The Impossible Fortress

the-impossible-fortress

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (General Fiction)

Although this is classified as Adult General Fiction by the publisher, it is a coming-of-age story that could easily be Young Adult. The narrator is a fourteen-year-old boy in 1987, and his “impossible fortress” is both his homemade computer game and a fourteen-year-old girl.

Billy loves computer programming and he also loves TV’s Vanna White. When the latter appears on the cover of a Playboy magazine, Billy and his fellow underage buddies will go to extremes to get their own copies.Their elaborate plan is to break into the local typewriter repair shop that also sells magazines and newfangled home computers, which means they will need the security code. Billy makes friends with the owner’s daughter, Mary, in order to learn the code, not realizing that she’s a whiz at computer programming and a kindred spirit. As the attraction between them grows, he’s faced with a moral dilemma amidst increasing pressure from his friends to deliver the code. However, the story is more than the question of will he risk his budding romance for a magazine, and that makes it hard to discuss here without giving away too much.

For those who remember the 80s, Commodore 64s, or the “olden days” of early computer games, the author provides lots of authentic forays into popular music of the time and the awkwardness of early home computer technology. I thought it was over the top that the boys would undertake such a complicated plan to break and enter just for a magazine, but maybe fourteen-year-old boys are that desperate and that dumb or maybe it was more about the challenge of pulling it off. I also thought that Mary’s flirty programming notes to Billy seemed out of character once we learned her real situation. And, by telling us early on that Billy’s Impossible Fortress game didn’t win the competition, the author took away the tension of waiting to find out. Still, the book was enjoyable because Billy is a fun and believable narrator who made me laugh and the information about old-time computers was interesting.

Bella gives The Impossible Fortress four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: Clean

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Impossible Fortress will be released on February 7, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

 

Heartborn

heartborn

Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

History of Wolves

history-of-wolves

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Literary Fiction)

History of Wolves is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that grabs hold of the reader on many levels and does not let go. Emily Fridlund’s descriptive prose carries one into the wooded reaches of northern Minnesota to experience first-hand the isolation and loneliness, not only of this remote area but also of fifteen-year-old Linda who lives there with her aging hippie parents. Born into a now-defunct commune and raised in a cabin in the woods, Linda is an outsider in her school and pretty much of a loner. When a married couple with a small boy moves into a summer home across the lake, she befriends the young wife and agrees to babysit their four-year-old. But something’s not quite right, and Linda, in her naïveté, doesn’t know how to respond.

The story is narrated by Linda as a twenty-six-year-old, and as she includes more details about her dysfunctional family and a questionable teacher-student relationship in her school, she also makes occasional reference to “the trial” and questions “they” would later ask her. Something bad is going to happen, and we are skillfully taken there while learning to care more and more about Linda and those around her. A sense of foreboding grows until we realize what’s going to happen, and then we wait anxiously to learn how the trial will play out.

The author poses questions that remain with the reader: What’s the difference between what we consider doing and what we end up doing? At what point, if any, are we obligated to take responsibility for the well-being of someone else? What do we owe our friends in terms of loyalty? Linda’s need for connection and acknowledgement from others colors her view of what’s happening around her, and her inexperience with life and desire to please leave her without the wherewithal to act appropriately. But what would we have done under the same circumstances?

Grandma gives History of Wolves five stars. 5 stars

History of Wolves is scheduled for release on January 3, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unfolding

Unfolding

Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen (Young Adult Fiction)

The cover of this book did not grab me, but the story sure did. It’s a well-written, gripping novel that kept me reading to find out how it all would, well, unfold.

Jonah is a high school senior who suffers from both a severe, body-twisting case of scoliosis and from epileptic seizures of ever-increasing intensity. His self-deprecating sense of humor helps him make it through life and also makes him a captivating narrator as he tells this tale of the secrets hidden in his hometown of Gullary, Oklahoma.

Much of what happens centers around Jonah’s eighteen-year-old next-door neighbor and love interest, Stormi, who was literally dropped into Gullary as an infant by a tornado. Stormi senses things before they happen, which makes her highly suspect in a small town that already considers her to be “unnatural,” and when a tragedy occurs, the townspeople blame her. Jonah’s love for Stormi — and his ability to protect her — are put to the test as things heat up.

