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Review – The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

The Impossible Fortress

By Jason Rekulak

Summary: A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.

Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.
Do you remember your first love?
The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.
The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

 Source: Book of the Month Club pick 

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Review:

The Impossible Fortress promised an amazing YA journey through 1980’s nerd and pop culture that I couldn’t pass up. I love the 80’s and it sounded like it would be right up there with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which was a huge favorite of mine that I’ve recommended many times. 

I was incredibly disappointed by The Impossible Fortress.

At first, the boys were trying to come up with ways to get their hands on the new Playboy issue with Vanna White which was a great plot device because it was the 80s, they were young, and it was a big deal at the time. They came up with pretty elaborate schemes and finally settled on one crazy one that worked out well for Will. Will was a programmer and creator of video games using code and discovered a girl hanging out at the store where the Playboys were sold who also shared the same interest. So he came up with a way to give himself a reason for hanging out with her to work on this video game contest in context with the heist for the Playboys. He used the scheme as an excuse was because she was kind of fat and his friends were making fun of him and her for the short interaction they witnessed and Will didn’t want to just admit he thought she was cool or shared a similar interest. 

The boys seemed a bit over the top about getting their hands on the Playboy and women in general, but part of the problem was that the characters were all pretty flat, so there wasn’t anything else about them that we knew. Had the author done a better job creating well rounded characters, it would’ve shown that, while obsessed with naked chicks, they were still actual people with other interests and personalities. I even feel like the book missed out on friendship dynamics that would’ve made the group more realistic and easier to love.

For the majority of the book, Will grew as a character as he began spending a lot of his time learning code and developing a friendship with Mary and even her standoffish dad who owned the store. He wasn’t as interested in the antics of his friends because he had a goal and was working towards it with someone who shared the same passion. It was a great transformation… until he completely undid all of that great character growth by being an awful friend and lashing out after being rejected. 

All of the obsession with Playboy and girls was totally fine and even relatively normal for the time frame, so I wasn’t even bothered by it. The fat shaming and offhand comments the guys made about Mary were also things I could deal with and not really get upset about because Will was growing as a character despite it and it was a thing back then. But then Will was a completely awful person by lashing out, allowing damage to property and people, all because he was rejected by Mary. And, while he did realize he was being a jerk, the book didn’t do enough, in my opinion, to really talk about the fact that he didn’t have a good excuse to lash out. There wasn’t really a lesson learned by anyone in regards to women and since the book was published recently, I think the whole “it was the 80s” excuse didn’t work anymore. The whole end just made it seem like Will messed up, but also there was a twist and Mary was pretty messed up, and everything was fine. There was this whole “boys will be boys” kind of attitude that rubbed me the wrong way and made me a bit uncomfortable. This book was pretty much awful when it comes to showing a healthy attitude towards women and by the last page, I was just kind of disgusted by everyone. 

There could’ve been a number of ways the Playboy magazine heist could’ve blown up in Will’s face and I knew it was inevitable, but the way it all went down was just disappointing and ruined a story that I was mostly enjoying. Mary shouldn’t have needed a reason to turn Will down (yes, this apparently needed to be explained) and Will shouldn’t have lashed out in a very awful way and if those things happened anyway, then there should be some sort of lesson everyone learned as a result. And since there wasn’t, at that point, I could no longer shrug it away and say “but it was the 80s” anymore.

Star 2

Review – The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

SummaryWhen all hope is gone, how do you survive? 

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. 

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

Source: I received an Owlcrate exclusive hardcover in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

The Sandcastle Empire was a strange book. I was confused for the majority of the story, but it was so interesting that I couldn’t help but turn the pages to see what would happen next. Because I was so intrigued and constantly surprised by the direct of the story, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

The book definitely has a LOST feel to it, along with dystopian elements. Something happened to Eden’s world and it was under very strict rule, but her main goal was to find the Sanctuary her father wrote about in his survival guide. During a moment of chaos and confusion, Eden found herself traveling with three other girls headed off of the coast with only one way to go: towards Sanctuary.

There was so much going on with the plot. The island was really strange and it became clear that they weren’t on any ordinary piece of land. Also, the group dynamics were weird because none of them could really trust each other. And then one of them went missing and the girls attempted to find her and stumbled onto all sorts of messed up things. What WAS this place?! What was happening?

And then, suddenly, there was another group of people who showed up with characters some of the girls recognized, but not quite. Who were they? What were THEY doing here? 

I loved all of the craziness.

