Saturday, March 30, 2013

DUAL REVIEW: Mr.Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Lucinda's Rating: 4/5 Stars
Tracy's Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Genre: Literary Mystery/Adventure
Audience: Adult/Older Teen

Summary: Forced to find another job due to the Great Recession, web designer Clay Jannon finds himself the night clerk at the mysterious Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a bookstore where there are few regular patrons and where the regulars borrow books rather than buy them. Little does Clay know that by walking into this bookstore he will discover a secret world that will shape his future in ways he could never imagine and irrevocably alter his view of the world.

Lucinda's Views:
This book possessed a carefully crafted plot that keeps the reader interested even to the end. The seamless blend of cutting edge technology and the history of the book will delight the reader. The mystery that comprises much of the plot is believable and works to propel the story forward. The characters are likable, believable, and fit into this tale of one young man's quest to find himself in a world which is not quite what he thought it was. For those who love a good book, but also like their technology this is a perfect read.

Tracy's Thoughts:
I didn't know quite what to expect from this book. It appeared on a number of "Best of 2012" lists and won a 2013 Alex Award. Lucinda told me she stayed up ridiculously late to finish it. And yet I've also read some less than positive reviews and a co-worker whose  opinion I trust told me that it was "weird" and "disappointing." Well... I generally like "weird" so that didn't do a lot to dissuade me, but my co-worker's inability to pinpoint exactly what didn't work for her left me feeling less than enthused about reading it. But then I read more glowing reviews and I needed to read more eligible books for the Hub Reading Challenge... so I decided to take my chances.

Unfortunately, I too ended up disappointed. For me, it was a really rough start as I found nothing engaging about the voice (as a reader, I’m all about voice :)). I wasn't interested in Clay as a narrator, and I also thought Sloan's prose was choppy and even clunky at times. The overabundance of modifiers in particular kept yanking me out of the story, inspiring annoyance rather than interest in whatever was being described:

This place was absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall, and 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 faded smoothly into the shadows in a way that suggested they might just go on forever. (Page 8)
As a not-so-secret bibliophile, a description that should have inspired awe or curiosity at the very least simply left me cold. I'm a girl who enjoys lengthy sentences and detailed description, but clearly Sloan's prose just isn't for me. However, I appreciate that this is an entirely subjective reaction—there's nothing really wrong with the writing after all—and that the prose will speak differently to different readers.

I also felt that the characters were a bit underdeveloped. Penumbra could have been a figure of great curiosity but instead seemed barely present. While Lucinda saw the characters as likable and believable, I interpreted them as one-dimensional and uninteresting. Luckily, about  80 pages in the thematic element of antiquity vs. technology emerged to advance the story. I enjoyed the idea of how technology and antiquity (in this case, old books and the knowledge they contain) can be seen as opposing forces but at the same time act as partners in advancing human knowledge and possibilities. For me, this concept was the heart of the book.

In the end, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is firmly in my "meh" category. The concept was promising but, for me, never fully realized. The story and characters ultimately fell flat, but the intriguing juxtaposition of traditional books and technology (particularly Sloan's imagined Google world and underworld hacker/pirate network) kept me interested enough to finish the book. For a better, more fully realized read with a similar feel (though, alas, without the book emphasis), I suggest reading Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring 2013 Giveaway!

Yay!... As of 7:02 this morning, it is officially spring! Which means it's time for our annual spring cleaning! Lucinda and I have once again bravely faced up to the piles of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs)  invading our offices and homes, and we've ruthlessly decided to part with the bulk of them. The good news for you? We've got 25 ARCs up for grabs, just waiting for you to claim them!

Rules of entry are at the end of the post. Please note that all prizes must be picked up at a BCPL location. Contest ends at 12:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

Here are the titles we have up for grabs!

The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton (July 2013)
Companion Novel to The Wednesday Sisters
In the tradition of Kristin Hannah and Karen Joy Folwer, Meg Waite Clayton,
bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters, returns with an enthralling new
novel of mothers, daughters, and the secrets and dreams passed down through
generations. –Excerpt from Publisher Overview

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (July 2013)
Phoebe is a factory girl who has come to Shanghai with the promise of a job—but when she arrives she discovers that the job doesn’t exist. Gary is a country boy turned pop star who is spinning out of control. Justin is in Shanghai to expand his family’s real estate empire, only to find that he might not be up to the task. He has long harbored a crush on Yinghui, a poetry-loving, left-wing activist who has reinvented herself as a successful Shanghai businesswoman. Yinghui is about to make a deal with the shadowy Walter Chao, the five star billionaire of the novel, who with his secrets and his schemes has a hand in the lives of each of the characters. All bring their dreams and hopes to Shanghai, the shining symbol of the New China, which, like the novel’s characters, is constantly in flux and which plays its own fateful role in the lives of its inhabitants. –From Publisher Overview

Second Suns by David Oliver Relin (June 2013)
"Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives," from the author of Three Cups of Tea.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (June 2013)
Three iconic transatlantic flights—Newfoundland, 1919; Dublin, 1845 and '46; and New York, 1998—are interconnected in this latest from the National Book Award–winning author of Let the Great World Spin.

