Author Review: Ken Follett

Ken Follett has a new book out, The Evening and the Morning. This post is not about that book. I have not read it and I probably won’t. This is about Follett as a writer.

Even though I find Follett’s writing to be annoying to one degree or another, depending on the book. I have read six of them in the last few months, one after the other, like eating potato chips. Over the years, I’ve probably read a dozen of his works. These tomes are as nourishing to my mind as potato chips are to my body.

Considering how I feel about Follett’s writing, why do I continue to read his works? They’re immersive. With current events as they are, immersion in a different era is just what’s called for. Also because I have his books at home. Libraries are open only for curbside pickup. It’s a hassle for me to get to the library. If it’s onerous to get to the library, I want to browse, not just pick up books I ordered online.

Critics call Follett’s books “page-turners.” Sometimes I do keep turning the pages to see what’s going to happen next. Other times, I turn pages to see how close I am to the end of the chapter or scene. I don’t always read as far as the scene or chapter break. I read until I get bored, even if it’s in the middle of a scene. I put the book down because I’m tired of excess details and paragraphs that resemble brick walls. Even in scenes that are supposed to make readers hold their breath in anticipation of the next development, he sticks in tedious detail that slows the action. Does anyone really need to know about latrine pits? I stopped reading Pillars of the Earth just as a fire broke out. Eventually I resumed.

The older and more famous Follett gets the more self-indulgent he gets, the more bloated his books get. Too many characters. Too many subplots. Just when I think the book is finally finished, there’s another gratuitous plot twist. Too much repetition. He doesn’t trust readers to remember something that happened on the previous page. Other times characters pop up seemingly out of nowhere and he doesn’t bother to identify them, leaving me wondering “who was that?” His more recent books would benefit from being cut by at least thirty percent, or more. Preferably more.

By reading so many of his books so close together, his flaws become glaringly obvious. Pillars of the Earth and World without End, the most recent two books I’ve read are part of the Kingsbridge series, which is set in a small English town during the Middle Ages. Both books demonstrate that the author is running out of ideas. No wonder. His career spans more than forty years. In both books, part of a cathedral collapses and is re-built. In World Without End, the second book in the series, a bridge also collapses. Babies are born out of wedlock in both books. Women accused of witchcraft show up in both books. Small, slight geniuses are the heroes of both books, It’s hard to tell them apart.

A lot of thinking and brainstorming goes into writing.

I frequently want to slap some sense into the main female characters. Not many of the too many main characters are likable. The secondary characters often have them beat in likability. Although set in Medieval times both books have implausible road trips. In World Without End, two nuns chase after the king of England who is with his embattled army in France. In Pillars of the Earth a lone woman, with her infant in her arms, chases after her lover, the child’s father, to France and Spain. Apparently, no one told her that Spain is a big place. She tracks the lover from San Diego Compostela to Salamanca to Toledo, then back to Paris. Despite the heroine’s travails, I wanted the young Saracen girl he met in Toledo to get him. I like her better.

Follett’s good at creating vile villains, so vile that I want to tell him, “I know you need to keep the villain alive until the end in order to maintain suspense, but couldn’t you just maim him somewhere along the way? He badly needs maiming.” Yet I felt sorry for one loathsome character Follett killed off. Go figure. Maybe it was the way the bad guy died.

One of Follett’s thrillers that’s set in Afghanistan has a scene where a woman gives birth. It goes on for pages and pages. There’s enough detail that it might as well be a midwife’s handbook. I really didn’t need to read about every single contraction. Yet in Pillars a woman has her baby under the rubble of a collapsed cathedral roof. No details whatsoever–the kid’s just there. Who cut the umbilical cord? Who knows. It’s not mentioned.

No doubt it’s too much to expect that a thriller writer be a prose stylist, but Follett could be way more careful. I don’t expect him to be Chaucer but he could forgo his constant use of anachronisms. They drive me nuts. The words, suburb, boyfriend, girlfriend, employee, technology, among many others he uses, had not been coined in the Twelfth Century. His writing is so clumsy that I won’t bore you by citing any more examples. Except that I have to mention that there are many hearts in many mouths. Why bother to come up with new images when you’re a best-selling writer?