I have to admit, things did get a little over the top with the amount of strange twists and turns and shifting alliances, but I was so hooked. The end probably had more plot holes and rushed schemes than I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. From the beginning, I knew I wasn’t reading a story that was realistic or had a tie to any world I’d recognize, so it was pure fantasy and chaos that never really needed to make sense to me. I suppose I understand if you are a stickler for realistic fiction how this book would be maddening, but I thought it was kind of fun and insane. 

I would definitely recommend The Sandcastle Empire to anyone who enjoyed Lost, enjoys being on the edge of their seat, and doesn’t have super high expectations for YA dystopian novels. This isn’t the next big hit, but it was definitely enjoyable and I had so much fun flying through the pages with a confused look on my face. No one can accuse the book of being predictable!

 Star 4

 

 

 

 

Review – Fire Study (Study #3) by Maria V. Snyder

 

Fire Study (Study #3)

By Maria V. Snyder

SummaryThe Apprenticeship is Over Now the Real Test has Begun.

When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder able to capture and release souls spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena’s unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena’s fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before….

Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself and save the land she holds dear.

Source: I purchased a kindle copy.

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Review

Fire Study was the third book in the Study series and took place right after Magic Study ended. It concludes the Study series, but there is also a spinoff trilogy that involves some familiar characters and extends this series. Yelena discovered she was a Soulfinder and so did the Council, which raised some eyebrows of concern. The last Soulfinder was power hungry and awful and Yelena’s knack for acting without thinking was a dangerous trait for someone so powerful. She was set to pair with a Magician who hated her in order for Yelena to better hone her skills. 

I really enjoyed Poison Study and gave Magic Study a lot of slack because it switched settings and was definitely different from the first book. But Fire Study tried my patience and left me feeling frustrated and annoyed. The plot was over the top and I found myself unable to care about any of the characters anymore. Fire Study could’ve bridged the gap between the amazing first book and the second book that suffered from second book syndrome, but instead, it continued along the downward spiral of the series. Not even Kiki the horse could cheer me up or make me care about anyone or anything.

The plot was full of crazy theories and plans, holes, leaps of logic, and shockingly convenient solutions. Yelena’s go-get-em attitude didn’t seem to evolve and just started to get old. Even Valek was watered down and lame, always swooping in to save the day and whisper sweet nothings instead of being the strong character he was in book one. The whole story was full of convenient actions and started to feel like one of those series where suddenly this one person has all of this influence with two warring countries in a way that makes absolutely no sense. Also, I hated that all of the good guys were always on Yelena’s side and all off the bad guys were people she just couldn’t get along with. It was so juvenile for the actual bad guys to be conveniently people that she just couldn’t seem to like or didn’t like her. That’s not how the real world works and I would’ve preferred to see the story take the path it was supposed to with her training and have her actually learn stuff instead of galavanting into the wilderness to save the day. 

The spin off Soulfinder series has much better reviews, so there’s no telling whether I’ll continue at this point, but I know it won’t be anytime soon. I have no idea what happened to the amazing story from book one, but it got so ridiculous. 

Star 2

Review – Magic Study (Study #2) by Maria V. Snyder

 

Magic Study (Study #2)

by Maria V. Snyder

SummaryA lesson in loyalty, a master class in intrigue

So far, I’ve managed to survive. You would think after being kidnapped as a child, imprisoned in my teens and released to become a poison taster, I would have endured enough. But no. The discovery of my magical abilities, powers forbidden in Ixia, has resulted in an execution order. My only chance is to flee to Sitia, my long-lost birthplace.

But Sitia is unfamiliar. I’m treated like an enemy, even by my own brother. Plus I can’t control my powers. I want to learn about my magic, but there isn’t time. A rogue magician has emerged and I’m targeted as his next victim.

Will my magical abilities save me…or be my downfall?

Source: I purchased a Kindle copy.

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Review:

Magic Study has some mixed reviews and I think it’s primarily due the abrupt setting change and lack of familiar characters with no plan to return to the original setting. Yelena was no longer allowed to remain alive in Ixia at the end of Poison Study and she left with Irys to the south to find her family and learn more about her magic. It is rightly titled Magic Study in the same way that the first book was named Poison Study. It was a bit disappointing to not have Valek front and center, but I was curious enough to continue. 

(For anyone put off by Valek’s absence, I will say that he does make an appearance at some point, so it’s not without it’s moments between Yelena and Valek. I think, especially since Yelena is so similar to Celaena in Throne of Glass, people may have worried about a love interest shift. No need to worry!)

