Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

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Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

First Published: 2012

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary

Age group: Adult

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Review:

As a person who loves reading, I generally have a soft spot for bookstores. Those are sort of paradise for all of us book nerds, with all those piles and shelves of books with pretty covers and amazing stories hidden in them. There is always some sort of mystery I feel surrounding me whenever I step into a bookstore, because you never know which story the book you are about to buy would be like.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mystery all of its own. First of all it doesn’t look like a typical bookstore, with its perfect rows of books divided by genre or author’s name with the bestsellers taking the front place. Not at all. This place is actually very small, narrow and the bookshelves go very high up to the ceiling, so the clerk, who is also the protagonist, his name is Clay, has to climb to obtain the requested book.

Secondly, there apparently are practically no bestsellers on sale, or any book which was popular lately. Instead there are some classics, which are mostly the owner Mr. Penumbra’s favorites. And also the Waybacklist, as Clay likes to call it. This is basically all the books which are put on those high shelves, and those are some very very weird books. As Clay finds out, they all seem like codes, because there’s no real text in them, only some letters in random order printed on every page.

Thirdly, and this is the most weird thing, is that those strange books are actually pretty much the only ones that have readers. During Clay’s shifts, which happen at night, he always have a visitor who would get this or that book from the Waybacklist. This would happen in the middle of the night, which is pretty crazy. Like, couldn’t those people wait for the morning?

So, of course, Clay is suspicious. He doesn’t know what’s going on, and at first he believes it’s some kind of a cult. Conveniently, he has some really good friends, who help him to find out what is really behind all of it. They learn that all those books really are written in code, and all their readers are just ones of hundreds other people from all over the world trying to solve the biggest code in the history of book printing.

While all those people tried to solve the code without any computers unsuccessfully for almost 500 hundred years, Clay and his team believe that it would take a computer (well, not any, but the biggest one from over at Google) about a minute to do this job. Needless to say, that it’s not like that, and in the end it actually takes a human mind to do what a machine definitely can’t.

The book’s biggest theme for me was definitely this never-ending clash between a human and a machine. Obviously, the computer can do so many things that people can’t, and they also are so much faster. But, as this story and many others show, the computer would never have any emotional connection with the things it’s working with. It just operates facts in the quickest and easiest way possible just to give a result. A computer doesn’t connect with any stuff he works with, and that is it’s weak spot.

I also liked that this book touched upon this new competition between printed books and e-readers. There are people, who are very devoted to actual books and consider those who use e-readers traitors. And there are those who go with the progress and buy all those Kindles and Nooks, fill them with hundreds of books they want to read and never go to bookstores anymore. Personally, I’m neutral in this battle, because I think it’s all about reading in the first place, and to me it doesn’t really matter how you read, as long as you are reading. And I loved that this book showed the same point of view. Penumbra, for example, is clearly the supporter of this idea. He is the owner of a bookstore, he loves actual books so much. But he also does have a Kindle, and he is amazed by how easy it is to use it.

The mystery in the book was very engaging, and the ending definitely unpredictable. It read like a quest, which I really liked. My only complaint is that I feel like there were moments in this book which seemed unimportant to the story and without them the book would have been shorter and easier to read. But, nevertheless, the idea of the book is very unique and I really enjoyed reading it.

A Million Suns by Beth Revis

10345927Title: A Million Suns

Series: Across the Universe, Book 2

Author: Beth Revis

Published: January 10th 2012, Razorbill

Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian, Mystery, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Author’s Official Site
Series’s Official Site | Amazon
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Summary:

Godspeed was once fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos.

It’s been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. Everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed.

But there may be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He’s finally free to act on his vision—no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder learns shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a mystery that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier. Their success—or failure—will determine the fate of the 2,298 passengers aboard Godspeed. But with each step, the journey becomes more perilous, the ship more chaotic, and the love between them more impossible to fight.

Beth Revis catapulted readers into the far reaches of space with her New York Times bestselling debut, Across the Universe. In A Million Suns, Beth deepens the mystery with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.

My review:

‘A Million Suns’ is the continuation of the sci-fi YA novel ‘Across The Universe’ by Beth Revis, which takes place three months after the events of the first book.

