On Reading “The River of No Return” by Bee Ridgway

Some of my friends and family make fun of me for having a Twitter account. “What do you tweet about?,” they ask. Or they might say, “I tried Twitter, I thought it was stupid.”

If you really stop and think about it, Twitter is kind of odd. You follow all these people, most of whom you don’t know, and you correspond with each other and the entire world in short messages of 140 characters. But, Twitter does have its uses and its perks.

Generally, I use Twitter to satisfy my inner nerd and my inner fan girl. I follow the news sites, politicians, entertainers, as well as follow my friends who have accounts. I also, though, follow as many of the publishing companies as I can. It’s no secret that I love books and sometimes I feel that for as much as I read, I never have a good handle on when new and amazing books are coming out.

For the most part, following publishers on Twitter only serves to give me information on new books, etc. But, publishers also do free book giveaways through Twitter which is really cool for a bibliophile like me — especially if the giveaway is for an Advanced Reader Copy of a book that is not yet out.

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win an Advance Reader Copy of The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway from Dutton Books (an imprint of Penguin). Here’s my review of this lovely book:

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DISCLAIMER: I chose to write this review. I was in no way compensated by Dutton to do so. All rights for The River of No Return are reserved to its author and publisher.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

In her debut novel, Bee Ridgway — a professor of American literature at Bryn Mawr College — weaves an intricate and nuanced tale of time travel, power, knowledge, and romance. On the surface, The River of No Return is an invigorating and page-turning time travel thriller that places its main characters in a battle against time itself and with those who wish to control it. Underneath, however, is a historical, cultural, and social commentary that takes the science fiction based subject of time travel and turns it on its head, rooting the concept in the power of human emotion and memory. Ridgway’s debut is far more than an adventure story — it is a thought provoking read that incites you to question all what you know about the world around you and what you consider to be the place of the concept of time in our lives.

In 1812, Lord Nicholas Falcott, a member of the British peerage and a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, suddenly disappears from the battlefield at Salamanca as a French soldier prepares to kill him in combat. Against all apparent laws of time and space, he is transported to 2003 London where wakes up in a hospital and is informed that he is now a member of the Guild, a time and government transcending organization that controls time travel and its participants, and that “There is no return” to his previous life. Quickly, Lord Falcott becomes Nick Davenant and is instructed by the Guild in modern life. The Guild, however, is not simply a kindly guiding organization. It is powerful and wealthy, keeping close tabs on its members and gifting each with an annual multi-million dollar stipend. By 2013, Nick Davenant has adjusted to 21st century life, but deep down he has never left his 19th century origins behind. Haunted by homesickness and dreams of his battlefield experiences, Nick uses memories of a young woman he left behind to ease the panic that accompanies the fact that no amount of money can change his place out of time. Soon, however, Nick is summoned by the Guild and ordered to break its cardinal rule: travel back from when he came to help prevent the unraveling of time itself. Attempting to come to terms with the fact that what the Guild preaches as truth is not all that is seems, Nick travels to 1815 and comes face to face with his old life and the woman who has kept him grounded in another century for the last decade.

In 1815, as Nick tries to accomplish what the Guild has asked of him, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather and guards the secret he tasked her to protect on his deathbed: his ability to manipulate time. As her cousin Eamon arrives to take possession of the family home and her fate, Julia quickly recognizes that there is more than one secret pervading her life, and that those secrets are desired by many and have further reach than she can fully comprehend. While Eamon manically scours the house and Julia’s memory for something called the “Talisman,” she observes that her mysteriously returned from the dead and greatly changed neighbor Lord Falcott may be her only solution to the increasing danger in which she finds herself.

First separately and then together, Nick and Julia discover the extent to which the river of time effects them all and how far the Guild will go to control the future and everyone’s fates.

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The River of No Return is one of the best books I have read recently, and I unabashedly place it on my list of favorites. Ridgway writes beautifully and evocatively, injecting a complexity into her storytelling that rivals the best puzzle masters. While some compare her debut and its time traveling components to The Time Traveler’s Wife, I would compare it instead to Katherine Neville’s masterpiece The Eight. Filled with clues along the way and peppered with references to historical figures, places, and movements, Ridgway’s first novel is a stimulating and entertaining read.