I found it refreshing to read about a hero who wasn’t a paragon of physical perfection. His seizures occur at inopportune times, his twisted young body is an embarrassment, and yet he perseveres. His friend Arthur displays autistic tendencies that make it impossible for him to be dishonest, but also result in some creative problem-solving. The story has a few sinister characters, some mystery, some tragedy, and plenty of interesting plot twists that held me captive. I could feel the dry, gritty heat of summer in Oklahoma and feel the creepiness of the town’s abandoned maximum security prison that also plays a part in the story. At the same time, Jonah’s optimistic approach to life and his sense of humor kept the narration light enough to be enjoyable and full of hope.

Grandma gives Unfolding five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Unfolding is scheduled for release on January 1, 2017, and is available only on pre-order.

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The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (YA Fiction)

After finishing this book, it’s all I can think about. It was an amazing read.

Seventeen-year-old Lennie’s older sister, Bailey, was also her best friend, and now Bailey has died unexpectedly from an unknown heart condition. Lennie doesn’t know how to handle her terrible grief. She writes poems on scraps of paper, paper cups, napkins, walls, trees, and more that give the reader insights to how close she was to Bailey, and she also makes some mistakes as she tries to relate to the two attractive guys who come into her life because of Bailey’s death. In the process she comes to learn a lot about herself, her sister, and the quirky grandmother who has been their caregiver ever since their mother abandoned them as little kids.

Though the storyline is not something I can directly relate to, I related easily with the main character, Lennie. She goes through the process of grieving the passing of her sister in a way that really makes you sympathize with her. She’s short on self-confidence and finds herself in some pretty difficult positions, which she handles with a sense of self-awareness that is sometimes funny and often sad. It was so easy to fall in love with all of the characters. I would go so far as to say that it is my favorite book at the moment.

Bella gives The Sky is Everywhere five stars. 5 stars

Potty-mouth Index: Clean

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The Birr Elixir

Birr Elixir

The Birr Elixir by Jo Sparkes (YA Fantasy)

This short book is the first in a series called The Legend of the Gamesmen. It caught my interest right away, and I read it in one afternoon. It’s a fantasy with princes, potions, good guys and bad guys, and a team of gallant young gamesmen engaged in a competitive game called Comet.

The female lead character, Marra, has inherited a book of potions from the deceased herbalist with whom she was apprenticing, and among the potions is an elixir that helps the gamesmen win against tough odds.  Male leads include the captain of the Comet team and a prince traveling incognito who joins up with Marra and the gamesmen. I suspect this will turn into a love triangle in coming books. Meanwhile nasties have kidnapped the prince once and are trying to do it again, so there’s lots going on.

The writing is very good and the story is quick-moving and fun. I enjoyed the cleverness of the game the author has invented and how it is scored. Things are a little confusing because this book leaves some basic questions unanswered, like why the nasties want to kidnap the prince, which you might expect to find out before the first book ends. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the story, and since the book is so short, moving on to book two, The Agben School, is an easy fix.

Bella gives The Birr Elixir four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Last Seen Leaving

Last Seen Leaving

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig (YA Mystery/Thriller)

Fans of John Green will love Last Seen Leaving. Flynn Doherty, the fifteen-year-old narrator of the story, is laugh-out-loud funny even as he struggles with two major dilemmas: the disappearance of his girlfriend, January, and his own personal secret that complicates his life and makes him appear to be a suspect in her disappearance. At first, I thought this was just another version of Looking for Alaska or Paper Towns, but it’s so much more.

Caleb Roehrig has created believable, likable characters who immediately drew me into their world and made me care about what was happening to them. At the same time, he introduces plenty of potential suspects as the person responsible for January’s disappearance and sends Flynn on a mission to identify that person. As Flynn learns more and more about January’s “other” life, he’s filled with doubts about how well he knew her, but he hasn’t been completely honest with her, either.

This book kept me reading non-stop until I finished it. I loved Flynn’s take on what was happening around and to him, and his similes continuously had me chuckling out loud. The author also did a great job of building the tension and creating a cliff-hanger, then inserting a little relevant backstory to prolong the suspense before getting back to the action. I can see myself quickly becoming a fan of Caleb Roehrig novels.

Bella gives Last Seen Leaving five stars. 5 stars

Potty-mouth Index: MODERATE  

Grandma says: Not all kids talk this way, and basically these were not tough kids, so leaving out such casual use of the “f” word would not have diminished the authenticity of the story.

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is available for pre-order with release scheduled for October 4, 2016.

 

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