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

Mr. Penumbra coverI love reviewing great books.  I feel actually bubbly when I get to point people towards a book that made me happy.  This book made me happy with every single page.

Mr. Penumbra follows the adventures of Clay, an unemployed man who finds work as the night clerk at a bookstore that is open all night.  The store is clearly the home of many mysteries, and Clay puts together a team of friends to try to discover just what this bookstore is all about.

This book has fantastical elements, but it’s not pure fantasy.  It’s gotten so much buzz that I may very well be the last person to have read it.  Part of this buzz stems from the fact that it has this geeky quality to it that makes it attractive to fans of science fiction and fantasy, even though it’s just barely either.  Plus, because the fantasy elements are so slight, it’s completely accessible to fans of more mainstream books.  It doesn’t hurt that there’s a mystery and a love story in there, too.  The book appeals to everyone and yet makes you, the reader, feel that you are the special reader that this book was made for.

I truly think I loved every single thing about the book.  I got to the last few pages and then I started reading veeeerrrrryyy slowly because I didn’t want the book to end.  I loved the friendships and the roles that books and other kinds of art play in forming and sustaining these friendships.  I loved the love story.  I loved the humor and I loved the juxtaposition between the arcane books and the shiny computers.  I love the description of audiobooks (“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head.  When you listen, it seems to happening a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled over your eyes”.  I like the idea that paper books and Ebooks can coexist.

Often I review books that are well-written, but are designed to appeal to a very small group of people.  In this case, I just can’t imagine anyone not liking this book.  Certainly not anyone who madly loves books.  This paragraph is from the very end of the book, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler – just a very beautiful description of the themes of the book (other than “Reading is cool, and so is art, and so are computers”):

There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.  All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.  It take forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall.  It’s not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  We have new capabilities now-strange powers we’re still getting used to…your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

After that the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind.  But I hope you will remember this:

A man walking fast down a dark, lonely street.  Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need.  A bell above the door and the tinkle it makes.  A clerk and a ladder and warm, golden light, and then:  the right book exactly, at the right time.

Mini Review: Deep Deception, by Cathy Pegau

Cover of Deep DeceptionDeep Deception is another excellent science fiction romance from the ever-reliable Cathy Pegau.  This is a f/f love story with action, intrigue, and a strong sense of place.  Pegau’s last book, Caught in Amber, took place in a city and most of it was set at a glitzy mansion.  Deep Deception is set primarily in a rural mining town, and you can almost feel the grime.  As compensation, you can also almost taste the miner’s garlic bread, and I must say that the sex scenes are quite well-written (*ahem*).  The book has strong, interesting female characters and a compelling plot.  It works fine as a stand-alone.  In fact, I suspect it works better as a stand alone, because the main characters were supporting characters in Caught In Amber, and they were much more in touch with their feelings here than I would have expected from their appearances in Caught.

In short, this book is imaginative, romantic, suspenseful, and sexy, and Pegau is now an auto-buy author for me.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  The full-length review was published while this book was available for pre-order.  It has since been released by Carina Press.  Enjoy!

Mini Review: Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal

12160890Glamour in Glass was nominated for a Nebula Award in the category of best novel (the winner was 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson).   This book is the second in a series that imagines Regency England as a place where people can cast illusions (glamour).  The use of fantasy here is clever and subtle, because the use of illusions is the only change, and yet adding that element allows all sorts of adventure and explorations of class and gender to occur.  Glamour in Glass involves more adventure then its predecessor, Shades of Milk and Honey, but retains a certain Jane Austen quality in its heroine, who is capable of brave derring-do but really wants to live a proper and normal life.  This is a fun read for fans of historical fiction and works just fine as a stand-alone.  A full-length review can be found at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

Ironskin was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novel category, and it’s easy to see why (the winner was 2312).  This incredibly poignant, passionate and inventive fantasy take on Jane Eyre is set in a world in which England has just barely won a war against the fey.

The world-building is fantastic (pun intended) and the characters shine.  Jane is a wonderful character who shares the original Jane Eyre’s strong sense of ethics, self respect, and passion.  The only flaw in the book is that the romance between Jane and her brooding employer is under-developed.  As long as you are reading this as a fantasy about an amazing woman, as opposed to a romance where the love story takes center stage, you will love the book.  My full-length review is at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

The Nebula Awards Weekend: Unexpected Lessons

Nebula Award LogoToday I have two mini-reviews up of Nebula nominated novels.  I had the great pleasure of meeting both of these authors, and they were incredibly gracious to me.  Tina Connolly was only able to meet with me for a few minutes, but she did so having come straight off a plane.  I don’t think she even had time to check into her room, and she still acted as though she had nothing she’d rather do than tell me about her next book.  Her Ironskin trilogy will eventually include Copperhead, which is about Jane’s sister, and an untitled book about Dorie, the child Jane is asked to be governess to in Ironskin.  In that future book, we’ll meet Dorie as an adult, and I can’t wait.

Mary Robinette Kowal talked to me about her work, and the timeless appeal of Jane Austen, for over an hour.  She hopes to eventually have five books in her Glamourist Histories series.  Her book, Without A Summer came out in April.  Mary said that she likes the idea that you don’t stop having adventures just because you get married, or because of age.  She’d like to return to her series some time in the future and write about Jane and Vincent as a middle-aged couple, and then someday write about them as an elderly couple.

I expected that everyone at the Nebulas would be brilliant, but I hadn’t expected that everyone would be so nice.  There is a strong culture among this group of writers of mentoring and challenging and arguing with and promoting each other.  I had expected to leave that weekend feeling challenged and inspired to write, and I sure did.  But I also felt challenged and inspired to be a better friend and colleague.  I hope someday that I will be that person who knows the ropes – and when I am, I hope I’ll remember to be as gracious a mentor to that year’s rookie as this year’s writers were to me.