Very few books have ever made me cry. Off the top of my head, only two really stand out: Charlotte's Web and Thunderwith. I am now adding The Time Tra...moreVery few books have ever made me cry. Off the top of my head, only two really stand out: Charlotte's Web and Thunderwith. I am now adding The Time Traveler's Wife to the list, and to the list of books I can't get out of my head for days after.
This is a highly ambitious debut novel. That doesn't mean it doesn't work. I had my doubts, I truly did. And I can never read a book without also noticing typos, editing errors etc., but although they're distracting they can't ruin a good book.
The time traveler is Henry DeTamble, only child of two musicians, whose mum died in a car crash when he was 5 (he was saved only because, due to stress, he time travelled outside the car - which reminded me a lot of the tv show Charmed (one of my secret, now not-so-secret, indulgences), in which Paige "orbed" out of the car crash which kills both her parents - could Niffenegger be a fan also?!?). His time traveling is genetic, like an imperfection or flaw in his genetic code. He can't control it, and it causes more than a few problems in his life. When he travels, he does so suddenly, and turns up in the past or the future, completely naked, with no idea of where or when he is. But he's not completely vulnerable - he taught himself (in one of those mind-bending scenes that only make you ask, Yes, but how did he teach himself?) how to pick locks, pick pockets, steal, fight, run, anything necessary to survive until, equally suddenly, he pops back into the present, be it a few minutes or several days since he disappeared.
This creates not just problems in his social and love life, but also in his job - he's a librarian and his colleagues think he has some kind of kinky thing for running around naked in the stacks.
When he's 28, he meets Clare Abshire for the first time. Only, she's known him since she was six. How? He starts time travelling to her past after he's met her in "real time". It's a disorientating experience for him, to be confronted with this beautiful, red-haired, 20 year old art student who knows a great deal about him - if not his life, certainly his personality - and, though he doesn't know it yet, even lost her virginity to. It's a bit disorientating for us, too, but it's like riding a bike: after a while, you get the hang of it.
This is a love story, and a tragic one at that. Because I like to be optimistic, I began reading this in the expectation of a happy ending. I didn't get it, but that's not really what made me cry. I cried because I had invested so much of my own emotions in the characters, I had come to care for them, to feel for them and hope for them, that the ending shattered me. I cried for Henry, I cried for Clare, I cried for their passion so early ended and the loneliness with which Clare must now live with, despite the child they managed, after 6 miscarriages, to have.
>Set in Chicago over several decades, up to 2008, Niffenegger is obviously in love with her city. Despite that, I didn't get a strong feeling of Chicago, nor a great mental image of it. Perhaps because Henry is all over the place, and Clare's parents live in a different state, or perhaps because the author fails to really get across the true elements of the city, which I have never been to.
I've read several books lately that kept going long after they should have ended. The Lovely Bones, for one example. Not so here. It's a long book, at 518 pages that just flew by, but in those pages you really get to know Clare and Henry and the characters, friends and family and doctors all, around them.
The time travel element is what makes this an ambitious book. Keeping track of their lives, of the insights and hints and clues divulged in one sequence, with when it happens in "real time". At first, I had a sharp eye, looking for slip-ups. By the end, I had to admit I couldn't find any. Although some things are never returned to, like Henry divulging his secret to Gomez, a lawyer in love with Clare but married to her best friend, because he will help him out a lot in the future (the Henry doing the divulging is from the future, and so knew Gomez a lot better than the 28-year-old Henry Gomez had met just the night before) - but this is never returned to, there is no more clue as to what kind of legal trouble Henry gets into, no trials, no arrests (Henry is often arrested for things like indecent exposure, but always "disappears" before they can fingerprint him and find out who he is).
Perhaps it did get a bit melodrammatic toward the end. My perception is clouded, now. I don't want to give too much away, so suffice it to say that certain events leading up to the end were so raw and tragic, I lost myself to the book completely, and went with the flow, no longer trying to find slip-ups or inconsistencies or judging the writing style.
Speaking of which (sorry about this "review", it's all over the place), it's written in present tense, which works well since the time frame is, like this review, all over the place. One line, or description rather, that I particularly loved, was when Henry from the future and Alba, his daughter, from the future, meet and spend time together in 1979 at the beach.
"Tell me a story," says Alba, leaning against me like cold cooked pasta. (p.512)
"like cold cooked pasta" - ooh I can feel it! That clammy feeling, a perfect description for after you've been swimming.
In general, though, Niffenegger's style is not "high brow" literary. I found it easy to read, with a good flow, excellent pace and those philosophical, thoughtful insights and asides you get from a layered writer. She made an effort to get the "voices" right for young Clare and young Henry, though Clare's was more convincing than 5-year-old Henry's.
Really, here, I'm just trying to get all my thoughts down. If they appear a mess, and out of order etc., then that means my brain will be less so, and that works for me. Essentially, having been lucky enough to find "the love of my life", the idea of losing him rips my guts apart. And since I actually want to invest in fictional characters, whether they be in books or in movies etc., I felt their pain, as well as their love and happiness and all the feelings in between. There's a strong story here, told by characters who may not be out of the ordinary in any other way, but who feel and, in feeling, live.(less)
It is 1945 and Claire Randall (nee Beauchamp) is enjoying her second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank, a historian interested in tracing h...moreIt is 1945 and Claire Randall (nee Beauchamp) is enjoying her second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank, a historian interested in tracing his family tree back to Jonathan Wolverton Randall, a Captain in the English army during the Jacobite period. They've been apart for almost all their 8 years of marriage, she working as a nurse, he working for MI5, during the war.
While exploring the countryside around Inverness she revisits a circle of stones on a hill and is transported back in time to 1743, smack bang in the middle of a fight between some Scottish clansmen stealing cattle and some dragoons - under the command of one Captain Randall. Who instantly proves his blackguard reputation by trying to rape her.
Rescued by one of the clansmen but still very much a prisoner - and having trouble convincing them she isn't a whore because of her "skimpy" 40s dress and bare legs - she soon shows her worth by fixingone of the men's dislocated shoulder and accompanies them back to the castle of the MacKenzies, the clan she has fallen in with.
It takes her some time to accept that she hasn't wandered onto a movie set or some kind of costumed re-enactment, simply because it time-travel is the last thing you would think of, or believe possible. But Claire, though fiesty and full of colourful swear-words learnt from the soldiers she nursed, is also very steady and determined to get back to the henge. This goal is hampered by being constrained to the castle, though she is treated with respect and works as a physician for the clan, and by the threat of Captain Randall, who thinks she is a spy. Actually, almost everyone thinks she's a spy for someone.
In order to protect her from the Captain, she is married to the young and attractive clansman, James Fraser (using her maiden name), to make her a Scot. The marriage, though one of convenience, was far from unwanted - the attraction they felt for each other soon becomes an overwhelming, intense love.
I won't give away any more than that in regards to the plot. It's a fantastic book, dense, vivid, well-researched it seems, though even though I have a degree in European history I know bugger all about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites and the Battle at Culloden, all of which is an important framework for this somewhat tragic love story. It's even more interesting when your heroine is from the 1940s, and all in all Gabaldon has pulled it off with aplomb. I think the only thing that jarred with me was the use of the words "car crash" in reference to how Claire's parents died - it's not that it's wrong, I think the word "car" was in use then, but it just sounded so modern. Maybe someone who knows can reassure me?
