Review of The Memory Tree (Carson Chronicles Book 2) by John A. Heldt

memorytreeThe Memory Tree is the second in the Carson Chronicles series, immediately following the events of the first book, River Rising. Please read my review of the first book here.

In book two of the five-part series (books three through five still to be released), we follow the Carson family from 1889 to 1918. The five Carson children, all young adults, pass through the portal in Sedona, Arizona, on the summer solstice, following their missing time-traveling parents’ schedule. Since the Carson children were unsuccessful in locating their parents in 1888-89, they must continue their journey in 1918.

The riveting story is told from different character points of view (third person limited) in each chapter. The oldest of the clan, Adam, is 28 and is happily married to his Irish bride, Bridget, who he met at a hotel in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888. They settle in the Duluth, Minnesota, area, where the whole family at first congregates at the beginning of the novel when they strategize their next moves. The Carsons have ancestors in several areas of the country, one of which is Duluth, and knowing that Tim and Caroline, the parents, intend to visit several of their relatives while in 1918, the kids decide their best option would be to split up in those different locations and try to intercept them. Adam and Bridget wind up moving into a remote cabin next to one of their ancestors. Life seems peaceful for them with good news on the horizon, but then all that is rocked.

Greg, age 26, the next oldest, is the adventurer in the family. He agrees to travel to Baja California. He has to illegally cross the Mexico border. He is already a wanted man from a shootout 29 years earlier, and once in Tijuana, his troubles don’t lift. He meets vivacious, gun-toting Patricia O’Rourke while there, but he once again finds himself caught up with the law and on the run.

Natalie, age 24, is the oldest sister, and is the independent, ambitious journalist of the family. She takes a job with the Minneapolis Post after being selected for her impressive job of interviewing a World War I soldier. She is given the opportunity to go to France to be on the frontlines to interview soldiers directly in combat, and she takes the trip, meeting dashing Lieutenant Tom Jackson among the injured soldiers in France. Despite the war drawing to a close, the horrors of battle are never far and have devastating consequences for some of the men Natalie has come to know and love.

Twins Cody and Caitlin, age 18, travel to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they meet up with their friend (and Cody’s first love) Emma Bauer Jackson from 1888. Emma is overjoyed to see them and is let in on the Carsons’ time-traveling secret. They meet an ancestor, but so far, there is no sign of their parents passing through Pennsylvania.

Tim and Caroline spend much of their time with Caroline’s ancestors in Mexico and come to learn of Greg being close by. They begin traveling throughout the United States, just on the tails of their children. They leave a message in several newspapers in the ad section that they will meet them in Sedona on December 22, and while the kids see this note, Tim and Caroline are unaware if their children ever see it.

The book is a huge journey of several paths crossing and dividing, of the importance of friends and family, of loss due to war, illness, and natural disaster, and of a family trying to overcome the challenges they face to find each other against the odds. John A. Heldt tells a masterful tale that is carefully researched for historical accuracy, with regards to events, places, and period details. His characters are engaging, heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and the type of people you would want in your family. He always brings the narrative back to the importance of staying together as a family, of the love and hope that keep humanity persevering.

It was a pleasure to read this historical fiction book about time travel and family. I look forward to reading and reviewing the next one.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase The Memory Tree on Amazon.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST THE OCCASIONAL BOOK REVIEW AND A NEW BLOG POST GOES UP THE LAST FRIDAY OF THE MONTH. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for pre-order here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

 

Review of Dante’s Garden: Mystery and Magic in Bomarzo by Teresa Culter-Broyles

dantesgardenSummary: Dante’s Garden is the story of what happens when Frank Farnese, a book collector from 2017, falls through Hell’s Mouth, a strange sculpture in Bomarzo, Italy.

In 1570, Lucrezia Romano and famed antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio welcome him when he awakens in a garden, from what he thinks is a dream but isn’t. Together they must figure out how to put the world right again.

The Inquisition, an extraordinary visit to Venice, and the dreams of Duke Francesco Orsini entwine to pull them all deeper into adventure, danger, love, and the hardest decisions of their lives.

Dante’s Garden weaves fact and fiction, history and imagination, to tell the story of Frank and Lucrezia, and the connection that, finally, may not be strong enough to hold them safe as time splits apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As a lover of Italy and history, I was looking forward to reading this book. The moment I began reading, the author’s imagination and intense knowledge of Italian culture and heritage mingled to form a beautiful tapestry of a tale.

