her brother’s burial ceremony.

She picks up a book lodged in the snow – The beginning of Liesel’s book thievery.

To me, this book felt like a collage of the lives of inhabitants of Himmel Street rather than a story.
There is, indeed, a solid story line running underneath the entire book, but I think the vast majority of the book is about Liesel and the people whom she gets to know or comes to love.
There is Rudy, there is Papa, most importantly, there is Max. A Jew who left a big impact on Liesel and with whom Liesel forms a very strong friendship.
Stories with individual characters are woven amazingly in detail and are entertaining, but the real culmination of the tension (at least for me) arrives at the remaining 20 pages mark. This is where all the stories come to life. This is where this book hit me in the feels and made me all welled-up.

I particularly loved the friendship between Liesel and Max. They respectively become indispensable to each other. With Max being a Jew, Papa and Mama know what it means to hide Max from the pursuit of Nazi and what consequences await them, but they risk everything to protect Max and to keep a secret that Papa had made to Max’s father.
Such details behind each character serve very well to make this book emotionally engaging and captivating.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous; I don’t know how to articulate what it feels like.
It’s stunningly beautiful, lyrical and poetic. More than anything, it’s generally calm and quiet, yet very strong.

What struck me interesting about this book is that the story is narrated by Death himself and I really liked his voice. His narration is dignified, yet I sensed the humor in his voice. He is very calm, collected and observant, too. Although this story is told through the eyes of Death and sets in Nazi Germany,  it didn’t feel morbid and depressing so much. Not that I’m saying that it’s all uplifting, which is definitely not the case, but it is NOT all bleak and gloom. Through Death’s very observant detailed narration, we can get a glipmse of happiness (albeit occasionally) in Liesel’s life.
He says ‘Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me,’ but I felt he is actually nice. I could even feel some warmth in his voice.

The main characters are all lovable and in particular, the bond between Papa and Liesel literally warmed the cockles of my heart. Which is all the more reason why the aforementioned scene broke me; I know it’s inevitable, yet it still hurts.

This book is rather long with 538 page count and this is not a fast-paced quick read.
This is one of those books that should be savored and devoured by taking as long as one needs to let the story sink in.
This is a story of life, friendship and keeping promise. It is simply breathtaking and magnificent.
Even if you feel it a bit dull with not so much going on, the jolt does come in the end.
This book does need patience. I’m so glad that I read it. I will definitely reread it.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult


The Storyteller

My honest opinion when I finished this book was;

“What?! Is this gonna end here like THIS?”

With NO definite denouement, the story ends rather abruptly. It made me feel as though there were another 20 to 30 pages to wrap up this story, but there weren’t.
At first, I found it rather anticlimactic; I was a bit disappointed to say the least.
That said, however, it was because I was so invested in the story. I wanted to know MORE about it, I really, really liked it!

That being said though, I now look back on it and think it was a fitting end considering the underlining theme of this book, The Storyteller, and The story goes on.
I now assume that Jodi Picoult chose not to close the story with a clear-cut ending, she intentionally chose to leave the rest of the story to us readers’ imagination just like Minka did.
In regard to this, I think it’s clever. Some readers may not be in favor of such endings, but I think I could live with it. (Well, of course, I could be completely off the mark, though.)

The writing was very strong yet has got some calm, quiet quality to it. Even during Minka’s retrospective soliloquy reflecting back on her experience in the Auschwitz, her narration felt very calm and collected. It wasn’t at all over-dramatic, but incredibly intense and poignant at times, it literally cut through my heart. It was just brilliant.

As for the story, the subject matter this book deals with is quite heavy; there’s no doubt about that. What struck me the most in Josef’s narration was that how desensitized and numb a person can be under the pretext of orders and code of conduct. Josef seemed to have been a bit red-blooded, but didn’t used to be THAT brutal, but during his time in the Army, he turned himself into a monster who is capable of shooting people in the head for no particular reason, just like squashing insects with his shoes.
This was what sent chills down my spine while I was reading this book.

On a bit more positive note, I loved how Sage and Leo’s paths cross as the story unfolds and how they both develop their affinity toward each other. It’s a fainty, slow-burn type of love and I absolutely adored the budding romance between them.

In addition to that, the relationship between Franz and Minka also tugged at my heartstrings.
I loved how Franz starts to see Minka in a different light, not merely as a prisoner who doesn’t deserve to live, but as a storyteller. I absolutely enjoyed the scenes where he saves her from a predicament and puts her under his supervision, telling her to write the story 10 pages a night and reading it aloud to him. I adored Franz’s gentleness despite being a SS soldier, despite the fact he may have committed unspeakable atrocities, killing numerous people in his wake.

