Ken Follett’s historical novels have sold more than 75 million copies worldwide. His latest, "The Armor of Light," is set at the time of the Battle of Waterloo and adds a fifth volume to a series that began with 1989’s "The Pillars of the Earth."
'Orley Farm' by Anthony Trollope (1861)
Trollope’s first success, and a masterpiece of construction. It’s a complex courtroom drama, though we don’t get to court until late in the book. As the case unfolds, Trollope describes the effect of each development on each of several characters. The suspense is terrific as the net slowly tightens around the guilty party. Buy it here.
'Dune' by Frank Herbert (1965)
A magnificent science fiction blockbuster. The story takes place mostly on a brilliantly imagined desert planet in a universe of tyranny and violence. The ecology of the planet is startling but credible. Multiple storylines are interwoven and come together shockingly but in a deeply satisfying way. Buy it here.
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'Cousin Bette' by Honoré de Balzac (1846)
A fascinatingly horrible villainess, a cast of mostly unscrupulous Paris schemers, several charming prostitutes, and a very few decent people who mostly come to a sad end. This is a vicious tale of clever, remorseless revenge, served very cold.
I love Balzac because he doesn’t flinch from how cruel the world is. Buy it here.
'Bleak House' by Charles Dickens (1852)
I dithered over which Dickens to choose because I love so many (but not all). This is one of his best. The plot is deep, the entanglements complex, and the big scenes wonderfully melodramatic. But, as always, we remember the characters: haughty Lady Dedlock, foolish Richard Carstone, sponging Harold Skimpole, the sly lawyer Tulkinghorn, and Inspector Bucket of the Detective Branch. Buy it here.
'Live and Let Die' by Ian Fleming (1954)
I read this when I was 12, and re-read it a few weeks ago to see whether it was as good as I remembered. It was. The opening line is so alluring: “There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent.” As well as luxury, we get three terrific action scenes, the last mostly underwater. Buy it here.
'The House of Doors' by Tan Twan Eng (2023)
This is Tan’s third book, and he just keeps getting better. He is a somewhat spiritual writer, with a love of gardens, but the stories are always about the brutal consequences of ethnic strife, revolution, and war. The combination is mesmerizing. Buy it here.
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