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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A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

a touch of starA girl from Indiana goes to Hollywood and ends up taking care of Hollywood royalty in A Touch of Stardust.

The reader gets a behind the scenes look at the making of Gone With the Wind and the private, slightly dysfunctional lives of Carol Lombard and Clarke Gable.

It was fun learning about what went into the creation of Gone With the Wind. Those parts of the book sort of read like a Hollywood-fan magazine, but better written.

The dialogue in this book is snappy and smart, like a Bogie and Bacall film.

I loved the heroine and how she pulled herself up by the bootstraps to make it in Hollywood at a time when very few women did.

Overall, it’s a great story. I absolutely loved this book up until the ending which I hated.

We discussed this read in my book club and some folks liked the ambiguous feel of the ending. I was not one of those.

Recommended for readers who can handle an ending that might make them say: “Huh?” or “No!”

Thanks for reading!

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir

artemisweirJazz lives on Artemis, the first city on the moon. She delivers packages to eek out a living as well as other, more shady, methods of income.

“I live in Artemis, the first (and so far, only) city on the moon. It’s made of five huge spheres called “bubbles.” They’re half underground, so Artemis looks exactly like old sci-fi books said a moon city should look: a bunch of domes.” pg 5

One day, one of the richest men on the moon makes her an offer far too lucrative for her to refuse… all she has to do is something very dangerous and illegal. No problem, right?

“I’m sorry, but this isn’t my thing,” I said. “You’ll have to find someone else.” “I’ll give you a million slugs.” “Deal.” pg 46.

Andy Weir’s follow-up to The Martian was disappointing to me.

Unlike his first book, the science is watered down. It’s not as educational and quirky. In my mind, the exceptional science was what separated The Martian from other science fiction offerings.

The characterizations are one dimensional, like The Martian, but it was less of a problem in the first book. In that one, you were mainly dealing with one person, alone.

In Artemis, Weir tries to build a city of characters and I didn’t buy into it.

The main character, a female narrator, is particularly problematic. She just didn’t sound like a woman to me.

“I landed like a sack of sh*t. But I landed on the other side of the alcove and didn’t break anything. … Whatever. A clumsy, awkward success is still a success.” pg 124.

But beyond those small problems, Artemis is still enjoyable.

Weir put a huge amount of thought into how an economy on the moon would work. It is the most realistic I’ve ever read.

He also nails the human condition, the drive for novelty and tourism.

Weir describes the trouble with travel: Even when it’s a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. You leak money like a sieve. You’re jet-lagged. You’re exhausted all the time. You’re homesick even though you’re on vacation.” pg 152.

Word.

Members of my book club voiced the opinion that Weir wrote this book as if he was prepping it for the screen. I agree.

If you’re going to read one Weir book, go with The Martian. Borrow this one from the library.

Thanks for reading!

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

missburmaA layered and subtle historical fiction about a family in Burma and how they make it through all sorts of terrible things that happen there.

This is an incredibly dark book based on the true family history of Charmaine Craig. My book club had a tough time discussing it.

“Your problem is that you believe in right and wrong. Don’t you know evil will find you no matter what?” pg 11.

First of all, the introductory portion doesn’t make sense until the last half of the book. The pacing is glacially slow. A few of our club members couldn’t make it through the first couple of chapters.

Secondly, the constant warring and torture of innocents by the conquering forces is really difficult to read.

“We welcomed them because we’d been persecuted by the Burmans for centuries, we’d been their slaves – our villages perpetually attacked, our people perpetually preyed upon, stripped of everything from our clothing to our lives.” pg 37.

It is an important history, certainly, but the darkness of it made me feel sick.

A third problem club members had with Miss Burma is it feels disjointed.

At first, readers thought Khin and Benny were the focus of the book. But then, the point of view drifted around to Louisa, their beautiful daughter, and her story took over.

We must find a way to rejoice in our circumstances. We must find a way to do more than endure.” pg 145

Basically, the Karen are an ethnic minority in Burma, now Myanmar. For centuries, the Karen have been enslaved by the Burmese. The underlying story is about how the Karen tried to unite against the ruling government to create a federation.

“Our modesty that runs so deep it is almost self-annihilating. But now.. our relative invisibility strikes me as very sad. … If you stand for a moment behind their eyes- behind the eyes of anyone for whom modesty is not an ultimate virtue- we appear to value our lives less than they do.” pg 168

Against this background, the family of Khin and Benny tries to survive and do what they believe is right.

This story is full of flawed characters and whole passages where most of the action takes place in people’s minds.

There is fairly graphic torture, rape and violence. If any of those are triggers for you, beware.

Recommended for patient readers and those who can handle a very dark history. The book club certainly learned a lot about Burma from this book. And bullets still fly in Myanmar today.

Thanks for reading!

Why take a different route to work? This book, that’s why.

Why take a different route to work? This book, that’s why.

iseeyouReview of I See You by Clare Mackintosh.

I See You is a tense thriller with fairly good execution that stumbles on its ending.

It takes place in London. The scary parts mainly take place on the public transport system.

