“The Impossible Fortress” by Jason Rekulak

This isn’t the cover of the book. It’s the cover of the ARC I received, which is way more awesome than the book’s cover.

I was surprised that I enjoyed this one.

Goodreads 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. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

I believe I requested The Impossible Fortress from a giveaway listed in a Shelf Awareness newsletter and didn’t pay attention to the description of the story when I did so. I say this because in addition to being surprised when I received the book in the mail, I was also a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the story.

The story is set in 1987, a year before I was born. I know little of the 1980s and since this story seems like it will include many pop culture references from that time, I thought I would feel lost as I read. But my worries were superfluous. There were some pop culture references in the story, but they didn’t appear so frequently to prevent me from enjoying the novel.

“My mother was convinced I’d die young.”

I was hooked from the first sentence. The story is narrated by an older, more mature version of our protagonist Billy Marvin, whose voice held me captive throughout. We quickly learn about his living situation — poor, but comfortable with a single mom — and his standing among his peers at school — unpopular. His only friends, Alf and Clark, are likewise unpopular: Alf is said to resemble the puppet that shares his name; and Clark is attractive but very self-conscious because the fingers of his left hand are fused together into a “crab-like pincer.” The boys spend their days hanging out after school at Billy’s house since his mom works late; but in his free time, Billy also enjoys building video games, which comes in handy when they decide to procure a copy of Playboy from a shop in their conservative community.

The majority of story’s entertainment comes from the boys’ attempts to get the magazine. The boys concoct a variety of hijinks plans, each more outlandish than the one before, that always go awry. However, as funny as I found these, I sometimes got annoyed that the characters don’t seem to learn from their past mistakes.

The book’s cover.

Actually, apart from Billy, the characters don’t show much development. I’m mainly thinking of Alf and Clark here. They spend so much time around Billy that we tend to focus on them as well; but while we see Billy mature, Alf and Clark continue to make the same choices and mistakes over and over again. Sure this is comedic and fits the story’s light tone, but after a while it began to seem repetitious and annoying like their plans.

Mary, however, is an exception. For one of the boys’ many schemes, Billy has to seduce the shopkeeper’s daughter, Mary, into helping them break in and get a copy of the magazine. However, Billy falls in love with Mary and later has doubts about tricking her. Mary is a likable character. She is quirky and geeky and is unapologetic about her avid interest in gaming and coding. I enjoyed reading about her and Billy steadily growing fonder of each other and expressing their feelings through the games they build together. However, there were times when Mary’s interactions with Billy were awkward and made me confused about her intentions. The reason why is a major plot twist that I wasn’t too crazy about, but I liked the change in Mary’s character afterward because we then realize how stressed she was by her situation.

Though I enjoyed the little quest the boys went on so that Billy could regain Mary’s favor (it’s hilarious because of how similar it is to fairytale quest), I thought that portion went on for too long and could have been shortened. However, I do like that despite all that has happened, Billy’s affections for Mary remained the same.

A major thing Rekulak did that I loved was showing how much computer technology has advanced since the late 1980s. My favorite part of the book was when Billy mentions how long it would take Mary to respond to his email: “electronic mail conversations often stretched over weeks or even months. It was like casting a message in a bottle; there was no way of knowing when she’d receive it.”

Overall: ★★☆☆☆ 1/2

The story was enjoyable, but it was just an okay read. The plot was repetitious in some spots and drawn out in others and some characters could use more development.

The 80s references don’t get in the way of the story so if you’re not an 80s baby, don’t worry that you’ll be lost while reading it.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I don’t read many YA contemporary novels, but I think if you enjoyed Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, then you’ll probably enjoy this as well. The stories aren’t similar in any way, however the humor in both can be distasteful to some folks. I didn’t mind it.

