Latest ARC Reads: November 2017

This post offers quick reviews of the latest ARCs I've read. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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*Note: I received these books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

River Rising

Weeks after his parents disappear on a hike, engineer Adam Carson, 27, searches for answers. Then he discovers a secret web site and learns his mom and dad are time travelers stuck in the past. Armed with the information he needs to find them, Adam convinces his younger siblings to join him on a rescue mission to the 1880s.

While Greg, the adventurous middle brother, follows leads in the Wild West, Adam, journalist Natalie, and high school seniors Cody and Caitlin do the same in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Like the residents of the bustling steel community, all are unaware of a flood that will destroy the city on May 31, 1889.

River Rising is the first book in a new series by John Heldt (whose previous books I’ve reviewed herehere, here, here, here, and here). In this series, the Carson siblings must travel back in time to the 1880s in order to rescue their parents, who are stuck in the past.

If you’ve read any of Heldt’s previous books, you’ll have a good idea of the flavor of this book. There is plenty of romance and peril as the family tries to blend into their new surroundings and track down their missing parents.

The book feels slow to begin, and everyone falling in love gets a bit too sentimental for me. But I liked how both the siblings and their parents are portrayed as they travel through time to try to find each other, and I especially enjoyed the historical fiction elements (the flood in Johnstown and its aftermath was fascinating and heartbreaking). If you’re looking for a sweet, escapist romance with a bit of history tucked inside, you might enjoy this book.

Another One Bites the Crust

Champagne and ball gowns, fairy lights and music… Oxford summer balls are one of the highlights of the calendar and tearoom sleuth Gemma Rose is looking forward to taking a break and slipping into something gorgeous for the evening. But when the night ends with a celebrity chef murdered by his own whisk, Gemma finds herself plunged into a new mystery—and the nosy Old Biddies keen to help with the investigation!

But trouble is also brewing at her quaint Cotswolds tearoom: between fighting claims that she’s serving “fake” custard tarts and stopping her little tabby, Muesli, from being catnapped, Gemma has her hands full—and that’s before she has to fend off an amorous Italian. To top it all, her boyfriend Devlin’s mother is coming to visit and Gemma is anxious to make a good impression… although Mrs O’Connor isn’t quite what she expected!

I really liked this installment in the Oxford Tearoom series (you can see previous reviews here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Gemma finally meets Devlin’s mother, who is much different than Gemma expected her to be, and tries to solve the murder of a famous chef who was electrocuted before a show at Oxford. Plus, there’s a lot of cute Muesli, Gemma’s mischievous cat.

This latest book in the series gives readers more of Gemma and Devlin’s relationship, which I love. The characters in this series make the stories shine, and I love the times when we get to zoom in on specific relationships. And as always, the mystery is interesting and engaging without being gory or scary. A wonderful cozy mystery to spend an afternoon with.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier is the book that got me into meditation in the first place, so I was excited to find out that he had written a new book filled with practical tips for meditating. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics offers helpful, practical ideas that will help overcome the reluctance of those who want to get into meditation but aren’t into the more “woowoo” aspects. 

Dan wrote this book with the help of his friend, meditation teacher Jeff, as they toured the country in a bus and talked to widely varying groups about meditation. Everyone from former juvenile delinquents to the military to news and radio personalities gets a mention, so no matter what your hangups about meditation, the authors have advice for you. The book is also filled with short meditations that you can try out for yourself.

I enjoyed this book, and if you’re interested in meditation but don’t want to get all mystical about it, you should definitely pick it up.

Review Copy: Hannah’s Moon

Hannah's Moon is the final installment in John Heldt's time travel romance series. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.

After struggling for years to have a child, Claire Rasmussen, 34, turns to adoption, only to find new obstacles on the path to motherhood. Then she gets an unlikely phone call and soon learns that a distant uncle possesses the secrets of time travel.

Within weeks, Claire, husband Ron, and brother David find themselves on a train to Tennessee and 1945, where adoptable infants are plentiful and red tape is short. For a time, they find what they seek. Then a beautiful stranger enters their lives, the Navy calls, and a simple, straightforward mission becomes a race for survival. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Hannah’s Moon is the last installment in the American Journey series (you can view my reviews of the other books in this series here, here, here, and here). This story follows Claire and her husband as they struggle to get pregnant and then, failing that, to adopt. Of course, time travel and romance ensue.

The characters are the strong point in this book. Claire and Ron are sympathetic, of course, but I really enjoyed following David’s adventures in 1945 and the professor’s life in the present day. Without spoiling anything, I think the ending of this book provided a satisfying conclusion to the series.

On the negative side, I had some of the same issues with the writing as in previous books, and I wished the historical drama (in this case, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis) had occurred earlier in the book. I loved the historical aspect of books like September Sky, and I found myself wanting more in this book.

