The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
Medieval Italy comes to life in this debut historical novel about a neurosurgeon who time travels. Beautifully detailed descriptions of the people, places, and food of modern and 14th century Siena add appeal to a moving story about love, loss, and the Plague. Beatrice Trovato keeps meaning to visit her brother Ben, a historian, in Siena, but is too busy working as a neurosurgeon. Looking at her brother’s research about the history of Siena, exploring the city and its art, she travels back in time to 1347, the year before the Plague will arrive in Siena. Amazingly, she finds work as a scribe, and also meets widowed fresco painter Gabriele Accorsi, who’s a witness to a killing by one of the early Medicis. Beatrice, trying to figure out how to get home before the plague, falls in love with Gabriele and Siena. Readers who can accept the idea of time travel and some unlikely coincidences will be enchanted.
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
An absorbing first novel, in which Lord Nick Falcott, who is about to die in the battle of Salamanca in Spain in 1812, wakes up in a London hospital in 2003. The Guild have found him, and will spend a year acclimating him to the 21st century, then give him a pension and assign him a country. Time travelers can never return to their home country or time period. However, after enjoying life for several years in New England, Nick is summoned by the Guild, and sent back to his estate in England three years after he was declared dead, in order to help find a Guild enemy who is manipulating time nearby at Castle Dar. In 1815, Julia Percy’s grandfather is dying, and Castle Dar will be inherited by her cousin Eamon. Julia learns that she can freeze time and travels to London to stay with Nick’s sisters and mother. Nick and Julia are attracted to each other, but the Guild has other plans for Nick. Full of adventure, intrigue, romance, and rich in historical detail, the author leaves open the possibility of a sequel. This debut is a good readalike for A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, and the regency romance novels with a military focus by Carla Kelly.
Into the Dim by Janet Taylor
After her mother’s funeral, teen Hope Walton reluctantly travels to Scotland to meet her aunt. She learns that her mother is alive, but is trapped in London in 1154. Homeschooled Hope can remember everything she reads, is claustrophobic, and has recurrent nightmares. Only the memory skills are helpful when she travels back in time to the coronation of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II with her cousin and her new friend Phoebe. Caught up in the drama and intrigue of London and the Court, Hope’s cousin gets arrested and Hope encounters Bran, a handsome teen she met in Scotland. Is Bran going to help Hope and Phoebe, or is he one of her family’s enemies? Fearful Hope is an unexpected heroine, but pretty good company in this first novel full of drama, adventure, fights, and some romance. The historical London setting is vividly drawn, and readers will look forward to Hope’s next time travel adventure. Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy is a good readalike.
Historical fiction readers may enjoy this two-volume novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. I read it five years ago, and enjoyed rereading it almost as much. Three time-traveling historians visit Great Britain during World War II from Oxford in the 2060s. Eileen is in a country house, observing children evacuated from London during the Blitz, and has her hands full with anxious Theodore and mischievous siblings Alf and Binnie Hodbin. A measles epidemic keeps her from returning to Oxford as scheduled. In London, Polly is assigned to observe Londoners during daily life and in shelters during air raids by finding a job at a department store. When she tries to report back to Oxford, nothing happens. Mike Davies, with an American accent, is supposed to be a reporter in Dover covering the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk. He arrives in a small town down the coast and has great difficulty getting to Dover. Unexpectedly, Mike gets caught up in the action and helps save the life of a soldier who goes on to rescue hundreds more. He also suffers an injury that would be easily treated in his own time. Eileen and Mike make their way to London to find Polly, and the trio is concerned that their actions might have affected the war’s outcome or that something has happened in future Oxford to prevent their returning home. Two other historians are working hard to retrieve them, with unexpected consequences. The pacing is fast and the tension level is high, but there are plenty of lighter moments. The real highlight of this novel is the spotlight on daily life on the home front in Great Britain during World War II. Long, but definitely worthwhile, with characters I really cared about.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
This is the final book in a trilogy featuring time traveling witch and historian Diana Bishop and powerful vampire Matthew Clairmont, a scientist. The first book is Discovery of Witches. In this book, Diana and Matthew are living in the present, after living in the Elizabethan era for a while. Diana is seeking a lost manuscript with clues to the origins of witches, vampires, and demons, while Matthew is working with scientists and graduate students on DNA research. Vampire Benjamin, the main villain of the trilogy, along with witch Peter Knox, turns up again, and pregnant Diana can’t go anywhere without her personal bodyguard, who is hopelessly in love with her. Much family and organizational politics in this novel, but very well done. There is lots of action, but I think the author really excels in domestic scenes, describing the homes and mansions where the Bishop-Clairmonts live, and some memorable family dinners. Diana’s powers as a witch with unusual powers increase, even as she must become the family’s diplomat.
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
Book eight in the Outlander series is over 800 pages long. I didn’t really mind, because it’s been five years since the previous book, Echo in the Bone, was published, and I needed a while to catch up on the storylines and characters. Much of the book is set in and around Philadelphia in 1778. No one wants to be in the war, but Jamie Fraser is asked by George Washington to be a colonel. Lord John Grey might lose the sight in one eye after Jamie punches him, or he might be arrested as a spy. Jamie’s wife Claire, a time traveler from the mid 20th century, is practicing medicine with 18th century supplies. Jamie’s nephew Ian, part Scot and part Mohawk, is in love with Quaker Rachel, whose brother, a physician, loves John Grey’s niece. Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna is in Scotland with her family in 1980, until son Jem goes missing and her husband Roger MacKenzie travels back in time and meets Jamie’s father, and his own. Another family connection, William, rescues Jane and her little sister Fanny from a brothel. Most of the storylines end up with Jamie and family back in North Carolina, rebuilding their family home. At least one more book is planned. Adventure, romance, history, and time travel continue to enliven this series, which began with Outlander, soon to be a television series.
11/22/63, by Stephen King
If you’re intrigued by time travel, mysteries, romance, and alternate histories, then 11/22/63 is the book for you. Although this book is anything but a short story, you’ll find yourself unable to put it down until the last page. I found it to be one of his best works to date and proof that King continues to be a great storyteller.
The story begins in 2011, when Jake Epping, an English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, reads an essay from one of his students, Harry Dunning. It’s about the time decades earlier when his father killed his family and injured Harry.
As the story progresses, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, describes how he has discovered a time portal to 1958 in his storeroom. Al has been traveling back in time regularly to buy inexpensive hamburger for his diner and plot Lee Harvey Oswald’s whereabouts. He is planning to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy when he is diagnosed with lung cancer.
Al eventually persuades Jake to take his place as the time traveler who will stop Oswald from assassinating Kennedy. This is where the story really begins because saving Kennedy is only one of the book’s interconnected storylines. Jake’s first test is to go back in time to save Harry Dunning’s family from being murdered. Jake goes through the portal to 11:58 a.m., Sept. 9, 1958 – the portal always drops a person at this exact time and date. After partially succeeding in his mission and learning from his time travelling mistakes, he returns to the present, then goes back to try to save Kennedy. He must live several years in the past, until Nov. 22, 1963 when he can attempt to save the President. Jake becomes George Amberson (an identity provided to him by Al), moves to Jodi, Texas, teaches high school, falls in love, and tracks down Oswald.
There are numerous questions that you will have to read the book to have answered. Will Jake prevent Kennedy’s assassination? If so, how will it change the course of history? Will Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. be imperiled? What about the Race Riots and Vietnam? How will Jake’s personal life be affected by his stepping back into history?
Throughout the book Jake learns that the past and the future are connected in some very unexpected ways … and changing the past is not always as easy as you’d think.