Saturday, 15 December 2018

River Rising by John A Heldt

Mr Heldt, your stories keep getting more enthralling.

This is the first book I have ever read where I have had to resist the urge to jump to the last page and find out what has happened. It is also the first time, due to a cliff hanger, I have gone straight onto the next book in the series, The Memory Tree.

As has always been the case with Heldt’s previous books, it is more than a sci-fi time travel story.

I’ve always struggled to pigeon hole the genre of Mr Heldt’s books. They are adventure, mystery, history and romance, sprinkled with humour and suspense – pure escapism - oh what the heck – they are damn good reads whatever you classify them as.

The Carson siblings (Adam, Natalie, Greg, and twins, Cody and Caitlin) travel back to 1888 to find their time travelling parents, Tim and Caroline.

As a starting point, they settle in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Adam follows up leads and plans for a return to 2017. Natalie takes a position as a journalist and the twins attend high school while Greg travels to the wild west to follow other leads.

Adam, Natalie and the twins settle into life of a simpler time forming friendships and finding love but the Johnstown flood of 1889, its destruction of the town and loss of lives is the main historical focus.

In Arizona and California, Greg is in for his own share of trouble and danger.

Heldt, skilfully brings history to life. As an Australian, I am familiar with devastating floods in my own country but did not know the story behind the Johnstown disaster.

The ending is tense as the siblings attempt to leave the 1880s for another time. It is the first time Heldt has written such a compelling cliff hanger – so much so it was the first time I have ever gone from one book in a series to the next one in the same sitting. Their journey is not over, and I recommend any reader to be prepared to delve into the continuation of the Carson journey.

Writing a story from varying points of view is challenging but Heldt manages it seamlessly.  It gave strength to and enhanced the personalities of the main characters demonstrating their love and support for each other.

The characters are strong and caring, not just for each other but for the others of the community. During and after the flood they demonstrate their humanity and support for their new community.

Adam, the eldest, takes on the role of family protector and decision maker but never acts without the support of the whole family. He is their strength.

Natalie is full of spunk and determination. One of the highlights for me was when, as a journalist, she interviewed Mark Twain.

Like the others Greg is caring for his family and those around him but has the fortitude to act in the presence of danger.

In many ways Cody is the typical mischievous teenager full of exaggerated stories and giving his twin sister plenty of cheek. But we also see the close bond he has with Caitlin and his tender side when he falls in love.

Without a doubt Caitlin was my favourite of the siblings. She is the one missing her parents the most and, initially, the least adventurous. The development and growth of her character gave her confidence to share her knowledge and be brave at a time when called upon to help others.

One of my favourite passages was her valedictorian speech where she tells the audience how much she learned by asking questions and listening to answers from ordinary people.  She says many of the people did not have high school diplomas, some couldn’t read yet she considered them to be among the most intelligent and educated people she knew – people who learned and mastered a trade. She states, “You have taught me that education is more than what we read or hear in school. It’s more than what we see. It’s what we do in the community. It’s what we learn from teachers all around us, including siblings, friends, neighbours and complete strangers.” I believe this speech not only says a lot about Caitlin’s character but also the author as a person.

As always Heldt combines factual history and fiction into a well written story. A story that carries the reader along with the lives and adventures of the characters giving a real feel for place and time.

Although the section about the flood includes danger and death with devastating and heart-breaking consequences there is no extreme violence. Greg’s experience in the wild west also involves action typical of an old-time western movie. There is romance and a hint of sex but nothing graphic. Swearing is minimal and mild.

I recommend all John A Heldt’s books to lovers of historical fiction, mystery, romance and time travel.

The author provided a copy of River Rising in exchange for an honest review.

My rating 5*

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