My penultimate book of the year, and the final book in my 2013 Bingo Card. Louisa “Lou” Clark loses her job as a cafe and has to take a job as a care assistant for a rich playboy adventurer who’s ended up paraplegic in a wheelchair after an accident. He’s absolutely vile to her at first, but they gradually develop a friendship and an understanding. Then Lou realises that he plans to travel to Switzerland to commit assisted suicide at the end of her six month contract, and decides she needs to change his mind.
Having lost his job as a web developer due to the recession, Clay Jannon finds a new job as the night clerk in the titular bookstore, belonging to the mysterious Mr. Penumbra. Not that he sells all that many books. As well as the normal shelves, with its somewhat eclectic selection of novels and non fiction, there is what Clay calls the “wayback” section of the store, huge shelves of unique volumes, not to be found in any search engine, a sort of strange lending library for the odd individuals who show up with a laminated cards, returning a volume and fetching another at random intervals. Clay is asked to keep a log, describing the appearance of each of the customers and the state of mind each new customer was in when they come to swap a book.
Clay starts using his web developer skills to make a 3D-model of the store and the “wayback” section on his computer, trying to see if there’s any pattern, rhyme or reason to the strange regulars and their lending patterns. He also works on trying to lure new customers to the store, using all the tools available to him in social media to advertise its location. Once he meets Kat, a young lady working at Google, his plans to map the mysterious patterns of Mr. Penumbra’s store really take off, and soon he and his friends are involved in a mysterious quest involving a global conspiracy, a secret organisation, code breaking, data visualisation on a massive scale and possibly the secret to eternal life.
This is such a very difficult book to review, as to give away too much of the plot, or say too much about the characters would ruin the reading experience of those yet to read it.
Each chapter starts with a quote from a famous author about the art of writing, the art of creating fiction or just lying. “The truth is beautiful. Without doubt; and so are lies.” is the first one. In the first section of the book: “What was lost”, our unnamed narrator starts telling us about his childhood, waiting in Terminal B of an unnamed airport for his flight attendant mother to come back from wherever she’d gone to next. We’re told how the twenty-two page adventure story he wrote (with illustrations) was lost when the man who ran the watch repair suddenly collapsed, and the book was thrown away. He tells us about going to a debutante ball because the brother of the girl he fancied was injured on a golf course shortly before, about going to college and starting to write in earnest, striking up a friendship and life long rivalry with the mysterious and charismatic Julian. At college he also meets the glamorous Evelyn, a promising actress, who may or may not be the love of his life.
12-year-old Rebecca’s parents have been arguing for a while, and one day Rebecca’s mother takes the kids and her stuff and moves from Baltimore back to her mother in Atlanta, needing some space to figure things out. Rebecca is not at all happy about her parent’s separation, having to live in a new place, starting a new school and spends quite a lot of time sulking. Rummaging around in her grandmother’s attic, she finds an old breadbox, which appears to grant wishes, as long as whatever is wished for actually exists in the world and can fit into the space within the breadbox (so no unicorns or infinite wishes).
Thanks to the things Rebecca manages to acquire through the breadbox (new clothes, an Ipod, money, gift cards, lots and lots of candy, among other things), she manages to make herself quite popular at school and finds her new home with her grandma a bit easier to accept. While she still resents her mother for taking them away, and misses her father terribly, she’s starting to settle in and adjust. Then she discovers the truth about where the items in the breadbox come from, and things get a lot more uncomfortable and difficult. Rebecca discovers that you can’t get something for nothing, there is always a price to be paid.
Having reached December with quite a few books left on my “A to Z” reading challenge, this is the book I picked for X (as Q, Z and X don’t need to be the first letter of the book, cause that would be very difficult indeed). It deals with the rather serious issues of separation and sudden upheaval well, and while Rebecca spends a lot of the book being a total brat to her mother (I, as a grownup, had a lot less patience with her clearly rather useless dad), being completely uprooted and having to settle in at a new school when just entering your teens is never going to be fun. Apart from the magical breadbox, there isn’t a lot of fantasy to this book, and the lessons Rebecca gets about actions having consequences are things that a lot of middle grade books, in my experience, gloss over.
Anna Oliphant doesn’t want to go to school in Paris. She’s not sure why her father (who basically seems to be a thinly veiled parody of Nicholas Sparks) has enrolled her in a boarding school there. She had perfectly nice life in Atlanta with her mum and little brother, a great best friend, a very promising crush on one of the guys she works with at the local multiplex. Now she’s a continent away from everyone she loves, surrounded by clever and cool teenagers who all know the school really well. She doesn’t even speak French! Then she meets Étienne St. Clair, who is helpful, generous, charming, smart and gorgeous. Of course, he has a girlfriend. And even if he didn’t, her new friend Meredith also obviously has a crush on him. So Anna is unlikely to experience any French kissing from him, right?
