Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012): A Review

Billed as a “literary adventure story,” Penumbra’s was a delightful read. Set during The Great Recession in the US, we find Clay Jannon, the protagonist and narrator up to his eyebrows in mystery thanks to his new night-shift bookstore job.

There are many strange things about the bookstore, first the fact that it’s open 24 hours, second that there are “customers” who come in during the overnight hours. The customers are strange themselves, hurried, older, “driven” and they do not buy many books, but instead hold cards that allow them to “check out” books from the “wayback” stacks. When he finally peeks into one of the massive tomes, these requested books, Clay finds out they are all written in some kind of code.

Who better at breaking a code than the attractive “computer-geek girl” who becomes more than a friend to Clay and his wealthy junior high geeky friend who finances and participates in the wacky adventure the three undertake to solve the 21st century mystery.

Even stranger than the bookstore is the its namesake, himself, Mr. Penumbra. A true “character” has been created here, a likable, peculiar, eccentric old man who reveals not only his respect for Clay and his computers but his “connections” with a medieval, possibly dangerous cult/sect.

This book has everything: things to make you laugh, things to make you sigh, as you travel all over the country to solve all things Penumbra. A great read!

TUESDAY TEASER

This meme, hosted by The Purple Booker, asks readers to open a book they are currently reading, copy a couple of sentences, and give the title and author in an attempt to tease others into reading the same book.

My Tuesday Teaser for 8/6/19 is from Suzanne Morris’s Aftermath, “a novel of the London School tragedy, New London, Texas.” I am beginning Part Four, chapter 27.

“Who am I to say anything about life? A retired high school English teacher and aspiring poet who received a letter on this day that something beloved to her heart is coming to a close.”

Do those words make you want to read further? It does me. I have followed this woman’s life since she was entering high school, and her mother, friends, and close-knit community members were killed in a gas explosion at the New London school.  Aftermath deals with just that–the aftermath of the terrible tragedy, specifically on one person’s life and destiny. It is an intriguing read.

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate: A Review

Oftentimes, a story within a story spins a fascinating tale, as the present day protagonist peels layer after layer from a secret or unknown mystery that affects her as she searches and researches.  Avery Stafford, a purely fictional character,is perplexed by family inconsistencies and strange clues her Grandma Judy’s Alzheimer’s-affected  mind drops from time to time. Her horrifying discoveries (based on factual occurrences and people, from the 1920’s through the 1950’S concerning stolen children at The Tennessee Children’s Home ) come to light slowly, leading the reader to wonder and speculate about what actually happened and how this will affect their lovable, strong protagonist.

In the story, Avery Stafford is a thirty year old woman, engaged her patient fiancé,  Elliott, and she just keeps postponing setting a date for the wedding. First her father’s diagnosis of cancer, followed by her Grandmother’s placement in a facility, then by a strange, forced meeting with Trent, whose grandfather was an investigator on Edisto Island, who reunited families needing his help cause her to delay. She, like her father, graduated from Columbia Law School and is a top notch lawyer with a prestigeous firm.  Her father is now a Senator and is running for re-election. When a strange woman at her Grandmother’s nursing home talks about “Fern,” then steals Avery’s dragonfly bracelet, she is moved to pity and refuses to press charges.

Simultaneously, a nursing home scandal breaks out, and her father’s stand on quality in nursing homes is questioned by those who point out Senator Stafford is rich enough to put his mother in a private facility with every amenity money can buy.  Avery’s mother, whose ultimate concern is for the family name, the coming election, and how her husband’s secret cancer diagnosis can remain a secret applies pressure for Avery and Elliott to set a date to gain good publicity.

Intertwined through Avery’s story is the story of Queen, Brill, and their five children, the poorest of the poor, who live on a houseboat shanty but have an endless supply of love and pride. How these stories are interconnected and what significance it has for Avery and her family is the heart of the novel. What Avery finds out causes her to doubt her family and dig to get at the heart of Grandma Judy’s secret.  What occurs along the many twists and turns unearthed by her investigation, which consumes Avery, keeps the reader up late, turning the pages. Surprises are the author’s forte, and just when you have it all figured out, some little detail is askew and sends one’s thinking mind back to square one.  Throw in a little romance, a bit of music and hillbilly tradition, and you end up with one darned good read.

