The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

impossiblefortressA cute coming-of-age novel about a boy, a computer, a Playboy magazine and first love.

Billy and his awkward friends are in love with Vanna White, the girl-next-door who flips the letters on Wheel of Fortune. When some pictures of Vanna appear in Playboy, they know they have to get that magazine, at any cost.

One problem, none of them are even close to eighteen years old.

This was the moment of truth- the moment I’d rehearsed with Alf and Clark again and again. They’d coached me to keep my pitch exactly the same- to speak the words like I used them all the time: “Just some Tic Tacs,” I said, “And a Playboy.” pg 29

Part of this story is enjoying the humor and innocence of the boys in an era before the internet. The other part of this story, the one that occupied my book club, was reminiscing about technology and early computers.

We spent most of the time at book club talking about what our first computers were, who knew coding, and what were our favorite early games.

“If I was serious about Planet Will Software, I couldn’t work on a Commodore 64 much longer. Newer computers offered more memory and better graphics, and C64s would be obsolete in another year or two. I needed to upgrade to the latest technology, and the contest was my best chance to do it.” pg 43

That part of the evening seemed to entertain the older members of our book club more than me. It’s not that I didn’t have an early computer, I did, I was more interested in the coming-of-age part of this story and the heist-type scenarios the boys go through to get their dirty magazine.

I also enjoyed Billy’s struggles to understand Mary and the cute dynamic between them. I liked learning about his loyalty to his friends and his dreams for future computer programming greatness.

“I’m going to make video games,” I said. “I’m going to start my own company, and I’ll only hire cool people.” pg 81

If I ever start my own company, in whatever business sector that it may be (not computer programming), I’ll only hire cool people too.

Recommended for book clubs or if you just want a sweet, light read by the pool, The Impossible Fortress just may fit the bill.

Thanks for reading!

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Bloodsucking Fiends (A Love Story, #1) by Christopher Moore

Bloodsucking Fiends (A Love Story, #1) by Christopher Moore

bloodsucking fiendsJody was attacked by a man who bit her neck and left her for dead in an alleyway. She woke up a vampire. What is she going to do now?

“(Jody) was twenty-six and pretty in a way that made men want to tuck her into flannel sheets and kiss her on the forehead before leaving the room; cute but not beautiful.”

C. Thomas Flood wants to be an author, but where he comes from (Indiana) that’s not an acceptable trade for a man. He flees to San Francisco to “starve in the city.” After some misadventures with too many roommates and turkey bowling at the Safeway, he meets Jody and his life is never the same.

“Turkey bowing is not recognized by the NCAA or the Olympic Committee. There are no professional tournaments sponsored by the Poultry Farmers of America, and the footwear companies do not manufacture turkey bowling shoes. … Despite this lack of official recognition, the fine and noble tradition of ‘skidding the buzzard’ is practiced nightly by supermarket night crews all over the nation.”

Christopher Moore takes on the “vampire genre” and it’s not his best effort. If you’re going to read one of his books, I recommend Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

It’s still ridiculous fictional literature, but I enjoyed the characters in Lamb more. In Blocksucking Fiends, everybody reads like one cliché after another.

“In another time she would have called a girlfriend and spent the evening on the phone being comforted. She would have eaten a half gallon of ice cream and stayed up all night thinking about what she was going to do with her life. .. But that was another time, when she had been a person.”

And perhaps that was Moore’s point. It was as if he was mocking the sub-genre of vampire novels by his one-dimensional characters and thin plot.

Or maybe it is just a sub-par effort.

I don’t think I’ll be picking up the other books in this series.

Thanks for reading!

The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue

The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue

motionofpuppetsThe Motion of Puppets is a clever play on an ancient Roman myth.

Orpheus was a musician who was so talented he could charm the birds from the sky and make the forest spirits weep. He madly loved a woman named Eurydice.

One day, she stepped on a serpent and died. Orpheus nearly lost his mind out of grief for her. So, he made his way to the underworld to beg Lord Hades for his bride.

Orpheus plays such sweet music that Persephone weeps and Hades allows the bard to take the shade of his dead wife back to the living world. There’s one condition, he can’t look back to see if she’s following.

I think we all know what happened then. This book takes that tragedy and places it in the modern world.

