Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore | Book Review

Tuesday 29 September 2020


    Clay Johnson needs a new job thanks to the Great Recession. While he's on the hunt for a new job, he stumbles upon a well hidden bookstore that just happens to be hiring. But Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore is more than just a purveyor of books that never closes. It's a front for a secret society bent on deciphering a centuries old code by finding clues in seemingly gibberish books. This job is just the first step of many that will lead Clay down the oddest adventure of his life.

    This book was on my TBR for quite a while, at least two years. I picked it up initially because of it's pretty cover and then I bought it because of the interesting premise. It took me a while to read it because my wife and I were always doing some sort of readathon or other reading challenge and then I would forget about it and it'd sit there on my shelf with all my other forgotten books. Then one day I was looking for a new audio book on Libby and there it was, ready to be checked out. So I started listening to it.

The audiobook was narrated by Ari Fliakos who was in a few episodes of the show Homeland. He was a good narrator and was able to create unique voices for each of the main characters, which I find to be a key element of a narrator. His characters weren't the kind of different and unique a voice actor could do, but they were good enough for me to be able to pick out who was talking without a "Clay said" or the like after a piece of dialogue. But enough about the narration. The most important part is if the book was good or not. Even a five star narrator can't save a bad book. 

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was a good book that fell short of being great. The world Robin Sloan created was fun and full of promise but the characters he created were lackluster. Clay was a fine main character but he was a bit bland. He was like a YA protagonist. Not bad, but not a lot of personality either. He did a lot without having any growth as a character. The most interesting character was Mr. Penumbra himself, which could be why Sloan chose to write a prequel about Penumbra instead of a sequel. 

The side characters were where the book lost me. Neel Shah was just odd and creepy. A tech millionaire who made his fortune from being at the forefront of boob physics in video games. Really? He just sounds like a creepy neckbeard made it big. Sloan tries to salvage him by having him start a foundation supporting women in the arts, but it comes across more as a lame apology for his career instead of a god deed. 

The main love interest, Kat Potente, was just a sad attempt at a powerful career driven woman. Instead of coming across as strong and independent, she was just a hollow shell. Instead of strong and independent, she's just cold and flippant. Having the main female character be more career focused instead of love focused would have been great, but it just wasn't done right. 

The characters really were where the book's main shortcoming. The only characters I liked were Mr. Penumbra and Rosemary Lapin (a member of the book cult). Everyone else was either plain and forgettable or just plain bad.

The resolution of the whole book was also lackluster. This is spoiler free, of course. There was a ton of buildup as to what the secret really is that's been hidden in the books, and then it's discovered and revealed with little pomp and circumstance. When all was revealed, it didn't feel like it mattered at all. You know that big thing you've been waiting for? There it is, don't let the door hit you on the way out. 

But the interesting thing about this book is that even though I had quite a few things I didn't like about it, I still enjoyed it. It still kept me coming back for more. I still kept looking forward to listening to it and I still want to read the prequel. Despite the many negatives about the book, it still has that je ne sais quoi.

If the premise seems interesting to you at all, give this book a chance but please realize that it's the story alone that drives this book and the characters don't add much. If you think that'd be okay with you, then you may like this. If not, then maybe I saved you the trouble. You're welcome.

And the hardcover glows in the dark! I'm not sure about the paperback. 

Net Galley Wrap Up #1

Sunday 6 September 2020

 Recently my wife and I have signed up for and became huge fans of Net Galley. If you're not familiar, Net Galley is a site where people can get free advanced reading copies of books (and audiobooks) in exchange for honest reviews. You get a score on this site which is a representation of how many books you've reviewed versus how many you have yet to review. So in an effort to get that score up, I requested a ton of graphic novels knowing that I can read and review them faster than a typical book. So here's my first ever wrap up of my Net Galley reads. This one is all graphic novels. Enjoy.

Moon Lake by Dan Fogler

       Moon Lake is like a weird baby between Twilight Zone and Castle Rock. It takes place at the fictional Moon Lake. Think Camp Crystal Lake, but weirder. This graphic novel is basically a short story collection, but with pictures! Yay for pictures! There are a total of seven stories each with their own author and illustrator and each story has a horror theme. But this isn't a graphic novel for kids. Why, you may ask? Because there are things like nudity, sex, blood, gore, murder, and even bestiality. Yeah, not for kids. So what did I think of this? Here's my review.

This was.... interesting, to say the least. I definitely have a favorite tale and I definitely had some I didn't like as well. Black Bear Blues by Stef Hutchinson Illustrated by Jim Daly and Lizzy John and Moon Wars by Blake Leibel illustrated by John Finney and Kat Rocha stood out as the better of the tales. But some of them, like Camp Sasquatch by Tim Seeley illustrated by Robbie Rodriguez and Mark Englert and Desensitized Deirdre by R. H. Stavis illustrated by Jeffrey Zornow were so overtly grotesque that it left me cold.

The stories revolved around things like a werebear, an orgy gone wrong, a girl who goes on a murderous rampage, and the whole thing is told by a man who lives on the mood, growing fat from eating moon cheese which gives him excess gas.

Some of the tales came across as so tryhard that I felt like it was entirely disingenuous. It felt like the goal of each of those writers was to, first and foremost, do something shocking. I got the feeling that they focused so much on doing something over the top that they failed to write a good story. This graphic novel had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster in an earthquake and I'm sorry to say that the lowest lows out weighed the highest highs. 

I  wanted to like this a lot more than I did. A horror themed graphic novel taking place in a world that allows for wonderfully unique stories to be told sounds like a great idea. Plus Dan Fogler, an actor I quite like, helped put it together and even wrote for it as well, so that's just a bonus! But in the end, Moon River's  good stories couldn't keep pace with the bad ones and it left me wanting something better.

