Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult

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

A book? About a mysterious bookstore with a millennial cast of characters? My response to finding out about was as follows: WHY DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS BOOK SOONER?!? And then I told my boss about it and made him buy it. Yep, I’m that kind of indie bookstore manager – I upsell to my boss. 

Synopsis

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the isles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything – instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond it’s walls. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

Review

To say that I enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore would be to put it lightly. I had been intrigued by it for quite some time and eventually requested the audiobook on the library Overdrive app. I was hooked immediately – and for someone who has only read a handful of fiction titles this year, that’s saying a lot. There was a lot I thought would annoy me – it’s in first person, it’s a male narrator, Kindles are referenced in the first few pages… all the things that might annoy a feminist bookseller. But I kept listening, and just wow.

I now realize that I am 5+ years late to the Penumbra party. It’s a book that has been raved about in various literary circles for years now but hasn’t graced the shelves of my bookstore for the better part of those five years. Why, I asked myself, if this book is so good, do we not have it? Because it needed a champion. There is nothing about its spine to entice a reader to pick it up off the shelf. This is not dissimilar to Penumbra’s bookstore – there’s nothing about the outside that would make you necessary decide to go in and browse (other than the fact that it’s a bookstore… but, I digress on that point). There’s a mystery inside, as there is in the physical book, and there’s a bunch of references to things that you really wish actually existed, just like Harry Potter.

There are hidden gems for booksellers to find, and Clay, our protagonist and narrator, goes on a journey from Kindle reader to indie bookstore champion that all indie booksellers adore. There are secret reading rooms, artifacts from antiquity, and, most important to us millennial readers, accurate depictions of people who are disproportionately affected by the great recession. As a 2011 college grad, these are my peers in these pages. And I can relate to them all. The book is fun, the characters and their friendships are great, the whole effect of the book is great, and I know I don’t usually repeat such a useless word so often, but I’ve decided to become this book’s champion and so, if you haven’t read it, go do so. It’s really great.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $17.00 • 9781250037756 • 304 pages • originally published October 2012, this edition published September 2013 by Picador • average Goodreads rating 3.75 out of 5 stars • read August 2018

Robin Sloan’s Website

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

It is not often that I get the idea in my head that I absolutely must read a book at a particular time, but I decided this year before Christmas that I absolutely had to read Furiously Happy. My coworker, Jennifer, who loves Jenny Lawson, said “No, no. You have to read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened first.” And boy was she right.

Synopsis

When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments – the ones we want to pretend never happened – are the very same moments that make us the people we are today.

Review

I don’t often shove a book in my husband’s face and say, “Here! You MUST read this chapter right now!” Any time I have attempted this before, he groans and shoves said book out of my face. There aren’t many books that I’ve read that strike me as books he would particularly enjoy. But, while reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I did this no less than 10 times. 10! And each time, he laughed too (which was very reassuring) and agreed with my declaration that Jenny, the author, and Victor, her husband, represent the two of us in five to ten years.

There have been a few books, fiction mostly, where I have identified with the main character to the point where I declare, “me too!” (not in the present #metoo sense, but in an I-can-thoroughly-relate-to-what-you’re-saying sense). But this definitely falls into the same category of Hyperbole and a Half where I feel like I’m reading a slightly altered account of my own life. My father was a builder, not a taxidermist, I grew up in Pennsyltucky (rural PA), not rural Texas, but I also am the messy one in my marriage, met my husband in college, say things out loud at social gatherings that I really shouldn’t, and have generalized anxiety disorder, though my panic attacks are mostly triggered by driving.

As Jenny writes, these things make me human, and they make me, me. And now I  know that there are far more people like me than I previously thought. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud and that you can thoroughly relate to, look no further than Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780425261019 • 363 pages • first published April 2012, this edition published March 2013 by Berkley Books • average Goodreads rating 3.9 out of 5 • read in January 2018

Jenny Lawson’s Website

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened on Goodreads

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Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Fiction, Thriller

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I began reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after the movie was announced (though before watching it) after one of my friends recommended it. Based on my knowledge of the friend who offered the recommendation, it was nothing as I expected.

Synopsis

It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden… and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to find the underlying cause of Harriet’s disappearance… and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacked possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age – and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it – who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a view of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism – and an unexpected connection between themselves.

Review

I don’t read mysteries or thrillers for fun. They freak me out and give me nightmares. I have a great deal of difficulty getting the villain out of my head. It’s even worse when they’re exceptionally well crafted and convincing, as is the case in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series.

I typically try to read a book before I see the adaptation and I really wanted to see the movie (my hang-ups with thrillers mentioned above don’t seem to apply to film) so figured that I should read the book first because there was a good chance I would miss some important detail throughout the course of the movie (which is probably why I love, but can rarely follow, Bond films – I’m never paying enough attention). However, to understand the world in which Vanger, Blomkvist and Lisbeth are living, I needed a crash course in Swedish elitist politics or I would miss something important.

