ARC REVIEW: The Impossible Fortress – by Jason Rekulak

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Title: The Impossible Fortress
Author: Jason Rekulak

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction
First published: February 7th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Finished reading: February 3rd 2017
Pages: 304
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“So we stood up there for a long while, watching the sunset and discussing how it was one of those things you could never truly capture in 8-bit, not with the simplistic definition of violet (CHR$(156)), orange (CHR$(129)), and yellow (CHR$(158)). There were too many other colors, thousands of colors. The hardware could never do justice to it.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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The Impossible Fortress caught my attention the very first time I laid my eyes on it, and not just because of the colorful cover. I love feel-good stories and this debut by Jason Rekulak promised to be chock full of 80s nostalgia and flashbacks. I’m a 90s child myself, but I guess I was born close enough to the the year the story was set in (I was only minus one!) to be able to connect to the story instantly. It’s simply such a brilliant read! I completely fell in love with the writing style, plot and characters and it’s just such a great feel-good story… I loved the computer/nerd talk and it definitely brought back memories of my childhood where I taped radio songs, had to use floppy disks and didn’t have internet access to write quick messages. I loved all characters, although Billy and Mary have just a little extra magic about them… And the plot of The Impossible Fortress is almost endearing as the three boys mess up again and again during their ‘mission’ to get a copy of the Playboy. I had so much fun reading this coming of age story and I can recommend it to any contemporary fan! A huge bonus: you can actually play the game that is created by the main characters at jasonrekulak.com!

shortsummary1reviewqqqIt’s 1987 and the Playboy has just published photos of Vanna White, popular for her role in the TV game show Wheel Of Fortune. The three teenage friends Billy, Alf and Clark don’t know a thing about women and the Playboy is almost like a Holy Grail for them: they are desperate to get their hands on a copy of the Vanna White photos and decide to create a plan to steal a copy of that month’s Playboy. But stealing a copy isn’t all that easy and the boys fail and fail again… Then they think up a new masterplan: swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience story by seducing the owner’s daughter Mary. It’s up to Billy to become close to the girl and get the information they need, but Billy might need Mary for other skills instead. She loves computers and is actually a way better coder than Billy is… Mary might be able to save the game Billy is creating, but he is soon faced with the tough choice to either deceive Mary or break a promis to his best friends.

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If you are looking for a well written coming of age story that will bury you under a crate full of nostalgic feelings and 80s flashbacks, you have found your next read. The Impossible Fortress is basically a time machine in book form and will make you feel as if you went thirty years back in time… I was hooked right from the first page and both the writing style and main characters were simply lovely. I had so much fun reading this story!


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BOOK REVIEW: Rubyfruit Jungle – by Rita Mae Brown

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Title: Rubyfruit Jungle
Author: Rita Mae Brown

Genre: Classics, Fiction, Glbt
First published: 1973
Publisher: Bantam
Finished reading: December 28th 2016
Pages: 240
Rating 4qqq

“Oh great, you too. So now I wear this label ‘Queer’ emblazoned across my chest. Or I could always carve a scarlet ‘L’ on my forehead. Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it? I don’t know what I am—polymorphous and perverse. Shit. I don’t even know if I’m white. I’m me. That’s all I am and all I want to be. Do I have to be something?”

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I confess I came across this book by accident, but I was immediately intrigued by both the cover and the blurb. The fact that Rubyfruit Jungle is a coming of age story written back in 1973 and talks about the glbt theme so openly is both impressive and inspiring. I can see why so many people seem to find Rita Mae Brown‘s book that powerful… Because as we follow the main character Molly Bolt, basically every cliche involving the glbt community is included and talked about.  It’s so interesting to read about how the situation was back then and compare them to our current one! The prose is both refreshing and entertaining to read, and I was able to finish this modern classic in no time at all. Molly Bolt isn’t exactly the most ‘perfect’ character out there, but it is so easy to like her with all her flaws. She says and does exactly how she thinks and I can really appreciate that. There is some swearing involved in Rubyfruit Jungle, but in this case it is basically part of the character building. All in all a very interesting read!

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Molly Bolt is the adoptive daughter of a dirt-poor Southern couple who stubbornly decided to find a way to improve her current life. She has been determined not to have other people stop her from reaching her goals and dreams, even if she wants things other people might find odd. That includes Molly finding women more attractive than men, and she refuses to apologize for loving them. But will she be able to succeed in life?

