Blast from the Past

I have always been fascinated with the idea of time travel. I like the idea of throwing someone into the past and messing things up. Yes, I am guilty of romanticizing the past. But, I have also given considerable thought to how I would die in the past (Run over by something probably because my eyesight is awful), so it evens out. Based on my love of time travel, it stood to reason that when I hit puberty, time travel romance would be my romance sub genre of choice.

Time travel romance exploded when I began working at my public library in high school. Previously I’d read great YA titles like Caroline B. Cooney’s Both Sides of Time and Marianne Curley’s Old Magic and Guardians of Time trilogy. In early high school I’d read a few romance novels, but still felt the stigma around them. Some of that stigma was simply I was afraid I’d be considered too young to read them (the adults in my life didn’t know about what kind of fanfiction I was reading, after all.). And then one of my coworkers handed me a historical romance telling me she thought I would like it. I was visibly uncomfortable. She asked what was wrong, and I told her my hang-ups. She told me I could read whatever I want. That’s a good librarian right there. And so I worked my way to authors like Lynn Kurland, Karen Marie Moning, and, of course, Diana Gabaldon, scouring the shelves for that elusive time travel sticker. Seriously, a library sticker dedicated to time travel. The best sticker obviously.

What I Love About Time Travel:

Smart Heroines

I mostly read time travel where the woman travels back in time. Heroines in time travel know what they’re about. They experience the past, but they are smart modern ladies. This is not to say women are not strong in traditional historical romance. That is far from the case. But I do enjoy watching a woman who has a career and gets to live with tampons try and figure out how to live in the past. And usually she does great because she’s a resourceful, smart lady. If she chooses to stay in the past you know it’s true love, because she gave up tampons.

Hunky Heroes

Heroes in time travel romance are usually physically appealing, true. I’m not here to apologize about attractive men in romance novels. But what’s more, they’re often appealing for their worldview. If you’re a hero in a time travel romance, it’s probable your romantic interest is going to act in way that throws you off. Personally I am partial to the heroes of Karen Marie Moning’s work for their hunk factor. Watching someone from before the 20th century or before can accept a strong, modern woman gives me hope, even as I learn that Men’s Right’s Activists are thing now.

Banter

This is the case for basically any novel with me, but there is so much potential for smart banter in time travel fiction. We see it done really well in Outlander. It’s also always fun when someone from the past is introduced to an idea from the future, or maybe the fact they don’t know something is used against them. Think that scene in A Kid in King Arthur’s Court where Cal introduces them to music, or rollerblades, or the Big Mac. (Then throw in some sexual tension.)

Clashing Social Mores

I am 100% more interested in social history than what battles were being fought where. Show me how people lived their daily lives, what was right and wrong, what was taboo. I also love challenging what we think about the past, especially in terms of sex. This all tends to end up in historical romance because it’s the daily things that impact our characters. For instance, I learned about garderobes via time travel romance. I tend to like a big juxtaposition as well. Give me a contemporary feminist sent to the Scottish Highlands. Brigadoon is calling. Also, all of this often asks us to think of time in a different way. Time is not a linear construct. Social ideas ebb and flow. For being something considered simply a mindless escape, it can spur some heavy thinking.

The Reveal

I love thinking about the reveal. Can our heroine keep it secret she’s from the past forever? What happens when the hero, or someone else, finds out? Do they believe her? Is she burned at the stake as a witch? These questions keep me turning pages as much as anything.

Genre Smorgasboard

I love romance, historical fiction, and fantasy. Time travel romance usually has a mix of it all. As previously stated, my past reading does favor time travel to the Scottish Highlands (throw some recs for other titles at me!). In a way, the focus on the Highlands in time travel romance kind of makes sense because there’s a sense of magic and mystery to the place that makes it less a mental exercise to go with the time travel. Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series features some powerful, and morally ambiguous fae. Lynn Kurland favors matchmaking ghosts.


I’ve had many discussions with the head of my local library about how fiction tends to go in waves of popularity in terms of genre. I’ve been waiting for time travel to have its day again. Maybe with Outlander finally being adapted for the screen, I’ll get my wish.In the meantime, I’ll start working on the Outlander fan video to Taylor Swift’s “The Way I Loved You” I’ve been wanting to make since high school, and you can recommend time travel romance titles I may have overlooked.

