Library Scavenger Hunt: June

This month’s Library Scavenger Hunt challenge was a pretty easygoing one – read a book with a one-word title – and I managed to find my book quite quickly, but it’s taken me a little while to finish reading it, due to various preoccupations (i.e. video games, mostly 😅)… But I’ve finally finished, so here’s my review:

HURT
Tabitha Suzuma

Mattéo Walsh is Britain’s star diver, and everything looks to be on track for him to enter – and have a good shot at winning – the next Olympics. But then disaster strikes: something happens at the National Championships in Brighton, and it’s not something that Mattéo comes out of unscarred. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, he seems to be falling apart – and worse than that, telling anyone what happened could mean losing everything he cares about…

My feelings on this book are somewhat mixed. I genuinely liked and felt for Mattéo, and Suzuma’s evocative writing helped a lot with that. I also really love the way she portrayed family relationships in this book; the friendship and trust between Lola and her father Jerry was wonderful to read, and the affection between Mattéo and Loïc provided a wonderful contrast to the strained distance between them and their parents. The plot was also very engaging, and the various twists and turns kept me guessing right up to the end of the book; there was a really good balance of hints and red herrings, and although I did end up being right about the “what” of what happened in Brighton (which I was less than certain about), the “who” (of which I had been utterly convinced) came as a huge surprise.

On the other hand, I wasn’t massively happy with Lola’s role in the book; I found the intensity of her romance with Mattéo a little unrealistic, and I really didn’t like her part in the novel’s conclusion, though I suppose I kind of understand why Suzuma had the book end the way it did. And I also felt that the story as a whole (and particularly the second half) was drawn out for far longer than it needed to be.

Hurt is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now, and I’m glad that I finally made the time for it, though it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. I’d say I liked it about as much as I did Forbidden (the only other one of Suzuma’s books I’ve read), which was similarly hard-hitting, but a little more problematic in terms of its subject matter.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston (Spoiler-Free)

A Cinderella story with a fandom twist! Elle is a huge fan of the old cult sci-fi show Starfield, as was her father before he died. Her stepmother? Not so much, and her awful step-sisters don’t get it either – that is, until teen heartthrob Darien Freeman is cast as the lead actor in the new Starfield reboot! Meanwhile, Darien’s life is no cakewalk either. Federation Prince Carmindor is his dream role, but his manager keeps pushing him into things he’s not ready for, the Starfield fans don’t think he’s cut out for the job, and somebody on-set has been taking pictures of him and posting them online without his permission. His only real solace is a stranger on the other end of a wrong number, but could – as people keep telling him – his new friendship be getting in the way of his career?

This was such a cute book! Elle and Darien’s romance was really sweet, and felt very believable, despite the fact that they didn’t meet – or even know each other’s identities – for almost the entire book. And the individual characters (or most of them, at least) all seemed really well-developed, as well; Elle and Darien were both relatable and sympathetic, as were many of the side characters, although most of them didn’t play particularly major parts in the story. Of the very minor characters, my favourite was definitely Sage’s mum, who was a really fun character.

Geekerella is also really interesting as a re-telling, not just because of the modern-day, geek-culture setting, but also because Poston has provided really fresh take on many of Cinderella‘s traditional roles. Where the fairy godmother character is often a mother- or mentor-figure, in this book she’s one of Elle’s peers; and rather than being a single homogenised unit, you can tell that a lot of effort has gone into making sure that Elle’s two step-sisters, Chloe and Calliope, are distinct from one another. Even the wicked stepmother isn’t the same cut-and-dry villain that we usually see in Cinderella retellings – though she’s still pretty detestable. And although the overt magic of Cinderella has been entirely removed from the setting, I was really impressed by how Poston still managed to create a story that feels very magical.

And speaking of Elle’s stepmother (Catherine), she fascinated me. She initially does come off as this one-dimensional villain, who’s obsessed with her own self-image, and determined to make Elle’s life as miserable as possible for no reason (beyond spite, presumably born from jealousy over the connection between Elle and her father), but the more I read about her, the more pitiful she seemed. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still an awful person, but it’s also incredibly sad how her own warped world-view seems to be making her almost as miserable as she’s making everyone else – and it’s also a little unsettling, because I’ve known people like her, who are completely incapable of realising that not everyone has to like, or value the same things; that loving a show like Starfield (even loving it to the extent that you’d write a blog about it, or dress up as the characters) doesn’t automatically equate to an unhealthy obsession… In a strange way, she does seem to want what’s best for Elle; she just doesn’t  know what that is, and is dangerous because she’s so convinced that she does.

A couple of things that I didn’t like quite so much: Chloe was rather one-dimensional, which struck me as strange considering the amount of effort that Poston put into all the other characters. She’s an odd mash-up of unenlightened stereotypes, including the evil not-a-real-fan, the spoiled, vain princess, and the girl-who-pretends-to-like-something-in-order-to-impress-guys-then-makes-fun-of-them-behind-their-backs… The second thing was that Starfield was a clear in-story stand-in for Star Trek, which would have been fine if Poston hadn’t kept talking about the actual Star Trek, too. It just seems strange that two such similar shows would both have flourished (to the level where creating specific conventions for each of them was a worthwhile business proposition) despite being aired at around the same time and therefore being in direct competition. I feel like in a real-world situation, one of them was bound to have died in obscurity… It’s not a huge problem, but it did take me out of the story a couple of times.

Overall, Geekerella is a charming book, half-love story, and half-love letter – to Star Trek, to conventions, to cosplay… The wrong-number premise makes me want to (blind-)recommend this to people who liked Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number, but I feel that it’s closer in spirit to books like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or Backward Compatible by Sarah Daltry & Pete Clark, both of which are sweet romance novels that really embrace fan-culture.