Following the death of Eldest, Elder is now the one in charge of ‘Godspeed’. That turns out a very tough occupation, as, firstly, Elder decides not to use Phydus anymore, the drug Eldest used to manipulate all the people on the ship, making them apathetic and emotionless, and thus more controllable. That is a difficult thing in itself, because people, now free in their thoughts and actions, naturally come to wonder about the general life system on ‘Godspeed’. They have lots of questions, and the answers they get are not satisfying to them. And, secondly, Elder is also the youngest person on the ship, the fact, which, of course, makes people doubt his ability to rule and be trustworthy.

Also, now that Eldest is no longer present, it means that all the information Elder earlier had no access to is now free to come by. And there definitely are lots of secrets on ‘Godspeed’. Did it stop moving, now hanging in space for seemingly centuries already? And how far away exactly is the planet, their final destination, their supposed new home? Is there a chance for all of them or are they going to die on this ship?

Among all the chaos with people’s rebellion against the obtained orders of Eldest’s system, Amy and Elder find out that there’s only one person, who can help them learn the truth. But he is coincidentally a killer, and definitely crazy. Orion is the only one, besides Eldest, who knows all there is to know about Godspeed. But he is frozen and it’s too dangerous to wake him. Luckily, though, it turns out that he left a set of clues, which Amy hopes to solve, while Elder is busy with restoring peace on the ship. Maybe it’s not over yet, and there’s still hope for all these people to survive.

The story is again narrated from two points of view – Amy’s and Elder’s. And while they are interwoven with each other, especially considering Amy and Elder’s growing affection towards each other, they at the same time present two separate subplots.

Elder’s part is all about dealing with people’s emotions. It’s a really hard time for him, as everyone on the ship rebels against him, people get violent and even kill each other. At the same time Elder tries to learn more about the ship and what keeps it going.

I liked Elder here much more, than in the first book. He is definitely growing up, he learns to be responsible and reasonable. It’s clear that he has all the necessary traits of a leader. I also admired his dedication to the people under his patronage. No matter how they act, Elder still tries to protect them, make them see reason.

Amy’s story is a quest, as she plunges into finding all the clues Orion might have left for her. Especially for her, as he makes it very clear, that only Amy can make the right decision about the ship’s future. I liked this quest-like development of the storyline, it was really exciting to find with Amy every other new clue and guess at the possible meaning behind it. But at the same time I couldn’t get the point of it. If, as Orion stresses, it’s so important that Amy finds all the clues and makes her choice, than why not let it be known to her as soon as possible? Sometimes it felt to me, like the whole point of inclusion the quest into the plot was just to keep the suspense growing.

Once again I was not particularly interested in the romance between Amy and Elder, it seemed pretty unimportant against all the other things going on.

In general, I was slightly less excited about the book, mainly because I thought there were too much suspense, that at times I got overwhelmed with all these million secrets. Sometimes, simplicity is not a bad thing.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

1656001Title: The Host

Series: The Host, Book 1

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Published: May 6th 2008, Little Brown and Company

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The Host (The Host, #1)

Summary:

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.
As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.
Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human.

Review:

‘The Host’ is another book by Stephenie Meyer, which is now totally outside of the world of vampires and werewolves. In some way, it’s sort of outside of our world. This book’s main character is a female alien, called Wanderer. The species she belongs to is called souls. Souls are these tiny and sparkling light creatures, whose only way of surviving is by inhabiting bodies of other species.

Souls travel from planet to planet, occupying them and their inhabitors, facing in most cases practically no resistance from their hosts, the bodies they take possession of. When they come to Earth, though, it’s not that simple. The human resistance is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Not only the bodies are not so easily subdued, but people actually try to fight back and drive the souls away from the planet.

Wanderer is a very legendary soul. She’s lived on way more planets than anyone of her kind, but she’s never felt any feelings or emotional connection to any of them. On Earth she’s placed in the body of Melanie Stryder, who’s a captured member of human resistance.

Melanie is the strongest host Wanderer has ever had, and as she keeps present in her head, Wanderer is set to unlock her secrets and find the refuge of the resistance. But the more time Wanderer and Melanie share the same body, the closer they become. So now Wanderer is not so sure about whose side she’s on, as for the first time ever she comes to feel things she hasn’t before, like love and friendship.

Despite having written so many books about vampires-werewolves confrontation, Stephenie Meyer did unexpectedly great writing a sci-fi novel. Of, course, this is no Star Trek, the interplanetary world she presents is not that detailed. The descriptions of other planets are pretty vague, focusing mostly on it’s inhabitors and Wanderer’s personal connection to them as her hosts.