Other titles featuring time travel I enjoyed: The Time Travler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), The Shining Girls (Lauren Beukes), Ruby Red (Kerstin Geir), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Mark Twain), Revolution (Jennifer Donnelly), The Devil’s Arithmetic (Jane Yolen), Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness)

Flashback Friday: Both Sides of Time

by Caroline B. Cooney

“People think they own time. They have watches and clocks and digital pulses. But they are wrong. Time owns them.”

In honor of Barnes & Noble kicking off their Get Pop Cultured events with time travel weekend ( which starts today with events through Sunday), I want to recognize another of my favorite time travel novels from my childhood. This is really the novel that began it all– Both Sides of Time. But let’s be real, I’m going to find any excuse I can to talk about time travel.

Annie is just a typical 90s girl, but she’s a romantic at heart. And the typical 90s boys just aren’t up to par. She goes back to turn of the century America and falls in love with rich boy Strat. The online summary mentions love triangles. I remember no love triangles. I remember Annie and Strat and their love. There were class differences. And forbidden love. And great outfits.

We get gems such as

“Strat yearned to imagine her without even the thin white dress, but it would not be honorable, so he prevented himself from having such a fantasy.”

Get it? Because he’s too honorable for that. He’s fighting his impulses. Stinky 90s boys would totally imagine Annie without her dress.

This series was the bomb.com for me as a preteen (when saying things like the bomb.com was borderline socially acceptable). The series only went up in my esteem when a sequel features a heavy consumption plotline. I read these books just a couple of years before falling in love with Moulin Rouge and I absolutely still refer to tuberculosis as consumption because of both of these things.

While I included the newer cover at the top of this post, the above cover is the one I read from my local library. Here it might appear that Annie falls in love with a  ghost, but I promise that’s Strat. Although, he’s obviously more attractive in my imagination.

I tried and failed and tried again to read The Face on the Milk Carton as a preteen. But the Both Sides of Time series I devoured twice, maybe three times, surely not more right?

Crimson Bound

by Rosamond Hodge

5/5 stars

This is the human way, she thought. On the edge of destruction, at the end of all things, we still dance. And hope.

I recently read Crimson Bound, Rosamond Hodge’s new fairy tale reimagining, following last year’s Cruel Beauty. I will admit, I was not a fan of Cruel Beauty. Below find my brief thoughts on that novel.

This book kept me engaged. I didn’t have to fight through it. However, a lot of pieces just didn’t go together. I had to suspend a lot of my disbelief. The world didn’t feel fully formed. And it didn’t feel enough like a regular fairy tale for me to just go along with certain aspects of the world on faith. I did like the way information was revealed, but I needed a little bit more about what the initial romantic draw. I just wanted a little more flushing out, in both world and character. While I can deal with a flatter character in a fairy take, this needs a little more fleshing out. Nyx can talk about her anger all she wants, but as a reader we’re never really shown a sense of where it stems from. All of this could be accomplished without sacrificing any of the fairy tale origins. (2/2 stars)

Despite this, I decided to give Crimson Bound a try. It wasn’t the “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling that drew me in as that is one of my least favorite fairy tales. Rather, it was the promise that the novel also pulled on “The Girl Without Hands”, or “the Armless Maiden” fairy tales. These tales caused a lively discussion in my college fairy tale class, particularly around the nature of how we portray disability. One of my classmates was an activist who had a problem with the idea that the woman was “fixed” at the end of the tale by being given arms. And I think about that a lot. I would actually love to chat with her about this novel. Especially as we are given an armless man instead of a maiden.

In Crimson Bound Hodge does a much better job at establishing her own world and mythology. She calls on the stories when they’re needed, but they don’t hinder her in any way. She makes them into something new and her own. Add on top of this an opulent court (I was getting French-inspired vibes), and it works. Sure, there are questions I have about the world. Like how exactly does the forest work for everyone? But you know what? It’s nothing that hinders my ride with her narrative. The darkness and grit work much better with this story. They feel organic rather than forced on.