I enjoyed Magic Study, although Yelena’s I-Can-Tackle-Anything attitude was becoming more reckless than helpful, but I think she had/has to fail in order to teach herself to be patient and also she needed/needs to push herself to show others that she is more than capable. She came into the magic game late and was behind, so very few people seemed to grasp that she was more than capable of helping, even if she didn’t know how to formally do whatever it is with her magic that needed to be done.

Some reviewers have mentioned the fact that all of the villains seem obsessed with rape and torture and it’s excessive, but I feel like it fits in a fantasy setting and with Yelena being so outspoken and powerful, she draws unwanted attention from villains who would be of that type. It fits for me and doesn’t seem like it’s over the top. And I love that Yelena has learned how to overcome her past and help others heal and realize that they aren’t responsible. There are some great messages there and I think it fits and is relevant to the setting, the characters, and the growth that Yelena has experienced from the beginning of the story. 

I also love that Yelena’s homecoming was nothing like I assumed it would be. I’m glad that her clan and family welcomed her because I was afraid they wouldn’t, but I’m glad that there was a bit of a complication with Yelena’s brother. I like when things aren’t neat and tidy and a homecoming that brought everyone together would seem just a little too neat to me. I like the messiness of the guilt and hatred and shame that Lief seemed to have towards her because it seemed a bit realistic to me. 

Magic Study felt different from Poison Study in many ways, so I understand why there are many mixed reviews. It’s not really more of the same, which is what people normally expect from sequels. But I like the change in scenery and characters. I liked seeing Yelena discover her past and her abilities. It seems like the series will expand on her character throughout each book and I’m enjoying the journey. 

Star 4

Throwback Review – Poison Study (Study #1) by Maria V. Snyder

 

Poison Study (Study #1)

By Maria V. Snyder

REREAD

SummaryMurder, mayhem and magic…
Locked in a coffin-like darkness, there is nothing to distract me from my memories of killing Reyad. He deserved to die—but according to the law, so do I. Here in Ixia, the punishment for murder is death. And now I wait for the hangman’s noose.
But the same law that condemns me may also save me. Ixia’s food taster—chosen to ensure that the Commander’s food is not poisoned—has died. And by law, the next prisoner who is scheduled to be executed—me—must be offered the position.

Source: I purchased a Kindle copy.

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Review:

**** Originally posted Mar 2016****

Poison Study was great! I absolutely loved the story. In some ways, it was similar to Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which is great because I’m constantly on the lookout for books of that caliber. Yelena was a prisoner and was to be executed for murder. Under the military regime, things were even, yet not necessarily fair in the way that we understand fairness. Murder was wrong, regardless of why you did it, even if you had a good reason. It was the same for everything. Punishment was to be exacted for every infraction, even not wearing your uniform to work, regardless of why. However, the next prisoner on the chopping block was meant to have the opportunity to be a food taster for the Commander. Luckily, Yelena was next in line and was given a shot at life, with restraints.

Yelena was a likable character. She was fierce, but good at heart. She learned poisons under Valek, who taught her what to look for and what the effects were to various types of poison so that she could effectively do her job. The Commander was always under some threat of murder and poison, so Yelena had to taste everything. Her position was, of course, one with a very high mortality rate.

The book was full of magic and mayhem, with lovable characters. I cared about each of Yelena’s friends and people who attempted to help her. While I disliked the way the regime was set up, I understood why it was so drastic after the way magicians ran the kingdom previously. I also respected Commander Ambrose. He was soft when he needed to be and seemed to trust Valek, who extended that trust onto Yelena.

I enjoyed the slow romance in the book as well and I liked that it wasn’t all front and center, but kind of played out in the background.

I definitely recommend Poison Study and I will read the sequels. It was a beautifully written and enchanting YA fantasy and I can’t wait to find out what will happen to Yelena next.

 

REREAD 2017 Updates: I decided to reread the book so I could recap before starting the sequel and I still loved it just as much as the first time! It’s kind of a nice story to read if you’re looking for something like Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas because Yelena and Celaena have some similar traits and backgrounds. 

 

Star 4

Review – Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

Into the Water

By Paula Hawkins

SummaryA single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

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Source: I purchased a hardcover from BOTM Club

Review:

Into the Water was slightly disappointing. I feel like I had middle of the road expectations for it, too. The synopsis sounded like it would be intriguing and perfect for what I enjoy in thrillers, but I also knew that, while The Girl on the Train was decent, it wasn’t a novel I found to be deserving of the praise and hype it got. Often, the second book after an explosive hit can be kind of disappointing, so I mentally prepared myself for that, too.

