Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Earlier this year I raved about Ready Player One, one of my favorite books of 2012. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore struck me in a similar way. The description of the novel - "A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore..." - immediately interested me, although it took me a few weeks to pick it up. I'm glad I finally did. 

Mr. Penumbra follows Clay Jannon, who lost his job in web design due to the recession. He ends up landing a job at an odd little bookstore, located next to a strip club. The store is oddly vertical, with three story high shelves. Clay is hired for the night shift - from 10 pm to 6 am every day - and spends his time mostly playing on his computer and assisting the occasional customer. He is told to never look at the books in what he refers to as the Wayback List, odd titles that he has never heard of. The sporadic customers usually request books from that list. It isn't long before Clay and one of his friends are temped to look at the books, which are written in odd, unreadable glyphs. The customers never buy books; they simply bring one back and take another one. 

Clay uses his technical talents to create a digital model of the bookstore where he starts to notice a pattern regarding the customers and the Wayback List. When he presents this to Mr. Penumbra, he is let in on the secret of the odd books - a secret that goes far beyond the little bookstore. Clay uses his talents and calls on those of his friends (including his girlfriend, a programmer for Google) for their assistance. The story goes from San Francisco to New York and back again, while the plot mashes up literature and technology in a fascinating way as Clay uses modern tools in an attempt to crack a literary mystery that a secret society has been working on for 500 years.  I didn't want the book to end and stretched out reading it for a while. There was an epilogue at the end that ties everything together neatly - maybe a little too neatly - but I enjoyed reading what happened to all the characters, from Neel, Clay's best friend to Kat, his girlfriend. There was even a great moment where Clay visited a warehouse similar to the one at the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (thanks, dad, for catching my erroneous movie title). There were also references to a nerdy sounding fantasy series that reminded me of the Dragonlance books. 

The tone and feel of the book was very similar to Ready Player One, although without the pop culture references of that book. There are a lot of mentions of current technology - Google, kindles, etc, so the book might not have longevity, but for a 21st century fairy tale/adventure, this was quite a fun read. Definitely worth picking up!

New York Times Review 1 and 2 and NPR's Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble

Monday, December 17, 2012

Second Shift: Order Review

The next installment of Hugh Howey's Silo series (# 7) was probably my least favorite of the series. But again, I blame most of this on my recent literary lethargy. I just haven't really been connecting to anything recently (although wait until my next review - I'm eating my current book up!)

I've reviewed the books of this series before, starting with the first chapter called Wool, then chapters 2-5 and finally First Shift: Legacy, so you can go back and read my take on the rest of the novels if you wish to. The five Wool novellas were eventually gathered into one book called The Wool Omnibus, which is being published in both hardback and paperback copies this spring, although the digital versions are currently available. Turns out the Shift trilogy is also going to be bound together this spring into one novel. I sort of wished I had waited for that to come out. Even though each chapter is under $3, the Shift will would likely be around $6.

From First Shift, I remember the story of Donald, the democratic congressman, better than I do the story of Troy, whose first shift in Silo 1 forms the basis of part of that novel. Of course in the end of that book, it was revealed that Troy and Donald were the same person. I don't quite remember what happened at the end of Troy's storyline, but in Second Shift he is unexpectedly awoken earlier than he should have been by Senator Thurman. Apparently violence is brewing in Silo 18, which I actually didn't remember was the original silo from the Wool books (Holston, Juliette and Lucas' silo), although this is before their time. Thurman and one of his partners in the whole silo plan, Erskine, are concerned by some of the silos that went dark (aka out of touch by radio). Additionally, their third partner in crime, Victor, recently shot and killed himself.

With all of this chaos going on, Thurman decides to wake Troy/Donald back up because on Victor's desk was found a report that Donald had signed on his previous shift when dealing with a rebellion in Silo 12.

Donald is taken to a floor he had never been to before where he finds the only woman in the whole silo, Anna, awake. Anna is Thurman's daughter and Donald's old girlfriend who clearly still has designs on him and who possibly rigged events at the Democratic National Convention in the previous novel to make Donald's wife, Helen, end up in the wrong silo. Anna had been secretly awakened by her father because she is an expert on radio waves and might be able to find/disrupt waves coming from the silos that went dark.

Anyway, Donald ends up working with Anna to figure out what is happening with the silos. The key is that some people remember the past enough to pass down stories, which gets other people all fired up. It really just takes one person to fan the flames of rebellion. In the meantime, the audience gets more information about the decision making process behind why Thurman and friends destroyed the world but tried to restart society under ground in the silos. We find out what happened to Donald's wife, Helen (not really a surprise), and his sister, Charlotte. And the end is a cool twist that sets up Third Shift. Who is Thurman?! Well, you'll see.

