Audio Book · funny

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Library by Robin Sloan

I am always going to pick up a novel that has the word, “book,” “bookstore,” or “library” in the title. So, when Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan popped up as immediately available through my library borrowing app, I had to check it out. Serendipitous joy! This book is everything you could want; a quest, old friends, new friends, foes and a mystery 500 years in the making.

mr.penumbraClay Jannon needs a job. The Great Recession has caused his bagel company to rebrand and subsequently fold. When Clay sees an opening at the mysterious Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore he applies. Clay’s only goal is to avoid living in a tent and, even though this job will not develop any connections or skills for future jobs, it will keep him in rent money. That is no small feat for someone living in San Fransisco.

Mr. Penumbra is as mysterious as his store. He asks Clay only, “What do you seek here?” before hiring him and forbidding him from looking in the books. More curiously, no one buys anything at this bookstore. Elderly people scurry in and out while exchanging huge tomes. Day after day Clay keeps track of the visitors in the log book and fetches books from the way-back list high up on the vertical shelves. After about a month, he can no longer resist. He peeks. The mystery he finds will take him across America, through time, and tax the combined efforts of all Clay’s resources to solve.

This book is epically entertaining. A unique mixture of history, computer science, cryptology, mystery, coding and humor all swirl together to paint an absolutely riveting story that transcends expectations. And, except for a very few references to sex, boobs and the bookstore’s proximity to a strip joint, the book could be for all ages. Because at its heart the book tells a tale of what happens at the intersection of old and new.

If you had asked me how it all ended when I was half-way through the book I would have guessed and I would have been wrong. At three-quarters of the way through I thought I knew with a certainty the ending and I was still wrong. Not only is the ending surprising but the writing is sharp with interesting characters at every turn. Some reviews have complained that this book is full of exceptional people but I think Clay was able to see where people were exceptional and employ their skills in that manner. The audiobook was extraordinarily well read and really brought the characters and action to life.

This book was a surprise that I didn’t even know it existed until it showed up on my Libby app. It is odd then that my love of books and my use of technology brought me to this wonderful story about the overlap between the two.


Tell me, please!

Do you have any subjects or cover art that will make you always pick up the book?


fiction · funny · SeriousSeriesLove

Serious Series Love: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

 

How much fun can you have seeing how the unimaginably rich live? The answer: A LOT.

I read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians more than a year ago and adored it. The story of Nick Young bringing his American-born Chinese girlfriend, Rachel, back to Singapore to meet his, ahem, “comfortably,” rich family introduced me to the multifaceted glory of insanely rich people. The end of the first book wrapped the story up so nicely the next two books didn’t really register with me. What is wrong with me?! If anything, the second and third book are even more fun to read than the first!

I picked up China Rich Girlfriend happy to find that nearly all of the characters were already old friends from Crazy Rich Asians. The second story opens with Rachel and Nick getting married. Even though Nick and his family are estranged, his mother is working to reconnect by finding Rachel’s long-lost (and long thought dead) father. When she discovers his identity she flies to interrupt the wedding and disclose his identity! And, for fans of Crazy Rich Asians, it will come as no surprise that all of this action happens in the first few chapters. The real quandary is how Rachel, her father, and his family will blend together. And, of course, there are all the other characters’ stories (Kitty and Astrid are back!) that keep the book at a wonderfully quick pace.

The third book opens with the news that Nick’s grandmother Ah Ma is on her deathbed. Nick is not alone in rushing home for a final goodbye. The whole family descends on Su Yi’s home. Some are them are there to see their beloved matriarch. Others are there to lay claim to the massive fortune. But there are more surprises in Su Yi’s story than yachts in the Singapore marina.

The three books work so well together because Kevin Kwan has invested us in these characters. If you read the first book and enjoyed the adventures of the rich and not-at-all famous, you will enjoy the next two books. The magic of these books is how the author makes you care about almost all of these people even as they spend ten million dollars shopping in Paris. By providing us backstories, shifting perspective, and a healthy dose of cultural understanding, the author helps us understand these characters as people. It doesn’t make you feel sorry for them and their insane bank balances, but it does save you from feeling dirty or seedy watching their stories unfold. I know, I know! These aren’t real people. But, I don’t enjoy stories that focus on mocking or diminishing people to stereotypes. These books do neither. Also, I relished all of the footnotes that will simultaneously explain things to the reader and remind you that the author himself spent most of his childhood living among all of this craziness.