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If you enjoy reading a good glbt coming of age story where the main character doesn’t shy away from saying the painful truth and you don’t mind a bit of colorful prose, I can strongly suggest reading Rubyfruit Jungle. I personally loved the unorthodox prose and I had so much fun reading this story. Molly Bolt is such an intriguing and well developed character and it was really interesting to follow her difficult journey to adulthood. It’s a very original and powerful story and even more impressive if you think about the time when Rubyfruit Jungle was first published.

BOOK REVIEW: The Hired Girl – by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Religion
First published: September 8th 2015
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Finished reading: July 23rd 2016
Pages: 400
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“But I think the most important thing those books gave me was a kind of faith. My books promised me that life wasn’t just made up of workaday tasks and prosaic things. The world is bigger and more colorful and more important than that.”

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The Hired Girl was my latest TBR jar choice and quite a fortunate pick, since I already planned to read it for the When Are You Reading? Challenge anyway because of its historical 1910s setting. I normally really enjoy reading historical fiction, but unfortunately I wasn’t impressed by this story by Laura Amy Schlitz. Most people seem to love The Hired Girl though, so I guess this will be yet another unpopular opinion review… First things first, I can’t deny the historical setting is well executed and I liked that the prose matched the era. The descriptions and prose in general show that the author has investigated the era thoroughly and used the terms appropriate for the 1910s. This was probably the strongest feature of The Hired Girl, because the rest didn’t manage to convince me. While the first part is interesting enough (even though the first chapters are a bit dull) and the descriptions are great, the story takes a strong religious turn later on. I don’t mind religion in a story as long as it doesn’t have a strong presence, but in The Hired Girl it was just too much for me to enjoy. The fact that I didn’t like the main character in general didn’t really help either. I know a lot of people seem to love Joan, but she was too naive and later on even whiny for me to grow closer to her despite her love for books. During most of the book this unlikeable character still wasn’t too much of a problem, mostly because of the interesting historical setting. Unfortunately the last part of this story was full of strongly religious dialogue and cheesy romance; ending up ruining the reading experience for me. I know I’m in the minority for not enjoying The Hired Girl though, so you might enjoy this historical fiction story a lot better than I did.

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After her father decided that his fourteen-year-old daughter Joan can attend school no longer because she is needed at home, Joan has no longer an escape from the hard work at Steeple Farm. Her mother died years ago and her father and brothers don’t exactly treat her well; the dreams of her mother (and Joan herself) for her to become a teacher seem to have evaporated. How will she ever escape the neverending and dull work at the farm? Miss Chandler used to be a teacher and gave her a diary, telling her she should write to practice. Joan pours her heart out into the diary and decided to seek a new and better life for herself despite better judgement. Maybe escaping the farm, traveling to the city and working as a hired girl cleaning and cooking for a family will finally help her improve her chances of a better future?

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The historical setting and well researched descriptions and prose are without doubt the best feature of The Hired Girl. I especially liked the Rosenbachs and what they added to the story; the descriptions of their household were really intriguing. I can’t say I liked the main character Joan though. I understand she is still really young, but instead of endearing I found Joan mostly annoying, naive and even whiny at points. And then I’m not even talking about the romantic blabbering and strongly religious dialogue in the last part… I really wanted to enjoy The Hired Girl, but this novel just wasn’t for me.

BOOK REVIEW: The Opposite Of Loneliness – by Marina Keegan

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Title: The Opposite Of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Short Stories
First published: April 8th 2014
Finished reading: June 11th 2016
Pages: 208
Rating 3,5qqq

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.”

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Those who follow my blog know I like to read a non fiction book or memoir every now and then, so I was excited when The Opposite Of Loneliness came up as one of my TBR jar picks. The story behind this memoir is actually quite tragic: the author Marina Keegan sadly passed away in 2012 after a car accident, and this collection has been created afterwards in her honor. Reading about the actual details is truly heartbreaking, but it doesn’t mean that this memoir gets a free pass to a full 5 star rating. Because if I have to be honest, I expected something better/different out of this short story and essay collection. First of all, I didn’t realize that part of this book is actually a collection of short fictional stories. I don’t mind reading fiction, but it wasn’t what I expected and most stories were a bit too cheesy, romantic or awkward for me. Especially since knowing about the author’s tragic end makes you read some stories under a different light (for example: in Cold Pastoral I felt awkward reading about a main character where her boyfriend dies, while her own boyfriend had to go through a similar situation.) Another story I found slightly disturbing is Reading Aloud, where an older woman reads aloud to a blind young man while she is completely naked. I know it’s fiction and all, but I think I could have gone without that mental image. My favorite of the fiction stories would probably be The Emerald City, since it’s not the typical contemporary romance story. It’s about an officer in Afghanistan who tells about his daily life and concerns to a girl back home. Challenger Deep was also really good. The non fiction section of this memoir is a little too short if you ask me, but provides some very interesting essays and is a satisfying ending to this read. In fact, I would probably have given The Opposite Of Loneliness a higher rating if it would have been just the non fiction essays… This memoir is without doubt still worth reading though.

