Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
My Rating: Good Weekend Read
Suggested Audience: YA – Adults
Page Count: 288
Publication: 2012

 

Background

After losing his job as a San Franciscan web-designer, Clay Jannon stumbles across the peculiar aisles of Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, where customers are few and, what's more, they do not seem to actually buy anything. Curious and in need of employment, Clay applies for a job at the bookstore, and through his computerised analysis of the clientele's behaviour, discovers that the bookstores secrets extend far beyond the stuffed bookshelves.

“Inside: imagine the shape and volume of a normal bookstore turned up on its side. This place was absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall, an the shelves went all the way up – three stories of books, maybe more. I craned my neck back (why do bookstores always make you do uncomfortable things with your neck?) and the shelves faxed smoothly into the shadows in a way that suggested they might just go on forever”

My Thoughts

It would be hard to find a review that doesn't gush all over Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. And for the most part, this review isn't going to be much different!

Not only did I really enjoy the melding of book geekery and technology, the storyline really drags you in and keeps you guessing. I really appreciated how Robin Sloan uses analogies and diagrams (who DOESN'T like diagrams in books!) to help the less tech-savvy understand the gist of what he was talking about. I admit that most of it STILL managed to fly over my head (I am so very very bad with technology – case in point: I am writing this post at the Apple Store while I wait for some desperate help from any Genius going).

But anyway – I loved the mix of sidekicks, especially Clay's artist roommate who turns their lounge room into a hand-crafted miniature city using bits and pieces he finds. Totally loved that and momentarily imagined myself doing this myself (only decided against it as I imagined my lovely fiancé's response to it, which would probably result in him tripping over said miniature city and my subsequent early demise, my body lying amongst crushed up cereal boxes scattered across the floor…). Aside from this character is a charmingly intelligent female sidekick, Kat, a refreshing portrayal of femininity in the 21st century. She works at Google and offers Clay a lot of support in a way that traditional, stereotypical portrayals of femininity avoid.

Robin Sloan is an artist of the written word. He paints together scenes with such penache that you just get absorbed into the narrative world. And with Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, it's a secretive and enigmatic bookshop – a place that most bibliophiles are not averse to in the first place. And so, in a lot of ways, reading Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore feels very comfortable and familiar to the lover of reading.

The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest—not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach. There were ladders that clung to the shelves and rolled side to side. Usually those seem charming, but here, stretching up into the gloom, they were ominous. They whispered rumors of accidents in the dark.

As I read it, I exclaimed to anyone who asked that I loved the book, that this would be one of those magical books that gets read over and over; a narrative that is devoured instead of read. Well… Now that I have finished it, I am not sure that I would re-read; you know what it's like – once the mystery is solved, the magic is over. But in saying that, I think that Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore has the potential to be made into a wonderful film (I see Tom Hanks as Mr Penumbra), and I would definitely pay to see it.

Where Can I Get It?

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Starstruck in Seattle by Juliet Madison

Starstruck In Seattle – Juliet Madison ( web | twitter | facebook )
Publication: 2013, Escape Publishing (received through Netgalley, thanks!)
Page Count: 65
My Rating: Good Weekend Read
Suggested Audience: Women

Background

Working in a small role on a leading television drama, actras Anna Hilford dreams of dating the dashing actor Karl Drake. Unsure how to win his affection, Anna seeks the help of love-coach Lulu, from LuluTheLoveAngel.com, hoping to win Karl’s affection forever. But Lulu has more power over Anna’s love life than she realises, and fate has its own ideas…

My Thoughts

The blurb of this novella reads as “A sparkling story from the Queen of Ro-magic comedy!”. While I love reading women’s literature, I try to stay away from the ultra-romantic, hard-to-believe plot lines. As soon as I read the blurb, I immediately thought that Starstruck In Seattle would definitely not be for me, and very nearly didn’t read it – what a shame that would have been, because this was a wonderfully light and truly sparkling read!

Given my expectation that this would be a heavily romantic plot, I didn’t expect to be drawn into the narrative as much as I was. Similar to other online reviews I have read for Starstruck in Seattle, my main critiscm was that I wanted a longer narrative! I was thoroughly hooked by the characters and the twists in the tale, and I just wished that Juliet Madison had written MORE!!

My main reason for this critique is that the twist in the tale regarding Lulu (which I won’t be divulging here!) was over too quickly (although part of me says “well it IS a novella, what do you expect?”). By the second chapter, you find out exactly what is happening, and I personally would have preferred a bit more suspense and mystery.

The opening lines detail an email to Lulu from Anna, asking for advice and help regarding her love life. There is something deliciously voyeuristic about reading someone’s email to an Agony Aunt column, and this was not a let down. I loved this opening for a novella – it was a wonderful way of getting to know Anna’s character quickly and succinctly.

Where Can I Get It?

Starstruck in Seattle is not currently selling on Book Depository. As soon as it is stocked, I will link the page on Book Depository to this page.

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Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston

Bed Rest – Sarah Bilston (web)
Publication: 2007 (paperback), Sphere
Page Count: 248

My Rating: Good Weekend Read
 
“Weds, 11:05am: This is the first morning of my first full day of Bed Rest and I think I’m doing great. And I haven’t switched on the TV once!
 
Weds, 6:15pm: Why do people disturb me halfway through ‘Rich’? Just as I’m settling down to watch “I was a Ho but now I’m a Hottie”, the phone rings or the doorbell goes and that’s the end of that.”
 
