Review – 11/22/63

11/22/63

By Stephen King

Scribner

eISBN: 9781451627282

4.75 stars

Yes, Stephen King, the man who writes the scariest characters on earth, wrote a time travel book.

Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher, lives a quiet life in a small Maine town. His divorce has left him despondent about life in general but he trudges on day after day. One of those days, he’s approached by a friend, Al Templeton, a local restaurant owner who says he has something to show him. Jake meets Al at his restaurant and is surprised to see his friend in the last stages of cancer and struggles to understand when all this happened. Unfortunately, he ends up with more questions than answers when Al shows him the time portal in the back closet of his restaurant. Jake is skeptical but goes through. Al then ropes him into his scheme — he wants Jake to go back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald and save John F. Kennedy.

Oh, the tale Mr. King weaves. This book feels part science fiction, part alternate reality, part fantasy. But what it really is is all wonderful. There was a time when King was a comfort read for me. That might sound strange considering he’s known more for horror but I read Carrie, Christine, Salem’s Lot, The Running Man, and The Long Walk over and over again. Each time amazed by the tension, the twists and turns, and I loved being scared by him. Eventually, I moved away from his books, not for lack of books (the man is more than prolific) but because there were other books that caught my attention. Admittedly, I probably burned myself out. A few years ago, I asked a colleague’s husband if I could borrow one of his King books. It was Duma Key and I was once again left wondering why I didn’t read more King.

When 11/22/63 came out everyone fell hard for it. I decided to wait. I wanted to read it but I tend to shy away from bestsellers and give myself space from all the wonderful reviews. And there were many wonderful reviews of this one. Then Twitter happened. Natalie over at Coffee and a Book Chick was talking about how she loved it. I asked if it was really worth it (the answer was a resounding YES) and then decided that since I needed a book for my Thanksgiving travels, I would buy it. What can I say — it was fabulous.

There’s nothing particularly scary about this book, so if you’re judging on that level, walk away. In some respects, that made it feel like I wasn’t reading a King book but I was OK with that outcome because the characters are amazing. I cared so much about what would happen to them and I came very close to tears at the end. I didn’t want it to end.

It was a rush of a story too. While it’s slow in the middle and you start wondering what if anything Jake is going to do about Oswald, you’re too caught up in his alternate life to care. It’s the life he was looking for and you’re so glad to see him finally find it that you start hoping that he won’t go through with it so he can continue with what he found.

This was a book I fell for hard. It also made me thankful that King is an author with many tomes to his name. While I can’t recreate this reading, I can revel in his other books.

Believe the hype on this one. It is that good.

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Review – To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog

By Connie Willis

A Bantam Spectra Book

ISBN: 978-0-553-57538-5

4.75 stars

I kept seeing this book around but never picked it up.  Then when I was looking for new science fiction with a time travel element, this once again surfaced.  Figuring the universe was trying to tell me something, I added it to the queue list hoping beyond hope the universe’s plan would yield some good reading.

Ned Henry is a time traveler on a mission.  He is on a mission to find the bishop’s bird stump which went missing when the Coventry Cathedral in England was bombed during World War II.  The cathedral which is being rebuilt in Ned’s time frame needs the bird stump, which probably ranks among some of the most hideous art known to man, to be authentic at least according to the woman who has taken charge of the time travel unit and decided that in rebuilding the cathedral, everything must be perfect. Overcome with time lag due to too many missions, Ned is sent back to Victorian England to recover but what he doesn’t know is that as part of his supposed rest, he’s actually helping to fix a time conundrum which was created when a cat was unexpectedly saved by another time traveler named Verity Kindle.

One thing I don’t normally associate with science fiction is humor.  Yes, science fiction much like any other genre has its funny and amusing moments but personally, I found To Say Nothing of the Dog to be downright funny in places which made me love this book more and more as I approached the last page.  A large portion of this book takes place on a river in a small boat full of luggage — Ned has luggage but being time lagged doesn’t actually know what’s in it but it’s important to know about the luggage.  Also on the boat is a man who is on a mission to find his true love accompanied by his bulldog named Cyril, and a professor who waxes poetic about the grand design of the universe and keeps fish specimens in a kettle.  It’s an odd combination but something about it works so very well.  The entire time this little river jaunt takes place, Ned is so tired nothing seems out of the ordinary at all.  When he ends up in the same place as a woman he momentarily fell in love with when he was back in his own time for a few minutes, he starts to wonder about the grand design the professor keeps going on about and whether or not it might have some merit.

There’s a lot of time jumping here but somehow it never really becomes confusing mostly because the books starts out that way so your expectations for this are set high and it’s a story about time travel so nothing seems odd.  I loved the way Willis worked animals into the story.  I have a soft spot for furry creatures in books and both the dog and the cat are interesting characters in and of themselves.  Ned’s interactions with both (dogs and cats are extinct in his time period) are amusing and slightly heartwarming especially if you’re not a cat person.  The story which is focused on an ugly flower holder (if you read the description you wouldn’t be able to call it a vase either) is rather amusing in the twists and turns it takes to find it in the end mirroring a Victorian mystery novel.  Again, you need to read it to get that reference.  🙂

Willis is now on my list of authors I will be reading again and probably very shortly since I enjoyed this one so much.  If you’re looking for a fun read I recommend this one.

Today’s Book – To Say Nothing of the Dog

It’s been a few years since I’ve read science fiction and I don’t know why that is since it’s something I enjoy.  Historical fiction has become a large part of my reading the last few years and, sadly, it got pushed out.  This year I’m trying to read more of it and if the books are half as good as Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, it’s going to be a good science fiction reading year.  It’s funny, the time travel element has consequences, and the story is just all around entertaining.  Taking place in Victorian England with the main characters running back to the future to make sure their actions haven’t caused any major catastrophes makes for an amusing and silly book that I’m falling for.   I’ve heard good things about Willis, and this book in particular, and I can say it’s living up to those starred reviews.

Teaser Tuesdays – To Say Nothing of the Dog

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

I’m reading To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and for a science fiction book it’s surprisingly funny.

“Yes,” he said. “I always thought it made a better shopping center than a cathedral.  Mid-Twentieth Century architecture was nearly as bad as Victorian…” (pg. 42)