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The young Yale graduate Marina Keegan was without doubt talented and it shows in this collection of essays and stories. Her essay The Opposite Of Loneliness is probably one of the most famous ones and is without doubt inspiring.

“Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…). We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.”

Only five days after she graduate magna cum laude from Yale, Marina died in a car crash. The people close to hear joined together to create this collection of her best short stories and essays. They are a mix of fiction and non fiction and explore different genres and writing methods.

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Like I said above, I really wanted to like this memoir even better, but there were quite a few fiction short stories I can’t say I enjoyed. Some were a bit disturbing, others made me feel awkward or were too much like a typical cheesy romance story (one even with a love triangle!). There were some exceptions though: especially The Emerald City and Challenger Deep stood out from the rest. The non fiction essays were excellent as well, and most likely ended up improving the rating. I would definitely recommend reading The Opposite Of Loneliness, just make sure to remember it’s not actually just a memoir and also included fictional short stories. That may avoid a similar reaction to the one I had when I was reading the fiction section….

BOOK REVIEW: Love Letters Of The Dead – by Ava Dellaira

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Title: Love Letters To The Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: April 1st 2014
Finished reading: May 10th 2016
Pages: 336
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“There are a lot of human experiences that challenge the limits of our language,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons that we have poetry.”

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I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this book ever since it first came out, so it’s easy to say I was a bit hesitant to read it myself. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether to read this book at all… But since I already had an e-copy and it came up as one of my TBR jar picks, I decided to just give it a go and see how things turn out. Love Letters To The Dead didn’t end up being a particularly bad read, but I wasn’t blown away by it either. While the whole ‘chapters in the form of letters’ idea seems rather original, it does look quite similar to The Perks of Being A Wallflower. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as always with a comparison there is a winner and a loser and things aren’t looking good for this Love Letters To The Dead. What I did enjoy is that the main character Laurel writes her letters to famous deceased people that are related to whatever happens in the story: Kurt Cobain, E.E. Cummings, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart, Amy Winehouse… Those elements (especially the music and poetry references) were a nice touch to an otherwise quite repetitive story. Because that is what the rest of the plot basically is: a repetition of the same letter idea where Laurel is trying to figure out how to deal with the death of her sister. Laurel blames herself for her death, although she takes a long time revealing why that is. This was actually quite annoying, both because it made the story drag and the actual plot twist was not that great either. (Why did she never tell anyone before?!) In short, while I liked some things of the story, there were other elements that made me enjoy this story a lot less than I would have hoped.

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Laurel has been struggling to deal with the death of her sister May, and even decided to go to a different high school to avoid the stares full of pity. Laurel blames herself for May’s death, but isn’t ready to tell the truth about what happened yet as much as she doesn’t really know how to grieve for May either. An English assignment marks the beginning of a journey where she starts writing letters to famous dead people about both her feelings and what happens to her during her days. Slowly Laurel starts to accept the past and how life can go on without May… Starting high school, new friendships, learning to live with the new family situation, falling in love; life does go on even after such a terrible experience. But how do you really mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven yet? Can Laurel finally make peace with what happened?

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I was almost afraid to read Love Letters To The Dead after hearing so many mixed opinions. And while I didn’t think it was a particularly bad read, I wasn’t blown away by it either… Some elements like the music and poetry references were really interesting, but others (repetitive plot, ‘big secret’ plot twist) made me enjoy this story a lot less than I thought I would. Would I recommend this novel by Ava Dellaira? With all those mixed reviews out there, I guess I would leave that up to your own decision.

BOOK REVIEW: The Beginning Of Everything – by Robyn Schneider

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Title: The Beginning Of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: August 27th 2013
Finished reading: April 18th 2016
Pages: 335
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“If everything really does get better, the way everyone claims, then happiness should be graphable. But that’s crap, because better isn’t quantifiable.”

