Mini-Reviews: Fall Reads

I read all the time, even if it doesn’t exactly look that way on this blog. At most it takes me a week to read a book, though, it’s taken me as little as 8 hours to finish some. So without doing any math, that means I’ve read far more books than I have reviewed. I just can’t keep up, even if I want to tell you all about this great book that I devoured over the weekend. This fall has been particularly fruitful, just because my new job not only allows me to read books, it also feels like I need to read a lot of books to boost my ability to perform reader advisory duties. So what is a blogger to do? Write a single post of mini-reviews for all the books I didn’t get to tell you about this season, of course!

Summary Since I purchase books for nonfiction sections, I’ve spent the fall trying to spend at least a quarter of my book reading time focused on nonfiction books, although they don’t all reside in my section. Other than that, my choices have stayed mostly in the literary fiction genre, infused with a bit of fantasy, science fiction and thriller genres. Let’s not forget my favorite mystery series, which features Flavia de Luce! Of the 26 books Goodreads tells me I read from September through November, I only reviewed 7 of them here. So here are some mini-reviews of some of the others I’d like to highlight (I owe you a few more in-depth reviews, too!):

Mini-Reviews:

  • Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey: The fourth book in a series I’ve reviewed before, Cibola Burn brings us through the Rings that our heroes stabilized at the end of the third book. The premise is generally the same: Captain Holden is talked into doing a job that only he can do, then everything goes wrong and he’s forced to make decisions that affect the galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, the authors have yet to exhaust the many ways this scenario can be instigated or played out. In this case, much of the action took place on the ground (instead of space), with a tension-filled dynamic created when the crew is forced to split between their ship and those that go to the planet. What I love about these books are the authors’ grasp of science, their control of language and their ability to surprise me even when I think the basic catalyst for action is generally the same. While this is certainly not the best book in the series, it handled themes that we a species may soon face as we set our collective sights on the stars.
  • Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson: This was a free Ebook offered by Barnes & Noble as part of their Free Fridays series for the Nook. I took a chance on it because Anderson is an author I know from his work in the Star Wars expanded universe. The book had that, plus just the right combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, noir sensibilities and paranormal happenings to attract my attention. Besides the premise is unique: After an ancient item is triggered, Zombies, Witches, Vampires, Ghouls, Ghosts and more begin walking the streets. The world adjusts and they are just another everyday occurence in the world. Our hero, a private investigator gets killed, and comes back as a Zombie. His efforts to solve his own murder (and that of his ghost girlfriend) while picking up the pieces of his old life and adjusting to his new undead reality, makes for an entertaining read. It is by no means high-brow literature, but that was sort of the point.
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore has been in my sights almost a year, ever since I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and discovered that novels about bookstores and bibliophiles were generally a joy to read. This one was no different, although it had the added value of an enticing mystery and a secret society to fill out the story. I especially found much to love in the main character, considering he had floundered after losing his job as a graphic designer and was rescued by taking a job at a bookstore (it felt rather close to my own disillusionment with newspaper design and my subsequent salvation in libraries). Sloan does an interesting job of discussing the tensions between adopting new technology and honoring the beauty and tactile feel of physical books.
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman I don’t know how to talk about American Gods because I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I did not love it as much I expected to. I definitely enjoyed it, although, it took a lot longer to get hooked by it than the normal Gaiman novel. In fact, it was only my love of ancient mythology that kept me from turning away, thanks to all sorts of gods and demigods being sprinkled throughout. And while the metaphor for how our technology has become our modern god was heavy-handed at times, it was an interesting story that turned out to be worth the time invested, even if I doubt I would read it again.
  • The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley I was so disappointed by this nonfiction exploration of the literary history of murder in England. While it was packed with information, the writing was stale and generally uninteresting, at least after the first half, which is exactly what you don’t want in a book. I had to fight tooth and nail to get through what should have been a fascinating topic. It is not a good sign when you find yourself only reading a sentence or two over the course of a few pages, or deciding to skip chapters entirely based on the first few paragraphs. Perhaps it would be better to see the television special, which was the catalyst behind this book’s research. I will say that the first few chapters were good reads, but  Worsley seemed to have lost her enticing voice halfway through.
  • The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal fame:  As part of a presentation I gave to some local high schoolers about nonfiction and what sorts of books are available, I spent a great deal of time exploring the nonfiction graphic novels in our collection. I read The Oatmeal often and I also have a (generally failed) aspiration to run consistently, so I thought this would be the perfect book for me. And it was a fun book that was also informative (The Oatmeal is a humorous webcomic, so it stands to reason that it might not be packed with facts, though some of the strips are factual). And it gave hope to a wannabe runner that finds it difficult to stay motivated.
  • Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley I do love books about the human experience with food. This was another graphic novel, this time offering vignettes of the author’s most memorable and life-defining encounters with food. The illustrations were bright and cheerful, and I identified with the way the author thinks about food and her experiences with divorced parents. It’s definitely a fun read and a good example of a memoir in graphic novel form, although, perhaps not as tension-filled as Persepolis. I think it’s time we recognized that graphic novels are a valid form of literature.
  • As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes I read this book in about 9 hours over the course of 2 days during Thanksgiving break. Let me preface this by saying that I love the special features on DVDs. I remember watching the George Lucas interview that was split into 3, half-hour parts and preceded the movies themselves on the VHS over and over. I never skipped them to get to the movie. And when I got the VHS for The Matrix, I hated that I had to fast forward through the credits to get to all the good stories of how it was filmed. I love knowing all the trivia about what this or that actor had to overcome and why a decision was made to do this or that. So I am already predisposed to LOVE this book. And love it I did. Cary Elwes already has this sweet earnestness to him that makes him such a great witness to all the ups and downs of the filming of one of my favorite movies. I loved learning more about Andre the Giant, the secret motivation that made Mandy Patinkin so believable as Inigo Montoya and the ad-libbing that was essential to the success of the memorable Miracle Max sequence. If you’ve seen the movie, read this book. If you haven’t seen the movie, then see it already, crazy person! Then you can read this heartfelt and hilarious account of the making of this beautiful film.
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