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: ★ ★ ★ ★

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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.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

8235178Title: Across the Universe

Series: Across the Universe, Book 1

Author: Beth Revis

Published: January 11th 2011, Razorbill

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Mystery, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)

Summary:

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

My review:

This book was on my TBR list for seemingly ages! I really liked the cover, there is something both mysterious and romantic about it. Also, I genuinely like anything involving space or space adventures, so I was interested. But for so long time I didn’t feel a strong desire to read it. Maybe due to the book’s very vague summary, that doesn’t actually hint at what really is going to happen. Or maybe I was just not in the mood to read a long sci-fi story.

But this year the last third installment was released, and I’ve seen like millions reviews on it, or people saying how they needed to read it right away, so I was kind of compelled to find out what the hype was about.

I’m not gonna lie. I LOVED this book! It was amazing and absolutely not something I expected. Well, I guessed it would be just another teenage love story only set on a spaceship, with some drama that would all end happily when they land on a new planet. But that’s not what this book is about at all.

The beginning of the book reminded me of ‘Alien’ movies, where people would get into hypersleep to fly to different planets. This type of journey would typically take ages, so there’s no other way to survive it.

In ‘Across the Universe’ Amy and her parents are sent to a whole new planet, which is 300 hundred years away, to build a colony there. So the three of them, including a hundred other scientists and military people are frozen, and I really liked the scene depicting this process. It was really creepy, but so greatly described, like the author had seen it done before.

The storytelling of the book shifts from two points of view, one belongs to Amy, and the other to Elder. Elder is a 16 year old future leader of the spaceship ‘Godspeed’ that’s been sent to this new planet. The thing with this whole journey is that, apparently, there were needed active people on the ship to ensure it would function properly. This is the thing that I never fully understood, as it’s mentioned later on, that ‘Godspeed’ is on autopilot…. So there’s a whole human population counting many generations. And there’s also a sort of imitated world inside the ship, with houses, farms, where people grow plants and breed animals, and also a solar lamp as a sun.

It’s really hard to maintain a normal society, especially in an enclosed space, so the leader is needed. On ‘Godspeed’ the leader is called Eldest, he controls every aspect of the ship, both its functioning and the people on it. At the same time Eldest is preparing his successor Elder. This scheme has been working for years, but it’s all getting messed up after Amy is accidentally woken up when it’s yet too early for the ship to land.

What happens next is a whole set of mysteries that just kept me unable to put this book down. There was so much stuff going on, I always wanted to know more. I really admired the way Beth Revis took this absolutely unimaginable and totally unrealistic theme about space travels and made it so believable and realistic. Before that I would only need a movie to be able to imagine this type of setting, but her writing certainly built a very bright picture in my mind. Everything, starting from the moment Amy gets frozen, to describing the life on a spaceship perfectly recreated this feeling of being in confined place, yet terrifying as there’s only endless space outside and no other place to go.

Speaking about the characters, I think they were all OK. I liked both Amy and Elder, though I didn’t care that much about the romance between them. I really did feel like the storyline was so much stronger in itself, that all the characters sort of blended into it and simply played their parts to keep it going. Because I seriously couldn’t care less about Elder pining over Amy, or Amy worrying if her attraction to Elder is the reason of having no other choice, when there are people getting killed by someone, and this happening on a freaking spaceship, which left Earth like 300 years ago! Teenage angst definitely could wait!

All in all, the book was amazing, and I really loved it. I really hope they would make a movie version of it, I think it would be terrific!

 

Last Diner Standing by Terri L. Austin

17133514Title: Last Diner Standing

Series: Rose Strickland Mystery, Book 2

Author: Terri L. Austin

Published: December 3rd 2012 by Henery Press

Genre: Mystery

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Last Diner Standing (Rose Strickland Mystery, #2)

Summary:

Rose Strickland is having a blue Christmas. Her friend is arrested for attempted murder, her sexy bad guy crush is marked by a hit man, and her boss is locked in an epic smackdown with a rival diner. Determined to save those she loves, Rose embarks on an investigation more tangled than a box of last year’s tree lights.

