Sunday, August 27, 2017

When the English Fall by David Williams

Dystopian fiction is all the rage and has been for some time now, especially in the YA market. Done well, it can make for great storytelling (see work by Orwell, Atwood, Huxley, Bradbury, Burgess, etc). I keep reading how, with that orange maniac and his cronies hastening the decline of the republic, this outpouring of dystopian fiction is a metaphor, as well as a manifestation, of our current fears. Perhaps so. I was especially intrigued by his new spin on it and was rewarded with a fast, tense novel that practically made me yearn to be Amish. 

Jacob is an old order Amish farmer in rural eastern Pennsylvania and the story is told from his journal entries. At first, they are normal, even mundane, as he discusses work on the farm, the families in his community, and his hopes and fears for his own family. His daughter has an ability to see the future which causes him grave concern but, of late, she has been on an even keel. Still, he worries. 

One evening, the skies dance with strange light, both beautiful and terrifying. However, no light shines from the nearby town and the family sees a plane plummet from the sky. The next day, Jacob learns a solar storm has destroyed all electric and electronic power. The English world (the non-Amish world) is crippled. 

So begins the end of the world scenario--communication is all but impossible and as desperation leads to lawlessness, the Army's grasp on order slips. Jacob clings to his family, his community, and his deep faith as the English begin to encroach on his way of life. 

What most endeared Jacob to me was his sense of honor, fairness, and grace amidst the struggle over which he has no control. Were it not for the dire situation for the English, he could live his life as he always has but he must serve his fellow man and so he does. While his family and community come first, he also helps those outside, even taking in an English family. Williams evokes great humanity in Jacob and his wife, Hannah, and the religious aspects of the book never seems cloying. In fact, they seem quite genuine which makes sense since the author is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church.

When The English Fall is a rewarding story of kindness and decency set in a time of desperation and ruin. Let's hope it's not too prescient. If so, I want Jacob as my neighbor. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

The author is a friend, former colleague, and a homegirl and I was thrilled when she landed a book deal with a big house and more excited to be at her book signing debut. However, there was a lot of anxiety about this first novel mostly because she and I are old pals and what if I didn't like her book? 

Now when asked to be an early reader prior to publication, I am always straightforward with notes and opinions even if they might sting a little. If I'm not honest at this point, it serves no one well and it's a waste of everyone's time to tell a friend their work is better than I really think it is. Certainly they may not agree with my suggestions but at least I've been square with them and fulfilled my duty.

However, post-pub is a little dicier, especially since I write about what I read on occasion. I will confess, there was a time or two that I chickened out completely and that was just an awful feeling. The faint praise I was able to muster coupled with not writing about it here was, well, it was miserable. Miserable and obvious. 

Happily that was not the case with Almost Missed You, a gripping tale of betrayal, grief, and kidnapping. It is a taut, tangled tale of deep friendships and dark secrets (my, how alliterative I am this morning!). Strawser offers up a worst-case scenario that somehow manages to worsen and which threatens everyone involved. When I felt certain I knew where this was going, it didn't and I found that quite skillful. 

I will say that had it not been written by a friend, I'm not sure I would have found this book but I'm so glad I did. She'll have another book coming out in 2018. Jump on the bandwagon now.