Paul and his father are from the Home Timeline, a timeline where technology has advanced a bit further than it has in our own and inflation has hit the world much, much worse. The Home Timeline is like an exaggerated version of our world. There are so many people that the world is starving, cars are cleaner, more animals are extinct, gadgets are even more prevalent, and of course, they can travel across alternate timelines. Paul and his father head to an alternate timeline where Germany won World War I. Pointing their finger to imports from China, (a rising superpower) they get Lucy Woo's family involved in a war between the Tongs and the Germans.
Turtledove does better here on this Crosstime Traffic novel, which stipulates what might have happened if the Germans had won World War I and gone on to conquer the rest of the world eventually, having never created an angry, revanchist regime like Hitler's Nazism.
I do feel that this book was one of his weaker stories.
Starting in 2003, Turtledove began a series of young-adult novels featuring people who work for a company called "Crosstime Traffic." In their world, the discovered technology of moving between different histories has allowed the company to set up secret agents in different timelines where things in the past happened differently. As a young adult novel, Notions wastes little time on much beyond the story itself. But like the rest of the series, Curious Notions is a solid story that might make a young adult reader try to dig into some of the real history Turtledove uses and learn something as well as enjoy him or herself.
However, I later realized I had read another book in the series awhile ago before I got into Turtledove in particular. I think Turtledove explained the alternate world's history well enough without overloading us with such exposition; however, he could have provided more information on the main world. I like how Paul and Lucy were purposely not made into a romantic couple despite in-character wondering about that.
The series is, as far as I can tell, also Turtledoves attempt to break into the young adult or possible the teen market. But in Curious Notions and his other Crosstime books, Turtledove has a bad habit of talking down to his reader, presumably a young person. The young adult market is hot right now, and several adult authors have tried their hand at writing in that genre, such as James Patterson.
In stark contrast to the first Crosstime Traffic book, Turtledove rarely explores the characters' feelings or desires (except as they pertain to the plot). Knowing, early on, that Paul wants a career at Crosstime Traffic puts everything into a different context; he's suddenly protecting the secret for reasons more personal and relatable than simply not wanting the Germans to discover it.
When both the German police and the Chinese triads get suspicious about the technologically advanced goods at Curious Notions, Lucy and Paul are caught up in an adventure that threatens their families and the secret that Paul and his father are guarding.
Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction.