‘The Impossible Fortress’ by Jason Rekulak

the-impossible-fortress-rekulakThe Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is a story of fourteen-year-old love in the late 1980’s: mostly love of girls and computers.

Billy Marvin is a fourteen-year-old closet videogame designer who is failing all of his classes because he spends all of his time in front of his Commodore 64. Billy is content programming and playing his own video games while failing his classes and talking about women’s breasts with his two best friends, that is until he meets Mary Zelinksy. Mary is the daughter of the local convenient store owner, and it is Mary who tells Billy about a video game design contest for kids under 18. Billy couldn’t be more excited, except for the fact that Mary tells him this while he is in the middle of trying to buy a Playboy magazine from Mary’s father. Needless to say, he leaves without the Playboy.

After this life changing event, Billy is pulled into a game of lies and deceit as he simultaneously tries to program a game with Mary, plot a plan to steal the Playboy magazine from Mary’s father’s store, and all while trying to keep his grades up. The life of a fourteen-year-old nerd.

While Rekulak does a fantastic job of keeping readers engaged and on their toes with his fast-paced prose and continual plot wrenches, where he falls short is with his gender normed stock characters who uphold all the worst and most common gendered stereotypes. Rekulak seems to argue that all young boys are horn dogs and all women care about is making themselves look good and getting laid.

Part of the issue is that Billy is telling the story from the future. So, not only at fourteen did he have the thoughts and desires in his head that he did, but looking back on it twenty odd years later, Billy thinks boys are just boys and they all think the same – they’re all jerks. Though Billy, and even some other characters, have a few redeeming qualities, overall their blanket stereotypical actions detract from the reader’s ability to ever get very close to them.

The Impossible Fortress will be released by Simon and Schuster on February 7, 2017. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore today.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a poetically charged tale of morality and love in wartime, as well as an exploration into the value of life even in the darkest of times. Told in the present-tense with a switchback narrative that guides the reader between different stages of past and present, All the Light We Cannot See mainly follows two characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, in the mid to late 1940’s.

Marie-Laure is a young blind girl living in France at the beginning of World War Two, while Werner is a perfectly Aryan German youth. Worlds apart and yet closer to one another than even the reader at first realizes, Marie-Laure and Werner spend the pages of the novel navigating their youth, their familial struggles, and their passions in life in the midst of wartime. Though we at first meet both characters later in their lives, we eventually trace them back to their childhood: Marie-Laure with her father in Paris and Werner in a mining town orphanage in Germany. However, within mere pages we follow Marie-Laure back to where we met her at her Uncle’s home in Saint-Malo and Werner to Schulpforta, a school for Nazi youth and eventually into the ranks.

Marie-Laure despite her blindness is a master of navigation and has a penchant for sea creatures and reading. Werner, not at all aligned with Hitler’s plan for the Germany or the world, sees Nazism not only as an escape from the mine that stole his father’s life but also as a gateway into engineering and science: his two greatest passions. From the outset Marie-Laure is a strong-willed character with a purity unparalleled by nearly any other character. She is constantly worrying about others, trying to do the right thing, and urging those around her into happier states of being through her optimism and persistence.

Werner, on the other hand, finds himself constantly silenced by a fear to act out of the ordinary and to be punished for doing so. While Marie-Laure was nearly born an outcast, Werner, with his hair of snow and eyes of blue struggles to remain neutral and invisible among the crowd so that he can pursue his passions even if at the expense of others. He does his best to protect those around him, such as his younger sister Jutta and his friend Fredrick; however, he does so passively, never actually standing up for either of them or acting on their behalves. Though rattled with guilt for his inaction throughout the novel, it is not until Werner has aged into his teens and experienced the more palpable horrors of war that he begins to act on his desire to do good.

Questions of value both metaphoric and literal are continually raised in the novel as Doerr prompts the reader to think about what riches really mean. The riches of gemstones, of family, and of the preciousness of life are examined by nearly every character and understood in a different way by each. Despite risking his life for a rare blue diamond, Marie-Laure’s father at one point comments that “a diamond…is only a piece of carbon compressed in the bowels of the earth for eons and driven to the surface in a volcanic pipe.” Of all the riches in the world, which is worth living for, dying for, fighting for?

Doerr suggests that perhaps it is all the light that we cannot see which, though invisible, guides us through the toughest of times to find purpose, happiness and rare moments of perfected and rich bliss. “All of light is invisible” Doerr notes, and yet it is there, always there, manifesting itself in different forms: in reflection, in colors, in our imagination, in dreams. Marie-Laure, the one character who is literally without light throughout nearly the entire novel proves to be the heroine: untouched by the darkness that has surrounded her.

A beautifully woven tale about finding light even in the darkest of places, Anthony Doerr’s New York Times Best Seller and Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See is both inspiring and moving with a momentum that keeps you reading page after page.

Published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All the Light We Cannot See is available at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

“Etta and Otto and Russell and James” by Emma Hooper

Etta and Otto and Russell and James Book Review.Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an adventure into heartache and love, into loss and fulfillment, and into the inevitability of time’s passing. Written by Emma Hooper, the novel spans a wide range of human experience to encapsulate the profound joys and sadness that are found in simply living.

Etta has decided to leave the farm where she lives with her husband Otto in order to see the ocean, an element of nature that in all of her 83 years she has never experienced. She leaves Otto a letter detailing where she has gone, and asks him not to worry, as she will do her best to remember to return.

Within pages, the reader experiences the gyration between past and present that serves as the textual framework for Hooper’s novel. The author develops her characters in a backward, inside twisted arch that allows for greater understanding and empathy on the part of the reader. Hooper guides us through the intricacies of each character’s past, so that we can become acquainted with the patterns and traumas that have shaped the elderly trio we meet in the novel’s beginning. This trio is completed by Russell, the Vogel’s neighbor and childhood friend.

Though the novel at first seems straightforward and thoroughly candid, we soon find that there is a magical realism that permeates the pages of Etta and Otto and Russell and James. This magic presents itself at different points in the novel as talking coyotes and flying children among other things. These elements perfectly capture the arch of aging as they are transformed from childhood imaginings to the beginning stages of dementia. At times these magical elements can become confusing or distracting, especially when it’s not entirely clear what purpose they are serving. However, as mentioned above, the allusions that these fantastical elements make lie perfectly with the novels themes and threads. To thoroughly enjoy the novel, readers must recognize that not every moment will be methodically fleshed out or explained.

After all, the fissures that Hooper creates in the narrative are what give the text its richness and depth. Her minimalistic style mirrors the letters Etta received from Otto during the war: full of holes. Holes that characters attempt to fill ceaselessly, holes that Etta feels she must go to the ocean to fill, literal holes in memory, and metaphorical holes in hearts. The book is littered with these voids that call to be filled, some of which can never be filled, and some of which characters are too afraid to even attempt filling.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a story about letting go; a story about cutting ties with all of the things that don’t serve you (including feelings of guilt), about living each moment fully, and about embracing everything around you with love. Though at times heart wrenching, the novel encourages readers to treasure and recognize the meaningful experiences that make up a life, even if those memories and experiences might be slightly, or profoundly, tragic.

Published by Simon and Schuster, Etta and Otto and Russell and James was released January 2015 and can be found at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews by Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from NetGalley for a fair and honest review of the text.