The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom (June 2013)
The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.
The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut. –Publisher's Overview

Crime and Privilege by Walter Walker (June 2013)
In the tradition of Scott Turow, William Landay, and Nelson DeMille, Crime of Privilege is a stunning thriller about power, corruption, and the law in America—and the dangerous ways they come together. –Excerpt from Publisher Overview

Fox Forever by Mary E. Peterson (March 2013)
Jenna Fox Chronicles #3
Before he can start a life with Jenna, seventeen-year-old Locke, who was brought back to life in a newly bioengineered body after an accident destroyed his body 260 years ago, must do a favor for the resistance movement opposing the nightmarish medical technology.

Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen (March 2013)
Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere novels #2
When a secretly unemployed man begins robbing banks in a desperate struggle to hold onto his once-successful life, FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens approach the case from respective angles and reconnect when the robber develops a taste for violence.  –NoveList

The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp (March 2013)
Relates how the author's hopes for her infant son were shattered when he was diagnosed with a fatal degenerative disorder at nine months, and describes how she coped with her grief by studying great works of art, literature, philosophy, and theology.  –NoveList

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee (March 2013)
Forced back into the working world after her corporate lawyer husband's spectacular downfall, Helen discovers a talent for public relations and is tempted away from her dysfunctional family by her childhood crush, now a movie star who needs her professional assistance. –NoveList

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (February 2013)
"Destiny leads 11-year-old Cady to a peanut butter factory, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. –Provided by publisher. Includes cake recipes

The Ambassador's Daughter by Pam Jenoff (February 2013)
Margot Rosenthal is brought by her father, a diplomat, to a peace conference in Paris where she meets Georg, who gives her a job and a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie.  –NoveList

Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman (January 2013)
Describes the author's experiences as a young widow and the pivotal relationships she forged with five other widows, recounting the stories of their losses and bravery as exchanged throughout a year of monthly Saturday night meetings, during which the author met and fell in love with her current husband. –Novelist

Everything Was Good-Bye by Gurjinder Bastan (January 2013)
The story of an Indo-Canadian woman as she struggles to compromise the demands of her tradition and culture and her wish for a Canadian lifestyle. –NoveList
*Two Copies Available!*

The Intercept by Dick Wolf (January 2013)
Jeremy Fisk #1An adrenaline-fueled thriller debut in the tradition of Three Days of the Condor from the famed creator of TV's Law & Order, featuring NYPD Special Agent Jeremy Fisk, who is New York City's last hope against an ingenious, multi-pronged terrorist attack. –From the Publisher

Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska (2012)
Single dad Sean Benning begins to question the ethics and motives behind the administration at his son's accelerated school for the gifted and talented when he is pressured to put his son on medication for ADD. –NoveList

The Dog Lived (and So Will I) by Teresa J. Rhyne (2012)
Recounts the author's journey nursing her adopted beagle Seamus through his cancer treatment as she learned to deal with medical situations, unknowingly preparing herself for her own later triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis. –NoveList

The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams (2012) 
When a murderer strikes the city, ripping open the chests of young girls and stuffing hair into their mouths to resemble a beak, the press christen him the Man of Crows. Catherine becomes obsessed with the grim crimes, and as she devours the news, she discovers she can channel the voices of the dead, and comes to believe she will eventually channel the
Man of Crows himself. –NoveList

Other Waters by Eleni N. Gage (2012)
Her happy life in New York shattered by a property dispute in India that culminates in her father's claim that a curse has been placed on them, Maya rejects family superstitions until a series of misfortunes prompts her to visit relatives in India to break the curse.  –NoveList

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams (2011)
Offered a second chance by the Atlanta Police Department to catch a serial killer who has eluded them for years, former FBI profiler and alcoholic Keye Street begins a deadly cat-and-mouse chase with an adversary who has taken a personal interest in her. –NoveList

Wildefire by Karsten Knight (2011)
Wildefire Series #1

After a killing for which she feels responsible, sixteen-year-old Ashline Wilde moves cross-country to a remote California boarding school, where she learns that she and others have special gifts that can help them save the world, but evil forces are at work to stop them. –NoveList

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey (2011)
Marie Antoinette Triligy #1
Imagines the early life of the doomed eighteenth-century queen, who at a young age learns from her mother, the ambitious Empress of Austria, that she must leave her coddled life in the Austrian court to marry the dauphin of France. –Novelist

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (2011)
As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship- and her family- safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger--From book cover.

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (2009)
Condemned by sixteenth-century demands for lucrative dowries in order to marry, young Serafina is ripped from an illicit love affair and confined in an Italian convent, a situation against which she passionately rebels and reminds the convent's doctor of her own unhappy early years. –NoveList

Rules of Entry

1. To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below. To be eligible for the drawing, you are required to log in to the widget with your e-mail address or Facebook account AND leave a comment at the bottom of this post stating which ARCs you would like to receive. (Choose up to ten. You are not guaranteed to win your top choices, but we do our best). Click "+1 Do It!" and "Enter" on the widget only after you have posted your comment below. After completing the first task, you can also earn bonus entries by following the directions in the widget.

2.  All ARCs must be picked up at a Bullitt County Public Library location. Winners will be notified via e-mail and will be posted on this blog. Contest ends at 12:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

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