I have Serious Series Love for Crazy Rich Asians.


Tell me, please!

Have you read the books / seen the movie? What are your thoughts?


Audio Book · funny · nonfiction

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

One of my longstanding personal quotes is, “Laugh or Cry, you choose!” I say this to myself when I become overwhelmed and I try to reflect on the humor in the situation. But, I know that mental health is no joke and it can rob people of the ability to control this choice. So what do you do if your life is deeply affected by mental health? Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) forced herself to be “furiously happy” to balance those times her mental illness makes her unfathomably sad. She invited us on her journey in accepting her mental health and the hilarity of it all in her new book Furiously Happya Funny Book about Horrible Things.

furiouslyhappyI have never read Jenny Lawson’s blog, I didn’t follow her on Twitter and, honestly, she wasn’t on my radar at all.  But, someone highlighted her book on WWW Wednesday and I dutifully added it to my to-be-read pile. Mostly, I fell in love with the hilarious taxidermy raccoon (Rory) on the cover of the book. When the audiobook caught my eye I downloaded it simply because I needed something to listen to during my commute and it was immediately available. All of these cosmic connections resulted in my listening to and falling deeply in love with Jenny Lawson. (I hereby promise I will not stalk you Jenny, tell Victor not to worry).

Now see how I have referred to this total stranger by her first name? And, I write as though I know her husband? This is the talent of a well-written memoirist. They make the reader feel like they have a new friend, one they know and understand on a deeper level. But what elevates this memoir to a whole new level is that my new friend Jenny managed to weave awareness and understanding of mental illness through her book so seamlessly. After listening to her read her own story I feel like I have a much better understanding of mental illness, taxidermy, depression, the perils of traveling through Australia, and the power of acceptance in equal measure.

Jenny’s decision to live Furiously Happy has changed her life. Perhaps her book will alter yours. All I know is that I would really like to thank her for explaining the nuances of mental health to me. And I would really like to hold Rory for a bit. Please?!?


Tell me, please!

What books do you recommend for understanding mental illness?


Audio Book · funny · nonfiction

Canada by Mike Myers

trudeau_cabinent

It was this picture from Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet that caught my eye. Much like spotting an extremely attractive person, I scrolled past it at first and then did I double take. Look at this magnificence! There are fifty percent women, minorities and a person with a visible disability all right there representing a whole country. Wait. Maybe that isn’t how legislation works in Canada. I had to look it up. My Canadian crush had begun.

Recently I returned from my Canadian adventure.  I spent ten wonderful days traveling by car through the province Quebec starting in Quebec City then up to Tadoussac and around again to Montreal before heading home. By the time I arrived back at my own house I was making promises to myself to never go outside again. But, after one good night of sleep in my own bed my crush roared to life again. Luckily, Mike Myers has a 2016 book entitled Canada and my library even lent me to audiobook. Good on ya library!

Mike Myers only lived in Canada until he was 20. Now, at age 53 his comprehension and eloquence on the subject of his native land is akin to hero worshipping. Or, as he says, “There is no one more Canadian than a Canadian who no longer lives in Canada.” With a straight delivery that I didn’t really expect from Mike Myers he tells the tale of growing up in Canada with two British immigrants for parents and how his family and his country made him who he is today. He added loads of delicious Canadian inside information that I ate up like it was covered in maple syrup.

I delighted in hearing about the morbid sense of humor most Canadians enjoy. Myers fascinated me with the different accents across Canada and the words and phrases unique to Canadians. When he started immitating the rising linguistics employed by most Canadians I was rolling with laughter. You see, I lived in Minnesota for three years before my Canadian crush. Minnesotans are similar to Canadians in only a few ways (to my untrained eye) but they absolute use rising linguistics. On top of all of this, Myers gave me plenty of little Canadian tidbits that I can use to be extra annoying when talking about Canada.

