Today, I’d like to introduce to you, my reader(s?), one of my favorite stories, a go-to comfort read when I’m feeling down and need an injection of happiness: Joanne Renaud’s time-travel romance novella, A Question of Time, available from Champagne Books. (Full disclosure: Joanne is a friend of mine, and I had the honor of reading the pre-published version of this story. I just re-read it, and that’s why I’m finally doing an honest-to-goodness review.)
The story follows Celia Cavalotti, a science fiction author in 2010 New York City, who is still struggling with the grief occasioned by the sudden death of her favorite English teacher, Alan Forrest, back in 1989. Mr Forrest, even before his death, had a huge impact on Celia’s life: encouraging her in her writing endeavors, giving her books to read, and helping her cope with her parents’ messy divorce. She has even taken his last name for her nom de plume, and publishes under the name C.L. Forrest. One day, fighting writer’s block and sorrow, she decides to take a trip back to her hometown in Maryland. Her car skids on the wet road–and she finds herself standing outside the White Plains library, in 1989. Here she meets Mr Forrest again, and as an adult she can see how handsome he is. However, she soon comes to realize that this is not only 1989, it is the very day before his fatal car crash. How Celia chooses to act, and the outcome of her choices, makes up the rest of the action of the story.
Now, I am not a huge reader of romances in general, or at least modern romances, which seem to me flat, dull and uninteresting, and usually badly written to boot. (I don’t have a problem with romantic themes in the stories I enjoy; Thor is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it has a strong romantic element. After all, romance, love, is an important part of life, and it would be dumb to leave that out of our stories.) However, I think Joanne has achieved something marvelous with A Question of Time, keeping a strong element of romance while making the story about more than merely “will these two crazy kids make it work?” The story’s theme is stated in the tagline, a quotation from Dan Simmons’s Hyperion: love [is] as hardwired into the structure of the universe as gravity and matter. Love, in this story, is stronger than grief, and love undoes the sorrows of the past, even unto the rewriting of history.
It’s also a lot of fun. Celia and Alan are excellent, well-drawn, appealing characters with great romantic and intellectual chemistry; their conversations about science fiction and their favorite books are just as enjoyable as their flirtation. (And if you were at all into SF in the 80’s, the author names they drop will be instantly familiar.) Even the minor characters, like Celia’s parents, or her 1989 classmates, are painted with subtlety and enough detail to make them come alive. (I particularly enjoyed Kevin, the kid with the nautical obsession. Just can’t put my finger on what made him so appealing to me!)
The 80’s period detail is always spot-on–you don’t really think about the 1980’s as being the distant past or all that different from today (or at least I don’t), but it was thirty years ago. Joanne has an eye for the little details that make that time come alive again, from Alan’s enormous glasses and feathered hair, the blue eye shadow at the drugstore and the totally hip fashions of Alan’s trendiest students, even to the types of cars in the parking lot. This vivid attention to detail makes the setting come alive; I felt like I was standing outside the White Plains library with Celia, and I could practically smell the baking asphalt.
The story moves along at a good clip, effortlessly pulling one along through an interesting and engaging plot. It is one of those “I’ll just read a few more pages” books, unputdownable until you get to the end. It doesn’t hurt that the characters are so appealing (really, is there anything more important in a story than appealing characters?); they are like real people, and people whose company and conversation I enjoy.
And then there’s the ending. I think my reader(s?) will probably agree that a book can be almost perfect, but if the ending isn’t right, the whole frail illusion collapses into moonbeams and motes of dust. Fear not, however, for A Question of Time‘s ending is perfect. This is a spoiler-free review, so I will only tell you that Celia makes the right and necessary choice for Alan, for herself, and for that Love which underpins the fabric of reality, and because of her courage, she becomes not merely an ordinary woman but a hero. Pretty epic for a romance, huh?
So basically (and you might have already gathered this from the rest of the review) I love everything about this book. The characters are wonderful, the development of their romantic relationship (and their friendship!) is well drawn and believable, and the story, though not action-packed, has enough going on to always be interesting. The writing is good and often funny, and all of these elements would have been enough to form an enjoyable entertainment. But the additional theme of love–not only the sparkly-feelings romantic love of most romance novels, but the deeper, grander, more marvelous Love that truly is hardwired into the structure of the universe–elevates this story above its genre into something beautiful and true and deeply satisfying to the soul.
If A Question of Time sounds pretty good to you, stay tuned! I’ll be hosting a giveaway here in the next couple of days: author Joanne Renaud will be giving one lucky winner a free e-copy of her story (in the format of your choice), and a $10 Amazon gift card. Can’t wait? A Question of Time is available at Champagne Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and All Romance Ebooks. Stephanie Draven, award-winning author of DARK SINS & DESERT SANDS, calls it “a clever love letter to the 1980s brimming with fun cultural references that warmed my geek girl heart.”
You can also find A Question of Time on Goodreads.