Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Essential "Little Black Dress" Books Part 2

My thanks to everyone who commented on part 1 of the LBD book series and who emailed me with suggestions.

Today is Part 2 of the LBD series discussing my favorite sprawling epic stories. To qualify, the book must be able to do double duty as a doorstop while keeping me enthralled all the way from start to finish. So, join me in celebrating awesomeness on an epic scale.

These books would go with me to a desert island and at least two have weighed down my carry-on bag to Europe (and I have the stiff shoulder to prove it). These monster books are the reason the e-reader was invented!

1. Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond.

Weighs in at 736 pages. The ultimate Cold War combat book. Sabotage at the refinery that the USSR depends on for fuel threatens to cripple the superpower. A secret plot to seize the resources of the Persian Gulf ignites WWIII.

Clancy and Bond put you in a tank roaring 50 miles per hour over the farmland of Germany. Experience the deadly silence in the cockpit of the B-2 Stealth bomber. You are under the polar ice pack as Russian killer subs pick of the damaged members off your convoy. Heavy on plot and action with only enough character development to give the reader a stake in the outcome. Written in 1986 and still in print. Class lasts.

2. The Far Pavillions by M.M. Kaye.

Weighs in at 960 pages. I'm usually not a big fan of romance. However, this book is a sweeping saga that introduces you to the hidden and mysterious world of India under British rule.

Ashton is a British orphan raised by his Indian ayah in the household of a Rajah until she is forced to return him to his relations in England. Ten years later Ashton returns to India as an officer in the British Army. His upbringing clashes with his training and threatens to split his loyalties.

Serendipity, in the form of an assignment to shepherd a royal bridal party, reunited him with his childhood playmate, the daughter of the Rajah. Anjuli has grown up and grown beautiful. However, she, along with her sister, is promised to the Raj. Mayhem ensues . . .

A true Victorian romance full of action, adventure, danger, and drama. Historical accuracy is superb. You can feel the sun and smell the incense in this lush saga. Perfectly paced. Even after nearly a thousand pages, I didn't want to see it end. Written in the 1980s and still in print.

3. Hawaii by James Michener.

A hefty 960 pages. Of all the brick-o-michener books, Hawaii is the most accessible. The story is irresistible. From the discovery and settling of the island by a tribe of Polynesians seeking to escape religious persecution, to the arrival of the missionaries, to the evolution of the present day polyglot civilization, the pace is long and slow, but never lags.

The story focuses on the founding of family dynasties. The strength of Michener's magic is that you believe they are real people and you are reading history, not fiction. An amazing feat that he maintains for nearly a thousand pages. Written in the 1950s and still in print. An epic and a classic.

When I do these reviews, I like to read the "hated it" reviews to see what they have to say. I'll admit, Hawaii isn't for everyone. One of the 2-stars summed it up by saying,

"i laos enjoyed the leaper partsd and the trials and tribulations of the chinese and Japense people. the problem here is that the auther gose on and on about pointless stuff we will soon forget. This novle could easly of been 500 pages but it's over 1000. I was dissapointed but it wasent entirley a bad book it was enjoyanle at times."[sic]

As I said, Hawaii isn't for everyone, but it is for me.

4. Shogun by James Clavell.

I hope you have a comfy chair, this one comes in at 1210 pages. The first novel in the Clavell Asian saga, Shogun delivers the feel and spirit of medieval Japan and samurai culture. Full of action, drama, romance, and conflict. I've read this book a half-dozen times and the star-crossed romance of East and West in the form of Mariko and Anjin-san never disappoints.

If you are looking for a spot on history of Japan, look elsewhere. Clavell doesn't have Michener's fanatic attention to detail, but I don't care. Shogun is where you start and don't stop until you finish Noble House. The books cleverly weave together and are best read in sequence. Has stood the test of time. Still in print since 1975.

5. Trinity by Leon Uris.

A worthy entry at 894 pages. Let's see. We've been to WWIII in Europe, Victorian India, Hawaii, and medieval Japan. I finish up today's list with a trip to Ireland during the beginning of "The Troubles."

History changed the day the first Irish farmer found black spots on the potatoes. With frightening speed, the primary staple of an entire country became inedible. The resulting famine helped destablize the British Empire and sparked a mass migration to the United States. The politics of potatoes.

Uris makes no apologies. If you are expecting a well-balanced analysis of British and Irish interests, you won't get it. Uris is on the side of the Irish and it blasts through in the book. However, the clash of wealth with poverty, aristocrat with plebian, and Protestant with Catholic is a thinking man's drama. Throw in action, adventure, star-crossed romance, and Trinity is a gripping read. First pubbed in 1976 and has stood the test of time. Still in print.

Thanks for sticking with this post. I've presented about 5000 pages of some of my favorite storytelling. The common themes are historical upheaval and political intrigue. Some have a romantic element, but it is not the primary component of the story. One thing I noticed is that the newest one was written in 1986. Most are from the 1970s. You've seen what I like. Any suggestions on newer books that pack the same political and historical punch? Let me know, I am curious.

No comments: