JFK time travel extravaganza

Photo credit: Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston11/22/63 by Stephen Kin

11/22/63 by Stephen King

3 words: wide-ranging, wry, absorbing

 

Stephen King, where have you been all my life?

Actually, I know the answer to that one.

Dude’s been on the bestseller list most of the years I’ve been a reader. But I associate him with horror, and I can’t handle the horror.  

But ever since reading On Writing, my eyes have been opened.

Then my friend chose 11/22/63 for book club, so we could test whether King actually practices what he preaches.

I’m thinking he certainly does.

This book knocked my socks off.

It’s more than 800 pages long (which translates into 25 CDs of audiobook, which translates into a full month of listening at my usual pace), and I would’ve been perfectly content if it had been longer.

…cuz this book has it all goin’ on.

Rip-roaring plot: CHECK!

Likeable, relatable, memorable characters: CHECK!

Engaging narrative voice: CHECK!

A well-researched historical setting: CHECK!

Creative use of language: CHECK!

This book… it has all the things.

Here’s the quick rundown of this wonder:

Jake Epping is a high school English teacher whose buddy at a local diner shows him a wormhole into the past. His friend’s goal was to travel back in time to avert the JFK assassination, so the world could be a better place, and his dying wish is for Jake to carry out the mission. So… Jake dives back in time to 1958 and starts living a new existence in the past.

And King paints a vivid picture of that era — the good and the bad. There’s food that tastes terrific (and there are segregated restrooms) and there are kind and neighborly folk (and there are lots of people smoking).

In spite of the bad parts, Jake begins to feel at home in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And he falls in love. (That wasn’t exactly supposed to happen.)

So as he gathers intel about whether Oswald acted alone, Jake’s living a double life. And that always creates interesting dilemmas.

I’m a JFK geek (each of those four words links to a different JFK post… and that ain’t all of ’em) going way back, and I’ve read an embarrassing number of pages about his life and death. And I’m here to tell you… King got stuff right.

Dude not only researches the living daylights out of a topic, but then he’s careful about the way he sprinkles in the knowledge… like perfect seasoning.

This book… it far exceeded all my expectations.

I just wish I could read it again for the first time. Cuz: wow.

Give this book a whirl if you like… time travel; long, unfolding stories; reading about the JFK assassination; first person narrative; a mix of historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, suspense, and romance

So, kind readers… what book most knocked your socks off?

(Science) Fiction

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
3
words: character-driven, brutal, thought-provoking
The
characters, people. This book is all about the completely engaging characters.

That’s
the first thing to know about The
Sparrow.
 

Because
the second thing? It might make you think you don’t want to read it.

Here
it is: This book’s science fiction, guys. The completely engaging characters
travel to another planet.

Have
you just tuned out? If so, come back here
right now and I mean it.

I’m
not a natural reader of science fiction, and this book has been on my top 10
list. That’s how character-driven it really is. Plus, it’s got a plot. (See: they travel to another planet.)

This
is a book of ideas and faith and questioning one’s faith and love and
friendship and courage.

It’s
also one heck of a great book discussion choice.

It’s
the story of a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered planet, and how the whole
thing goes terribly wrong. And only one person—Father Emilio Sandoz—survives,
though he’s a wrecked man when he returns to Earth with his faith and reputation
destroyed.

The
story unfolds gradually, told through flashbacks to the joyful days when the
crew was formed and began their journey.

This
novel is revelatory.

Don’t
read it alone. Make sure a friend reads it, too, so you can discuss it right
away.

Ticked-off book club

The Gate to
Women’s Country
by Sheri S. Tepper
This book made one of my friends so mad she couldn’t finish
reading it. And then—when she asked me to tell her what happens in the rest of
the book and I gave her the plot rundown—she got even madder.
Hello, gender dystopia.
Apparently this book is a thing people either love or hate. Although…
that’s not true, because I can identify things I like and dislike about it, and
I’d say I’m kind of iggis* about the book.
The thing is: it makes a great
book club pick. Even my friends who hadn’t finished the book had plenty to say
about it, and that’s a sign of a fine book discussion book.
Here’s the basic plot (or at least as much of it as I can tell you
without ruining it): In the future, after a massive apocalyptic event, there’s
a place called Women’s Country, which is run by… women. And most of the men
have chosen to become warriors and live in a garrison outside the gates of
Women’s Country. So the women are running the show, and the men live apart and
defend them (and father their children). And a small subset of men return to
Women’s Country to become servants.
A woman named Stavia is now part of the Council in Women’s
Country, and as her son makes the decision to leave to become a warrior, she
reflects on her younger years, when she was a fool for love and did some really
stupid stuff.
So there are all kinds of examples of gender-based societal
structures here, and some of them probably will tick a person off, regardless
of that person’s sex and worldview.
Don’t you just want to dive in right now?
*I’m pretty sure this isn’t really a word [though—lazy librarian:
did not check the OED], except in my
family it is. And it means: neutral/on the fence/so-so/I could take it or leave
it.

