Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
(Picador, Paperback, 9781250037756, September 2013, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

At the intersection of high-tech gadgetry and old school methods, you’ll find Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

The Rest of It:

This is one of those rare instances where I went into a book without knowing a thing about it. I mean, I knew nothing. I figured from the title that it would be about a bookstore and it is, but we are not talking dusty bookshelves filled with the classics. This bookstore operates 24-hours a day, is run by a quirky little man named Mr. Penumbra and things gets interesting when the new guy working the graveyard shift, Clay Jannon, discovers that along with regular books, they lend out special books that happen to be written in a secret code.

Clay’s web designer background leads him to delve deeper into the store’s database and when he meets Kat Potente, a data visualization specialist for Google, the two attempt to decipher the code and figure out the puzzle. To complicate matters, Clay and Kat realize that they are not the only ones trying to decipher the text, a secret society called the Unbroken Spine is also attempting to solve the mystery and then Mr. Penumbra goes missing leaving Clay and Kat to wonder what this is all about.

This story is a wondrous mix of old verses new. Tech-lovers will be dazzled by the Google references, the high-end book scanners and the time spent at Google headquarters, Kat’s place of employment. Others will be fascinated by the Unbroken Spine and their rigorous research methods. Or, you might find yourself somewhere in the middle. Either way, Sloan tells a good story. There’s a lot of action and just enough nerdy goodness to wrap your brain around. There’s also quite a bit of humor which I tend to appreciate in a novel when it’s handled well, as it is here.

There are definitely two types of people in this novel, the types who cannot live without technology and the types who cannot live with it, but I hazard to guess that Sloan falls somewhere in the middle because neither side is really played-up to be better than the other. That can be argued if you take the epilogue into account, where everything is summed up nicely and tied with a bow but I was okay with it.

This is a really fun read. There’s something for everyone but don’t expect it to be a traditional bookstore story because it is definitely not that.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: A Sudden Light

A Sudden LightA Sudden Light
By Garth Stein
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781439187036, September 2014, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

It feels so good to pick-up a book and immediately know after just a few pages, that it’s going to be a good story.

The Rest of It:

My “book picker” is finely tuned this year. I’ve read some interesting and fun books and I have to say, that this year seems to be the year for atmospheric reads because I have read so many and used that word so many times to describe what I am reading that I think I may need to come up with a new word.

A Sudden Light, is no exception. Fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are on the outs. His father, Jones Riddell, takes him back to his family’s home which is infamously referred to as Riddell House. Situated on the edge of a forest and overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound, it’s massive and full of secrets. The Riddells of the past ran a timber company which produced quite a bit of wealth but Jones and his sister Serena want to sell the house and property so they can build their nest eggs elsewhere. Their only problem is convincing the grandfather, who is battling dementia, that selling the property is the right thing to do.

I really enjoyed this book. There is a slight supernatural element, a lot of family history and secrets, hidden rooms and well-drawn characters. The family dynamic is touching and Trevor is such a great kid. They are all so consumed by this house and what it stands for, that they often can’t see the forest for the trees. Pun intended. Nature lovers will find this book especially appealing because there is a conservation thread to the story that is skillfully woven in.

This book is a little different from The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein’s runaway bestseller, but I really got caught-up in the story and look at that cover!

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Big Driver (Audio)

Big Driver (audio)Big Driver (audio)
Written by Stephen King
Read by Jessica Hecht
(Simon & Schuster Audio | ISBN 9781442383746 | October 2014 )

The Short of It:

The kind of story you drop everything for. The kids can go hungry, but you’ve got to finish your read. You know the type I am talking about.

The Rest of It:

This little novella was actually part of a collection, originally published in Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King in 2010.  But in case you haven’t noticed, King is on the popularity train right now. Many of his books and short stories have been adapted for film or TV or are in the works to be adapted soon and he has another new novel coming out this November, Revival.  I have some fun scheduled for that one.

Tess Thorne, a thirty-something mystery writer who lives at home with her cat, runs into a little bit of car trouble on her way home from a book signing. What she encounters is horrifying and every woman’s worst nightmare.

The story is riveting and at times, brutal. I listened to it on my way home from work, and every time I pulled into my driveway I walked into the house with my ear buds firmly attached because it was so hard to stop listening! King’s story is not that unique but there are things about it that creep you out. One, the main character creates voices for those around her, her cat, the librarian and the person she is most afraid of.

