Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
My Rating: Good Weekend Read
Suggested Audience: YA – Adults
Page Count: 288
Publication: 2012



After losing his job as a San Franciscan web-designer, Clay Jannon stumbles across the peculiar aisles of Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, where customers are few and, what's more, they do not seem to actually buy anything. Curious and in need of employment, Clay applies for a job at the bookstore, and through his computerised analysis of the clientele's behaviour, discovers that the bookstores secrets extend far beyond the stuffed bookshelves.

“Inside: imagine the shape and volume of a normal bookstore turned up on its side. This place was absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall, an the shelves went all the way up – three stories of books, maybe more. I craned my neck back (why do bookstores always make you do uncomfortable things with your neck?) and the shelves faxed smoothly into the shadows in a way that suggested they might just go on forever”

My Thoughts

It would be hard to find a review that doesn't gush all over Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. And for the most part, this review isn't going to be much different!

Not only did I really enjoy the melding of book geekery and technology, the storyline really drags you in and keeps you guessing. I really appreciated how Robin Sloan uses analogies and diagrams (who DOESN'T like diagrams in books!) to help the less tech-savvy understand the gist of what he was talking about. I admit that most of it STILL managed to fly over my head (I am so very very bad with technology – case in point: I am writing this post at the Apple Store while I wait for some desperate help from any Genius going).

But anyway – I loved the mix of sidekicks, especially Clay's artist roommate who turns their lounge room into a hand-crafted miniature city using bits and pieces he finds. Totally loved that and momentarily imagined myself doing this myself (only decided against it as I imagined my lovely fiancé's response to it, which would probably result in him tripping over said miniature city and my subsequent early demise, my body lying amongst crushed up cereal boxes scattered across the floor…). Aside from this character is a charmingly intelligent female sidekick, Kat, a refreshing portrayal of femininity in the 21st century. She works at Google and offers Clay a lot of support in a way that traditional, stereotypical portrayals of femininity avoid.

Robin Sloan is an artist of the written word. He paints together scenes with such penache that you just get absorbed into the narrative world. And with Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, it's a secretive and enigmatic bookshop – a place that most bibliophiles are not averse to in the first place. And so, in a lot of ways, reading Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore feels very comfortable and familiar to the lover of reading.

The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest—not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach. There were ladders that clung to the shelves and rolled side to side. Usually those seem charming, but here, stretching up into the gloom, they were ominous. They whispered rumors of accidents in the dark.

As I read it, I exclaimed to anyone who asked that I loved the book, that this would be one of those magical books that gets read over and over; a narrative that is devoured instead of read. Well… Now that I have finished it, I am not sure that I would re-read; you know what it's like – once the mystery is solved, the magic is over. But in saying that, I think that Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore has the potential to be made into a wonderful film (I see Tom Hanks as Mr Penumbra), and I would definitely pay to see it.

Where Can I Get It?

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Holes by Louis Sachar

“Here’s a good rule to remember about rattlesnakes and scorpions: If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Usually. Being bitten by a scorpion or even a rattlesnake is not the worst thing that can happen to you. You won’t die. Usually. […] But you don’t want to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard. That’s the worst thing that can happen to you. You will die a slow and painful death. Always.”


Stanley Yelnats is cursed – a curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pif-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has followed the Yelnat family for generations. When Stanley is accused of stealing a pair of shoes belonging to basketball great Clyde “Sweetfeet” Livingston, he is sent to live at Boys’ Detention Center Camp Green Lake (ironically named, as there IS no lake) where the boys spend days building characters by digging holes exactly 5 foot wide and five foot deep.

My Thoughts

Completely unfairly, I was expecting Holes to be your typical YA text where the protagonist is a degenerate who learns some kind of lesson in a way akin to Aesop’s Fables – yeah, you learn a totally a valid lesson from reading it and all, but any kid worth their street-cred will roll ear eyes and run a mile before picking it up.How bloody wrong I was. And it annoys me how close I got to not reading Holes because of my stupid assumptions, so I implore you to not make the same mistake that I almost did.

Image from the film adaptation of Holes

This is a supreme novel for a number of reasons. Stanley Yelnats is not your archetypal bad kid who turns good – he’s actually a good kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time (a fate that he attributes to the curse he has inherited from his no-good-dirty-rotten-pif-stealing-great-great-grandfather), and while you might expect a sullen, sulky protagonist, the monologue we are presented with is just so refreshing. Stanley is the kind of kid who just gets on with it, no matter what cards he is dealt. And I think that is why Holes is an enjoyable novel from my perspective. It doesn’t shove the message and moral down its readers throats; it subtly makes you consider how your own mindset and attitude and compels you to also look on the bright side – even if you are cursed.


Aside from this, Holes offers a great mystery story that draws its audience in. The story of Stanley’s ancestry is weaved throughout the narrative, making the audience consider and wonder about if and how this relates to Stanley’s narrative. The mystery teases the reader skilfully, offering some information and then quickly jumping away, leaving you wanting more. This is definitely a ‘Even-though-I-said-I-would-stop-reading-I-have-to-read-the-next-chapter’ book.I already knew that Holes has been adapted into a film, but today while checking Goodreads, I was so very excited to see that there is a sequel to (called Small Steps) and I seriously cannot wait to read it. If it is half as good, I will be pleased.

