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

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Clay Jannon knows there is something odd about the bookstore in which he is newly employed, with its mysterious owner, its towering shelves accessible only by ladder, its section of encrypted books and its anxious late-night customers.  When he meets Kat, a data visualization expert at Google, they work together to decode the store’s strange volumes.  Their discovery reveals a secret society bent upon breaking the ultimate code encrypted by Aldus Manutius, the famed early 16th century printer.  Clay and Kat harness the resources of Google in an attempt to crack the code, a challenge that also leads them across the country to break into the society’s headquarters.  There, they discover secrets about the society that its president is determined to protect.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore seamlessly blends — and celebrates — old school and new school technologies in a fun romp of an adventure and an engrossing read.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up one morning to find herself having aged 20 years, seemingly overnight.  To her horror, she discovers that she has amnesia and that she wakes up and makes the same discovery over and over each morning — she has no memory of the day before, or the twenty years prior.  Her husband patiently guides her through the shock each morning and fills her in on the details of their life.  But when she finds her secret journal, which records her painstaking attempt to hang on to more than a day’s worth of knowledge, she realizes that there are holes and inconsistencies in her husband’s account.  Is her husband lying?  What about the doctor that she refers to in her journal, or her friend Claire, both of whom offer further differing information?  As she inches, day by day, closer to the truth, Christine realizes she may be in danger.  This suspenseful page-turner was a best-seller during the summer of 2011.

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore

What did a stooped old man (with a tendency towards exhibitionism), a beautiful and mysterious woman, and a highly desired ultramarine paint known as “sacred blue” have to do with Vincent Van Gogh’s death?  Christopher Moore, the king of irreverent hilarity, will lead you to the answer in this playful and often bawdy romp through nineteenth century France.  Join Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and fictitious artist Lucien Lessard as they investigate their friend Van Gogh’s death, and along the way discover an ancient cave painting, a trove of priceless art treasures, and the truth behind Lessard’s father’s death years earlier. Moore’s book is a pleasure to read, not only for its bursts of humor and wonderful caricatures of the French Impressionists, but also for the author’s skilled writing.  A perfect summer read.

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pressia Belze is one of the masses who were exposed to the blast of the apocalyptic Detonations.  Partridge Willux is a Pure — one  of the fortunates who escaped into a massive, protective dome.  Years after the Detonations, Pures remain sequestered and safe in the Dome while those outside struggle to survive amidst the rubble and unrest.  Each group has become almost mythological to the other — no Pures leave the Dome, no outsiders enter.  But when Pressia turns sixteen and flees to avoid mandatory enlistment by the brutal ruling militia, and Partridge escapes through the Dome’s filtration system in search of his lost mother, the two meet.  Seeking safety and news of Partridge’s mother, they take to an underground network where danger lurks at every turn.  In their flight, they uncover secrets about their pasts and their families, as well as a conspiracy that contradicts everything they thought they knew about the Dome and the Detonations.  This story, the first in  a planned trilogy, kept me awake and reading long past bedtime.  Highly recommended for those who enjoyed Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

In Victorian times, plants and flowers held symbolic meaning: you might give your love interest a bouquet of tulips (declaration of love), your enemy one of tansy (I declare war against you).  In Diffenbaugh’s novel, eighteen-year-old Victoria, alone and homeless, has just aged out of the foster care system.  Victoria’s knowledge of the sentiments conveyed by flowers proves to be her salvation and leads to employment with a florist.  Gruff, defensive Victoria cautiously begins to bloom in her new life, until a life-altering event derails her delicate progress.  In alternating chapters, Diffenbaugh weaves Victoria’s past and present until the two meet in a tender conclusion.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Bigtree family can no longer continue to operate their aging Florida theme-park, Swamplandia!, when their mother, alligator-wrestling star Hilola Bigtree, dies. Twelve-year-old Ava dreams of saving the park with an alligator show of her own.  Instead, she finds herself abandoned as each remaining member of the family drifts, one-by-one, away from the park.  Ava’s Ouija board-obsessed sister Osceola is the last to leave, off to elope with a boyfriend she claims is a ghost.  Ava sets out into the swampy Everglades to rescue Osceola in a poignant coming-of-age journey.  Full of compelling characters and rich descriptions of the Everglades, Swamplandia! is one of those books that stays in the mind long after the final page.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Eleven-year-old chemistry genius Flavia de Luce amuses herself by concocting potions and poisons in her laboratory.  Flavia’s two older sisters constantly target her for taunts and pranks, and her father is too busy studying philatelic journals and catalogs to deal with his daughters or the fact that he can no longer afford their inherited English manor house.   When Flavia discovers a body in her cucumber patch, she’s delighted for the bit of excitement and takes it upon herself to investigate.  She discovers that the victim was an avid stamp collector and former classmate of her father’s, leading her to wonder — could her father be responsible?  Flavia, with her trusty bicycle sidekick Gladys, gets to the bottom of things in this smart, fun mystery.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

An intelligent and beautifully written mystery featuring a retired Sherlock Holmes, who meets his match in precocious fifteen-year-old orphan Mary Russell. Russell impresses the legendary Holmes with her intellect and sharp tongue, and Holmes takes her under his wing. The pair set out across England to solve a series of mysteries, getting along at times like oil and water, at others like two cantankerous peas in a pod. King captures the acuity and fastidiousness of Conan Doyle’s original Holmes, and creates a very likable character in Mary Russell. This the first (and my favorite) in an ongoing Russell/Holmes series.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

A coming-of-age tale centered upon young David, who has lost his mother and resents his new stepmother and baby brother.  Trying to escape his circumstances, David stumbles into an eerie fairy tale world of knights and beasts much like those in the stories his mother used to recount.  David sets out on a quest to find the king, whose Book of Lost Things holds the secret to his return home and, David hopes, perhaps even to his mother’s return to life.  Reminiscent at times of Lewis’s Narnia, at others of the Brothers Grimm, The Book of Lost Things will resonate with those who still believe in the magic of childhood.

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass

Seventy-year-old Percy Darling is an affable curmudgeon who enjoys swimming in his pond and cheerfully criticizing the neighbors in his well-to-do Massachusetts town.  When he allows a high-end preschool to move into his barn, Percy finds his quiet routine shaken–in a way, he realizes, that is not altogether unwelcome.  Glass gracefully weaves Percy’s story with those of others in his circle: Sarah — Percy’s new love interest, Percy’s daughters Clover and Trudy and environmentalist grandson Robert, Celestino —  an immigrant worker with connections to a prominent academic family, and Ira, a preschool teacher longing for acceptance.  The result is a compelling, memorable read.

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell

Swedish judge Birgitta Roslin is shocked to find out that her mother’s adoptive parents were among those massacred one night in the tiny, snowy town of Hesjovallen.  The police charge a lone lunatic with the crime, but Roslin has reason to believe that a mysterious Chinese man may be responsible.  Her tips dismissed by the police, Roslin takes it upon herself to unravel the truth about the Hesjovallen murders, even as it brings her face to face with danger in the teeming city of Beijing.  Fans of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy will enjoy Henning’s sweeping tale of suspense.