But, personally, I was particularly interested in the souls themselves, what they look like, how they travel through space, and what they are after, and this was described very thoroughly.  It’s said that the souls consider themselves harmless and in their occupying somebody else’s bodies they see no harm. In fact, they believe it’s for the better for either party. The souls see the humans as a very aggressive and self-destructive species, so they believe they would bring only good for the Earth. But, of course, it’s not like this, as what good is there in totally erasing somebody’s personality?

The book is written from Wanderer’s point of view, and on the one side, this was a very interesting approach. I don’t remember, that I’ve ever read a book narrated by an alien. On the other side, though, I hated Wanderer! Or Wanda, as the humans, she makes friends with, start to call her. She’s just so much Bella! And while I wasn’t that frustrated with Bella in ‘Twilight’ I can’t deal with her the second time around. Wanda was always such a martyr, and this is probably the only prominent feature of her personality. In the end it got to the point, where she would be like: “We’re not gonna be doing anything to save ourselves, unless I have to sacrifice myself!” I truly understand, where she comes from, it’s not her planet and she’s not supposed to be here, occupying the body of another girl, and she really wants to help, but does it really always have to be so dramatic?

The character that I absolutely loved, though, was Melanie. Too bad there was so little of her in the book in comparison to Wanda. But I liked that she was so strong and fierce, and maybe in some times cruel or vindictive, but that’s just what made her so alive and easy to connect to. She and Jared are the only characters I truly cared about, and their love story was way more interesting to me than Wanda and Ian’s. (I didn’t like Ian, too. Where Wanda was self-sacrificing to the extremes, he was a total egoist).

Also, the love-quertet? Way too much! I’ve been cringing the whole time I’ve been reading the scenes with it! I think it’s a really fresh idea about two persons living in the same body, but loving different people, but this didn’t really translate that great into the book. (I can’t even begin to think how it looks in the movie, I have to see it yet).

Stephenie Meyer stated that there would be two sequels to ‘The Host’. I’m sure I’ll be checking them out, as the first book didn’t give all the answers and the whole future of the souls’ presence on Earth is unclear. I  hope for less love dramas, though.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

6304335Title: Beautiful Creatures

Series: Caster Chronicles, Book 1

Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Published: December 1st 2009, Little, Brown and Company

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1)

Summary:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. WhenLena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Review:

This book would have never come to my attention if it wasn’t for the movie trailer of it I once saw. As a fan of ‘Harry Potter’, I like anything about magic or fantasy. So the trailer and the book summary promised a very mysterious and unique story, so that I wasn’t even put off by its length.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is a story about 16-year-old Ethan. He leaves in a small Southern town Gatlin, where nothing ever happens. But for some time Ethan has been having the same dream about a girl he doesn’t know. So when this girl suddenly appears in flash as a new student in his school, Ethan is intrigued both by her identity and the meaning of this dream.

But the girl, Lena, is different from anyone Ethan knows. She is the niece of the town’s shut-in Macon Ravenwood, and her whole family is a mystery. While attempting to get to know Lena better, Ethan finds out that she is a Caster, a witch, just like the rest of her family. But Lena’s future is also in a great danger, and Ethan, getting more and more attracted to her, is set to protect her from any harm.

First of all, I want to point out, that ‘Beautiful Creatures’ has many flaws. While it was nice and refreshing to read a YA book written from a boy’s point of view, instead of a girl’s, I couldn’t help but cringe at Ethan’s mind works. He’s just too sensitive and girlish, so I couldn’t picture him in my mind as a strong male figure. I was also put off by his reaction (or lack of it) to finding out about this whole Caster world. He finds out about magic existing in the world and even becomes a witness to it, but it’s like no big deal to him, he is only fixated on Lena.

Lena and Ethan were another case of insta-love, that I just hate to read about. It seemed like there were no character development and get-to-know between these two, aside from them talking about Casters. Sometimes their relationship seemed like an obsession, what with their talking to each other in their minds. Way creepy! But the romance was expected from the very beginning, though I would have loved it to be more developed.

I can’t say much about Lena, as her image is not fully built in my mind. The things I know about her are all told by Ethan, and he mostly spoke about her appearance, her clothes and hair, and her magic. But she seemed like a nice girl determined to use her powers in the right way. I hope the second book in the series will give more features to Lena’s character.

The book also is heavily overstuffed with all this Southern spirituality, and while I liked some of it, like the scene of the Battle Reenactment, I didn’t get the point of it. But I liked that the story was set in a small town, as it gave the story this whole isolated feeling.

