Reading Through Time | The Reader’s Shelf

There are many ways to travel in time once inside a book—from those set in the past or future to those that are not satisfied with just one temporal plane. These six books explore the many threads of time.

Natasha Pulley’s sophomore novel, The Bedlam Stacks (Bloomsbury USA. Aug. 2017. ISBN 9781620409671. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781620409688), has a cameo from Keita Mori, one of the stars of her enchanting debut, The Watchmaker of ­Filigree Street. Beyond his role, the two stories are far apart in plot but not in the wonder of their magic. Pulley’s lavishly addictive tale is about ­Merrick Tremayne, an ex–East India Company operative sent to break Peru’s monopoly on quinine. All sorts of obstacles stand in the way, not the least of which is a mysterious priest who is somehow entwined with time. Pulley’s silky, effortless writing is brimming with charm and transports readers to a place where the pollen glows sufficiently to light the darkness and holy statues move.

The mission of the Department of Diachronic Operations (D.O.D.O.) is to bring magic back to the world. A group of military, science, and language specialists have discovered that magic was once commonplace. However, it began to fail as technological advances started “fixing” time and closing down the once multiple strands of existence that made magic possible. In The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (­Morrow. Jun. 2017. ISBN 9780062409164. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780062409171), Neal ­Stephenson and ­Nicole Galland spin out a highly imaginative chronicle of history, time, and quantum physics, with historical fiction colliding with speculative fiction and witches mixing with Massachusetts Institute of Technology experts. The resulting jumble is deeply engaging, offering a fascinating plot, engrossing pacing, and plenty of fun.

Rachel Kadish delivers a sharply drawn parallel narrative set in the early 2000s and the late 1600s in The Weight of Ink (Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2017. ISBN 9780544866461. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544866676). Ester Velasquez is the historical character, a scribe who works for a rabbi in London but who has her own interests and intentions as well. Helen Watt is the contemporary figure, a rigorous historian who encounters an untouched genizah, a repository of Jewish writings no longer in use, hidden in a 17th-century London home. The trove of documents gives Helen a last career high and provides her newly gained assistant, an ambitions and conflicted grad student, the chance of a lifetime. This richly layered novel has many additional folds waiting to intrigue.

Tomorrow is so very full of possibilities that it has kept authors occupied for centuries. Emily St. John Mandel takes up the quest to envision what’s ahead in the elegiac Station Eleven (Vintage. 2015. ISBN 9780804172448. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780385353311). It is set in three different times: the now, the future, and the lost past. After flu sweeps through the world—leading to the end of modern society—survivors cluster in outposts, and a traveling group of actors and musicians journey from place to place bringing back a bit of what was missing. The story loops and glides among a number of characters, all of whom are connected in some way to an actor who dies on stage the night the flu descends. Filled with questions and grace notes, it is a riveting novel with crystalline prose.

In The Second Mrs. Hockaday (Algonquin. 2016. ISBN 9781616205812. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616206512), Susan Rivers uses letters, a diary, and inquest accounts to introduce Placidia Hockaday, a teenager who is wed for only a few days before her husband is called back to the Civil War. She is left with his toddler son, a farm to run, and a handful of slaves. When Major Hockaday returns after the war, he learns that Placidia bore a baby, now dead. He has her arrested, and she begins to tell her side of things from jail. The gripping and textured narrative is electric, and readers will be frantically turning the pages to find out what happens. Strong worldbuilding and a vibrant voice for Placidia add to ­Rivers’s memorable debut.

Andrea Barrett’s Archangel (Norton. 2014. ISBN 9780393348774. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393240504) is a set of inter­connected short stories that span 1873 to 1939. Each vignette revolves around science and displays Barrett’s astounding ability to create fiction so fine that readers will want to linger over the pages in order to ingest their marrow. The opening piece takes place in the summer of 1908, when 12-year-old Constantine boards a train, having been shipped off to Hammonds­port, NY, to help his uncle. There he finds a new life of scientific experiments, investigations, and airplanes. While very different from the world he knows, he soon comes to see himself blooming within it. Discovery, curiosity, and awe power this collection.


Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at

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