I love authors who don't hold back, and Gabaldon certainly isn't squeamish. She also knows how to combine visually graphic scenes with human emotional response - wow that sounds clinical! - to really make you connect. It reminds me a little of Ken Follat's Pillars of the Earth, which I read way too young (I was about 14) for all the rape etc. This wasn't anything as bad like that, and much better in the way it handled certain situations, but both books are so all-encompassing that they own you even after you've finished them.
This book had the same effect on me, if not worse, as New Moon (Twilight series) did: by the time I finished it on Sunday morning, I felt wrung-out, frayed, stressed, tense, anxious, drained. Don't get me wrong, I love books that get their claws into me that deep, but it sure did make me feel in need of another weekend just to recover! And then I picked up the sequel, Dragonfly in Amber, and remembered what's so awful about time-travel books: the beginning is often the ending and the foreknowledge never does you any good. I read two chapters and wanted to cry. I haven't felt that sad in a long time, and thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea to read it now. But, once started, I can't stop.
If it makes me cry, though, the third can go stuff itself in a corner!*
It also makes me want to watch Hamish Macbeth again ... See, I'm having a real bout of nostalgia thanks to this bloody book! But I absolutely recommend it.
*Dragonfly in Amber was just as traumatising, and I have to give myself a break from the series for a bit!(less)
**spoiler alert** This is the sequel to Outlander, and begins in 1968, twenty-one years after we left Claire and Jaime recovering in the French Abbey,...more**spoiler alert** This is the sequel to Outlander, and begins in 1968, twenty-one years after we left Claire and Jaime recovering in the French Abbey, pondering their decision to try and stop Bonnie Prince Charlie from starting a war which they know will decimate the Highland Clans.
At first, this is such a jolt you think you've picked up the wrong book. Feverishly checking online, you are reassured that this is in fact the sequel. Going back to the book, it all becomes clear, though you are panicking at the idea of twenty-odd long years of separation for Jaimie and Claire. Followed by a horrible wrench of the heart when we learn from Claire that Jaimie died at the battle at Culloden, Prince Charles' final stand.
Claire is back in Scotland for the first time since returning to her own time, pregnant and disorientated. Her husband, Frank Randall, has died, and she is keeping a promise to herself to tell her daughter Brianna about her real father. She goes back to the Reverend Wakefield's house to find his adopted son, Roger, in residence after the Reverend's death. Roger, too, must hear her story, for reasons she does not reveal until the end. And so, as she tells her story, we learn what happened after the events in Outlander and how she came to return to Frank, and what happened to Jaimie.
I have a confession to make. First, I'll say that the start of this book made me so sad, I wondered whether I could read it at all. Secondly, I'll say that I did not mean to shatter this well-written illusion of the hangman's rope by cheating. I did flip to the back of the book, but not to read the last page or anything. I am always hoping that there is some kind of guide on pronounciation, and I'm one of those people who read everything from the author's bio and acknowledgements page to the copyright details. There was no guide on pronounciation, but there was one of those ads for the next book, Voyager, which begins by stating that Claire has gone back to 18th century Scotland because she believes Jaimie is still alive.
This was a bit of a mixed blessing. First, it did make it a whole lot easier to read this book, knowing that he would survive. But I also actually like to feel what an author intended me to feel, and I did not shed a tear at Claire and Jaimie's parting before the battle of Culloden when, faced with dying the traitor's death for killing his cousin Dougal and betraying his country, Jaimie has decided to die in battle. That, I regretted, though it did make it easier to sleep! Some reviewers didn't like the way the narration kept switching between Roger's 3rd-person and Claire's 1st-person narrative at the beginning and end. Personally, I didn't have a problem with it, I found it easy to tell them apart. I admit I skimmed a bit at the end, when Claire and Roger are looking for Geillis Duncan/Gillian Edgars. I was feeling a bit impatient by then.
As for Gabaldon's writing style, which I haven't said much about before, I do find her a tad long-winded. She tells a great story, very well-researched and, despite the time travel, believable. But her descriptions can be a little flowery, and often unnecessary. She bogs down the pace with pointless asides on the state of wilting flowers by a door as they wait for it to be answered. I know it adds to the character development - in this case, to make clear that Gillian has not been home for some time and her husband is unable to look after himself. Except that this is made clear several times over. A lot of the description is unnecessary, and often distracting. Removing some of it would definitely have cut down fewer trees to make this fat, hefty book. Don't get me wrong, I love fat and hefty. But it's ultimately a sad story, and the little flowery sentences sprinkled throughout were as annoying as little bugs flitting about your face that won't piss off no matter how hard you wave your arm around, looking like a complete twit.
Now I've got that off my chest, I'll reiterate: I did enjoy this book, and I will continue with the series, just not now. I need some recuperation time first.(less)
Contains spoilers Slaughterhouse-Five is about a man called Billy Pilgrim who time-travels frequently. He was in the Second World War and, captured, wa...moreContains spoilers Slaughterhouse-Five is about a man called Billy Pilgrim who time-travels frequently. He was in the Second World War and, captured, was sent to Dresden to work in a malt syrup factory before the city was bombed. He studied optometry and had a nervous breakdown. He married the daughter of a rich optometrist, and became rich as well. He was abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians, who put him in a zoo with a young porn actress, Montana Wildhack, whom they also abducted. He had a daughter called Barbara and a son called Robert. He was in a plane crash that killed everyone except him and the co-pilot. Rushing to the hospital in frantic worry, his wife Valencia dies in a car accident. He gets to meet his favourite author, an unsuccessful sci-fi writer called Kilgore Trout. "Slaughterhouse-Five" is the name of the building where the American POWs lived in in Dresden.
Because the narration jumps around as frequently as Billy does, you learn everything early on and then simply revisit it all. The fractured narrative is worse than watching ads in a commercial break, or those horrible pop songs where the scenes and costumes change every two seconds - it gives you a headache. It's extremely boring, and hollow, and unsatisfying.
I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, as you know. But I do like time-travel stories. Billy is nothing like Henry from The Time Traveler's Wife. For a start, not even a second seems to pass in "real" time while he is travelling - no one ever notices. It seems less like time-travelling than like reliving the past, present and future of your life, all at once, because it's his consciousness that does the travelling. What isn't clear, at all, is which is the real Billy? He moves so much, you have to wonder how he doesn't become completely dislodged from his own corporeal self and go mad.
The time-travelling predates the abduction-by-aliens, but the aliens themselves see the past, present and future simultaneously, and teach Billy their philosophy of not really caring about anything, since nothing can be changed etc. etc. Fatalism.
I think I hated this book, but not quite. Hate is a strong emotion and I don't think it brought that out in me. It wasn't even frustrating, nor even particularly confusing, though the repetition of the Tralfamadorian expression "so it goes" was so irritating I saw red a few times. The bits about the 100 American POWs being welcomed by the British POWs in a German prison camp was delightful, though boldly stereotyped, and I loved the excerpts from the work on American soldiers and prisoners-of-war by the American-turned-Nazi, forget his name, something Campbell. A lot of it - and it's a small, short book - could easily be skipped. The temptation was very strong.
