Both books in the Time And Again series involve a weird plot about house software that enables the characters to travel back in time. The bad news is I didn’t care for the first book. Charlotte of Miles Station suffered from flaws common not only to novice authors, but also to many Christian books. The good news is that I enjoyed the second book. Unclaimed Legacy proved that Deborah Heal is growing as an author.
I’ll get the bad news out of the way. What are the flaws of the Charlotte of Miles Station series? First, Heal spends much of the first pages on background information. I don’t need to know that main character Abby had considered volunteering for the Children’s Hospital and Habitat for Humanity as part of her required Ambassador College service project, nor all her reasons for rejecting these two choices. While this information might give me insight into Abby’s character, it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to fill space. Once Abby chooses to become a tutor, she never wavers from this path. Moreover, her inabilities to perform the above skills never come up again in the story.
Second, Heal too often tells instead of shows the action. For example, the end of the first chapter ends with a potentially exciting situation: an incessant beeping and blue glow in the room next to where Abby sleeps. Unfortunately, the setup reads like an elementary-school student’s composition about their room: “Both Pat’s and Merrideth’s doors were closed, and the only light was the blue one coming from the front door of the computer room. Merrideth wasn’t there, but the house show was going again. When she touched the mouse, it stopped and the words: Beautiful House….”
Last, Abby reminds me of every Christian I have met who is so good that just raising their voice is a sin. I sadly have never been that righteous and so it is difficult to relate to Abby. Moreover, she is annoying, because even in her twenties she apparently knows everything there is to know about how to make raise children, eat properly, etc.
Now to the good part! What did Heal do right in Charlotte of Miles Station? Unlike many novice authors, her descriptions often seemed relevant and natural. For example, here is Abby’s first impression of the girl Merrideth whom she’ll govern, “She had obviously not been blessed with her mother’s good looks. Her face was round and pudgy, her eyes small and squinty. It was impossible to tell their color for the dirty blonde hair had fallen again into her face. On the phone, Pat had said Merrideth was plump….” Merrideth’s appearance is the first indicator as to why Merrideth acts abrasive. Moreoever, the word choice evokes strong visceral reaction. Then there are the characters. While I disliked Abby, I enjoyed Merrideth. Yes, she’s spoiled and rude, but she’s also fun and vulnerable. In other words, she feels more real than Abby. Of course, because this is a Christian novel, Merrideth eventually has a religious conversion. Fortunately, Heal keeps the conversion light and cute, meaning I can still like Merrideth.
As for Unclaimed Legacy, from the outset, it contained more interesting exposition. This opening immediately connected me to the characters: “Abby managed to get her mascara on without smudging it. It was not an easy task, knowing that if she glanced at the other reflection in the mirror she’d see Merrideth’s sorrowful eyes staring back at her.” The dialog also sounded snappier and more natural. It’s amazing how much those two improvements alone greatly heightened my enjoyment of the story. While both books involve time travel, it’s the plot of Unclaimed Legacy that intrigued me and felt easiest to understand.
The character portrayal in Unclaimed Legacy also works well. Abby is back, but feels more realistic now that she’s confused about love. Merrideth is back, slightly less bratty but still appealing. Abby’s romantic interest, introduced at the end of Unclaimed Legacy, takes on larger role and feels like Prince Charming. Finally, Heal rounds out the cast with two adorable old ladies who are trying to fill out their family tree and uncover some dark secrets. In contrast to her first book, where neighbors popped in and out for no apparent reason other than to be quirky, these ladies are integral to the plot. Over all, the cast is less cluttered and more interesting, meaning I cared a whole lot more about them.
Every time I review a book, I have to figure out why the pieces work or don’t work. It’s obvious that Heal has not only done the same, but has also found answers for the parts that didn’t work. With Unclaimed Legacy, Heal has left me looking forward to the third book in the Time and Again series.
Post Script: After reading my review, Heal shared this informative comment with me: “I wrote Charlotte of Miles Station just out of college, while still under the influence of studying great literature. I consciously tried to make Charlotte of Miles Station more on the literary end of the spectrum. I wanted little author intrusion and so the reader gets very little of Abby’s thoughts.
“Eighteen years later, when I sat down to write Unclaimed Legacy it came to me that these stories weren’t literary (although I hope they have some of those characteristics) but should be written as popular fiction. It was like a light bulb went off for me. Of course I should get into Abby’s head more.
“Because I did, I think the writing is much improved and more of Abby’s character is revealed. I’ll leave it to readers (and bloggers like you) to tell me when book three comes out next year if it is better yet.”
My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.