Three books about travel — Kind of

He also reads other people's books.

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time!

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, here’s reviews of three books about travel! No, really. Travel. Today I review a classic Bill Bryson book about his wanderings in the UK, a sci-fi espionage novel by Dave Hutchison about traversing the remnants of future Europe, and a much-hyped sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline about flying through space.

Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always have a lot of fun reading books by Bill Bryson. He writes in an immensely readable fashion, with great wit that is a mix of British and American humor (makes sense since he’s lived extensively on both sides of the Atlantic). I studied abroad in London for a semester, so I especially enjoyed Bryson’s commentary on English culture in this one. Looking forward to reading his new followup — The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain!

Europe In AutumnEurope In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the idea a lot. Europe in Autumn is an espionage novel set in a near-future Europe that has fractured into many smaller countries, and things are about as chaotic as you’d expect. It’s a pretty big concept that gives author Dave Hutchinson flexibility to go in a lot of different directions.

Perhaps this is a disadvantage as well — as some other reviewers point out, in this book we have a series of loosely connected episodes and a lot of minor characters. The book doesn’t really drive forward until the end when we final get a sense of an overarching story.

However, in a way I enjoyed this episodic/serial structure. Much like a short story collection, it’s a great format if you’re the kind of reader that doesn’t have time every day to read. You can kind of dive in and out without getting lost, and still feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete each episode. Hutchinson held me with his writing — occasional spots dragged, but there was always something around the corner to grab my interest again.

Still, this book definitely represents a slow-burning lead-in to a sequel where–I’d imagine–most of the meaty action comes into play. The further into this book I read, the more I felt like it was just setting up the real story. With the right payoff in a sequel, I might grow a greater appreciation for the long setup here.

ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved Ready Player One so I was eager to read Ernest Cline’s newest book. I have to say I’m a little disappointed with Armada.

The biggest rule that Cline breaks is “Show, Don’t Tell.” He writes in a breathless, enthusiastic way, but the whole time it felt more like a friend describing his favorite scenes from a movie. Yeah, that sounds like a cool movie, and I might want to go see it, but I didn’t myself feel involved in the scene.

The constant references to sci-fi books, games and film — while fun — occasionally felt like a kind of cop-out. Rather than describe what a base looks like, Cline will conveniently compare it to a set from Star Wars. All the references can also take the seriousness out of a scene. Like, if you’re really in the middle of a war against aliens, are you going to be thinking so much about which movies really did a good job at capturing the experience?

I feel like maybe I’m being a bit harsh, because the book does have a fun premise and Cline does have a talent for mixing geek references into his prose. I have no doubt that younger readers will get a kick out of this. To me, it just feels a little thin on substance, and — having really liked Ready Player One — I know Cline can do better.

Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my reviews in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!

One Reply to “Three books about travel — Kind of”

  1. I really loved Ready Player One, too bad to hear Armada disappointed. From what you said and what I’ve read of other critiques on it, it sounds like Cline got a pass with the novelty of his references the first time around, and it’s a bummer to hear he relied on that crutch again. My brother is a huge Star Wars fan though and tells me he loved both of his books so I imagine I will check it out eventually, but my book backlog is so massive.

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