Additionally, I enjoyed Rachelle. Like Nyx, she dealt with anger and conflicted feelings. Unlike Nyx, I understood exactly where they were coming from. Rachel had an active objective she was fighting for throughout the novel. And even when romance peeked into the equation, she never lost sight of that objective, or ignored how said romance would impact what she was trying to accomplish.

Furthermore, I enjoyed the spiritual questions she had to battle with. We weren’t allowed to view simple good and evil here. There was a moral mire to wade through, and that kind of complexity is something I can appreciate. And it wasn’t just Rachelle who had to deal with these questions. All of the characters were complex, and we could never really trust their true motives. Additionally, we get to see villains that are allowed to love unquestionably. Sometimes when we see “bad guys,” there is something undermines or taints there love. Here we get villains who are selfish and do bad things, but still love. There’s complex for ya.

I sped through this novel. The writing was great, and I was compelled the entire time. Even after being disappointed with Cruel Beauty, I am beyond glad I gave Crimson Bound a go.

P.S. I Still Love You

by Jenny Han

5/5 stars

People come in and out of your life. For a time they are your world; they are everything. And then one day they’re not. There’s no telling how long you will have them near.

P.S. I Still Love You is the highly anticipated sequel for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. P.S. I Still Love You picks off where To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before left off. Lara Jean has realized the truth of her feelings for Peter, and aims to win him back. But that makes it all sound so simple. And things in Lara Jean’s life are anything but. This is also the first YA novel I’ve read that prominently features a game of assassin in its plot, and that I can appreciate.

I love Lara Jean. I love that doesn’t have it all figured out yet, and she’s okay with that. I love that even in her insecurity she has self-respect. She is so relatable. And so human. What I love about these novels is that, yes they are teen romance. But I always found myself on the side of Lara Jean, rather than Lara Jean plus one. I wasn’t necessarily rooting for her to get with anyone in particular (though yes I had favorites). This also speaks to Han’s brilliant crafting of realistic, complex high school characters. Even our love interests here are not perfect. They are teenage boys. They are going to be pretty unprotect at times. But it was such a joy to watch Lara Jean come into her own, while also figuring out the love stuff along the way.

P.S. I Still Love You features a prominent cyber bullying subplot, which I appreciated. This is the reality teens are facing now. It is brutal, often anonymous, and ever changing. It was nice to see it starkly represented here. How a private moment can be stolen and twisted for the masses. Along the same lines, I connected with Han’s depiction of female friendships, and how those transition or end sometimes abruptly and with no explanation in middle and high school. That was one aspect I could appreciate all to well. Honestly, it all made me more glad than ever that I am not having to navigate the teenage landscape today. It seems like it only continues to get murkier. I have a lot of respect for what you’re dealing with teens.

When I first picked up To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I honestly wasn’t expecting much. Not that I didn’t trust Jenny Han to deliver, or the many, many satisfied readers, or the adorable cover. Simply, I didn’t know if a straightforward high school romance could still speak to me. Which is ridiculous. I realize how ridiculous that is. And both novels have spoken to me. If you want something cute and empowering that also deals with real issues, pick up these two books. You won’t be disappointed.

China Rich Girlfriend

by Kevin Kwan

3/5 stars

People are messy. Life gets messy. Things are not always going to work out perfectly just because you want them to.

China Rich Girlfriend is the sequel to 2013’s Crazy Rich Asians, and a pleasant surprise for this reader who had no clue a sequel was in the works. This go-around we return to some of our favorite characters from the first novel, while meeting a new cast of characters as well. The novel skips a few years into the future, bringing us to Rachel and Nick’s wedding. Thanks to some meddling from Nick’s mother, even though they’re still estranged, Rachel is given the chance to meet her dad. He just happens to be a part of the Chinese big money, and readers are treated to even higher stakes in terms of crazy spending.

This reminded me in a lot of ways of those fanfics where Harry suddenly inherits a huge sum of money, or comes into his inheritance. And then we read chapters and chapters of his spending his money in Diagon Alley. Or wielding his influence, or what have you. This novel had a lot of throwing money around. Except I have a strong emotional tie to Harry. I’m like, “yes you lived in a cupboard under the stairs for eleven years you buy all that chocolate.” But I didn’t have that same emotional attachment to characters in this novel. And while I recognize Kwan is making a commentary on that culture, even the characters that were my in weren’t really pushing the story far enough by themselves. While in the first novel I remember the crazy spending and opulence as the world complicating Rachel and Nick’s journey, this time the world seemed to gobble up the journey in many ways. I almost became desensitized to the opulence because it seemed ridiculous at many points. From the record-setting art auction at the beginning of the novel, to the whirlwind shopping trip to Paris, and everything surrounding. Even as I’m sure there are many people that live like that.

