Primary Genre(s): Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy
Originally Published: 2 October 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Page count: 288
My Format: Audiobook via Hoopla Digital
Cover: Bright (glows in the dark)
Would I recommend it: Yes
Commission Link: https://amzn.to/2JL9C0Q
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary from Goodreads
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 customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything; instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends, but when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
A few days ago I reviewed Sourdough by the same author and noted that I read Penumbra in 2016 but didn’t remember much about it (although I’ve read at least 500 books since then so it is at least a little understandable that I wouldn’t remember). I liked Sourdough so much that I decided to revisit Penumbra and I put it on my TBR list – which is a great honor, I must say, because I very rarely reread books. Well, Penumbra jumped to the top of the TBR… my curiosity got the best of me. I just finished it! Here are my pros and cons:
- Like Sourdough, Penumbra is quite a crazy ride! It is a story about secret codes in old books, code breakers, coding nerds, wizards, rogues, warriors, and fonts. It is such a mish-mash of weirdness that it absolutely works!
- I loved the juxtaposition of modern code breaking/puzzle solving (Google/computers) with the “old” way. I don’t know how much of the Google stuff was accurate, but I am presuming it was at least close. I have to admit that I am a little old school though – if you are solving puzzles and code breaking for fun, having the computer do it for you seems to take all the fun out of it. I guess if life or death is on the line, then bring on the computers!
- I think the author creates relatable characters. Interestingly, I found that the author wrote a short story (65 pages) called Ajax Penumbra 1969. I haven’t read it yet, but I am hoping it gives Penumbra a little more backstory. We get clues about Penumbra’s past in this book, but not details. I think that vagueness made him a more intriguing character overall, though.
- This book cover glows in the dark! According to Wikipedia, the cover was done by Rodrigo Corral and was chosen as one of the 25 best book covers for 2012 by BookPage.
- I liked the backstory of Clay and Neel’s friendship.
- I loved Kat. I always enjoy reading about smart, motivated women!
- There were a few “oh that is convenient” moments for me. I never like those, but I understand they are necessary sometimes to keep a story moving in the right direction – particularly a crazy ride like this one.
- I felt the ending was a bit of a letdown. I wanted to know what the ultimate “message” was, but the result was kind of disappointing. Not horrible, but more meh.
I felt myself reminded of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline a bit (which was published slightly before Penumbra) when I was re-reading this book. It was the “feel” of the book that made me compare the two. Penumbra is this crazy story that essentially involves a game of sorts where members of a (secret) organization find clues, break codes, solve puzzles, and use their resources and brains in order to complete the quest, so to speak. Ready Player One also put players on a quest to solve riddles and games in order to win the ultimate prize. The stories aren’t identical, but the feel of the books are very similar. If you liked Ready Player One, I think you’d also enjoy Penumbra.
I loved Sourdough (a story about foodies and a sourdough starter) and I loved Penumbra (a story about book lovers, puzzles and a quest). If the author writes his next crazy book about animal lovers, particularly cats, I will be a lifelong fan!! HA!
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