Everything is fine until Theo’s wife, Kay, goes missing. “She should be more responsible, should know that he would worry, but he could hear her laughing it off when she came home. You’ll give yourself ulcers, she’d say. You fret too much. I just went out for croissants.” pg 18

He assumes she stumbled into the bed of one of her coworkers and is sleeping off a hangover. But the truth is much worse.

Kay has been transformed into something else, something magical and monstrous. “We lucky few can move about as long as the people are not watching. Midnight to first light, we are free.”pg 41

She is trapped in a metaphorical “underworld,” ruled over by an ancient power and his minions. “You cannot go home,” he said. “You cannot ever leave the Back Room.” pg 76

Even if Theo can figure out where she’s gone, how on earth will Kay go back to the shape she had before?

Keith Donohue has crafted a clever and haunting novel, putting a horror-tinged lens on the myth.

“And, besides, let me tell you a secret: all art needs a little sadness in it, a small tragedy to balance the human comedy.” pg 111

Like Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrmann’s musical take on Orpheus and Eurydice, the elements of the original story are in both works of art. I think The Motion of Puppets is more weird and other-worldly.

To truly enjoy this tale, you have to be willing to believe in magic.

Highly recommended for readers who like twists on mythology or not-too-terrifying horror stories.

If you like mythological re-tellings, you may also enjoy The Snow Child or Circe.

Thanks for reading!

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

undertheharrowNora’s sister is dead. Through the fog of her grief, one thing is clear: Nora is going to find out who did it. And she’s going to make him pay.

The sky foams, like the spindrift of a huge unseen wave is bearing down on us. Who did this to you, I wonder…” pg 9.

As she frantically tries to piece together the last days of Rachel, her sister’s life, Nora discovers things she never knew about her secretive sibling. There are some secrets that should have gone to the grave…

“He might have come in the house on one of the days he watched her. She left a key under the mat, he could have let himself in when she was at work or asleep.” pg 62

Like other thrillers, Under the Harrow slowly dishes out the clues to the mystery and introduces elements of danger just when the reader is starting to feel comfortable.

“There are too many people I don’t recognize, which I hadn’t expected. I thought I would be able to note any strangers. Whoever did it might come today.” pg 69

It also flirts with the “unreliable narrator” trope. Not in an annoying, over-done way, but, just enough so it makes the reader question the bits of information we are receiving.

Is what we’re learning true or only true in Nora’s mind?

“I wanted both of us to forget what we had learned. For the past five years, I’ve pretended that we did forget, and ignored any signs otherwise.” pg 83.

Readers experience Nora passing through the stages of grief, sometimes making better choices than other times. She desperately misses her sister.

“It is so easy to think about her. Each memory links to another one, and time doesn’t seem to pass at all. I sit for hours remembering, until the first commuters, unbearably sad, begin to arrive, waiting in the darkness on the platform for the early train to London.” pg 111

Recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers and quick reads. At less than 250 pages, you can finish this book in one afternoon. I did. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Rooms by Lauren Oliver
roomsThe patriarch of a family has recently died. The home he leaves behind is haunted and his family comes to divide up the remains of his earthly possessions.

Secrets are about to be revealed that concern both the living and the dead.

Rooms is part-mystery and part-family drama. My favorite characters were the ghosts and their interactions with each other.

“We expand into all five bedrooms. We hover in the light coming through the windows, with the dust; we spin, dizzy in the silence. We slide across empty dining room chairs, skate across the well-polished table, rub ourselves against the oriental carpets, curl up in the impressions of old footprints.” pg 12, ebook.

Though they are stuck together in the same house, the two ghosts couldn’t be more different. It makes for some amusing dialogue.

“I’ve never been one to sugarcoat the truth, and at least I’ve still got a sense of humor, even if I’m all splinters and dust everywhere else. That’s another thing that drives me crazy about Alice: no sense of humor at all.” pg 34, ebook.

The living characters of this story have some serious problems.

There’s Minna, a nymphomaniac with a young daughter. Her brother, Trenton, a perpetually insecure teen with suicidal tendencies. And their mother, Caroline, an aging alcoholic.

To make matters worse, Trenton’s starting to hear disembodied voices in the house.

“In the quiet, Trenton heard it again. A voice. Not quite a voice, though. More like a shape: a solidity and pattern to the normal creakings and stirrings of the house. It was the way he’d felt as a kid listening to the wind through the trees, thinking he could make sense out of it.” pg 52, ebook.

As if they didn’t have enough problems.

