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

Quick Review: THE CUTAWAY by Christina Kovac (37Ink)

kovacc-cutawayusAn interesting new thriller

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

The Cutaway follows a television producer, as she investigates the disappearance of a beautiful Georgetown lawyer. Forced to navigate competing ambitions, entrenched Washington mentalities and suspicions, and maybe something deadlier, it’s an interesting look at the relationship and working practices of the media in Washington, D.C. Continue reading

Upcoming 2017… Saga Press

upcoming2017-sagapress

I still have a few more of these Upcoming 2017 posts to do. While browsing Edelweiss catalogues, I was reminded of Saga Press novels I was looking forward to, so here are just a few that caught my eye.

Featuring: Mishell Baker, Mike Brooks, Zachary Brown, Kat Howard (x2), Stina Leicht, Michael Moorcock, R.E. Stearns, Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu, Joe Zieja

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Quick Audiobook Reviews: Bryan Cranston, John le Carré, Mitchell & Webb and Tony Robinson

cranstonb-alifeinpartsBryan Cranston, A LIFE IN PARTS (Simon & Schuster)

Bryan Cranston landed his first role at seven, when his father, a struggling actor and director, cast him in a commercial. Soon Bryan was haunting the local movie theater, reenacting scenes with his older brother. Acting was clearly his destiny – until one day his father disappeared. 

As a young man on a classic cross-country motorcycle trip, he found himself stranded at a rest area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. To pass the time, he read a tattered copy of Hedda Gabler, and in a flash he found himself face-to-face with his original calling. Suddenly he thought this was what he would do with the rest of his life. Act. 

In his riveting memoir, A Life in Parts, Cranston traces his journey from chaotic childhood to his dramatic epiphany to megastardom and a cultlike following by revisiting the many parts he’s played on camera (astronaut, dentist, candy bar spokesperson, president of the United States, etc.) and off (paperboy, farmhand, dating consultant, murder suspect, son, brother, lover, husband, father). 

With great humour and humility, Cranston chronicles his unlikely rise from a soap opera regular to a recurring spot on Seinfeld. He recalls his run as the well-meaning goofball, Hal, on Malcolm in the Middle, and he gives a bracing account of his challenging run on Broadway as President Lyndon Johnson, pushing himself to the limit as he prepared for a tour de force that would win him a Tony to accompany his four Emmys. And, of course, Cranston dives deep into the grittiest, most fascinating details of his greatest role, explaining how he searched inward for the personal darkness that would help him create one of the most riveting performances ever captured on screen: Walter White, chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin in Breaking Bad. 

Discussing his failures as few men do, describing his work as few actors can, Cranston has much to say about innate talent and its benefits, challenges and proper maintenance, but ultimately A Life in Parts is about the necessity and transformative power of hard work.

This was a fantastic memoir. Brilliantly narrated by the author, of course. He’s had a pretty interesting life, coming to acting relatively late, and working his way up from small parts, to recurring parts, to the epic smash that was Breaking Bad. Not as much of the book was dedicated to the latter show, and was better for it — Cranston is a great storyteller, and his life has been pretty interesting. Readers will learn of his process, his dedication to his work (though also lack of pretension), his confidence in his colleagues, and also plenty of the vagaries of the entertainment industry. A Life in Parts is a really good, engaging biography. Highly recommended (even if you’re not that familiar with his work).

Published in print by Scribner (US)/Orion (UK)

On Audible

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LeCarreJ-PigeonTunnelUSHCJohn le Carré, THE PIGEON TUNNEL (Penguin)

‘Out of the secret world I once knew, I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit. First comes the imagining, then the search for reality. Then back to the imagining, and to the desk where I’m sitting now.’ 

The Pigeon Tunnel, John le Carré’s memoir and his first work of nonfiction, is a thrilling journey into the worlds of his ‘secret sharers’ — the men and women who inspired some of his most enthralling novels — and a testament to the author’s extraordinary engagement with the last half century. The listener is swept along not just by the chilling winds of the Cold War or by the author’s frightening journeys into places of terrible violence but, most importantly, by the author’s inimitable voice. 

In this astonishing work, we see our world, both public and private, through the eyes of one of this country’s greatest writers.

This was (perhaps predictably) really interesting. It took me a little while to get into the book, though: to get used to his accent, which is a rather interesting mixture of RP and peculiar versions of words, and also because he didn’t seem to keen on the exercise of narrating in the introduction. However, as he warmed to the task, The Pigeon Tunnel fast became a very engaging, entertaining memoir. The book is filled with interesting insights into the times that inspired his novels, and also his experiences that resulted from his success — not least the strained relationship he ended up having with the secret services (who he never claimed to speak for). He writes/speaks of his abiding love for writing and travel. It is a welcoming audiobook, and feels like you’re having a chat with the great author, perhaps sat in a living room, in front of a fire and drinking brandy or red wine. Definitely recommended for all fans of le Carré’s work.

Published in print by Penguin (UK)/Viking (US)

On Audible

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mitchellwebbsound-05That Mitchell & Webb Sounds, Series 5 (BBC)

Comedy from the lopsided world of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, with Olivia Colman and James Bachman. 

The radio sketch series which spawned BBC TV’s That Mitchell and Webb Look returns with five brand-new episodes. Among the topics given the unique Mitchell and Webb treatment are the future of farming (battery penguins); Thomas Hardy’s exciting idea to make his books even sadder; the very confusing goings on in a cash-register shop; a horror story for slugs; the Escalator brothers inventing the world’s first horseless staircase; and the very last programme the BBC ever does….

