Alexandra Monir,
(Delacorte, 2011)

Michele Windsor's story begins in tragedy. Her mother dead in a car accident and her father missing since before she was born, the California teenager is shipped to her rich, estranged grandparents in New York City to assume the mantle of wealth and privilege.

Private schools, stuck-up classmates and her own private suite of rooms fail to distract Michele from her grief. Only the discovery of an ancestor's diary and an antique key pique her interest -- and trigger her own journey to the Gilded Age of 1910. There, and then, she meets Philip Walker, the scion of another privileged family of New York's high society and the man of her dreams.

OK, the love-at-first-sight device is a little hackneyed, but it's a little more understandable given Michele's dreams and a strange event in Rhode Island in Philip's younger days. Be patient.

The story skips back and forth between times, giving readers a healthy taste of life in two New Yorks, the present and the century-ago. Later in the tale, Michele visits New York in the Roaring '20s and near the close of World War II.

In first-time author Alexandra Monir's novel, there are elements reminiscent both of the classic film Somewhere in Time (1980, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour) and Charles de Lint's classic short story, "Timeskip" from Dreams Underfoot.

This story is unevenly written. Characters from the past don't feel quite as real as those from the present, and certainly they are a little too accepting of the spirit from the future who appears in their midst. Some developments in the past unfold a little too rapidly for belief, and it's questionable in a few cases why these characters are so quick to rely on the mysterious stranger in troubling times. Back in the now, one wonders why Michele didn't do a little more research into the people she meets; a lot of questions would have been answered if she'd cracked a book or even talked to her grandparents a little sooner in the tale.

On the other hand, Monir certainly did a lot of research to back up her story, and it's entertaining to see New York of the past through Michele's thoroughly modern eyes. The musical connections to the story are particularly well handled and might serve to introduce a few young readers to the Jazz Age.

The book is enjoyable despite its few shortcomings, particularly for its young-adult target audience who should enjoy the magical nature of the tale that is -- a rarity in today's market -- entirely bereft of vampires, werewolves, zombies and wizards.

I'd say the book ends poorly, but it sets the scene for an inevitable sequel. Personally, I wish Monir had stopped two pages sooner, but I'll reserve final judgment until I see where she takes things.

book review by
Tom Knapp

19 March 2011

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