In short, it's a very "postmodern" story, and like all things postmodern, it's impractical, disjointed, a bit wanky, tries too hard, is extremely out-dated and, at the end of the day, rather useless. Vonnegut is also very heavy-handed and bangs you on the head with his messages. It doesn't really inspire me to read more of Vonnegut's work. I guess he's a love-him-or-hate-him kind of story-teller.(less)
This book is so bad I got halfway through and then skimmed the rest, merely to find out if the bits at the beginning would ever make sense, and just t...moreThis book is so bad I got halfway through and then skimmed the rest, merely to find out if the bits at the beginning would ever make sense, and just to see if what I'd predicted would happen, happened. Surprise surprise, it did.
The premise is interesting enough but what book am I talking about here: An American woman called Claire goes back in time to the Scottish Highlands and falls in love with a big Scottish warrior? Yes, it does sound awfully like Outlander, doesn't it? Joyce could have at least given her a different name. The Scottish warrior in this case, Malcolm, is a Master, an immortal-ish member of an ancient brotherhood that answers to ancient Gods (older than Christendom, though bizarrely enough Malcolm says he's Catholic) and seeks to protect Innocence from Evil. Alright, fair enough, though I'm really not a fan of black and white labels like Evil.
The biggest problem with this book - apart from the plotholes, inconsistencies, amazing leaps of reasoning, conveniently forgotten details and weak, repetitious characterisation - is Claire herself. I don't think I've ever read a more annoying heroine (and having read as much paranormal romance as I have, that's saying something). She's whiny, clingy, slow, poorly defined, agonises over things even after she's come to a resolution about them, internalises everything, goes on and on in her head over the same tired old points, and I honestly don't get the attraction between her and Malcolm.
The story itself is slow and uneventful, the Evil character is laughable, and the plotholes so deep I tripped numerous times. Just note the early chapter when Claire first encounters Sibyll and Malcolm at her bookshop, and what they say when they meet her. Keep it in mind. It won't make sense later, and that's just one of the many frustrating things about this book.
The sex scenes were awful, icky, emotionally-uninvolved/detached things. I've never been so put off. But really, Claire? Talk about utter drongo. And she's supposed to have a Masters degree in medieval history!
Give this one a BIG MISS - and I'm not going to bother reading anything else by this author either. HQN's paranormal romances are more often duds than successes, it seems.(less)
This is one of those books I came to reluctantly (for a book club here on Goodreads) and found myself pleasantly surprised by - a bit like the cover,...moreThis is one of those books I came to reluctantly (for a book club here on Goodreads) and found myself pleasantly surprised by - a bit like the cover, really, which I hated at first and then slowly came to appreciate, especially as you start noticing all the little details in it that correspond so artfully to the story, in particular the city of towers built into the cliff, which you can hopefully see in the background.
Nepenthe is an orphan, found as a baby at the edge of the cliff outside the royal palace and adopted, like many other orphans, by the Royal Librarians. Growing up in the underbelly of the palace amongst books and languages as a gifted transcriber, Nepenthe is content and happy with her life, and wonders little about her heritage. A chance meeting with a handsome young wizard-in-training from the Floating School, Bourne, brings a book written in a language of thorns into her hands - a book that speaks to her and her alone.
As their friendship blossoms into young love, Bourne becomes concerned by how obsessed Nepenthe is with translating the thorns. Yet he does what he can to help her understand the story they tell, a story of Axis and Kane, figures of myth and legend long past. The thorns reveal a version of their story that not only has never been heard of before, but is full of contradictions and misplaced time that discredit its veracity. Still, Nepenthe is possessed of a drive to finish translating it.
When the king of the Twelve Crowns dies and his young and dreamy daughter, Tessera, becomes Queen, the threat of civil war stirs the ancient sorceress Vevay to keep a close watch on the realm. When she receives the cryptic message to beware the thorns, it takes Tessera to explore her newly awakened magical gift to uncover the truth, but it might be too late.
After a slow start, the story picks up and tells a memorable, age-old tale of devotion, war, magic, love and human foible with some new quirks. The story of Axis, the mighty warlord who conquered the known and unknown world, and his cousin, mistress and mighty sorceress, Kane, who ensured success at every conquest, is told as a parallel story, leading inexorably closer to the truth and the climax at the same time as the "present" story - the twist of time is handled deftly and smoothly. I'm not convinced of the logistics of Axis' empire, but it's not really the point of the story.
This is one of those fantasy tales that delves only into the most pertinent details, leaving the edges fuzzy and dreamlike. It certainly adds a mystical, mythical quality, though I'm one of those readers who likes to know, and chafes a bit at being guided through a fantasy world by an author who only lets you see what they want you to see. So at times, the story felt vaguely disappointing, and I wasn't sure for the first few chapters where it was going, but overall it was a pleasure to read. (less)
Chicago cop Ryan Daire is gifted an empty old mansion by his university professor under somewhat strange circumstances. Inspecting the house with his...moreChicago cop Ryan Daire is gifted an empty old mansion by his university professor under somewhat strange circumstances. Inspecting the house with his partner Ramirez one night, Ryan is startled to see a beautiful woman in the ballroom – who vanishes. Upstairs, in the bedroom which contains only the frame for a brass bed and an old wardrobe with a gilt mirror on the inside of the door, he sees her again, in the mirror, wearing a flimsy scrap of a see-through nightie. It’s clear she sees him as well, and is startled, but she’s definitely not there in the room with him. Ramirez thinks he’s seeing a ghost, but Ryan’s sure she’s not. What she is, he doesn’t know.
More encounters with the mysterious, beautiful young woman within the mansion lead to a startling discovery: Ryan is seeing Hope Stillwater, who lived in the house with her minister father, Jacob, in the 1900s. As a cop, he accesses the archives and learns that Hope disappeared in 1906 and her mutilated body was found three days later. He’s determined to breach the mirror and go back to 1906 to save her – and explore the exploding chemistry and passion that rises between them.
Beth Kery set a high standard with her excellent previous novel, Wicked Burn; with Daring Time, she’s proven she’s no one-hit wonder. If this is a taste of Kery to come, we’re in for a real treat. It’s a powerful, explosive novel of intensely erotic sexual hunger, cleverly constructed time travel, and two wonderfully developed and very real characters.
The city of Chicago in the 1900s came alive for me – I’ve never been, but I could feel and taste it even though Kery doesn’t overburden her prose with long descriptions. There’s a slightly gothic flavour to the story, especially the scenes within the mansion, as if the house is a character in and of itself.
Any book with time travel is prey to plot holes and loose threads when poorly handled. Beth Kery has deftly woven this tale with no holes in sight. It’s not a head-spinning read like The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example, so you don’t get lost in the shifts in time. Everything comes together at the end and the resolution is in perfect keeping with the characters and their time periods: a natural ending, not a forced one. Or should I say “beginning”, as it feels to me that Hope and Ryan are out there, living their life together and being true to themselves, at some point in time, so real did they seem to me.
