September Sky by John A. Heldt
John Heldt, author of the Northwest Passage stories, is back with the first in a new time-travel series that touches on love, mystery, and family dynamics.
September Sky chronicles the story of a father and son trying to recover their common ground, one a man on a path to redemption and the other a lost soul on a journey to rediscover his passion. When recent unemployed journalist Chuck Townsend convinces his son, recent college dropout Justin, to join him on a much-needed cruise holiday, Mexico is the only exotic destination they expects to visit. Instead, Chuck and Justin find their paths crossing with Professor Bell, a veritable Willy Wonka whose chocolate factory of choice is, in fact, a time-travel portal in one of Los Angeles' remaining Painted Ladies. In cahoots with the professor, Chuck and Justin arm themselves with history and return to 1900 Galvaston, Texas, where a distant relative is about to be sent to the gallows for a murder he didn't commit and an monumental hurricane is about to devastate an unsuspecting island. While working to clear the name of their ancestor and change the history of a history-making storm, Chuck and Justin will both find love, sorrow, and plenty of surprises in Victorian Texas.
With a well-loved series of five books under his belt, author John Heldt is a near veteran of time-travel fiction in the vein of Back to the Future, and he brings his learnings from the Northwest Passage series to his newest endeavor, the American Journey series. September Sky is a worthy beginning, bringing together Heldt's comprehensive research and smart storytelling chops alike. While his books maintain a similar undercurrent - one that spotlights strong moral characters, timeless romance, and smart, entertaining history thrills - Heldt has a way of rendering each story in a slightly different color, allowing his work to appeal as a veritable rainbow of all the great things we look for in novels. September Sky is no exception; the characters, from classic heroes and villains to unexpected allies and adversaries, harbor an essence of familiarity within the layers of complexity that make them so interesting. Charlotte and Emily, the Victorian-era librarians who catch the eyes of the world weary time-travelers, are both wonderful examples of the timeless female spirit that has existed throughout history. Charlotte, a sensitive widow, finds courage in her love for Chuck while Emily, fiercely independent and ahead-of-her-time, discovers new depth of feeling in handsome young Justin. The dual love stories, along with the touching relationship between father and son, fill the pages with passion and heart.
Heldt turns his attention from the Pacific Northwest to the south of Texas with aplomb, utilizing the monumental hurricane of Galvaston in September 1900 as both a storytelling arc and a tribute to the history his stories bring to life. The devastating storm retains its devastation across the pages, but the hurricane becomes one of many facets of Victorian Texas that come to life for the reader. As Chuck and Justin work to uncover the real murderer and clear their ancestor's name, they find themselves met with some of the civil - not to mention technological - injustices of the time, coming face-to-face with the sort of personalities who both helped and hindered the progression of turn-of-the-century America. Through the scenery of the era, whether the style of dress or the manner of speaking or the pastimes enjoyed, September Sky takes the reader back with its two charming protagonists to a time both inherently simpler and surprisingly more complex than we can imagine.
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