Book Haul #33: Birthday Edition

It’s been a while since the celebration of my birthday and many of these were bought way before it came; but, since no one got me any books, I’ll count all these as my presents. 🙂

National Geographic: Wonders of the World
Scientific American MIND: The Mad Science of Creativity
Grammar Girl: The Ultimate Writing Guide for Students
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

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Top Ten Tuesday #23: Short Stuff

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic:

Books that can be read in one sitting, or in a day, or when you’re short on time

Since this meme kicked off my blogging spree last week, I’ve decided to continue with it for a time. The following consists of 10 books and comics I’ve read that I’ve either completed in a day or could have been completed in a day if life’s chores hadn’t interrupted me.

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Weekend Reads #68: Cinderella

Weekend Reads is a weekly post in which I discuss a variety of topics and mention the books I plan to read on the weekend.

This weekend’s post is inspired by a Weekly Writer Wisdom post I saw on Sara Letourneau’s blog that asks:

What stories (novels, myths, legends, etc.) have taken up residence in your soul? How or why do you think they moved you to this degree? Has a story ever inspired you to do something new or different, change your worldview, etc.? Is this something you hope to accomplish with your own work?

Instead of focusing on several books/stories that have resonated with me, I’ll instead discuss one that has stuck with me since the first time I read it as a child, Cinderella.

We’re all familiar with this fairy tale about a girl who’s abused by her evil step-mother, attends a ball with the help of her fairy god mother, and is later rescued from her horrible life by a charming prince. I can’t recall having the story read to me, but I do recall reading it over and over again as a kid.

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Wishes for My TBR Pile #20: More New Discoveries

Wishes for My TBR Pile is a monthly post where I list and sometimes discuss the books I’ve discovered and would like to get and read.

These lists come in handy when I’m at the bookstore and can’t decide on what to purchase (though I really don’t need to buy any more books). I often get one or two of the books after featuring them in these lists because discussing them here helps to refresh my memory and interest in them.

And since my last post, I bought Klaus by Grant Morrison, illus. by Dan Mora. Actually, I placed an order for it soon after completing that post. Klaus is a comic book that reimagines the tale of Santa Clause. The art looks pretty cool and I love the book’s overall presentation: It’s a hardback with gold-leaf edges. It’s so beautiful. I hope to read it sometime this year.

Here are some more books I’ve discovered:

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“The Curse of Chalion” by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ve often heard of Lois McMaster Bujold, but have never been tempted to pick up one of her books until I read Jonathan’s review of the Curse of Chalion.

I’m immediately drawn to fantasy novels in which religion factors greatly. It’s not something I often see in the fantasy novels I read. Often, religion is a slight thing in the society and not a major part of the world building. It certainly doesn’t often affect magic, unless it is to denounce the use of magic. However, in the Curse of Chalion, magic is greatly influenced by religion and the gods.

Side note:

I really enjoyed this book and it’s now one of my favorites, which means I went overboard with this reflection piece. It’s long ass fuck. Skip to the Overall section and read some of the quotes for a quickie.

Quick summary:

The Curse of Chalion is a high fantasy novel told using a limited third-person narrator from the perspective of our protagonist, Lupe dy Cazaril, a former soldier and courtier who returns home to the provincar of Baocia (basically a dukedom) mentally and physically scarred after his serving aboard a Roknari slave galley. Roknar is a country to the north of Chalion.

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Top 5 Wednesday #15: Catching Up

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme created by GingerReadsLainey and now managed by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. For more information on this meme, visit the Goodreads group.

Like the Top Ten Tuesday meme, I haven’t done one of these in a long time. I’ve decided to return to it for now because they are helpful in providing blogging topics when one is in a blogging slump, which is how I feel at the moment. It’s hard to find the time and energy to think and write.

I don’t plan to do all the topics I missed because that would take forever. Instead, I’ll start with last week’s topic. I enjoyed reading and watching people’s response to it. In honor of the Booktube SFF Awards, last week’s topic was:

Favorite science fiction & fantasy books

Of course, it’s hard to minimize my favorites to just 5 books; so instead, I’ll mention 5 great fantasy books that immediately came to mind when I saw the topic. I won’t include the Harry Potter books because we all already know how awesome they are.

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