But aside from all the flaws, surprisingly for me, I liked the book. What is really great about it, is that despite of its pretty dull characters, the storyline was very strong and intriguing. There were so many mysteries to be uncovered, that the story was read quite easily, despite its length. I was also impressed that the authors managed to create this unique atmosphere of something magical and unknown, that I always felt completely immersed into the story, like I myself was there, in Gatlin, watching it all happen with my own eyes.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but judging by the trailer, I think it definitely recreates the book’s general atmosphere. While ‘Beautiful Creatures’ is no ‘Harry Potter’, it’s definitely a book worth reading, as it tells a very unique gripping story, which will keep the reader entertained till the very end.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

13569338Title: Edenbrooke

Author: Julianne Donaldson

Published: March 27th 2012, Shadow Mountain

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Edenbrooke

Summary:

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry.

From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will she be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

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I am a big fan of Jane Austen’s books, and I also love romance stories. So when I read the description of  ‘Edenbrooke’, I became immediately excited about it. British Regency is the time period I find really fascinating. It was very aristocratic and elegant. I really admire the way people were at that time, their society and all the social rules of behavior they followed. I think these people were so noble and beautiful. Maybe it was not quite like that, but that’s pretty much the image that’s been created in my mind by Jane Austen. Besides, there’s something very attractive about that time, when there were no electronic or technical devices, and people actually met in person and talked to each other instead of phone calls or text-messages.

The main heroine Marianne lives with her grandmother after her mother’s death separated her from her family. Her sister Cecily is placed in London, while their father is grieving alone in France.  Being twins, Marianne and Cecily are not exactly alike. Cecily is more outgoing and coquettish, she knows how to make an impression and to charm any man she wants. And Marianne is very down to earth and sincere. She’s doesn’t know how to flirt with men or how to behave around glamorous people. She’s happier when she’s free and alone with nature, riding her horse.

But Marianne’s grandmother is worried that, unlike Cecily, she may not be able to make a good match. So Marianne is sent to Edenbrooke following her sister’s invitation to stay with the family she lives with. The journey to Edenbrooke turns out very dangerous, as Marianne’s carriage gets attacked by a highwayman. She then is saved by a young man named Philip, who refused to tell anything more about his persona. But, imagine Marianne’s surprise when she finds out that he is actually the owner of Edenbrooke.

But, nevertheless, the attraction between Marianne and Philip keeps growing only to later break all Marianne’s hopes when she learns that her sister also has the eyes for Philip. And as far as Marianne’s concerned, she can’t remember a time when she could win over Cecily.

In general, I liked the story. It was that type of an easy-reading chick-lit pure romance book, that I just couldn’t not get affected by. It was very predictable, with Marianne being this typical damsel in distress and Philip the knight in shiny armors. I liked the progression of their love story. They started as friends, with Philip showing Edenbrooke to Marianne and letting her ride one of his favorite horses. But then the tension between them gets stronger and stronger and I found myself simply unable to stop reading, anxious for Marianne and Phillip to finally get together.

While the main reason why I was interested in this book in the first place was the similarities I believed it had with Jane Austen’s works. But I found out that aside from being set in Regency era and telling a love story, there are no more similarities. I loved how noble and just right were Jane Austen’s characters, but in Edenbrooke they are way more free in their behavior, the book really highlights all the people’s faults. In Edenbrooke the characters are more frivolous, while Jane Austen is way more strict about it, and I believe that this added a special charm to her books. Besides, I cringed at some really rude and harsh language Julianne Donaldson used in the book. This can be seen in the way Marianne’s grandmother talked to her, she really humiliated Marianne.

I can’t say  that I liked Marianne a lot, for she was so awkward, but I generally sympathized with her as she was so naive and young. Philip was a real gentleman, I was so enamored by him and his attempts to woo Marianne. In the end they became such a cute couple.

Maybe if I didn’t have such high expectations about Edenbrooke, I would have given it five stars. But I give four, because while it was quite a nice read, there wasn’t anything new or unique about it, it was very predictable. I guessed the plot from the very beginning. Also the Regency era this book tried to depict as its main setting didn’t really translate that great, sometimes it felt like it’s the present time judging by the way the characters acted. But I’ll admit I absolutely loved the romance part and that’s what really is the main attraction of this book.

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Favorite character: Philip

Favorite quote: “I hope you do not let anyone else’s expectations direct the course of your life.”