From the time I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. It truly is a page turner and will leave you zealous to find out what happens next. In addition to its entertainment value, The River of No Return‘s most valuable facet may reside in its subtle observations of time itself. This is especially interesting to me as someone who has studied history in-depth. Throughout, Ridgway deftly conveys that, at its core, time and age is a construction. We are all victims of our time — something that has nothing to do with our abilities. We are products of both nature and nurture. When we are born and the circumstances of that time — its technology, customs, etc. — have much to do with what we become. Our capacity, however, is unaffected by time.

The River of No Return is available for purchase on April 23, 2013.

Nothing on TV, you say? Turn on PBS! – Part 1

Note: This post is an addendum to both Jeannette and Abbie’s posts from last week about this Fall’s TV schedule and the Emmy Awards.

There are 2 parts to this post, because there’s simply too much to talk about!

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What do you think when you hear the phrase PBS?

I know, I know. Some of you are groaning right now, saying “Please don’t write a blog post about that boring channel Joni!”

Don’t worry, I would never purposely bore you. That’s why I’m going to tell you why PBS isn’t boring, and why you shouldn’t only think of it as the channel that broadcasts Sesame Street.

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Do you like Drama? Maybe some Romance? Mystery? Murder? Political Thrillers?

Then Sundays at 9pm should be your night and Masterpiece (previously Masterpiece Theater) should be your show!

Masterpiece is divided into three sections: Classic, Mystery, and Contemporary. Masterpiece Classic is broadcast from January through April, Masterpiece Mystery is broadcast in the summer and fall, usually through October, and Masterpiece Contemporary is broadcast in the late fall through December. So, basically, there’s something to watch almost all year-long!

By far, the best program from Masterpiece this past year was Downton Abbey. In fact, if ratings and the Emmy Awards had anything to say about it, it may be the best program in the history of Masterpiece. Broadcast over four weeks in January of 2011, Downton had already been broadcast in the UK (where it was filmed and produced) in the Fall of 2010 to rave reviews.

Downton follows the Crawley family at their home Downton Abbey. The Earl and Countess have 3 daughters, and no sons, so when the Earl’s cousin who is set to inherit the estate and the Earldom dies on the Titanic, chaos ensues. The series explores how the lives and world of the Crawley family and their household staff changes as the new heir descends on the Abbey. A mysterious servant arrives, a maid is keeping a secret, the Countess and her mother-in-law are conspiring against the Earl, a Turkish diplomat dies in a compromising position, and world war looms on the horizon.

Downton’s popularity earned it multiple Emmy Awards last week and has been renewed for 2 more seasons. New episodes air in January.

Other Masterpiece Classic programs to check out:Upstairs Downstairs, Any Human Heart, and South Ridingall broadcast in Spring 2011.

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If you like murder mysteries, then it is “elementary” that you tune in to Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are back and better than ever, but this time they’re solving murders in present-day London. Three episodes were broadcast as part of last year’s Masterpiece Mystery season, and more are coming in the future. I highly suggest you check this out!

Masterpiece Mystery is rife with programs, many based on the mysteries of Agatha Christie – Poirot and Miss Marple. But, also check out the Inspector Lewis, Zenand the forthcomingCase Histories.

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Finally, Masterpiece Contemporary rounds out the Masterpiece line-up. Although it features far fewer programs than its counterparts, watching Masterpiece Contemporary is a great way to wile away cold, winter Sunday nights. Check out:

God on Trial –  Broadcast in the Fall/Winter of 2008, this 90-minute production follows a group of Jewish concentration camp prisoners as they place God on trial in absentia for his abandonment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. This brilliant and profound drama depicts the simultaneous faith and loss Holocaust victims experienced during their horrific imprisonment.

The Last Enemy – Does Big Brother, like George Orwell depicted in 1984, really exist? What if it did? After spending years in China, obsessive-compulsive genius Stephen Ezard comes home to Britain for his brother’s funeral. But not all is as it seems. Mystery and danger abounds as Stephen is roped in to becoming the spokesman for the new government Total Information Awareness program that tracks every citizens every movement. It is supposed to protect you, but is a world where nothing is private and you cannot ever disappear protecting or controlling you?

This Fall, check out Page Eight about a veteran British spy who stumbles across a conspiracy that may destroy the British government. He’ll have to figure out what to do about it though, before he falls victim to it himself.

Also, look for the 50-minute long Song of Lunch starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as former lovers who meet for lunch 15 years after their relationship ended. The production is based on the poem of the same name by Christopher Reid.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the other programs you can see on PBS.

For now, turn on your local PBS Station – you may be surprised by what you find!