If you have enjoyed previous installments in this series, or if you like historical romances and don’t mind some superfluous descriptors, you will most likely enjoy Hannah’s Moon.

(On a side note, if you or someone you know are looking into adoption, I’d highly recommend the Fund Your Adoption boot camp. It offers a ton of information on fundraising, grants, loans, and much more related to paying for your adoption.)

ARC: Class of ’59

Class of '59 is the latest installment in the American Journey series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard.

In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice.

Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (you can see those reviews here, here, here, and here). This book is the fourth installment in his American Journey series, a time travel/romance series which brings couples together against the backdrop of famous times and places in America’s past.

Unlike earlier books in the series, Class of ’59 opens with the main characters discovering the time-traveling tunnel without the help (or knowledge) of the professor. Mark, a collegiate boy living in the late 50s, discovers an unbelievable story about time travel hidden in a desk in the new house his family moved into. When he tries it out, he finds himself transported to the same house almost sixty years into the future, where he meets Mary Beth and her sister. The two girls make the trip back to 1959 and experience the glory days of southern California, participating in school dances and meeting stars in Hollywood.

Of course, the two girls find themselves falling in love with Mark and his brother. The romances are sweet, if a little rushed. But after a few weeks of bliss, the four new friends find themselves in danger, and they have to quickly make choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Class of ’59 had a few of the same problems I encountered in the last book, namely the use of descriptors rather than names and some flowery sentiments (how many times do we need to be reminded that Mark views Mary Beth as “stunning” or “beautiful” or “never ceases to amaze” him?). Still, if you can get past those details and enjoy the romance and the historical setting, you might give this book a try. And if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Review Copy: Indiana Belle

Indiana Belle is the latest installment in John Heldt's time travel romance series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, INDIANA BELLE follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve read and reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (see the reviews here, here, and here), so I was excited to receive his latest book in the American Journey series, Indiana Belle. It’s full of romance, a bit of mystery, and, of course, time travel.

Cameron has very few ties in his present-day life, so when he gets the chance to go back in time and investigate the beautiful journalist who is a part of his doctoral dissertation, he jumps at it. When he meets Candice, the vivacious woman who captured his imagination through an old photo, he instantly falls in love and determines to do whatever it takes to save her from her tragic death–despite the warnings of Professor Bell.

The story is sweet, despite the bad case of insta-love that Cameron suffers from. You get a good feel for what the Roaring Twenties were like in small town Indiana, including everything from speakeasies to the KKK. Later in the book, Cameron takes a short trip to the future, which I found pretty fascinating (I’d love to find out more about it in later books!).

There were a couple of problems that I had with this book. The habit of using descriptors rather than names (the time traveler, the Rhode Islander, the society editor, the stodgy relative, etc.) gets a little annoying at times–I know the characters’ names, so why not use them? Also: *spoiler* I found the ending kind of unsatisfying–it celebrates Candice’s decision to quit the reporting job she had wanted the entire book to raise children and be a wife. Sure, this is probably the most historically accurate decision, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

On the whole, this is a sweet romance with the added benefit of an interesting backdrop and a little time travel, too. Check it out if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series–you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Review Copy: Mercer Street

Mercer Street is a fun but forgettable novel filled with romance, drama, and time travel. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of Mercer Street from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Weeks after her husband dies in the midst of an affair in 2016, Chicago writer Susan Peterson, 48, seeks solace on a California vacation with her mother Elizabeth and daughter Amanda. The novelist, however, finds more than she bargained for when she meets a professor who possesses the secret of time travel. Within days, the women travel to 1938 and Princeton, New Jersey. Elizabeth begins a friendship with her refugee parents and infant self, while Susan and Amanda fall for a widowed admiral and a German researcher with troubling ties. Filled with poignancy, heartbreak, and intrigue, MERCER STREET gives new meaning to courage, sacrifice, and commitment as it follows three strong-willed souls on the adventure of a lifetime. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I have read and reviewed a couple of Heldt’s books before, and they are always a pleasure to read. This book is the second in the series which began with September Sky, a book I really enjoyed. If you have read September Sky, some of the beginning, in which the professor explains how time travel works and guides his protegees in their adventure into the past, will be familiar to you. This is good news to brand new readers, though, because you don’t have to have read September Sky to understand and enjoy Mercer Street.

In this book, three generations of women who have recently experienced tragedy are taking a much-needed vacation when they come across the eccentric professor. They slowly begin to believe his incredible stories and decide to take the professor up on his offer to send them back in time. The women travel to New Jersey in the late 1930s, with war brewing across the ocean. As Elizabeth, Susan, and Amanda begin to settle into their new but temporary life in the 30s, they are each faced with difficult decisions about how their past will affect their futures.

I must admit that I did not enjoy this book as much as I did its predecessor. Although I love World War II fiction, I enjoyed the lesser-known events of the previous book in the series. I’m also not a huge fan of romance, which takes up a lot of space in this book. However, the characters were well-written and interesting, and as always, Heldt has a gift for making the reader feel present in whatever era his characters end up in.