Usually, I don’t skip pages when I read for fear of missing something interesting or consequential. But I skip over the gruesome, intricate details of flaying, bear-baiting, torturing cats and other atrocities. The people-meat-pies in Titus Andronicus are nothing in comparison.

Follett’s books remind me of Rube Goldberg machines. Goldberg was an American cartoonist who drew intricate machines, with too many moving parts, which perform simple tasks. The drawings are funny and fun to look at. Books with too many moving parts make for turgid reading. True galloping through a book at breakneck pace gets tiresome, readers need slower-paced sections to catch their breath. However, the slower parts should not be hundreds of pages long. Good writing includes good editing.

Vector industrial illustration background of the operating mechanism. Complicated mechanism at work. Line Art
This isn’t a Rube Goldberg machine, but you get the idea.

Autumn: Crisp and Colorful?

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus

Have the leaves changed color in your area? They’ve been slow to change around here. The weather has been drab, with a cloud cover that’s kept us too warm. Until the past few days we haven’t felt cold, crisp air. I’ve seen only a few trees with golden foliage, a few with red and orange leaves, but many plants are mostly green with only a few colorful leave. Some trees have dropped their leaves without changing color.

Leaf senescence is the name for the biological phenomenon that causes leaves to stop producing chlorophyll, which makes them green, change color, and fall. It’s triggered by shorter days and cold weather. Sometimes leaves don’t change color but fall anyway. It’s been a relatively warm autumn, not just in my part of the world, but in other places in the Northern hemisphere, too. A friend in Virginia says the foliage there has also been slow to change. Maybe we’ll have to start preserving red, orange, and yellow leaves in Plexiglas or mounting them in frames, in case the climate gets so warm in that trees and shrubs no longer change color.

Because of the pandemic, and other reasons beyond my control, I haven’t been able to get out much this fall. I’ve stayed close to home and collected colorful leaves on my walks. All these photos were taken in other years.

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, Washington

The Rose Garden in autumn. It’s been a while since I visited. I wonder if this tree is as golden this year as it was in previous years?

This blazing maple is also at Pt. Defiance.

In the Japanese Garden. Pt Defiance.

Colorful leaves are everybody’s favorite subject. I even like the dark purplish ones and they way they contrast with the lonely maple leaf.

Isn’t this tree’s curling bark beautiful?

Madronas aren’t the only trees whose bark peels and curls.
Not everything is red, orange, or yellow in the fall. Autumn crocus at Pt. Defiance.

To keep autumn colorful we can grow our own plants that don’t rely on cold weather for their brightness. This vivid beauty is a Japanese lantern plant. It would be fun to try to grow one. It’s an invasive species. To keep it from taking over the garden, it would have to be grown in a container sunk into the soil, or on your patio or deck.

The Japanese lantern plant is related to tomatoes and potatoes. Inside the red-orange sheath is the plant’s fruit. I’ve never seen the fruit so can’t say if it looks like a tomato or potato.

Abandoning an Author

When, if ever, do you abandon a favorite author? If you do, why do you abandon them?

I’ve done it many times. I’ve stopped reading the works of authors whose work I never expected to stop loving.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved books, writers, and reading. Over the years, I’ve had many favorite writers

My Favorite Reading Glasses


When I was a horse-crazy girl, I adored Walter Farley’s Black Stallion and Island Stallion books. I wanted to be a female Walter Farley when I grew up. I thought I would always love his work. Eventually, I outgrew his books and went on to other writers. A few years ago, I discovered that Farley hadn’t stopped writing when I’d stopped reading. I thought I’d enjoy catching up and reading the stories I’d missed. How disappointing to discover that Farley’s writing no longer held my interest.