That was all the more reason why it broke my heart when I read what Franz did to Minka.
I was like, “Why, Franz, Why?!”
But I knew the reason; He had to. He had no other option left for him to save her at that point, at his brother’s presence.
And the blank notebook anonymously left to Minka as if to say,
Keep the story going on.
Live as a storyteller.
It literally shattered my heart; my heart felt so constricted. So sad. So poignant. Ugh…

The huge twist in the end completely took me by surprise; I didn’t see it coming at all.
Man, what a twist! What an unexpected turn of events!

Like I said, with no definite end, I wonder what future holds for Sage.
Having read the decision Sage has reached upon Josef’s supplication to aid his death, I’m now really itching to know how the story unfolds for Sage and Leo.

What will happen to THEM?
Will Sage divulge the secret to Leo? And what will happen from now onwards?
How is Sage going to live down what she has done to Josef?

So many question marks swirl around my head.
This, however, might be exactly how the author wanted us readers to be.
Well done, Jodi Picoult. You got me there hands-down. I’m completely sold.

A Lady of High Regard by Tracie Peterson


■Synopsis (Excerpt from Goodreads)

Born into affluence, Mia Stanley is a winsome socialite with a knack for matchmaking. She’s also a writer for Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine, much to the disdain of her family and their society friends. A proper young lady of her social standing isn’t meant to labor in such a way, but Mia has always had a way with words…

When her writing draws her into the world of downtrodden seamen’s wives on Philadelphia’s docks, Mia uncovers a scheme that puts her in harm’s way. But her heart ends up on the line as well…. Has her determination to always make a match driven away the one man whose esteem she covets?


I haven’t been able to process my feelings toward this book just yet. I don’t particularly adore this book but it’s not like I HATE it, either. I’m kind of being in the middle, if you like.

This is a typical romance story which sets somewhere in the 19th Century. The protagonist, Mia is born to a wealthy family,  she is a ‘Lady of High Regard. She loves acting as a matchmaker and tries to find his best friend, Garrett a suitable wife.

My first impression on this character setting was:
‘Well, that sounds pretty much like Emma by Jane Austen.’ 
I have never read the book. I have only watched the movie adaptation, but I thought Mia’s character setting is quite similar to the one of Emma from the first moment when I found out what kind of woman Mia is.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t relate to Mia as much. I know she is an amiable, compassionate woman yet she also comes across a feisty, headstrong young woman and her naivety and imprudence really put me off.
I do think it’s really nice and commendable of her to try to save seamen’s wives out of their plight despite knowing she is well out of bounds. Nevertheless, I was almost sick of her repeatedly (again, REPEATEDLY) making stupid, reckless, impetuous decisions.
One minute she pledges to her father that she would seek wise counsel and the next minute she acts recklessly in the heat of passion, blindly believing that she can only solve the problem.

As for the story where two old best friends growing up as a brother and a sister finally recognizes their feelings toward each other, I find it interesting yet a bit predictable and old. It was good that it’s got some suspenseful twists to it, but the pacing -as far as the romance goes – was incredibly slow and a bit irritating.
The number of interruptions really threw me off; whenever either of the main two characters tries to confess their love, the interruption comes. I could tolerate it if it were once or twice, but this many???  It does serve to make it more suspenseful and I did want to know how it would play out, but I was a bit frustrated and wanted to cry, “Come on, you two, forget the propriety and blurt it out already!”
On that point, I think it was successful.

Generally the characters didn’t leave much big of an impact on me, neither do the story line.
Oh, but I love Mia’s father a lot. He is an epitome of words of wisdom. I particularly liked the lesson he gives his reckless daughter Mia, such as:

I fear that if you do not learn moderation and learn to temper your responses, however, that you’ll find yourself sorely misused, if not dead.

Meanwhile she’ll stew and fret over what she’s said and done. It will serve her right.

Those remarks made me laugh out loud – what better sermon could there possibly be? He said exactly what I wanted to say to Mia. I love that man.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. It didn’t grab me as strongly as I had hoped, but I did enjoy reading their slow budding love and I must admit the repetitive misunderstanding between Mia and Garrett hooked me.

As the setting suggest, the writing is rather formal which is reminiscent of Classic literature, but it’s not so arcane, it’s simple enough to get through.
If you are up for light-hearted, classic-ish romance book, you might enjoy this.

I’ll give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay


Sarah’s Key


Another 5 out of 5 stars – although it’s the third time I’ve read this book, it never fails to make me cry in the end.

I don’t think I need to tell you what this book is about, given that it was made into a movie, but this is a historical fiction that touches on the Vel’d’ Hiv’ round-up took place in Paris in July, 1942. Early in the morning, the girl, Sarah Starzynski and her family were round-up and penned in a stadium called Vel’d’ Hiv’ where bicycle events used to be held. After spending a few days in an inhuman condition, they were squeezed onto a train and then subsequently sent to the Auschwitz.

