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.

1st book I read during my 1st read-a-thon

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
While reading this book, I was reminded of the way I felt when reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin for the first time. Let me tell you—from me, praise just don’t get much higher than that.
For the first time in a while, I’ve found a book I can see myself re-reading many times—I’d’ve felt this way for certain if I’d read this book as a child (which would require time travel of my own, since this book was published in 2009).
Miranda is a 12-year-old girl living in New York City with her mom, an under-employed paralegal who is preparing to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid (this book is set in the late 1970s).
Miranda finds herself involved in a weird plot in which she receives small notes containing mysterious messages. As the story progresses, she figures out that the messages are written by someone who has seen the future. (Time travel!) The book itself, told in Miranda’s voice, is written as a response to the person who leaves her the messages.
There’s all kinds of good stuff here: friendships that are in transition (oh, the pain of it when one is 12!), a parent who is a real person with her own interests and issues, references to the wonderful A Wrinkle in Time, and a cast of charming characters who would be interesting to know even if they weren’t embroiled in a thrilling time travel plot.
By the end of the book, I felt like I was just about to explode with joy.
This is a very good book. I rest my case.

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.