In current-day, book collector Frank Farnese boards a plane in New York and travels to Italy to meet Pasquale and Sandra Ciacionne, who have a 16th century Aldine Press copy of Dante’s La Commedia. The book is old but defective, due to two upside-down pages at the back, a burn mark, and a note left in the front…a note that seems like it was written to Frank.

In 16th century Italy, a young and beautiful, well-read lady named Lucrezia Romano has dreams of adventure. She meets the antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio (based on the real Ligorio), and they become instant friends. He travels to the Duke Vicino Orsini’s palazzo to work on his garden of grotesques and stone monsters and invites Lucrezia and her parents along. Lucrezia will be Ligorio’s model for a statue of Ceres.

Meanwhile, in current-day Italy, Frank visits the Garden of Monsters (the Duke’s garden from the 16th century and a real place). He has the copy of Dante with him as he tours the garden alone and it grows dark. A thunderstorm ensues, and he takes cover in one of the sculptures, the Mouth of Hell, but not before seeing the statue of Ceres. He is drawn to the statue’s face in particular.

In the 16th century, the Duke has a ball. The party guests are in costume and are mingling in the gardens. Lucrezia is among them. A thunderstorm breaks out.

After the storm ends, Frank emerges from the Mouth of Hell, only to find himself surrounded by what he thinks are reenactors. He is imprisoned by the Duke for questioning, as it’s strange that a man just seemed to appear out of nowhere during the storm, while all the guests were taking cover.

Frank is confused and grows angry, as he thinks these reenactors are having him on. In time, however, he understands that he has traveled through time. Vicino, Ligorio, and Lucrezia are among the small group who believe that Frank (Francesco as they call him) is from the future.

Besides Frank’s sudden appearance, other strange things start happening in the garden. Statues seem to be moving. Glowing letters appear at the entrance of the Mouth of Hell at night, saying, “Abandon all thought, you who enter here,” echoing the warning in Dante’s writing.

A story of adventure and love ensues as Lucrezia, Frank, Ligorio, and Lucrezia’s father travel to Venice to visit the Aldine Press to procure another copy of the Dante, which they think is Frank’s ticket back to the future. There is also real concern that word of what’s going on in the garden will get back to the Church, and Vicino, Frank, and Ligorio will be questioned and possibility burn for it.

The relationship between Frank and Lucrezia develops as they travel together. One of my favorite parts of the story was when they were in Venice and were in love in what many consider is the most beautiful city in the world. There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, which echoes a couple torn by circumstance who is in love and just living in the moment. Having visited Venice, I can attest to the fact that you can’t take a bad picture there. I felt like I was right there with Frank and Lucrezia. While I longed for them to somehow find a way to stay together, the larger problem of the Church and the happenings in the garden tugged at my heart, knowing this would be a heart-wrenching decision.

Back at the palazzo, the Duke makes some startling discoveries about his late wife and blood magic. The Church begins to question him and others, and it’s a race to see how everything will pan out.

The more I read the book, the more the momentum grew. The climax is indeed a strong one. The ending made me cry, brought me right there with Frank and Lucrezia. More than the mystical and magical aspects of this wonderful tale is that it’s a love story at heart, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Dante’s Garden: Magic & Mystery in Bomarzo on Amazon

(I receive a small commission on any purchases made through this affiliate link.)

 

 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post book reviews, poetry, excerpts from my books, updates on my writing projects, and the occasional blog. 

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt

riverrisingSummary: 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.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Being a fan of time travel and historical fiction, this novel piqued my interest when the author approached me to ask if I would read and review it.  Adam Carson, the oldest of the Carson siblings, acts as the leader in his parents’ absence.  His younger siblings include Greg (a history teacher), Natalie (a journalist), and twins Cody and Caitlin (still in high school).  Upon receiving news that his parents’ mysterious disappearance a few months earlier was because they went through a time vortex in Sedona, Arizona, Adam decides he and his siblings need to go back in time to find them.

Early on in the book, most of the chapters are devoted to Adam.  Although the narrative is third person, the chapters switch focus on which sibling is in the center of the action.  Adam seems to be making all of the decisions, and his siblings don’t seem to have much in way of voices of their own at first.  The exception to this is his sister, Natalie, who gets her own chapter early on.  She finds her boyfriend cheating on her, and it makes the decision to leave life in 2017 to go to 1888 that much easier.