Moon Lake by Dan Fogel gets a 4 out of 11.
Release Date: 9/1/20

There Are Things I Can't Tell You by Edako Mofumofu

I love romance stories. When I was younger two of my favorite manga were Fake by Sanami Matoh and Gravitation by Maki Murakami. So when  I saw There Are Things I Can't Tell You by Edako Mofumofu, I jumped at the chance to read it.

This story is about Kasumi and Kyousuke, two guys who are best friends but quite an odd couple. Kasumi is more reserved and quiet while Kyousuke is more outgoing and is quite often at the center of attention. The two have feelings for each other but can't quite find a way to express them. Can these two, who have been friends since elementary school, ever work it out?

So I may not be the target audience for a boys love manga, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it too. There Are Things I Can't Tell You is super cute and exactly what I expected from something in this genre. Two cute guys with an equally adorable meet cute form a tight friendship but secretly harbor feelings for each other.

I learned that it's part of a popular genre of books written about gay love by women and for women. Here's where it gets tricky. There are those who have issues with this genre saying that it oversexualizes homosexuality for the purpose of turning it into a kink. But on the other hand, would judging it in such a way be kink shaming?  I'm not qualified to have an opinion on any of these topics since I'm not part of either of these camps, it's just something to keep in mind when you read this.

That aside, this is a cute, short read that's well worth your time if you're a fan of the genre. The characters were realistic and relatable. The hurdles in the way of the romance was realistic too. It even briefly touches on an important topic or two but in the end this isn't anything other than a boy's love manga. So if that's what you're looking for, you found a good one.

There Are Things I Can't Tell You by Edako Mofumofu gets a 7.5 out of 11
Release Date: 7/20/20

Karmen part 1 by Guillem March

The cover is what drew me in. A woman in what looks like a skeleton costume with psycho pink hair who looks like she's a character from the game Catherine. The premise also sounded interesting. This is about a woman named Catalina who kills herself after getting her heart broken. An angel named Karmen comes to help her and takes her on a journey where she just may learn important life lessons... now that she's dead. 

I really liked the art in this graphic novel. I thought it was beautiful, vivid, and eye catching. Early on I was a bit worried at the direction it was going because for most of the story Catalina is naked. My worry was that this would just be a booby comic with little focus on story but I'm happy to report that it's not. If you have a dislike or aversion to nudity then this isn't for you. The nudity is never crass and it actually makes sense to the story. But for some, it's a deal breaker. 

This is just part 1 and I think it's only going to be two parts but I can only speak for the story in this volume. It was part sad and part cute. Catalina is a good character who grew on me as the story unfolded. She could have been fleshed out a bit more but I was happy with what I got. Karmen is just a mediocre character thus far. She's one note and she doesn't get much in the way of a story of her own, but there's a lot of promise for her and for her growth in coming volumes.

This was a good comic that came out of nowhere and I'm really glad I got to read it. It's good, but not great. A solid graphic novel.

Karmen part 1 by Guillem March gets an 8 out of 11
Release date: 7/17/20

Quantum and Woody: Earth's Last Chance by Christopher Hastings

Quantum and Woody are heroes. They are brothers. And they may just be earth's last hope. They have a problem though. They tend to get in trouble just as much as they save the day. But when they capture the attention of a group of super villains, they need to work together more than ever if they want to save the day.

I've never read anything by Christopher Hastings before but after reading this, I see why he was put in charge of Gwenpool.

Quantam and Woody: Earth's Last Choice is about two heroes named... wait for it... Quantam and Woody. They are brothers who got quantam powers and now use their powers to save the day. Quantam has always wanted to be a hero and Woody sees it as a way to fame and fortune. The two find themselves getting in hairier situations and battling more formidable foes.

If you like anything that can be described as "zany," then this is for you. It's a superhero story but also a comedy. There is a story and it's quite easy to follow as there's not much to it. It's not bad. It's just simple. This is vol 1 of an ongoing series and this first volume was enough to get me interested.

There were some downsides though. At times the art by Ryan Browne inconsistent. It would go from really good to super cartoony from one panel to the next. How cartoony, you may ask? Think Mad Magazine level. Not bad, but not what I was expecting.

All in all this was fun and entertaining. I enjoyed what I read even if it didn't suck me in like I would have hoped. Read this for some goofy superhero fun.

Quantum and Woody: Earth's Last Chance by Christopher Hastings gets a 7.5 out of 11
Release Date: 10/13/20

Fangs by Sarah Andersen

Like many others, I'm a fan of Sarah Andersen's other comic, Sarah's Scribbles. But this one is a completely different monster. (Get it? Monster? Vampires and Werewolves? I slay me. Get it! Slay?)

Fangs follows Elsie the Vampire and Jimmy the werewolf and the romantic relationship they form.

This is a collection of short comics that do have a small, easy to follow, ongoing story but can technically still be read out of order and still be enjoyable.Fangs is a lot of fun and it's really cute. It relies on vampire and werewolf tropes but not in a lazy or contrived way. The tropes are used for a wonderful amount of jokes ranging from cute and easy to quite clever (and still cute).

The art in Fangs still has a style that's quite clearly Sarah Andersen, though it's much cleaner than Sarah's Scribbles which has a very purposeful scribble style.

Fangs is a fun, cute, and enjoyable romance. There is enough of an ongoing story to endear the characters to me but it's not so in depth that if too much time passes until the next volume, I won't get lost or confused. It's good. Read it.

Fangs by Sarah Andersen gets a 10 out of 11
Release Date 9/1/20

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