PWR NEWS

The following books are “assigned” for the next quarter of the PWR (Powerful Women Readers) on-line book club.  All are available at public libraries and  second hand or new through Amazon. All except Sea Change are available in paperback. I chose these three books because they were all on my TBR (To be read) shelf in my book closet.  I have been wanting to read these books for a long time.  Some come recommended by friends, others by other book clubs.  You should pick one of the three to read by our next get-together which should be in approximately three months.Get a copy or copies and get started this weekend.

Let’s begin with Sea Change by Frank Viva, a prominent artist and designer who lives in Toronto.  This is a children’s book that is not your usual children’s book, nor is it illustrated like conventional children’s books.  Looking at the cover and speculating about the very adult topic was enough to cause me to purchase it at Half Price Books.  I will read it first and will loan out my copy to borrow.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden has been read and discussed by many book clubs worldwide. This novel was published in 1997 and is rapidly becoming a classic, primarily because so many people have read it. It lets us peek into another culture and another time so unlike our own that reading it is bound to be an illuminating experience.

The final book is by one of my favorite science fiction writers, Madeline Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time).   It tells of the continuing adventures of the Murry family AFTER the famous trilogy, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (All of which I’ve read and have been blown away by) ends.  It can be read as a stand alone, but for readers of the trilogy and other Lengle books, familiar characters appear and reappear like old friends and relatives of favorite characters in the first three books.

I hope you will be happy with these choices.  Please advise if you cannot obtain copies somewhere.

Friends of PWR are encouraged to join us on line and to comment on the three books as they are discussed and reviewed in the coming quarter.

Let’s stretch and read some books we’ve been meaning to read or wanted to read but haven’t gotten around to yet.

Happy Reading!

RAE

RECENT READS

Here are brief reviews of two books I finished last week, both worth investing our precious reading time in:

Paper Hero,by Leon Hale, a local humorist and colorist, was a re-read and was originally an “assignment” for the Third Tuesday Book Club.  Wanting something “Christmassy” last Christmas, we all agreed we’d enjoyed Paper Hero enough to read Hale’s essays, collected under the title One Man’s Christmas.  This led me to  revisit  Paper Hero to remind myself of Hale’s childhood and journalism background, and I’m glad I made the journey.

Paper Hero,a memoir or autobiography starts out in Hale’s childhood.  It was during the depression, and Hale’s father was a traveling salesman, trying hard to feed his family.  Because of frequently getting laid off, Hale’s father moved his family around from rent house to rent house, frequently. Like many people during the depression, although the family lived in the city, they kept a cow and chickens, plus had a garden .  Early on Hale got a job throwing newspapers, thus the title, Paper Hero. His description of his college days (on a scholarship) describes him finding out what he was good at.  Like many young men of his era, WWII interrupted his life for several years. He was in combat and eventually was (before there was such a thing) an embedded Journalist for a paper.  He goes on to describe his earliest jobs at  the Houston Post, then at the Houston Chronicle, when the Post folded.  This is where our group had first met him, as a columnist whom we would never mis reading.  Once in a while he will still (He is in his 90s) write a guest column ,or the Chronicle will re-run one of his classic columns. His columns are hilarious at times and always warm and touching.  His autobiography is the same.

Jhumpa Lahiri is responsible for the fine film,The Namesake, so when I read about The Lowland,a National Book Award finalist published in 2013, I ordered a copy.  I was not disappointed.  Her novel tells (in her particularly beautiful storytelling style) the tale of two Indian brothers, born very close together and together in every undertaking whether it be mischief or scholarly pursuits. Subbhash, the elder is quiet, a serious scholar and totally apolitical.  Udayan, the younger, is rash, a risk taker, very political, and the favored son of the boys’  mother. While Subbash is studying  and teaching in America, Udayan, like many Indian students of the time, fights with a radical political party, taking dangerous assignments even though he has taken a wife, Gauri.  Udayan is executed, and against the wishes of his parents, Subbash weds Udayan’s pregnant wife and relocates her to Providence, RI.

Beautiful writing is present throughout this engrossing novel with the lowlands, “…dark, dank, weedy places that haunt out lives,” first in India, then in Providence, become  a metaphor for the lives of the characters as well as the plot of the novel.  It has been said of Lahiri, she “…spins the globe and comes full circle.” The twists and turns of the plot and the memorable characters she creates allow her to do just that in this fine novel.