The parallel story this time around is about a young man named Mission who lives in Silo 18, before Juliette's time. He is one of a group of young people who gets mixed up in a violent rebellion against the authorities of the silo. While I thought Donald's storyline was interesting, I was a bit bored by Mission's. Other characters were briefly mentioned but not given time to develop into full on people. I just didn't find Mission that compelling of a character and his storyline seemed more to give the other perspective on what Donald and Silo 1 were fighting against than anything else.

I'm still going to keep reading the Silo series and hopefully the next one will be a bit more interesting. Judging by Howey's website, he is done the 8th book... and hopefully will have better editors this time around. I definitely caught a "it's/its" error. That really makes me mad. I think I would be an awesome copy writer and a self-published author could really use one!    

Hugh Howey's website

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Death in the Small Hours Review

I've been reading very, very slowly recently. Last year I tracked all the books I read for a total of 79 for the year, but at one point I stopped counting because it got too much to enter in the dates and then do the blog and all of that. I've also developed the bad habit of reaching for my phone in the morning over breakfast and checking facebook or reading the news rather than reading my novel. And I've been a bit distracted by the whole trying to have a baby thing... or trying to have science make us a baby, I guess. There's a lot of waiting around so you would think I've been reading a lot but I just can't seem to focus. Fortunately winter break is coming up and hopefully we will have some better news soon to help me buckle down and read some good books. I have quite a list developing on my kindle.

Anyway, A Death in the Small Hours is the sixth Charles Lenox mystery. I reviewed A Burial at Sea, the fifth one in September. I liked the plot of A Death in the Small Hours better because Charles was surrounded by his family and friends, unlike the last book where he was on a boat with strangers. Charles and Lady Jane are new parents to baby Sophia. Dallington, Lenox's apprentice shows up and both Graham and Edmund (or Edward, I am too lazy to check right now) make appearances.

In this novel, Charles is asked to make an important speech for the Parliament. As a member of the House of Commons, he wishes to address the issue of poverty in Victorian England. However, other Parliament members keep showing up to offer him advice and their own suggestions for topics, so Charles has trouble getting started. His brother, Edmund (Edward?) advises him to get out of town for a bit. Fortunately, an invitation to a beloved uncle's house in the country arrives just in time.

Charles, Jane, Sophia and their governess Miss Taylor head to Plumbley to stay in a grand old house with Lenox's uncle Frederick, an older bachelor who is preparing to turn his estate over to his heir, something that Lenox is very unhappy about. While there, Charles is again distracted by a series of vandalisms occurring in the little town. When someone is murdered in the town, he quickly tries to solve the crime.

There's a lot of back and forth in the book. The murder is sort of solved by the halfway point in the novel, but that doesn't mean it's fully over yet. There are certainly other players involved who were not caught with the initial suspect. Getting to the final whodunit was a bit tedious. But then again, I've been distracted lately and it was tough for me to focus on the book. That being said, I adore Charles Lenox. He's a sweetheart of a character, as well as an intelligent, resourceful man. I also love the time period and mysteries so really, there's nothing bad about this series. I wish more time was spent with Lady Jane, but there was a delightful cricket scene where Lenox got to show off his non-political/detecting skills... well sort of. You'll see.

Long story short, I'm happy to have read the latest Lenox novel and hopefully in about a year, another one will come out. As long as Charles Finch keeps writing, I'll keep reading!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reached Review

I really don't know why I read this entire trilogy. The premise of the first one was intriguing: people live in a totalitarian society where even marriage in controlled. A young girl named Cassia is paired with her childhood friend, Xander, but then an image of another local boy named Ky pops onto her computer screen, making her doubt her future. I guess I was riding high on The Hunger Games wave when I picked this up, but frankly the first was the best because it set up the world so nicely. The other two were just meh. There were some interesting ideas - uprisings against the status quo and rebuilding the world. But Suzanne Collins did it better in The Hunger Games series. These characters were not particularly lively or interesting. I never got an idea of why Cassia was so desirable or why she loved either of the guys. They all just seemed kinda blah. You know it's a problem when you change voices with each chapter, but sometimes the reader forgets who is speaking because everyone SOUNDS THE SAME!!! Describing characters as the poet, the pilot and the physic definitely does not give them personalities.

I'm guessing that if you loved the other two books in the series (Matched and Crossed) then you will probably love this too. I just wasn't interested. The covers are pretty though.

Author Website

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble