Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews – Book Review

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews
Published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

At the beginning of 1939 Jack Kennedy is a 22 year old Harvard student, FDR is in his second term as president, and Hitler is preparing to change the face of Europe. Although he is frequently ill, Jack plans to travel across Europe for his senior thesis during the spring semester – he isn’t about to let either Hitler or his own body stop him. For FDR, Jack represents the perfect opportunity: he is a smart and savvy young man with a reason to talk to nearly anyone in Europe and a diplomatic passport, thanks to the fact that his father, Joe Kennedy, is the US ambassador to England. Since the US has no spy service in 1939, FDR is handpicking a few select men to help keep him informed on what is happening in Europe. He recruits Jack, who quickly finds himself much more personally embroiled in what he is investigating than he could have ever expected.

John F. Kennedy is a figure who continues to loom large in the American psyche, but primarily as an adult who would be president, and less as a young man still in school. The existence of his university thesis, Why England Slept, which chronicled England’s failure to stop Hitler, is fairly well known, but I personally had no knowledge of his journey across Europe just as Hitler was beginning to launch what would become World War II.

Mathews’s version of Jack’s trip across the continent mostly follows his real itinerary, although some creative license is taken to fit her storyline. The story Mathews concocts to go along with Jack’s travels is both interesting and exciting. Jack is caught up in espionage and both he and his family are being threatened by an extremely dangerous man, a Nazi. The stakes couldn’t be higher – Jack’s life, family, and country are all in danger – and the tension keeps the pages turning.

Jack 1939 is an extremely engaging historical thriller, made all the more engaging for being set against a backdrop of real events

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The Map of Time by Felix J Palma – Audiobook Review

The Map of Time by Felix J Palma, translated by Nick Caistor, narrated by James Langton
Published in audio by Simon & Schuster Audio, published in print by Atria Books, both imprints of Simon & Schuster

Synopsis:

After H.G. Wells publishes The Time Machine, the idea of time travel becomes all the rage in Victorian London, giving rise to, among other things, hopes of a better world and time tourism. Unsurprisingly, H.G. Wells finds himself in the middle of all of these plots and dreams, even if not always willingly. In The Map of Time, Palma weaves together three highly interrelated plots of time travel and the way it affects the lives of those involved, beginning with a man whose lover was murdered by Jack the Ripper, and who simply can’t bear to continue living in a world without her.

Thoughts on the story:

In the first section of the book in particular, the characters involved tend to go on expository flights of fancy. Far more of this section is exposition than any actual movement of plot. However, I begrudgingly admit that the information was more or less pertinent and interesting, and in such a long book, conveying it in a manner less resembling an info dump would have been space prohibitive. What is more important is that Palma created three novel-length stories that intertwine beautifully, all with Wells and time travel in the middle.

At times I wondered if all should really have been put together into a single book, but all depended on one another to such an extent that I was unable to decide whether they were even separate stories at all and can’t help but agree with the decision to keep them in a single volume. The most remarkable thing, is how quickly Palma was able to re-engage me each time we transitioned to a new section of the story. Part of this was the continuity with Wells, but part is also simply his gift for creating characters who are instantly interesting.

Thoughts on the audio production:

One potential downfall of audiobooks is that when things get boring, you cannot simply skim. With the tendencies that Palma’s characters had towards excessive exposition, I was afraid that this might be a serious problem. Instead, Langton’s extremely able narration kept things going. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t space out a bit during some of the extra-long histories of time travel, but Langton always kept me wanting to come back. For more complete thoughts on the audio production, please see my Audiofile Magazine review.

Overall:

An incredibly entertaining and engaging read or listen.

Buy this book from: Powells: Print* Indiebound: Print* Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

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* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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