Review: The Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz

Review: The Impossible Us by Sarah LotzThe Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Romance, science fiction
Pages: 483
Published by Ace Books on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

This isn't a love story. This is Impossible.
***
Nick: Failed writer. Failed husband. Dog owner.
Bee: Serial dater. Dress maker. Pringles enthusiast.
One day, their paths cross over a misdirected email. The connection is instant, electric. They feel like they've known each other all their lives.
Nick buys a new suit, gets on a train. Bee steps away from her desk, sets off to meet him under the clock at Euston station.
Think you know how the rest of the story goes? They did too . . .
But this is a story with more twists than most. This is Impossible.

My Review:

Every once in a while, even in real life, someone will text or call a wrong number, and instead of getting a hang-up or a brush-off, a connection gets made. There’s that famous story about the Arizona grandma who texted a complete stranger to come for Thanksgiving dinner in 2016. He not only came for dinner that year, he and his now-wife are still invited and attending that Thanksgiving dinner every November.

But the connection between Bee and Nick, while it still begins with a text to a complete stranger, has much further to travel, even if they don’t realize it at first.

The hook into this story is the witty and emotionally honest banter between Nick and Bee. Both are well into adulthood if not necessarily adulting, they both have serious shit to deal with and both of them, frankly, are clinically depressed in one way or another.

Bee is avoiding relationships by playing spin the one-night-stand roulette wheel on Tinder. She’s self-supporting, her business of re-purposing used wedding dresses is going gangbusters, and she’s completely alone except for her lifelong friend Leila and her upstairs neighbor. It’s an OK life but she’s lonely.

Nick sees himself as a failure – only because he is. His marriage is dying if it isn’t already dead. His career as a novelist produced one self-absorbed book and nothing since. His only real friends turn out to be his dog, Rosie and his stepson Dylan – because his wife is cheating with his other best friend so that relationship is clearly over.

Bee and Nick find each other at a point where they each desperately need a lifeline – and they become that for each other in text after text after text, all day and sometimes all night long.

Until they agree to meet. Under the clock at Euston Station. They both say they’re there, but neither can see the other. And that’s when things go wildly pear-shaped.

Eventually, after railing at each other, cursing at each other, and obsessively reading over their correspondence, they come to the heartbreaking realization that the multiverse is real and that they are not living in the same version of it.

Each of their worlds is the other’s “road not taken”. The worlds aren’t SO different. The divergence isn’t all that far in the past. In Bee’s world Clinton’s two terms were followed by W.’s two terms, then Obama’s two and then, let’s call him The Former Guy.

Nick thought Bee’s reference to The Former Guy as president was a bad joke, because his world split off at the hanging chads in Florida in the 2000 election. Clinton was followed by Gore’s two terms, then Obama’s two terms. His world managed to skip both 9/11 and Brexit. Not that his world is unequivocally better, but it is different in ways that don’t seem too surprising if you remember anything about Al Gore’s political platform.

Accepting that they can’t meet in person, they also decide that the relative closeness of their parallel worlds means that they CAN meet their world’s equivalent of each other. As they discover, however, that just because they can, doesn’t mean they really should.

Escape Rating B: This book is bonkers. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is going to be strictly in the eye of the beholder, and honestly I’m still not sure. It’s a wild ride, but I’m not sure I liked where that ride ended up.

I’m also none too sanguine about labeling this as a romance. An emotional if not physical romance does occur, but there’s no HEA for Bee and Nick. There can’t be and that’s the point of the story. It really is impossible for the two of them to become an “us”.

This is more of a story about that “road not taken”, or an example of the quote from John Greenleaf Whittier, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘it might have been’.”

Nick and Bee might have been something special, but once they meet their actual doppelgangers in each other’s realities, I’m not so sure. Or I’m not sure that Nick has it in him to find his own happy ending, Bee, who has better coping skills in the first place (admittedly that’s a REALLY low bar to get over) ends the story with at least the possibility of an HEA somewhere down the road.

(Nick reminded me a bit too much of an old quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” Nick is firmly stuck in “can’t” to his own and the story’s detriment.)

But this is being marketed as a romance, which is going to lead entirely too many people to pick it up thinking there’s a happy ending, and those readers are going to be seriously disappointed. OTOH, while the SFnal elements are more than enough to push it to SF, the way the doomed romance is centered in the story is going to turn off many of those readers as well. And on my third hand in an alternate universe, although this is SFnal and does center a romance, it doesn’t gel in the right way to make it a science fiction romance, either.

