Connie Willis: Take a Look at the Five and Ten

Book Title (Series)
by Connie Willis
cover art by Jon Foster

(contemporary science fiction + romance)

Rating: 5 stars

This is a very cozy Christmas story that I think will appeal to fans of cozy contemporary romance as well as to fans of contemporary science fiction. While I am sure Willis’ science in this book is sound (she always does such great research) there isn’t a major focus on the science part in this novella. The bigger focus is on the characters and their relationships and growth.

And what characters! Even in a short volume, you can really get a sense of the characters introduced in this story. The main focus is on three of the characters, but all six of them are distinct and well developed. (Well enough developed for a 120 page novella, at any rate.)

I really appreciate the way Willis can write fiction about science this way. As with her novel Bellwether, this story isn’t “science fiction” in the way the genre is usually thought about. There are no robots, no time travel, no faster-than-light spaceships. There are scientists, and it is fiction. I really love the way this story works, though. It’s “cozy sci-fi” in the same way that there are “cozy mysteries.” It’s a perfect read for the Christmas holiday: sweet and nostalgic without getting syrupy or over-the-top.

Between the descriptions of the Woolworth’s, the title prompting me to start singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”, and the Christmas setting—both in the book and at home, as I read—this was the perfect book to read a handful of days before Christmas. The only thing that would have made the timing better is if it started snowing… but it almost never snows in my part of the world, so that was always a long shot.

Goodreads Summary:

Ori’s holidays are an endless series of elaborately awful meals cooked by her one-time stepfather Dave’s latest bride. Attended by a loose assemblage of family, Ori particularly dreads Grandma Elving—grandmother of Dave’s fourth wife—and her rhapsodizing about the Christmas she worked at Woolworth’s in the 1950s. And, of course, she hates being condescended to by beautiful, popular Sloane and her latest handsome pre-med or pre-law boyfriend. 

But this Christmas is different. Sloane’s latest catch Lassiter is extremely interested in Grandma Elving’s boringly detailed memories of that seasonal job, seeing in them the hallmarks of a TFBM, or traumatic flashbulb memory. With Ori’s assistance, he begins to use the older woman in an experiment—one she eagerly agrees to. As Ori and Lassiter spend more time together, Ori’s feelings for him grow alongside the elusive mystery of Grandma’s past. 

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