Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra

mr penumbra book cover

Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Genre: Literary, Science Fiction
Date of Publication: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Unemployed and desperate, Clay Jannon takes a night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Mr. Penumbra is odd, there are rarely any customers, and Clay isn’t permitted to read any of the books.  But of course, he doesn’t obey that particular rule, and he quickly discovers that this place is a lot more than just a bookstore…

This book is science fiction for those who don’t like science fiction, and literary fiction for those who aren’t fond of that genre.  I was warned that the book is very odd, but it actually isn’t that peculiar.  The reason why so many people think it’s odd is because it’s has been marketed to the wrong crowds and presented in a misleading way.  Even the cover (at least the cover of my edition) – is plain with yellow books on it.  It does nothing to convey just how eclectic and eccentric its contents really are.  It’s ironic that a book featuring a marketing expert was marketed so poorly.

That said, this book is a whimsical and fun exploration of how books and the “old” are at odds with technology and advancement.  I won’t go into details (spoilers!), but I enjoyed the plot—which at times was slow-moving, but did have some interesting twists and surprises.

Robin Sloan’s characterization of women grated on my nerves. I’ve been told that Sourdough has much stronger, more three-dimensional women, but I’m reviewing Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, not Sourdough, which I haven’t read.  In this book, there are only two or three major female characters, and they’re all heavily stereotyped.  The book doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (the feminism-in-literature test where two or more females are seen having a conversation about something other than a man in their life). Ordinarily I don’t consider this to be the be all, end all of determining if a book is sexist.  (For example, a book about a woman studying to become a doctor at the turn of the century might not pass the Bechdel test, but it sure would have feminist content!)  But the way that Kat, the love interest, is described is rather two-dimensional and, quite frankly, irritating.  A friend pointed out to me that she’s the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, which hits the nail right on the head.  I won’t go into the trope in detail here – but you can read this article about it if you’re so inclined. Essentially—her stereotype is the dream girl, the zany one who “gives meaning to the male protagonist’s life”.

Clay’s roommate, Ashley, is determined to be an “android” because she is unemotional—the polar opposite of what a woman is expected to be, I suppose. Later in the book, Clay is shocked to discover that she has other aspects of her personality—as she falls in love with their other roommate.  Insert eye roll here.

As someone who went to library school and is working as a librarian—I did find the technology aspects of this novel interesting. The discussions of information visualization, OCR, and searching databases peaked my interest, but I can’t say that they will do the same for other readers!

Mr Penumbra

I recommend this book to those who want a literary science fiction novel.  While there is very little “conflict” in the story, the pace is quick and the plot takes unexpected turns.  This book is worth a read for anyone who’s interested in a whimsical and timely (at the time of 2012) discussion of books and technology.

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Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer book cover

Title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Author: Amy Schumer
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Date of Publication: August 8, 2016
Publisher: Gallery Books


Prior to reading this book, I didn’t have strong feelings for Amy Schumer. I thought she was hilarious in her movies Trainwreck and Snatched, but I thought she could be a little crass in her stand-up comedy.  I didn’t have any strong opinions about her otherwise. I was neutral.  This has changed with this book.

Now I absolutely love Amy Schumer.  This memoir feels incredibly authentic.  Amy doesn’t just tell stories that cast her in a positive light.  She tells the stories she’s ashamed of, and follows them up with the lessons she learned (or didn’t learn!) along the way.  I read another celebrity memoir a few years ago that’s made me hesitant to read ones written by celebrities I love.  The celebrity (who shall remain nameless) was so inauthentic, so arrogant, so horrible that I ended up hating the celebrity, and now I can’t watch anything with her in it without my stomach roiling and hatred burning up my soul (yes, it’s that intense).  Amy Schumer, on the other hand, was entertaining without any of that false humbleness that is so irritatingly common in celebrity memoirs.

I listened to the audiobook, which only served to further cement my love for Amy Schumer.  Amy reads her own words with such passion.  I’m not going to lie – she teared me up at a few parts!  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she talks a lot about her father—who has multiple sclerosis—and the difficulties of growing up with a parent with a chronic illness.  The stories she tells are heartbreaking, but she breaks up the gloomy bits with funny quips to ease the tension.

Favourite

I definitely recommend this book to fans of Amy Schumer and to those who—like me—didn’t really know who she was.  You should give her a  chance.  I thought she was her television persona—confidently obsessed with her vagina—but she’s a lot more than that. I’ll also throw in a minor spoiler–that she doesn’t even talk about her privates that much in this book. 😂

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Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Vox book cover

Vox book cover

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Genre: Fiction, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Date of Publication: August 21, 2018
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group


What if women were only allowed to speak 100 words a day? In this dystopian tale set in the not-too-distant future, not only are women less than men, but they are equipped with bracelets that monitor the number of words they say.  They are expected to cook and clean for their families, and they are not allowed to do much else.  Dr. Jean McClellan is–or was–a renowned linguistic scientist, and while she once turned a blind eye to what was going on around her, now she can no longer deny what society has become. This is her story.