Never had I done so much research before reading a work of fiction, but I knew going into the book that I had to familiarize myself with a society that differed from my own to understand the actions and behaviors of the characters, particularly the secondary ones. But what really drew me to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the girl herself, Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth is a ward of the state, an orphan with a traumatic background, declared mentally unstable which puts her finances, and therefore life, into the hands of a court appointed guardian – a rare kind man who unfortunately suffers a stroke at the start of the book. The man who replaces him, Nils Bjurman, is quite the opposite.

Lisbeth is highly aggressive towards those who abuse women and when Bjurman forces her into submissive and degrading positions to procure her pre-determined allowance. The revenge she takes on him is magnificently cruel and degrading, equal to the treatment he forced upon her. Lisbeth is fierce, and perhaps more than a little crazy, but her talents are unequaled in the art of hacking and manipulation. But her heart is pure, hidden though it may be, and she is capable of suffering heartbreak, despite her cold exterior and extremely introverted personality. Lisbeth is the heart and soul of the book and without her, the corporate espionage and possible murder plots mean little.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Mass Market Paperback • $9.99 • 9780307949486 • 644 pages • first published in English in September 2008, this edition published November 2011 by Vintage Books • average Goodreads rating 4.11 out of 5 stars • read in January 2011

Stieg Larsson’s Website

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Fantasy, Fiction

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Prachett

My now husband picked this book out to read shortly after we started dating, and when we were looking for a book to listen to while driving from Pennsylvania to South Carolina, he recommended it. It has been one of my favorite books ever since.

Synopsis

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner. So the armies of Good and Evil are amazing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon – both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle – are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist…

Review

The best books to listen to are the ones that make you laugh, the absurd and ridiculous ones that you don’t have to pay complete attention to understand them. Good Omens, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, fits the bill quite nicely when you must do a great deal of traveling by car for work. The first time I listened to Good Omens, I loved it, and the second time was no different. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are a literary pairing made in heaven and there’s no better way to describe their writing than just pure magic. It’s wonderful to see the two of them create an exquisite story together.

Good Omens tells the tale of two immortals, Aziraphale, the angel with the flaming sword who stood watch over the garden of Eden, and Crowley, the snake who tempted Eve with the apple. Flash forward thousands of years and Crowley is tasked with bringing the Antichrist into the world as part of Hell’s effort to bring about the end of days and start a war with Heaven above. Crowley and Aziraphale make a bet to see if they can sway the Antichrist to be good or evil but 11 years later, they realize that due to an insipid nurse’s screw up, they’ve been attempting to influence the wrong child and have lost the actual Antichrist. And they have just a few days to find him before the arrival of the apocalypse.

Along the way, Crowley and Aziraphale realize that they really like the world and don’t want to see it come to a fiery end. Adam, the Antichrist, arrives at the same conclusion, and separately, but simultaneously, they try to stop the inevitable with the help of some very colorful side characters that they pick up as they make their way to Lower Tadfield, foretold site of the battle that will bring about the end of the world.

Good Omens is a treat to listen to and Martin Jarvis (the reader) is engaging and does a variety of marvelous voices for all the different characters. If you’re looking for a book for a long road trip that will keep you awake, Good Omens is your ticket to an entertaining and delightful drive.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Mass Market Paperback • $7.99 • 9780060853983 • 412 pages • originally published in 1990, this edition published November 2006 by William Morrow & Company • average Goodreads rating 4.25 out of 5 • read in March 2011 & March 2015

Neil Gaiman’s Website

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Good Omens

Classics, Fiction, Mystery

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

On Thursday, before leaving home for a bit of a road trip, I was desperately searching through the Overdrive app for a new audiobook – I could not undertake the journey without one and I had forgotten to swing by the library the previous two days. Imagine my excitement when I stumbled across an Agatha Christie novel read by Dan Stevens! It fit the bill perfectly.

Synopsis

Ten… Ten strangers are lured to an isolated mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious U. N. Owen.

Nine… At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night, one of the guests is dead.

Eight… Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one… as one by one… they begin to die.

Seven… Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

Review

My husband’s aunt has every Agatha Christie book ever written, and most of her later works are first editions. Every time we have gone to visit her over Christmas, I marvel at her beautiful built-in bookshelves full of Christie hardcovers. Last summer, when my book club decided to read mysteries all summer, we knew we had to include a classic Christie and chose Murder on the Orient Express. I enjoyed it so much, that I looked for more of her books to read and enjoy.

And Then There Were None is my new favorite (granted, favorite of 2) Agatha Christie mysteries. The woman is the queen of crime for a reason – her mysteries are complex without being confusing, and it is great fun to attempt to solve the mystery as it is unfolding. Unlike Orient Express, which deals mostly with Detective Poirot interviewing suspects after a murder, in There Were None, the crime is being committed over the course of the book and the characters must take up the mantle of amateur sleuths as they are being killed one by one while trapped on an island a mile off the English coast.

I love that Christie provides so many clues and insights into what is going on, but still leaves a person guessing as to which of the 10 guests is not really a guest – it’s a great example of a “locked room” mystery and one that I highly recommend! Hopefully in the near future I’ll have a chance to watch the BBC adaptation and be able to compare it to the book.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $13.99 • 9780062073471 • 247 pages • first published in 1939, this edition published January 2011 by Harper Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 4.23 out of 5 • read in September 2017

And Then There Were None on Goodreads

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And Then There Were None

Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs

It is a known fact at the store than any book that comes in that screams “female badassery,” a phrase a coined when telling publishing reps what types of books I enjoy, is to immediate go to me for review and ogling. I first heard of/met Sam Maggs at BookCon in 2015 and I have been a fan of hers ever since. When I found out her sophomore book (her debut being The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy) would be about women in STEM, I knew I had to read it and recommend it to so many of my (former) students and customers.

Synopsis

Smart women have always been able to achieve amazing things, even when the odds were stacked against them. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations – all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future.

Review

I’m a sucker for nonfiction compendiums that chronicle the lives of interesting people in short digestible vignettes, which is not only evident here with Wonder Women, but with the forthcoming review for Rejected Princesses.

In March of my sophomore year of high school, my stepfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was given months to live, but through a cutting edge surgery that summer, we were able to have another four years with him before he passed away in the spring of my sophomore year of college. His diagnosis led me to consider a future in biomedical engineering – specifically the artificial organ project, being pioneered at Boston University. I made it my life goal to become a medical researcher and was a founding member of my high school’s STEM Savvy group. Lady researchers and mathematicians have always held a special place in my heart, and while I did not fully pursue a career in STEM, I will always look at ladies like Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, and Ada Lovelace as role models and inspiration.

Sam Maggs obviously cares for and respects not only the 25 women she profiles, but also the women whom she interviews regarding contemporary issues with women’s roles in the STEM world. She handles the discussion of feminism and sexism in primarily male roles of engineering, science, technology and mathematics with an understanding of someone who has experienced some of the issues her foremothers did.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $16.99 • 9781594749254 • 240 pages • published in October 2016 by Quirk Books • average Goodreads rating 4.17 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Sam Maggs’ Website

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Wonder Women

 

Biography, Non-Fiction

Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

A year and a half ago, shortly after I started working at an indie bookstore, I started a book club, The Modern Readers. It was not only a way to read new and interesting things, but also a way to meet new people and make new friends who have similar interests as myself. The Modern Readers have read everything from horror to chick lit, military history to science books, and there have been books I’ve loved, and books I’ve loathed, but I’m glad I read them. Notorious RBG is one of my favorite Modern Readers’ picks.

(Each month I create a sign for the store for the book club and the one for Notorious RBG below is by far my favorite!)

14 - January 2017 - Notorious RBG

Synopsis

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame – she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

Review

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my heroes. While I’ve always had an ear for politics (when your mother works in public education, you learn about politics young), but it wasn’t until I took AP Government back my senior year of high school that I finally started to think about politics for myself and make up my own mind about how I would react to certain political events instead of parroting my mother’s opinions.

When we studied particular court cases, I always looked for opinions written by either Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sandra Day O’Connor, and I used to compare the two of them for fun. My political education continued at the University of Pittsburgh – the full title of my major was: Early American History and the Foundations of American Government with a special focus in American legal history and it’s foundations in British common law. Yep, I’m a dork. For awhile I thought about becoming a lawyer, until I realized I didn’t like political philosophy… but I digress – back to RBG!

A few years ago, Shana Knizhnik created the now famous Notorious RBG meme and it took off like a shot, particularly as RBG’s opinions and dissents were starting to be discussed more by the American public, not just the news and law lovers like myself. She is an icon – not only for lawyers, but for women everywhere. Her fight to be taken seriously throughout all stages of her career, especially as a young mother, was difficult to say the least. Her husband supported her and never limited her opportunities to be the best in her field. Just as RBG owed a great deal to Sandra Day O’Connor breaking the gender barrier on the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor would not be in the positions they are today as her benchmates if RBG had fought as hard as she did.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable woman and her the story of her life is one that I will share with every child I know, if for no other reason than to fully drive home the point that they can be absolutely anything that they want to be, so long as they work hard at it!

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $22.99 • 9780062415837 • 227 pages • published October 2015 by Dey Street Books • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in January 2017

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