Having read this book three times, I felt I noticed a lot of things that I think I missed in my previous reads. Prior to this re-read, I think my attention was only focused on the atrocity that the roundup had brought on Sarah and her family.
This time, however, I found it interesting and really well-done that the author shed some light on the difference in the attitudes and the perspectives towards the past between the American and the French.
While Julia wants to dig deeper into what actually happened during the roundup and how Sarah’s family ended up, her husband’s family members are indignant at Julia bringing back the past unnecessarily. I thought this contrast was very interesting and added a lot of depth to the story, making it much more compelling and engaging.

I sometimes wondered if it was a bit oversimplified display to depict Julia as an epitome of American people, implying they have a tendency of prying into others’ business and trying to find out the truth against all the backlash and protests from the other side.
I personally didn’t feel comfortable in this depiction, but I reckon the author tried to underscore the fact that there so many people, even in France, who don’t know about the Vel’d’ Hiv, who haven’t even heard of the fact that it was actually the French Police not the German Police that enforced the round-up. Through weaving this story, she must have tried to bring this incident to everyone’s knowledge – so as not to repeat the biggest mistake we humankind have ever made.

The ramification and the consequence what Julia’s conduct has brought to the entire family and Sarah’s son, William, are really well-described. The rejection, the initial rejection – oh, it broke my heart. I felt my heart constricted with pain.

The letter to her brother, Michael on which Sarah scribbled down her true emotions couldn’t be read without tears. I didn’t actually cry, but I was pretty close to. The pain and angst Sarah must have felt, Sarah must have bottled up inside her felt as though it were mine.

I love the writing. Although the wording is pretty simple, it is very atmospheric and has got some calm quality to it which I personally think highlights the cruelty and the pain stemming from the round-up.
I also like how the story develops; initially the story is told in two different time frames and perspectives. One with Julia in 2002 and the other with Sarah in 1942. The story goes back and forth for some time, but the two time frames slowly come together and eventually merge into one as the story develops. It was really well-done.

The author also did an excellent job in depicting how the 1942 roundup changes the lives of many people involving Sarah completely, how the past weighs on everyone not only Sarah, but also Julia and even Sarah’s son, William.
While the whole Sarah thing actually brings an unexpected surprise and delight to Julia, it also breaks her emotionally in many ways and she realizes that she cannot go back to her former self. She cannot go on living the way she used to.
I really felt for her. I felt the pains and sorrows are really well-written. Stunning.

The ending never fails to move me and make me cry;
“She was Sarah. My Sarah.”
These are what pull at my heartstrings, getting my waterworks and making me cry.
The ending never fails to stir my emotions and I just adore it.

This is nothing but a testament to being a good book. A good book can move you however many times you reread it.
This book kind of whetted my appetite for Historical Fiction. I’m totally up for reading many more of historical novels this year.
Highly recommended if you haven’t already, pick up this book and see how this book can move you and affect you. You might be surprised.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


I gave this book solid 4 stars. It could be 4.5 stars, yet I’ll be honest, and I will say it’s a 4 stars book for me.

I docked a star because it took me a while to get myself on track. For some reason, this book didn’t grab me at my first attempt. The first chapter was brilliant and strong, it actually sucked me in right off the bat, but from then onwards it kind of lost its momentum and I started feeling the words slipping away not fully sinking in on me.
When I was about halfway through the book, I decided that I couldn’t go on like that; I went right back to the beginning to read it again with a clear mindset.
The enormity of the atrocity dawned on me surprisingly well the second time. The book immediately reeled me in and kept me engaged the entire book.

Despite the chilling and upsetting inhumane conducts committed by the Soviet guards, I felt something calm running through the book; Lina’s narration is surprisingly calm and subdued. That said, I must say there were times when I held my breath. The writing is clear-cut and powerful, it adds a lot to the underlying tension and I kept reading with bated breath. It was so much and so hard to take all in; I just can’t imagine what it would have been like to survive with barely any food on their hands in a place like Siberia. It’s beyond my imagination.

The characters are all well-developed; I adore Lina for her feisty yet solid, independent and strong character while Jonas being so pure and adorable. Her mother, Elena is literally an epitome of goodness. She is so compassionate, warm-hearted and strong.

The latter part of the book, particularly close to the end is so poignant and strong; I was pretty close to tears.
However,  I also found it so therapeutic and purgatorial to find goodness even within someone who appears -or we think to be absolutely evil.

I must admit I was completely sold on the epilogue. It was stunning and utterly amazing.
I felt as though the time had stood still with the world around me grinding to a halt. The writing is so beautiful and descriptive; I could clearly visualize the scene. It was beyond reproach.
In addition to that, I was so happy to see the main two characters whose names I wouldn’t divulge here end up being together.

I adore the couple. It is a sole delight in the entire story; I breathed a sigh of delight and relief.
It was definitely worth a read not to mention a good historical lesson. I’m glad I read it.