Daring Time is a smooth blend of fantasy, crime and erotic romance that keeps you on your toes, breathless, with your heart in your mouth. Even though, as a romance, I’m confident it will have a happy ending, the suspense and tension and uncertainty is often so strong that suddenly nothing is obvious at all. A magical book. My only complaint is how long I’ll have to wait for Kery’s next book.
It is 2057 and Ned Henry, historian and time traveller, is digging through the rubble of Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940, looking for th...moreIt is 2057 and Ned Henry, historian and time traveller, is digging through the rubble of Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940, looking for the Bishop's bird stump. This hideous flower-holder is just one of many artefacts and details Lady Schrapnell has half of England looking for in the past, so that she can spend her pots of money rebuilding Coventry Cathedral where her great-great-etc. grandmother Tossie had her life-changing revelation.
Ned's been on so many "drops" (to the past) in the last few days that he's beginning to suffer from time-lag. He's sent back to the lab and ordered to take two weeks off, but where can they hide him from the terrifying Lady Schrapnell, who has recruited everyone she can get her hands on for her project (except those fortunate enough to be black or Indian etc. because they wouldn't be able to move freely in the past), has taken over the "Net" with her money and her orders, and makes impossible demands.
The return of Verity Kindle from 1888 where she was posing as Tossie's cousin so she could steal a peek at the infamous diary and go with her to Coventry for the life-changing moment and find out who the "Mr C" is Tossie married, creates something of a panic. Verity brings into the present Tossie's cat, Princess Arjumand - which should have been impossible. Anytime someone tried to bring something through the Net to the present, the Net refused to open, and anytime someone tried to go back to a significant time to change history, by drowing Hitler at birth or something, the Net would drop them at the wrong time and place. In short, the safety nets built into the time-travelling Net ensure that no one can tamper with the past.
Bringing the cat through, though, will create an "incongruity" they think, but they have no idea what will happen because of it. Ned's sent back to 1888 but because of his time-lag he has no idea what he's supposed to be doing there or even that he has a cat with him. Meeting up with Verity, the two start to work on fixing what seemed to have gone wrong: Tossie meeting Terence, which prevented Terence from meeting Maud and having the son who was possibly pivotal in WWII, not going to Coventry and having the revelation - all because Verity took the cat which made Tossie search for it which made her meet Terence on his way to meet Maud, who he didn't know he was meeting.
What follows is an often hilarious mix and muddle of British upper class twits, phony spiritism, jumble sales, mystery, love and historical theory, to say nothing of the dog - who was easily my favourite character.
This book is really deserving of five stars but for the subjective factor. Take me out of the equation and it's a fantastic book. The science side - continuum, slippage, incongruities, etc. - was easy enough to read but tricky to follow and gave me a bit of a headache. I don't mean the plot - despite how topsy-turvy it sounds, the plot is surprisingly easy to follow (no doubt because of Willis' steady hand on the pen), but the explanations of time travel - slippage and incongruities - did my head in.
This is a book rich in details, and you'll need to pay attention to every one of them. Can I just say, very smugly, that I guess who Mr. C was early on? There aren't that many clues but they are there; or put it down to women's intuition, if I'm allowed to. But I was so caught up on trailing the Tossie plot - which was fun and funny - that I didn't really care what had happened to the Bishop's bird stump - and why did they need to look for it, anyway? Well, I know why: because Lady Schrapnell wanted a reproduction of the 1940s cathedral, right down to everything that was in it - which meant finding out exactly what was in it at the time of the air raid. But it just doesn't feel right to me.
Inspired by an 1889 novel by Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Willis' hefty, thoroughly researched novel is both comedy, satire, science fiction and a mystery. Chock-a-block with literary, historical and theoretical references, Ned and Verity wade through a condensed encyclopaedia of Victorian England, class consciousness, Darwinism and historical theory, the battle of Waterloo and Hastings, the Enigma code-breaker, Church fetes and Chaos theory - to say nothing of the dog. It's Terence's dog, Cyril, who through his body language and Ned's narration presents a dignified comic relief. As does the cat. As does, frankly, most of the characters, who barely stop short of being complete parodies.
It'd be intimidating if it weren't so enjoyable and educational. Willis has written quite the masterpiece here: clever, fast-paced, fascinating, hilarious, puzzling and sweet. For fans of Sherlock Holmes, A Room with a View, Oscar Wilde, time travel in general, war stories and so on, this is definitely one you'll be absorbed by.(less)
It's 2057 and Matt Fuller is a postgrad student in chronophysics at MIT. He's essentially given up on his thesis and works as an assistant to Professo...moreIt's 2057 and Matt Fuller is a postgrad student in chronophysics at MIT. He's essentially given up on his thesis and works as an assistant to Professor Marsh, and his girlfriend Kara has just dumped him. Having constructed a calibrating machine for the professor's work, Matt hits the "reset" button and watches it blink out of existence, only to return before anyone but him notices. The second time he presses it, it disappears for ten seconds. Kidnapping the machine, he takes it home and pursues some experiments, figuring out that the machine time travels - first it was one second, then 10, then 170 and then 2073 seconds.
By the time he gets up to three days, he's attached a turtle and a camera to it and tries again. This time the metal machine has shifted off its wooden base, as well. The camera shows nothing but some grey static for a short time, and the turtle hasn't been gone long enough, in its own time reference, to need water, food or sleep. The clock he had attached shows it was gone for only a minute.
Matt calculates that the next time jump will be for 39 days and a bigger distance, and decides to go with it. He needs a metal cage, and borrows an old Ford from his drug-dealer friend Denny. Reappearing a minute later, in his own time, to create a traffic accident, Matt's arrested for the murder of Denny, who died when he saw the car vanish in front of his drug-addled eyes.
When his million-dollar bail is paid by someone who looks like him and who sends him a message, Get in the car and go!, Matt jumps forward in time over 170 years, only to find that the world is a very different place and he's no closer to finding a civilisation that can help him go back in time to bail himself out of jail. The only thing he can do is keep moving forward in time.
This book has plenty of promise, but is disappointingly flat. Matt is a non-entity - in fact, none of the characters are fleshed out much and simply function as plot devices, vehicles through which to move the story forward. Which is ironic, since the story is the characters and can't exist without them.
I couldn't even tell you what they looked like. Not a big deal, but a good writer will create a fully realised and very real character through their personality, their dialogue, their choices, and so you get a very real sense of them without details like what colour hair they have etc. Sadly, Matt doesn't have much of a personality, or charisma, or attributes that make you care one way or the other.
The other disappointing aspect of the novel is the time travelling itself. While there is a bit of a creepy, almost scary atmosphere - jumping forward so far that humans don't even exist anymore tends to make me feel pretty melancholy and blah - it's wasn't terribly imaginative, and lacks realism because it presupposes certain things, such as a very stable environment, for which there is every indication we have royally screwed up.
While there is one neat little twist at the very end, to do with genealogy, the big glaring "who paid Matt's bail and how?" question was never fully resolved. Oh, there's a trite explanation, but I was left feeling way more confused than before.
By the end of the novel, I was feeling quite apathetic towards the whole story. What was the point? What message did it convey? I'd say there are a few "messages" concerning the human condition and the fundamental laws of physics etc., but I really didn't care enough to bother thinking about them. I could tell that they were there, but unlike some other books with similar themes, or potent "messages", I couldn't help but think that I could spend oh so many minutes thinking about it, and deduce nothing original from it.
