Author Archives: mel

Just Finished… When the English Fall

When the English Fall

The Blurb…

When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath. Once-bright skies are now dark. Planes have plummeted to the ground. The systems of modern life have crumbled. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community.

Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive?

David Williams’s debut novel is a thoroughly engrossing look into the closed world of the Amish, as well as a thought-provoking examination of “civilization” and what remains if the center cannot hold.

What I thought….

I read this quickly and easily, Jacob’s simple, clear narration through his diary entries lull you into the world he and his family inhabit within the Amish community.

If you are looking for a post-apocalypse story with action and adventure, this is not it. This is a consideration of human behaviour – the Amish and ‘English’ viewed in both their similarities and differences – when you strip away the superfluous, superficial distractions of ‘English’ modern lives.

Pg 27, when Jacob talks about his Rumspringa (going walkabout in the world of the English as a teenager): “I remember how people would walk around not even seeing each other, eyes down into their rectangles of light. No one was where they were.”

The irony that I typed this quote in to a rectangle of light, to remember this image from the book that I liked was not lost on me… But, it stuck with me as a perfect example of what you see repeatedly in the book: the drags on the time and focus of the English on inconsequential things compared to Jacob and his family, where time together, contentment in quiet activity and working hard to sustain their way of life are fulfilling in a wholly different, but very real way. Had they not lived so close to the English, their experience of the solar storm that changes everything around them, would actually have changed very little for them in reality. They are thankful for the natural bounty they get when weather is better than expected and work hard to manage and moderate when the natural world delivers more difficult situations.

These are the stories I like the best I think, the ‘iceberg’ ones where most of the activity takes place beneath the surface of the skin. Examining how quickly modern life can disintegrate, how ill prepared many are for anything other than the comfortable, on-demand lives they have is intriguing and very real in this book. You don’t need heroes and villains on a grand scale for an apocalyptic tale: the quick slide of ‘normal’ people into crime and looting when they become desperate, set against those who selflessly step forward to help strangers in need shows how this happens realistically.

Advertisements

Just Finished…Unqualified by Anna Faris

AnnaUnqualifiedBookCoverOpt

Anna Faris has advice for you. And it’s great advice, because she’s been through it all, and she wants to tell you what she’s learned. Her comic memoir and first book, Unqualified, will share Anna’s candid, sympathetic, and entertaining stories of love lost and won. Part memoir, part humorous, unflinching advice from her hit podcast Anna Faris Is Unqualified, the book will reveal Anna’s unique take on how to navigate the bizarre, chaotic, and worthwhile adventure of finding love.

Hilarious, authentic, and actually useful, Unqualified is the book Anna’s fans have been waiting for.

 

What do I think…?

Part memoir, part advice, part observations on life – Anna’s book covers a lot of ground for what is quite a quick read. I picked it up as a random read a while ago mainly because I like the person she comes across as when interviewed and I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, like the original Scary Movie and What’s Your Number? is favourite rom-com of mine.

The book is a collection of different pieces: some parts inspired by the Unqualified podcast (which I’m going to give a try now, having read this book!) and the advice that has come from that, with Anna reflecting these ideas back at memories of her own romantic life. Other parts are straight memoir, as you run through Anna’s early career as defined in relationships she had along the way, or how she felt about them. The writing is genuinely funny and feels direct and honest – which you would hope to get from someone who my earliest lasting memory on film is being blasted onto a ceiling on a fountain of stuff

There’s not much age difference between us and so I found it interesting some of the clear crossovers of experience, which really speaks of the universality I think of what she is writing about.

The most moving part of the book for me was her pregnancy and the birth of her son Jack. I was laughing along with her words, remembering how clueless you can be going into and through pregnancy – FYI reading The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth doesn’t mean you are an idiot, just that you’re happy to revise for an exam! And this is how Anna’s story went, until the unexpected happened. I can’t imagine how it must feel to go through what she and other parents go through when babies come early or have significant medical issues. You can feel helpless enough later on when kids are older and something happens, let alone within the first few hours of bringing them in to the world.

I really enjoyed the parts that were about Anna’s experience in life and her professional career, but these were not the main focus of the book, they were examples used to show some of the relationship ideas being discussed. This makes sense as ‘examining relationships’ is the framework the book is built around, but I would like to see more of this from her – maybe a ‘proper’ memoir in the future – as she has a lot to say and offers good insight of her own experiences, that I would like to see more. 4* read for me.

Just Finished…’Burning Up’ and ‘The Note’

Ok, so I’ve read a few post-apocalypse and dystopian books recently, add to that Lost in Space and Fear the Walking Dead on my TV boxset watches, everything was getting pretty heavy. So, after finishing Station Eleven, which was an excellent, thought-provoking look at life after a major, world-wide epidemic takes out 99.8% of the world population in about 2 weeks, I needed something a bit lighter…

First up was The Note by Zoe Folbigg. Here’s the blurb:

The NoteThe note changed everything…

One very ordinary day, Maya Flowers sees a new commuter board her train to London, and suddenly the day isn’t ordinary at all. Maya knows immediately and irrevocably, that he is The One.

But the beautiful man on the train always has his head in a book and never seems to notice Maya sitting just down the carriage from him every day. Eventually, though, inspired by a very wise friend, Maya plucks up the courage to give the stranger a note asking him out for a drink. Afterall, what’s the worst that can happen?

And so begins a story of sliding doors, missed opportunities and finding happiness where you least expect it.

Based on the author’s true story, The Note is an uplifting, life-affirming reminder that taking a chance can change everything.

I got this as a free download from Amazon UK and it was the ‘sliding doors’ feel of the story and the promise of some lighter ‘life-affirming’ reading that appealed with this. I didn’t really get both. The story is told in third-person present tense, which has an odd ‘distancing’ quality to the whole presentation – you are so much inside main character Maya’s head, that it seems strange to me that it wasn’t done as first person, if it had been I think it would have helped you feel more engaged with the story and characters.

Maya works in fashion and whilst I get that some of the descriptions of her clothes and that of co-workers is to give context to what she does in work, I found it quite jarring to read the lengthy descriptions of blouses and dresses and skirts and shoes…and the materials they were made from…and the multitude of colours everyone is wearing… The same treatment was given to food that was eaten and most rooms Maya walked into – it wasn’t quite the manic descriptions of everything I found in American Psycho, but it certainly reminded me of it – and every time you had one of these descriptive interludes it really detracted from the core story I felt.

Anyway, the good bits are – Maya’s mild obsession and imagining a future from a random meeting on the train is quite relatable: ‘Ted Baker Man’ and ‘Red Coat Man’ would not be too far removed from ‘Train Guy’. She takes a l-o-n-g time to get anywhere with this though and as a character comes across as lacking self-awareness in many of her interactions with him. Overall, I think Maya’s best bits – and those of the story – are the characters she meets along the way and are not really what the blurb of the book promised: her Spanish class students, her best friend (who has a better romance story tbh) and sadly for Train Guy, seeing his existing relationship crumble. All those elements are stronger and feature much more heavily and realistically than their actual romance.

This gets 3* from me – the ideas and some of the characters are good; but the presentation of the story is distracting and distancing, which is unusual for what is pitched as a romance.

Burning UpNext up was Burning Up, which was a lot less cheesy than the cover and blurb would suggest… When they cut the chaps face off the cover to focus on his sweaty pecs I feel like it’s taking the potential reader a very specific way 🙂

Anyway, the blurb promises to ‘fan the flames of desire in Jennifer Blackwood’s smoking-hot series about firefighters and the women who want them…

Here’s what the book is about: Unemployed schoolteacher Erin Jenkins is back in Portland, the town she hasn’t called home for more than a decade. It’s not the way she wants to spend her last days of summer: in between jobs and avoiding her mother’s snooping by escaping to the ice-cream aisle. But when the opportunity arises for her to accompany her brother’s best friend—her lifetime crush—to a wedding, summer gets a whole lot more interesting.