If you don’t have a crush on Canada but you are interested in Mike Myers he spends quite some time talking about how he found fame. His story is intertwined with Canada but he shares a number of personal anecdotes. The most interesting was how he created and popularized Wayne Campbell.

I was initially drawn to the notion of Canada and the ideals put forth by Trudeau before our tumultuous election and subsequent further division in America. It is difficult to explain how upset you become watching your country lose its morality and ideology. Listening to Myers talk about Canada, especially in the final chapter, gives me hope.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever been fascinated by another country?


all ages · Audible · funny

Audible: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, Narrated by Katherine Kellgren

AshtonPlaceBook1
Two crouched children and a young woman stand between a line of trees in front of a stately home.

I did a ridiculous amount of driving this week and so I popped in an audiobook to make my travels less arduous. I had read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood several years ago but I could not remember how it ended. Typically, even a bad audiobook is made easier for me to enjoy when I have already read the book. However, I was surprised to find how delightful this book was as an audiobook! Katherine Kellgren narrates the story in a clipped British accent and gives all of the characters their own voice.

If you are familiar with the story of The Incorrigibles then you know that giving a voice to the children is no easy feat. “The Incorrigibles,” as they are dubbed in this first book, are three children found in the woods of Ashton Place that have been raised by wolves. They are brought into the home of newlyweds, Lord Frederick and Lady Cornelia Ashton, neither of which want anything to do with the raising of the children. So, they hire Miss Penelope Lumley.

This is Miss Lumley’s first position as a professional governess having recently graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. Thankfully, she is no ordinary governess and seems to be uniquely suited for turning the children from wolves into proper people.

I remember the story as being cute. A large cast of characters is introduced in this first book in order to be used in later stories but there is still an active plot with action and great character development. Also, just as Lemony Snicket does in A Series of Unfortunate Events this this book utilizes functional defining. I could see where parents enjoying this story with children would appreciate this device but it always seemed to interrupt the story for me when employed by Snicket. However, in this book, the author seamlessly uses larger words in sentences and almost in a *wink wink* manner defines them for the audience without loosing the story’s momentum.

But, narrated, the story really comes alive. Especially since the narrator has to howl so much! When she does the voices of the children, softly talking to the governess with their odd and adorable little speech mannerisms I just fell in love with this story.

I was also happy to discover that you can search by narrator on audiophilemagazine.com and now I have over 100 books narrated by Katherine Kellgren to look forward to, including the rest of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series!

Have you ever experienced this, an audiobook that really brought a book to life?

funny · nonfiction

Cleanliness and Clutter

Happy First of May! On New Years Eve I make resolutions. Lots of them. On my birthday I set goals for my year. And, on May 1st I begin my spring cleaning.  This is mainly so I can free up my summer hours for fun, sun, and reading.

With that in mind I started where I always do with things, at my library. I picked up two books. The first, The Complete Book of Clean, Tips and Techniques for Your Home is by Toni Hammersley from A Bowl Full of Lemons. The second was The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t all Over the Place by Jennifer McCartney. Obviously, I’m torn.

Toni Hammersley’s website is gorgeous. I have been reading A Bowl Full of Lemons for years. Two years ago I purchased her budget worksheets and they were wonderful. They really laid out where I was going wrong in my spending. She is great at coming up with plans, explaining them, and sharing them with people.

Her last book, The Complete Book of Home Organization was beautiful and I loved paging through it but I knew that my home would never look like hers. I just don’t care enough to get my rooms that beautifully organized and de-cluttered. But still, I was excited to get a peek at her Complete Book of Clean because even if I don’t care if my rooms to look Pinterest-ready I absolutely want a clean home.

I got Complete Book of Clean home and I immediately flipped to the middle. This is a bad habit of mine with non-fiction books. Years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to always read the introduction and view the table of contents before leaping into the book (see? I make them!). This resolution was made for books like this. When you open Toni’s book to the middle your eyes are smacked (with no warning at all) with a photo of her gorgeous, immaculate refrigerator. It is full of organized fresh fruits and veggies. And right there next to that image is tip #63. This is a reminder and instructions on how to dust the condenser. Ummmm, what? I’m still ogling her fresh out-of-the-shell coconut and wondering how she accomplished that feat without a hammer and tears and she wants me to dust a part of my fridge that no one can see?!?

