Book Review: The Fountain by John A. Heldt

book review the fountain john a heldt

Title: The Fountain (Second Chance #1)

Author: John A. Heldt

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: August 14, 2022

Genre: Family Saga, Historical Fiction

One Sentence Summary: When three elderly siblings decide to jump into a magical Fountain of Youth, they’re given a second chance at youth and love, but it’s marred by looming disaster as they arrive shortly before the 1906 quake in San Francisco.


The Fountain is a sweet story of family, love, and second chances. It follows elderly siblings Bill, Paul, and Annie as they decide to take a chance with what appears to be a very real Fountain of Youth. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, they jump into the pool and end up in 1905 with young bodies and excellent health. While a good bit of this book felt like smooth sailing, I loved reading about Bill, Paul, and Annie as they make new lives with a future disaster looming over them. But it was nice that the coming quake wasn’t a huge focus for the entire book. Instead, it was more about the romances and relationships they each develop. It was very sweet to see them take this second chance and really try to do things with their lives. Sadly, I didn’t get a firm sense of the time period, but the characters themselves are well worth reading about. The love between these siblings is lovely, and I loved that they got a chance to live again.

Extended Thoughts

The Fountain is the first in the Second Chance series, which follows three siblings who take a plunge into a Fountain of Youth and emerge in 1905 with a second chance at youth. It starts with these three elderly siblings saying goodbye to the eldest’s late wife. Bill is a retired folklore and mythology professor, and doesn’t quite know how to move on after Alice’s death. Paul has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his imminent death weighs heavily on the siblings. Annie has been wheelchair-bound since an accident in her teens, which made having a typical life, complete with her own family, impossible for her. When one of Bill’s former students pays them a visit, it reopens something from Bill’s career: a potential Fountain of Youth. With nothing left to lose, Bill travels to learn the truth, and finds the location of this mythical fountain.

Despite some hesitations, the chance to re-live life is appealing to Bill, Paul, and Annie, so they ready themselves and take a leap of faith. Emerging in the summer of 1905, they eventually make their way to San Francisco, where Bill starts a new job at a school and his younger siblings enroll as students. It’s quite a change for them, but they each meet the times and challenges, and even find opportunities for a bit of romance. But, with vague knowledge of a coming quake, a shadow looms over them and their new found happiness.

I’m not really one for historical fiction, but do have an interest in the 1906 quake. The Fountain, though, is less historical fiction and more a fictional saga of three siblings who have the chance to live again on their hands. Bill, Paul, and Annie really brought the story to life, their relationship established early on as one full of love helping to carry them through the months following their arrival in 1905. They were delightful in both timelines, though I do wish their closeness had tied them together a little more after they had stepped back in time. But it was fun to follow them, even if parts of The Fountain started to feel more like historical romance. I was a little disappointed I didn’t get a strong sense of the historical time period, but also glad it wasn’t exactly a focus as history isn’t my strong point. Overall, I found The Fountain to be a very sweet story of family, love, and second chances, and these three siblings were wonderful to read about.

The Fountain‘s strength rests on the characters. The story is all about them and what they do with these opportunities that come knocking, as well as the knowledge of a looming disaster. Bill, Paul, and Annie were so different from each other, their lives colored by different life experiences, but I adored how close they are. It’s easy to feel the warmth and love they hold for each other, and I loved how they had that to rely on each other even as they stepped back into history and their lives took different paths.

Bill, as the oldest, really took on a lot of responsibility, but never seemed to mind shouldering it. I loved seeing his love and care for his family, though I was a little disappointed at how quickly he managed to find love again after losing his wife so early on in the story. I would have loved some grief from him, maybe some guilt as he moved on, but his romance with Cassie was really very sweet. She’s a teacher at the school and his job is to evaluate all the teachers, so it was fun to watch them butt heads as they dealt with each other. Their romance felt like it took up the bulk of the book, though, oddly, I felt Bill’s chapters decreased once the siblings stepped back in time. But it was that romance that really helped make the end of the book that much more excruciating as San Francisco and Oakland deal with the effects of the 1906 quake.

Compared to his siblings, Paul’s life felt the most adventurous, but also the most broken. One thing that was mentioned frequently was how frequently Paul had been married and divorced, so I think it really colored the approach he took to his second chance at youth. Previously, he’d been the one with the most to lose, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so it was a ton of fun to see him have the chance to let loose a bit and enjoy life again. I loved reading about him and the girls he attracted. But, remembering his past, it was very sweet to see him grow up again. I loved how he took his second chance seriously and saw it as a chance to do things differently, but his story also made me wonder if it really is possible to do things differently.

I adored Annie. She felt like she might have been a bit of a spit fire as an elderly woman, so it was a lot of fun to see her as a teenage girl. She’d lost out on so much in her first life, so it was fantastic to see her get to be a regular girl for the first time. I really loved how feminist she is, and how Cassie encouraged her so much. Annie is a sharp young woman, but still a teen girl, especially when it comes to Cassie’s younger brother. Their friendship was adorable, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for an actual elderly woman to deal with love again in the body of a teenager. Sometimes it felt frustrating to read her chapters, but she really embraced the times and her youth.

As much as the siblings thrived in 1905-1906, I did want to see them struggle to assimilate a bit. Everything seemed to go so smoothly for them. There were times when it even felt like they’d forgotten their future knowledge, though it was easier to deal with when remembering they had been elderly and probably not so reliant on the technology of today. Still, I felt their frustration at having to rely on old sources to figure some things out and wanted to just tell them to Google something before remembering there was no such thing. Their minor slips were fun, but not quite as frequent as I had hoped as I imagine I would have made plenty. Still, I loved how well they took to their second youths, how it seemed to bring them all back to life.

The one thing I feel on the fence about is my feelings regarding the historical time period. This isn’t strictly an historical fiction novel, but I suppose I was expecting to feel like I was taken back in time to the early 1900s. While I did feel that way in a sense, I would have also loved to get more of a reaction from the characters about how different it was back then compared to now. I also had a difficult time picturing what San Francisco and Oakland looked like and just generally didn’t get a strong sense of the early 1900s. On the other hand, I loved that there weren’t as many historical details that would get me bogged down in wondering about the accuracy so I could just enjoy this story about three siblings getting a second chance.

The Fountain is a very sweet story with a heart wrenching end, though it’s open for the story to keep going in another book. The narrative style was a little difficult to read through and bogged me down more than once as adjacent sentences tended to be repetitive, making the story telling feel very passive and slow, but I still enjoyed this novel. The characters were exceptionally well-crafted, including the minor characters. They all had distinctive personalities and it was fun to watch them all come together. I adored the sprinkles of feminism and loved seeing what the men had to deal with from the women. There was a lot of fun on these pages, so I loved that there was always this shadow over them. The ending was fantastically done, though I cannot comment on any accuracy. I really felt for the characters, and found myself leaving the story holding them close to my heart and wishing for the best.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to the author for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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