Book Review: Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler

phototravelTitle: The Photo Traveler
Author: Arthur Gonzalez
Genre: YA / Science Fiction
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

I’m a fan of science fiction and as a historian, time travel plots can leave me rolling my eyes. When I came across Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler, I was a bit unsure of how to proceed, but within the first three chapters, I was hooked and didn’t want to stop reading.

Life hasn’t been easy for seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone. His adopted father is a drunk and beats him and his adopted sister lies to get her way. They both blame Gavin for the death of his adopted mother and he lives with the guilt knowing he caused her death. One night after a beating, he’s had enough. Finding his original adoption papers, Gavin decides to look for the grandparents who gave him up for adoption. One the way to Washington D.C., he encounters some unsavory characters who ask him for the glass vials and he has no idea what they are talking about. He eludes them and when he arrives in DC, he finds his grandparents are alive. Gavin confronts them and they admit to giving him up to protect him. They then tell him a secret…he’s a photo traveler and as one, he’s able to travel anywhere in the world as long as there’s a physical photograph or a drawing of an event as it occurred. Gavin goes on a journey to find the truth of what happened to his parents and along the way discovers how vital it is not to change the past because of the way it affects the future.

The writing is engaging and Gonzalez definitely is able to put the reader into the mindset of a seventeen-year-old boy. It’s quite easy for a YA science fiction centered book to be filled with clichés, but Gonzales does an excellent job keeping things fresh. The Photo Traveler is also well researched and incorporates aspects of history in the narrative. At one point Gavin travels to 17th century America and the Salem Witch Trials. I cringed when I read where he was going because anyone from the 21st century would stand out and instead of brushing that tidbit aside, Gonzalez addresses it. What’s a 17th century person suppose to think at the height of the witch trials when they see a teenage boy dressed in jeans? I won’t say what happens, but I appreciated the reaction to the incident.

In terms of character development, it’s not thorough, but since this is part of a trilogy, it makes sense to draw the characters over the course of the series. Without a doubt, this book is about Gavin and the journey to find out who he is. We find out how Gavin’s adopted mother died and it will be interesting to see if by chance a picture of the events of that day exists and if it does, will Gavin travel to that specific day? Also I have a feeling there’s more to Gavin’s photography teacher. He took an early interest in Gavin and something just doesn’t sit well with me. I think all readers will be able to associate with Gavin and his need for acceptance. Here’s a teenage boy on the cusp on being an adult who doesn’t know why he was given up. One moment he had parents and a loving home and the in the next instant he has nothing. The heartache he experiences will sadden you and make you want to reach out to hug him.

My favorite quotes:

But since I suck at lying, I was probably as believable as that girl, Cynthia, in our class who constantly shows up with hickies on her neck but keeps swearing she’s still a virgin.

When I open my eyes, a twelve-ton elephant is staring right back at me. It gives me the creeps.

With all works of fiction, especially science fiction, the ability to suspend disbelief is needed and The Photo Traveler is no exception. There are a lot of unanswered questions mostly with regards to Gavin’s mistake and inadvertently changing history. I expected a bit more drawn out discussion pertaining to the subject, but there wasn’t one. Book 2, The Peace Hunter, should touch upon this and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Arthur Gonzalez has done an excellent job with his debut novel and he’s an author to watch.

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Spotlight: The Photo Traveler

phototravel Title: The Photo Traveler
Author: Arthur J. Gonzalez
Genre: YA / Science Fiction

Synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone is resigned to being miserable for the rest of his life. Left alone in the world after his parents died in a fire when he was four, he was placed in foster care, which for him meant ending up in an abusive home with an alcoholic adoptive father.

Gavin’s only escape is in taking and creating images. His camera is his refuge from the unending torture and isolation of daily life in his “family.”

Until he learns by accident that he isn’t alone in the world after all. His father’s parents are still alive and living in Washington DC.

When he takes the plunge and travels 3,000 miles to find his grandparents, he learns that they—and he—are part of something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined. Something that has always put his family at risk and that will now threaten his own life, while forever changing it.

He learns that he is one of the last descendants of a small group of Photo Travelers—people who can travel through time and space through images. But his initial excitement turns to fear, when he soon discovers that he and his grandparents are being pursued by the fierce remnants of a radical European Photo Traveler cult, the Peace Hunters. What Gavin has, they want!

His adventure will take him to past eras, like The Great Depression and the Salem Witch Trials. Gavin will have to discover who he really is and must make choices that spell the difference between life and death for himself, for the relatives he now knows and loves, and for the girl he will come to love.

