book review

Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be solved by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Mr. Penumbra's

 “He paused, then added, ‘Some of them are working very hard indeed.’
‘What are they doing?’
‘My boy!’ he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: ‘They are reading.'”

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

What do you get when you cross a high-stakes quest, an age-old mystery that must be figured out by solving puzzles, a secret society, references to Dungeons & Dragons, the plight of late-twentysomethings still looking for their path, and all of the computing power at Google HQ? Why, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, of course. Robin Sloane’s debut is frothy and nerdy, adventurous and romantic, and, much like Mr. Penumbra’s titular store, houses more than is at first evident.

Clay Jannon is something of a slacker. After losing his first job out of graphic design school due to recession woes, he’s spending a lot of time on the couch, unemployed, ignoring the budding romance between his roommates. He’s waiting for something to happen, an amiable, aimless guy who is meandering through life. As he wanders the streets of San Francisco  he finds an extraordinary bookstore: open 24 hours a day, Mr. Penumbra’s is a store with “regular” books up front and strange tomes shelved way up into the storeys-high rafters. And he’s looking to hire. Clay applies and lands the job as the sole night clerk, mainly because he tells Mr. Penumbra that the books that have most influenced him are the (fictional) Dragon-Song Chronicles. Right answer, evidently. He begins work, and is tasked with the odd assignment of recording as much personal detail as possible about everyone who enters the store—and strangest of all, he is forbidden from reading any of the books. So of course, at the urging of old friends and his new love interest, Kat Potente (who has a giant brain and boundless energy, and works for Google), Clay opens the books and discover that they’re encoded.

Continue reading “Perform an ancient ritual or just Google it?: a review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan”

book review

The haggis did it: a review of Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison

Murder doesn’t take a holiday in C.C. Benison’s Father Christmas Mysteries. In Eleven Pipers Piping, the second in his new series, Father Tom Christmas just can’t seem to find the “quiet” part of a quiet country life.
Tom, a widowed vicar, is still settling into Thornford Regis, his home for the past ten months. He’s moved himself and his young daughter Miranda to the tiny village in the wake of his wife’s unsolved murder in order to get them away from violence.

Eleven Pipers Piping

 “Dear Mum,
Something dreadful has happened—much, MUCH worse than my troubles with the Yorkshire pudding.”

 Eleven Pipers Piping, C.C. Benison 

Murder doesn’t take a holiday in C.C. Benison’s Father Christmas Mysteries. In Eleven Pipers Piping, the second in his new series, Father Tom Christmas just can’t seem to find the “quiet” part of a quiet country life.

Tom, a widowed vicar, is still settling into Thornford Regis, his home for the past ten months. He’s moved himself and his young daughter Miranda to the tiny village in the wake of his wife’s unsolved murder in order to get them away from violence. But death seems to find them. In the first installment, Twelve Drummers Drumming, a young woman was found dead and stuffed inside a Japanese taiko drum. This time around, Father Tom has been asked to officiate at the annual Robbie Burns’ Night dinner.

And he’s not terribly pleased about it. While he doesn’t want to alienate any of the influential townsfolk, he also really, really hates haggis and bagpipe music. Still, off he goes, only to be snowed in with half of the titular pipe band, the family who owns the inn, and a mysterious stranger (of course!). But all does not end well for this particular feast, for Will Moir, the hotel’s proprietor and member of the pipe band, turns up in his tower study dead—poisoned, to be specific.

Continue reading “The haggis did it: a review of Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison”

book review

Is that a tiger in your lifeboat or are you just happy to see me? Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is a classic, blockbuster, prize-winning, internationally renowned book that came out a decade ago. So why am I reviewing it? To answer the question “Should I read this book?”

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is a classic, blockbuster, prize-winning, internationally renowned book that came out a decade ago. So why am I reviewing it? To answer the question “Should I read this book?”

I, like a few other souls out there, had not read this book when it first came out. This was for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that the longer I went without reading it, the firmer I had an idea of what the book “was” in my mind. I’d heard enough people, mostly those who didn’t like it, say things like “oh, the entire thing is about some kid and a talking tiger in a rowboat.” Sounded boring, and pretentious, and capital-w Writerly to me, so I took a pass. But with the upcoming film release (which I review here), coupled with the fact that I quite liked Martel’s Beatrice & Virgil, I decided this summer that it was time to give Life of Pi a try.

Continue reading “Is that a tiger in your lifeboat or are you just happy to see me? Life of Pi, by Yann Martel”

book review, short stories

Absences and memories: a review of Dear Life by Alice Munro

This review has taken a long time to write. How do you review Alice Munro? It’s akin to being an art critic who looks at the Mona Lisa in order to write a review—only this is a brand new work, not an age-old classic.

 “People were always saying that this town was like a funeral, but in fact when there was a real funeral it put on its best show of liveliness. She was reminded of that when she saw, from a block away, the funeral-goers coming out of the church doors, stopping to chat and ease themselves out of solemnity.”

 “Corrie,” from Dear Life, by Alice Munro

This review has taken a long time to write. How do you review Alice Munro? The task is akin to being an art critic who looks at the Mona Lisa in order to write a review—only this is a brand new work, not an age-old classic.

