Jenn Reads: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Our mystery book club recently read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

A recently unemployed millennial, Clay, wonders into a curious San Francisco bookstore and leaves finding himself employed. It’s a strange bookstore- long with shelves that seem to reach towards the sky and some odd books. His boss, Mr. Penumbra, has just three rules for Clay, the most important of which is to never look inside the books on what Clay calls the “wayback shelves.”

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

Clay works the midnight shift and encounters a few characters, all of whom want books from the “wayback shelves.” It does not take Clay long to peek into those books and open the proverbial can of worms. Along with the help of friends, Clay seeks to solve the puzzle of eternal life.

This is a book for anyone who loves to read, loves bookstores or libraries, or ponders what the future will bring. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a book for today, with its clash of technology and traditional ways and methods. We get asked a lot here at the library what we believe the future of print books will be with the advent of e-books. It is difficult to say for sure (no one has a crystal ball), but I would personally like to hope that print books will always be around. After all, people still use brooms even though they have vacuum cleaners!

This book also raises the question: How do will we solve problems – by using computers or our own brains? How reliant will we become on computers? Clay finds throughout the book that technology can be useful, but it also cannot do the critical and complex thinking our minds can accomplish.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is an easy to read, engaging, and quirky book. I enjoyed the adventure and the resolution of the puzzle (solved without the help of a computer!). There were times however, when problems were too easily solved with a ready answer or helping hand. So-and-so just happened to have that skill or know a person who could help them. It became a little too predictable. I would not recommend this book to anyone who is not at least familiar with some of the changes in technology – this book is full of 2012 popular jargon and pop culture references, which could be confusing for some.

Rating: 4 bookmarks out of 5

See you in the stacks,
Jenn

Jenn Reads: Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland

I’m a voracious reader, but my reading skills lately have been the pits. This cold winter weather getting anyone else down in the dumps?

I finally finished a book last night, from the stack of books that have yet to be finished. This particular one, Shinju, by Laura Joh Rowland, was supposed to be done for mystery book club two weeks ago. Ooops.

195979Shinju follows beginning investigating police office (of sorts, his official title is yoriki) Sano Ichiro in 17th century feudal Japan. Sano, a samurai/school teacher by trade, has been given this position by his supporter, a position he is initially unsuited for. He’s not bad at what he does- no, it’s that he’s a little too good at what he does, especially when things should be better left untouched, as his boss requests.

Sano is supposed to write a closing report on a shinju, or a double romantic suicide. Typically shinjus are when two people of different classes fall in love. Knowing their love will never survive and their families will not accept the relationship, the lovers commit suicide. This shinju looks like a suicide, but Sano is hesitant to close this case- and for good reason. Sano will risk everything: his job, his name, his parent’s reputation, and the lives of others, to solve this case.

The back cover of the book has a quote saying how “exotic” it is, and I suppose for some who are not familiar with the time period, it could be. My senior thesis for my history major in college was on a facet of Japanese history, so this particular era was familiar. For me, reading this book brought me back to my studies and I was thrilled to be immersed in 17th century Edo (now Tokyo). This is a world that is much different than ours, and much different than even 17th century Europe. Led by the Tokugawa regime, the government is a military dictatorship with strict rules. Religion, philosophy, and culture, for the new reader, may seem odd or strange. For several of our book clubbers, how Sano struggles throughout the book to justify his need for revenge and thirst to solve the mystery with his filial piety (extreme devotion to one’s elders, especially parents) and what is expected of him, was weird and unnecessary. But this is something a man of his time would have struggled with, and is realistic.

Many commented that the writing style was a bit elementary, but this is Rowland’s first published work, and will develop further in the series. Is this a masterpiece of mystery writing? No, but it was enjoyable for

what it was. More important to me than the mystery was the setting and time period, which I felt Rowland was spot on with.

Rating: 3 of out 5 stars. Enjoyable, but unnecessarily dense in some places where the plot line could have moved faster. Loved the time period and setting.

See you in the stacks,

Jenn

Jenn Reads: “A” Is For Alibi

“A” Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton was the July pick for our mystery book club, chosen by one of our members.

Here is another “Jenn Reads” that is not a newer book! I’m a huge fan of book

“A” Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton

clubs picking books that are not necessarily new, something every other book club in the world is reading (Can I tell you how many times I’ve seen Gone Girl or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyhas been read by book clubs?), and perhaps a little off the beaten path.

Grafton’s W Is For Wasted comes out in September, so it was appropriate that our member chose this title. Grafton started this series more than 30 years ago and has been plugging away at the alphabet ever since. Wonder how relieved she’s going to feel when she finishes this series and can start another?!

“A” Is For Alibi starts with the main character, Kinsey Millhone stating that she murdered someone just days before. Well! How about that for a setup! Makes you curious to know whom she killed. Kinsey, a private investigator, has been hired by Nikki Fife to investigate the murder of her husband, which she has just spent eight years in prison for.

Laurence Fife was a divorce lawyer, excellent at his job, but a scoundrel, adulterer, and abusive man. So there are many who would have liked to do him in. The story twists when it comes out that his accountant, Libby Glass, was killed in the same manner he was. It was suspected the two were having an affair.

Kinsey sets off on an investigation that takes her to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Most of the story takes place in Santa Theresa, California and Grafton does a fantastic job at describing the location. I could feel the California sunshine on my face as Kinsey went on her runs (which, by the way, I didn’t need to know every time she went for a run) and the sand at my feet as she visited her lover Charlie while he dog sat.

Kinsey displaces some very rookie moves for a season private investigator and former police officer, specially trusting people she shouldn’t trust. She wipes down her room in Las Vegas, thinking the police might tie her to a murder there, but forgets that she checked in and paid with a credit card.

What I do like about Kinsey is her doggedness, want to do right, and perseverance. Unlike Stephanie Plum, who is just terrible about being a bounty hunter and lucks into a lot of her leads, Kinsey actually sits down and does the work, and follows through.

I’ll probably continue with the series, as it is one of my mother’s favorites, and I’d like to see how Kinsey develops as a character. “A” Is For Alibi  is a good start to the series.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

See you in the stacks,

Jenn 🙂