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All Clear (Blackout, #2)All Clear by Connie Willis

As with Blackout, I couldn’t put the thing down. Even when I was standing in line to have my copy signed. And, like Willis said at the signing, it’s really hard to say anything about it without giving out spoilers for the first book, so I’ll just say that it was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the story. As to whether the whole thing is a comedy or a tragedy, as one character asks another, you’ll have to read it to find out.

I will say that if you like big, fast-paced novels with large doses of suspense (and a fair amount of humor), and stories that make history come alive, you should give Blackout a try. Don’t blame me if you can’t manage to get anything else done once you start reading.

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Another effort to put my currently-reading list into order.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but I actually do read books written for grown-ups.  Sometimes they slow me down, since I’m used to quicker, shorter books, but I whizzed through this batch fairly quickly – especially The Help and Blackout.  I’ve been getting into the summer reading spirit, what with all of the kids signing up and getting prizes at the library, and it’s been fun having big fat novels that I can sink into.
Juliet, Naked Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

An enjoyable read, filled with the same blend of humor and realism as most of Hornby’s books. Not something that’s particularly stuck with me, but satisfying and funny in the moment. I appreciate Hornby’s willingness to avoid any pat resolutions.

Source: my library system

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

I’ve never gotten the fascination with the Salem witch trials, but this story managed to hook me by starting from a different angle. In the main storyline, a historian in the early 90s finds clues leading her to a previously undiscovered primary source, while flashbacks show us the lives of women descended from one of the books early owners, Deliverance Dane. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in either the witch trials or in stories focused on historical discoveries. The resolution was a bit anti-climactic for me, but I definitely enjoyed the ride, and Katherine Kellgren’s reading was, as usual, spot-on.

Source: my library system

A Study in Scarlet A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

This was my first venture into a Sherlock Holmes novel, although I read a few short stories a while back. It’s easy, of course, to see Holmes’ influence on other fictional detectives, and the mystery was the sort where the reader couldn’t possibly solve it from the clues given, but it was fun to go along for the ride with Watson. The only downside to the story was the extensive flashback to the American West that really bogged things down.

Source: my library system

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Books with 200+ holds don’t usually live up to the hype…or maybe I just assume they won’t and never put them on hold. In this case, I’m glad I waited. The story follows three women in Mississippi in the early 1960s – two black maids and one white woman just out of college. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of any of the viewpoints, it certainly rings true and is compelling in a way that’s never forced or cheesy. It gives a glimpse into the way things were and the reasons it was so hard to change things. Definitely recommended to anyone looking for a novel with compelling characters, a vivid setting, and plenty of meat on its bones.

Source: my library system

Blackout Blackout by Connie Willis

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the fact that I have to wait until the fall for the conclusion. I would’ve happily broken my back carrying around a massive single volume, if only it meant I could spend more time with the characters and find out what happens. As usual, the book has Willis’ brisk, almost frantic pace, and uses time travel to illuminate history. Unlike in some of her other time travel novels, we don’t get to flip back to the “present day” along the way – like the historians, we’re stuck in 1940s England. This serves the plot, but it also makes the historical elements that much more engrossing. Instead, the story is broken up by switching points of view, following three main characters. A few other characters are thrown in, but I’ll have to wait until All Clear comes out to see their significance.

I have a few theories about things, but I mostly just enjoying the story too much to stop and think about them. Several clues were dropped early on but left hanging, presumably to be resolved in All Clear – I know she’ll follow through. In addition to the full of wondering how all the plot-lines will converge, the story is also satisfying as a piece of historical fiction, bringing alive London during the Blitz. While I’ve read other books set during that time, Willis is the best at putting you there.

Not a work of literary genius, but a perfect couldn’t-put-it-down summer read.

Source: my library system

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Passage Passage by Connie Willis

Things you can count on from Connie Willis: a brisk, almost frantic pace, even in a chunker of a book; characters driven by an idea or a goal or a desperate need to stay alive; other characters that you love to hate, characters that keep popping up an foiling the protagonist. I’m sure there’s more, but Passage was memorable for all of those things. The idea/goal? Researching near-death experiences. The character you love to hate? So many to choose from – the arch-nemesis researcher, the overly talkative patients, the untalkative patients. And that frantic pace! I don’t want to spoil events in the story, but there’s tension aplenty.

Can there be too much of a good thing? Sure, sometimes that pace is a bit much. You want the characters to sit down, eat a good meal, catch up on their transcribing, and enjoy some peace and quiet. Sometimes you wonder if the whole thing could’ve happened in fewer pages. But this isn’t tight, literary prose. This is fun. This is a distraction. It’s not Willis’ best – I’d recommend you start with Doomsday Book for something more serious, or To Say Nothing of the Dog for something comic. But I can’t think of any other books quite like hers, and this one hit the spot for something fun and engrossing and occasionally edge-of-your-seat.

Source: bought it at Powell’s, thanks to a Christmas gift card.

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The Winds of Marble Arch The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m giving this one five stars, not because all the stories were perfect, but because taken as a whole, the collection presents a fabulous variety. Some of the stories are science fiction (like “Cash Crop”), some are contemporary with odd little twists (like “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know”), some have time travel (like “Fire Watch,” which has the added bonus of a Doomsday Book reference), and one is so downright creepy I’d like to forget it. Some short story collections feel awkward, not because the stories themselves aren’t good, but because they weren’t really written to be read all at once. With Willis’ stories, the book is organized by loose themes, rather than chronology, and while the style is all distinctly Willis, they never feel repetitive. The only thing missing was a note about when all the stories were originally published. This book is massive and a bit of a chore to lug around, but it’s just so well-rounded. I don’t always take easily to short stories (which is odd because I spent a whole class writing them in college) but this one more than won me over, and I’ll definitely reread it.

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Bellwether Bellwether by Connie Willis

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
While I didn’t think this was as strong a book as Doomsday Book or To Say Nothing of the Dog (which were each fantastic in their own way), it was thoroughly entertaining and successful with its narrower scope. It’s NOT science fiction, unless you define science fiction as being fiction about scientists doing research. It’s got Willis’ usual brisk style and humor, and it’s made even funnier by reading it 10 or 15 years after publication, since a lot of the research mentioned is about fads. The recurring restaurant scenes had me howling. This is one I’ll definitely reread when I need a good laugh.

Also, know that I know what a bellwether is, I’m seeing the word pop up in various places.  And someone picked up a hold on a book about fads at the library, and I had to restrain myself from telling them they should read Bellwether.

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