Book Review | The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

impossible fortress cover.jpgReturn to the 1980’s for some of the first consumer computers to hit the market. The Impossible Fortress introduces a few teens not yet old enough to buy the Vanna White Playboy. As the boys try to figure out their best shot for getting a copy, Billy begins programming a computer game with Mary to submit in competition. Billy develops feelings for Mary, which causes a ripple effect influencing the ragtag heist.

A fast paced story with ample chapter breaks, this book can be read quickly. While it reads like a YA novel with emphasis on action and plot, many references to 1980’s things will be lost on someone born after 1980. For adults, the characters may not be relatable and their repeated stupid choices will be very frustrating. Rekulak incorporates some topics that make the book unique, but they aren’t fully played out. In summary, the book is a quick read with a decent story, but it’s value is decreased by the author’s seeming lack of choice between an adult novel and a YA piece. Recommended for outcast teens, those interested in 1980’s computer programming, and video game geeks. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

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Best & Worst of the 46 Books I read in 2017

During 2017 I expanded my reading horizons to include many books I wouldn’t normally choose. The selection contained mostly novels, a few memoirs, other various non-fiction works, an art book and a screenplay. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2017 were released in 2017. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My six favorite books:

Taduno’s Song – An African musician must find his lost voice in order to rescue his lover from a corrupt government.

The Clairvoyants– A Cornell student who sees spirits of the deceased unravels the mystery surrounding a missing persons case.

Songs of the Baka* – A writer and photographer share their travels to several uncommon destinations.

Spaceman of Bohemia* – A man on a solo mission in space is abandoned by his wife and encounters a strange creature aboard his ship.

Shelter in Place – A bipolar man falls in love with a woman who comes and goes after his mother is imprisoned for killing a man with a hammer.

The Fortunate Ones* – A painting stolen from a Jewish home by the Nazis during World War II resurfaces in Los Angeles decades later and brings together an unlikely pair of women.

After those six, my next nine top picks:

Under the Harrow – A suspense thriller involving the murder of a woman in England.

The One Eyed Man – After becoming a widower, a man lets his true self shine through resulting in his own reality TV show.

Brussels Noir* – Short stories, some bizarre, that take place in Brussels.

Soldier Boy* – Based on a true story, this YA book relays the stories of two boy soldiers in the Ugandan civil war.

Men without Women – Short stories from Japan focused on men without women.

Oola* – Thought-provoking story of boy meets girl and their hermetic existence.

Twig* – A woman coming of age in 1950’s America deals with life’s struggles.

A Fortune Foretold* – A woman coming of age in 1950’s Sweden deals with life’s struggles.

Sourdough – A tech industry workaholic is transformed into a breadmaker after being gifted a unique sourdough starter.

Four books that should have been better:

The King is Always Above the People* – Short stories involving Latinx characters.

O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco – A collection art commissioned for the anniversary of San Francisco’s City Hall.

A Loving, Faithful Animal* – A girl in Australia comes of age in a broken home.

As Red as Blood* – Scandinavian teens find a bloody bag of money.

Four books I feel would be better to pass on:

We’ll Sleep When We’re Old* – An Italian media mogul plots and schemes to hype an upcoming film failure.

Malafemmena – Short stories focusing on female protagonists in untraditional situations.

Schadenfreude, A Love Story* – A memoir by a German major about her time abroad and PhD struggles.

A Life of Adventure and Delight* – Short stories of everyday life involving characters of Indian descent.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Carey, Currie, Maksik, Murakami and Sloan are the only authors I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

So Much I Want to Tell You* – Anna Akana
The King is Always Above the People* – Daniel Alarcón
The Leaf Reader* – Emily Arsenault
Taduno’s Song – Odafe Atogun
Mexico Stories* – Josh Barkan
Under the Harrow – Flynn Berry
The Clairvoyants*- Karen Brown
Wrong about Japan – Peter Carey
The Hanging Girl*- Eileen Cook
We’ll Sleep When We’re Old* – Pino Corrias
Book of Moon* – George Crowder
The One Eyed Man – Ron Currie Jr.
The Slave* – Anand Dilvar
Brussels Noir* – Michael Dufranne
Malafemmena – Louisa Ermelino
The Sunlight Pilgrims* – Jenni Fagan
O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco – Jeremy Fish
Soldier Boy* – Keely Hutton
Songs of the Baka* – Dennis James
Spaceman of Bohemia* – Jaroslav Kalfar
White Fur* – Jardine Libaire
Bluebird, Bluebird* – Attica Locke
The Infinite* – Nicholas Mainieri
Shelter in Place – Alexander Maksik

The Beauty of the Fall* – Rich MarcelloBright, Precious Days* – Jay McInerney
Leopard at the Door* – Jennifer McVeigh
Men without Women – Haruki Murakami
Wolf Haven* – Annie Marie Musselman & Brenda Peterson
The Gun – Fuminori Nakamura
Oola* – Brittany Newell
Twig* – Madelon Phillips
A Fortune Foretold* – Agneta Pleijel
Rebels like Us* – Liz Reinhardt
A Loving, Faithful Animal* – Josephine Rowe
Fantastic Beasts Original Screen Play* – J.K. Rowling
Schadenfreude, A Love Story* – Rebecca Schuman
Lola* – Melissa Scrivner Love
A Life of Happiness and Delight* – Akhil Sharma
As Red as Blood* – Salla Simukka
Sourdough – Robin Sloan
Our Own Private Universe* – Robin Talley
A French Wedding* – Hannah Tunnicliffe
The Fortunate Ones* – Ellen Umansky
Fraulein M.* – Caroline Woods