I didn't mind the book while I was reading it, though it took longer than it should have, being short and simply enough written. Now that I'm writing this review and all the negatives are coming out, I'm going to have to revise my rating of 3 and give it a 2: it was okay, just okay.(less)
Philippa "Flip" Allison is a recently-divorced ornithologist working at the University of Pittsburgh, competing with her ex, Jed, for a fellowship at...morePhilippa "Flip" Allison is a recently-divorced ornithologist working at the University of Pittsburgh, competing with her ex, Jed, for a fellowship at Cornell which will allow her to join a team of field researchers looking for a very rare bird. After a playful lunch with her friends where they made naughty innuendoes about the characters in the book they're reading for their book club, Pride and Prejudice, Flip goes for a massage and gets more than she bargained for. The massage comes with the trip of a lifetime, the chance to "imagine yourself into your favourite book". What she really wanted was a trip to the lusty romance novel set in Venice that she's been reading, but her thoughts keep straying to Mr. Darcy.
She finds herself in the Bingley home as a character who never appeared in the novel, Lady Philippa Quillan, months before Darcy meets Lizzie. Her character is well-established and comes complete with backstory, in which she and Darcy are old friends and once, nearly more. One thing leads to another and before you can say "Mr. Darcy!" she is intimately acquainted with the side of Mr. Darcy that we all like to imagine.
Upon returning to the real world, Flip is horrified to discover that the rare first edition of Pride and Prejudice held in the University's library has changed, and continues to change, with the younger editions changing more slowly. During the infamous first proposal scene, Lizzie confronts Darcy about the affair and the bastard child that resulted, and Darcy never apologised - so no wedding. Not only that, but the tone and character of the novel has changed as well, taking on a more licentious tone. And it ends with Lizzie in bed with Wickham.
In order to correct the problem within 24 hours, before the changes become permanent, Flip must discover everything that's changed - which involves getting her hands on that rare first edition, and then going back to Pride and Prejudice-land to ensure that Lizzie and Darcy marry at the double wedding ceremony with Jane and Bingley.
In order to get at the locked-away book, though, she'll have to enlist the aid of the handsome but snobby Magnus Knightley, a visiting Austen scholar with a penchant for lime green socks - without telling him what's she done.
As the two race through time, dodging Flip's egotistical ex, Jed, and his latest under-age girlfriend, the spark between them ignites. But getting Darcy into Lizzie's good graces isn't going to be easy, and they have one shot to make it work before Wickham scales the wisteria to Lizzie's balcony and ruins things forever.
This book totally took me by surprise, on two counts. 1) I've only read about three P&P spin-offs before this one, and hated two of them, so I usually shy away from them (Colleen McCullough's was one I loved); and 2) I confess I don't expect all that much from romance books, contemporary or otherwise. There's just something about the prose that screams "LOW EXPECTATIONS" to me - though sometimes I need to read something light and silly, and they do fine. So, since I was already feeling leery about the P&P side of the book, my expectations weren't high elsewhere either.
In fact, I almost didn't get the book, but on a sudden impulse picked it up again and thought, "Why not."
And I'm so glad I did. This is one rollicking romp! But I don't want to reduce it to just "good fun", though it is that. The prose is sophisticated and almost flawless; it's by turns exciting, sexy and hilarious - sometimes all three at once; I loved the characters; I never once thought "oh, how could she do that to P&P!"; the pacing was fast, the sex tasteful yet sizzling, and my god, there was PLOT! Such wonderful, wonderful PLOT!!
While the premise could have been a bit dodgy - how do you get Mr Darcy to screw a married woman in full view of a road where someone can see them, considering how stuffy he is? - but it was handled so well, the set-up so much better than I anticipated, that it all seemed perfectly plausible.
Flip is great. She's smart but doesn't always handle situations well, and exacts a beautiful revenge on her ex who thinks she doesn't know he screws his girlfriends on her desk. The chemistry between Flip and Magnus was electric, and I loved them both. Don't think I'll ever think of scrabble in quite the same way again.
You also get snippets of Jed and his current girlfriend, Io, that adds to the hilarity and pandemonium. With everything happening in a single afternoon and night, with the pacing so swift and assured, and the different subplots neatly connecting and supporting the main one - it grabbed me and didn't let me go. I was impressed also at her depiction of the historical period, especially the tricky part of staying true to the characters of the book while also incorporating this new lewdness that Flip accidentally introduced. It was very well done.
Many times this book had me laughing out loud - Cready's clearly a fan of Blackadder (both Magnus and Flip watch it, though it's quite old now), and it's certainly infused her humour with irony and what we may as well call "British humour", which easily made a fan of me. It also had great moments of satisfaction, you know the ones, where you can't stop grinning and you want to crow. And I LOVED the scene in the incline car (chapter thirty-four, when you get to it): it was just so EEEEEEE! (Now you know what I sound like, gushing!)
As fast as events moved, there's plenty of time to get to know Flip and Magnus and watch them reassess each other - Cready avoided making them live out a modern-day version of Lizzie and Darcy, which would have been just too corny for words. But there is a parallel, in their temperaments. Jed could be dismissed as merely a caricature, but he was a damn funny one and his scenes often made me laugh at him, vain idiot that he was.
On a side note, this is sort of part of a series, but not one the author's named. Her first book, Tumbling Through Time, is about a woman being summoned back in time by her fictional romance hero character that she's been writing, so I guess there are similarities. The third book is Flirting with Forever (due out in 2010), and the title hints at a continuing theme, but I think they're all unrelated standalone novels. (less)
Gwyn Cready quickly became one of my favourite romance authors, someone whose books I can always count on to make me laugh and totally absorb me. Orig...moreGwyn Cready quickly became one of my favourite romance authors, someone whose books I can always count on to make me laugh and totally absorb me. Original, intelligent plots, fun and sexy characters who never irritate me, and great resolutions to time travel conundrums. This is her first book, which I've come to after reading her other three, but by no means is it weaker for it.
Seph - short for Persephone - works in branding for a large pharmaceutical company. While at the airport with her colleague, Tom, a lawyer, on their way to a big meeting in Italy, Seph finds herself drawn irresistibly to a pair of pink high heels in one of the airport shops. But when she tries them on, she finds herself suddenly whisked away through time and space, ending up on a pirate ship half the world away - and several centuries ago.
The captain is George Drummond, and he's in quite the pickle. Sometime after losing his commission in the navy and taking up privateering until he can get it back, he found his world hijacked by a strange woman's imagination. His name changed to Phillip, his ship turned up in stormy seas near the Mediterranean, and he picked up some unwelcome extra passengers. There is a full moon every night, his favourite cannon has been turned into a table, his bulkheads have become walls and some important documents have disappeared - documents that the British navy need to see so that they can be in the right place at the right time to stop France from becoming the world superpower. They're at war, after all.
