Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is 288 pages, and is told in very short micro-chapters and in three parts. It follows a young man, on a strange and somewhat fast-paced adventure spanning the Continental US and several hundred years. Clay, a computer programmer formerly employed in marketing, finds a job on the overnight shift at a quirky bookstore after being laid off by a Bagel cafe startup. Clay, like many of us in our generation, relies on Google searching and internet surfing for answers and random & often specific knowledge. He has talented friends and an eye for a young Google programmer who stopped by the shop one night. He becomes very curious about this little bookshop, which lends out more books than it sells, and they’re all written in code – not to mention those borrowing them are quite eccentric folk. As Clay, the girl, and his friends dig deeper into the bookstore mystery, the stakes raise and they find themselves traveling across the country to chase down answers.
The writing, to me, seemed simple. The main character really didn’t seem like he had any special skills, besides corralling his talented friends and acquaintances to solve mysteries one small step at a time. Google is a very prominent ‘character’: Fruit Ninjas, Pixar, Wikipedia, and iPhones all get mentions as well – in that way, it’s a very modern book – but also for that reason, I really don’t think it’s going to span the ages. The adventure itself unfolds nicely enough, with just enough pitfalls and suspenseful moments, and it all gathers into a nice conclusion that I find satisfying enough.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about coincidence in story writing, ever since KM Weiland did a video about them, and I think this story just has way too much coincidence. Some of it I think is allowed, but some of them just don’t work as well. How is it that Kat – a super programmer whiz who works at Google – just happens to waltz into the bookstore that no one visits just when Clay is ready for a breakthrough on the program he’s working on? Kat has several other shifty coincidences that I won’t lay out here to avoid any spoilers! In fact, I think her character was the one I was most uneasy with throughout the entire novel. Anyone else feel the same way?
I rated this book with only three stars on Goodreads. Not to knock the story, it just wasn’t for me. To me, the whole book seemed only to scratch the surface of something bigger – just too light. I mean, I’m all for adventure/mystery/thriller novels – I loved The DaVinci Code & Angels & Demons as much as the next person (the next person that really liked it, that is), but I think this book almost serves as a bridge between young adult and adult fiction as opposed to the other end of the ‘adult fiction’ spectrum.
I know there are a lot of readers out there who are just looking for something they can pick up and read for entertainment and not necessarily to invest themselves in a book – for you, I recommend this book. Also, those of you who read primarily young adult fiction, I think you’d enjoy this book. For those of you like me, who thrive on depth, woven plot lines, and really darn good writing, just know that this is probably a better ‘break/in-between/vacation’ book than one you can really sink your teeth into.
Until Next Time,