For Gavin Hillstone, life will never be the same.

Where to Purchase The Photo Traveler:

Amazon (paperback) | Amazon (Kindle) | Barnes & Noble | eBookpie | Kobo | Smashwords

ajgAbout Arthur
THE PHOTO TRAVELER is young adult author Arthur J. Gonzalez’s first novel. Arthur was born and raised in Miami surrounded by his loud Cuban family. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he acquired his coffee obsession and his chocolate hoarding antics. He’s the proud father of one baby girl, Sookie–his miniature schnoodle dog. Arthur is a self-professed goofball who spends 98% of his life laughing. He’s now working on his second novel.

Connect with Arthur
Official Website
Facebook Page
Twitter: arthurjgonzalez
Goodreads: Author Page

Book Review: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

ImageTitle: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Yes (Book 1 of 7)
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

The first thing you encounter when you pick up a copy of Outlander is probably surprise, and maybe a bit of intimidation; the novel is a veritable tome, weighing in at well over 800 pages. Oftentimes, this is enough to scare away the more casual reader, but for me, it was more the book’s reputation and popularity that gave pause.

Throughout my bookish life, I’ve been told I ought to read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. It is the single, most oft-recommended book that I’ve ever had suggested to me, and so not inclined to follow the crowd, I resisted. News of an impending mini-series wrought by Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame helped entice me to overcome this initial reluctance, as did the full knowledge of the book’s premise: Jacobite Scotland, espionage, intrigue, highland adventures, and time travel. What’s not to love? As I’ve been on a time travel kick lately, what list of epoch-defying novels is complete without Outlander?

Here ye be warned–spoilers abound in this lengthy review for a lengthy novel.

Summary
Following World War II, Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, embark upon a second honeymoon to Scotland in an attempt to rekindle their war-dwindled romance. Venturing into the countryside, they come across a circle of standing stones, and as Claire is sucked back in time, we are likewise taken along with her.

Positives
The conveyance which transported Claire back two hundred years is simultaneously brilliant and eyebrow-raising. A megalithic circle akin to that of Stonehenge, called Craigh na Dun, is deemed responsible,  and it is also suggested that this is a natural phenomenon that the ancients knew of but did not fully understand. It is implied not that the stones themselves possess the power to thrust a being back in time, but rather more realistically, that the stones were erected ages ago to warn passersby to stay away. Gabaldon’s inclusion of the mythic legends regarding fairies was also clever, and in context, such legends would be a satisfactory explanation for previous occurrences of time travel.

The juxtaposition of Claire’s 20th century mind with the 18th century culture she finds herself thrown into is amusing as well as fascinating. While she’s intelligent enough to avoid more of the situations that would create more comedic scenarios, she’ll still slip and use phrases like “Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars,” confusing those around her and eliciting a chuckle from the reader.

Negatives
Loch Ness monster? Really, Gabaldon? Someone please convince me how this contributed to the plot. It felt like nothing other than a Scottish cliche inserted to amuse the ignorant masses, who cannot think of Scotland save to conjure images of a smiling Nessie sporting a plaid tam.

I’m going to risk incurring the ire of every Fraser fangirl alive by saying this, but Jaime doesn’t do it for me. At all. I completely fail to see why he’s so appealing and attractive. Repeatedly, we’re reminded of his physical perfection; this smacks of Twilight to me, and beating me over the head with description after description of the hero’s physical glories does not at all convince me of the character’s worth. Jaime is kind enough to Claire, that is true. Initially, he seems to be quite likeable. His use of the term “Sassenach” is downright endearing, even to me (I’ll even admit that I think I’d get chills if someone called me that in a Scottish accent); however, I have to be  brutally honest here, and say that I have had great difficulty getting over the scene where Jaime beats Claire. Yes, it’s period for an 18th century man to be able to thrash his wife in punishment. Yes, he promises to never do it again and adheres to that (at least in the first book). But accurate or not, this is one instance where I am not able to accept period-correct behaviour and dismiss it in context. No woman ever deserves to be beaten, no matter her perceived crime. Is this our literary hero?

This book has an even darker side, one of which I would caution less mature readers. There are several scenes and themes in this book I would consider to be potential “triggers” for anyone with a history of abuse, and even for those merely of faint of heart or weak of stomach. We see scenes of vividly-depicted sexual abuse (heterosexual and otherwise), rape, and sodomy. It’s downright uncomfortable to read, and while I understand Gabaldon’s decision to brave exploration of abuse in the 18th century, I don’t understand why she chooses to revel in the literally gorey details, yet gloss over the ramifications and subsequent trauma. It makes me suspect she did it for shock value, and to villainize Jack Randall as much as humanly possible. To be blunt, it felt somewhat cheap.

