Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

Synopsis: Clay used to work as a website designer, but then the Great Recession hits and he’s stuck looking for a new job.  When he sees a hand-written “Help Wanted” sign in the window of a bookstore, he cares more about getting the job than about the oddness of the store.  But after working the night shift for just a few weeks, he realizes just how weird the store really is.

It’s not just that the store is taller than it is wide, although that is strange.

It’s not that it’s open 24-Hours a day, although that’s unusual too.

It’s not even that the owner is an eccentric, bright-eyed old man.

It’s more like the fact that the entire back of the bookstore is shelved with old-smelling tomes that are written in code.  And that bizarre people come in at all hours of the night, desperate to exchange one coded book for another.

Clay really wants to hang onto his job.  But more than that, he wants to know what’s going on.  But the further he digs into the mystery, the weirder things get.  Clay steps from his world of buzzing fast internet, human androids, and insane technology, out into the dark world of ancient societies and black robes.  To uncover the mystery of the coded books and their strange borrowers, he’ll need the help of his girlfriend (who works at Google), his best friend (who is a millionaire), and maybe even Mr Penumbra himself.

My Thoughts: I was enchanted by this book.

Setting:  I loved the way that old, dusty books collided with new, lightning-fast technology.  It was a really neat setting (about 50 years in the future, I think), and I loved the way the MC described things.

Style: The writing style was really fun & interesting – I loved the voice.  And I especially loved how the MC was such a nerd – there were references to Harry Potter and other books/movies, and the MC was slightly obsessed with this Fantasy story.  It was awesome how the Sci-Fi world was mixed with the Fantasy-loving characters.

Characters: Awesome.  Diverse.  Funny.  Real.

Plot: Super cool.  Ever-changing, always going somewhere new.  I loved the idea of these special books that were written in code, hiding secrets even deeper than the MC could imagine.  It worked for me.

Content Advisory: There is some romance in the book, but it is NOT central to the plot.  That said, the MC mentions that he and his girlfriend “make out”, and there are a few scenes where they are in her bedroom (and one where it’s mentioned she’s naked).  However, there is NOTHING explicit at all.  Really, if you skip about two sentences, the book could be rated G.

Rating: 4.7 stars.

If you like books, computers, sci-fi, fantasy, nerdy things, things that make you laugh, or just REALLY GOOD BOOKS, then go get it from the library.

WARNING:  IF YOUR BOOK COVER LOOKS LIKE THIS, IT WILL GLOW IN THE DARK.

mr ppenumbra-glow-in-the-dark

Let it demand to be read

There’s a great line in The Fault in Our Stars – “Pain demands to be felt.”

What if our writing was like that?  What if the novels we wrote demanded to be read?  If readers were unable to sleep at night until they read the last page?

I’m in the middle of reading four books right now.  FOUR.

The first three did not demand to be read.

I was simply bored with the first.  Twenty pages in, it was still the setup for the main plot.  The plot that I KNEW was going to take place because I’d READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK!  So it was 100% un-suspenseful.  You know what I did with that book?

I returned it to the library.

(It was due.)

But wouldn’t that BREAK YOUR HEART as an author if you went through all the trouble of getting a book written, polished, PUBLISHED… and then have someone RETURN IT TO THE LIBRARY after 20 pages?

It would break my heart!

The second book, I’m reading for book club – so I (probably) won’t return it until I’ve read the entire thing.  But let me tell you: the first 5 pages are about a boy going to a swamp.  LEGIT, that is ALL THAT HAPPENS!  The dog chases a squirrel, the boy yells at the dog, and then gets hit by a passer-by for using language.  But he’s basically just CHILLING AT A SWAMP.  Oh, and there’s some cleverly disguised info-dumps about the world.

The third is okay.  I’ll finish it, definitely, but there’s nothing PULLING ME TOWARDS IT.

When I write, I don’t want it to be “okay.”  I want it to DEMAND TO BE READ.  At this point, I have a solid beginning – no boring setup or disguised info-dumps.  And no swamps.  But now I’m at a part where one major suspense point has been resolved, and the MC has no major obstacles in front of her.  No suspense.  No conflict.