One of the strengths of this story lies in its modernity.  Dalcher frequently refers to technologies we’re familiar with – like Apple watches and Facetime (hmm I wonder if all the Apple product placement was funded?).  A year ago Jean was debating Pokémon Go with her son, and now she isn’t allowed to banter with him anymore.  She’s growing more and more detached from her children and husband.  We don’t realize just how important words are until they’re taken away from us.  Dalcher stitches together reality and dystopia quite seamlessly, and the realism makes this story even more terrifying.

Jean’s relationships with her family are one of the most interesting aspects of this story.  Jean has grown to detest her husband, whom she once loved.  But she doesn’t hate him because he believes in what society has become. She hates him because he doesn’t believe in it, yet he is too much of a coward to do anything about it. Her youngest child is a girl, and Dalcher does a fabulous job cultivating fear in the reader. A five year old girl is only allowed to speak 100 words a day, and it is severely stunting her emotional and mental growth.  The most powerful scene in the entire novel revolves around Jean and her daughter, and—no spoilers—but it gave me serious chills!

Jean’s relationship with her oldest son is also another highlight of the book. He has been indoctrinated into this new society, and he believes in what the deranged politicians and religious figures are preaching.  Jean’s realization about what her son is becoming is deliciously unsettling!

My biggest complaint about this book is its first line.  Every writer knows that the first line of a book is the most critical. It can draw readers in or turn them off completely.  The first line of this book is engaging and sucked me in.  That’s not the problem. The problem is that the very first line of the book reveals what exactly will happen in the rest of the book. A dystopian novel like this is characterized by the oppression. Women are less than men in this society, and Dalcher should have fostered that same feeling of oppression in the readers.  The first line tells us that the main character will bring down this dysfunctional society.  Already readers feel hope before they even have a chance to experience the depressing, dictatorial, and disturbing society that the US has become.  Knowing how the story will end did not enable me to fully appreciate the horrible things that happened, because I knew that it would all be over soon.

Vox book

I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good dystopian thriller.  However, if you’re already having nightmares about American politics and a certain orange-faced president, this book might read more like glimpse into one potential future…

*I received a copy of this ARC from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

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Book Review: Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Girls night out

Girls' Night Out Cover

Title: Girls’ Night Out
Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: July 24, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing


Three estranged friends go on a vacation to Tulum, Mexico to try to repair their damaged friendship.  When one of them goes missing on their girls’ night out, the other two must try to patch together their fragmented memories of what happened that night to find out what really happened to her…

This is a character-driven story about three insufferable, self-centered, and unrelatable women.  It’s nice to read a book about three professional women, but they are each more selfish and unlikable than the last. The secrets they’re “hiding” (at least, according to the description of the book), barely keep the plot moving forward. There’s a lot of dialogue, with a lot of roundabout conversations that don’t end up anywhere.  I don’t particularly understand why they’re friends, or even why they’re attempting to repair their relationship.  The three “girls” (women who are pushing forty—but I guess the book had to profit off the word “girl” being in the title) don’t ever learn from their mistakes. They have no empathy for one another, even though they’re all going through similar experiences in their lives.

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Book Review: Murder Notes by Lisa Renee Jones

murder notes book cover

Title: Murder Notes (Lilah Love #1) 
Author: Lisa Renee Jones
Genre: Romantic Suspense, Thriller
Date of Publication: March 27, 2018
Publisher: Montlake Romance


FBI Agent Lilah Love is working a serial killer case that brings her back home to the Hamptons, where she hasn’t returned for two years. She left behind her family, her lover, and a dark secret, the latter of which she’ll do anything to protect. But this serial killer seems to know her secret. Will she be able to catch him before he strikes again?  Or worse—before he reveals her secret to the world?

Lilah is one badass main character.  At one point she mentions that she has a “potty mouth”—which couldn’t be more aptly put.  She’s equally rude to her friends and her enemies.  Within a few sentences of this remark, Lilah mentions putting on her pink lipstick. Thank you, Lisa Renee Jones! Girls can be strong and love pink lipstick! It’s such a pet peeve of mine that female FBI agents, cops, PIs, always have to be Tom boys. They can never like pretty things or they won’t be considered “tough”.  While Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the first to break this mold, this trope is still an irritating trend in books and TV.

That said, there were a few times when I noticed that Lilah was a little too harsh on others, a little too abrasive. That’s an entirely different character flaw, and I loved that about her. Sometimes the things she said would make me cringe, but it’s all about what makes Lilah Love’s name ironic.  She’s badass, she’s broken, she’s hiding her pain with biting jabs directed at everyone within jabbing distance of her.

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Book Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending

#murdertrending

Title: #Murdertrending 
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Date of Publication: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Freeform


Dee Guerrera is innocent of killing her step-sister, but this doesn’t stop her from being convicted of first-degree murder and sent to the country’s top prison – Alcatraz 2.0.  However, Dee doesn’t spend the rest of her life trapped in a tiny cell. Instead, she becomes one of many stars of a sick reality TV show. Everyday she goes to work at an ice cream parlour on the island called “I Scream” and returns home to her house in the barracks.  But this isn’t an idyllic, peaceful existence.  She—along with all the other convicted criminals—are always in danger. Because on Alcatraz 2.0, there are serial killers who hunt down the prisoners, and the killings are live-streamed for the millions of fans watching from the luxury of their homes.