One thing I loved about this novel was that it didn’t rely on relationship drama between Rachel and Nick. Sure, there was some of that in the first novel, although it was all completely understandable. But this time they were always a strong, united front. And they had a maturity, even when facing the immense opulence of other characters in the novel, that helped ground everything.

While I loved being reacquainted with Rachel and Nick, they weren’t the characters that had the most compelling story for me this go-around (with the last 20% of the novel as an exception). Rather, this time I was pulled into Astrid’s journey as she struggled with a bad marriage. It wasn’t over the top. But it was honest. And it was heartbreaking to watch a proud, strong women slowly diminish herself to fit her husband’s perceived needs. And it was empowering to fight for her, and watch her fight for herself. Astrid brought a humanity and vulnerability that a lot of the rest of the characters in the novel lacked. She made it about more than just absurd people doing absurd things. I also enjoyed getting to know Rachel’s brother, and would have liked to spend some more in-depth character time with him.

Overall, while this did not eclipse Crazy Rich Asians for me, it was a solid sequel. And a very enjoyable summer read. Everything ties up nicely in China Rich Girlfriend, but I see plenty of opportunities in where we left characters for this series to continue. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Music Monday: Big Girls Cry

“Big Girls Cry” by Sia

Tough girl
In the fast lane
No time for love
No time for hate
No drama, no time
For games
Tough girl
Whose soul aches

I’m at home
On my own
Check my phone
Nothing, though
Act busy
Order in
Pay TV
It’s agony

I may cry, ruining my makeup
Wash away all the things you’ve taken
I don’t care if I don’t look pretty
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Big girls cry when their heart is breaking

Tough girl
I’m in pain
It’s lonely at the top
Blackouts and airplanes
I still pour you a glass of champagne
I’m a tough girl
Whose soul aches

I’m at home
On my own
Check my phone
Nothing, though
Act busy
Order in
Pay TV
It’s agony

I may cry, ruining my makeup
Wash away all the things you’ve taken
I don’t care if I don’t look pretty
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

“Big Girls Cry” seems like the perfect song for Romy, who spends most of All the Rage on emotional lockdown. “Big Girls Cry” gets at this misconception that showing emotion, that crying, is weakness, Romy is a tough girl in pain. She has been hurt. She has opened up and been spurned, and she is justifiably afraid to do it again. I can just picture Romy stoically applying her red nail polish and lipstick to this song, and then going out to face another day.

View original All the Rage review here. 

Scarlett Undercover

by Jennifer Lathan

2.5-3 stars

A young girl, Gemma, shows up in Scarlett’s office worried about her brother’s recently odd behavior. Gemma believes her brother may have had something to do with the recent suicide of one of his friends. She enlists Scarlett to investigate. Soon Scarlett is being pulled into an underground world that may have the answers to who murdered her father years ago.

The voice in this is good, and I really enjoy Scarlett as a character. She’s smart and plucky, and she knows it. She relies on her brain, and a few good contacts. I loved details such as she drummed up customers by dropping business cards in school bathrooms across the city. And I definitely enjoy speculating the many reasons a teen might need to hire a private investigator.

I wish there had been more world building. The further into the novel I got, the weirder it got in terms of me accepting plot twists and conspiracy theories. If I had been given more in terms of the world, or more building of the mystery, this might have been easier for me to stomach. Maybe it would have been easier too if there had been a mundane case running at the same time as Scarlett kept getting pulled into the world of Gemma’s case. Either way, I needed more. The novel was fast-paced, and logistically has the room to grow in length for more world building.

Part of this may have been my expectations. I was expecting, and looking forward to, a fairly run-of-the-mill mystery. And then hints of supernatural I wasn’t anticipating were thrown in. At the beginning of the novel I was thinking how this could be a fun, YA mystery series. But I’m really not sure how the series would continue beyond this book.