It’s so bad that I don’t even want to write it, because there’s no mystery for ME.  No raging emotions, nothing EXCITING.  If I’m bored writing, that equals the reader ready to return the book to the library.

WHAT DO I DO???

Ashley and Kathleen, two of my favorite authors on the blog CrackinTheWIP, frequently talk about blowing things up when they’re out of ideas.  Or just want some more excitement. ie, “Hm, and have you tried making something explode yet? Perhaps a person, or a place, or some sort of fruit cart?”

Maybe I should try that.

Either way, something’s gotta change.  Some suspense must be added, some character must turn evil, some fruit cart must explode… something to make the chapter I’m on DEMAND TO BE READ.

WIP, here I come.

The Captain

My Love / Hate Relationship With My Book Club

Most days, I love the fact that I’m a part of a summer book club.  It allows me to read books like Since You’ve Been Gone (review here) that are wonderfully charming, and which I would never have read on my own.

But some days, I want to kill the head of the book club.  (Not really – I love her to death.  HAHAHA, that’s funny.)  Why? Because the book we read this week took my heart out of my chest, dunked it into a bucket of acid, sliced it into thirty million pieces, and fed the remains to power-hungry vultures with sharp beaks.  Needless to say, it didn’t end well.  Or at least the way I wanted it to.  (I’m not mentioning the name of the book, because the fact that I didn’t like the ending is a huge spoiler for it.)

AND THE WORST PART?  I started out loving the book.  The voice was fresh, charming.  The setting added to the mood, as it is supposed to.  There was the perfect amount of suspense, the dialogue was done well.  “This is my favorite thing in the universe,” I said frequently as I tore through the pages.  The mystery was intriguing, pulling me onward faster and faster and faster, and then

the

truth

came out

and it hurt

in ways that I

was not ready for

.

It felt like I’d been cheated, because the entire book was a giant lie.  Half the characters had been dead for half the story without the MC knowing it.  She was hallucinating.  She was responsible for their death.  And that fact was so agonizing that her brain would delete it.

no matter how many times she was told

she couldn’t accept

that she’d killed them

until the end.

she remembered

we discovered

the truth.

and it hurt.

the end.

Epilogue: I love my book club.  I just didn’t like this book.  But I do love that we can discuss our emotions and anger and feelings, look for hidden clues in the mystery, and tell each other that the next book will be better.

Cause if it’s not, I quit.

Since You’ve Been Gone

Since You've Been GoneAuthor: The delightful Morgan Matson

Synopsis: On the brink of summer, Emily’s best friend – the one who makes her life 100% interesting – disappears.  Sloane is gone without a trace, and Emily is left on her own shaky legs to try to fill her empty days.  But then The List arrives – thirteen things Emily would never normally do.  But she might be willing to try, because they might just lead her back to Sloane.

Apple picking at night?  Sure, not too hard.

Dance until dawn?  She can manage that.

But what about Steal something or Kiss a Stranger?  Emily will need the help of some new, unexpected friends to finish this daunting task.  In the process, she might not only find Sloane, but also find a new side to herself.

My Thoughts: I liked this book even more than I anticipated.

1) It is such a fun, light read.  Lots of laughter, lots of beautifulness.
2) The characters are amazing, and all so three-dimensional. They surprised me a lot, in a good way.
3) The pacing. Despite the fact that there’s not a ton of suspense, I still felt pulled to turn the page, to keep reading. Instead of driving me forward with tension, it seduced me forward with its charm.
4) The ending.  It was a lovely ball of infinite perfection.

Content Advisory: I mean, The List features things like Go Skinny Dipping and Kiss a Stranger, so expect a little bit of that kinda thing.  There are a few kisses, but nothing explicit.  Definitely more of a high-school age book, though.

Rating: 4.2 stars.  It was a tiny bit slow at the beginning.  Still delightful, though.  Like an ice cream cone where you eat through the cone part first and then are left with nothing but the delicious, creamy swirl of goodness.

How I heard about it: my summer book club!  We all enjoyed it sooooo much.

GO READ IT NOW.  YOUR LIFE WILL BE BETTER BECAUSE OF IT.