Monthly Archives: February 2013

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

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

When he’s laid off from his web design job, Clay Jannon takes a job selling books at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.. No, it’s not that kind of 24-hour bookstore.

Instead, it’s a used book store that harbors a “super secret” section of books that feature no ISBN numbers, aren’t in any catalog and that are only available to a mysterious set of patrons who check them out. Clay is required to keep exacting records of not only who has checked out which book but also the circumstances under which the books are checked out.

Using modern technology, Clay is able to unravel the mystery of the books, the store and the mysterious owner. What he doesn’t realize is that the secret group has been working for centuries to find these answers.

A short way to describe this one would be The DaVinci Code, only funnier. Clay’s first-person narration works well and his Robin Sloan injects a bit more humor into his super secret society than Dan Brown did. Of course, we’re not dealing with deep theological issues here either.

However, despite all of that, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ends up being less satisfying than it could or should have been. Part of me feels like the book could have been longer, allowing Clay and his team of friends (and a potential love interest) a bit more time to breath and dwell on the mysteries they are unraveling. Weighing it at just over 200 pages, the book feels a bit rushed at times and like it’s working too hard to get to the next revelation or the final solution rather than allowing the reader to enjoy the moment with Clay and let things sink in before we move on to the next revelation.

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Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

Alice in Zombieland (The White Rabbit Chronicles, #1)

Based on the first chapter, I should have enjoyed Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland a lot more than I did.

Alice Bell’s father is a bit of the peculiar side. He won’t let his family venture out of the house after dark, he won’t drive by the cemetery and he’s convinced that he can see evil forces that no one else can. For her younger sister’s birthday, Alice convinces her father to bend the rules and attend the younger sister’s dance recital. Leaving quickly after the recital is over, the family is killed while driving past the cemetery, leaving only Alice alive and forced to face the future without her family and wracked with guilt. Oh and she might just have inherited and unlocked her father’s ability to see the evil forces.

Intriguing enough premise, right?

It’s just too bad that once you turn the page into chapter two, Alice in Zombieland descends into the depths of a Twilight rip-off, complete with two diametrically opposite male love interests who are competing for Alice’s attention. I quickly found myself becoming less and less intrigued by developments in Alice’s social and love life and more curious as to when Showalter might bring us back to the promise of that opening chapter.

The answer is, unfortunately, never. Instead what I ended up with was a lot of frustration and the promise that there are more books in the series to come. This is one reader who won’t be back.

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Review: Running Blind by Lee Child

Running Blind (Jack Reacher, #4)

After reading half a dozen or so Reacher novels in the last couple of months, a couple of things are starting to become clear. The first is that Jack Reacher really, really loves coffee. And that the fold-out toothbrush is one of the great inventions of modern civilization.

Another thing that becomes quickly apparent is that while these books are fun, popcorn reads, Lee Child has little, if any, interest in long-term continuity. I says this because I came to the end of Tripwire with Reacher inheriting a house and in a long-term relationship (with a woman he’d pined for 15 years, mind you). Having read-ahead in the series and finding Reacher without house or girlfriend, I assumed something interesting must happen in Running Blind to remove Reacher from this comfort zone.

Apparently, not so much.

The house and the girlfriend are barely a blip on the radar as Reacher is drawn into the events of Running Blind. Seems women with a little or no connection except that they were in the military and may have known Reacher are being murdered. At first, Reacher is a suspect (it doesn’t help that he wanders across a mob shakedown of a local mom and pop restaurant where he steps in and stirs up trouble), but then he becomes an outside investigator into the murders. It appears the killer has a time table and that Reacher is racing against the clock to figure out who is doing this before the next victim is offed. The military uses Reacher’s act of helping out the mom and pop place as leverage against him by bringing the girlfriend into things.

At first reluctant, Reacher eventually agrees, but as always he’s playing by his own set of rules. And it’s here that the book begins to break down a bit because it’s hard to believe this many people owe Reacher this many favors. Or that Reacher couldn’t call in a favor or two based on his experiences in previous novels to clear up some things early on in the story. If you can suspend your disbelief for that, then I guess you can suspend it enough once the identity of the killer is revealed and how the victims are being killed. I’ll admit it stretched my disbelief almost to the breaking point and were it not for the goodwill I’d felt toward the series after Tripwire, I might have been ready to write off the series–at least for now
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Review: Black Box by Michael Connelly

The Black Box

For the past couple of months, I’ve been dipping into the back catalog of Detective Harry Bosch as I waited for The Black Box to a)hit shelves and b)come in on reserve at my local library. That could be part of the reason that this one felt a bit more like a greatest hits of Michael Connelly’s Bosch novels.

This time around, Bosch is looking into a murder that took place during the L.A. riots two plus decades ago. At the time, Bosch was called out to the body of a female photojournalist but not given the time to pursue the case to its resolution. Years later, as he works to finish out his career in cold cases, Bosch decides to revisit the case and hopefully find some closure for himself and the victim’s family and friends.

As I said before, this one feels a bit too much like a “greatest hits” for Connelly, mixed a bit with the current trend in Swedish murder mysteries flooding the market. The photojournalist in question is Swedish, thus creating a tie to that country and it turns out there was more to her vacation to America and being in the riot-zone than originally meets the eye. There’s also a lot of conflict between Bosch and his boss as the story goes along, as Harry, as usual, follows his instincts and is proven correct despite outside pressure and authority figures up the chain of command who doubt him.

The Black Box wasn’t a terrible book. In fact, it was quite good and kept the pages turning–as most Connelly novels do. But it feels like a Bosch novel written more on cruise control than really one that could or should push the character and series in new and interesting directions as several of the previous entries have.

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