After Matt Grinnell's time travel adventure in Blowback '07, life has gone back to normal for Arky and Iris Jongler-Jinks. As normal as it can get for a family who happens to have possession of a magical woodwind instrument known as the cor anglais that can send people back in time. Thanks to time traveler's amnesia, Matt can't remember anything about his journey or the nature of the Jongler-Jinks family. They have successfully kept the secret from their dad, they have time to focus on school and music, and baseball is starting up again for Arky's friends, Matt and Danny. However, this "normal" has one exception: Arky and Iris are discovering more and more about their family's time-traveling abilities and how they relate to their mom's disappearance.
When Danny does something terrible and is running from the ensuing danger with Arky, the cor anglais decides the best way for Danny to learn his lesson is by sending him to '63. 1863, that is. Danny and Arky are blown back to the middle of the Civil War, where they both must learn lessons to fix their problems back home or die in the bloody fighting that creeps ever closer.
It's difficult to follow up a great first book with an equally thrilling second, but that's exactly what Brian Meehl has done with Blowback '63. While it has many of the same characteristics as the first book in this series, Blowback '07, it ups the stakes in every possible way. Where in '07, Matt was sent to the (relatively) peaceful Carlisle Academy, this time Danny and Arky are sent to the bloodbath commonly called the American Civil War with a battle approaching in mere days. Not only do they need to find a way back to the present quickly, but they must learn their lessons well or Danny could face terrible consequences in the present.
On top of blowing everything up to a grander scale, '63 introduces the reader to new characters and an increasingly important plot point. Danny, while part of the first book, was only a minor character, so it is entertaining to see him take the role Matt had last time and the different ways he deals with problems. Another emerging character is Howard Jinks, Arky and Iris's father. Once again, while he was in the first book, he played a minor role, and not much was revealed about his character. However, he is of greater importance when Iris discovers new information about her mom's work on time travel and how it led to her disappearance. This new plotline makes the characters much more real, as they are not just working to learn lessons from the past, but they are also working to bring back their mom.
The one criticism I would have of this book is its close similarity to the first book. While it could be a good thing because Meehl executed his ideas very well in both books, it made the story somewhat predictable. Each detail was different, so it was still exciting to read since I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but outside the introduction of the previously mentioned investigation into their mother's involvement, nothing in the overarching plot line kept me on the edge of my seat. However, this is my only gripe against an otherwise outstanding novel. A number of questions are also left unanswered at the end of this book, but since there is another book to follow, they are sure to be answered. Given my enjoyment of the first two books, I have no doubt that the slight frustration now will be well worth it in the long run.
Blowback '63 is one of those books that, while not short, reads very quickly. Meehl does a fantastic job of revealing enough information to keep the reader interested while also keeping enough hidden to make him anticipate every page turn. The characters and their relationships and conflicts, both external and internal, were very relatable, and the lessons they learned during the Civil War could be applied to the life of the reader as well. As with the first book, there is a little bit here for everyone. There are pieces of science fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction, sports, music, and even a little romance, all tied together in a very enticing, entertaining, and well-written book that is sure to not only leave everyone satisfied, but also waiting eagerly for the next one.