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.
Time travel, religious persecution, murder, and fraternal hatred make for an irresistible mix in this novel.
The Prodigal Son is the third book by Anna Belfrage in her Graham Saga but it easily stands alone. The author refers briefly to previous key incidents in the series bringing new readers up to speed without dragging them into the past. I haven’t read the previous books.
Back in 2002, Alex time-travelled into the second half of the seventeenth century. In this story, seven years later, she is now married with three children and living in Scotland. Her husband Matthew divorced his former wife for adultery with his brother, and both brothers regard the son of that previous marriage as theirs.
The son is one source of tension between Alex and her husband Matthew, but the greater problem is Matthew’s insistence on aiding outlawed Presbyterian ministers and attending forbidden services on Sundays in secret venues.
Alex fears for her husband’s life and the impact on her children if he is caught for his crimes, the most likely penalty being his death and the rest of the family being sold into slavery in America. Matthew is torn between his love for his wife and family, and his total faith in his religion and his desire to help his religious brethren and to offer food and shelter to ministers on the run from the law.
The tension and the strain on the family is palpable, and added to Alex’s stress, is the problem that being an emancipated 21st century woman, she isn’t ideally cast in the role of a subjugated 17th century wife. It’s easy to empathise with Alex, and in her, the author has created a vivid character, strong, principled, independent, yet, loving her new life because of her husband and family.
Matthew is equally strong, but his upbringing and principles are very different to those of his wife, and yet, he kills for her and for his religion.
It’s a complex and interesting novel with a finely-tuned plot and credible characters. There are some sad and emotive moments which avoid falling into sentimentality. The story ends plausibly, but with a question in the air of possible change for the next book in the series (extract included afterwards).
The moral and ethical dilemmas are fascinating. The story gives a good insight into religious fervour and how far men will take it. Do you turn your back on political lawbreakers? Or do you risk your life and that of your family to help them? No easy answers.
I don’t usually choose historical fiction but I thought this book sounded interesting, so I would recommend it, not just to those who normally read historical novels but, to anyone who wants a good read. The author adds a useful historical note at the end, setting the events in context.
It gets a deserved four stars based on the interesting plot, strong characters, the pacing of the story, and the overall professional finish.
Bell’s elegant prose not only describes the events and scenery of this self destructive love story in riveting detail, but also skilfully evokes the atmosphere both internal and external. The structure of the story is very clever. At the beginning of the book, our empathy is aroused for grieving widow Aurora Goldberg. It appears that she had the perfect marriage to charming Jake, but as the story progresses, we and Aurora discover Jake’s secrets, so shocking to her that she is forced to re-evaluate their love. Through eyes opened by the truth—and helped along by the visions provided by a ghost—she sees that all was not as rosy as she had believed. Not only that, but the legacy he left her could be life-threatening.
Popular fiction tends to romanticise love where one looses themselves in the other, or feels completed by the other, or feels they cannot live or be happy without the other; Sunspots takes this kind of notion to its extreme to show how disempowering an obsession with the object of our love actually is. Obsession not only blinds you, it makes you weak, needy and boring. Your partner is likely to turn elsewhere to get away from your clinging, especially if you end up harping on at him that he never gives you any attention anymore. It’s dangerous to let your whole life revolve around one person, for when they leave you—by death as it is in this case—you are devastated. As the book progresses we come to see how much Aurora has brought her crippling grief upon herself. She literally looses herself in this obsession.
Bell brings a metaphysical element to the story with the addition of Viola Parker, the ghost of the sister of Aurora’s last incarnation. With her help, Aurora sees that this pattern of obsessive love and betrayal by Jake—in his previous incantations—has been repeated in past lifetimes that ended with Aurora’s suicide. Viola urges her to take a different path in this life and cut the cycle of self-destruction.
Bell deals with interesting themes here, that we tend to repeat patterns until we make a conscious effort to change them, that the past can be changed by actions in the present, and that when someone ‘saves’ us with love, in a healthy, balanced relationship we also to some extent ‘save’ them.
Highly recommended to anyone who likes psychological depth in their romance. I give it 5 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies list.