With her eclectic gang at the ready, Rose stumbles across dead bodies, ex-cons, chop shops, jealous girlfriends, jilted lovers, and a gaggle of strippers in a battle for freedom she might not survive.

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Having read the first book in the Rose Strickland Series last week, I was right away hooked onto it, and couldn’t wait to read the next one ‘Last Diner Standing’. You can guess, that I had really high expectations about it, but they were all justified.

Just like the first installment, ‘Diners, Dives & Dead Ends’ focuses on its main character Rose Strickland navigating the crime world of Huntingford City. This time Rose is trying to prove the innocence of her friend Janelle, who is accused of hitting her ex-husband (known from the previous book as Asshat) and murdering his lover Crystal (or Chicken Licker :)). Janelle swears she didn’t do anything, but she may go to prison for life if her innocence isn’t confirmed. Besides, she has two kids to raise, and of she is imprisoned they will go into foster care. Rose is a true and reliable friend, and she believes Janelle wholeheartedly. In fact, she starts her own investigation, when the police once again turns out useless.

Rose Strickland is the kind of character I couldn’t help but admire. I already mentioned in my review of ‘Diners, Dives & Dead Ends’, that she was a very refreshing type of heroine. She is a loyal and devoted friend, has a good head on her shoulders and a wicked sense of humor. But what is also great about her is that she is very independent and won’t let anybody make decisions for her (Even Sullivan, though he really tries). It’s been a long time since I really loved a book character, but Rose is so amazing. She is the type of person I would definitely be friends with in real life.

But, as a matter of fact, ‘Last Diner Standing’ simply abounds in a set of good, well-developed characters, both main and supporting. It’s not like other books where you only care about the main characters and all the others fade into the background. In Terri L. Austin’s books everyone has their own story, either funny or mysterious, but all intertwined with Rose’s.

I loved the addition of the diners’ confrontation as a side-story. While Rose rushed all over the town in search of the real killer, there were some really funny thing happening at her workplace. Ma, the owner of the diner Rose works as a waitress at, is all worked up about her rival Rudy now serving breakfasts, too. But Ma isn’t going to let this pass, her diner has been famous for their breakfasts for many years. And now Ma isn’t going to lose, even if it means for her to start serving lunches, which slowly exhausts both her and her staff. The battle of the diners was such an amusing plot line and after reading about Rose’s dangerous adventures, it was a good contrast to let my mind relax at this humorous drama.

What was only a hint at romance in the first book, now is a strong growing attraction between Rose and Sullivan. Their romance may be considered forbidden (what with Sullivan being a high-profile criminal), but just like Rose I could easily forget about it, when Sullivan was so attentive and caring. Again it was a good contrast, as it showed that not every criminal is heartless, like those Rose met in her investigation. Some of them are normal people, who just happened to be on the other side of the law system.

The cozy mystery books by Terri L. Austin are the first of this genre that I’ve read, and now I’ve become a real fan, especially of this particular series. I’m in a desperate need to get my hands on the continuation, I really hope it will come out soon. These books are the ones that can make you forget the time and place you’re in, as their intriguing plots won’t let you stop reading till the very ending. Thanks to Terri L. Austin for such a wonderful reading experience!

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Favorite character: Rose Strickland

Favorite quote: “There are some absolutes in this life that are irrefutable. If you leave the house looking like crap, you’ll see someone you know, usually an ex-boyfriend. If you’re running late for an appointment, you’ll hit every red kight on the way. And a three a.m. phone call is never good news.”

