Ken Follett and John Lee: Master Storytellers

It finally hit me, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I’m in love with Ken Follett.  And, for that matter, John Rafter Lee, too. So, consider me the Number One member of their fan club. In fact, I am officially declaring myself a Ken Follett/John Rafter Lee groupie.

Ken Follett

Ken Follett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I’m obsessed! Though, you may be thinking, why? Why swoon over the likes of Ken Follett, an author who describes himself on his website as a, “Master Storyteller and Best-selling Author?”  And, who the heck is John Lee, anyway?? Well, more about him in a moment.

First, Ken Follett really is a master storyteller. He spins a darn good yarn. Clearly, the man does his research, whether writing about five families whose lives are intertwined during World War I and World War II, or the building of a cathedral in 12th century England.  Do you have any idea how long it took those guys back then to build one cathedral? We’re talking decades. Maybe even centuries!

So far, I have read two of Follett’s books and am halfway through a third. Though technically, I haven’t really read any of his books at all. It’s because I listen to them on audio! On average, the number of pages in each of his novels ranges from 1,000 to infinity. Talk about epic! There are only so many hours in a day, which is why, without the audiobook, I would be missing out on Follett’s tomes.

These are the ones I’ve listened to: Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, Books One and Two of his Century Trilogy (which, if I interpret this correctly, means that there is one more book in the series that I can look forward to!).

And, the book I’m currently listening to is Pillars of the Earth, which Follett wrote way back when. It’s a riveting account, detailing all the drama, politics and double-crossing involved in building a cathedral. I mean, really. Who thought building a cathedral could be so intriguing, and so enthralling?

John Rafter Lee, actor and professional narrator.

John Rafter Lee, actor and professional narrator.

In audio form, each of these books is between 30 and 40 hours long. Goodness. I’d lose my voice if I had to read aloud just one chapter! Which brings me back to John Rafter Lee.

I love Lee!  And I only know him by his voice! You could say, he had me at, “Hello.” I have listened to many an audio book, but none has kept me as rapt as Lee. He narrates all of Follett’s books, and while Follett might write the books, it is Lee who truly brings them to life. I cannot say enough good things about this man’s voice. It’s clear and crisp. Best of all, Lee, who has recorded the audio for other books as well (Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and Tai-Pan by James Clavell), is able to capture every accent and nuance of the gazillion characters or so that are to be found in a Follett saga.

Take his most recent, Winter of the World. The main characters are Russian, British German, American, and Welsh. He does all the accents pitch perfect, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, Lee is an actor first, but he’s made a solid career out of recording audio books, and now I’m determined to listen to them all.

By the way, if you happen to run into either of them, please let them know they shouldn’t be frightened of me. Not in the least. True, I’m obsessed enough to stalk them, if not for the fact that they’re in England and I’m on this side of the pond.   So, let them know they can relax. For now, that is. One of these days, they might spot a crazed woman peering at them from behind a tree, in a very clandestine sort of way. You just never know.

Finally, I want to thank Anne and Don, a very sweet couple who were kind enough to introduce me to Ken Follett. After all, if not for them, I wouldn’t be hanging on to every word he writes and Lee utters.

Now, what are you reading?

Downton Abbey Returns!

A new year, a new beginning. And, you know what that means, right?

Today is Downton Abbey Friday, and we’re just two days away from the debut of Season Three!

Matthew and Lady Mary. Engaged at last!

Matthew and Lady Mary. Engaged at last!

Yes, America’s favorite Brit show returns this Sunday on PBSMasterpiece.

News flash: In Great Britain, it has already aired. Warning: If you are one of those who has already seen it, not a word!  Please do not give anything away.

Or else!

Downton Abbey has legions of fans across the world, including me, of course. Meditating Mummy, one of my blogger pals, is also a major fan and is joining me today in writing about it. (Be sure to check out her post, too!)

The series is set in the early part of the twentieth century, and has everything—love, betrayal, deceit, murder, budding romances, a miscarriage, a secret rendezvous or two, plot twists galore, and one dowager countess who is a hoot.

I can’t wait to discover what my favorite characters, the Crawley’s and their household staff, have been up to.  When we last left off, the Great War had ended, Mr. Bates had been found guilty, and Lady Mary and Matthew had declared their undying love for one another in an engagement that was truly enchanting and magical in the beautiful glow of an evening’s gentle snowfall.

Though, I did wonder, couldn’t someone have given Mary an overcoat, for crying out loud? It was snowing for Pete’s sake, and there she was wearing nothing but a skimpy gown, albeit a gorgeous one. Very romantic, indeed, but come on! Let’s be practical, shall we?

Mr. Bates incarcerated for the murder of his first wife. Did he do it?

Mr. Bates incarcerated for the murder of his first wife. Did he do it?

Anyway, to me, Downton Abbey is a treasure of a show, wrapped in golden shimmery paper and brightly colored satin ribbons, with everything coming together rather nicely. I’m not just talking about the acting, the writing, the cinematography, the extraordinary costumes and the breathtaking castle that the Crawley family calls home.  I’m also talking about the props. Even if the characters said nothing and simply stared at each other, I’d still enjoy it for the details. It’s fascinating to see how the other half—and the other half downstairs—lived. Cheeky stuff!

Of course, Downton Abbey is all about relationships. There’s Lady Mary and Matthew, and Lady Sybil and Branson, the chauffer. Also, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and his American heiress wife, Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern (remember her in the film, Ragtime? She was amazing!) Then there’s Lady Edith, who can be persistently annoying and a tad too desperate.

Downstairs there’s Mr. Bates, an honorable man found guilty of killing his wife, and Anna who is so loyal to him I believe she’d do just about anything should he ask. My favorite downstairs couple aren’t a couple at all, but they’re viciously conniving and just bad eggs. I’m talking about Thomas and O’Brien who have been the cause of many a conundrum. However, I do enjoy the relationship between Mr. Carson, the butler, and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, as well as the rapport between Mrs. Patmore, the cook, and Daisy, the poor, downtrodden scullery maid.

I would be remiss not to mention my hands-down favorite character: The Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Maggie Smith, who is brilliantly witty and marvelous in this role. She has many memorable lines, but here but two that I liked so much, I had to write them down:

The Dowager and her granddaughter, Lady Mary.

The Dowager and her granddaughter, Lady Mary.

The Dowager, after learning that her granddaughter is upset over the death of a guest with whom she had a rendezvous:  Why? She doesnt know him. One cant go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. Wed all be in a state of collapse every time we read the newspaper.

 The Dowager, after the estate has been converted into a hospital for the wounded during the Great War:  Its like living in a second rate motel where the guests keep arriving and no one seems to leave.

In honor of the series return–and the fact that it’s Downton Abbey Friday–I share with you a Q&A held last month with some of the cast during a visit to New York:

So watch, dear ones, if for no other reason than you never quite know what’s going to happen next and what the Dowager is going to say!  Oh, and be sure to check out Meditating Mummy’s take on the series, too!