When I picked up The Last Days of Night from the “free book” rack, I was doubtful of whether Graham Moore’s second novel would live up to the whirlwind Gilded Age adventure the back cover promised. However, the fact that this novel is based on, of all things, a patent lawsuit, impressed me all the more when I found myself completely absorbed in the incredibly intelligent and fast-paced plot. Moore skillfully paints his characters with depth and unique personalities, many of whom are well-known historical figures (Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, J.P. Morgan, etc.). I loved getting to know the eccentricities of these almost legendary people, and Moore periodically provides wonderfully profound insights into the way their minds operate. My only reservation is that Moore can sometimes overdo the most unique parts of his writing. For example, I found the quotes that he placed before each of the very short chapters more distracting than helpful, and his insights can occasionally be presented more subtly. Overall, The Last Days of Night was refreshing and exciting and would be a great read in particular for fans of historical fiction, law, or the history of inventions. – Connie M. ’17
To Say Nothing of the Dog is perhaps Connie Willis’s most humorous Oxford Time Travel book, set mainly on the outskirts of Victorian Oxford. The novel features two main characters: Verity/Kindle, who is sent back in time by the frustratingly persistent Lady Schrapnell to help figure out the location of the Bishop’s Bird Stump, and Ned Henry, who is sent back to help right a supposed discrepancy caused by Verity. Willis often pokes fun at aspects of Victorian life through Ned’s nonchalant humor (he is the narrator). The story reads much like a mystery novel as Ned and Verity attempt to understand the nature of their first time discrepancy while simultaneously trying to prevent more time-travel disasters. The final solution is amusingly explained but leaves some unanswered questions. To Say Nothing of the Dog is certainly worth reading for its humorous, science fiction, and historical fiction aspects, but those who are not interested in the Victorian era will be disappointed.
Doomsday Book, Connie Willis’s first Oxford Time Travel novel, is one of her most famous, featuring young time traveler-historian Kivrin on an expedition to medieval England. Shifting between modern and medieval times, the novel combines first person “journal” accounts and traditional narration. Like many of Willis’s novels, Doomsday Book is (in comparison) relatively slow moving for a good half of the book (though certainly not uninteresting) and speeds up to an incredibly moving ending. The book makes the horrors of the Black Death devastatingly real, and continuously questions the role of religion in our lives. While perhaps more interesting to those who have some background on the middle ages, I had little interest in medieval times but still found the book hauntingly captivating. I found myself pondering Doomsday Book for days after I had finished reading it.
All Clear is the second half of the time travel Blackout/All Clear duo by Connie Willis, set in World War II. While I found Blackout a bit frustratingly repetitive in places, All Clear was a whirlwind of plot twist after plot twist, with an emotional range of unfathomable despair to shock to tentative joy. Willis will leave you gasping aloud in both excitement and frustration as the three main characters attempt to return to 2060 from WWII. Willis leaps back and forth between different times, places and characters, thus weaving in an element of mystery (pay attention to the date printed at the beginning of each chapter). Blackout and All Clear are must-reads for any time travel or historical fiction fan, but as a message about the strength of the common person undergoing unimaginable hardship and sacrifice, these two novels would be enjoyed by anyone.
This was the first time I read a work by Connie Willis. Blackout is, at its core, historical fiction, though laced with elements of sci-fi in the form of time travel. The premise of all of Willis’s time travel novels is that in the near future (2060) Oxford University historians will conduct their research by traveling back in time to their periods of study. In Blackout, several historians travel to England during World War II, disguising themselves in various locations including London during the Blitz, Dunkirk during the evacuation, and a countryside manor house. However, something has gone wrong with the historians’ return mechanism (called the drop), and our heroes are trapped. At first, I found Blackout to be immensely interesting, as the story exuded all the emotions and attitudes of WWII life and at times even made me feel slightly panicked. However, 500 pages of nearly the same phrase (“Where is the retrieval team? Why is my drop not working?”) began to get frustrating. I will be reading the sequel, which essentially is a direct continuation from the 1st book with hardly a transition at all, but only because I’m curious to find out how/if the characters return to 2060. In the end, I would recommend this book, as the story is extremely immersive, but don’t attempt it unless you’re ready to read 1000 pages of WWII historical fiction.
2001: A Space Odyssey depicts the first encounters of humankind with alien intelligence. This story has become one of the most well known sci-fi tales and is written by one of the greats. The story begins as a series of seemingly unconnected accounts, but gathers speed by the time we reach the halfway point. The second half of the novel blazes by in a suspense-filled whirlwind. The last 30 pages of the book holds perhaps as much action as the rest of the book put together, culminating in a thought-provoking and poetic ending. Clarke writes without extravagant vocabulary yet manages to vividly depict the beauty of space. While 2001 has little humor and no romance and thus may not appeal to everyone, it is a must read for any true science fiction lover and contains much food for thought for any reader. – Connie M. ’17
Looking through Goodreads for a sci-fi book, I found that The Martian was voted the top sci-fi book for 2014, and decided to give it a try. Well, I certainly did not regret that decision.
The Martian was, yes, filled with highly technical scientific explanations. This, however, only added to the legitimacy of the story. But above all, The Martian is one of the most engrossing novels I have ever read. Not only was a stellar sense of humor imbued into multiple characters (I literally laughed out loud multiple times), but as the hero encountered challenge after challenge, I was so terrified of what might happen next. I could only pause my reading when the challenge was resolved. This was partly because of how realistic the story was. All challenges seemed completely plausible, and all solutions made complete sense and I was completely drawn into the story.
The Martian is a must read for any sci-fi fan and a wonderful experience for any reader.” -Connie M. ’17
All the Light We Cannot See met and exceeded my high expectations. Doerr’s masterpiece, transitionally smooth between the simultaneous stories of the two main characters, is written eloquently and at times poetically. The plot line is intensely gripping and not only conveys the deep horror and trauma caused by WWII both on the French and the German sides but also reminds us of the beauty and light that exist even in dark times. This book is not a romance — as suggested by the publisher’s book summary. Readers should be prepared for a story that is raw and emotionally moving. The decade Doerr used to write All the Light We Cannot See paid off. – Connie M. ’17
The Golden Spiders started out with an intriguing hook but it didn’t really follow through. The plot also dragged on and did not feel resolved at the end. Detective Wolfe accepts a case for a cheap price (one of the main factors that actually convinced me to read the book), but really he only does it because he is paid his usual high price by someone else who is also involved in the case. Thus, unlike other popular classic detective stories (e.g. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple), the detective is investigating the case largely because of the payment and not because they love the job (which, in my opinion, makes them better detectives). Furthermore, Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin, often runs errands for Wolfe that are promising in terms of leading up to a plot twist, but when Wolfe finally explains the solution, little of the rest of the book seems to relate to the answer. Anyway, this book seemed promising, but really didn’t live up to expectations set by the summary.- Connie M. ’17