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In a Nutshell: Post-apocalyptic, alien invasion, set in southern USA.
Jace Cox is a young teenager when the 'twigs' invade - and after one August day in 2034 his life will never been the same. Fast forward a few years and he's part of the militia fighting against them. A few more years, and the town of Lewisburg has been reclaimed by its inhabitants, with Jace as its the sheriff - but the troubles are far from over.
Although I'm first in line when it comes to a post apocalyptic book, I wasn't sure I'd like one about an alien invasion, thinking it might be too comic book-like. But this isn't. B K Bass has made the subject totally convincing, and I really enjoyed it. It's got a great structure that kept my attention throughout - although the main story is told from Jace's third person point of view in the early 2040s, there are occasional flashbacks to earlier, and also excerpts from the autobiography he wrote as an old man. Aside from this, I loved the 'interludes' - sections told from other points of view in other areas, for a wider look at the situation. These diversions from the main story were perfectly placed, and I could see how well thought-out the whole book is.
Bass has an easy writing style, creating good dramatic tension with a feeling of foreboding. Every aspect of the book feels feasible, from the people who take charge in the new Lewisburg, those who want to be guided and given instructions, the fighting force, to the independent who want to do their own thing outside the walls - and, of course, the opportunity for the power-hungry to take over.
One small aspect I appreciated was how Jace, having been so young when the twigs arrived, knew little about life outside his immediate environment. At one point an older person referred to a settlement as a 'hippie commune', and Jace didn't know what he meant. I loved that!
This book gives food for thought about war versus murder, what is 'right' when it comes to defending your home and your people, what it takes to live in harmony alongside those who are different from you, and leaves a couple of unanswered questions, which made me think that another book, perhaps after Jace's time, would be most welcome. I'd most certainly recommend What Was Once Home as a fine example of the post-apocalyptic genre.
In a Nutshell: Coming of age story set in 1970, on a college campus in southern Florida.
Reed Lawson has a lot on his plate - he's juggling college and membership of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), and his much revered father has been MIA in Vietnam for three years. Then there are the droves of anti-war demonstrating hippies on campus, calling people like himself and his father 'warmongers'.
When circumstances lead him to volunteer at a community project giving help to people with drug and emotional problems, he falls for Jordan, a strident feminist and peacenik. His life also becomes entangled with a younger girl with serious emotional and family problems.
I enjoyed reading this; the storytelling itself is fine, the characters are clear and three-dimensional, and the author certainly knows how to write convincing, appropriate dialogue, a talent I believe is innate - I didn't wince once, which says to me that the knack probably comes naturally to him. Reed's conflicting emotions about his father, and his reaction to discoveries about his parents, were extremely well written. Also, there were a few excellent passages about the time and feel of the era:
'The interstate had opened a few years ago. Motels, fast food joints and gas stations mushroomed at each exit, sprouting garish oases in the rural countryside. His mother hated the trend, predicting the country's regional charms would be bulldozed in a few decades to make way for chain stories and restaurants that peddled the same brand of blandness in every state.'
'He felt a kinship with all who'd travelled before him on thousands of miles of highway, which had replaced dirt roads, which covered trails hacked from raw wilderness. Generations of restless Americans, forever on the move. Pushing west, pushing south, yearning to go anywhere that promised to be better than where they came from.'
Although it's a good book and I liked it, I thought it could have been cut down by about ten per cent to make it tighter; it's quite long, and a fairly slow unfolding. Also, the reminder of the era's culture was a little over the top - the frequent indication of what song was playing on the radio or floating out of a student's window, the way everyone's conversation revolved around drugs, Vietnam, feminism and their own existential crisis, constantly. It became a little repetitive after a while.
Having said that, I would most definitely recommend it as a solid human interest novel and a good story, particularly if you remember or have an interest in the era.