Thursday, January 29, 2015
Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore was an interesting read. I had heard a lot of good things about this one, and it seemed a little mysterious- a story about a bookstore and a group that meets there. It seemed like a rather eclectic mix, to be honest. I was in a bit of a lull in reading recently, and thought I'd finally give it a try. I'm glad I did.
Clay Jannon has been laid off and is looking for work- and he finds it at Mr. Penumbra's, a little old bookstore next to a strip club. This is no ordinary bookstore however- there are very few customers, and the customers that do come in are rather odd. The back of the bookstore is full of volumes that are not cataloged, and they are mysterious books- full of strange codes and puzzles. It's almost like a library- mysterious people come in, check out some of these strange volumes, and bring them back later. Clay soon finds that the bookstore is part of a society that has a very mysterious purpose -and before long he is part of that group, seeking the answers to one of life's greatest questions.
Clay also meets Kat, a Google employee who has her own reasons for wanting the answer to that question as well. Clay and Kat soon find themselves together, and as Kat is an up-and-comer at Google they marshal the resources of the tech company to help them solve the mystery. The relationship between Clay and Kat is a lot of fun- they just have a neat connection, and it's fun to see their relationship grow, and to see them navigate the ups and downs. Along with some other friends Clay and Kat find themselves drawn into a world of secrets, cryptography and questions about the meaning of life.
Set in San Francisco, this book was a lot of fun and very readable. I blew through it in no time. Sloan has a very easygoing style, and the tone is wry and quite funny, but it also has serious things to say about friendship and what's truly important. One thing I liked was how this book spotlighted friendships, and how some friendships exist because of books. What a great point, and I'm not sure I've ever really thought about it that closely- but my close friendships are, in many cases, directly affected by the books we share. This story is in many ways a celebration of that. The only thing I didn't like was that the end didn't live up to the premise for me. I realize this is a book set in a real world, and I understand the message being sent and applaud it, but I would have liked more mysteriousness to go along with the setup. Still, it's a fine novel, with great characters and a lot of heart.
Oh, and I think I'd like to read The Dragon Song Chronicles.