Quotes

Jaime was not my first hero. The men moved too quickly through the field hospital, as a rule, for the nurses to become well acquainted with them, but now and again you would a man who talked too little or joked too much, who held himself more stiffly than pain and loneliness would account for.

And I knew, roughly, what could be done for them. If there was time, and if they were the kind who talked to keep the dark at bay, you sat with them and listened. If they were silent, you touched them often in passing, and watched for the unguarded moment, when you might draw them outside of themselves and hold them while they exorcised their demons. If there was time. And if there wasn’t, then you jabbed them with morphine, and hoped they would manage to find someone else to listen, while you passed on to a man whose wounds were visible.

— Chapter 36

The dusk momentarily heightened all the colors of the countryside, lighting the land with jewels; a glowing emerald in the hollows, a lovely shadowed amethyst among the clumps of heather, and burning rubies on the red-berried rowan trees that crowned the hills.”

[…]

We came down from the braes near Loch Madoch, pressing the chilly dawn mist to the edge of a still sheet of grey. Wild ducks began to rise from the reeds in untidy flocks that circled the marshes, quacking and calling to rouse late sleepers below. By contrast, a well-disciplined wedge of geese passed over us, calling of heartbreak and desolation.

The grey fog lifted near midday on the second day, and a weak sun lighted the meadows filled with yellow gorse and broom. A few miles past the loch, we came out onto a narrow road and turned northwest. The way took us up again, rising into low, rolling hills that gave way gradually to granite tors and crags.

— Chapter 25

Thoughts
I have nothing but praise for the way Diana Gabaldon writes. Her prose is lyrical, her descriptions vivid and realistic, and her dialogue is good (though not fantastic or wholly period). She has a strong grasp on the historical and cultural aspects of the 18th century, and I say this as an enthusiast of the era. I only caught one inaccuracy; she refers to a character wearing a cotton gown. While cotton was certainly known and the fabric on its way to becoming a staple (later in the century Eli Whitney’s invention would allow it to become affordable enough to reach the masses), in this context, I felt a garment made of “linsey-woolsey” or plain wool would have been more appropriate.

One area I felt could use a bit more exploration was, exactly what sort of trauma and mental distress time travel would invoke on the traveler. We are given very little of what I would expect to be a horrifying experience for anyone; aside from Claire’s initial confusion and denial, it never seems to occur to her that what she has just experienced is a mind-boggling impossibility. I don’t know about you, but I would be doing some heavy-duty thinking about whether or not my every move would be altering the course of history (read Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder if you haven’t already). This is touched upon more satisfactorily in Dragonfly in Amber (which I’m presently in the midst of), and admittedly a 1940s mind might not be as familiar with the concept of time travel in general as Gabaldon’s modern-day audience. Still, we barely see Claire even ponder her quandary at all.

Another question worth asking is whether or not Claire is a bigamist. Why not just tell everyone she was still married? While technically her husband Frank hadn’t been born yet, this would have alleviated the problems of her being forced to marry again. This is addressed in one of the best portions of the entire novel take place in one of the later chapters, where Claire confides in a kindly priest and consults him on the quandary of her marriage to Jaime. The issue of bigamy is addressed, albeit rather conveniently, but through this, Claire is reawakened to religion. It’s a transformation that’s always tricky to pull off, and Gabaldon does it admirably and respectfully, without the all-too-typical “Hallmark” quality that offends my sense of realism.

Conclusion
I do feel that Gabaldon could use an editor; she can be wordy, often unnecessarily so, but not in her description or exposition. It is in her innumerable adventures, the tales of Claire and Jaime that she wears the reader’s patience. Over and over we read of their exploits across the highlands (and between the bedsheets), again and again we are told of how much they love each other. But that’s just it; we’re told, rather than shown. The age-old adage holds true here. Show, don’t tell. Gabaldon is a master of description, but she fails to give us an emotional connection illustrating exactly why Claire would choose Jaime over Frank. We’re given reasons such as her fear of travelling back through the stones a second time; this makes sense, but don’t you think she would brave that risk for Jaime?

Outlander begins to weave several threads that I can only hope will be grasped more firmly later in the series. Especially the story of Geile Duncan and Frank’s experiences during the war, both of which intrigued me, and neither was fully explored.

Overall, four stars for the sheer magnitude of Gabaldon’s undertaking, her ability to pull it off with considerable aplomb, and her laudable knowledge of the historical elements surrounding 18th century Jacobite Scotland. ♦