The book was actually not very well executed. The plot was there and it was a good one had it been more of page turner, but there were way too many characters to keep track of from the very beginning. While all of them had a purpose in the end, I can’t help but feel like there could’ve been a better way to tie it together. It wasn’t that the characters were unlikeable, though they were, but they were all just sort of flat and difficult to care about. I didn’t hate them or like them enough. They were just.. pawns in a larger plot. 

It’s almost like the author wanted to expand on the theme of the first book and how memory can be tricky, but didn’t want to be accused of trying the same thing by creating an unreliable narrator, so she just made every character somewhat of a narrator in a way that seemed artificial. It probably would’ve been better if she’d stuck with a smaller cast of characters and created situations with strong dialogue to include the other characters and their motivations better. 

I realize I’m being a bit harsh, but I read a lot of thrillers with similar themes and typically can’t get enough. I think there are a ton of talented authors who grasp the small town with buried secrets in better ways than this book did. It was so disappointing that whenever I read the synopsis, I’m excited all over again and then realize the pages inside of the book just don’t capture any of the descriptions used. It wasn’t satisfying or urgent at all. It was slow, like trudging through mud just to get to the good stuff. 

Star 2

Review – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters

by Francesca Zappia

SummaryEighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimonaand Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate

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Review:

Before I state my opinion, I’ll say that this book was a huge Owlcrate fan favorite. A lot of subscribers enjoyed this book and I completely and totally understand why. It’s a great book, short, sweet, and probably very easy for many introverted people to relate to. So my low-ish rating is more of personal opinion and not necessarily an indicator that this is a bad book.

I think this book is easy for a lot of readers and introverts to relate to and that ability to relate is what makes it so enjoyable. For me, I am kind of different because, while I do enjoy escape into books, I am not the kind of introvert who doesn’t enjoy real life, even when I don’t fit in. I feel like becoming comfortable in my own skin is important to me, even as tempting as escaping into myself tends to be, and it’s always kind of made it difficult for me to relate to the types of introverts who prefer to escape. This book is for those people. For me, it just wasn’t a book I identified with, though the author did create characters I wanted to root for even if I couldn’t relate.

On another note, I also dislike and do not participate in fan-fiction, so there’s another thing that other people probably loved and could relate to that I just couldn’t. I will likely never pick up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (though I love her other books!) just because I know it’s not my cup of tea. I didn’t realize that this book would be about a fandom in that sense. Eliza created her world, but I didn’t expect the online fandom presence or the existence of a fan-fiction writer. And this definitely hindered my enjoyment of the book, though it didn’t really bother me until the end. I rooted for Eliza and Wallace for the majority of the book, but his behavior regarding his fan-fiction really bothered me and that’s partly because I think it was a crappy attitude about it but also because of how I feel about fan-fiction in general, published fan-fiction, and the rights of fan-fiction authors. (I’m sorry, but no author or artist or any person should ever be made to feel like they exist to give other people inspiration even if they do frequently inspire others. You are not an inspiration factory and if someone can’t get their life together it’s not your fault no matter what. This message WAS in the book, but the end of the book kind of rushed through some of that and I don’t think that was as clear as it could’ve been.)

And lastly, while I didn’t relate to Eliza, I felt like I understood her throughout much of the book. I was completely loving the book for at least 70% of it because the author did a great job of making me empathize with and love Eliza and “get” her situation. But once her identity was revealed and she had a panic attack, she generally stopped participating in life on and offline, and I just didn’t feel like the rest of the book handled the healing process very well. It glossed over a lot of it and I wanted the book to have more of a focus on overcoming and dealing with anxiety instead of just kind of skirting around it. While her family didn’t necessarily understand her focus on her comic and they finally understood it once they realized how big it was, the fact that it was so successful did not and should not mean that Eliza’s behavior was okay. There’s a middle ground there that just wasn’t obviously pointed out. I feel like the message, without meaning to, kind of sounded like “it’s okay to let anxiety control your life if you just do something successful.” The book did start to go in a more positive direction towards the end, but it just wasn’t as detailed or in depth as the whole rest of the book, so it just fell short for me and made the actual message it was trying to give a little less clear.

If you love comics, graphic novels, the creation of art, fan-fiction, and/or characters who are more comfortable online than in person and find that easy to relate to, this book is absolutely awesome and I definitely recommend it. But it’s not without flaws.

Star 3