Diners, Dives & Dead Ends by Terri L. Austin

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Title: Diners, Dives & Dead Ends

Series: Rose Strickland Mystery, Book 1

Author: Terri L. Austin

Published: July 12th 2012 by Henery Press

Edition: ebook, 235 pages

Genre: Mystery

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Diners, Dives & Dead Ends (Rose Strickland Mystery, #1)

Rose Strickland, 24 years old, comes from a rich and snobby family. Her mother is controlling pretty much every aspect of her husband’s and her two daughters’ lives. While the older sister Jacqueline is more than happy to oblige, to follow whatever life path her mother chooses for her, Rose is not that passive. She doesn’t want to go to the college her parents paid for, but prefers to find something different, something to appeal to her interests.

But such kind of disobedience is not something her mother cares to tolerate. It’s either all or nothing. So since the age of 18 Rose has been cut off from her parents’ financial support and maintains a very cold and strained relationship with them. Jacqueline is the only one to stay in contact with Rose, and she actually tries to restore peace within the family.

To be able to pay for her studies and apartment, Rose works as a waitress at Ma’s Diner, but her financial situation is really bad, which by her mother is considered a shame for the family.

But in terms of friendship, Rose doesn’t lack anything. She’s in good relationship with the whole staff at the Diner, particularly with fellow waitress Roxy and her boss Ma (who’s, by the way, is about 80 years old, but totally lively and energetic). Another one of Rose’s best friends is Axton, whom she’s known since school, with their families sharing the same social circle. But they became really closer 5 years ago, when both came to the Huntingford City College.

Rose and Axton don’t really have much in common, though, especially with Axton being a fan of sci-fi movies and fantasy books and consuming weed on regular basis. But it was him who helped Rose overcome the most hardest periods in her life, when she only learned how to live independently.

Axton almost always acts weird (some of it may be the pot influence), but one morning he stumbles into Rose’s workplace, all nervous and secretive, asks her to keep his backpack, and then disappears. Rose is very worried about him and after police turns out to be useless and Rose being threatened by some mysterious man to stay away from this case, she starts her own investigation. What she finds out, though is both unexpected and highly dangerous.

The story is not something I read very often, but it is the statistics I plan to change. First of all, following my New Year’s resolution to read more different genres, and, secondly, judging by this particular book, cozy mystery is a really enjoyable read. So there definitely will be more books like this on my reading list.

‘Diners, Dives & Dead Ends’ is a winning combination of mystery, adventure, humor and a hint at possible romance. The main heroine Rosalyn Strickland is no pushover, she’s independent, brave and loyal. She’s not the one to let anybody control her or her decisions, if she sets her mind on something, there’s no stopping her. It’s very rare to find such a heroine in a book now, so this one was like a breath of fresh air.

Rose’s determination to save her friend Axton is both admirable and very brave. I may have been wondering why these two actually became friends in the first place. They just seem top opposite to me. Rose is just this good girl, who works hard to make something of her life, and Axton is kind of problematic. Yes, they helped each other in some tough moments of life, but what was the actual starting point for the friendship? Besides, if they were such good friends, couldn’t Rose have already influenced Axton about his way of life? Especially if Axton already had several pot possession misdemeanors.

Another thing that kept my eyes constantly rolling was the fact that seemingly every other guy Rose meets throughout the book immediately had the hots for her. I counted 5 guys pining over her! Seems too much to me and kind of reminded me of some lame YA romance books!

Rose’s investigation of Axton’s disappearance was very adventurous and humorous. There were some really unexpected plot twists, but I liked the way Rose conducted herself. Rose’s sidekicks Roxy and Ma are very independent and passionate characters, I liked them just as much as I liked Rose. They are funny, impulsive and entertaining.

And can I just say how much I liked Sullivan? Yes, he is the bad guy here, but he was really mysterious and when he saved Rose in the end, I just knew there’s something going on between these two.

Hope the next installment will turn out just as great, I’m definitely reading it next week. And I would recommend this book to anyone who loves easy-reading and fun stories, with a really intriguing plot and good well developed characters.