I’m always a bit twitchy when a new work comes out from an author I love. What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations? (See, for example, J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. I may review that book here if I ever force myself to finish slogging through it.) I needn’t have worried, though. In her latest collection, Dear Life, Munro surpasses herself. This is a gathering of stories set mostly in rural Ontario (“Munroland”), mostly in the not-too-distant past, that are as much about what is remembered by the narrator as what isn’t, as much about what is left out of the story as what is brought into it. This book is a work about the shifting nature of memory and the way we build and rebuild our own narratives.

Continue reading “Absences and memories: a review of Dear Life by Alice Munro”

book review

Prairie endings and beginnings: a review of Napi’s Dance by Alanda Greene

Snake Woman and Eleanor Donaldson live in two very different versions of the Canadian prairie in Alanda Greene’s debut novel Napi’s Dance. Snake Woman grows up at a time of upheaval. The palefaced people are making inroads into indigenous land, bringing with them weapons, alcohol, and values foreign to the Blackfoot people. Decades later, Eleanor falls in love with the wide open spaces and huge sky when her family moves from Aurora, Ontario, to a homestead in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

 “All this beauty given us, to move through across Napi’s great body to know the stories that guide us on a true path. We will fiercely fight to keep this.”

 Napi’s Dance, Alanda Greene 

Snake Woman and Eleanor Donaldson live in two very different versions of the Canadian prairie in Alanda Greene’s debut novel Napi’s Dance. Snake Woman, who begins the story as Snake Child, grows up in a time of upheaval. The palefaced people are making inroads into indigenous land, bringing with them weapons, alcohol, and values foreign to the Blackfoot people. As political strife and outside danger rips at the fabric of her world, Snake Child and her foster mother Mountain Horse are tasked by the mysterious Women’s Society with the honour and responsibility of hosting a Bundle Spirit in their lodge. Several decades later, Eleanor falls in love with the wide open spaces and huge sky when her family moves from Aurora, Ontario, to a homestead in Medicine Hat, Alberta. As the Donaldsons adjust to farming life in a sod house, they are visited by representatives of the Royal Ontario Museum who wish to bring Aboriginal artifacts back to Ontario, to preserve this dying way of life.

Continue reading “Prairie endings and beginnings: a review of Napi’s Dance by Alanda Greene”

book review

How to live with her dying: a review of The End of your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe’s mom, Mary Anne, is a human rights activist, a champion of refugees and of world literacy. She has traveled widely, is a formidable fundraiser, an excellent listener, and a voracious reader. And she has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

“I guess if we keep reading books at more or less the same time, then it’s sort of like being in a book club,” I added….
“But you don’t have time for a book club!” Mom said.
“I have time to read. And we’ve always talked about books. So if we’re reading the same books, and talking about them, why can’t we call that a book club?”

– The End of your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe’s mom, Mary Anne, is a human rights activist, a champion of refugees and of world literacy. She loves her grandchildren, and theatre, and Vero Beach. She has traveled throughout Africa, to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Burma, to Geneva and London, and many other ports of call. She is a formidable fundraiser, an excellent listener, and a voracious reader. And she has been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

In this simple and moving memoir, Schwalbe details the last two years of his mother’s life, with sidetrips into the experiences of people Mary Anne has influenced or been influenced by. Returning home from a humanitarian trip to Afghanistan, Mary Anne becomes quite sick, and doctors diagnose her with a rare form of hepatitis, not surprising given where she’d come from. But as her condition worsens, the diagnosis changes: cancer, the kind that tends to kill in a matter of months. But while Mary Anne’s cancer isn’t curable, it is treatable. As Will and his mom sit in endless waiting rooms together, in sessions of chemo and waiting for scans and before speaking with doctors, they find themselves asking each other what they’re reading, and Will proposes a very special book club: why don’t they read the same books at the same time and discuss them?

Continue reading “How to live with her dying: a review of The End of your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe”

book review, graphic novel, Multimedia Mondays

Multimedia Monday: Goliath, by Tom Gauld, a graphic novel review

In this spare, moving graphic novel, Tom Gauld approaches the familiar tale of David and Goliath from an unfamiliar point of view: Goliath’s. Playing with the idea that we only know the victor’s side of history, Gauld creates a deeply human Goliath who is sweet, quiet, and unassuming. Goliath just happens to be quite a bit bigger than the average soldier.

Multimedia Mondays is a new feature on EditorialEyes Book Blog, including reviews of graphic novels, theatre, ballet, movies based on books, and all things book-related in other media.

In this spare, moving graphic novel, Tom Gauld approaches the familiar tale of David and Goliath from an unfamiliar point of view: Goliath’s. Playing with the idea that we only know the victor’s side of history, Gauld creates a deeply human Goliath who is sweet, quiet, and unassuming. Goliath just happens to be quite a bit bigger than the average soldier. He’s not a monster, a warrior, or even an expert fighter. He’s the “fifth worst swordsman” in his unit. But visually, he’s intimidating.

Meanwhile, the king of the Philistines is presented with an idea, a way to end the stalemate wih the Israelites at a cost of only one or two Philistine lives. The king okays it without a second thought, and before poor Goliath knows it, he’s being measured for impressive-looking but shoddily made armour and is pulled off admin duty, which he quite enjoys. He’s sent into a valley and given a script to shout out to the opposing army.

Continue reading “Multimedia Monday: Goliath, by Tom Gauld, a graphic novel review”