Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Reviews: Two for the Price of One!

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane

When Clay Jannon gets hit by the unemployment slump and loses his place as advertiser for a bakery, he searches for a job, any job. He finds this job at the titular bookstore, a dusty place filled with odd books “checked out” by even odder patrons. Spurred on by his friends, he starts investigating the reason behind these books, and discovers a wild conspiracy behind it.

This book is fun, quirky, and strangely thought-provoking. Much of the book’s theme relates to the current tension between traditional methods of research and reading and the new technology that is changing the face of the world, all wrapped up in a historical mystery. The antagonist represents strict traditional methods; the protagonist new technology; and Mr. Penumbra as a kind of bridge between them both, bringing the old and new together. A secondary theme relates to immortality, and what it actually is.

For a book about secret societies, conspiracies, and general geekery, there is a lot of truly thoughtful sections. Yet it never loses its entertaining aspect, even during all this. It’s a pretty fun, if strange, book.

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

Emma Smallwood’s father is a poor tutor whose in-home school is failing. He had previously tutored the two elder sons of a wealthy baronet, and Emma writes to see if the man will send his two younger sons. To her surprise, however, he instead invites them to stay with him for a year while teaching the younger boys. It is with joy and trepidation that she accepts the invitation-joy, because she is still in love with the second son Henry, and trepidation, because the heir Phillip was quite a bully when they taught him. But things have changed, and when Emma arrives at the house, she is surrounded by secrets and must figure out who to trust.

Christian romance has a sliding scale of anviliciousness. On one end of the sliding scale you have Linore Rose Burkard with her SURPRISE COME TO JESUS MOMENTS. On the other end, you have Debra White Smith, who makes Christianity seem like a normal part of life rather than SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT REALLY SIGNIFICANTLY ALL THE TIME. SEE HOW SIGNIFICANT OUR RELIGION IS. Julie Klassen seems to be somewhere in the middle-not quite so contrived and out of place as Linore Rose Burkard, but not quite as natural as Debra White Smith has managed. As such, it’s not such a chore to read through any discussions about religious beliefs.

Also, she does a good job of genuinely setting up the suspense and mystery of the book. She definitely hits the gothic atmosphere just right-a remote mansion by the stormy Cornwall sea, a piano playing in the middle of the night, family conversations cut short when the heroine enters the room-it’s done very well, and keeps one wanting to find out what is going on. Furthermore, Klassen makes her characters very flawed but likable. Even the evil characters (for the most part) have some sympathetic qualities that make you somewhat understand what’s going on with them.

Now, I’ll admit Klassen does have a “come to Jesus” moment, but it’s done in a very natural setting and was a part of the heroine’s struggle with blaming God for her mother’s death.

So, for Regency romances, this is quite a good story.

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