Holes– Louis Sachar

My Rating: Must Read! Get It Now

Suggested Audience: Tweens to Young Adults

Page Count: 233

Publication: 2000

Where Can I Get It?

To buy Holes for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository. At the time of posting, the Book Depository is selling Holes for only $6.24; what a serious bargain!



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Stig of the Dump by Clive King

Stig of the Dump – Clive King
My Rating – Rainy Day Read
Suggested Audience– Teen Boys
Page Count– 157
Publication– 1962

Barney decided he wasn’t dead. He didn’t even seem to be very much hurt, he turned his head and looked around him. It was dark in this den after looking at the white chalk and he couldn’t see what sort of place it was. It seemed to be partly a cave dug into the chalk, partly a shelter built out of the mouth of the cave…


When Barney falls into a disused chalk pit (now only used as a dumping ground for broken, unwanted junk), he is amazed to find a caveman living amongst the rubbish! Although he doesn’t speak any English, the caveman is a friendly young boy and he and Barney quickly become friends and embark on a series of wonderful adventures.

My Thoughts

When you read this novel, you need to remember that it was written over 50 years ago. Today’s modern child may be appalled by the idea of discarded junk being tossed unceremoniously into a disused chalk pit and may be surprised by the advent of a caveman living amongst the detritus and say “but that’d never happen!” But once you get over the logistics of this novel, you will be completely drawn into the world of Stig and the adventures he and Barney experience.

I think a modern reader would be fascinated by this book; some of the ideas explored are quite revolutionary considering when this novel was first written. For instance, many of the adventures hinge on Stig and Barney using some of the discarded items in the chalk pit to build items. It is a very environmentally friendly concept (without forcing this ideal onto the reader or being superior about it) and as an adult reader, I couldn’t help smile. When I was a child, much play was spent building items out of junk (with varying success – who can forget the billycart which had its brakes fail halfway down the hill…), but a modern child might not think in this way as a matter of course. So as an adult, I appreciated how Stig of the Dump may inspire a “new” way of thinking for children whose minds and imaginations are somewhat quashed by mind numbing computer games.

Barney looked at one side of the den, the darkest side, which really needed windows. It was built of wooden boxes from the dump, bottoms outward, open tops inward. He took the digging tool and knocked the bottom out of one. There was now an open square where daylight came in. But so did the wind, and Stig didn’t seem at all pleased at sitting in a draught.
Stigs like to be snug, thought Barney.
He carried the jars in and stacked them in the frame of the box. They fitted quite well, the light came in, but the draught came in too…

Each chapter in Stig of the Dump is a new adventure, making this a great novel for someone who wants bite-sized chunks to read instead of a long narrative. It’s perfect for bedtime reading or helping a child who might not be the most confident reader. A more advanced reader might not enjoy this novel, purely because it doesn’t offer a challenge, but nonetheless it is a very enjoyable story for a pre-teen audience.

Where Can I Get It?

To buy Stig of The Dump for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.

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Starstruck in Seattle by Juliet Madison

Starstruck In Seattle – Juliet Madison ( web | twitter | facebook )
Publication: 2013, Escape Publishing (received through Netgalley, thanks!)
Page Count: 65
My Rating: Good Weekend Read
Suggested Audience: Women


Working in a small role on a leading television drama, actras Anna Hilford dreams of dating the dashing actor Karl Drake. Unsure how to win his affection, Anna seeks the help of love-coach Lulu, from, hoping to win Karl’s affection forever. But Lulu has more power over Anna’s love life than she realises, and fate has its own ideas…

My Thoughts

The blurb of this novella reads as “A sparkling story from the Queen of Ro-magic comedy!”. While I love reading women’s literature, I try to stay away from the ultra-romantic, hard-to-believe plot lines. As soon as I read the blurb, I immediately thought that Starstruck In Seattle would definitely not be for me, and very nearly didn’t read it – what a shame that would have been, because this was a wonderfully light and truly sparkling read!

Given my expectation that this would be a heavily romantic plot, I didn’t expect to be drawn into the narrative as much as I was. Similar to other online reviews I have read for Starstruck in Seattle, my main critiscm was that I wanted a longer narrative! I was thoroughly hooked by the characters and the twists in the tale, and I just wished that Juliet Madison had written MORE!!

My main reason for this critique is that the twist in the tale regarding Lulu (which I won’t be divulging here!) was over too quickly (although part of me says “well it IS a novella, what do you expect?”). By the second chapter, you find out exactly what is happening, and I personally would have preferred a bit more suspense and mystery.

The opening lines detail an email to Lulu from Anna, asking for advice and help regarding her love life. There is something deliciously voyeuristic about reading someone’s email to an Agony Aunt column, and this was not a let down. I loved this opening for a novella – it was a wonderful way of getting to know Anna’s character quickly and succinctly.

Where Can I Get It?

Starstruck in Seattle is not currently selling on Book Depository. As soon as it is stocked, I will link the page on Book Depository to this page.

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