‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore’ by Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraWhen unemployed graphic designer Clay takes a job working nights at Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, all he wants is a job. But it soon becomes clear that the bookstore, and its enigmatic owner, are more than they seem.

As well as the traditional books you’d expect to find in a bookshop, there’s also a second set of books – written in code and hidden away from the eyes of prying customers. Throughout the quiet night shift, an assortment of people occasionally hurry in to borrow one of these books, whilst returning another. Clay’s role is to note down what book is borrowed with a description of the borrower, but not to ask questions.

Inevitably, Clay starts to wonder about what this strange collection of people are up to. Finding the codes unintelligible, he and his friends instead draw on their technological skills to help track the pattern of borrowing in a way that they can understand. Unwittingly, he soon uncovers a clandestine literary society working to decode the mysteries around a centuries’ old secret. Continue reading

Searching for a bargain book buy

Wherever possible, I’m a big believer in helping to support high street and local bookstores. But as we all know, feeding a reading habit can prove expensive. As we come towards Christmas, when salaries are stretched even further than usual and more and more of us will start to feel the pinch, it’s great to know that there are still ways that we can get our hands on books for less. Last month, I managed to pick up five books for less than £6 by keeping an eye out for online deals and scouting for second hand steals:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – £2 from local British Heart Foundation charity shop
This has been getting a huge amount of hype recently. It’s been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it made the Waterstones Book Club list and it’s been getting tons of publicity and reviews. I know very little about the actual plot, but I’m really looking forward to finding out.

Pure by Andrew Miller – £2 from local charity shop
The winner of the 2011 Costa Book or the Year Award, this is a historical novel set shortly before the French Revolution, when a young Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste is tasked with cleansing an overfilled Parisian cemetery. This year’s Costa shortlist has recently been announced and can be viewed here.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 99p from local Age UK charity shop
Tolstoy’s classic is a hefty tome at over 800 pages, and if I’m honest, this is probably one that’s going to sit unopened on my bookshelf for a while. But at just 99p, this was a bargain I just couldn’t pass up. One day, when I fancy a challenge, I’m sure I’ll get round to it!

Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1) by Robin Hobb – Free ebook
I’ve been aware of Robin Hobb, who has been described by George R. R. Martin as producing books that are ‘like diamonds in a sea of zircons’ for a while, thanks to ongoing enthusiasm on the blogger-sphere and extensive advertising for a different book by the same author on the London Underground over the summer. The first in a fantasy series, ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ was first published back in 2011 but was on offer as a free ebook, across all online platforms, for a limited time at the start of November. I’ve no doubt they expect to make their money back from people purchasing the later books in the story after they’re hooked, but it was still a great deal!

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – 85p ebook on Amazon
This was another short-lived reduction of one of the books on my wish list. The Amazon Kindle store offers daily and monthly deals on books from a whole range of genres and it’s well worth checking them regularly to see if anything comes up that you’re interested in. ‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore’ has had great reviews and sees a bookstore employee turn to the powers of technology and the possibilities of Google to solve the ancient mystery behind the strange behaviour of the store’s customers.

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James Patterson offers grants to independent booksellers

At a time when independent book shops are struggling to stay afloat, it’s fantastic to see authors showing their support for stores.

James Patterson, best-selling author of the Alex Cross and Women’s Murder Club novels, recently pledged to hand out grants totalling £250,000 to independent booksellers in the UK – and the first round of these grants have just been awarded.

This amazing opportunity was open to any store with a dedicated children’s book section and an idea for innovative ways to encourage children to read more. 73 independent British bookshops from all across the country have received funding so far, with another round of awards to come. The money will be spent on a whole range of new initiatives designed to encourage children to engage with books, including new displays and spaces, reading and activity areas and even mobile book vans to go out into rural areas.

Patterson has made no secret of his support for independent bookstores in the past – and has actively spoken out about the damaging effect that Amazon is having on the industry. While the retailer has the ability to undercut booksellers on price, bookshops offer a space to discover new books and to inspire a passion for reading that’s hard to replicate online.

He’s also done tons of work to promote children’s reading, including starting the ReadKiddoRead website, which is aimed at parents and full of top tips to get kids reading, helpful articles and book recommendations.

While the grants may not be enough to turn the tide around, this very public statement by one of literature’s most prolific and successful writers should help to draw some much needed attention to the issue in the mainstream press. Anything that helps to get children interested in books gets a thumbs up from me!

If you want to see the full list of bookshops that have received funding, they’re all listed in this article. If you spot one that’s near you, why not go along and show your support!