If you’re a fan of time travel historical fiction and you don’t mind a bit of romance with your story, you will love this book! I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: September Sky

This time travel novel by John Heldt doesn't quite hold up to The Mine, but it's definitely enjoyable. #spon | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Note: I received a free galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When unemployed San Francisco reporter Chuck Townsend and his college-dropout son, Justin, take a cruise to Mexico in 2016, each hopes to rebuild a relationship after years of estrangement. But they find more than common ground aboard the ship. They meet a mysterious lecturer who touts the possibilities of time travel. Within days, Chuck and Justin find themselves in 1900, riding a train to Texas, intent on preventing a distant uncle from being hanged for a crime he did not commit. Their quick trip to Galveston, however, becomes long and complicated when they wrangle with business rivals and fall for two beautiful librarians on the eve of a hurricane that will destroy the city. Filled with humor, history, romance, and heartbreak, SEPTEMBER SKY follows two directionless souls on the adventure of a lifetime as they try to make peace with the past, find new purpose, and grapple with the knowledge of things to come. (Summary via Amazon.com)

This book is another time travel novel by John Heldt (author of The Mine, which I really enjoyed).  It follows Chuck and his son, Justin, who have been newly reunited after years of very little contact.  I found the set up is a bit poorly put together.  Whereas in The Mine time travel takes place because of the alignment of the stars and the main character’s entry into a mine at just the right moment, time travel in this novel takes place because of a stone passageway and white and blue crystals and a professor who sends Chuck and Justin into the past for no real reason.

Fortunately, after a rough beginning, the story picks up.  Justin and Chuck time travel back to Galveston in 1900, just before the big hurricane.  Chuck and Justin make their way there to solve a murder and save a good family friend from being executed wrongly for it.  While there, they struggle with how much of their future knowledge to share in order to save their new friends from the hurricane–and each man also struggles with a growing love for a certain lady in the town.

I have to say, when the storm finally hits, it is so exciting!  It’s just the opposite of the beginning–I couldn’t stop reading, and I found myself truly concerned for each of the characters.  The romances were sweet, if a little rushed (Chuck and Justin are only there for a few short months).

The ending made me cringe a little, but that’s just personal preference (I’d tell you why, but spoilers).  It looks like this is set to be the first in a series, and I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more from this series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

P.S.  Looking for more time travel books?  I’ve got you covered: To Say Nothing of the Dog, Time Switch, Pool of Echoes.

Review Copy: The Mine

Note: I received a digital copy of The Mine from the author for review consideration.

Book Review: The Mine by Newbery and Beyond #spon | Pretty Darn Good
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Time travel historical fiction!  I love it.  Of course, there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, and next week I’ll be posting another time travel historical fiction review.  There’s just something about the juxtaposition of old and new, history and future, that captivates me.  So, on to the story!

Here is the summary, sent to me by the author:

In May 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can’t use, money he can’t spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of swing dancing and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.

Joel is a likable guy, despite his cockiness, and he does what he can to help his newfound friends.  He struggles with making decisions to either protect his new friends or to allow history to run its course.  These choices are made more difficult by the fact that Joel is interfering in his own grandmother’s life, when he knows very well that her first fiance was killed while serving in WWII.  When Joel falls in love with a beautiful college girl named Grace, he starts to feel like he might be able to create a new life in his new time period.  He becomes a fantastic furniture salesman, and he uses his knowledge of sports history to make a lot of money betting on the outcome of games.  But when he finds out that he might be able to return to the future, Joel has to make some hard decisions.  And I must say, I was so happy with the ending of this book!  (But some will probably think it wraps things up too neatly.)

As with the other time travel historical fiction books I’ve been reading lately, The Mine doesn’t focus so much on the mechanics of time travel (it has something to do with the planets aligning), but focuses more on the history of the time period in which the time traveler arrives.  As this takes place in the summer of 1942, right before the events of Pearl Harbor occur, things are uneasy at best, but as our protagonists are college students, they still make time to see movies, go to baseball games, take weekend trips to the mountains, and fall in love.  Joel’s new friends (or really, his grandmother’s friends) are caring and open, reflective of a simpler time, but we and Joel know that that simplicity will soon be gone, that the guy who took Joel in and helped him get a job will soon be drafted; that the Japanese girl will soon be a victim to anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States; that Joel’s grandmother will soon go through the loss of her fiance.  Joel has to struggle with the morals of letting his friends suffer and even die versus intervening in the course of history and possibly causing huge changes in his own future.  I really enjoyed that.  There was just enough romance, just enough history, and just enough struggle to keep things interesting but enjoyable.  Definitely recommended!

(And be sure to check back next week if you’re interested in another time travel historical fiction book that deals with some of these same decisions, but for kids!)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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