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Reviewletts: ‘We Were Liars’ and ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’

Like many readers, I love the feeling of getting so caught up in a book that you just can’t put it down. That’s what happened with both of the books I’m sharing with you today, We Were Liars by e. lockhart and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

we were liars by e lockhartWe Were Liars by e. lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

It’s tricky to say much about We Were Liars without risking giving away the Big Plot Twist, so this will be an especially mini mini-review. Cadence Sinclar, a member of the “beautiful Sinclair family” spent every summer of her childhood on her family’s private island off Martha’s Vineyard. In Summer Fifteen, Cadence has an accident that destroys her memory and leaves her basically an invalid. In Summer Seventeen, Cadence returns to the island for one last summer where she tries to figure out what happened.

This book is going to get talked about this summer, I think for good reason. The writing is just beautiful — sharp, smart, sometimes funny — and the story sucks you in immediately. I read this one in a single long evening, staying up well past my bedtime to finish it. It’s really good. If you’ve read the book, I recommend checking out Nymeth’s (things mean a lot) discussion post on the book and the marketing Tumblr made for the story.

mr penumbras 24 hour bookstore by robin sloanMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything — instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a book basically written for book people who also love the Internet. Robin Sloan is really smart about mixing the old and the new, the nostalgia for books and bookstores with a reverence for the power technology can have. The book is a bit of an adventure story, a bit of a mystery, a bit of a romance and a bit of a love letter to readers. I started this one at the end of the Readathon in April and finished it within a couple days. It’s a fun story although perhaps not as ultimately mind-bending as the setup suggests that it might be.

Disclosure: I purchased both of these books with my hard-earned cash money. 

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sandy May 19, 2014, 4:24 pm

    I thought Penumbra was cute. Like you said, not mind-blowing but cute. It reminded me of “Ready Player One” but lighter. I am reading We Were Liars RIGHT NOW! Her literary voice is interesting…very quirky and unique, sort of like a Joshilyn Jackson. You can’t tear yourself away from it. Of course I still do because those pesky kids need to eat and stuff, but I’m trying to grab time wherever I can to read it.

    • Kim May 19, 2014, 5:33 pm

      I like the comparison to Ready Player One, it had that sort of vibe.

      I tore through We Were Liars. I loved the voice and the style and the mystery of what happened in Summer Fifteen really grabbed me. I loved the images of the four cousins together each summer and what that sort of toxic, rich family could do to people.

  • Emma @ Words And Peace May 19, 2014, 8:10 pm

    I also enjoyed a lot your 2nd one

  • Tanya Patrice May 19, 2014, 8:33 pm

    I enjoyed Penumbra – like you said light and quirky, kinda like Where’d You Go Bernadette (similar in feel not in story). I have We Were Liars on my reading list, and now will be looking to get to it sooner rather than later.

  • Kelly from Readlately.com May 19, 2014, 8:36 pm

    I love the sort of sweeping experience it seems you had with We Were Liars. The book’s getting a lot of buzz but sounds like it earned it!
    Ha – love the disclosure, especially because, as reviewers, we don’t have to buy as many books with our hard-earned money and when we do we feel it doubly hard. (I might just have to buy Boy Snow Bird with mine).
    Can’t say I loved Penumbra. There were a lot of technology bits that I just didn’t get 🙁 He didn’t bring the content down to the reader in that respect.

    • Kim May 22, 2014, 8:46 pm

      I love getting swept into a book. It takes a good combination of beautiful writing and great plot that I felt like We Were Liars had.

  • Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf May 19, 2014, 9:26 pm

    A book for book people who love the internet?! Sign me up! 🙂 *running off to Goodreads*

  • Anita May 19, 2014, 10:23 pm

    I LOVED We Were Liars. I’ve been raving since I finished it! I agree it’s going to be one of the buzz books of the summer, and I’m telling everyone about it.

  • Jeanne May 20, 2014, 7:12 am

    The part of Mr. Penumbra that made it unforgettable for me was the warehouse. I loved it that Warehouse 13–the place where lies the crate with the Holy Grail from the Indiana Jones movies–crossed over to this fictional universe.

    • Kim May 22, 2014, 8:53 pm

      Yes! That was such a fun section, and something I really had no idea about.

  • Andi @ Estella's Revenge May 20, 2014, 10:51 am

    Heather just sent me a copy of We Were Liars with the directive to READ IT NOW before I know too much. So I’m gonna shut up and follow directions.

    I’ve been waffling over Mr. Penumbra, so it sounds like I need to just read it already!

  • Trisha May 20, 2014, 11:14 am

    We were Liars sounds really interesting, and Penumbra is already on my to read list.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End May 20, 2014, 2:03 pm

    I’m trying to figure out where in the hype cycle We Were Liars is right now. I’ve definitely read a number of glowing reviews of it, and I’m worried my expectations will be so high that I won’t be able to enjoy it. I think the thing with buzzy books like this is that you (well, I) have to jump in on them slightly before the hype peaks, or else you will be a disappointed backlash person. Which I don’t want to be!

    • Kim May 22, 2014, 8:54 pm

      It’s so hard to know when to read buzzy books. Usually I wait until things have died down, but I sort of spontaneously ordered this one and felt like I had to read it right away.

  • Kim May 20, 2014, 2:40 pm

    I listened to Penumbra on audio and really enjoyed it.

  • Athira May 20, 2014, 5:59 pm

    I did not quite like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore as much as I wanted to, but it was a nice easy read for sure. I would like to read We Were Liars! Everyone is talking about it.

  • Jennine G. May 20, 2014, 9:31 pm

    I’ve got to get ahold of We Were Liars. Every time I have a book that’s hard to review because there’s too much to give away, it was usually also a very awesome book.

  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes May 21, 2014, 8:51 am

    Okay, I need to read both of these books. Like, yesterday.

  • Rory May 21, 2014, 1:20 pm

    I am really, really looking forward to We Were Liars at some point this summer. I’m not sure when I will get to it, but it’s definitely high up on the list.

  • susan May 23, 2014, 4:55 pm

    You got me interested in We Were Liars. It sounds perfect for a summer read! thanks. http://www.thecuecard.com/

  • Melinda @ The Book Musings May 30, 2014, 10:13 am

    If you read We Were Liars in one evening, then it sure says alot. I will keep this book in mind. I’m definitely interested in it now.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey May 31, 2014, 7:45 pm

    I just had the chance to meet E. Lockhart at the Rochester Teen Book Festival and I’d already heard such good things about this book, that I made sure to pick up a copy. I can’t wait to get to it! I also just finished Mr. Penumbra’s and I really enjoyed it. All the fun internet references and descriptions of coding made me very happy 🙂 I was a bit disappointed with the secret society’s purpose though. It seemed a bit too cult-like and worldly. I expected something more philosophical, I think.