As a teenager, I loved Emilie Loring’s books and read one after another. It soon became apparent that she’d been writing the same story over and over. Only the characters’ names and the settings were different. There was no reason to keep on reading.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed Patricia Cornwell’s books. I probably read at least fifteen of them. Even before I stopped reading her works, my pleasure in them was starting to pall. Her books became increasingly gory. Cornwell’s protagonist, Kay Scarpetta, is a medical examiner, who investigates crime scenes and performs autopsies, so of course, gore is to be expected. It seemed to me that in later stories the descriptions of crime scenes, the crimes themselves, and the autopsies became gratuitously gruesome as if the grisly details, and not the solving of the crime, were the point. What finally put an end to my reading of Cornwell’s mysteries was when she made a secondary character, Al Marino, behave in an ugly, criminal, totally out of character way. From the very first book, I never liked the way Cornwell treated Marino. He’s a seasoned police detective who regularly worked with Kay. He was supposed to be a good cop and a good guy, but the author treated him with contempt. She made him a fat, crude, semi-literate slob. His saving graces were his skill as a detective and his devotion to Scarpetta, who always outshone him. I’d already been thinking about giving up on these novels, but when there were no new books by my favorite authors available, I went back to Cornwell’s mysteries. The last straw for me was when she turned Marino into a rapist. No more Scarpetta. No more Cornwell.

There are still plenty of authors whose work I enjoy more. However, several of these writers now hang in the balance. Will I, or won’t I, read their most recent book? Writers get old and so does their writing.

There’s Nothing Like a Book and Coffee.

J.A. Jance is one writer whose books I will most likely no longer automatically read just because she wrote them. I’ve faithfully read her J.P. “Beau” Beaumont, Ali Reynolds, Joanna Brady, and Walker Family series. Seattle police detective Beaumont was always my favorite. Was. After the last Beaumont mystery I read, I have major doubts. Jance rehashes the plot of an earlier book and does not improve on it. She also turns Beau into a doggie-daddy. There are too many dog-walks interrupting the flow of the plot. Too much dog poop. Not enough material to interest me. I even have doubts about her other series.

John Grisham is another long-time favorite. My cousin and I both loved his books and have fun discussing them. Grisham has had interesting well-developed characters, pertinent details, and complex, intriguing plots, with surprising twists. Until recently, he kept his details under control. In his most recent books, the details have become bloated, the plots have grown flimsy and the endings have become lame. My cousin read one of Grisham’s latest tomes and said it was, “nothing.” I trust that my cousin is right.

I’m sad that these reliable writers are no longer so reliable. If I read their novels again, it will be their older ones. Thank goodness new writers are always coming along. Thank goodness for libraries which allow me to sample these new discoveries without buying before I’m sure their works are worth the money. Thank goodness for older writers whose books remain to be discovered.

John Work Garrett Library. Baltimore, Maryland. Wouldn’t This be a Fabulous Library to Explore?

Pumpkins Everywhere: the Veggie

Fun Facts & a Recipe

Pretty and Versatile Pumpkins

1. They may not look like relatives, but pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers are members of the same family–the gourd family.

2. Their cordate (heart-shaped) leaves, yellow flowers, and creeping or climbing, vines are three characteristics that show that these vegetables belong to the same species.

Pumpkin Patch at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, Pt. Defiance Park, Tacoma, Washington. You can see the heart-shaped leaves.

2. Pumpkins originate in the Western Hemisphere–Central America and Mexico. Before Columbus, the members of the gourd (pumpkin) family were unknown in Europe.

3. The word pumpkin derives from the French word, pompion, which comes from the Greek word, pepon (by way of Old English and classical Latin) Pepon means watermelon or gourd.

4. Gourds have been around for thousands of years–from 7000 to 8000 BCE

5. Native Americans taught the Colonists how to grow and cook pumpkins.

6. When their other crops failed, the Colonists survived on pumpkins. No wonder the gourds are such a big part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

7. Nutritious pumpkin seeds (pepitas) can be roasted and ground into meal to make sauces and tortillas.

8. Native Americans used hollowed-out pumpkins as baskets or containers for seeds and grain.

9.The original Jack O’Lantern was a turnip, not a pumpkin. Jack O’Lanterns came to the United States with Irish immigrants in the middle of the 19th Century.