Now, at the start of the book, I was torn between wanting to slap some sense into Anna, and give her a hug. Her excessive whining that her pompous, somewhat emotionally unavailable, but very rich father has see fit to send her to a posh boarding school in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is pretty much what you’d find in the dictionary as an example of first world problem. Yet at the same time, she’s never been away from home before and she’s an insecure teenage girl, and now she’s half a world away from everyone and everything she knows, in a foreign country full of culture and sophistication. It speaks to her dad’s cluelessness that he’d send his daughter to a boarding school in a country where she doesn’t even speak the language. As someone who voluntarily moved to Scotland to go to University when I was eighteen, and had some pretty big culture shocks, I can understand and symphatise, because Anna’s situation is so much scarier.
Full review on my blog.
Carly works the evening shift as a cook at a small cafe, so she can spend her days surfing. She’s estranged from her family, and dropped out of university, and keeps herself mostly to herself. The thing she can’t tell her family is that surfing is the only thing that makes sense to her anymore, and that helps her not to dwell on the incident after her high school graduation two years ago, when she got drunk, separated from her friends, and woke up in a strange apartment having been raped by three strangers. Carly doesn’t want to be a victim, and telling people about rape, always makes them pity and see you in a different light – so she doesn’t talk about it, and she allows no one to get close.
While Carly may want to stay isolated, there are people around her who want to get closer. Hannah, a Dutch woman estranged from her husband,lives upstairs from her (but has to keep using her shower because her plumbing is bad) and tries to take Carly salsa dancing and makes her breakfast. Danny, a persistent kid she meets while surfing has synesthesia and won’t leave her alone, even when the colour he sees her as is occasionally unpleasant. He keeps wanting to hang out and discuss surfing movies, and persuades Carly to get him a part time job at the cafe. Lastly, there is Ryan, who stands out from some of the crowd of macho surfer dudes. He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s just out of jail, and that he’d like a chance to get to know Carly better. He wants to turn his life around into something better, and if Carly will let him, he wants her to be a part of that life. The question is if Carly is ready to let him in?
More on my blog.
This is the sequel to If I Stay, and both this book and this review unavoidably contain spoilers about the ending. So if you want to avoid spoilers, or haven’t read the first book in the series yet, skip this review.
Three years ago Adam Wilde’s girlfriend Mia was in a car accident and lost her entire family. She nearly died as well. While she was in a coma, Adam pleaded with her to wake up, and said he’d even live with her leaving him, if she would just stay alive. Mia woke up from the coma, left Oregon for New York and is now a lauded prodigy having graduated Julliard early.
After dropping out of college and caring about nothing for quite some time after their breakup, Adam then poured all his emotions about the loss of Mia (and her family) into song lyrics, and his band went from being Indie darlings played at college radio stations to a platinum selling sensation touring stadiums world wide. Now dating a talented actress/producer, Adam lives in LA and is constant tabloid fodder. He barely speaks to the other members of the band, copes with the stress of fame with pills and alcohol and has a reputation as a real bad boy. When he’s spending one night alone in New York, before heading off to London for another tour, Adam meets Mia again for the first time since they broke up. She’s about to go on tour as well, starting in Japan. She invites him to come along as she says goodbye to all her favourite New York haunts.
Full review on my blog.
Mia has everything a girl could want. Loving, supportive parents, a little brother who’s more funny and clever than annoying, a likely admission to Julliard, and a romantic and talented boyfriend. Then her family are in a car accident, and her parents are killed instantly. Mia watches herself and her brother being transported to the hospital, and spends the next twenty four hours out of her own body, watching her relatives, friends of the family, her boyfriend Adam and her best friend Kim as they huddle in the hospital waiting room for news about her.
With her body being kept alive by machines while she’s in a coma, Mia suddenly only has one thing left – she has to decide whether she’s going to choose to live, and go on without her immediate family, or whether she should let go. Is there enough left for her to make staying worth it?
More on my blog.
Taylor Markham is seventeen, and has lived at the boarding school by Jellicoe Road since she was abandoned by her mother when she was eleven. She’s just reluctantly accepted the post as leader for her house (boarding school dorm – think Harry Potter), which means caring for the well-being of the younger girls in the house, as well as masterminding the territory war between the town kids, the boarding school kids and the group of cadets who camp near the town for a number of weeks each year.
Hannah, the only grown-up that Taylor is really close to, just disappears one day, leaving behind the house she’s been slowly restoring over the years, and an unfinished manuscript, which tells the story of four teenagers who met on Jellicoe Road more than twenty years ago. No one wants to tell Taylor where she’s gone. Then she discovers that the leader for this year’s cadets is none other than Jonah Griggs, the boy who helped her run away years ago, but who also betrayed her by getting them found. Hannah’s disappearance and Jonah’s reappearance in Taylor’s life sparks a series of events that will finally lead to her discovering why she was abandoned by her mother, what really happened to her father, and what may be in store for her in the future.
This is one of my favourite books of the year so far – go to my blog to read my inadequate gushing as to why.
Weighed down by plaudits and awards, maybe the expectations got the better of me. I certainly enjoyed, but by no means loved this book. Full review is on my site here.