Tag Archives: time travel

Review: The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Where did I get this book? My local library!

Where did I get this book? My local library!

This engaging novel, written by two best friends, explores the consequences that arise when a jilted bride has the chance to rewrite her own history–on social media.

After her fiance Max breaks the news at the rehearsal dinner that he can’t go through with their wedding, Kate is crushed. She doesn’t know how she can possibly explain what’s happened to all the people posting congratulatory messages on her Facebook feed, especially when she doesn’t understand what’s happened herself.

When Kate posts a status update wishing she could go back and do the past month over, she gets an unexpected second chance at saving her relationship with Max. It’s not surprising that her efforts have unintended consequences, but the story has enough twists and turns to keep it fresh and interesting. The book’s real strength lies in its depiction of strong and lasting friendship, as Kate’s friends Jules and Liam do their best to support her even after she throws them for a loop with her crazy tales of time travel.

In the end, The Status of All Things serves as a good reminder that the lives we see on Facebook are rarely as effortless and perfect as they appear.

Genre: Female friendship fiction with a time travel twist.

Read it if: You love the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, the collected works of Jennifer Weiner, and/or Landline by Rainbow Rowell; you spend too much time looking at your friends’ perfect lives on Facebook; you have always dreamed of a do-over button.

Skip it if: You have difficulty suspending disbelief when confronted with Freaky Friday style plot devices; you really can’t stand Facebook; you are squeamish about occasional use of profanity and very mildly naughty bachelorette parties.

Movie-worthy: This definitely has potential–its success would depend entirely on casting.

Best enjoyed with: A mocha from Starbucks or shots of Pappy van Winkle.

Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just CityIn this strikingly original and thoughtful novel, Jo Walton has brought Plato’s Republic to vivid life. Athene, goddess of wisdom, has decided to create the Republic as an experiment, and has used her powers to summon participants from throughout time to help her carry it out.

Athene, as becomes increasingly clear, is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. She is bound by the laws of Fate and Necessity, so she is only able to bring those people who have prayed to her for the chance to live in Plato’s Republic, however fleeting the prayer. ¬†These devotees become the Masters of the city, and they buy children from slave markets throughout time to populate it.

The story is told from three perspectives: Simmea, a child purchased from slavery who grows to adulthood in the Just City; Maia, a Victorian-era woman whose scholarly talents were wasted in her own time; and Apollo, who has chosen incarnation in a mortal body in order to experience the Just City and better understand the concepts of choice and equal significance.

These latter themes echo throughout the narrative. Apollo is troubled by what happened with Daphne, a nymph he pursued with his usual ardor; rather than give in to his desires, she prayed to Artemis to turn into a tree, and her prayer was granted. Apollo can’t get his mind around that decision, and it becomes clear that he isn’t the only man in the Just City who has difficulty with the concept of choice.

Meanwhile, not all the children of the City are grateful for their rescue from slavery. Simmea thrives, but her friend Kebes nurses his resentment of the Masters at every opportunity. He finds a new source of fuel for his discontent when Athene brings Sokrates to the City. An unwilling participant in the experiment, Sokrates raises questions that no one had previously considered, including the possibility that the worker robots employed to avoid the necessity of slavery might in fact possess sentience.

Although I have never read Plato’s Republic, this extraordinary story made me want to go back and look at the source material. While I may or may not get around to that, I will definitely be on the lookout for the sequel, The Philosopher Kings. Pre-ordering!

Genre: Philosophical science fiction.

Read it if: You’re a sci-fi loving classics major or a mythology loving science fiction fan; you enjoy reading about efforts to create utopia, especially when those efforts inevitably fail; or you loved Jo Walton’s fantastic earlier book Among Others.

Skip it if: You prefer to avoid reading about rape, or the exposure of newborn babies with birth defects.

Movie-worthy: Umm. Maybe a Game of Thrones meets Rome type of mini-series, but even then I’m not sure TV could cope with the amount of nudity in this book. Nude wrestling, people. All the time.

Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach MeI was actually combing the library stacks for promising books for my kids to read when I stumbled on this book. The inside jacket cover description was so intriguing that I checked it out for myself instead, even though middle grade books aren’t normally my thing.

When You Reach Me is the story of Miranda, a twelve-year-old girl living in New York in 1979. She lives with her mom, a single mother whose path to law school was interrupted when Miranda came along. Her favorite book, one she reads over and over, is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Miranda’s best friend, Sal, has suddenly stopped talking to her, even though he lives in the same building. Even stranger, she’s found mysterious notes from someone who knows more about her than seems possible. And then there’s the homeless man on the corner she has to pass each day as she walks home from school.

Although this book is shelved in the kids’ section, When You Reach Me is so wise and funny and subtly told that it deserves to be called, very simply, a great novel, without any qualifiers. Miranda experiences all the unspoken joy and pain of friendship and isolation, the gradual insight into the world of adults that comes with growing up.

Some people say that if a book is written about kids, for kids, grown-ups have no business reading it. I feel sorry for anyone who misses out on this lovely and observant book just because they’ve left childhood behind. Rebecca Stead clearly remembers what it feels like to be twelve, the magic and the uncertainty, the potential and the loss. Reading this story as an adult is the only type of time travel most forty-year-olds like me will ever know.

Genre: Beautifully wise fiction for kids of all ages, with a science-fictional twist.

Read it if: You loved A Wrinkle in Time; you wonder what it would have been like to be a sixth-grade latchkey kid in New York City in the late 70s; you love a tense and fascinating story, perfectly told.

Skip it if: You only read books about people your own age, doing things that could actually happen in real life, and that’s the way you like it; you have written an article for a major media outlet stating all the reasons adults should be embarassed to read anything written for mere children; you were never a child.

Movie-worthy: Yes! In the right hands, it could be wonderful.

Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsWhat would you do if you found a time portal? In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, one man uses a time portal to buy supplies for his restaurant at low, low 1960s prices; another uses it to try and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. When Harper Curtis finds his way to the House in 1930s Chicago, he takes advantage of its time portal to seek out and brutally murder young women across six decades.

Something about the House calls to Harper, and one room in particular seems to imply that he has already committed horrible crimes, that his acts of violence exist outside of time. He targets women based on the extraordinary potential he sees in them–they shine in a way that perhaps only he can see.

The Shining Girls is creepy and seriously disturbing, not least because the glimpses we see of the murdered women feel like American Girl doll stories gone sickeningly wrong. It’s to the author’s credit that she leaves so much unanswered about them. We never know what these women could have achieved, what accomplishments their talents might have produced. Thanks to Harper, no one will ever know.

When Kirby Mazrachi survives the attack that was meant to kill her, she becomes convinced that her would-be murderer has killed before. With the help of a veteran journalist, Dan Velasquez, she searches for answers. This is a familiar element of many a serial killer thriller, but Beukes raises the stakes in terms of both her exceptional writing and the unique abilities of the murderer. It also helps that Kirby is a great character, resilient, stubborn and fiercely independent, yet also genuinely sympathetic. Seeing her through Dan’s eyes only increases the reader’s concern for her safety.

Beukes never explains the origin or nature of the House, leaving it to the reader to folow the Moebius strip of cause and effect. Asking how the House came to be what it is might be as pointless as asking how Harper can be human without the slightest trace of empathy or conscience. Some questions can’t be answered.

Genre: Intense, graphic thriller with a sci-fi twist

Read it if: You can’t resist the idea of a time-traveling serial killer,

Skip it if: Well, let’s put it this way: disembowelment. You probably know whether you should skip it at this point.

Movie-worthy: I get the chills just thinking about a movie of this book. I mentally cast Josh Holloway from Lost as Harper. “Sweetheart…”