Firefighter and single dad Jake Bennett has built a nice, safe wall around his heart—no romance, no getting burned. That doesn’t mean he’s ruling out a fling. Considering Erin’s visit is temporary, they’re the perfect fit for a scorching no-strings one-night stand. Or two. Or five. Until the worst thing happens: Erin and Jake are feeling more. Damn that four-letter word.

Now their hearts are on the line, and when their smoldering summer comes to a close, it’s going to be harder than ever to put out the fire.

Once you get away from the proliferation of puns for flaming romance and firemen in the blurb, the actual book is pretty good – and there’s no cheesy lines in sight, except for the odd one used in full sarcasm mode. Erin also doesn’t spend most of the book cataloguing the gorgeousness of Jake, but gets on with having a real life and change in circumstances around the budding relationship.

There are some heated scenes, so it’s not suitable for younger readers, but for me the book was primarily about fears of growing up and changing, how you balance the importance of a career against family life and potential relationships. It was also interesting reading from Jake’s perspective about balancing the idea of a new relationship alongside his responsibilities as a parent. There was a wider cast of characters in the book, who play important roles and influence Erin and how she deals with losing her job, as much as Jake does.

Overall, this was a better and more engaging read than The Note, with a romance and surrounding cast of characters that felt more in synch with the story and main character, as well as not featuring detailed descriptions of every inanimate object in the room every few pages. 4* rating for this one.

Now that I’ve had a mini-break reading-wise, it’s back to some grittier stuff: I’ve got Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series to finish, Ubik on my kindle and Farenheiht 451 just dropped through the door… It’s going to be a mixed few weeks reading I guess…

 

 

Just Finished…The Crucible

CrucibleThis is a re-read for me of one of my favourite plays to read – if that makes sense?

I first read this in school as a required text and it was one of the first times I really saw clearly escalating drama, then a lull, then another escalation, over the four acts of the play. If I had seen it in a play before, I hadn’t noticed it really. The characters in the play are also strong, whether good, bad or other, I enjoy the story that they come together to tell. It feels like you get more character development in this than other plays I’ve read.

In reading this at school, you really do to death (no pun) the motifs and themes and imagery, dissecting everything until you’ve pulled the text apart, but perhaps aren’t enjoying it so much. Coming back to it again after so many years, I still remember elements of what I learned and so in reading this reasonably fresh the elements that I revised for exam questions now just add texture and depth to a reading of an explosive play.

I’ve seen a few Miller plays performed, but never this one, even though it is my favourite of his. Re-reading this today just reminded me of this. Plus, the edition I have is the one pictured: a little ratty on the outside, found in a second hand book shop and purchased for the grand price of 85p when I was at Uni – so it’s nostalgia all around, even down to the musty-smelling, slightly yellow pages.

Yeah, I suppose this wasn’t a review of the play at all, but of my experiences reading it. Oh, well. It’s Sunday, don’t hold it against me.

I’m three, I’m three!

On my way back from beautiful Scotland and what do I find when I do the usual author-stalk of my books on Amazon….?

I find this!

AABB2090-F8F0-468C-9ED1-2A26902BFA3B

Thats right, Faris and Jack at number three in the top ‘horse’ book charts 😊 It also made it to twelve in the ‘sword and sorcery’ category, very exciting… Finges crossed I might break the top ten there soon too!

Thursday thoughts…

Mama Cass 1972“Nobody can tell you, there’s only one song worth singing.

They may try and tell you, cos it hangs them up to see someone like you”

I love this song and, although I don’t know why, it always gives me little chills. That’s good music.

Now, I should try and get back to writing like I’m supposed to be doing 🙂