“That’s what a broken heart looks like,” she said, and stood up. “Like a haunting.” pg 64, ebook.

Strangely enough, I recently read another book with a ghost’s point of view. The Last To See Me by M. Dressler is about a ghost trying to stay alive and solve the mystery of her previous life, before the person hunting her could discover it and use it to destroy her.

I compared The Last To See Me to this book and, I confess, I liked Dressler’s book more. Dressler has fewer characters, but she gives those few more depth.

I felt like Lauren Oliver, though she did develop her characters, struggled a bit to fit all of the different story lines together. I did like the ending of Rooms.

Recommended for readers who like their mystery with a touch of the paranormal. Age appropriate for mature teens and up because of the sexual content, hints of abuse and suicide themes.

Thanks for reading!

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

paintedgirlsThree sisters live in poverty. Their father is dead and their mother is addicted to absinthe.

They have to find a way to feed themselves. The Paris Opera is an option, but ballet is expensive. There’s lessons and clothing to buy.

And whatever money they do manage to scrape together, there’s no guarantee their mother won’t use it to buy another bottle to feed her addiction.

The Painted Girls is about the haunting specter of abject poverty and addiction, but it is also about phrenology, a now-defunct science wherein experts believed they could judge the character of a person based on the shape of their head and face.

Marie, one of the girls in this story, frets because she has a low forehead and a jutting jaw. In her early religiously-based education, she was taught that outer beauty is a reflection of the soul. She fears her destiny is predetermined as hell bound because of her face.

Antoinette, the eldest of the sisters, wants to be adored and appreciated for how she holds her family together while her mother drugs herself into oblivion. But, she’s too aggressive and out-spoken to hold onto jobs for long and men can’t see past her outer shell to the aching heart within.

Plus, she sees herself as a hard worker, not a whore. Until she meets Émile Abadie and he takes her out for an evening of wine and oysters…

The Painted Girls is about art, power and the blindness of love. It is also about sisters and the love family members hold for each other.

It is a work of historical fiction for girls who actually existed. Cathy Marie Buchanan takes the time to sort the real from the fictional at the end of the story.

I felt despair for the family in this book but also hope; that they could rise out of poverty despite everything holding them back.

Because, as society now knows, it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside. What matters most is who you love and what you chose to do each day, each moment and for what reason.

This story has possible triggers for anyone who was sexually or physically abused as a child.

Thanks for reading.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

extraordinarythingsThe Museum of Extraordinary Things is a beautifully written book about belonging, love and beauty, among other things.

It is the story of Coralie, a girl with webbing between her fingers who lives with her father and his collection of extraordinary things and people.

“My father was both a scientist and magician, but he declared that it was in literature wherein we discovered our truest natures.” pg 2

It is also the story of Eddie, a Jewish boy who flees with his father from a village in Russia after his mother is murdered.

Eddie is a photographer and Coralie is one of her father’s “extraordinary things.”

“Eddie had come to understand that what a man saw and what actually existed in the natural world were often contradictory.” pg 57

Both Eddie and Coralie have known hard times, poverty and hunger. They have been beaten down, overworked and abused.

“People will disappoint you with their cruelty every time.” pg 5

They both carry secrets. Coralie has discovered a diary in a locked drawer in the basement. Eddie has a stolen watch in his pocket.

“The Museum of Extraordinary Things was a true museum, a place of edification, wherein natural curiosities were displayed along with human marvels. Now, however, they needed more, and, when more could not be found, it must be invented.” pg 28

Beyond the personal lives of the two protagonists, this is also a story about New York and how it was developing outwards, consuming the woods and running pavement over grass.

It is also about the development of labor laws, the rights of the worker and unions.

Two actual catastrophic fires are recorded in this historical fiction. They highlight the horrific losses humanity has sometimes endured in the name of progress and, especially in the case of the factory fire, greed.

Those pages are hard to read. But Hoffman has written them beautifully and they feel true, as if the reader is standing there, watching the disasters unfold, and questioning what horrific things sometimes happen.

“It’s dangerous to look into things you don’t understand,” Coralie advised. “You haven’t seen the half of what there is in this world.” “Perhaps you’re one of the extraordinary things I don’t understand.” pg 241

Recommended for adult readers because of disturbing content and abuse, both physical and emotional. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is haunting, but beautiful; dark with moments of light in the shadow; and truly, filled with extraordinary people and things.

Thanks for reading!