This is why you start with the introduction. Toni and A Bowl Full of Lemons has never been the idea of perfection.  It is all a process.  So, I flipped back to the introduction.  Sure enough there she is letting me know,

“Every day, I find myself sweeping the floors, wiping up spills, picking up glitter and straightening pillows on the sofa. An hour later, I do it all overt again. Messes are a part of life, and cleaning them up is essential to our well-being. Whether you live in a 4,000-square-foot home or a small one-bedroom apartment, implementing a cleaning routine is the key to success.”

With this in mind, I went tip by tip through the book. There are an alarming number of things that Toni believes needs to be done once a week that I, frankly, never do. I DO wash the toothbrushes once a week. However, I DO NOT dust the window treatments once a week. She absolutely has higher standards than I.

While the routine may not be completely for me, this book is a veritable bible of how to clean your home. And Toni really emphasizes natural make-it-yourself cleaners. I had a unbelievably good time flushing my drains with salt, baking soda, vinegar and boiling water. It was like a happy little science experiment! And, I made toilet bombs. They are like bath bombs but they make cleaning your toilet a breeze and your bathroom smells minty fresh. Toni also recommends de-cluttering as you clean which makes the job easier every time. She has a 31-day purge that is supposed get things going….in the direction of the donation center.

And here is where The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place comes into play.  There are a LOT of books out there that will tell you that your life will be less stressful and more peaceful if you just let go of stuff (ahem, Konmari method).  As a book lover and full blown Nerd – I took the quiz – I have a huge collection of books and all the cool quirky adorable Nerd-like things you can collect.  This includes a burgeoning collection of Funko Pops.  (I tried to resist but damn you baby Groot, you are irresistible!).

I am also a crafter.  Which is why I already had the silicone molds, mason jars and ample baking soda required to make and store the natural cleaners and toilet bombs. I play several musical instruments.  I have a dog and two cats.  I have stuff that is important to me that belonged to members of my family or were given to me by people special to me.  This is not clutter. These are my things. They are the difference between my house and my home.

According to The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place I am winning at life. Jennifer McCartney’s book is hilarious and validating for people who love things. Some minimalist methods allege that books are clutter and direct you to rip out pages and throw away the rest. NO! Books are friends! If you don’t love them you don’t kill them. And I would certainly rather practice my music, play with family and friends, or sew something than unpack my purse.

However, as enjoyable as this book is, it did make me aware that I do not feel comfortable with all of my clutter. I cannot stand piles of papers or clothes all over everywhere. And, I really hate picking up things I was too lazy to put away just so I can vacuum.

It seems that am somewhere in between. So, what to do? I have decided to try A Bowl Full of Lemons decluttering.  I have things I could donate and I could certainly get rid of stacks of papers and magazines. That way, the light will be shown on the items in my house that really make it a home. And, when people come over to visit those things will all be dusted.

fiction · funny

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

This morning I wrote a long blog post about how much I loved reading this book.  I waxed poetically about my love for Drag Queens, my need for better self confidence in a bathing suit and how all around impressed I was with the main character Willowdean.  I posted it.dumplin'

Then I worried about my use of the word “fat” to describe the main character.  I know this is how Willowdean describes herself but I thought that maybe I should add a little caveat acknowledging that fact and that it is not my favorite word to use.  I went in to edit and I deleted the whole darn thing.

I’m going to try and find the old post.  But this book and this character deserve to be written about and read right now.  So, while we all wait to see if I can work the technology here are the big points:

(1)  Willowdean is confident in a way that is totally enviable.  From page 1 she is completely comfortable in her own (self-described) fat self.

(2)  Willowdean has a crisis of confidence.  It happens to the best of us.  Hers doesn’t come from people mocking her or leaving her out.  It comes from the amorous attention of a boy she likes.

(3)  She gets her confidence back by her own damn self.  Big props to Julie Murphy here.