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Review: All Clear by Connie Willis

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading | Posted on 27-05-2011

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All ClearAll Clear by Con­nie Willis
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Well, this vol­ume moved much more quick­ly than Black­out did! Hav­ing read a brief piece writ­ten by Ms. Willis thank­ing those who stood by her as one book spread into two, I think I have a slight­ly bet­ter under­stand­ing now of what hap­pened that led to my unhap­pi­ness with the way the first book end­ed. They real­ly shouldn’t be two books, but they couldn’t phys­i­cal­ly fit into one vol­ume. Or, for many e-read­ers, one ebook.

It is still a large book! And, as in Black­out, it isn’t always clear just who a char­ac­ter is. I’m read­ing along hap­pi­ly and all of a sud­den, there’s a new main char­ac­ter! Wait, who is this? Has Col­in got­ten through some­how? Or is it anoth­er his­to­ri­an? Or anoth­er trip by one of the peo­ple we already know? Or – but – …Ms. Willis does a mar­velous job of keep­ing us guess­ing. And the his­to­ri­ans’ habit of using dif­fer­ent names on dif­fer­ent assign­ments meant that I didn’t always know which per­son I was read­ing about even when I thought I did know who he or she was! The read­er has to catch the tini­est details to know that some­thing isn’t quite right, or be left com­plete­ly sur­prised at the reveal! The many ref­er­ences to Agatha Christie are def­i­nite­ly mean­ing­ful, and I’ve come to believe that I haven’t read near­ly enough of her work!

I’ve always con­sid­ered Ms. Willis a cere­bral author, but my emo­tions were heav­i­ly engaged here. The anal­o­gy of Pol­ly, Sir God­frey, and The Admirable Crich­ton was so apt, and that dread­ful busi­ness in the Phoenix had me bawl­ing. By the time a hero we’d grown to know and love dear­ly fell, and fell so, so close to home, I was a bas­ket case. 

After fin­ish­ing this mas­sive duol­o­gy (which real­ly should count as one enor­mous book spread across two vol­umes), you would think that I would be sick and tired of all things Willis and not want to read anoth­er word by her for the next year or so. Instead, I want to know, right now, what comes next. I want to read about Eileen and the Vic­ar, and watch Alf and Bin­nie grow up. I want to see Pol­ly and Colin’s rela­tion­ship grow.

I imag­ine Ms. Willis is rather tired of all of them, though, and hap­py to rest for a while and remem­ber what it is to live back in this cen­tu­ry again. The Oxford Time Trav­el uni­verse offers so many rich and fas­ci­nat­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for fic­tion, and I hope she choos­es to write many more nov­els set in it. I’ll def­i­nite­ly be will­ing to read them!

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Review: Blackout by Connie Willis

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading | Posted on 26-05-2011

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Blackout (All Clear #1)Black­out by Con­nie Willis
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, Ms. Willis! I can­not believe you did this to me! A cliffhang­er? After 512 many pages? And I hung in there SO long in the begin­ning, when the book was so slow to get going! 

Seri­ous­ly – dur­ing all that nat­ter­ing about over changed sched­ules and find­ing drop sites I near­ly screamed to just get on with it already! So it is absolute­ly ridicu­lous to find that after more than 500 pages, I am not a nice res­o­lu­tion to any of the var­i­ous plot lines, but rather am referred to the next boook, All Clear!

It’s a bloody good thing that I 1) real­ly, real­ly like Ms. Willis’ work; and 2) already have All Clear on hand and ready to go, or I would have been sore­ly tempt­ed, sore­ly, I say, to throw the book across the room. That isn’t near­ly so sat­is­fy­ing with ebooks, and tends to do absolute­ly noth­ing but dam­age one’s hard­ware, so I imag­ine I would have refrained. 

But I absolute­ly would not sug­gest this work to a first-time Willis read­er. To Say Noth­ing of the Dog, cer­tain­ly. Bell­wether, even more so. But not this one, and not Dooms­day Book or Lincoln’s Dreams or, hon­est­ly, even Fire Watch (the sto­ry on which the All Clear duol­o­gy is based). 

Willis doesn’t write sim­plis­tic sto­ries, or I prob­a­bly wouldn’t enjoy her work so much, but she has a way of mak­ing the com­plex clear that’s beau­ti­ful. It’s just that these require a bit more desire to get there on the part of the read­er, to my way of think­ing, than the oth­er two. And once one is seduced by those, it is clear that the effort is whol­ly worthwhile. 

In any case, there’s no doubt but that I’m going right on ahead to read All Clear. I’m just a bit put out with the author at the moment – and very, very glad, con­sid­er­ing the heft of these tomes, that I’ve switched to ebooks! 

I still think that read­ers deserve some small reward for the sheer aggra­va­tion met­ed out thus far. Sure­ly resolv­ing some small plot issues would not have caused trou­ble? For instance, authors who are accus­tomed to work­ing with mul­ti-book series reg­u­lar­ly wrap up some issues in each book, while leav­ing oth­er, larg­er plot threads to car­ry over into future vol­umes to pro­vide continuity. 

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Question of the Day: Put it all together, it spells Mother

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Blogging, Family | Posted on 08-05-2011

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From LiveJournal’s “Writer’s Block” prompt:

What’s the most impor­tant les­son your mom taught you?

You can’t believe the words, only the actions.

