Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Title:  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author:  Robin Sloan
Publication Information:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. 288 pages.

Book Source:  I wanted to read this book the minute I saw "24-hour bookstore". What an awesome idea!

Favorite Quote:  "The relationship between book and reader is private .... so we go on trust. If you tell me that your friend will read these books deeply, in a way that honors their authors, I will believe you."

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an adventure story for grown-ups.  A children's story with adult characters and relationships. Clay Jannon lives in San Francisco, is out of work and desperately in need of a job. He get a job at a sleepy little book store. It's unclear how the bookstore sustains itself considering the small number of patrons who shop there.

However, he discovers that things are not quite as they seem. Clay begins to investigate, enlisting the help of two friends. A childhood friends who happens to a billionaire. A new girlfriend who happens to be a technology genius working at Google. Add to that a secret society and lots and lots of books and you have the making of a fun and fanciful tale.

I was intrigued by the start of the book - a character trying to find his way in life, a mysterious bookstore, the hint of intrigue, lots and lots of books, and technology. In the middle, I wasn't so sure because the setup was complete, but the adventure hadn't really started yet. And then the adventure began. My ultimate reaction was a little bit of Harry Potter meets Jimmy Neutron.

Friday, April 19, 2013

All Woman and Springtime

Title:  All Woman and Springtime
Author:  Brandon W. Jones
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Workman Publishing. 2012.  381 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book came as a paperback copy.

Favorite Quote:  "The enemy, she decided was not the communist or the imperialist, but the lack of understanding between them. If one has to be right, then one has to be wrong, in a polarized world. Yes and no. But between the yes and no there is an infinite range of possibilities, a full spectrum of maybe. If you are stuck in either/or, then you are missing the infinite."

All Woman and Springtime is the story of two friends Gyong-Ho and Il-Sun. The two meet as young girls in an orphanage in North Korea. Both are learning to live with the devastation their young lives have already seen. Both are very different, and yet are drawn to each other. A friendship flourishes as they grow up.

As they become young women, their life choices start to diverge. Yet, the friendship lasts and continues to sustain them. As a result of circumstances and choices, they are sold into the sex trade in South Korea. Life leads them through dismal circumstances, yet somehow always together.

The book is a very sad story of the girls' life under the North Korean regime and unfortunately, gets even sadder as they leave that regime for what they think will be a better life. Along the way, they meet people who befriend them and people who betray them.

As such, this book has all the making of a beautiful read - sympathetic characters, a sad situation, and a world issue that deserves attention. Unfortunately, something about the book kept me from an emotional connection with the book. Perhaps the writing style. Perhaps elements of the story that I felt unnecessary. I am not really sure. I am almost tempted to reread it to see what it was that prevented the book from reaching that point, but I probably won't. It was an okay read, but not one that pulled me in completely and held me. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Dinner

Title:  The Dinner
Author:  Herman Koch
Publication Information:  Hogarth, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2012. 248 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on reading the publicity for it.

Favorite Quote:  "If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this:  happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn't have to be validated. 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way' is the opening sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. All I could hope to add is that unhappy families .... can never get by on their own. The more validators, the merrier. Unhappiness loves company. Unhappiness can't stand silence - especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone."

The Dinner takes place over the course of one evening - one dinner shared among two couples. Serge and Babette. Paul and Claire. Over the course of the dinner, much is revealed about the dynamics of the two couples and about the relationship of brothers Serge and Paul. Both couples have children, and the dinner revolves around an event involving their fifteen year old sons.

The book is written as a first person narrative with Paul as the narrator. The setting is Amsterdam. The central issue is that the two couples' sons have committed a senseless act that has serious legal ramifications. The two couples differ in their approach to this issue. For the bulk of the book, they dance around the issue and parry back and forth over the dinner.

The conversation brings out serious issues in the relationships between the two brothers. One suffers from mental illness that causes violent bursts of temper. The other is submerged in political machinations and election maneuverings. The two wives bring their own perspectives and agendas.

I found the book disturbing and difficult to read. The characters are not likable. The parental approach to the trouble the boys have caused is disturbing. The first person narrative makes the book more difficult; perhaps, a different perspective or different narrators might have added more depth to the story. Overall, this is one dinner I wish I had skipped.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Round House

Title:  The Round House
Author:  Louise Erdrich
Publication Information:  HarperCollins. 2012. 318 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because the title and the description sounded intriguing.

Favorite Quote:  "Tears started into my eyes. I let them flood down my cheeks. Nobody was there to see me so I did not even wipe them away. I stood there in the shadowed doorway thinking with my tears. Yes, tears can be thoughts, why not?"

The Round House is set on a North Dakota reservation. It is the story of a boy, a family, a community, and a culture. The book begins as Geraldine Coutts is attacked. The story is about the impact on her and her family, particularly her thirteen year old son Joe. Ultimately, the story is about a search for justice.

The book starts with a sad and disturbing event and proceeds to a sad and disturbing conclusion. Everything in between is - you guessed it - sad and disturbing. That, in and of itself, is not my concern with the book. Many sad stories are very powerful ones. What concerns me most is the perspective from which the story is told. The story is written as a first person narrative through Joe's eyes. Joe is a thirteen year old boy. I don't understand why.

This story puts the child in the middle of an adult world he is not ready to deal with. Again, that in and of itself is not my concern. However, putting a child in the position of the narrator puts a child's perspective on the situation. It hints at the adult emotions and turmoil but does not fully reflect them. As such, I feel as if part of the anguish and reality of this story is actually missing. We see Geraldine's pain through Joe's eyes.

This book brings to light the difficulty in prosecuting rape cases on reservations. I was not aware of this issue until reading this book. I do hope the book can lead to some positive changes.