What I Read: “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” Review

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few years ago I went into the Human Resources office where I worked and asked for assistance in helping me decide what I want to be when I grow up. They made me take some fancy tests with multiple choice answers and then invited me back a few days later. I was presented with a report that told me I should become a librarian. I laughed and walked out of the room (and yes, I did eventually become a librarian). The reason those tests indicated I should become a librarian is not because I like to read (I do) but because I like to figure things out, I like to solve puzzles and mysteries, I like to learn new things, I like to make technology work for me, I like to make people’s day. I also like word play, numbers, algorithms, and I like to laugh.

Yeah, that’s nice, but what does any of that have to do with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore? Everything actually. This book has all that and more as it weaves the old (dusty old books in an eccentric bookstore) with the new (can you say Apple and Google product placement?) into a story of intrigue, mystery, and even a little romance.

The story revolves around Clay, a web designer struggling through the recession by taking the graveyard shift in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. The bookstore does very little business during his shift, but there are a few very regular customers, although they are not truly customers in the traditional sense. These customers seem to belong to some super secret, very mysterious book club that is trying to solve some life mystery by deciphering codes contained in books.

Clay soon realizes he cannot solve this huge mystery on his own, so he must pull in friends and his love interest and even all the computing power of Google to figure out what could be going on. The more he learns the deeper the mystery goes. Naturally, though, with Google helping out, an answer will be found soon.

Robin Sloan gives us a story that is warm and engaging and does not bog us down with techno-babble or other jargon. I totally engaged in this story on many levels, but for me, personally, it hit me at my love for both books and technology. Sloan shows us that we still very much need books even with all this wonderful technology we have today. Books and technology and the power they contain and the unlimited potential they bring out in all of us, if we let them.

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What I Read: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ Review

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I somehow missed this book when it first came out. My daughter recommended it, so thank you Michelle. Actually I guess I would have to thank JK Rowling, as she wrote that other little coming-of-age story, (well more than one story, that became a series of popular films, which stars Emma Watson as one of those main characters from that story, who stars in the film adaptation of Perks, thus sparking my daughter’s interest, I’m sure.

Anyway, back to this book. I really liked it, even if it is a coming-of-age book modeled after Catcher in the Rye. I liked Catcher in the Rye, but I wasn’t crazy about it. I didn’t like it as much as others expected me (or everyone, really) to like it. But I really liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower. While both Holden and Charlie are those awkward teenagers so many can relate to, Holden was a bit too whiny for me while Charlie just accepted things.

There is a lot to like about the book…the books that are mentioned that Charlie must read, the music that Charlie uses to make great mix tapes (which is another reason that I like this book because mix tapes required a lot more work and effort than making playlists today), the TV shows, the movies, and all that is (was) cool about being a teenager back then. Yes, granted Perks has a cult following because of much of these things, many of which have their own cult following, such as Catcher in the Rye, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Oh…and great quotes like this one:

“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”

Coolness (or should it be hipness?) aside, what makes this book good is that Chbosky really captures teenage angst, depression, curiosity, and social adjustments. The writing is excellent: crisp, clean and captures Charlie’s voice very well. A lot of issues are packed into this tightly written book. The characterizations are spot on: realistic teenage characters with all the typical teenage dynamics and drama. Let’s not forget the humor, either. This story is packed with dry, biting and dark humor.

So, yes, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by the movie, too.

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What I Read: ‘Wild’ Review

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Wild” is a journey within a journey about a woman who seeks to find herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Reeling from grief over her mother’s death, unable to forgive herself for her excessive indulgences that lead to her divorce, the loss of closeness from her family, unable to complete her undergraduate degree, and a chance encounter with a book called “The Pacific Crest Trail” lead her on journey to cover 1,100 miles of the PCT on a solo hike. She is underprepared for this hike but continuously pushes through to reach her goal, making most readers believe they, too, could take such a journey.

On my bucket list is to hike that other trail…the Appalachian Trail, so I could relate to this book in many ways. However, I will be old when I eventually hike the AT, wishing I had done it when I was Cheryl’s age when she did the PCT. There were many things she did that I could easily see myself doing as well, especially being underprepared for what exactly is involved with such a huge undertaking. It also confirmed for me why I would love to do something like this…all the interesting people you meet along the way.

I also like that she did this on her own and highlights both the advantages and disadvantages of being a solo female hiker. The story is engaging and a quick read. Oh–and the sex is better in this book than in 50 Shades.

I’ll end this with some of my favorite lines in the book:

“I think it’s neat you do what you want. Not enough chicks do that, if you ask me–just tell society and their expectations to go fuck themselves. If more women did that, we’d be better off.”

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What I Read: Dark Places Review

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gillian Flynn creates complex characters and delves into their thoughts and interactions. Her writing is smart and complex, making you examine the twists and turns and willing you to determine what the conclusion is, yet doesn’t leave you feeling disappointed when the conclusion is not as you may have expected.

She presents Libby as the victim, the child spared when her mother and sisters are brutally murdered. Being the only witness, she must testify against her brother, putting him in jail for these horrible crimes. This is a victim we should easily feel sorry for, yet Flynn adds another layer to Libby’s character making her a victim that you at times like and dislike.

Flynn’s tale examines people’s assumptions, intentions, motives, actions, and their consequences. This is a tightly wound thriller that will not disappoint.

Flynn carries her smart writing right through to her entertaining acknowledgements. I love this line, in reference to her husband: “What do I say to a man who knows how I think and still sleeps next to me with the lights off?”

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