These imaginary conversations are very disturbing. More so, because Jessica Hecht’s interpretation is downright chilling. I can’t say that I enjoyed her speaking voice all of the time. Sometimes, the main character, who is supposed to be a thirty-something, sounds like an 80 year-old woman and that’s not just because of what the character goes through. Because of that, at times, I didn’t feel that her reading was true to the character.

King includes all the classic “King” stuff that keeps you coming back for more. The weird little sayings, “It likes you, and you like it.” Said, over and over until you feel like you are on the brink of losing it. The strange mannerisms and yes, the zinger cuss words here and there, coming out of the main character’s mouth. Lends the story a crassness that keeps you on the edge of your seat because you don’t know what the main character is capable of. Is Tess losing it? Holding it together? Giving up? Your heart will beat out of your chest until you know for sure.

This also counts as a R.I.P read.

Peril the Second

As I mentioned above, so many King projects being translated for TV or the big screen. This is no exception. Big Driver is airing tonight, October 18th on Lifetime. Here is a little preview and if you miss tonight’s showing, you can catch it on Sunday, 10/19.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Way Inn

The Way InnThe Way Inn
By Will Wiles
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780062336101, September 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Very strange, often clever but surreal story about a guy and a hotel.

The Rest of It:

What I said above sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But that’s really what the story is about. Neil Double is a conference surrogate. His job is to attend conferences on your behalf. Why spend money and time to send your employees all over the country for these things, when you can pay one guy to do it for you? That’s Neil. He reminded me a lot of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He’s very precise and wants things to be a certain way and he loves hotels. More than the average person and definitely more than the conference goers who normally attend these events.

This time, he is staying at The Way Inn, which is a hotel chain that he is very familiar with but there is something very strange about this particular hotel. The corridors seem oddly familiar and yet new and every once in awhile, his key card fails to work and it almost seems as if his hotel room appears in two different places. As you can see, it’s a little bit surreal once you get into the meat of the story and I think some readers might be turned off by it. However, I think the cleverness outweighed the other elements and although I did lose a little interest when I realized where the story was going, I still thought it was a pretty clever story idea.

There are some other characters that add interest. The conference head who realizes what Neal is doing and tries to put a stop to it. There is also a strange woman who keeps showing up and Neal is absolutely sure he’s seen her before. So along with the surreal stuff, there is a tiny bit of mystery as well.

Would I recommend it? I would, if you don’t mind a lot of mundane details. You see, I am a little anal and highly sensitive to noise and smells and  lots of other things these days so the highly descriptive parts about the hotel itself were fascinating to me. I can see others being bored by them though. Also, I am not sure the majority of you would buy into the surreal aspect of the story but it was a quick read and I found it entertaining. Just know, that’s it’s clever but may not be for everyone.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
By Haruki Murakami
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385352109, August 2014, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

Loss, longing and the power of memory. This novel is like a drug. I was mesmerized while reading it.

The Rest of It:

This is classic Murakami…and not.

Every time I discuss this book with another fan, we end up agreeing that it’s a classic but at the same time I cannot help but peg it as ‘different’ in some way. Let me tell you about the story first. It’s about a guy name Tsukuru Tazaki. He had some good friends in high school, two boys and two girls. They completed one another and there was no hint at all, that their relationships would not last. But to Tazaki’s surprise, all four friends stop talking to him. Instead of investigating further, he decides that he is the one “without a color” as all of their names represent a color and his does not. In his mind, he is the outcast and seriously considers ending his life.

But as he goes through life simply existing, he meets two key individuals that force him to reconsider. One is a friend who has many similar likes, and yet he maintains an air of mystery that Tazaki cannot explain. The other, is a girlfriend who forces him to seek out his friends to put closure on the situation. She asks him to do this before they can take their relationship further, and in his eagerness to move into the next stage of their relationship, he decides to find them and hopefully find out why they abandoned him so many years ago.

As a long time fan, I find that this novel is a mix of old and new. It’s much more straight-forward in the telling. There are a couple of elements that could be fantastical in nature, but overall, the story is simply told. The themes that I’ve come to expect from Murakami are all here. His characters are always these lonely souls searching for something or someone, there is always the question of, is it real or is it a dream? As a reader, you can’t be sure. The story can be interpreted many different ways and that is what makes this such an exciting read.