I’m a big fan of That Mitchell & Webb Sound, and before I listened to this, I binge-listened to the first four series again. While Series 5 did make me laugh and chuckle on occasion, I’m afraid it wasn’t as good as the first four. It’s perhaps unfair to compare it to their classic sketches (“Are we the baddies?”, the original recording of Tennyson, etc.), but some of Series 5 dragged. I couldn’t help but think that maybe the writing was a little rushed, or unenthusiastic. I did enjoy the Old Lady Interview with Mitchell & Webb, and there were a few other chuckles, but previous series have had me in stitches. If you’re a fan of the series, I would still certainly recommend it, but newcomers should start at the beginning for bigger and more laughs.

On Audible

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robinsont-nocunningplanukTony Robinson, NO CUNNING PLAN (Macmillan)

Sir Tony Robinson is a much-loved actor, presenter and author with a stellar career lasting over 50 years. Now, in his long-awaited autobiography, he reveals how the boy from South Woodford went from child stardom in the first stage production of Oliver!, a pint-size pickpocket desperately bleaching his incipient moustache, to comedy icon Baldrick, the loyal servant and turnip aficionado in Blackadder. 

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Along the way he was bullied by Steve Marriott, failed to impress Liza Minnelli and was pushed into a stinking London dock by John Wayne. He also entertained us with Maid Marion and Her Merry Men (which he wrote and starred in) and coped manfully when locked naked outside a theatre in Lincoln during the live tour of comedy series Who Dares Wins. He presented Time Team for 20 years, watching countless gardens ruthlessly dug up in the name of archaeology, and risked life and limb filming The Worst Jobs in History. 

Packed full of incident and insight, No Cunning Plan is a funny, self-deprecating and always entertaining listen.

I’d had high hopes for this memoir, but it sadly didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Naturally, I was very interested in hearing about the Blackadder years, but they made up a surprisingly small portion of the book. It felt, at times, like Robinson was trying very hard to not write about the Blackadder years. True, that is far from the only thing he has done — and we hear/read about pretty much everything — but it nevertheless felt like it got short shrift. He’s an interesting man, who has done some interesting and often entertaining work. He writes about his upbringing, his early career in entertainment, the struggles in his personal life, and his progressive politics. He is perhaps most enthusiastic about his Time Team work, and his passion for archaeology comes through very clearly. But, ultimately, I was left with a feeling that I still didn’t really know much about Robinson. It was a little strange, perhaps distantly told. Sure, his narration was excellent (he has also done the audiobooks for Terry Pratchett’s series). I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’d thought I would have liked this more.

Published in print by Macmillan

On Audible

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Upcoming: THE BOOK OF MIRRORS by E.O. Chirovici (Century/Atria)

ChiroviciEO-BookOfMirrors

I am really looking forward to this novel. Already sold in 38 territories, UK-based Romanian author E.O. Chirovici‘s first novel in English, The Book of Mirrors, sounds great. You can read a short piece about it from the Guardian here. Here’s the synopsis:

When big-shot literary agent Peter Katz receives an unfinished manuscript entitled The Book of Mirrors, he is intrigued. 

The author, Richard Flynn is writing a memoir about his time at Princeton in the late 80s, documenting his relationship with the famous Professor Joseph Wieder. 

One night in 1987, Wieder was brutally murdered in his home and the case was never solved. 

Peter Katz is hell-bent on getting to the bottom of what happened that night twenty-five years ago and is convinced the full manuscript will reveal who committed the violent crime.

But other people’s recollections are dangerous weapons to play with, and this might be one memory that is best kept buried.

Unfortunately, we have quite some time to wait before we’ll be able to get our mitts on the book: The Book of Mirrors is due to be published on January 26th, 2017 in the UK by Century; and in February 2017 in North America, by Atria Books. Well, given that it’s September already, I suppose it’s not that far away. It just feels like it…

Eight Quick Audiobook Reviews

AudioBookReviews-20160901

A quick round-up of recent audiobook ‘reads’, with thanks to Audible UK for the review credits (except for the first reviewed, which I borrow from the Toronto Public Library). I’ve kept the reviews very short on purpose. I’ll try to keep on top of these reviews in a more timely manner in the future.

Featuring: Philip Delves-Broughton, Irin Carmon, Jessi Klein, Shana Knizhnik, Antonio Garcia Martinez, Randall Munroe, Nick Offerman, Richard Porter, Amy Schumer Continue reading

Quick Review: THE HATCHING by Ezekiel Boone (Atria/Gollancz)

BooneE-HatchingUSA fast-paced, gripping thriller

Deep in the jungle of Peru, a black, skittering mass devours an American tourist party whole. FBI agent Mike Rich investigates a fatal plane crash in Minneapolis and makes a gruesome discovery. Unusual seismic patterns register in a Indian earthquake lab, confounding the scientists there. The Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. The first female president of the United States is summoned to an emergency briefing. And all of these events are connected.

As panic begins to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at Melanie Guyer’s Washington laboratory. The unusual egg inside begins to crack. Something is spreading…

The world is on the brink of an apocalyptic disaster. An virulent ancient species, long dormant, is now very much awake. But this is only the beginning of our end…

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this novel, and I think most of it is justified. It’s an entertaining, fast-paced and gripping thriller about the end of the world. Unlike many novels in this genre, though, it is not zombies or vampires or some disease that is killing swathes of the global population. Rather, it is spiders. Lots and lots and lots of spiders… Continue reading