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Search tags: Mr.-Penumbra\'s-24-Hr-Bookstore
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review 2017-03-16 19:15
Book 8/100: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Even though I am a book lover, novels that are supposed to pay homage to books never quite do it for me. There is just something to "fangirl/fanboy" about it all -- and in this book it was especially bad because the author also spent the majority of the book gushing over Google and tech culture. I was like, is this a novel, or a Google infomercial? Right down to the main character's quirky love interest working for the company.

There were times when the pace picked up and I was very curious and intrigued to see how everything would fit together -- but this sense of suspense and mystery was strongest at the beginning of the book, and it got less and less compelling as the book went on -- which I'm pretty sure is the opposite of how it's supposed to work. And the overall conspiracy/message/etc. just ended up feeling so convoluted that by the end I had trouble caring enough to hold it all together. It wasn't a horrible book, but it just felt a bit too much like Silicon Valley (the place, not the show) fan-fiction to me.

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review 2016-08-07 07:13
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, narrated by Ari Fliakos
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Ari Fliakos,Robin Sloan

This is another one of those that I should have reviewed sooner after finishing it. It's been a couple weeks, and my memories are fuzzier. Plus, I took a break while listening to the book, so my listening experience was pretty stretched out.

So, what can I say about the story without revealing too much? Clay, desperate for work after losing his Web design job, stumbles across a little place called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's in a seedy location (next to a strip club), there don't seem to be many customers, and the store itself is a little strange, but Clay needs the money. Besides, he's kind of intrigued. Most of the store's visitors never actually seem to buy anything, but rather check out mysterious volumes from a collection Clay is specifically told not to browse or otherwise look at too closely.

Clay's curiosity gets the better of him, and he starts to investigate. Slowly, at first, making a three-dimensional model of the store in order in order to see if there's a pattern to the checkouts. But then he involves other people and begins to dig more deeply.

I loved this book, at first. The mystery of the bookstore fascinated me. I wanted to know who the store's regulars were, why they were checking out those books, and what, in general, was going on. The appeal that the mystery had for me reminded me a lot of Peter Clines' 14, although this book didn't have 14's Lovecraftian undertones. The fact that everything was tied to books was just icing on the cake.

The introduction of Kat Potente to the story made me realize I wasn't quite the kind of nerd this book was written for, however. To put it bluntly, I'm female. I don't think I've ever felt the need to use “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in a review before, but that was utterly and completely what Kat was. Clay set up a super-specific ad designed to attract a very specific kind of person to the store, and Kat appeared. She was, of course, beautiful, but in an adorably flawed way. Literally everything about her was adorable and wonderful, from the way she blushed to her excitement over catching a glimpse of Clay's model of the store. Not only that, but she happened to be a Google employee, which turned out to be enormously useful for Clay's investigation. I couldn't figure out why Clay thought she was great and yet thought of his equally perfect (in a different way) apartment mate as an android ("I don't mean that in a bad way!").

The thing that got me was that there were opportunities for Clay to get to know Kat as a fully-fleshed out person, beyond his “OMG she's adorable and wonderful and also wants to have sex with me” initial reaction. She was almost creepily devoted to Google, something I thought would put a wedge between her and Clay but somehow never did, at least not for long. She had a deep obsession with Google Forever, a section of Google interested in life extension and immortality. Her reaction to the idea of achieving immortality was so intense that I figured there had to be a story there...except Clay never asked her. It bothered me that, as far as Clay was concerned, Kat was adorableness and Google connections, nothing else. A rift developed between them later on in the book, but rather than either one of them realizing that they didn't really fit (she was too bound up in Google, he was intimidated by how smart and driven everyone she knew seemed to be, etc.) or even just talking their issues through, they just magically got back together again for no real reason.

The Google stuff was interesting, at first, but I eventually got a little annoyed with it. And also creeped out by it. I don't know if it was intentional, but Sloan did a great job of making Google seem, at best, like its own separate society and, at worst, a bit like a cult. And the characters trusted Google so much. I winced every time Clay or Kat took something that was supposed to be a secret to Google to scan or analyze.

It was, I suppose, part of what made this book feel a bit dated. Aside from that, there was the constant grappling with the value of digital vs. physical. Yes, articles stating that physical books are better than e-books (or vice versa) are still being written, but not to the degree they were when this book first came out, and you could see that in the way the issues were handled. I wonder how much more dated this will feel in 10 or 20 years?

I really liked the first two thirds or so of the book, but found myself becoming less and less interested when the focus shifted from the bookstore to the secret society. I disliked Clay and Kat's methods for solving the various mysteries, and I really felt for the one secret society member who acted dismayed each time they mentioned using a computer to analyze in seconds things that had taken the society years, decades, or longer to work on. After all, sometimes it's not the solution that's important so much as the process of arriving at that solution. I was just thankful that Sloan made sure that Google and its computers couldn't quite solve everything.

All in all, this made for okay work-time listening. I really liked the narrator, and I smiled when the producer took advantage of the audiobook format and included audio excerpts from Clay's favorite books (although they were very cheesy). I just wish that this had ended as strongly as it had begun.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2016-07-19 17:00
Reading progress update: I've listened 307 out of 461 minutes.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Ari Fliakos,Robin Sloan

I very suddenly lost interest in this, and it's been several weeks since I last listened to it. I'm trying to get back into it and have turned the speed up in the hope of finally finishing it.

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text 2016-06-29 22:58
Reading progress update: I've listened 264 out of 461 minutes.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Ari Fliakos,Robin Sloan

"I would absolutely, positively freeze my head." She looks up at me and her face is serious. "I'd freeze yours too. And in a thousand years, you'd thank me."

 

Somewhat creepy, out of context. Possibly a little creepy even in context.

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text 2016-06-28 22:09
Reading progress update: I've listened 210 out of 461 minutes.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Ari Fliakos,Robin Sloan

This bit with the marginalia in books at the bar reminds me of a library book I came across when I was a teen. It was the first book in a trilogy, and several years worth of readers had written notes on the blank pages in the back, some of them brief comments about the book or characters and some of them comments directed at past note writers.

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