*These titles were given to me through Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review | Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton

soldier boy coverBased on a true story, Soldier Boy recounts Ricky’s initiation into Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Ricky is just a child when his village is stormed and he and his brother are forced to watch as his parents and sisters are burned to death in their family hut. Taken captive, the two boys become model soldiers for the LRA as they are shaped into valuable resources with prominent positions fighting government troops and raiding other villages. Simultaneously told is the story of boy soldier Samuel, recovering from traumatic leg injury many years later in the Friends of Orphans compound.

Hutton has crafted a very successful novel in Soldier Boy. This YA book deals with a very heavy topic and breaks it down into digestible chunks for younger readers. The terror and violence suffered by the Ugandans comes across clearly in this tastefully written account. The text carries along at a good clip with clean writing and visualizable descriptions. This book would be a solid supplement to a history class dealing with Uganda or an English class looking to broaden world views and understanding. Check out this highly recommended read from a library near you.

I received an advance reader’s edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Aki and Christa are high schoolers who fall in like at first sight when their church groups join up in a small town to help with the construction of a new church. The girls sneak off in the evenings to make out with each other and deal with trying to hide their relationship by day. The book mainly addresses a teen coming to terms with her (bi)sexuality while on a summer youth group trip to Mexico, but also includes broader social issues within the context.

Our Own Private Universe keeps a decent pace and tells a story that holds the reader’s intrest. Some sections, especially that narrator’s internal monologue, are a bit repetitive. As a YA novel, it’s successful in its inclusion of diversity, budding sexuality, and melodrama. Adult readers may be put off by all of the characters lying to each other or the narrator’s tendency to blow things out of proportion. The book could serve as a good introduction to teens trying to orient themselves on the LGBTQIA spectrum. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

hanging girl cover.jpgDuring Skye’s senior year of high school, a fellow classmate is kidnapped. After popular Paige goes missing, no one suspects tarot card reader Skye could be involved, which makes her the perfect choice of accomplice. Skye’s role is to feed tips to the police under the guise that she’s having visions about the crime. Problems arise when Paige doesn’t stick to their plans and Skye realizes she is in over her head.

As a young adult suspense mystery, The Hanging Girl is successful. The story is easy to follow and has enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Chapter breaks are frequent enough and the book’s length is appropriate. That said, the characters are difficult, in that they are rather unlikable, and the narrator is self-deprecating. Similes are overused and the writing style, at times, is a challenge. Readers who enjoy a book for its story that can overlook the stylistic annoyances will have a winner here. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

*Fans of The Hanging Girl, may be interested in The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault (2017).

Book Review | The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault

leaf reader cover.jpgProtagonist Marnie is not one of high school’s popular kids, but her hobby of tea leaf reading gets her involved with the in crowd after one of their own goes missing. Matt is attractive and popular, but something seems slightly off about him. As he searches for answers about his best friend’s disappearance, it’s unclear to Marnie whether he knows more than he’s letting on or has an ulterior motive. When Marnie begins having recurring dreams that involve her tea leaf readings and seeing images outside of the tea cups, she realizes she may be the only hope of solving the town’s mystery.

Definitely a YA book, The Leaf Reader was an enjoyable read. The writing is simple and straight-forward, with an easy to follow plot. The cast of characters is manageable, though somewhat flat. The mystery in this book is intriguing and certainly unpredictable. It’s a plot-driven, fast paced, quick and engaging read. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance uncopyedited edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading The Leaf Reader, you may be interested in The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown (2017).

Book Review | Rebels Like Us by Liz Reinhardt

rebels like usAgnes Murphy-Pujols has just been uprooted from her active life in Brooklyn halfway through her senior year in high school to move with her Irish mother to a small town in Georgia while her brother attends the Sorbonne and lives with their Dominican father in Paris. Feeling like she got the raw end of the deal, Agnes is equally pissed at her mother for “cheating on” her father, despite their separation, and stressed out at having to deal with fitting in at a new school. Luckily, her looks and fiery personality draw the interest of ultra-popular Doyle and they flirt their way through the semester. The book’s focus becomes more racial when Agnes finds out about her new school’s tradition of segregated proms and tries to create change.

At nearly 500 pages, Rebels Like Us is one of the longest YA books I’ve encountered. The writing is solid and the characters well developed. It’s likely to please those interested in a romance novel with a few tangents. While the book bills itself as focusing on racial issues, those really take a backseat to the relationship between Agnes and Doyle. That said, their courtship does not seem to be given adequate attention as an inter-racial relationship. Some important issues are broached, which could serve as a catalyst for thought in some young minds, but nothing new or earth shattering is really presented. A shorter length may have worked better for this piece, which is a bit slow to get going and does seem to go on for a while. The novel could actually work well as the basis for a film. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Rebels Like Us, you may be interested in The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras (2016).