10. Half Moon Bay, a small town in California, is known as the World’s Pumpkin Capital. Except for this year, when it was canceled, Half Moon Bay has put on an Art and Pumpkin Festival, every October, for the past forty-nine years. It’s a fund-raising event. Proceeds are used for improvements to the town–painting, renovating, planting street trees and flowers, on Main Street and creating mini-parks. Of course, it’s also a pumpkin picking event.

11. In Colonial times people made custards by removing the seeds and strings from pumpkins, pouring milk, spices, and syrup or honey inside, and baking for several hours until done.

12. , Pumpkins aren’t just for pies or pumpkin bread. They can be used in soups, stews, casseroles, and desserts.

The following recipe is from a good friend who is a good cook. Marinated pumpkin is a Latvian favorite.

Marinated Pumpkin – Arnis’ recipe

Marinated Pumpkin

Approximately 6 cups cubed pumpkin.

1 liter of water (4 cups)

650 ml vinegar (4%) (3 cups)

500 ml sugar (2 cups)

1 teaspoon salt

30 peppercorns

25 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks (12 cm or 5 inches)

1 teaspoon salt

8 – 10 whole all-spice seeds

Boil the marinade for 20 – 30 minutes to let the spices release their flavour. Then, in a separate pot- using a portion of the marinade (without spices), boil the pumpkin until the cubes start to turn transparent.   Put in jars and pour the fresh hot marinade – (without spices) so that the cubes do not turn black.

Heat the jars on a cookie sheet in the oven at 300F for 10 – 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven, tightly close the lids and place upside down to cool and form a vacuum seal.

*Another fun fact:

A historical note: during the Civil War many soldiers came down with scurvy. People knew that citrus fruit could prevent scurvy, but they didn’t know why. They decide it must be the sourness, so they pickled every veggie they could get their hands on. Including potatoes. Sorry. I don’t have a recipe for that.

Link to Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival site:

Pumpkins Everywhere: Glass

Glass Pumpkin Patch at Pt. Defiance Park

Glass art is one of my many interests. The way glass captures and plays with light is magical. I love going to galleries and museums to see it. I enjoy watching glass blowing demonstrations wherever they happen to be. I have a few baubles of my own–glass ornaments made from Mt. St. Helens ash, a stained glass panel, an art glass vase, and Depression glass. I’m lucky to live in a place where indulging my interest is no great challenge.

One of My Mt. St. Helens Ornaments, Hanging in my Window
Displaying Glass to Best Advantage Can be Tricky. Another of my St. Helens ash ornaments

The Puget Sound region, where I live, is a renowned center of glass art. It’s the largest glass arts center outside Murano, Italy. Artist Dale Chihuly calls the Seattle-Tacoma area home. His influence can be found all over the region–two glass museum, the Bridge of Glass in Tacoma, the school he founded, Pilchuck Glass School, in Stanwood, Washington, and Hilltop Artists at Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma. His art is everywhere. Glass studios, hot shops, galleries, events, and schools are found all along the shores of Puget Sound. You can even see glass blowing demonstrated at the state fair.

A fun annual event is the Glass Pumpkin Patch store and show, which pops up in different local communities during September and October. If this were a normal year, there’d be a glass pumpkin display this weekend. Since it’s not a normal year, the Glass Pumpkin Patch store will be held virtually.

These are photographs I took a few years ago at Tacoma’s Glass Pumpkin Patch, held at Pt. Defiance Park. Some of the glass gourds on display were indoors in the Pavilion, others were outdoors on the patio. A plethora of pumpkins. I had a great time browsing and taking pictures.

Pretty Pink Pumpkin.
Dramatic Black Pumpkin
It May Not Look Ripe, But it’s Ready to Go Home with a Lucky Buyer
I Want Them All
I Must Not be Greedy. Other People Are Also Entitled to a Few Pumpkins

A few places to see glass art and artists at work.

The Tacoma Museum of Glass has a working hot shop.

Pilchuck holds regular open houses during the year.

A friend took her young granddaughters to Chihuly Garden & Glass. The girls loved it.