Thursday, January 2, 2014

1. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

After a year of reading and not reviewing, I’m determined to actually meet my goal of a full cannonball this year and hopefully finish the giant pile of books that I can’t fit on my shelf.  Consolidating my books has not gone well.  This is another book that my mom picked up in the free pile at work; she finds the most interesting books that way.  She insisted that I would enjoy this one and the title seemed fitting for the first book of the New Year. 

Clay Jannon has been unemployed for a little while when he stumbles into a job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Given the 10pm to 6am shift, he has little to do most nights.  Bookstores are on the wane everywhere, especially ones that don’t stock anything new and loan out most of their books.  The loaner books are what intrigues him though.  An odd collection of people seem to be obsessed with the books on what Clay dubs the ‘waybacklist.’  Although it is specifically forbidden for him to read these books, curiosity overcomes him one night and he opens one up to see what the fuss is about. 

The book is not exactly what he expected—it is coded, as are all the others on the waybacklist.  Clay starts building a virtual model of the store and notices that there is a pattern with these mysterious volumes.  Enlisting the help of Kat, a girl from Google that he has fallen for, he solves a puzzle that pushes him into a secret society called the Unbroken Spine.  Their goal is to decode their founder’s book and achieve immortality, which is crazy to Clay but intriguing nonetheless.  Mixing old methods with all of the new technology that this century has to offer, he hopes to crack this ancient code and find out what all the fuss is about.

This book is exactly the kind of thing that I’m a sucker for—it’s fun and engrossing with secret societies, coded messages, history, and underemployed twenty-somethings.  I only wish my job would lead me on a quest like his.  It also speaks volumes of Sloan that I didn’t fall asleep when it came to the technological aspects of his search.  Descriptions of coding and data visualization models are usually a sure way to make me fall asleep, but I was just as excited as Clay the whole time.  The only bad thing is that this is yet another book that will be kept on my overstuffed shelves.  

Monday, December 31, 2012

Book 52: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The first paragraph of this review has nine-year-old spoilers for Angel.  I don’t know if anyone cares, but you have been warned.

I recently finished re-watching the series Angel and have discovered that I still get upset watching Fred’s final scenes.  I realized that it had been quite a while since I reread this book, which Wesley read to Fred before her death, and that this was an oversight on my part.  I have liked this book since I was a little kid and am hoping that it puts me in a good mood for next year. 

Sara Crewe was raised in India by her wealthy father and wanted for nothing in the world.  While this kind of treatment would have turned most kids into rotten little brats, Sara was a kind, old-souled young lady who appreciated everything that she had.  When she is seven, she is sent to school in London and has to be separated from her father who remains in India.  They both take this hard but struggle through without each other for the next few years, as Sara becomes the star pupil at Miss Minchin’s boarding school.  But on Sara’s eleventh birthday, Miss Minchin receives word that Captain Crewe has died and left Sara without a penny to her name.  Without so much as a comforting phrase, Sara is put to work at the school and treated despicably.  Her determination to act bravely in the face of hostility and retain her imaginative nature drives the novel to its happy conclusion.

This much beloved classic never gets old for me, although I’m sure that I was supposed to outgrow it by now.  Burnett does not talk down to anyone and even though Sara might be a little too perfect to be realistic, her writing and characters stand out.  I know that unless I die really young, that I will read this again and I would hope that more people would revisit it as well.

Book 51: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

I actually got this book for my mother because she loves Simon Pegg.  A lot.  I think she has seen Hot Fuzz more than I have, which is odd considering that this is the woman who wouldn’t let me watch the Simpsons because she thought it was too violent.  Anyway, after she tore through all of his movies, available TV shows, and assorted commentaries, I figured that the only thing left was his autobiography.  Of course I had to read it after she was done…

Pegg doesn’t really want to talk about his personal life.  Anytime that he gets a personal question, he tends to deflect it.  So unlike most autobiographies, there isn’t really much in the book that I would count as over-sharing.  He sticks mostly with his life in terms of his childhood and creative influences.  He also puts intersperses a short story about the superspy version of himself and his much smarter robotic butler.  Apparently some people didn’t like this, but I thought it was pretty funny and seemed about right for him. 

I enjoyed this overall; it was funny and relaxed.  My favorite part has to be his chapter about the disappointment he felt with the Star Wars prequels.  Even though I have never been a huge Star Wars fan, it has been an unintentionally large influence on my life (I have very geeky parents) and I remember the frustration I felt with the prequels.  I am still frustrated to be honest, and Pegg’s little scenario at the book’s appendix to explain some of the stupider decisions made by the characters honestly entertained me more than the last three movies combined.  I hope that in the future Pegg choses to write another book, I’m sure it would be entertaining.

Book 50: The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater

This is the last of the books that I borrowed from my sister, who suggested that I read this after The Casual Vacancy to cheer myself up.  And she was right; I did need to read something happy, unfortunately this book didn’t do it for me.

As you would expect from the title, this book gives Mr. Darcy’s perspective of the events in Pride and Prejudice.  In the beginning he is unhappy to be stuck in the country, when he would rather be in London or at home with his sister.  He meets the Bennets and is decidedly unimpressed.  Upon learning that his friend Bingley wants to marry Jane Bennet, of whom he has heard some pretty horrible tales, he plots to detach his friend from this unfortunate entanglement.  At the same time he finds himself falling for Jane’s sister Elizabeth and no matter what he does he can’t stop thinking about her.

When it stuck to characters from the original book, I enjoyed the story.  But when Slater started elaborating his story to include debaucheries with Lord Byron, I got incredibly bored.  I’m sure it was meant to scandalize me, but it was pretty poorly conceived.  However, I did enjoy the rest of the book and would be open to other stories from Slater in the future.

Book 49: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I have avoided a lot of reviews for this book specifically to keep from building up any unrealistic expectations.  All I knew was to expect a more adult book and definitely no magic or unicorns.  Since I happen to enjoy stories about small village life, I figured that I wouldn’t hate it, and I didn’t.

Centered in the small town of Pagford, the novel begins with the sudden death of beloved (by most) local councilor, Barry Fairbrother.  While his friends and family are in a state of shock throughout the subsequent events, there is the need to fill his vacant seat on the council before a crucial vote to keep or redistrict the area’s government housing.  Rowling uses several characters from a variety of backgrounds to paint a picture of life in this town.  While most are typical middle class, there are also those in government housing like Krystal Weedon, whose lives are on the brink of becoming even more desperate, depending on how the upcoming vote goes.

I’m really not going to get into it further than that, there is simply too much to say and too many characters, and I don’t want to give a lot away.  I’ll be honest, I did cry even though I could see a lot of the terrible things coming from miles away.  It was a good book, but probably not one that I will read again anytime soon.  It was a little too sad for me right now.