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

mrpenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Published: Oct 2012
Reviewed by: Jen
After losing his job in web design, Clay Jannon accepts a position as a clerk for the overnight shift at a 24-hour bookstore. He soon discovers that not all is what it seems in the bookstore. Discovering one clue after another, Jannon gets pulled into an adventure with secret societies, hipsters, and the search for a mystery hidden within books. The adventure is one that highlights the conflict between new technologies (ebooks, etc) and the old (print books).

I sometimes feel like I’m the odd person out when I read certain books. This book gets amazing reviews almost across the board. The New York Times writes that it is “eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence.” NPR writes, “One of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you’re likely to have this year.” That was not my experience. Okay, so I read much of this book while struggling with the flu and wasn’t really in the mindset for having fun. However, I had read almost 120 pages before I started to feel terrible and I was bored out of my mind for most of those pages. So what were my issues?

  1. Lack of character development. Most characters seemed one-dimensional and almost cartoonish. Sure there were some quirky characters, but Sloane only seemed to scratch the surface with the development of those characters.
  2. Too much computer talk. I found the level of detail about technology components to be tedious.
  3. Much of it reads like a giant love-fest for Google. I like Google as much as the next person but it was a little overkill.
  4. Too many easy outs and clichés in terms of plot development. Without giving too much away – the big mystery the secret society has been searching for has been done before so many times it was laughable.
  5. The book is marketed to be intelligent and thrilling. While I don’t question the author’s intelligence (he is clearly smart), a book can only be thrilling (to me) when it is difficult to predict and the characters have to struggle to find solutions. This book uses a primary plot device that has been done a million times before (see point 4), albeit via a different angle. And, it just so happens that the protagonist has millionaire friends who can fund ridiculous adventures, a “girlfriend” who is able to divert all of Google’s efforts into solving a book riddle, friends in museums who let him access this super-secret inventory.
  6. A really boring and unbelievable love interest side plot. Talk about a relationship without any form of chemistry build-up! I don’t particularly care about this element, but if you’re going to introduce it into the book then make it compelling. Reading about their relationship was about as compelling as watching paint dry.

Okay, so now that I’ve ranted on and on I will say that I didn’t hate the book. I thought the concept of new technology versus traditional reading was interesting. I love to read about bookstores and I enjoyed some of the literary references. The writing style did have some charm to it and some of Clay’s internal thought process was quite funny. So overall, it wasn’t a total bust for me. I found the first 100 pages to be very slow and boring but it picked up around 120 pages and the elements I appreciated made it into a slightly above average read for me. If you’re going to buy the book, get the paperback not the ebook. The cover glows in the dark!

To learn more about the book and the author, check out his interview on NPR.

What did you think of it? Am I being overly harsh about this book?

If you haven’t read it, you should check it out for yourself because I seem to be the only one who didn’t love it. Click the book icon below if you want to buy a copy on Amazon.




3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kristel #

    I agree, I gave the book 3 stars too. I expected to like it more than it turned out.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 28, 2015
    • Well, I’m glad i’m not alone in my review. Seems like everyone loves this book. I was disappointed b/c it seemed to be exactly like the kind of book I would like and I struggled to get into it. although ultimately I gave it a 3 so it did pick up eventually


      January 28, 2015
  2. I gave it a 4. I really enjoyed it, and had no problem with the Google love-fest or the computer talk, but I can understand that not everyone enjoys that. Your points are valid. I also felt it lacked some complexity and though I couldn’t give it a 5 (very rare for me to hand out 5’s), I thought it was a solid 4.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 29, 2015

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