Tag Archives: connie willis

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (unabridged audiobook read by Katherine Kellgren; 43 hrs on 36 discs): These are actually two separate books, but they are a continuation of the same story and you really can’t read one without the other, so I’m reviewing them together.

In the future, historians study history by traveling through time and witnessing events first hand. They go incognito, with false identities and backstories, and when their assignments are up they return to the “drop,” the portal back to their own time. This is the story of three such Oxford students in World War II: Mike visiting the rescue at Dunkirk, Eileen studying evacuated children, and Polly working as a shopgirl during the London Blitz. One by one, they discover that their drops will no longer open and they are stuck in the past, in a country under attack. Back in Oxford, young Colin and Professor Dunworthy are scrambling to figure out the problem with the drop and find their students. I fully admit to a lack of knowledge of the English homefront during WWII. I didn’t know anything about the Blitz or the shelters or the sheer extent of the bomb damage. And all that was fascinating (and distressing, of course), but what really kept me enthralled were the characters. I loved Sir Godfrey the slightly snobby Shakespearean actor, Earnest and his adventures inflating tank decoys, and the party-obsessed FANYs – and I loved to hate the horrible Hodbins. As in all of Willis’s books, there is plenty of suspense, drama, and humor, and I loved every minute of it. It really should have been one book, but I guess that would have made the binding rather unwieldy. Definitely recommended, even if you’re not a WWII buff (which I certainly am not).

A note on the audio: Kellgren’s narration was marvelous, but I was especially impressed with her American accent.

Passage by Connie Willis

Passage by Connie Willis: Dr. Joanna Lander is studying near-death experiences, or NDEs. Dr. Richard Wright has discovered a way to chemically replicate what the brain goes through chemically during an NDE. Richard asks Joanna to confirm that what his volunteers are experiencing are indeed NDEs, but when funding and volunteers become scarce, Joanna goes under herself. I found this book extremely difficult to take, but in a good way: it’s extremely suspenseful and the characters are likeable and sometimes infuriatingly realistic. At first I wondered if this lengthy novel could have been shortened, but the various stories and details shared become important eventually, and add even more to the realism. Though at times emotionally harrowing, this was one seriously excellent story. A little dark in places – it is largely about death, after all – but it never loses all hope. And now I need to go pick up everything else Willis has ever written.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Wow. And I mean that in a good way: I am completely awestruck by this novel. Kivrin is an undergraduate historian who wants to visit the Middle Ages. Mr. Dunworthy is a professor in the 20th Century History department who is trying to convince her not to go, since the Medieval History department has never sent anyone back in time and the Middle Ages were totally dangerous. She goes anyway, but while the tech is getting the fix to make sure she ended up in the correct place, he falls ill with a mysterious and possibly deadly virus. Oxford goes under quarantine as Dunworthy scrambles to figure out when and where Kivrin is. Meanwhile, Kivrin has her own set of problems in the 14th century, where she also has fallen ill and no longer knows where the rendezvous location is for when she is to be picked up two weeks later. On top of all this there are the blustery bureaucrat Gilchrist, the obnoxiously overbearing Mrs. Gaddson, the endearingly enthusiastic Colin, and a whole host of other wonderful and memorable characters. This book is nearly 600 pages but not once did it feel long. I was completely absorbed. If you like thrillers and are at all interested in the Middle Ages (and have a strong stomach, for many of the various symptoms and remedies are described in horrifying detail), definitely check this one out. It’s simply marvelous.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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