Mr. Penumbra' 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan (Amazon)
Rating: Very Good
Source: Library (Audio)
Description: 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 bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
Why I Picked This Book: How could I resist a book that has a 24-Hour Bookstore in the title?
My Impression: This book was absolutely not what I thought it was going to be and in no way was that a bad thing. I was expecting the antics of a late night bookstore with quirky characters and maybe a community forming as they bookstore customers got to know each other. Instead I got a book full of mysteries, codes, secret societies, and quests and it was such a fun ride!
I don't want to say too much about the plot because I had such a good time just going along for the ride. I couldn't wait to see what they were going to discover next and what the next step would be. The story is told through the eyes of Clay Janning a 20 something graphic designer who is trying to weather a rather bad time to be a graphic designer economically. When desperation drives him to find a job - any job - he ends up walking into Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore and the adventure begins. I liked Clay. He has a good sense of humor and a sense of realism that balances out his dreamer tendencies. He ends up at Penumbra's because he drops his employment standards from "companies in which he agrees with their mission completely" to "companies that aren't actively being evil". With Clay we have his roommates - special effects guru Matt and android like Ashley - as well as his old friend Neal who he bonded with in middle school over a sci fi/fantasy book series. Along the way more characters get picked up and join the quest as well as adding new elements of personality and expertise.
There is a lot of talk about Google, "Googlers", or Google products. For me it didn't feel like product placement but more cultural.
When I looked on Goodreads the reviews seem decidely split. Some people really loved the book and other people couldn't stand it. I think if you're going in wanting a bookish book that takes place in a bookstore you're going to be disappointed. Despite the bookstore setting and the mass quantities of books all around the characters it isn't particularly bookish. It's far more of an adventure story - think National Treasure style quest. If you like puzzles, codes, and adventure stories this is a fantastic choice and one you shouldn't miss.
I listened to this book on audio and really enjoyed the experience. Ari Fliakos did a fantastic job of bring Clay to life with just the right amount of expression and inflection without ever going over the top. He's definitely a narrator I'd love to hear more from.
Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I would - especially if it's a quest type story. I enjoyed how Sloan spun the story out and there's a prequel that I'd love to read!
Would I Recommend this Book?: Yes but don't go in expecting a book about books or I think you'd be very disappointed. It's a fantastic quest story but not very bookish.