Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
(Picador, Paperback, 9781250037756, September 2013, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

At the intersection of high-tech gadgetry and old school methods, you’ll find Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

The Rest of It:

This is one of those rare instances where I went into a book without knowing a thing about it. I mean, I knew nothing. I figured from the title that it would be about a bookstore and it is, but we are not talking dusty bookshelves filled with the classics. This bookstore operates 24-hours a day, is run by a quirky little man named Mr. Penumbra and things gets interesting when the new guy working the graveyard shift, Clay Jannon, discovers that along with regular books, they lend out special books that happen to be written in a secret code.

Clay’s web designer background leads him to delve deeper into the store’s database and when he meets Kat Potente, a data visualization specialist for Google, the two attempt to decipher the code and figure out the puzzle. To complicate matters, Clay and Kat realize that they are not the only ones trying to decipher the text, a secret society called the Unbroken Spine is also attempting to solve the mystery and then Mr. Penumbra goes missing leaving Clay and Kat to wonder what this is all about.

This story is a wondrous mix of old verses new. Tech-lovers will be dazzled by the Google references, the high-end book scanners and the time spent at Google headquarters, Kat’s place of employment. Others will be fascinated by the Unbroken Spine and their rigorous research methods. Or, you might find yourself somewhere in the middle. Either way, Sloan tells a good story. There’s a lot of action and just enough nerdy goodness to wrap your brain around. There’s also quite a bit of humor which I tend to appreciate in a novel when it’s handled well, as it is here.

There are definitely two types of people in this novel, the types who cannot live without technology and the types who cannot live with it, but I hazard to guess that Sloan falls somewhere in the middle because neither side is really played-up to be better than the other. That can be argued if you take the epilogue into account, where everything is summed up nicely and tied with a bow but I was okay with it.

This is a really fun read. There’s something for everyone but don’t expect it to be a traditional bookstore story because it is definitely not that.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

21 thoughts on “Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”

    1. It was fun! I geeked out a little while reading it. All the Google stuff appealed to me big time.


    1. Yes, the bookstore title did it for me. It is about a lot of of different things too, but a lot of fun.


  1. I thought it was an adorable book (and very well-narrated on audio BTW). Not mind-blowing, but clever with a lot of running around chasing clues. Easy reading.

    1. I listened to some of it on audio. I’ll do that if I happen to have a library copy on hand and it was very good. I like how the reader said ‘Kat Potente’. It was adorable to say the least.


    1. I think it’s rare to be surprised by a book (in a good way) these days and this one caught me off guard. I felt sure it was going to be about a dusty old bookshop and that alone.


  2. I remember reading this one when it first came out online. I think it was even free at that time. I remember loving the bookstore and having fun trying to figure out that code along with the characters. Definitely a great read. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  3. I received this one as a gift last Christmas, but still haven’t gotten to it (or the other books I got for Christmas). I had read a couple mixed reviews, that made me hesitant to pick it up. Your review gives me hope. 🙂

    1. Did you enjoy Ready Player One? It reminded me of that book. Funny, because I didn’t care for Ready Player One but that’s only because of the gaming aspect.


    1. I kind of like not knowing, too. It’s hard these days with all the reviews and blogs around. I tend to at least hear what a book is about but lately, I think I have been tuning stuff out because it’s happened to me a few times this year. This, being surprised by a book thing.


  4. I have been looking forward to this one. Somewhat amazed you didn’t know it had geeky elements before you went into it but also respect that that you didn’t have any clue, too.

  5. I have seen a lot of reviews about this one but for some reason don’t seem to have retained any knowledge of what it was about. Sounds like one I’d definitely enjoy. Now to remember to pick it up but to forget what it’s about so that I’m as pleasantly surprised as you were.

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