Thursday, December 26, 2019

Mini Reviews: I Know What You Read Last Fall

My life was pretty chaotic in September, October, and December, which means I read a lot of books, but I didn’t have time to review them. Instead of ignoring those poor books, I thought I’d do rapid-fire reviews. I’m not going to include summaries because then you’d be scrolling forever. Click the titles to open Goodreads.

*This post contains affiliate links. I earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Rapid Reviews Of Things I Read In Fall, Sorted Into Somewhat Random And Completely Subjective Categories

Category 1: Um . . . Not My Favorite

Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

I didn’t think it was possible, but this novel might have too much death for me. Everything that comes to the main character’s private island ends up dying, even the wildlife. It gets depressingly repetitive. I understand what the author was going for: The main character has isolated himself so much that he’s not really living anymore. This book is the story of him reclaiming his life. That’s great, but it's a bit heavy-handed. I also had a hard time believing some of the characters’ behavior. The main character is insufferably selfish. If you need likeable main characters, you should probably avoid this one. It is well-written and atmospheric, though.

The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation Of The Evidence For Jesus by Lee Strobel (Cases for Christianity #1)

An accessible examination of the story of Jesus. The interview structure is repetitive, but it makes the book a quick read that doesn’t completely overwhelm the reader with information. I got frustrated with the lack of diversity in the people interviewed. They all have the exact same perspective. I’m sure there are Bible scholars who are just as educated as these guys, but who have come to different conclusions. I want to hear from them.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End is a good title for this book because it’s monotonous. I kept zoning out during the war scenes. I like the unusual main characters and the unconventional family they create for themselves. Also, the descriptions of the American plains are spot-on.

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Full of strong-willed young characters who want to change the world. Unsettling and beautifully written, but similar to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Giver, and other dystopias I’ve read. It’s thought-provoking, but too derivative for me.

Category 2: Pleasantly Average

The Avenue of the Giants by Marc Dugain

A complicated, unreliable narrator. He seems like a fairly normal guy from the outside, but the reader has access to his thoughts, so we know that something is badly wrong with him. I occasionally got bored with the slow plot. The book has typos and a few translation issues. The fascinating narrator has really stuck in my mind, though. I'll be thinking about him for a long time.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (Creekwood #2)

Simon is back! I love him! All of the characters are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Since I’m not a romance lover, I found the romantic angst tedious to read. I don’t love Leah like I love Simon, but she seems like a believable teen to me. She’s prickly, insecure, and confused.

Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (Stalking Jack The Ripper #1)

Love Audrey Rose and her interest in gory science. Hate Thomas. His incessant flirting almost ruined the book for me. I just wanted him to go away. The mystery is a lot of creepy fun, but the ending is too convenient, and Thomas irritated me enough that I’m not interested in the sequel.

Category 3: Would Recommend

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Beautiful writing and no plot! Seriously, the writing is stunning. I love the atmosphere. The novel has a bunch of different plot threads that never came together for me. The book meanders from topic to topic, then ends suddenly. I’m tempted to reread it. I think I will get more out of it the second time.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

It lives up to the hype! Mostly, I’m impressed that Eleanor was able to take two straight months of sick leave from work without getting fired or running out of money. I want her job. Eleanor is a quirky narrator who captured my imagination. Maybe this book will encourage readers to pay attention to the lonely weirdos in the back of the room. You could be missing out on an interesting friendship.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Reread of a childhood favorite. The characters are funny, memorable, and loveable. Like the author’s other books, this one is character-driven and episodic. The book has a typical middlegrade ending. Pretty much everything is wrapped up in a perfect fairytale way. It’s a little too neat for my (adult) tastes, but I loved it as a child.

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

The author doesn’t just retell the familiar story that most Americans already know. He puts the story in historical and scientific context. It helps the reader understand how and why things went so wrong for the Donners. Since there were 80+ people associated with the party and their rescue, I occasionally got confused about who was alive, who was dead, and who was where. Despite that issue, it's a fascinating story. I now want to read all the Donner Party books.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

More nuanced than most of the other novels I’ve read about police brutality. I like that the characters aren’t perfect. They make big mistakes. Unfortunately, they also get preachy at times. The Very Important Lessons occasionally pulled me out of the story. It's still one of the best police-brutality books that have come out in the last few years.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (The War That Saved My Life #2)

Just like the first book, this one is slow. I kept wishing the pace would pick up. But, this series is the most realistic middlegrade war series I’ve read. Like a real child, Ada’s development is two steps forward, one step back. I enjoyed seeing her learn about the world and become more comfortable in it. Excellent duology!

