Kathleen A. Flynn, The Jane Austen Project
Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane live in a near-future world where time travel is well established as a scientific research tool. Their first mission is to travel to 1815, where they will retrieve Jane Austen’s personal letters (many of which were destroyed after her death) and her manuscript of “The Watsons,” which, according to a recent discovery, she actually did complete. To achieve this goal, Rachel and Liam will pose as members of the gentry and try to become part of the Austens’ social circle. But the more they get to know Jane and her family, the more Rachel and Liam begin to have scruples about their actions. Additionally, they start to worry about the possibility of changing history and the even scarier possibility that they may not be able to leave 1815. And of course, the deepening of their relationship to each other may have far-reaching consequences in both 1815 and their own time.
I enjoyed this book overall, but I definitely think some parts were more successful than others. The premise is certainly an interesting one if you love Jane Austen, and overall I think the portrayal of Jane and her family was very well done. The book evokes the 1815 setting very well; it feels like the reader is also a time traveler, being immersed into this bygone era for the first time. I was particularly tickled by one scene where Jane catches Rachel looking through her private papers and accuses her of being a French spy! That said, the novel gives short shrift to the time travel element; it doesn’t explain how it works or what the “rules” are, and the future consequences of Rachel and Liam’s actions in 1815 are wrapped up very quickly. Finally, I wasn’t particularly invested in the romance. While Rachel and Liam are both pleasant enough, I never really got a sense of what made them tick. Ultimately, I did like the book, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll ever need to reread.
Bee Ridgway, The River of No Return
Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, is about to die on the battlefield at Salamanca. But instead of being trampled by a French cavalry horse, he suddenly disappears in a blaze of light and reappears in the 21st century. There, Nicholas finds himself under the protection of the Guild, a secret society of individuals with the ability to jump forward in time. The Guild provides Nick with a new identity, plenty of money, and enough information about the modern world for him to survive in the present. Nick believes it’s impossible to go back to his original time — until one day, out of the blue, the Guild leaders order him to do just that. They tell him about a rival group of time travelers whose attempts to change history will result in widespread disaster, unless Nick can go back to 1815 and stop them. But when he jumps back to his own time, he learns that the Guild is keeping secrets from him. He also reconnects with Julia Percy, his beautiful young neighbor who is somehow connected to this feud between time travelers.
This is a book I should have loved: it’s got Regency England, romance, intrigue, and time travel! But sadly, the novel’s underwhelming execution didn’t live up to its great premise. One of the biggest problems for me was the pacing. It took forever to set up the world and introduce Nick and Julia as characters. Once Nick jumps back to 1815 (about 1/4 of the way into the book), things pick up a little, but the pacing still drags. Nothing really important occurs until the last 50 pages or so, when the characters suddenly learn a whole lot of new information at breakneck speed. My other big problem with this novel is that NOTHING IS RESOLVED IN THE END. Nick eventually learns more about the future catastrophe that the time travelers are trying to prevent, but he doesn’t actually do anything about it. So basically, this book is one long setup for a payoff that isn’t going to happen until the sequel — and I don’t think it’s actually been published yet, so it could be a long wait! I’ll admit that I am a bit curious to know how things turn out, but it may not be worth the aggravation this book caused me.
Kerstin Gier, Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue, and Emerald Green (trans. Anthea Bell)
Gwyneth Shepherd belongs to an unusual family: every generation, one of its members has the ability to travel through time. Gwyneth has always assumed that her cousin Charlotte has this gift, and Charlotte has spent her entire life preparing for it. But to everyone’s shock, it is Gwyneth who unexpectedly travels through time, revealing herself as the true possessor of the gift. Unfortunately, Gwyneth doesn’t have Charlotte’s extensive training in history and etiquette to help her navigate the past. Moreover, it seems that her family, as well as a secret cabal of fellow time-travelers, is keeping a lot of crucial information from her. For example, what is the meaning of the mysterious prophecy involving “the ruby”? Who is the Count Saint-Germain, and what is his plan for Gwyneth? And most importantly, can Gwyneth trust her partner in time travel, Gideon de Villiers, whose unpredictable behavior both frustrates and attracts her?
