11/22/63 by Stephen King

What if you could go back in time, what would you change?   Stephen King adds clever twists to the well-worn theme of time travel in 11/22/63 – but it takes a long time to get to the end – almost 900 pages.

Jake Epping, a burned out thirty-five year old English teacher in Maine, finds a portal to the past in the back of a diner scheduled to be demolished and replaced by an L.L. Bean, and decides to change history – specifically the day JFK was shot.  But no matter how long he stays in this parallel world, the portal always delivers him back to the same place and time he left, September 9, 1958.  The caveat: each visit rewinds when he goes through the portal again, so whenever he time travels, everything he did during his last visit is erased; his next trip is always the first time.  King warns “the past doesn’t want to be changed.

Stephen King’s talent for drawing a seemingly normal scene, with strange characters that are just a little off, and a plot that continues to change and surprise – sometimes terrifyingly – works well with the possibility that the world could be a better place, if only some painful history could be erased.  Although this is Stephen King, don’t expect the horrors along with the casual innuendo –  this tale is full of suspense and history and as strange as he usually writes, but not full of the usual terror.

Jake’s appreciation of the food and the life style of the era will have you yearning for a root bear and real cream in your coffee.

“…the air smelled incredibly sweet…Food tasted good; milk was delivered directly to your door.  After a period of withdrawal from my computer, {I realized} just how addicted …I’d become, spending hours reading stupid email attachments and visiting websites…”

While King plays with the familiar history, he adds the humanity that keeps the story suspenseful.  On a trial run to change the local janitor’s past, Jake tests his capabilities, armed with the knowledge of the brutality that is about to happen in the janitor’s past.  When he returns to the diner, he finds he has changed history but the “butterfly effect” created consequences.

Jake’s investigation follows Lee Harvey Oswald, but Jake’s love affair in the past with a beautiful dark-haired librarian with her own secrets, and his increased connection to people and places as they morph into an eerie combination of both worlds, will keep you reading.

How does it turn out?  Does he make a difference – change history?  Could he return to 1958, now changed with the new life he’s invented?  Throughout, time is the enemy and the controller; in the end, King has not only decided the mystery behind the assassination (as he invents it), but also offers a thoughtful treatise on life, love, and relativity.  I won’t spoil the journey by telling you the details, but the ending is both romantic and jarring.

At times, the descriptions and narrative are overdone, and King could have told the story in a shorter volume.  The book seemed to go on and on, but I got to a point of no return and could not stop; the key action is riveting and makes up for some of King’s meandering.  Though not a fan of Stephen King, I ploughed through this thick tome, and was not disappointed – suspenseful and provocative – with a good story and even better hypothesis on fate and time.

Don’t we all secretly know…{the world} is a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life…a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

Backseat Saints

I was taken in by the cover – curvy young woman in a red dress holding a long black braid in her hand.  I was taken in by the book flap – mother runs away; daughter follows. I was taken in by the sweet Southern references.  I was deceived.  This was not the light summer read I had expected.  Joshilyn Jackson exposes abuse and all its consequences on personal and family lives in Backseat Saints, and left me feeling a little raw after reading it.

After her mother leaves, when Rose was eight years old, Rose becomes the substitute target for her father’s beatings.  She grows up feisty, able to shoot a gun, and looking for love in all the wrong places.  After running away at eighteen, and suffering through a series of bad men, she marries Thom, a jealous Texan, who continues the battering and mental abuse she has come to expect.

Jackson exposes the secret side of abuse through the mental negotiations that Rose has with herself – her sweet submissive Southern belle vs. her tough Alabama street-wise handler.  The saints offer another perspective.  Growing up Catholic, Rose has a litany of saints connected to various missions: pray to St. Bartholomew for sports, St. Rita for marriage, St. Roch for dogs  – a saint for every challenge.  The saints, though not very effective, appear beside her in moments of extreme stress to offer support.