With the help of a gypsy woman who's wife to one of his crew, Drummond has summoned the woman who has been rewriting his life (and the weather). Seph had no idea that her fledgling attempts at writing an historical romance novel, which so far consists of scraps of ideas, could have had an impact on a real person. Drummond has brought her to his time to fix things, but Seph has no real control over what's happening - or where the missing documents are. Since Drummond looks scarily like her workmate Tom, who she's had a thing for for ages, there's plenty of attraction brewing between them. More than that, though, is when Seph learns that Drummond is scheduled to hang for treason because of the missing documents - and she's determined to save him. Oh, and keep France from winning the war.
Cready's plots are always hard to summarise, what with time travel and complicated details that make for such an invigorating read, but this one was a bit more linear than some of the others. They all deal with time travel, but in different ways. Unlike the others, though, this one has something of a love triangle between Seph, Drummond and Tom. Both the men were great, and when Tom ends up in the past with Seph things get really interesting.
I just love the humour in these books. This one wasn't as funny as some of the others, which have made me laugh out loud (a tough feat, let me tell you), but it's still there. It just deals with a more serious subject matter. I also love the intelligence in the writing and the plotting, which, frankly, you don't come across all too often in romance fiction. There may be some plot holes in this one, but the storyline was still so much more interesting and layered than what you usually get in romance.
I was a tad disappointed with the lack of, what would you call it, steaminess? There's no actual sex in this book, and the one scene where Seph and Tom get close and intimate it actually skips over it. I felt a bit cheated to be honest. You just tend to expect some more gratuitous, graphic scenes when you read romance - frankly, I don't think I'd read it otherwise, especially when the plots are less than inspiring. It's the sexual tension building up into something climactic that makes it all worthwhile. Though, the sexual tension is very good here, and playing Tom and Drummond off each other (remember, they look identical) was a fun touch.
If you're looking for something a bit more than the usual run-of-the-mill fluff from your romance fiction, I don't hesitate to recommend Cready - especially if you prefer less sex scenes than more, as she doesn't have too much graphic content in her stories. This isn't one of her strongest novels, plot-wise (there were a few points that lost me or seemed forgotten - like, where did Seph's tattoos come from? What's with the shoes, is she really going to live in them the rest of her life?), but it's still a fun read. (less)
I read Cready's second book, Seducing Mr. Darcy, on a whim and was treated to an absolute delight of a novel - witty, intelligent, exciting, sexy. Si...moreI read Cready's second book, Seducing Mr. Darcy, on a whim and was treated to an absolute delight of a novel - witty, intelligent, exciting, sexy. Since one of my biggest complaints with Romance novels is the weak writing - which encapsulates everything from poor character development to clichés to insufferable dialogue - I was thrilled to find a writer of Romance I could trust, relax with and enabled me to enjoy the story.
This is the second book of Cready's I've read, and her newest release, and it's just as good as Seducing Mr Darcy. The royal portraitist to King Charles II, Peter Lely, has been returned from the Afterlife to a day in his life in the year 1673 by the Guild, which manages the time portals. He's been returned in order to run interference with a person who has found a new time portal, gone back in time to discover salacious gossip about Dick van Dyck, and, in their own time, writes a scandalous "fictography" about the famous painter. Lely, van Dyck's successor at Charles' court, is on the lookout for one Campbell Stratford. In the meantime, he's tormented by his old life: the death of his lovely Ursula is still raw, and he only agreed to come back so he could get Charles to sign a posthumous marriage certificate.
Campbell Stratford - Cam - is an art director at Carnegie Museum, in line for a promotion for which she needs to sell her biography of van Dyck. But her publisher wants her to "sex it up" a bit and she's at her wits' end. Tracking down a book on Amazon that might have what she needs, she's instantly zapped back in time to end up, completely naked but for her purse, in the home of Peter Lely. Lucky for her, naked models are a dime a dozen in Lely's home.
Cam resembles Ursula so much, right down to the fire in her eyes, that Peter is instantly drawn to her. A delicious evening together ends in Peter realising who she really is and what she's after: dirt on van Dyck. Little did he know that running interference for the Guild is only the start, and that he could have begun something even worse. For when he next turns up in Cam's own contemporary world of Pittsburgh, it's to stop her writing about him and Ursula in the worst possible light. Maybe it is out of revenge for screwing her van Dyck book, but Cam's got too much on her plate to back out of the book deal now: her ex, Jacket, a famous modern artist, wants her back; and her older sister Anastasia is her competition for the promotion to run the museum. Peter's presence coincides with everything becoming much messier, but Peter could also be the only one she can turn to.
The plot sounds complicated, I know, but really it's perfectly straight-forward. I'm curious about Cready's first book, Tumbling Through Time, whether it also features this Guild and the Afterlife and explains them more, but in the meantime you learn enough to just go with it. What matters is the use the main characters get out of this premise.
Peter is one of the most sympathetic and believable Romance heroes I've read in a long time. Cready deftly brings to life a historical figure, gives him flesh and feeling and a personality to call his own, and in his artistic temperament we find joy; in his depth of feeling we find sorrow; in his hope and clarity of vision we find solace. To me, he was like a warm snuggly jumper that smelt of someone close and endearing. There was just something about him that made me want to take him home and feed him soup. Okay maybe that could be taken the wrong way, for him and me, but I'll take my chances ;)
What makes these books such incredible comfort reads for me is the humour. There are some pithy lines, some witty quips, and those kind of funny situational gags that work so well and delight so much without being in the slightest bit annoying. (I always feel the need to justify and defend good Romance novels - it's a shame, but it's because there really are so many badly-written ones that I want you to understand how well this does by comparison, as well as how well it does for its own sake.)
As well as the humour, there's the chemistry. It resonates through the pages, and has a bittersweet edge to it because it's not straight-forward. Cam and Peter have a wonderful, wicked night, then in effect betray each other, so that when they meet up again in Cam's world they're far from being on the best of terms. A relationship between them isn't forced, it occurs gradually, organically, as if it can't be stopped no matter what happens. And I can't end this review without also saying how much I enjoy Cready's non-lip-nibbling heroines: Cam is neither over-the-top klutz nor too sweet and "good" - she's a modern woman, a bit incompetent at eating hotdogs and naïve when it comes to the adulterous Jacket, but she's someone you can instantly understand, sympathise with and care about.
The last thing I want to say is how refreshing it is that neither Cam nor Peter face their predicaments, as unreal as they seem, with denial, stupidity or useless questions. They're human: they adapt. They rise to the occasion. It's actually much more believable for someone to face the situation head-on than to have them wander around telling themselves they just happened to stumble on a period movie set. Which makes even less sense that what's "really" happened!!(less)
Gwyn Cready has quickly become one of my favourite Romance authors - she combines fun plots and engaging characters, laughter and tragedy, intelligent...moreGwyn Cready has quickly become one of my favourite Romance authors - she combines fun plots and engaging characters, laughter and tragedy, intelligent dialogue and charismatic villains, providing unputdownable adventures and sizzling chemistry. I've read three so far of the four books published, and loved them all. They're not part of a series, but they all have one thing in common: time travel.
Josephine (commonly called "Joss") is doing everything she can to keep her mother's mapmaking business afloat since her father nearly ruined the company that it falls under. Now he's been dead three months and sexy entrepreneur Rogan Reynolds has stepped in to save the business - which includes her maps. Not only that, but Joss has agreed to marry him and already lives with him in his penthouse apartment. Everything's going as smoothly as it can with her wedding coming up soon, until one night she sees something very strange indeed and becomes very curious in the three strange occupants of a disused tailor shop - especially in the tall, dark and handsome Hugh.