Time Travel Romance

Dreams of Stardust by Lynn Kurland
Amanda is a woman of modern sensibilities, born into the 13th century, which really had to suck for her. Luckily, Jake (of the year 2005) careens into her world when his car goes flying into a time warp that sucks him back into the Middle Ages, providing her with a man she actually could stomach marrying.
Despite Amanda’s family (read: her father) being adamant that she’s got to be getting married within months, this book shows us a family of the Middle Ages that makes that time period seem downright homey. They’re pretty delightful as a family, and it’s really no wonder that Jake decides to hang out there for the rest of his (un)natural life.
I’ve known for a long time that Lynn Kurland is one of the big names in time travel romance; I don’t know why I waited so long to read one of her books. In this one, she’s created a warm and wonderful family environment, a couple that we know belongs together in spite of the 8 centuries that divide them, and a story line that clips right along.
I began to get clues that this book was one of a series, and truly, it is one of a big honking series that includes oodles of books that all interconnect in ways displayed on a chart at the end of the book. (I had a Madeleine L’Engle flashback—remember that kick-a** chart in her books, that showed how the Murry family books and the Austin family books connected? I totally blissed out as a kid, seeing that. Anyway, the Murry books—also time travel. So we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming… See how I did that?)
The only reason that I won’t be reading more books in this series by Kurland is that life is short and my list of books-I-want-to-read is very long.

Ghost Story

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

It must suck to write a bestselling first novel. Because then the pressure is on, baby!

Audrey Niffenegger hit the bigtime with The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book I liked a lot and thought worthy of all the fuss and excitement it generated.

So with the second book, well… My take on it is badly biased by my preferences as a reader. I require characters I like. And that just didn’t happen here. These people are flawed, and not in ways I found charming.

Now, that having been said, this book was a page-turner—enough so, that I toughed it out with the messed-up characters. The story—with its gradual disclosure of more and more shocking little (big!) secrets—itself is a doozy.

Here’s what I can tell you without saying too much:

Elspeth, a woman who died too young, left her London apartment to her twin nieces Valentina and Julia. Elspeth herself was a twin to the girls’ mother—and the older set of twins had some huge, secret falling-out about 20 years earlier. When Valentina and Julia move into the apartment, they meet Elspeth’s lover Richard, who falls in love with Valentina, somewhat against his will. And that’s when Elspeth reappears on the scene as a ghost.

OK, it just gets more complicated from there—in a good way, which made the book un-put-down-able.

One final note: When I was younger, I thought it would be really cool to be a twin. This book sure would cure a person of that thought.

Booking Through Thursday: Fantasy and Sci-Fi

Here’s the question from Booking Through Thursday:

“One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.

As she puts it:

So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?”

And here’s my answer:

Well, I’ve got a busy day on the 23rd, so I’m unlikely to do anything to celebrate SF and Fantasy Writers Day. Honestly! Who has the time?
(Case in point: Yesterday was the anniversary of the Watergate break-in, and all I did to celebrate/recognize it was to tell about 5 people, most of whom probably didn’t really give a flip. And maybe I thought to myself–just maybe–“A third-rate burglary, my butt,” and then chuckled meanly a wee little bit.)

But I digress… The question, before I got all snarky on it, was actually about science fiction and fantasy. And while I don’t think of myself as much of a science fiction and fantasy reader, I’m intrigued when I think about “my most favoritest books ever,” and the list always includes quite a few science fiction books. For example:

– A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
– The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
– Time and Again by Jack Finney
– Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
– The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
– The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
and all the simply lovely time travel books I’ve read.
So let’s just say I celebrated SF and Fantasy Writers Day a few days early…

Troubled Time Travel

Kindred by Octavia Butler

A time travel novel that reveals the horrors of slavery and the effects of living in constant fear and uncertainty. Dana, a black woman living in 1976, is suddenly tugged back in time to the early 1800s, where she rescues a young white boy named Rufus, who is destined to become Dana’s ancestor (and who is not the world’s greatest human being, to put it lightly). Repeatedly, Dana is called back in time whenever Rufus faces danger, and she can return to her life in the 1970s only when her own life is in danger. Dana’s husband Kevin, who is white, also travels back in time with her on one of her journeys, and the couple find themselves carrying out a strange and terrible façade of acting as slave and master. We know from the very beginning that Dana survives, but only after she suffers a severe injury. Nevertheless, there were several points in this book when I feared for her well-being. Butler (1947-2006) was a fabulous writer who fully deserved that MacArthur genius grant— and she was someone we lost too soon.

Pure Fantasy

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

So I say I’m not much of a fantasy reader, but this book is another one that I just have to recommend. Here’s the story in a nutshell: Imagine the heavy hitters of world mythology, disguised as ordinary humans, set loose with all their wonderful weirdness upon the American landscape. Throw in a young fellow just released from prison, and you’ve got yourself a fine little (big!) story. Gaiman is a master of storytelling, and he’s at the peak of his game here.

Women of the Future

Califia’s Daughters by Leigh Richards

Here’s a secret: Leigh Richards is actually Laurie R. King. This means Califia’s Daughters has got to be amazing. And it is. Imagine a future society, where women outnumber men 10 to 1 (due to a virus that nearly wipes out the male population). Dian, a warrior and leader of her people, undertakes a journey to meet with a secretive group that wishes to join forces with her community – only to discover some surprises. Technically, it’s science fiction, but the emphasis is on the (remarkable) characters and the challenges they face. If you enjoy this book, you may also want to pick up The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper.

Audiobook Convert

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Strangely enough, this enormous book was my audiobook conversion title. I was assigned to read the book for a genre study, read about 5 pages before setting it aside in dismay, and sought out the audio version to listen to during my commute. (Since it was bundled into 4 separate packages, little did I know that the entire book on tape was 36 cassettes long!) The story grabbed me almost from the start, and I was able to listen to the story without having my mind wander – for the first time ever with an audiobook. Remarkable. Davina Porter’s narration is a delight, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s retelling of the King Arthur story is masterful. The combo turned me into a devoted audiobook “reader.”