No, I don’t ever recall her say­ing it. It’s some­thing I had to learn the hard way.

Book Reviews: A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Reading | Posted on 29-04-2011

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A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading A Game of Thrones, despite the fact that the series still wasn't finished when I started, because the television series was starting. Sam really wanted to watch it, and I didn't want to see it without having read the book, so I gave in and started reading.

Sam had repeatedly warned me that it was really dark, and indeed it is. I think he said that there are no wholly good characters. So far, at least, that isn't quite true. It may be something that becomes more accurate as the other volumes unfold. There are certainly no simple characters, or plots—but then, I remember enough of Martin's earlier work (on the Wild Cards series and such) that I wouldn't expect anything else. People aren't simple, or purely black and white, so why would characters in good fiction be that way?

The best way I've found to maybe tell protagonists from antagonists so far is to use the chapter names as guides: the people whose names are used as chapter names are either protagonists or survivors. I'm not sure which. Catelyn and Tyrion are the only people from the "older" generation who have chapter names. No, wait—I just thought of someone who kills my theory. I can't say because that would be a spoiler.

I did find several incidents in this first book disturbing. I don't like it when bad things happen to children or animals. Cersei would be a fun character to play, although I suppose she'll get her comeuppance at some point (or I hope she will). I've tried thinking of her as a woman protecting her children, but that's not helping.

If you're easily disturbed, don't read the book (or watch the television series, apparently). Just - don't. You won't be happy with the opening scene, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. But if violent war and political scheming, incest as a dynastic strategy, and very occasional creepy supernatural happenings are okay with you, it's a very well-written book.

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The end of A Clash of Kings snuck up on me. That's something I hadn't really thought about before, especially with an 874 page monster like this, but it can happen with an ebook. I'm reading along, eager to know what happens next. The chapter ends, I go to the next page, and - Appendix? What do you mean, Appendix! That's nonsense, there's got to be more story here than that! I want to know what comes next, dammit! GIVE ME THE STORY!

As it happens, I can start reading A Storm of Swords whenever I like, unlike all those poor folk who read this book when it was first released. I think I might need to stop and read a few other books first, though. I did read yesterday's big announcement regarding A Dance with Dragons, but there's no way I can stretch the next two volumes out to last through more than two months until book five actually comes out. I'm sure the delay will be worth it, though!

One thing Sam and I have discussed is Martin's marvelous subtlety with magic. It's only barely there at all throughout A Game of Thrones, and can easily be dismissed by anyone who doesn't have direct experience of it. It grows stronger in A Clash of Kings, but it is still something that just about anyone in the Seven Kingdoms would say belongs in tales for children. Not relying on magic for plot takes more discipline as an author, and holding back as he is says a great deal about Martin's careful pace.

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Cat & Dolphins!

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Critters | Posted on 11-04-2011

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This is just too cute for words.

Thoughts about what I want in a theme

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Blogging | Posted on 22-03-2011

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It’s been way too long since I start­ed, but didn’t actu­al­ly fin­ish, the process of mov­ing all the old arti­cles on this site over into Word­Press. I got bogged down and didn’t real­ly fin­ish, so the site stayed half-done and sucky. Now I don’t know if I should even both­er fin­ish­ing. Part of the trou­ble is that those arti­cles are SO old that when I start mov­ing them, I get bogged down in updat­ing them and I end up rewrit­ing them, and it’s hard to fin­ish even one section!

Why I’m Thankful for Caller ID

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Family | Posted on 07-02-2011

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Leaf

I’m not avoid­ing my moth­er, but I get tense when I see her on my caller ID lately.

We tend to stay in touch by email more than by phone, and if she calls it usu­al­ly means that there’s some­thing that can’t wait on email. We’ve lost five mem­bers of our extend­ed fam­i­ly since Octo­ber 2. We had absolute­ly no warn­ing with two of those peo­ple. One was a young teen.

So as much as I love my moth­er, every time I pick up the phone to talk to her now I’m expect­ing bad news.

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Needy Cat

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Critters, Family | Posted on 05-09-2010

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Katie and Kiyoshi in 2006
That’s an old pho­to of Katie and Kiyoshi. I’m not the fam­i­ly pho­tog­ra­ph­er. She is, fol­lowed by Sam. But there’s a pho­to, and this post real­ly needs one.

Oh No, I Have That Itch

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Art, Blogging | Posted on 04-09-2010

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No, noth­ing like that!

I’ve been look­ing at Word­Press themes. Again. Lots of them.

I have lots of tuto­ri­als book­marked about cre­at­ing your own themes, too. I even have a cou­ple of books on the subject.

One is quite new.

Dan­ger, dan­ger, Will Robinson!

Fall Cleaning

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Family, Gratitude, Health, Home | Posted on 03-09-2010

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It has to be fall clean­ing because it’s Sep­tem­ber, right? I haven’t done spring clean­ing at any time since we’ve lived in this house, hon­est­ly. I haven’t been able to do it. But between a new pain spe­cial­ist who isn’t all the way on the oth­er side of metro Atlanta (who actu­al­ly lis­tens to me and treats me like an adult human being who might know a thing or two about who own body, even!) and new, appar­ent­ly much more effec­tive dosages of two oth­er med­ica­tions, I’m feel­ing bet­ter despite that oth­er new pesky health thing. And Sam and Katie have been won­der­ful­ly coöperative, as much as they can around work and school obligations.