“…I don’t know how you do this every day.” “You get used to it,” I say, although you don’t so much get used to it as simply put up with it. Standing up on a cramped, malodorous train is part and parcel of working in London.” pg 42.

Zoe Walker sees her photo, or what she believes is her photo, in the papers on her way to work. It’s weird and scary because she didn’t submit her photo to the press.

“Routine is comforting to you. It’s familiar, reassuring. Routine makes you feel safe. Routine will kill you.” pg 51.

Kelly is a member of the police. She has secrets in her past and reasons to prove herself.

“Kelly thought of all the crime prevention initiatives she’d seen rolled out over her nine years in the job. Poster campaigns, leaflet drops, attack alarms, education programs… Yet it was far simpler than that; they just had to listen to victims. Believe them.” pg 83.

When Zoe comes to Kelly with her concerns and her photo in the paper, she sounds crazy. But she finds a sympathetic ear with Kelly.

Can they figure out what is going on before its too late?

I read this title for book club. And even though I was disappointed in the ending, this story scared me. It also scared some members of the club.

I was frightened partly because I don’t usually read this type of book. But, it also felt so real to me.

We are creatures of habit, after all. It certainly made me consider taking a different route to work. You never know who could be watching…

Recommended for brave readers who don’t shy away from unsatisfying endings.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

darkmatterDark Matter is a fantastic, sci-fi read about regret, love and quantum mechanics.

My book club picked this wild ride of a book and everybody took something different out of it.

We all enjoyed it, which is weird for us. Usually, we have opinions across the spectrum. This one, though, was universally loved. That’s saying something.

“In the shadow of this moment, my life is achingly beautiful. “I have an amazing family. A fulfilling job. We’re comfortable. Nobody’s sick.” pg 28. And then, something truly surprising happens. No spoilers!

I think that, as time passes, we grow comfortable in our lives, our marriages and relationships. Part of this book is about appreciating what you may take for granted. “He says, “It’s like we get so set in our ways, so entrenched in those grooves, we stop seeing our loved ones for who they are. But tonight, right now, I see you again, like the first time we met, when the sound of your voice and your smell was this new country.” pg 67.

The leader of my book club picked quotations that had to do about self-knowing and quantum mechanics. It was no surprise that mine were all about love. I’m one of the hopeless romantics of the group.

And one of the most open-minded: “We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality that we can possibly imagine.” pg 96. I truly believe that.

A local physics professor joined our circle and gave a short lecture on basic quantum mechanics and wave theory. But, you don’t have to be an expert on the subject to enjoy this story. It’s approachable science, like The Martian.

Recommended for book clubs, especially, but also anyone who wants an unbelievable story will probably love this too.

I heard that this is going to be made into a film- read the book anyway. It’s always better.

Thanks for reading!

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

cabin10A so-so mystery with an unreliable narrator that takes place, for the most part, on a boat. It was ok thriller, but I would never have read it without the encouragement of my book club.

In the desperate search for “the next Gone Girl“, The Woman in Cabin 10was put forward as an option. I think that’s unfair. The next Gone Girlor Hunger Games will be so clearly original and ground-breaking that it couldn’t be titled the next fill-in-the-blank.

And, with that sort of hype, it put an expectation on this story that it didn’t live up to. But, that’s not The Woman in Cabin 10‘s fault.

It was clear to me that Ruth Ware had experience as a journalist. Her character, Lo Blacklock, is completely believable in that regard. But, I found that I didn’t like her much. She puts too much pressure on herself to succeed.

“I had to get myself together before I left for this trip. It was an unmissable, unrepeatable opportunity to prove myself after ten years at the coalface of boring cut-and-paste journalism. This was my chance to show I could hack it…” pg 20.

But, if she had taken the time to stay home and recover from her PTSD, what sort of thriller would that be? So, off she goes, onto a billionaire’s exclusive boat.

“…it was pretty nice. I guess you had to get something for the eight grand or whatever it was they were charging for this place. The amount was slightly obscene, in comparison to my salary- or even Rowan’s salary.” pg 47.

Then, in classic thriller fashion, she hears a scream in the night, sees something that no one, even she, believes and is now stuck in an enclosed space with a potential killer.

Even with that set-up, I didn’t get into the story. Lo is overly-dramatic and doesn’t take the time to think things through. I found myself wishing that she would slow down and start keeping a complete written record rather than running from one disastrous encounter to the next.

“I lay there, cudgeling my battered brain to try to work it out, but the more I tried to ram the bits of information together, the more it felt like a jigsaw with too many pieces to fit the frame.” pg 242.

She jumps to conclusions and accuses or dismisses people nearly on a whim. I’d read a passage and then say to myself, “Come on, is that really the best you could do?” Now, that’s hardly fair as she’s exhausted, terrified and traumatized. But still. That’s what I thought.

Plus, the “unreliable narrator” thing has been done. In this story, Lo’s unreliable because she has anxiety and drinks a lot to forget that fact. That sounds like almost everyone I know.

Recommended for fans of mystery. It is enjoyable, but don’t make my mistake and expect too much complexity from The Woman in Cabin 10.

Thanks for reading!