Many of his books can be “out there” with the talking cats, the sexy ear lobes, the awkward sexual encounters and the like but even though that stuff can catch you off guard, they are SO Murakami to me, that I missed them in this novel. Missed them, but not enough for it to affect my enjoyment of the novel itself. It’s a different type of book for him and it has me wondering if he is evolving as a writer. I know writers do at some point, but this work is decidedly different in tone. I still loved it, but I always wonder if the writing has changed or the translation had something to do with it.

It’s getting harder to choose a fave these days. To date, I do believe that Kafka on the Shore is probably my favorite but it was also my first and probably the most wild of his books. However, Colorless is probably right up there but for different reasons. One of which, is that a very similar thing happened to me a few years ago. Friendships can be complex to figure out in general but when they go wrong, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why and it’s baffling. I cannot to this day make sense of what happened to me and at this point in time, I don’t want to waste the energy trying to figure it out but it sure makes for some good reading when it’s happening to someone else!

If you want to give him a try, start with After Dark. It’s not too long but has a good mix of what I’ve come to recognize as his signature style.

Murakami recently announced a short novel to be released in the US this December. What? Yep! Another one! This one is called The Strange Library and let me tell you, it sounds like it’s back to surreal city. I. Cannot. Wait!

Special note from Ti:

When I was chosen to be a Fan Ambassador for Colorless, I was given a few copies of Norwegian Wood to giveaway. I will be posting that giveaway soon but wanted to give you all a heads-up since I gave one away recently via Facebook and some of you might have thought you missed it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385353304, September 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Civilization ends and begins and through it all there is music and Shakespeare.

The Rest of It:

I’m not sure I can even sum this book up! This is a crazy good book but not in your typical sense of what crazy good is. It spans decades and begins with the death of an actor while he’s onstage during a production of King Lear. Through flashbacks, we get to know Arthur Leander, his loves, his personalities and all the relationships he’s touched in-between. His death on-stage is witnessed by many, including a child actor named Kristen, who later is part of the Traveling Symphony roaming what is left of civilization after a pandemic. The man who comes to his aid, and fails, also appears later in the story and is one of the first to figure out that the “flu” that everyone is coming down with, is not your average bug.

This story will haunt you. The visuals of a landscape changed by illness are chilling. I don’t want to scare anyone away from it so I will say this, it’s not your typical ‘end of the world’ scenario. You can read, even in the dead of night and not have nightmares but just the idea of art and music existing in such a wrecked and broken world is enough to blow your mind. Plus, the use of time is handled very well. I am not a huge fan of jumping back and forth in time to tell a story but the before and after in this one works to really give you an idea of just how much has changed.

Is there hope? Is it too bleak of a story? No. I think that the continuation of art in and of itself is a sign of something good. I’ve not read anything by this author before and I understand she has a few other books out. I will definitely check them out since I enjoyed this one so much.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Painter

The Painter

The Painter
By Peter Heller
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385352093, May 2014, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

Thoughtfully written novel about anger and loss. Surprisingly deep.

The Rest of It:

What did I expect when I picked this up? I seriously went into it without much knowledge about the story itself and sometimes that is a great way to go into a book. The only thing I  knew beforehand, was that I enjoyed Heller’s other novel, The Dog Stars and apparently, that’s not a bad way to choose a book because I really enjoyed this one.

The story is simple. Jim Stegner is sitting in a bar one day when one of its patrons makes an off-color remark about his daughter. Jim, not a man to let such a thing go, shoots the guy and goes to prison for it. Years later, after serving his sentence he chooses not to return to the Santa Fe art scene he left behind. Instead, he heads to rural Colorado to paint in solitude, fly fish and remember the marriage that he once had, and the daughter he lost to drugs.

This quiet novel stays with you long after reading it. Stegner is an interesting guy. He expresses himself through his paintings, but his temper gets him into trouble and when he sees a guy beat a horse on the side of the road, he can’t help but act and of course this starts a chain of events that he cannot ignore. Through it all, the reader is in his head as he ponders his predicament and somehow, he is not the bad guy no matter what he chooses to do. He’s imperfect but at the same time, his actions seem logical which makes him easy to relate to.

The writing is almost poetic. Sometimes, even lyrical in nature. It’s not flowery or overdone but it’s simple and lovely and I remember feeling the same way about The Dog Stars. I kind of dig his style. It’s no-nonsense and yet deep. It’s also a very quick read. I highly recommend it because there is all kinds of stuff to sink your teeth into.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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