*A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
What it is: The title sums it up quite nicely. Starting from the birth of the universe, Bryson offers a a concise and accessible, but never pandering, look at how the present day came to be. As the author puts it, this is the story of "how we went from being nothing at all to being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since."
How I'm liking it so far: I've read many of the author's other stories, and he is justifiably renowned for his ability to spin a fascinating and enjoyable narrative out of subjects that are all too often presented in a dry or otherwise disappointing manner. My favorite story of his is actually A Walk in the Woods, a travelogue/history of the Appalachian Trail, but I don't think I've ever read anything by him that left me disappointed. About halfway through, A Short History is proving to be no exception.
Recommendation: I would have no trouble recommending any of Bryson's stories to the average reader; he has a rare gift for combining readability with remarkable depth. This title will especially appeal to those interested in learning more about biology, geology, astronomy, and how the universe works in general.
Guantanamo: A Novel, by Dorothea Dieckmann
What it is: The story of a half-Indian, half-German man who finds himself in Afghanistan at the wrong time, and is sent to the eponymous detention facility.
How I'm liking it so far: Honestly, I'm not particularly enjoying it. It's hard to tell if the problem is the translation (from German) or the story itself, but what could be a vivid story about the psychological effects of unjust imprisonment instead feels stilted and disjointed mess. Maybe I simply haven't been reading it in the right frame of mind, but I don't expect I'll finish this.
Recommendation: Fans of prison studies in fiction (or fans of modern Russian fiction--the two sometimes seem almost interchangeable) may want to give this a look. For my part, I'm afraid I found it rather dull.
Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher
What it is: The thirteenth story in Butcher's extremely popular series starring Harry Dresden, a professional wizard living in modern-day Chicago.
How I'm liking it so far: This is a re-read, while I wait for my turn with the library's copy of Cold Days (the just-released fourteenth book). I like Ghost Stories better than the three or four books that preceded it (which I liked themselves, don't get me wrong), though I do still miss the lower stakes of the series' earlier entries.
Recommendation: I don't recommend starting here, obviously. But go read Storm Front, the first Dresden book, if you're interested in getting into the best modern paranormal series of which I'm aware.
Goren Settles the Bridge Arguments, by Charles Goren
What it is: Charles Goren was one of the foremost bridge (the card game) experts of the 20th century. This book consists of about 150 bidding arguments which players sent to him, often with significant wagers attached or as part of an effort to stave off violence, and his responses. Bridge players can get pretty intense.
How I'm liking it so far: I like it a lot. The examples and Goren's solutions are presented concisely, yet just enough of the background on the actual players is given to make each question feel like its own little story, rather than a mere problem to be solved. Of course, the book assumes that you already know how to play bridge--this isn't an expert-level treatise, but neither is it a how-to manual.
Recommendation: The fact that each problem can be digested in a couple of minutes makes this ideal reading for times when one expects to be frequently interrupted, and it's both clear and insightful. That said, it's obviously only worth reading if you know at least the basics of the game.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
What it is: Seriously?
How I'm liking it so far: I doubt it will surprise any of the regulars here to hear that I like The Hobbit quite a bit. This is probably the two-dozenth time or more that I've read it. As you may have guessed, the reason for my latest foray through the tale is because of the upcoming Peter Jackson movie. I'm going to go to the midnight showing even though I'm absolutely terrified of how they're going to mangle it (and they will mangle it, because I'm impossible to please when it comes to adaptions of books which I love. I've learned to accept that about myself), and I want to make darn sure that before I go, I have my vision of Bilbo, Beorn, Smaug, and the rest all firmly locked in place. The last thing I want to do is give up my interpretation of the main character's appearance and voice for a visual of Martin Freeman with prosthetic feet.
Recommendation: Yeah, The Hobbit comes pretty highly recommended from me. But for God's sake, if you plan to see the movie and haven't yet read the book, do so now. It's virtually always better to consume the original before the adaptation, in any pair of mediums, and I doubt that this is going to be an exception.