Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Rocky Time Travel Tale Leaves Me On the Fence

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

So, let's talk cover art. What do you think of the one above? It's cute, right? The lady's smiling, she loves her dog, everything's hunky dory. You're expecting something Marley & Me-ish, right? Wrong!

I almost never start a book without reading the blurb on the back, but apparently I didn't do that before I cracked open Jacqueline Sheehan's new novel, Now & Then. Judging from the cover alone, I expected a sweet, heartwarming dog story. What I got, at least in the first couple chapters, had little to do with sweet and nothing at all to do with animals. Confused, I turned to the plot summary, where I discovered that the book in my hands was actually a time travel adventure story. Believe me, that's the only thing that kept me turning pages. I couldn't wait to see how the book's rocky 21st Century start segued into a "mystical, charming, and fantastic" tale of 19th Century Ireland.

Despite a rough transition, the story took a definite turn for the better once it hit 1844. Sheehan warmed to her subject, bringing old Ireland to vivid life. Her American characters bugged me throughout the entire book, but the Irishmen and women were, for the most part, friendly, lovable folk. I enjoyed the middle of the book, all of which took place in The Emerald Isle, much more than I liked either the beginning or the end.

Wow, I must be tired because this review is all over the place. Let me back up ... Now & Then stars thirty-something Anna O'Shea, who is touring an Irish castle when the book opens. She's newly divorced, devastated by her husband's unfaithfulness and her apparent inability to bear children, and exhausted from her work as a lawyer. A vacation is just what she needs. Near the end of her trip, a strange old woman gives her a wrapped gift, which she pockets and promptly forgets. Back in Massachusetts, Anna hasn't even had time to unpack before she's rushing to the hospital. Her brother's laying in a coma following a severe car accident. Since Patrick is unconscious, it's up to Anna to retrieve his teenage son from the New Jersey jail that's holding him on suspicion of committing grand theft auto. When Anna gets 16-year-old Joseph back to her apartment, things quickly go from bad to worse. Before she's really had a chance to process what's happening, Anna's waking up on a craggy shore in the middle of the night wearing nothing but her ex-husband's boxer shorts. Joseph is nowhere to be found.

Anna receives a rude awakening when she realizes she's been thrust into Irish life circa 1844. Getting home will prove to be difficult, as will almost everything else she experiences. She's frantic to wake up from her nightmare, find Joseph and get him back to his injured father. How? She has no clue. She's not even sure he survived the trip to the past. All she knows is that she has to stay alive somehow despite threats of small pox, starvation and the crushing poverty in which she now finds herself. With the help of some kindly rescuers, who are not exactly what they seem, Anna discovers great truths about her family and herself.

Everybody likes a good adventure story, right? So, what did I think of Now & Then? I'm going to do this Melissa (at One Librarian's Book Reviews)-style:

What I liked: Once I got into the story (around Chapter 10), I enjoyed it. It had some surprise elements that kept it fresh and exciting. While I didn't care for any of the American characters, most of the Irishmen/women completely won me over with their charm and pluck. I also found the folksy mysticism of the Old Country interesting.

What I didn't like: Now & Then begins oddly, travelling in strange, contrived directions. It's rough, choppy and just ... disjointed. Around Chapter 10, the story finally comes together. The ending, though, fails to wrap things up in a clear and logical manner. Sheehan's hurried explanations of the whole time travel thing felt cheap and unsatisfying.

So ... yeah, I'm kind of on the fence about this one. Do I wish I'd abandoned it at the 50-page mark? Not necessarily, I just wish the story had come together better. It didn't. Ah, well ...

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, sexual content and mature themes

To the FTC, with love: This one came from TLC Book Tours, for which I prepared this review. Obviously, the price of the book (free) didn't do much to influence my opinion.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for trying out my review style. It was very flattering for me :)

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  2. How I appreciate your candor. I'm not as good at that as I should be....surprisingly enough though, I may really give this a try. I like books featuring Ireland and maybe I'll have enough "pluck" in me to make it through!!

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  3. Sorry it left you on the fence! Great review, though. I think you really capture the story! Thanks for being on the tour!

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