I absolutely devoured this book in one sitting.  It is a fun, campy, thrilling read with lots of relevant references to pop culture.  However, there aren’t any pop culture references that would date the book. McNeil limits herself to mentions of things like Disney princesses, and classic movies like Rambo and Die Hard. It’s definitely a good idea to stick to the classics, because if you focus too much on a movie that’s a passing fad, the book will lose its relevance in a few years.

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Book Review: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Endling

The Last Book Cover

Title: The Last (Endling #1)
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Date of Publication: May 18, 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books


What a book! I was a HUGE fan of the Animorphs book series, so when I saw this book on the shelf at OLA, I just knew I had to pick it up. I typically don’t review middle-grade books, but I might have to reconsider. Bear in mind that my review won’t be discussing how appropriate this story is to a younger audience, but focusing on the sheer brilliance of the plot and its characters.

I bet you can tell that I loved this book just from my previous sentence. When Byx’s family is killed, she fears that she is an ‘endling’, the last of the species of dairnes, which are doglike creatures that have human qualities, can speak, and can identify when others are lying to them.  Armed with nothing but a map she drew based on stories she heard when she was just a little pup, Byx is joined by other misfits on her journey to find others like her.  But it is quite possible that Byx is the endling, and that she will never find this mysterious land where other dairnes are said to have escaped.

Endling is set in a dynamic and unique world that Applegate has created. While we see some animals that we’re already familiar with—dogs, horses, and even humans—there are new species introduced, like the aforementioned dairnes, as well as wobbyks, felivets, and raptidons.

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Book Review: The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

Cover photo

the dark beneath the ice

Title: The Dark Beneath the Ice 
Author: Amelinda Bérubé
Genre: Young Adult, Horror,
Date of Publication: August 1, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire


Marianne’s life is falling apart. It isn’t because her parents are getting divorced, because her mother had a psychotic break, or even because her best friend moved away. It’s because strange and terrifying things keep happening whenever she’s around. Light bulbs burst. Mirrors crack. Furniture moves. Convinced she’s possessed, Marianne tries to communicate with the demon inside of her. This turns out to be a horrible mistake…

A major strength of The Dark Beneath the Ice is the language Bérubé uses as she describes the horrors that Marianne is experiencing.  She describes the world she’s created through lyrical prose.  The frequent use of water and ice imagery—which ties back to the title perfectly–is haunting, yet beautiful.

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Book Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

The Last Time I Lied

The last time I Lied Book Cover

Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Publisher: Dutton


Fifteen years ago, thirteen-year-old Emma was sent to Camp Nightingale for the summer, where she joined a cabin with three older girls.  Vivian, the ring-leader, instantly took her under her wing, treating her like a younger sister and showing her the ropes. But not long after summer camp begins, the three older girls vanish without a trace. In present day, Emma is still having a hard time letting go of the fact that the three girls were never found.  An artist, she paints the three girls into all of the paintings in her forest series, hiding them behind gnarled branches and thick foliage. When she’s invited back to Camp Nightingale to teach art to the first cohort of girls since the terrible incident fifteen years ago, she jumps at the chance. Can she find the truth about what happened that night, or is history just going to repeat itself?

I could not put this book down! It is an incredibly atmospheric, creepy read. I love books and movies set at camp (Camp Crystal Lake, anyone?), and this book does not disappoint! Sager paints a vivid picture when setting the scene. The trees seem to come to life, and I soaked up every word he wrote. The whole story has an Agatha Christie-type of mystery feel to it –where readers suspect everyone of hiding a sinister secret.  Anyone could be responsible for what happened to the girls fifteen years ago.  Emma herself isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of narrators, as it is revealed early in the book that she suffered a mental breakdown shortly after camp fifteen years ago.

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Book Review: Three Days Missing by Kimberly Belle

Three days missing cover

three days missing book cover

Title: Three Days Missing
Author: Kimberly Belle 
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: July 1, 2018
Publisher: Park Row


Kat Jenkins’s 8-year-old son, Ethan, goes missing while away on a camping trip with his class.  This book follows the story of the events that follow. The police search for him, and it quickly becomes clear that sweet little Ethan didn’t just wander off. He was taken. The novel also follows the story of the mother of another boy in Ethan’s class.  Stef seems to have it all. She’s beautiful, rich, and the wife of the mayor, but there is a lot more going on than what meets the eye…

Told from the alternating first-person perspectives of Kat and Stef, this story is fast-paced and full of chills and thrills. While there’s a lot of information for Kimberly Belle to get through in a short amount of time, she manages to fluidly deliver it during the course of the action, without slowing down the experience with long paragraphs of exposition.  I admire this in a writer.  In the first chapter, when Kat is getting her son ready for his camping trip, driving him to the school, and dropping him off, Belle manages to drop in critical information about Kat’s rocky relationship with her soon-to-be ex-husband, her son’s genius-level IQ and social awkwardness at school, and other pieces of information that become critical as the book progresses.

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