Lately the pile on my bedside table is so tall it’s toppling, and even my tablet can’t remember what e-book I was halfway through. As the SF Public Library’s annual Fall Big Book Sale looms, it’s time to winnow . . . and wonder what tips the scale from “keep reading” to “let it go.” Here are a couple of books I liked but just didn’t finish.

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I love plots, and this limpid lucid book has none. It’s fascinating if you’re in a mood to slow life’s hectic pace to a crawl and let your gaze linger over long stretches of Southwestern landscape, traveling by mule or foot with two French clerics dispatched to secure Catholicism’s grip on pre-U.S. New Mexico. I enjoyed as much of it as I read, but didn’t find it compelling enough to look forward to at day’s end. Tipping point: my old copy is literally falling to pieces.

The Strange Files of Fremont Jones (Fremont Jones, #1)The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day

A charming, compelling voice gets this novel off to a zippy start. Once under way, though, I began to suspect that her narrator’s voice and a few plot ideas were all Dianne Day had planned. In 1905, rebellious bluestocking Caroline Fremont Jones flees Boston for San Francisco, drops “Caroline,” and sets up as a typist. Excellent premise! However . . . Another reviewer has compared Day to Sue Grafton; I agree in that both authors meander and vamp, as if they’re not sure which way to steer their narrators. Fremont Jones vacillates much more than Kinsey Millhone: sometimes she’s a take-charge amateur detective, sometimes a rather limp romantic heroine, sometimes a bystander in a Poe tale. The pre-quake San Francisco setting is dotted with just enough anachronisms to put me off (“mom and dad”? no formalities between ladies and gentlemen? and the big sex scene is a Harlequin classic); and by midway through the story, suspense–alas!–had dissipated.

Ascension Day Part 2 of 2Ascension Day Part 2 of 2 by John Matthews

This book is well written and fast paced enough to keep me reading (a freebie from BookBub) while I traveled. But once I stopped, I realized I wasn’t learning anything from these characters or this story, and I haven’t picked it up again. Too many mysteries and thrillers out there — too little reading time!

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