Quick Review: THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster/Faber)

An endearing tale of adolescent attraction and distraction

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.

I very much enjoyed this novel. The Impossible Fortress has a little bit of everything: young love, a daring heist, some mystery, and a fair amount of nostalgia. It is also very well written. If you’re looking for an amusing coming-of-age novel, then I’d recommend this. (Especially if you are in your 30s/40s…) Continue reading

Review: ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS by Elan Mastai (Doubleday)

MastaiE-AllOurWrongTodaysUSAn excellent debut novel, one of the first must reads of 2017

There’s no such thing as the life you’re “supposed” to have.

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed… because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career and — maybe, just maybe — his soulmate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future — our future — is supposed to be.

Elan Mastai is the writer of, among other things, The F Word — a movie set in Toronto that I found utterly charming and amusing. When I discovered that he’d written a novel, I immediately tried to get a review copy. I eventually did (thank you, Doubleday!), and I am delighted to report that the novel did not disappoint. All Our Wrong Todays is an endearing, amusing, thought-provoking novel. Certainly, it is one of the year’s first must-reads. Continue reading

Review: THE FUTURES by Anna Pitoniak (Lee Boudreaux Books/Michael Joseph)

PitoniakA-TheFuturesUSAn interesting, engaging novel about a young couple whose hopes and dreams must confronting cold reality in New York…

Julia and Evan fall in love as undergraduates at Yale. For Evan, a scholarship student from a rural Canadian town, Yale is a whole new world, and Julia — blond, beautiful, and rich — fits perfectly into the future he’s envisioned for himself. After graduation, and on the eve of the great financial meltdown of 2008, they move together to New York City, where Evan lands a job at a hedge fund. But Julia, whose privileged upbringing grants her an easy but wholly unsatisfying job with a nonprofit, feels increasingly shut out of Evan’s secretive world.

With the market crashing and banks failing, Evan becomes involved in a high-stakes deal at work — a deal that, despite the assurances of his Machiavellian boss, begins to seem more than slightly suspicious. Meanwhile, Julia reconnects with someone from her past who offers a glimpse of a different kind of live. As the economy craters, and as Evan and Julia spin into their separate orbits, they each find that they are capable of much more — good and bad — than they’d ever imagined.

This novel has received an incredible amount of early buzz — I’ve seen it mentioned and praised since early 2016. Naturally, this made me curious, and I was lucky enough to get an eARC a little while ago. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-written novel set in New York. Continue reading

Interview with ANNA SMAILL

smailla-authorpicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Anna Smaill?

I’m the author of The Chimes, a dystopian novel about a world dominated by music. The Chimes is my first novel, though I’ve also published a collection of poetry – The Violinist in Spring. I spent many of my formative years studying the violin, and music has been a big influence on both my poetry and fiction. I also currently teach New Zealand literature in the English programme at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand. My husband Carl Shuker is also a novelist.

Your World Fantasy Award-winning novel, The Chimes, published by Quercus in North America, is out now in paperback. It looks rather fascinating: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The Chimes takes place in a world where music has replaced the written word, has become a force of communication, and is the highest form of intellectual and spiritual pursuit. The book explores music as a totalitarian force, and asks how something so beautiful might also be a source of violence and control. It is a standalone novel. I haven’t entirely ruled out returning to the world of the book, largely because I would love to check in on the two key characters Simon and Lucien and see how they’re getting on. This is largely nostalgia, though. I felt a real sense of loss when I finished the novel, and I still miss the sense of immersion in that world. Continue reading

Review: DON’T I KNOW YOU? by Marni Jackson (Flatiron Books)

don’t i know you? comp18.epsA peculiar, interesting novel about self and celebrity

What if some of the artists we feel as if we know — Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Bill Murray — turned up in the course of our daily lives? 

This is what happens to Rose McEwan, an ordinary woman who keeps having strange encounters with famous people. In this engrossing, original novel-in-stories, we follow her life from age 17, when she takes a summer writing course led by a young John Updike, through her first heartbreak (witnessed by Joni Mitchell) on the island of Crete, through her marriage, divorce, and a canoe trip with Taylor Swift, Leonard Cohen and Karl Ove Knausgaard. (Yes, read on.)

With wit and insight, Marni Jackson takes a world obsessed with celebrity and turns it on its head. In Don’t I Know You?, she shows us how fame is just another form of fiction, and how, in the end, the daily dramas of an ordinary woman’s life can be as captivating and poignant as any luminary tell-all.

This is a peculiar novel. Blending a fictional life story with real-life celebrity cameos, the story has a lot to say about how we see famous people, what we expect of them, and also what we expect of and how we see ourselves. Don’t I Know You? isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Continue reading

Quick Review: DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch (Crown/Macmillan)

CrouchB-DarkMatterUSA gripping multiverse thriller

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined — one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

There was so much buzz surrounding this book in the lead-up to its publication. So much, in fact, that I started to get nervous. Having now finished the novel, though, it’s very easy to see why so many people have been recommending it: it’s superb. Crouch, author of the Wayward Pines novels, has penned a fantastic sci-fi mystery. Continue reading

Upcoming: ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS by Elan Mastai (Dutton)

MastaiE-AllOurWrongTodaysUSHaving just finished Blake Crouch’s excellent Dark Matter, the synopsis for Elan Mastai‘s tale of altered reality/history caught my attention (apparently, I’m in the mood for this type of novel, now). After doing some further digging, I also learned that Mastai wrote the movie The F Word, which I very much enjoyed (starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan and Adam Driver, it was both endearing and funny).

All Our Wrong Today’s sounds really interesting:

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed… because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and — maybe, just maybe — his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future — our future — is supposed to be.

All Our Wrong Todays is about the versions of ourselves that we shed and grow into over time. It is a story of friendship and family, of unexpected journeys and alternate paths, and of love in its multitude of forms. Filled with humor and heart, and saturated with insight and intelligence and a mind-bending talent for invention, this novel signals the arrival of a major talent.

All Our Wrong Todays is published by Dutton, on February 7th, 2017. I’m really looking forward to this one.