Cover Image: Take a Look at the Five and Ten

Take a Look at the Five and Ten

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Member Reviews

Every family has its oddballs and oral history. In Ori’s uncomfortable extended stepfamily, the oddball is elderly Grandma Elving, with her endless, repetitive, boring, detail-ridden stories about the one Christmas she worked at Woolworth’s. Somewhat to Ori’s surprise, her cousin’s current boyfriend, Lassiter, is actually interested in Grandma Elving’s stories and wants to study her with a new memory-enhancing drug for his dissertation. With Ori as Grandma Elving’s chauffeur and caretaker, the experiment proceeds and Lassiter becomes convinced he’s on the brink of uncovering a decisive traumatic event in Grandma Elving’s life. A love story emerges from the past, just as Ori realizes she has fallen in love with Lassiter.

There’s a mystery here, of course, and a sweet romance, but the real pleasure lies in the wonderfully rich, quirky characters. My one quibble is that we used to call Woolworth’s the Five and Dime, not Five and Ten (and I never worked there), but maybe that’s a geographic difference.
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This book was definitely a quick read, yet I felt that it offered something powerful.  I felt that the story will be relatable and will reach many people.  The imagery was extremely nostalgic and was an nod to earlier times in the best possible way. Thanks for the ARC, NetGalley.
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Connie Willis never disappoints and this book is excellent, entertaining and compelling
I received this arc from the publisher via Netgalley
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As always, this is a delightful book.  Connie Willis never disappoints, and I'm always glad to read her unique stories.
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This fun Christmas story is a quick read and very enjoyable love story. The cover is also incredibly captivating and made me want to read it immediately.
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My Boss was pushing this on me after I asked her what she was reading and she couldn't stop going on and on about how wonderful this was.  I gave into peer pressure and am here to say...

Do it.  Read this book, you will thank me and my Boss for it later.  

Seriously, it is novella length, so not a huge time commitment, though by the end you will have turned into the MOR NOW Monster and it is SWEET and we are technically still in the Christmas season, so you need to get this in now before it is too late for a sweet and uplifting Christmas read.  

I refuse to spoil this for you, other than to repeat what I have heard others say about this author and the praise is all worthy.  I would have liked a BIT more showing the love interests together, BUT she does some amazing stuff with just a few scenes.  

So, short, sweet, Christmas with a really adorable and lovable older woman, some mean step family members and an MC to root for.  What more could you possibly want?

5, this gave me ALL the feels, stars.  Highly recommended!  

My thanks to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.
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Thanks to Netgalley for providing me an ARC of this book, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

First of all, I enjoy everything Connie Willis writes.  I've read her Oxford Time Travel books, more than once.  While those have much more serious and complicated plots, there's always the sparkle of her humor.  This humor shines forth in her lighter fiction.

Take a Look at the Five and Ten is one of these lighter pieces.  It's short - novella length - and fun.  Her characters are always well thought out, and even in short form, she makes you relate to them.  Some are good, some are (a bit) bad - no real evil here, just people who are pompous and annoying, and thus cause problems for our main character.  

This is fun, and funny.  We wind up liking the main characters very much, and mostly just laughing at the annoying characters.
I had a very good time with this, and loved reading more short form, humorous, Willis.
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A fun Christmas novella. It was nice to revisit classic Connie Willis style. My public library is very small and we already have her Christmas short story collection, so we probably won't buy this one, but that's the only reason!
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Published by Subterranean Press on November 30, 2020

Take a Look at the Five and Ten is both a Christmas story and a love story. I’m not a fan of either genre but I’m a huge fan of Connie Willis. She is known for her science fiction, typically involving time travel or an historical setting. Take a Look at the Five and Ten involves science and history but it’s more of a mystery than science fiction.

The mystery resides in an old woman’s memory of a seasonal job she held at Woolworth’s when she was nineteen. The woman is Grandma Elving, who is actually the grandmother of Dave’s fourth wife. Dave likes to host holiday dinners. In addition to Elving, this year's attendees include Dave's current wife Jillian, Jillian's daughter Sloane, Aunt Mildred, who is related to Dave’s second wife, and Ori, whose mother was briefly married to Dave at some point in his chain of failed marriages. Ori narrates the story. Dave seems like a decent fellow, Ori is meek but pleasant, and Elving is sweet, although nobody wants to listen to her talk about Woolworth’s. Sloan, Jillian, and Mildred are all the kind of relatives who make people dread holiday dinners.

Grandma Elving has spent years boring her relatives with stories about Woolworth’s. It’s all she ever talks about. Everything reminds her of it. When Sloan brings her boyfriend Lassiter to Thanksgiving dinner, Lassiter is fascinated by the Woolworth’s story. He’s researching a phenomenon called Traumatic Flashbulb Memory. He’s sure that Elving suffered a trauma that caused her brain to capture all the surrounding circumstances while repressing the traumatic event. Lassiter wants to test his theory by testing Elving as she recounts all the details of her memory, which Elving is only too happy to do. Ori is only too happy to help Lassiter, despite her lack of interest in the Woolworth’s stories, because she quickly develops a thing for Lassiter.