In what seems like a convoluted plot but which you won't have any trouble following if you just stick with the first somewhat confusing chapters, Hugh and his companions have used a time portal to come to the present to find a map that Joss's father had stolen from the past - a map that made him a rich man and provided Joss with her luxurious childhood. By stealing it, he made sure a land change didn't go ahead that would have made a different family rich - instead they were beggared and forced to work in the mines.
And it turns out that Joss's mother, a skilled mapmaker herself, was from Hugh's time, and made three maps that provide clues as to the whereabouts of a hidden treasure - just not the one they're all hunting for. Joss is torn: she knows her father did a bad thing, she knows he wasn't a great man, but he was her father, and by changing the past (again), her own past would drastically alter, and not for the better. Then there's Rogan - Hugh suspects he's looking for the map as well, and has nefarious reasons for wanting to keep Joss close. Soon only a trip back to the past can possibly resolve the problems facing them.
Cready's books are so much more intelligent and lively than most Romance novels - I rather feel like rescuing them from the Romance section, simply because the genre gives us such low standards of what can be achieved. With Cready, I know I'm always in good hands. I find that I smile constantly while reading her books, and laugh out loud too. Not many books can make me laugh. I find them hard to put down, and this one was no exception. They're light on the sex side of things, being more concerned with plot development, character development and chemistry, but when there is sex it's tasteful and electrically charged (all that sexual tension, y'know).
So really, if there were one Romance author I'd recommend above all others, it'd be Gwyn Cready. I just love her books, and I'm always eagerly on the lookout for more.(less)
Seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has spent the last four years believing herself crazy. She sees ghosts from the past, lifelike images that pop and dis...moreSeventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has spent the last four years believing herself crazy. She sees ghosts from the past, lifelike images that pop and disappear as soon as she touches them. After the death of her parents, her spiralling depression and increased craziness get her committed to a mental health institute for treatment, drugs and supervision. After that, she went to a girls' boarding school and, now that her scholarship has run out, she's returned to Ivy Springs to live with her much-older brother, Thomas, and his wife Dru, an architect-interior designer team that's giving the old town a complete makeover.
Em isn't looking forward to going back to her old high school, but she has time yet. Her brother surprises her with a new consultant, someone they both hope can cure her. His name is Michael Weaver and he's a university student with a flashy car who does consultant work on the side for an organisation called the Hourglass. The connection between Em and Michael is immediate, and not just based on his sexy good looks: whenever they touch they create electricity.
Michael explains to Em that what she sees aren't ghosts, they're time ripples: she's seeing the past. With his ability to see the future, they are like two halves that complement each other, and they have the potential to time travel. He wants her help in going back six months in the past to save the Hourglass' founder, Liam Ballard, from death in a fire at his lab - a fire Michael is convinced another Hourglass member, Jonathan Landers, started to take out Liam so he could take over the Hourglass, using people's varied abilities for his own nefarious purposes.
Having lost her own parents, Em is determined to help - especially after meeting Liam's eighteen-year-old son, Kaleb, who is an empath. But going back in time is dangerous and risky, and there's only a small window in which to rescue Liam before the fire starts. With the help of some renegade people from the Hourglass who live in the house of a drop-dead gorgeous physicist called Cat who can control matter, they might have a chance. But upon the discovery that Jonathan has taken the files from Liam's safe, files containing information about numerous people like Em that he could take advantage of, time is running out to go back in time to save the one man who can help them.
Oh I wanted to like this, I really did. It began so promisingly, setting the scene in a historic old town in Tennessee, and introducing us to an opinionated heroine who more than makes up for her short stature with her mouth - and she does have some good lines, like "My ass was grass, and big brother was the lawn mower." [p.185] The atmosphere was a mix of slightly spooky, intriguing and comforting in the familiar - for all that Em has been through, her family unit is a tight-knit, caring, loving one. Sadly, all too soon it devolved into an unoriginal plot and suffered from that frustrating of all frustrations, Glaring Oversight.
Plotwise, this was just like any number of movies I've already seen, books I've already read. The ignorant but special main character (in this case, also the narrator), who is introduced to some shady secret society that's been betrayed from within, who takes it upon herself to save the day with some sacrifice along the way - but retaining a happy ending regardless. There's the double-crossing, the unnecessary love interest on the side (Kaleb), and the exceedingly, devastatingly beautiful main love interest (Michael) who I just couldn't come to like. Sure he was handsome and caring and thoughtful and considerate, but he was also an utter wet rag, a bit too perfect (any kind of perfect is too perfect), who has unexplained wealth (of course) and rarely makes much sense when he speaks - not if you're paying attention and trying to connect the dots. He came across as a lot older than he supposedly was (nineteen), and his unexplained wealth bothered and distracted me. But it was mostly the way his information and explanations jumped around that really annoyed me.
It's really hard to get into a book when the main character doesn't ask the obvious questions, and their source of information doesn't always make sense. When discovering that the world is not quite what you thought it was, and that you yourself are more than you ever imagined, you're bound to have questions. With Emerson, all too often she forewent the relevant questions in favour of some smart-arsed or bitchy or even sulky comment. I wanted to snap at her, "Focus!" Her reactions were often weird to me, freaking out about some new revelation (another way for her to simply not ask the glaringly obvious questions that really really needed to be asked in order to move the story forward) or, more frustrating still, focusing instead on some really trivial detail.
Rather than utilise the common plot device of ignorant-main-character-asking-questions-about-sudden-new-world, McEntire instead allowed Em to just know things. Reading this was a bit like whiplash, it actually hurt my head how many times I did a "Wait, what?" double-take. Because not only did conversations go strangely, all things considered, they glossed over things that the characters later talked about as if the conversation had taken place! I can't give you examples because it's a matter of reading the whole book rather, but I think I have permanent frown marks on my head now after reading this.
There were times when the dialogue just seemed so contrived, like when Michael discovers Em has tried to research the Hourglass online and found an article about the death of its founder, Liam Ballard. His reaction just didn't make sense - not to Emerson, and not to me. He became quite angry and threatening, and his explanation later was that the new founder, Jonathan Landon, was dangerous - but he never really explained anything (you connect the dots yourself but it's all out of sync with the plot and Em's own understanding), and his whole method of keeping Em in the dark as a way to protect her was laughable and insulting from the beginning. And what, all to create some mystery and a sense of danger? That would have come quite naturally had the right things been discussed at the right time, questions and answers that would have gone a long way to building this new world bit by bit, with some teasing but also by making sense. It felt like a smokescreen, because at the end of it all I reflected back on the story and its plot and it struck me how plain and ordinary it all was.
It wasn't only the dialogue that read as contrived, quite often the plot felt that way too. Little things were just unnecessarily dramatic in order to add, well, drama and mystery and also suspicion (can she trust Michael? That sort of thing). For instance, when Michael is called away by Ava and tells - no, orders - Em to stay home and wait for him to call her, which he doesn't do, why couldn't he have just said to her, "Hey Em, my best friend is on a drunken bender and I've gotta go pick him up and take him home, make sure he's okay. I'll try and call you tomorrow, otherwise I'll see you back here." It doesn't matter that Kaleb is drunk for some deep dark reason that Michael doesn't want her to know about - at least, I think that was his reason, but I don't really know - it doesn't matter because at the time it would have sounded perfectly innocent, completely reasonable, and - this is where it wouldn't have served much dramatic purpose - it would have kept Emerson home and she wouldn't have met Kaleb and so on and so on. But what was the big deal? Why not let her meet Kaleb? She met the others at the Renegade House.
What about her scholarship - her brother seems to make loads of money, so why need a scholarship? (The answer is, she didn't, it's connected to the plot, but badly.) Why does Michael sometimes talk about time travel like they do it all the time, and yet when discussing it with Cat it becomes clear that they've never done it? Why is the Renegade House described as a bungalow when, inside, it has an upstairs floor full of bedrooms and bathrooms? Little things like this just weren't explained properly and didn't, at the time, make sense. Sure later when more information is finally given, some things might make sense, but the problem is that Em doesn't seem confused, as if she already knows it all and so doesn't ask. And her reactions to learning about people's different abilities was just plain weird - what person in this day and age, someone who has their own ability, would be so completely shocked and overwhelmed to learn of others'? And how can she be so utterly incurious about it all?? I couldn't relate to her, and I couldn't follow the way her mind works - which frankly, didn't seem to work at all most of the time. I mean, incurious is fine in a person, plenty of people aren't particularly curious (though it's hard to believe when faced with this kind of scenario), but not when it's just a lazy character trait used to avoid having to make things make sense.
The plot, too, was very predictable. I wasn't even trying and I could have told you who Jack is, and what would happen. I could have told you who the spy amongst them really was - and the red herring was laughable. Oh so disappointing. I did like Lily, who sadly doesn't get much of a presence, but since she too has a gift (so not a spoiler, it's clear early on), I'm sure she'll be drawn into it in the next book or something. Chemistry-wise, sure there was some between Em and Michael, but since he acts like an overbearing, overprotective big brother - rather like her real brother, Thomas - it was actually a bit icky. He was also a bit condescending at times, which again made him sound rather old. And his refusal to start a relationship with her never made sense, not until the truth finally came out, which is fine except that, for readers, if it doesn't make sense at the time, it's frustrating to have the heroine accept it as if it does. Just one of the many things that did my head in - and it's not like some complicated time travel stories that loop around and become tricky: this doesn't have any time travel in it until the last hundred pages.
I do enjoy a good time travel story, and I LOVE stories about people with special abilities (big Obernewtyn and X-Men fan, me), but sadly this one just didn't have any chops. While not original, it still had good bones and could have been really exciting, just like a good cheesy movie can be, but McEntire wasn't able to build a mystery, gathering the threads together, leaving the right kind of clues behind, building on your knowledge and finally spinning you for a loop. It would need a great deal of re-writing for that. Still, I know from a quick glance at Goodreads that plenty of people loved this and didn't have my critique, so it clearly didn't bother everyone. Overall though, the mess of the structure, contrived plot-building and rather bizarre dialogue really spoiled this one for me.(less)
Gwen is seventeen and just about to start her final year of school in Oregon, after moving to the state from San Francisco with her veterinarian paren...moreGwen is seventeen and just about to start her final year of school in Oregon, after moving to the state from San Francisco with her veterinarian parents who are trying to escape the extreme upheavals of climate change. On her way to school, though, Gwen realises she's being followed by a strange man. He pursues her and in a panic, Gwen tumbles down a cliff to the wild Pacific Ocean below - and finds herself on her hands and knees on top of the water rather than fighting for her life beneath it.
The stranger introduces himself as Kian and tells a strange and incredible tale that Gwen slowly but reluctantly finds herself believing. He tells her that she is the reincarnation of a magician who was sent forward in time through magic, that she must unlock her memories of her previous life in order to unlock her magic. He tells her that she and six others were sent forward in time to battle three bad magicians who steal the magic from those who, like Gwen, inherited it naturally. And he tells her that all the natural disasters, the tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes, are a direct result from these powerful magicians' attempts to take over the North American continent. To defeat them, Kian was sent forward in time to find the good magicians, help them reach their powers, and fight the bad magicians. If they don't regain control of their magic, the bad magicians will steal it from them - along with their souls.
So begins a journey unlike any Gwen could have imagined: crossing the country to New York City to find more of her group, and from there to England where their search brings them face-to-face with their enemies and puts their very lives - and souls - in danger. Can this small group of teens gain control of their magic before it's taken from them?
Lives of Magic is, in many ways, fairly standard fantasy. I should really call it "urban fantasy" since it's set in our world rather than a make-believe one, but that sub-genre has been overrun with detective mystery stories so I felt it would be a bit misleading now. When I started reading this, I was rather confused into thinking that Kian came from one of those fantasy worlds; it was a while before I understood that he was from the past. Mostly because he is very vague about who he is and where he's from - at one time I entertained the notion that he was from Atlantis, a mythological place from our own world's history. It really wasn't clear (though it does say it on the back cover, which I hadn't read in a while) that Gwen's past self and Kian were all from ancient England, celtic Britannia.
In truth, it was just one of many such confusions for me as I was reading this. It's the kind of book that I read with a frown on my face, most of the time. There just seemed to be too many plot-holes that may (or may not) have been easily explained by the author, but just weren't. Gwen conveniently took too many things at face value, while not questioning some very obvious problems and holes in Kian's story. It wasn't enough to make the whole story cave in for me, but it was enough to create potholes everywhere for me to stumble in. It wasn't a smooth read, is what I'm trying to say. The pacing was good, and if the plot makes sense to you I'm sure it must read smoothly. But for me it was a very bumpy ride.
That aside (and it is a big thing), there were elements to the story that I did enjoy. I liked the kind of magic Leiderman employed, though we don't learn all that much about it here. I quite liked Gwen - not all the time, and she was very much an adolescent the way she could carry on (realistic but annoying to read) - and there were layers to the other characters that made them interesting. I was very curious about the ancient world they'd all come from, which is pieced together through unlocked memories - like visions and dreams - that Gwen has, but there's still a lot to learn. I didn't really "get" the bad magicians: the world-building to create a stable foundation of understanding was a bit rocky and patchy; without a strong foundation, it's hard to buy into the rest of the story as it plays out. The ending is mostly predictable, but the details were unknowns and kept it from being stale or boring. Gwen comes a long way over the course of the story and takes a leadership role, and I can see her becoming a strong, though still flawed, character (it's always nice for a heroine to have flaws - makes her both more interesting and more realistic, more human).
This is a debut, as well as the first in a trilogy, so there's plenty of room for the author's style to strengthen and become smoother, and for the story to gain flesh and depth. It's a fairly straight-forward premise that somehow seemed complicated and confusing while I was reading it, and I feel that that's down to the writer. It's a pretty good teen fantasy, but for me I couldn't get past the contrivances, the plot-holes, the loads of questions that I couldn't believe Gwen wasn't asking. So I'm conflicted, a bit disappointed, and not invested enough to continue reading the trilogy.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book. (less)