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.
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.
At the dawn of human culture, 43,000 years before the birth of Christ, the Kariba live in a region of East Africa that was once teeming with game, lush forests, and water, that is now an arid wasteland. Temfe, the 17-year-old son of Beru, chief of the Kariba, is a cripple, his foot mangled by the buffalo that killed his brother. Betrothed to Yamba, he must contend with Kofu, the tribe’s chief hunter and warrior, who not only wants to be chief, but wants Yamba.
The Dry Lands by Simon J. Townley is the story of Temfe’s effort to find new lands for his tribe. He must find a place for them to go or watch his people die. His only ally is his friend Ngoh, a young man of the same age. When Beru sends the hunters out to find new lands, he places Temfe in command, but along with having to cope with his handicap and the deadly, unfamiliar desert, he has to deal with Kofu’s treachery.
Not since Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear has there been a novel set in prehistoric times that does such a good job of bringing this era to life. Townley’s straight forward prose and rich descriptions of the land, wildlife, and the people put the reader smack in the middle of action that resonates with anyone who loves history. This might seem a contradiction in terms, considering the story is about what we modern people call ‘pre-history,’ but a close reading will reveal parallels with life as we know it today. What the author shows us is that human emotions haven’t evolved all that much in the millennia since man arose in East Africa.
Temfe is the prototype of every modern hero or explorer – the men and women who have struck out into the unknown to expand the range of human understanding. The action is well framed, the dialogue realistic, and the settings colorful. This might be fiction, but it’s a good history lesson as well.
Highly recommended reading for all ages.
When Lord Oldfields, a magistrate and wealthy landowner, asks for assistance to determine who murdered his gamekeeper, Josh Castle, Foster’s superior dispatches him to the small village. Disguising himself as a wandering itinerant, Foster becomes part of the gang of poachers who are Lord Oldfields’ real targets. In the process, he uncovers deeds from the past, some so evil that their perpetrators will do anything—including murder—to keep them hidden.
Lucienne is a masterful storyteller, skillfully weaving history, culture, and the social customs of the period into the story in a natural manner that not only piques the reader’s interest, but helps the reader with a watchful eye and attentive mind to figure out whodunit.
This story has a profound theme. The injustices perpetrated upon the poor by the privileged, how people react to events over which they have little or no control, and the importance of integrity and empathy in alleviating the human condition.
Not one word in this story is wasted, and it is told in a manner that both entertains and educates—the true sign of a master wordsmith. Extremely well edited, I could not find one comma or semicolon out of place, and unlike books by some of today’s bestsellers, no misspellings or grammatical glitches—nary a one.
Unlike many books I read, which are good stories, but contain a few formatting or other errors, making it impossible for me to give them a top rating in all honesty, I found nothing here that gives me pause; and, I re-read several passages just to make sure. Actually, I have to get personal here and say that I re-read several passages because I found the prose so entertaining, I just wanted to go back over it to enjoy reading truly great writing.
I found everything about this book engrossing, from a cover that conveyed in stark symbolism the theme of the story, to passages that glistened with brilliance. The characters were magnificently portrayed. Dan Foster, the protagonist, is totally captivating—from his willingness to face his own weaknesses, to his devotion to right and justice, but most compelling, his sense of honor and decency. Even the secondary characters were fully fleshed and well-rounded, creating a setting that made me feel that I was there. I could see, hear, and smell the surroundings, and sense what characters were thinking and feeling in a story that was impossible to put down once I started reading.
An easy five stars.
This book is typical of Ray’s easy to read journalistic style. Writing is never effortless, though Ray leaves one feeling that it comes to him nearly as easily as breathing. This historical fiction about the legendary Deputy U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves is a delight, though I would have liked to have had more of the same to read. That we don’t is no doubt simply because Ray has no wish to stray far from the factual history. The conversations created to put the bones on the known story ring so true that I found myself on the dusty trail, spitting tobacco with the best and worst of those tough pioneers.
That a black man born to slavery, Bass Reeves, could do so well for himself and so soon after the emancipation that stemmed from the American Civil War is nothing less than astounding. Some of his success seems almost unbelievable, which makes it just as well that the real life author is every bit as big a picture as the man he portrays. I am sure that Charles and Bass would have got on very well if a time skipped century or so enabled a meeting.
It is impossible to say much without lacing my review with spoilers, though to be honest it is enough to say that this short-novel, or long novella, finishes far too quickly. Lone Ranger, eat your heart out, this is how ‘The West’ was really won.
The daughter of tribe leader Sinorix, Lavena is expected to learn how to work the land, to develop strength and fortitude and, as a ferocious female warrior, to lead her people into battle against the Romans should it becomes necessary. When governor Piso is recalled to Rome and a new governor takes his place, the precarious peace between the Romans and Celts is broken and the Celts are forced to defend their village, to no avail. Lavena escapes and seeks help from nearby villages, where she discovers the Roman army is once again on the move.
Written with an engrossing breadth of detail about the Celts and the Romans, with a sympathetic slant towards the people on both sides of the conflict, and with a depth of knowledge that he imparts effortlessly to the reader, G J Berger has written a compelling story of adventure, fortitude, revenge and love. The main characters stand out against a supporting cast of well-drawn minor characters. Pacing is superb, driving the reader onwards. G J Berger’s writing style is direct and pared down, as befits a book of this nature. Descriptive passages are moving and show very well how the landscape is used in Lavena’s fight against the invaders, and the animals – -horses and dogs, add an extra dimension to the story.
For any reader who loves to sink into the distant past, this is a story that will not disappoint.
As a writer, I was told to keep a nice balance between narrative, description and dialogue. That including a lot of the former, along with a lot of backstory, really drags the reader through the experience and slows the pace down to nothing.
And yet here we are giving the Lupane Legacy five stars.
The Lupane Legacy begins with a brutal village massacre somewhere in the depths of Zimbabwe, just after it had stopped being named Rhodesia. A small boy, Patrick Khumalo, remains the lone survivor of the ordeal. Across the world, in Washington DC, Joshua Denham attends a concert held by the Austrian embassy where his cousin, Constance Traun is a renowned violinist. There, he again meets none other than Devon Kerr, a banker who first met him in Afghanistan, during his tour with the Marines. Patrick, now in Zimbabwean Intelligence years and years later, one day receives the package he has been waiting his whole life for: a film reel of what happened in his village when he was five.
The book continues thus, with two parallel lines on two different continents, until out of the blue Patrick calls Constance; they must meet in person.
The Lupane Legacy carries the reader along smoothly, a page-turner that kept me up nights trying to figure out just how everything would play out. The narrative reveals a lot about the author’s education, it’s full of choice imagery, the vocabulary is lush and full, and expects the reader to read between the lines often. Slow as narrative generally goes, this book hits a good stride and doesn’t let up even after the explosive climax.
Readers of thrillers and mysteries beware: while this book is an excellent one, in terms of historical fiction and even literary fiction, there isn’t as much action as one would expect. Most of the book is building characters and explaining the political situations of the present and the past for various different countries. The characters are real, the dialogue never trite or cardboard, and the description is handled with the same effortlessness as the narrative, though one could ask for a tad more in some places.
If there was one gripe about the book, it was that it sailed over my head in a few places. Movie, music and literature references expect the reader to be familiar with a lot of classics, and for a vast majority of readers, that simply won’t be the case. It was possible to surge past this, but I felt certain that my enjoyment and experience with the story was lacking something in not understanding these.
In addition, this book contains a preview of the second book in the series, the Pyin Protocol. I’m definitely keen to read further adventures of Joshua and Devon, to see what’s in store further down the road.
Thank you for the read, Darby.