After a dire warning from a gypsy in an airport terminal, Rose decides to kill her husband.  She shoots her dog by mistake instead; he survives  – sad but the strange comic relief that Jackson offers throughout the story.  Rose’s wry comments and her quick wit sprinkle the horror.  Eventually, after an almost fatal beating that lands her in the hospital, Rose plans her escape.

But running away from an abusive, vindictive husband is not easy, and Jackson focuses on abused women’s lack of money and means to get away as well as the vacillating emotions that draw them back again and again.  Even the saints can’t help Rose, and all seems lost – until she decides to find her mother.

Rose’s pilgrimage for peace has her looking for her high school boyfriend and her father in a desperate attempt for protection from her husband.  When she is reunited with her mother, it would seem a relief, but Jackson has more to say – this time on mother/daughter relationships.

The ending is a surprise, so I will not spoil it for you.  I read Backseat Saints quickly, happy to get to the end.  One of those books that’s good for you to read; my rating ✓✓✓.
But now I really need some summer fluff to read.

Rating System:

  • ✓✓✓✓✓ -Don’t miss it!  Hope you like it as much as I did.

  • ✓✓✓✓ – You should read it (my opinion anyway)
  • ✓✓✓ – Worth a try – at least to the first 50 pages

  • ✓✓ –  You might need some chocolate to get you through

  • – Watch TV instead

The Confession – John Grisham

A prisoner’s mantra is always – “I didn’t do it.”   In the case of Donté Drumm, a young black man on death row, convicted of  killing a fellow high school classmate, it’s true – he didn’t do it.  In The Confession, John Grisham had me from the beginning, and I read straight through to the end.

It’s days before the execution and the real killer, Travis Boyette, a psychopathic killer, dying of a brain tumor, but reluctant to reveal the truth, seeks out a Lutheran minister to confess.

As Grisham neatly stereotypes the players – both villains and heroes – it was like watching episodes on a really good made-for-TV murder mystery.  I cringed when the bad guys were ahead, and cheered when Kevin, the Pastor, and Robbie Flak, Drumm’s attorney, scored.

Throughout the narrative, Grisham’s opinion on the death penalty is clear.  The bumbling authorities, the greed for death-by-injection at any cost, the blatant ignorance, and criminal denial of due process – all to insure that someone pays for a crime – no matter who.  DNA enters as a new tool for identification, but it’s people seeking the truth, not forensic science that Grisham uses in the process to exonerate an innocent man.  In reality, thirty-five states now have the death penalty; Illinois legislature just voted to abolish it, sending the bill to the governor.

Will Donté’s defense attorney who has been appealing the forced confession and sham trial for nine years in the Texas courts be able to use the information to save Donté?

You’ll need to read the book to find out – it won’t take long.   The Confession is Grisham at his best.

The Evolution of Calpernia Tate

Remember being eleven and a half – almost twelve?  Today, girls that age could be dating, wearing make-up, drooling over the Jonas brothers – but in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly’s Newbery Award Honor Book –  you’ll travel back to the turn of the twentieth century when girls received grades on deportment and practiced walking around with books on their heads to improve posture…

“I find that actually reading the book is a much more effective way of absorbing it…”

In 1899, living  on a pecan farm in Texas with 6 brothers, parents, assorted dogs, cats, and a grandfather who was a Civil War veteran and a founding member of the National Geographic Society, Calpurnia discovers she’s “a regular naturalist in the making.” Her grandfather awakens and nurtures her interest in science, cultivating Calpurnia’s curiosity and supplementing her education with scientific experiments and observations that would make the AAUW advocates for young women in science  proud.

hairy vetch

Each chapter opens with a quotation from Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species – a book banned from her local library – but hidden away in her grandfather’s home collection.  The two become happy conspirators and adventurers studying Nature, even discovering a new species of the hairy vetch plant.

The story follows A Little House on the Prairie style, with colorful historical notes, and some Walton family flavor.  Although targeted to a young audience, Kelly’s message is clear – and adults may appreciate the nuances…

“It was too bad, but sometimes a little knowledge could ruin your whole day…”