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I was looking for a quick and entertaining read and since I loved reading Robyn Schneider‘s other novel Extraordinary Means two months ago, I decided to pick up my copy of The Beginning Of Everything. Unfortunately, this story wasn’t as nearly as good as my first experience with her work. It might have been because of my high expectations, but the cheesy and cliche plot and annoying characters made me feel mostly disappointed by this read. The first three chapters make you think this could be a really interesting take on how Ezra deals with the fact that he can no longer play tennis and has to adapt to his new life and status at school. Those chapters are actually quite misleading, because the rest of the story is basically a cliche storybook involving a couple of seniors both trying to be different and fitting in during the last year in high school. Jocks against nerds, a former jock now belonging to the debate club, the former tennis captain that used to date a cheerleader, prom, (hotelroom) parties involving alcohol and games… This plot is basically one big cliche and almost made me gag. I guess those who don’t mind a story like this will probably end up loving The Beginning Of Everything, but this definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. Also, the fact that I couldn’t stand the main character, the whole pity party and prom situations didn’t help either… And the tension between Cassidy and Ezra is actually quite boring. But like I said before, fans of contemporary romance who don’t mind cheesy and cliche high school scenes will probably love this read.

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Ezra Faulkner used to be the golden boy with a great athletic career and a busy social life with his jock friends and girlfriend. But all that changed that one night of his personal tragedy, where a reckless driver shatters his knee and dreams… Ezra can no longer play tennis and finds himself without friends or a girlfriend after she cheated on him. His senior year is not going to be as he thought it would, and suddenly he finds himself at the table of misfits. His former teammates don’t seem to care much about the fact that Ezra is missing, but can he accept his new status and friendships? And what about the new girl Cassidy Thorpe, who seems to be unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met?

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The Beginning Of Everything started out promising even though I never liked the main character, but things soon went downhill from there. I admit I never really like cheesy contemporary romance stories, but the promise of something better actually made me feel more disappointed in the end. I’m not saying this is a bad read and the right person will probably love it, but if you want to try Robyn Schneider‘s work I would definitely recommend reading her other novel Extraordinary Means first.

BOOK REVIEW: Not If I See You First – by Eric Lindstrom

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Title: Not If I See You First
Author: Eric Lindstrom
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Romance
First published: December 1st 2015
Finished reading: April 1st 2016
Pages: 310
Rating 3,5qqq

“People are full of things you don’t know but that doesn’t mean they’re secrets; you just don’t know everything yet.” He lets go. “And that’s good, otherwise, you’d have no reason to talk anymore.”

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As soon as I saw the cover and found out what this book was about, I knew I had to get a copy. As far as I know, there aren’t many books with a blind main character out there (the only one that comes to my mind right now is All The Light We Cannot See) and this story by Eric Lindstrom sounded more than promising. As soon I started reading Not If I See You First I was hooked. The prose is really engaging, the pace is fast and I like the way how the main character’s blindness isn’t displayed as a disability and more as a challenge. There is no doubt that Parker is a strong character, even though I don’t actually like all aspects of her character. It’s easy to say Not If I See You First was well on its way to receiving one of my highest ratings, up until the point one of my biggest fears of reading YA came true… And a love triangle was introduced. I know just about every YA story seems to have one lately and I tend tolerate them if they are not too annoying. In this case though, it’s easy to say the love triangle was quite frustrating and spoiled Not If I See You First for me. I personally think the story would have worked just as good or even better without a second love interest… But that’s just my humble opinion. The rest of the book is entertaining though, so I would still recommend it if you like the genre.

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Parker Grant didn’t only lose her mother in an accident many years ago, she also lost her sight. She has been learning to live with her blindness ever since, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be seen as weak. She created rules for the people around her: don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind and definitely never take advantage of her or her blindness. She doesn’t believe in second chances either, and her former best friend Scott found out the hard way… And Parker and Scott lost touch after an unfortunate middle grade incident. When Scott suddenly reappears in her life many years later, Parker doesn’t want to do anything to do with him. But it looks like things are not always as they seem, and sometimes rules are meant to be broken… And it seems like Parker will find out the hard way things are never that simple and obvious.

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There is no doubt that Not If I See You First is a fast-paced, entertaining and well written debut. The main character Parker can be annoying at times, but she does feel real and I liked the message behind her character that blindness by no means stops someone from chasing their dreams and doesn’t mean they are weak either. I would definitely have given this novel by Eric Lindstrom an even higher rating if it weren’t for the annoying love triangle… But the story is without doubt still worth reading anyway.