Background
A successful young English lawyer, Quinn ‘Q’ Boothroyd is living in New York and happily married to handsome, successful Tom. She has checked off most of the items on “The Modern Woman’s List of Things To Do Before Hitting Thirty” and is now expecting her first child. Quinn and Tom are extremely excited about their future; until Quinn’s doctor tells her she has to spend the last three months of her pregnancy on strict bedrest. Completely thrown by the idea of losing her social and professional life, Quinn begins a diary to note her time on bed rest and finds herself re-examining her world.
 
My Thoughts
While Quinn is a very likeable character, there were a few teeth-grinding moments. I flat HATED her husband Tom – past the introduction, he is largely absent. As the novel is focused on realistic themes, I found his absence grating. Maybe I’m just lucky (because my Mister is very hands-on in our house; he does the washing, cooking, cleaning…), but I’d expect an expectant father with his pregnant wife on strict bed rest to be supportive at the very least. The most Tom seems to do is make Quinn the occasional sandwich and accompany her to the odd appointment (while being glued to his phone), but for the most part he is away working and Quinn frequently laments his absence. As she is otherwise a strong, independent character, I found her constant whinging to be disingenuous; surely a woman of her elk would sit him down and say “Listen Buddy, I’m pregnant with your child and stuck on bed rest for three whole months, so you need to either buck your ideas up or bugger off!”
 
Bed Rest differs with the typical women’s literature novel; not everything ends in the archetypal “happily ever after”. Some may find these elements disconcerting, but others will enjoy the difference from the typical women’s literature narrative development. I guess that’s why I hoped Quinn would stick up for herself – I think this novel would have been much better with a good argument or two to spice it up! After all, Sarah Bilston hasn’t focused on tying all narratives up neatly and nicely, so why does Quinn have to be a push-over?
 
Apart from this bugbear, I really enjoyed this novel. I initially purchased it because at the time I needed to be on bed rest myself, so I thought I might enjoy a light, uncomplicated storyline and themes I could relate to. But this novel was much more than just a quick, uncomplicated read. It considers a few interesting ideas that complicate the storyline and make it a fascinating novel that I will definitely read again.
 
The sticker on the front of my edition reads “Love This Book or Your Money Back – Publisher’s Promise”. ‘Quite a brave promise,’ I thought (after first thinking how absolutely facetious someone would have to be to read a book and then demand their money back because they didn’t like it!). But ultimately, it was not a brave promise, because it would be difficult to find a reader of women’s literature who didn’t love this novel.
 
Where Can You Get It?
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Don’t You Want Me? by India Knight

Don’t You Want Me? – India Knight (twitter | facebook)
Publication: 2002 (paperback), Penguin Books
Page Count: 260
My Rating: Good Weekend Read (Women) / A Giggle-A-Minute Read

 

“Sex. There’s a lot of it about. And Stella is definitely not getting her fair share. She’s also got a few handicaps; she’s the wrong side of thirty-five, she’s a single mum (to the adorable Honey), and her French hot-blooded ness is liable to turn grown men pale. Mind you, the men she meets are either perma-tanned, tight-trousered smoothies with strangely white teeth or – easy tiger – balding, poorly socialised podgers. One lot have black satin sheets; the other lot have, well, wives. What’s a girl to do?”

 
Background
Mother-of-one Stella finds herself thrust firmly into the world of dating after separating from her husband, Dominic. Now house-sharing with single artist Frank (who has loud sex, making Stella feel even more out-of-touch with the modern dating scene), Stella juggles her baby girl, Honey while trying to come to grips with a world she feels ill-equipped to handle.

“When you’re part of a couple and you turn up at dinner, things are simple. You’ve made a bit of an effort, obviously, but basically you go as you. No longer; I genuinely have no idea of what I should wear in my newly separated circumstances. Clothes maketh the man and all that: I don’t know how to advertise myself.”
My Thoughts
I loved this book from beginning to end! I bought it second-hand for $8; a serious bargain given that I have read it a handful of times and have thoroughly enjoyed it every time.
Stella is such a likeable character; she honestly could be your sister or girlfriend, and the entire tone of the novel is chatty and relaxed. I laughed along with her, groaning at her awkward dating moments and cheering her along to the end. It’s the perfect novel for a long-haul flight, because you won’t want to put it down, and when you do, you will wonder at how much time went by without you even noticing.
There were a few things I found a bit hard to swallow – Stella’s ex husband Dominic, a rich art dealer, allows Stella to remain in their marital home (which Stella re-models extravagantly, conveniently paying through the sale of some artworks Dominic left behind) and Stella has no financial stresses. She doesn’t work, and yet she hires babysitters frequently and housemate Frank seems to do most of the cooking and cleaning. I can imagine that for a reader who is divorced and not so lucky in the financial department there might be some eye-rolling moments, and I did find myself frustratedly thinking “she does NOTHING all day!!”, but from my own experience those thoughts were short-lived as I kept being sucked back into the narrative before I could really question and think too much on it (and let’s face it, novels like this aren’t too focused on their connect to reality!).
India Knight touches on some wonderfully funny topics; dating an older man (who doesn’t realise (or want to admit) that he falls into the “older man” category), attending a child care centre where the mothers are “earthy” and aren’t fussed when their children poo on the floor… I don’t want to give away all of the secrets, but trust me when I say that this novel will make you laugh out loud.
Where Can You Get It?
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