John A. Heldt

Class Of ’59

Class Of ’59
Published: April 10, 2017
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
When Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard. She panics when the trespasser sees her and enters the house though a door to the basement. She questions her sanity when she cannot find him. In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice. On his second trip to 2017, he encounters a beautiful stranger. He meets the woman in the window. Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime.

Assessed 

5 Stars

Overall Assessment
The story begins with Mary Beth McIntire remembering a day in 2017 when her fiancé was killed by a robber in a convenience store hold-up. She is on vacation from her home in Alabama, staying in an ornate old mansion that belongs to friends of her family in Los Angeles. Her reverie is interrupted when she looks out a window and sees a young man in 1950s attire in the backyard. When she gets his attention, he dashes into the basement and disappears. The young man, Mark Ryan, owner of the house in 1959, had found a key, two strange stones, and a document written by Percival Bell, the original owner of the house, describing his theory of time travel to the past and future, and his intent to travel to 2017—a journey he died before taking. Nonplussed, and not a small bit curious, Mark takes the stones and goes to the basement where he finds the portal that takes him to 2017, and a meeting with Beth. From this point, the story switches among characters, and back and forth between 1959 and 2017, as Mark and Beth, along with their siblings, Ben and Piper, get to know each other and their respective times, while at the same time trying to dodge 50s era gangsters who are willing to kill to get a book that Mary Beth brought with her from 2017. This is more than a time-travel novel; it is a story of young love, and a thriller, with sic-fi elements serving as a vehicle for the adventures of four young people who find that love knows no time limits. History, culture, and human relationships are woven seamlessly into a thoroughly delightful story.
Character and Plot
The characters are well-developed and credible; especially as they come to terms with the different social mores of the eras they visit. Their reactions to things from the past (in Mary Beth and Piper’s case) and future (for Mark and Ben) ring true, as do the social dynamics of high school students, which probably haven’t really changed much in the intervening years.
The appearance of the gangster with the bad ear could perhaps been explained better. He just shows up during their visit to Las Vegas, and suddenly takes an unhealthy interest in them, without any further explanation. While it’s explained briefly near the end, it would have been better if some of the reason for his interest had been introduced earlier.
I liked the ending, and while I like to know why characters do what they do as early as possible, Professor Joshua Bell’s actions in saving them and sorting them out near the end was a nice touch.
Mechanics
The book was well edited, and the author’s use of alternating characters, giving each character his or her own chapter, helped to keep the suspense going, and was useful in providing information that was useful to the reader in understanding the story, especially when only one character knew it, and it would have been cumbersome to try and introduce it through any other character, or just through a data dump. I also like the way the author downplayed the science fiction elements, lifting this story above the usual time travel novel and into a category all its own. Elements of history were woven in, and in each case helped to illustrate the character’s motivation and development.
I like the simplicity of the cover, and the way the jukebox figured in the story of the growing romance between Mark and Mary Beth.
I give Heldt five stars for this enchanting novel.

 

 

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Indiana Belle

Indiana Belle
Published: April 14, 2016
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
Providence, Rhode Island, 2017. When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the "time-travel professor," and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, INDIANA BELLE follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz.

Approved 

Assessment:

The cover, with a simple sepia photograph of a woman from the era of the 1920s is effective and evocative. It sums up the story and the main character’s motivation without giving away the plot.

The story starts off a bit on the slow side, with a description of Cameron Coelho’s attraction to the woman in the photograph, and background information on his work on a PhD thesis about the social life in Middle America during the Roaring Twenties. The time travel aspect is introduced through his discovery in Candice Bell’s notes and diary (sold to him by her elderly niece) of references to a mysterious cave that holds the secret to time travel. It’s difficult to know which motivates him more, his attraction to Candice’s beauty or his fascination with the prospect of time travel being real. The author goes into more detail than absolutely necessary as Cameron takes action to find more information—details of him moving through a room, sitting, or taking a drink, don’t really add to the story.

This tendency to map out a character’s every move lessens significantly as Cameron meets the ‘time traveling’ expert, Geoffrey Bell, and travels from 2017 to 1925. A seemingly impossible task is set our hero; he knows that Candice will be murdered, and he is forbidden to try and prevent it because doing so might irreparably change the future, in particular the fact that Geoffrey Bell is the great-grandson of her cousin, who, distraught after her murder, wanders into a destitute part of town where he finds the woman he will marry, and who is Geoffrey’s great-grandmother.

From Cameron’s arrival in 1925, the story picks up the pace. The reader is introduced to all of the major supporting characters, including Tom, the black custodian at the newspaper where Candice worked as a social page reporter, who was wrongly accused of her murder and executed.

The story from the point that Cameron knows that he’s in love with Candice and that there are evil, corrupt men in the small Indiana town where she lives and works, is the strongest section of the book. The author skillfully plants clues and the tension mounts as he has to choose between fulfilling his commitment to Geoffrey Bell or saving innocents from death. While a few of the resolutions felt a bit contrived or were not explained to full satisfaction; such as how the town’s major drug dealer was finally caught and convicted, or what happened to the crooked lawyer who was Candice’s former fiancé, these are minor issues.

The author makes references to previous time travelers that Geoffrey Bell has sent into the past, including a father and son who traveled to Texas, which was the subject of an earlier novel. At one point, reference is made to ‘numerous’ travelers, but it’s never explained.

Finally, Cameron finds a way to avoid tempering with the timeline, things are set on the proper path, and the reader is treated to the news that Cameron is somehow related by blood to Geoffrey’s wife—but, this is also never explained in any detail.

The denouement is, except for the aforementioned unanswered questions, satisfactory. Justice prevails and true love overcomes insurmountable obstacles.

With the exception of the previously mentioned excessive detailed descriptions of character actions, and the few unanswered questions, this is a solidly plotted novel. Action (in a thematic sense) moves forward, characters encounter obstacles and overcome them, and this reader at least was left with the feeling that things worked out the way they should.

I give this book four stars.

September Sky

September Sky
Published: January 1, 2015
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
San Francisco reporter Chuck Townsend and his college-dropout son, Justin, take a cruise to Mexico in 2016, where they meet a mysterious lecturer who touts the possibilities of time travel. Within days, they find themselves in 1900, intent on preventing a distant uncle from being hanged for a crime he did not commit.   When unemployed San Francisco reporter Chuck Townsend and his college-dropout son, Justin, take a cruise to Mexico in 2016, each hopes to rebuild a relationship after years of estrangement. But they find more than common ground aboard the ship. They meet a mysterious lecturer who touts the possibilities of time travel. Within days, Chuck and Justin find themselves in 1900, riding a train to Texas, intent on preventing a distant uncle from being hanged for a crime he did not commit. Their quick trip to Galveston, however, becomes long and complicated when they wrangle with business rivals and fall for two beautiful librarians on the eve of a hurricane that will destroy the city. Filled with humor, history, romance, and heartbreak, September Sky follows two directionless souls on the adventure of a lifetime as they try to make peace with the past, find new purpose, and grapple with the knowledge of things to come.

5 Stars

 

In 2016, Charles Townsend has been laid off from his job as a newspaper reporter. While he’s taking stock of his life, he decides to reconnect with his son, Justin, who is also having his own life crisis and has dropped out of medical school. While on a cruise, they meet Dr. Geoffrey Bell, a lecturer who holds out the possibility of time travel as a reality.

When Charles and Justin attract Bell’s attention, and he makes them an offer of the chance to travel back in time, their curiosity is such they accept the offer. They travel back to 1900, to Galveston, Texas just before a deadly hurricane that wiped out a large portion of the city. Although Bell has warned them not to interfere with events of the past, Charles is driven to save the life of a distant relative wrongfully executed for a murder he didn’t commit. In the process, both he and Justin find what had been missing in their lives in 2016 – love.

September Sky by John A. Heldt is a multi-genre tour de force, combining adventure, romance, and science fiction in an entertaining story that holds a reader’s interest from the opening paragraph. Heldt does a fantastic job of painting a compellingly authentic picture of a bygone era—it’s customs, settings, and people—that puts the reader solidly in the center of the action. Fictional and historical events are woven together in a consistent and coherent narrative and are peopled by characters that you love, hate, empathize with . . . in short, that you believe in.

This is also something of a mystery, as Charles finds himself first trying to prevent a murder, and when that fails, identifying and fingering the true killer. Nothing is what it seems in September Sky, and readers will be constantly amazed as the true nature of characters unfold.

This is a truly entertaining book. A word of advice—don’t start it unless you have the free time to finish it, because you’ll quickly find yourself hooked and unable to put it down.

I give September Sky a resounding five stars.

 

 

The Mirror

The Mirror
Published: March 1, 2014
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
On September 11, 2020, Ginny and Katie Smith celebrate their nineteenth birthday at a country fair near Seattle. Ignoring the warnings of a fortune-teller, they enter a house of mirrors and exit in May 1964. Armed with the knowledge they need to return to their time, they try to make the most of what they believe will be a four-month vacation. But their sixties adventure becomes complicated when they meet a revered great-grandmother and fall in love with local boys. In The Mirror, the continuation of The Mine and The Show, the sisters find happiness and heartbreak as they confront unexpected challenges and gut-wrenching choices in the age of civil rights, the Beatles, and Vietnam.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

5 Stars

A Charming Story

 

On September 11, 2020, twins Ginny and Katie Smith go to the Cedar River County Fair to celebrate their 19thbirthdays. They’ve been going to the same fair for eight years, but this is the first time they go without their parents. Bored, they visit Marta the Magnificent, who warns them that they’re about to embark on a ‘strange and dangerous’ journey. What they don’t realize until it’s too late, though, is that the journey they will take is not to ‘where’ but ‘when.’

When Katie steps through a mirror in the House of Mirrors, and Ginny goes after her, they find themselves in Seattle on May 2, 1964, unsure if they can ever find their way back home to their own time.

The Mirror by John A. Heldt is a story that seems on the surface to be science fiction – after all, it is about time travel – but, is in fact about culture shock and growing up. Ginny and Katie face the kind of dilemma that ancient travelers from developed cultures must have faced when encountering less developed societies for the first time. How much are you allowed to interfere based upon greater knowledge? The two intrepid time travelers also learn a lot about themselves and their family as they deal with smoking in restaurants, the lack of plastic bags in grocery stores, the war in Vietnam, and race relations in the U.S. in the 1960s.

I hesitate to call this a ‘charming’ story, because that seems dismissive, but it is in fact, charming. It is also profound, in that it addresses issues that are with us in 2015, only slightly changed from the 1960s, but does so in a way that allows us to assess them dispassionately as remote observers. The characters are believable, and the picture the author paints of the era absolutely authentic. The Mirror explores human relations and the human condition with a measure of humor mixed with seriousness that will keep you reading, and leave you thinking.

Without hesitation I give this book five stars.

The Fire

The Fire
Published: September 1, 2013
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
When Kevin Johnson, 22, goes to Wallace, Idaho, days after his college graduation, he expects to find rest and relaxation as his family prepares his deceased grandfather's house for sale. Then he discovers a hidden diary and a time portal that can take him to 1910, the year of Halley's comet and the largest wildfire in U.S. history. Within hours, Kevin finds himself in the era of horse-drawn wagons, straw hats, and ankle-length dresses. Traveling repeatedly to the same time and place, he decides to make the portal his gateway to summer fun. The adventure takes a more serious turn, however, when the luckless-in-love science major falls for pretty English teacher Sarah Thompson and integrates himself in a community headed for disaster. Filled with humor, romance, and heartbreak, THE FIRE, the sequel to THE JOURNEY, follows a conflicted soul through a life-changing journey as he makes his mark on a world he was never meant to see.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

October 21, 2014

While on a family trip to Wallace, Idaho, Kevin  finds a relative’s secret diary that explains the shed in the back yard is actually a time machine.  Being young and adventurous, Kevin decides to have a go and is transported to 1910.  He makes friends, develops a positive reputation within the town, and even lands a serendipitous position as a school teacher.  Kevin’s reason for staying in 1910 for as long as he did is a lovely lady named Sarah.  Additionally, he meets a second young lady (Sadie) who seems to have affections for him.

While I expected Kevin, as the main character, to be the only point of view, the story was built through multiple points of view, some even being minor characters.  The author was kind enough to announce these changes at the beginning of each chapter.  As three-fourths of the novel was from Kevin’s perspective, it felt like a lazy way of telling the reader about a character.  The point of view changes were distracting, especially when Sarah or Sadie took the stage.  It allowed for redundant reflections that the reader knew from previous interactions told from Kevin’s perspective.  Instead of adding a sense of romance or heartache, it slowed down the progression of the, otherwise engaging , narrative.  The love story plays out rather unpredictably through charming dialogue.

The premise of the novel was unique and Heldt’s research on the time period shows.  His description of the town of Wallace and the nuances of life lived in 1910 bring the reader back in time with Kevin and create a wistful desire to return to simpler times.  The year itself acts as a character and creates a tension in the back of our mind since we readers (and Kevin) know about the forest fire that will occur in August of 1910.

While The Fire is billed as a historical romance, let it be known that the novel breaches two genres: historical romance and science fiction.  The novel also champions the subjects of science and history by casually mentioning the importance of both during dialogue and internal reflections of the characters.  An excellent starter for sci-fi fans wishing to branch out.