The mystery surrounds the nature of the trauma that triggered Elving’s flashbulb memory. Whenever Elving seems to get close to recalling it, the memory slips away, leaving her to talk about Woolworth’s Christmas decorations and the perfume counter and her co-workers and whatever other Woolworth’s-related stories pop into her head. She happily goes on field trips with Ori and Lassiter (or sends them off to look for the nativity figures she’s always talking about) as they try to prompt her repressed memory.

Lassiter’s research eventually takes him in an unexpected direction that he can’t easily accept. That’s human nature. When data isn’t consistent with our theories, we cling to the theories and blame the data. But scientists need to be better than that. They need to abandon bad theories or revise them to account for nonconforming data. That ongoing process is what science is all about. (It should be what thinking is all about, yet a large body of people prefer to dismiss reliable data as “fake news” when it disproves a false conclusion that they find comforting.) Using the tools of a masterful storyteller, Willis makes that point without ever saying it out loud.

The novella-length story touches upon issues that engender debate among philosophers and neuroscientists. Are negative emotions (such as fear and distress) stronger than positive emotions (such as joy)? Is there a difference between happiness and joy and, if so, is the difference only one of degree? Yet this is ultimately the story of two people who, while coping with annoying relatives, are drawn to each other as Christmas approaches. It doesn’t necessarily need to be read on a deeper level — as a Christmas love story, it’s sweet enough to star Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in their younger days — but Willis offers greater depth for readers who want it.

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I love Connie Willis - from her full-length novels to her novellas like this one, she has such a magical way with language... She captures the magic of human experience - for good and for ill - with such a marvelous panache. The writing in a Connie Willis story is always amazing, and this was no exception. But it's in her characters that she really shines... This story lives and breathes because of the skill with which Willis presents her personalities, from the good-hearted Ori to the selfish Jillian and Sloane (Ori's sort-of-maybe-once-removed extended family members), from the well-intentioned Lassiter to the exceptional Grandma Elving. I found myself laughing, smiling, cringing and sighing at the way this extended family lived over, under, and through each other's experiences. It was a delightful and quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
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An early Christmas present to yourself!  The younger members of an extended family group will almost always grow weary of listening to grandma's stories of her youth, but they are missing some of the best times in family history.  When all you have to give is your wonderful memories, be sure to share them with those who would appreciate and cherish them.  

Family dinner at her one time step father's home is a trying experience.  Just trying to figure out which wife's family the person sitting next to you belongs to can often serve as the evening entertainment.  When Grandma starts telling her story of working at Woolworth's AGAIN, most ignore her AGAIN.  But could her memory be more than just her annual holiday story?  The journey through Grandma's favorite memory is a wonderful experience meant to be shared.  Read this short story and share it with your holiday gathering....on Zoom or not....and you will make everyone smile.
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Amazingly an entire world is packed into this novella. I felt I was there at the table with Ori’s stepfather’s latest wife’s newest ghastly dinner food – the calamari salad complete with tentacles was the one I voted most likely to make me retch at the table. I could hear Aunt Mildred pointedly going on about how things were in her day and how bad they are now – as she glares at Ori as if it’s that poor girl’s fault. Then there’s Sloane – one of the outwardly beautiful people who always gets her way just because she always has. 

But Hark the Herald Angels Sing, things are going to be different this year. Yes, Ori will end up listening to Grandma Elving’s boring, oh-so-detailed memories of 60 years ago when she worked the Christmas holidays at Woolworth’s – Ori has even counted how many times she’s heard the part about the nativity set – but this year there’s someone new. Lassiter is even cuter and blonder than most of Sloane’s boyfriends but he actually pays attention to Grandma Elving and to Ori as well – if only because Ori is helping deliver Grandma Elving to his clinic where he’s studying TFBMs. 

Thankfully Grandma Elving insists that Ori stay with her during the clinic visits and later that she, Lassiter and Ori go together to see if revisiting her past will help spark the traumatic memory that Lassiter needs to prove that Grandma Elving’s remarkable recall of that time will work for his project. 

By the time I finished reading the story, I felt that I had worked in that Woolworth’s along with Grandma Elving and I also felt that I was watching Ori fall for Lassiter. Lassiter is much too kind and sweet – shown in how careful he is with fragile, eighty year old Grandma Elving as well as Ori – for Sloane. Okay we all know that. But what will happen? Will Lassiter break free from Sloane’s tentacles? Does he see in Ori what she – hopelessly, she thinks – sees in him? And why does Grandma Elving have picture perfect recall of that Christmas season so many years ago? 

I won’t give away any more details or clues but the tentacle dinner finale, the Mylar balloons and stuffed penguins in the elevator, plus the scene in the car parking lot had me laughing and cheering. I adored this story! A
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Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here are me honest musings . . .

The cover drew me in and three things convinced me to read this book:

1. Connie Willis wrote the doomsday book and it was seriously one of the best books I have ever read;
2. It is a Subterranean Press book and they do great work; and
3. I now try to read all the Connie Willis I can get me hands on.