I would argue that all of the siblings pretty much collectively make this decision too easily.  It’s not that I wouldn’t expect them to want to find their parents, but I would have liked to have seen more character development early on for each of the characters.  It would be a lot to ask anyone to leave everything they know and travel to another time.  The fear of something happening during the unknown process of time traveling or the risks of trying to live in the past are very real fears, not to mention the possibility that the mission might fail.  Adam and his siblings are pretty clueless on how these time vortices work, except that they are active on the equinoxes and the solstices.  I am glad they took the chance to find their parents and do the noble thing, but I would have liked to have seen more struggle with the decision.

The author does a good job of researching the time period.  He gives nice references to Mark Twain, to the technology of the time, and the social conventions.  It is obvious that he researched the 1880s well when writing this novel.

The true excitement for this story begins upon their arrival in 1888.  When they step out of the vortex, they aren’t in Sedona anymore (or Kansas for that matter–ha, ha), but rather in rural Pennsylvania.  They make their way to the nearest town of Johnstown, and after talking with the hotel clerk, find out that their parents just passed through the town.

The Carsons arrive on December 21, 1888 and decide to stay until at least March 20, 1889, when the equinox will be. Greg is sent out west to explore Arizona and California, because a jeweler in Johnstown tells them that the older Carsons told him they would be traveling in that direction. The rest of the siblings remain in Johnstown.

Natalie meets young and handsome reporter Sam Prentiss, who works for the local paper.  She gets a job as a columnist there, also in hopes of getting connections to finding out information on her parents. She knows they met with Mark Twain, so she procures an interview with the man himself.  In the midst of all this, she develops feelings for the wealthy Sam, finding her heart torn between falling in love and knowing she will have to leave in a few short weeks.

The twins attend high school.  Cody quickly falls for pretty Emma, and Caitlin is wrapped up in learning as much as she can about the times.

Adam has his own love interest, the clerk at the hotel where they are staying: Bridget O’Malley. He keeps tabs on the rest of his siblings and on gaining information on his parents.

Greg’s story seems to be the most exciting.  Once in Arizona, he meets up with Clayton Kane, a man who is on the run, although Greg doesn’t know it.  A shootout ensues when traveling with him in the desert!  He has the luck of getting information on his parents’ whereabouts by talking with a local merchant.  Greg manages to make it to San Francisco, where he explores the theatres, as his parents are lovers of the arts and would have likely visited the theatres while in town.  He develops his own love interest with Julia Jamison, an older widow who is an actress.  Little does he know he just crossed paths with his parents, Tim and Caroline Carson, while eating in a restaurant one night!

There are many facts thrown in about the times, such as Groundhog’s Day and Benjamin Harrison becoming President.  Details on what buildings were in San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake, what sorts of guns were used in the Wild West, and the fare that was eaten during the time period are nice touches.  The author does a great job with setting.

Despite my earlier concern about character development, I believe Mr. Heldt more than makes up for that as the novel progresses.  This is a long book at over 600 pages, so patience is a virtue when reading.  The divided nature of every character caught with connecting to the 1880s and returning to their own time is believable and understandable for anyone caught in such a plight.  Even if time travel isn’t possible, we can all relate to having to make a tough decision of staying or leaving when we are invested in both places.  I like the subtle romance of a time when public displays of affection were frowned upon, when people were much more formal, despite the tugging of their heartstrings.  

The biggest worry the characters have is whether or not they will actually get to their parents in time, before Tim and Caroline Carson step through another portal to another time (as they have done in the past–this trip wasn’t their first).  The Carson siblings may very well lose their parents forever is that happens.

So, the question hangs: will they succeed or not?  The story only escalates from what I’ve shared so far, but sharing too much would ruin the beauty of this time-travel tale of love, heartache, shootouts, and survival.

4 and of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “From Gurley to Goodwin Street and beyond, he saw saloons, restaurants, and breweries and more false fronts than on the set of a Spaghetti Western. Most were as tightly packed as book on a library shelf, as unique as fingerprints, and as appealing as cancan dancers on a Saturday night.”

Buy River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) on Amazon

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.