Category 4: Go Read This!

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

I never thought I’d be riveted by a super-depressing story about marriage and the pressure that society puts on couples to have children, but here we are. The characters are morally gray and unpredictable. Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, the plot took off in a new direction. The twists could have been developed better. A few of them happen so quickly that we don’t see the characters’ motivations or the consequences of their actions. Still, I know this novel will be a 2019 favorite of mine.

Apt Pupil by Stephen King

This was a reread for me. I read it for the first time in 2014 and was completely shocked and disturbed. The premise is horrifying: An ex-Nazi and a psychopathic American teenager have discovered each other’s deepest secrets. They’re so scared of the secrets coming out that they gradually torture each other to death. I love the slow way that King builds tension. This is one of those slow-motion-train-wreck books. The characters are disgusting, and you know it’s going to end badly for both of them, but you can’t look away.

Eliza And Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

I adored this book, and I think I would have loved it even more if I’d read it as a teenager. It kept me awake until 2 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep until I knew how it ended. Eliza’s struggle to find balance is relatable. It’s a thoroughly modern novel about what happens when your online life and your “real” life collide. I love the message that online life is real life. Eliza is a whiny brat, but I think a lot of teens could understand her desire to be creative online while maintaining her privacy. If you love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, you’ll probably like Eliza and Her Monsters.

What’s the best book you read in the fall?


  1. Love your categories. "Pleasantly average" totally made me laugh. :D

  2. These categories are great, and your mini-reviews sometimes had me laughing. I'm dropping Stalking Jack the Ripper lower on my list based on your review, and I'll take a look at Eliza and Her Monsters.

    I'm not sure what the best book I read this fall was. I read several 4 and 4.5 star books, and a couple of 5-star books. I think perhaps my favorite was A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.

  3. The best thing about Leah on the Offbeat was being back in the Simonverse. I was happy to catch up with those characters, though, I hated what Albertalli did there with the romantic entanglement. I really enjoyed Eliza. I especially loved how her family surprised me. There was that one moment with her little brother, which absolutely endeared him to me.

  4. I fee like I'm the only person who hasn't read Becky Albertalli yet!

  5. I abandoned Stalking Jack The Ripper as that guy is so annoying. The Donner one-I've yet to find a book on the subject that has great reviews. The big cast would certainly confuse me!

  6. Eliza and Her Monsters has been on my TBR for AGES. I really need to read it! Maybe 2020 is the year... I know the "whining" will get on my nerves, but I'll try to remember what it was like to be a teenager, haha. Thanks for sharing these!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? ☃💬

  7. I loved the Handmaid's Tale and the Giver. Haven't heard of Gather the Daughters. I just read Eleanor Oliphant. While I hated it less by the end, she kind of annoyed me...

  8. I had majorly high hopes for Leah on the Offbeat because Simon... well, Simon just gives me life. But I felt pretty meh about the book as a whole. I found Leah insufferable a lot of the time and just hung in there for scenes with Simon. LOL

  9. Eleanor Oliphant has been on my TBR for quite a while and it will stay there for another year because 2020 is my Year of Classics. 📚

    I think The World As We Knew It by Alice Hoffman was my favorite fall read. She is hit or miss with me as an author, but I really loved this one

  10. Stalking Jack the Ripper is in my TBR List! Seeing you review is making me question if I should keep it there or not... I am curious on reading Stay With Me though!

    Elle @ Keep on Reading

  11. '...I’m impressed that Eleanor was able to take two straight months of sick leave from work without getting fired or running out of money.' - Where's the book set?

    Cos here in the UK we have Statutory Sick Pay which kicks in after 4 days off ill in a row. So your employers have to pay you if you miss two weeks with the flu, for example. And you can't be fired, here, for being ill (...well, not technically. It still happens, but employers have to be more sneaky about it - come up with smokescreen reasons to get rid of you etc.)

    I'm slightly concerned that apparently you don't get sick pay in the USA? Your welfare system is... I don't want to be rude. So I'ma leave it there! ;)