For people who know what they are letting themselves in for, there is plenty of satisfaction to be had on this wild and crazy ride through the multiverse of other worlds, other selves and other lives. Just don’t expect a happy ending.

Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell

Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowellThe MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, Romance, timeslip fiction
Pages: 318
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

On holiday in Scotland, Lara MacInnes discovers the journals of a woman who loved Lara's own very-great grandfather, Lachlan MacInnes, in the mid-eighteen hundreds. With the help of Iain Glendenning, a handsome Highlander, Lara traces the path of this long-ago romance. Their research unearths mystery and murder. Uncovering the truth, a hundred and fifty years later, is a torturous and frustrating trail. Along the way, Lara and Iain in fall in love. Can they put an end forever to the feud between the MacInnes and Glendenning Clans that has persisted since the Battle of Culloden?

My Review:

The MacInnes Affair is the finest kind of time-slip romance, one where the dive into the past illuminates but does not overshadow the story in the present – and the other way around. It is a marvelous story every step of the way.

Lara MacInnes arrives at Athdara Castle during her summer break from teaching school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She’s come to the Scottish Highlands to visit her mother’s best friend, to research her own family history – and to put some time and distance between herself and her breakup with her overbearing ex-fiance.

She is first rescued by, and then falls in love with, Iain Glendenning, the son and heir of the Laird of Athdara – and also the son of her mother’s best friend. And who is also just about to break his engagement with his very own overbearing about-to-be-ex fiance.

That should be enough for the two of them to have in common, but that barely scratches the surface. And it’s what’s under that surface that makes this book so special.

The MacInnes and the Glendennings represent two sides of a bitter mid-18th century feud. At Culloden they fought on opposite sides, with the MacInnes part of the Jacobite cause, and the Glendennings on the side of “German Geordie”, the eventual King George I.

(If the name Culloden sounds familiar, you might be remembering Jamie Fraser from Outlander. The MacInnes Affair is nothing like Outlander, but Culloden and its aftermath cast a long and bloody shadow over the history of Scotland. It’s one of those fixed-points in time that ANY work of historical fiction dealing with 18th and 19th century Scotland has to touch upon.)

But Lara and Iain do not represent the first time that a MacInnes and a Glendenning have fallen in love across that bloody divide. The family history that Lara has come to investigate revolves around that first time, even though they are not aware of it when they begin their research.

Once upon a time, Lachlan MacInnes rescued Elspeth Glendenning, even more spectacularly than the 21st century event. That same Lachlan MacInnes emigrated to Canada to become Lara’s great-great-(and possibly a couple more greats)-grandfather. Very little seems to be known about him.

But Lara and Iain find Elspeth’s diaries. In her private writings she laid her own soul bare. And gives her 21st century descendants – and us – a heartbreaking story of love and duty, loss and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lovely sense of history coming full circle in this story. Lara leaves home for Scotland to discover the truth about her ancestor, Lachlan MacInnes. And she returns home to discover that the truth was right there waiting for her all along.

But the journey along the way is what makes this one so good.

It’s interesting, looking back at the story, to think, on the one hand, that Lara and Iain’s story runs fairly smoothly. There are a couple of bumps in their road, but nothing that can’t be, and isn’t, overcome.

But when they get caught up in the search for Lachlan’s, and eventually Elspeth’s story, we do too. We read the diaries with them and feel both the heartbreak of Elspeth’s story as well as Lara and Iain’s compulsion to discover those hidden truths.

And even though Elspeth’s story is a “bigger” story, it’s tragic and heartbreaking at so many points, somehow it doesn’t overshadow Lara and Iain’s. That’s one of the things that this author does so very well, tell a story in two time frames and make them both equally compelling.

There are people who will see the synopsis for The MacInnes Affair with its time-slip storyline and its Scottish Highland setting and make an instant comparison to Outlander. That comparison is a mistake. Please don’t mistake me, I love the Outlander books and have read them all. But it’s a massive series that goes much more deeply into the 18th century and dives much farther into its history than a single-volume work could or should.

The MacInnes Affair is the story of one single pair of star-crossed lovers and their one small corner of history. And it’s lovely exactly as it is.

The way that their history wraps around and both influences the now and is in turn resolved in that now – well, that’s magic.