First off, I’m very glad that I read all these books at once, because there’s definitely no resolution to the story at the end of Ruby Red or Sapphire Blue. I did enjoy the series overall, but in looking back, I find myself focusing more on its flaws. The plot feels very cluttered to me: Gwyneth and Gideon are constantly jumping back and forth through time to uncover various secrets, yet at the same time, nothing much really happens until about halfway through the second book. The series sets up lots of mysteries, but most of them are fairly easy to solve. It all just felt a little overwrought to me. Also, I was not a fan of the romance; I don’t think Gwyneth should have put up with Gideon’s mixed signals and condescending behavior! I do have to say, I was impressed with how the time travel itself was handled; the timeline of the series makes sense, and I didn’t catch any glaring logical inconsistencies. If you like the genre and don’t mind YA, this series is worth a read, but I’m glad I got the books from the library instead of buying them.
Rainbow Rowell, Landline
TV writer Georgie McCool is at a turning point in her life. For several years, she and her best friend Seth have been working on a dumb but popular sitcom, but now they’ve been given a chance to create their very own show. Georgie is thrilled, but her husband Neal is less so: Georgie now has to spend Christmas in L.A. and wants to cancel the family trip to Neal’s mother’s house in Omaha. But instead of deferring to Georgie like he usually does, Neal takes their two daughters to Omaha without her. At first Georgie assumes this is just one of the many small fights they’ve been having lately…but then Neal stops answering his cell, and she can’t seem to get ahold of him. Stunned and grieving, Georgie goes to her own mother’s house for comfort, where she finds an old rotary phone in her closet. She soon discovers that the phone has magic powers: when she uses it to call Neal, present-day Georgie is able to talk to 22-year-old Neal the week before he proposed to her in 1998. Can Georgie use the phone to solve the problems in her marriage? Or will she learn that she was never supposed to marry Neal in the first place?
I’m a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell’s previous books, so it’s no surprised that I devoured this one in two days, albeit with a couple of quibbles. But first things first: I love that Georgie and Neal are already married when the book starts, and I love that they’re having such a common problem. Georgie wants her husband to support her career dreams, while Neal feels taken for granted as the stay-at-home parent, and I could really sympathize with both points of view. I also love the flashbacks to the beginning of Georgie and Neal’s relationship. They really lent a lot of weight to the story, because we know exactly what Georgie will be losing if she can’t find a way to reconnect with Neal. That said, I wasn’t a fan of Seth; he seemed to exist as “the other man” who comes between Georgie and Neal, yet he’s never really presented as a viable option for Georgie, so I just didn’t see the point. I also didn’t like the way that Georgie’s career ambitions seemed to be the sole cause of her marital problems. To me, the message was that she should be willing to give up those ambitions to make her husband happy. But aside from these grumbles, I really loved the book and would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of Rowell’s other books!
Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest
Set during an alternate version of the English Civil War, this novel follows Prince Rupert of Bohemia, one of King Charles’ most valiant allies. Unfortunately, Charles is losing his war against the Puritans, and after a particularly brutal battle, Rupert is captured by a Puritan nobleman and placed under house arrest. He immediately begins plotting his escape, but fate steps in when he meets his captor’s beautiful niece, Jennifer. The two of them end up fleeing the Puritan’s house together and receiving help from an unlikely source: Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Faerie. They encourage Rupert to find the lost treasure of Prospero, whose magical artifacts will help the king’s cause; but Rupert must brave many dangers before he can fulfill his quest.
There are so many clever, ingenious concepts at work in this book that it’s almost too hard to list them all. First there is the obvious debt to Shakespeare: in this world, he is not merely a playwright but also the Great Historian, so everything he wrote is factually true. (Bohemia even has a sea coast!) Thus, this book is full of all the wonderful Shakespearean plot devices — faeries, star-crossed lovers, uncouth jesters, shipwrecks, and a very unusual tavern, to name a few. My favorite thing was realizing that several of the characters actually talk in iambic pentameter. Sure, it makes the style a bit choppy and stilted, but the characters talk in iambic pentameter! Add in a discussion of parallel universes, some trains, and angry Puritans getting their comeuppance, and I’m sold! I’d definitely recommend this one if you’re interested in the premise.