I requested this not reading the blurb because ultimately I know it will be a good read.  So imagine me surprise to find out that this was a holiday tale.  I am not a holiday person and only care to pillage the baked goods.  So I had a small moment of dismay about the holiday aspect.  I needn't have worried.  This story was lovely.

Ori dreads spending the holidays with her family.  Her step-dad's latest wife and her daughter are horrible.  The other issue is Grandma Elving.  She worked in Woolworth's during Christmas in 1950.  And loves to talk about her time there ad nauseum and in detail.  Everyone dreads hearing about Woolworth's and Ori gears up for survival mode.  Only this holiday is different. 

Sloane, the current wife's daughter, has brought her most recent boyfriend, Lassiter, to dinner.  And he actually wants to hear all about Woolworth's. Lassiter is studying TFBM, or traumatic flashbulb memories.  He thinks Grandma Elving has one.  So Ori is dragged into helping Grandma Elving participate in a scientific study. which ultimately changes Ori's life.

This story is heartwarming and lovely.  I adored Ori and I really adored Grandma Elving.  The descriptions of Woolworth's were so vivid and alive.  I actually spent time trying to figure out if I was remembering ever being in Woolworth's meself or if the imagery was so strong that I just felt like I had. 

This reminded me of being a child when Christmas actually did feel magical.  Back then I loved seeing the department stores decorated, riding around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights, and watching Christmas movies.  Seriously if Connie Willis can make this grouchy grinch forgo a bah humbug and smile with nostalgia then ye know it be an excellent story.  Arrrr! 

So lastly . . .

Thank you Subterranean Press!
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A short & sweet love story perfect for getting into the Christmas season and reminding ourselves that there are happy things out there as well, even if we can only get them in Connie Willis' books.

This being a novella, it's hard to review it without giving the whole plot away. Our protagonist Ori is a modern-day equivalent of the Austenian "poor relation" at her strange family gatherings (strange because the family is a quilt made up of Ori's various step-siblings, second-aunts-twice-removed, and a former stepmother's grandmother). These holiday dinners are awkward and usually require a lot of inner peace, which Ori seems to have in abundance. At any rate, she manages to endure Grandma Elving's endless catalogue of memories about Christmas at Woolworth's in the 50s. The worst part is having to sit through her step-sister Sloane's parading of her latest med school or law school boyfriend.

But to Ori's surprise, Sloane's latest medical-student-boyfriend Lassiter does the unimaginable: he takes an interest in Grandma Elving's ramblings. Ori becomes entangled in a medical experiment that hinges on discovering exactly why Grandma Elving feels compelled to go over that one Christmas in such minute detail. What mystery hides behind all those tree baubles and candy canes?

Willis makes this kind of tight writing look easy. A compelling mystery here, an unlikely trio there, and voila! Instant holiday perfection. If you're going to pick up a fun Christmas tale this season, it should be this one.

Recommended if you like stories with relatable character interactions, deceivingly cunning grandmothers, and that beautiful feeling of comfort around Christmastime.

Thank you to Subterranean Press and Netgalley for sending me a free eARC of this book exchange for an honest review.
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Connie Willis obviously loves Christmas. I love Christmas and Connie Willis. Those of us old enough to remember the many versions of a five and ten store will revel in the descriptions of what they were like and how they made us feel. Warm and cozy.
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How delightful! This is like a romantic Christmas movie in novella form, with a tiny dash of science-y fun. I had the biggest smile on my face the entire time - this was festive, charming, and funny.
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A Christmas novella from one of my favorite authors. Willis is a sci-fi author in the classic sense, and especially with her short fiction tends to pick one idea or concept and really focus on it. In this case, it’s traumatic flash bulb memories, the phenomenon where moments of extreme trauma get burned into one’s memory in unusually vivid and unusually long-lasting detail. While I do, as a rule, adore Connie Willis, this one felt a little bit phoned in. Cute and fun story, but not one of her best.
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If I didn't already love Connie Willis, this novella would do it! Take a Look at the Five and Ten is just what we need right old-fashioned heart-warming Christmas story. Grandma Elving's reminiscences of working at Woolworth's at Christmas circa 1960 took me back to my childhood and the "dime store" that was an Aladdin's cave for kids in the 60s. Penny candy, nylons, table linens, lipstick, embroidery silks, baby could buy just about anything at the "dime store," and it was not to be compared to the "dollar stores" of today. I hadn't thought about those stores in years! Grandma Elving's full-sensory memories are wonderful, and the little bit of a love story thrown in is just a great Christmas bonus.
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Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC copy of this book.

Quirky extended families, holiday seasons, and a little romance.  This novella will make you laugh, make you smile, and make you cringe at times at how badly family can sometimes treat each other.  This makes for a very nice holiday read.
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On the surface, this novella is a holiday romantic comedy.  But underneath, there is a strong message. Everyone in the family is tired of listening to Grandma repeat the story of the time she worked at Woolworth's. They ignore and disregard her and her story until Sloane’s newest boyfriend takes an interest. 

I think the author is trying to shed light on the way many people get caught up in the trappings of fame, fortune, and fads and forget that there is more to life.  Simple pleasures and love are the most important.
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