Review: Bee & PuppyCat, Volume 1 by Natasha Allegri & Garrett Jackson (Spoiler-Free)

A cute comic about a young woman called Bee and her cat/dog/alien roommate PuppyCat, who work for a magical temp agency, travelling to all kinds of strange new planets in order to perform odd (in both senses of the word) jobs.

The art was what drew me to this book – I really loved its bubbly, colourful quality – as well as Allegri’s name on the cover (Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake is one of my favourite comics, despite being based on a cartoon that I’ve watched very little of); I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the cartoon, and as such was a little confused at the beginning of the book. (After which I embraced the series’ whimsical nature and just went with it.)

This first volume is divided into two distinct sections (not including the extensive cover art gallery): First up, there’s what I believe is the first two issues of the serialisation, which tell a cute story about Bee and PuppyCat fixing a broken music box (complete with QR codes that link to the actual tracks, a really cool idea as long as you’re reading somewhere with internet access), and I enjoyed this part a lot. I didn’t get much of a feel for either of the main characters, but that didn’t bother me too much, as it very much felt like it was just the beginning of the story. But instead of continuing on from that arc, or even beginning another one, the second half of the book was PuppyCat Tails, a selection of short comics about Bee and PuppyCat from various different authors and artists, which ended up being a very mixed bag…

I can tell that this is supposed to be an episodic series rather than one single, continuous storyline, but the overall effect seemed incredibly disorganised. The constantly shifting art styles were jarring, and while there were a couple of stories in there that I liked, most of them seemed kind of pointless – some even felt unfinished. They did little to further develop the world or characters, and were something of a let-down after the charming, beautifully-illustrated story at the beginning. I ended up watching all (I think) of the episodes on Cartoon Hangover once I’d finished the book, and was a little more appreciative of these small anecdotes from Bee & PuppyCat’s lives afterwards, but I don’t think they’re enough to carry a whole series, and I wish they hadn’t taken up such a significant portion of the volume.

I wouldn’t say that this was is a great starting point for people who are new to the series (definitely start with the cartoons instead), but I did end up enjoying it regardless, and I’m interested to see whether the next few volumes will be in the style of issues 1-2 or of PuppyCat Tails… I will probably be looking to find volume 2 at my local library, however, rather than buying it to keep.

May Wrap-Up

Eight books in May! I was feeling the beginnings of a reading slump towards the end of the month (after a couple of disappointing reads), but I’m glad I managed to shake it off so quickly! 😄 And apart from those few disappointments, the majority of the month has been filled with some really excellent books! Here they all are:

Darken the Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The final (I hope) book in the Kricket series, which follows a teenage girl who’s taken to another world and told that it’s actually her homeland. The last couple of books were fun, if somewhat grating, but this last book was seriously problematic. I wrote a review of the full series near the beginning of the month, but it’s mostly just a rant about Darken the Stars. 😡The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman. A sweet story about a girl who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a firework-maker, and so sets out on a journey to prove herself. This was a really cute book; a bit shorter than I would have preferred, but I loved the characters (particularly Hamlet the talking elephant) and the secret behind the Royal Sulphur…I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman. The story of a rat who is turned into a boy, and the elderly couple who take him in. I first read this book many, many years ago, so I was rather surprised by how vividly I was able to remember it… and by it being just as wonderful a read as it was the first time around. I’ve written a proper review of this book, which you can find here.Clockwork by Philip Pullman. Two dark, haunting tales told parallel to one another, about two men who both make deals with the sinister Dr. Kalmenius, who has a peculiar talent for clockwork. An excellent story, and genuinely chilling, even for someone who’s significantly older than the target audience… Of the two simultaneous story threads, I preferred the one about the clockwork prince, but the way they both came together in the end was wonderful. ☺️The Scarecrow & His Servant by Philip Pullman. A lighthearted tale about a scarecrow who is struck by lightning and brought to life, and the young (rather more grounded) boy he decides to hire as his servant. It was a fun read, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it when I was (a lot) younger. At 27, there are still things about it that I can appreciate, but as a whole it was just a bit too silly… My review can be found here.Four Tales by Philip Pullman. This was a compilation of the four tales I’ve just mentioned, and as a collection it was very impressive (and beautiful, which a book really ought to be if possible); the stories are great, and fit together very well thematically… My favourite was probably Clockwork  something that surprised me, as I was definitely expecting it to be I Was a Rat! (if only for nostalgia’s sake) – but they’re all good fun, and excellently written.The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten. A story about a boy with OCD, who meets a girl at his support group and falls madly in love with her, triggering a rapid downward spiral in his recovery… I ended up being pretty disappointed with this book, unfortunately, but since it was my May Library Scavenger Hunt pick, I’ve written a full review of it already; you can find it here. 😑Geekerella by Ashley Poston. An adorable modern re-interpretation of Cinderella, where Cinderella (i.e. Elle) is a huge fan of the sci-fi series Starfield, as well as the daughter of the founder of ExcelsiCon, a massive Starfield convention, and Prince Charming (i.e. Darien) is a young heartthrob actor and secret nerd, who’s just been cast for the lead role in the new Starfield reboot. It’s not exactly love at first sight, but they get there in the end. I absolutely loved this book! It’s super-cute, with great characters (even the minor ones), and a few surprising twists to the traditional Cinderella-retelling mould… I will hopefully be posting a full review of this in the next couple of weeks. 😄What’s a Soulmate? by Lindsey Ouimet. A surprisingly complex look at the soulmate-identifying-marks trope, in which a teenage girl called Libby meets her soulmate at the juvenile detention centre where her father works, only to find that he’s been brought there for committing a horrific assault. I’ve been seeing this trope in various different forms (including the one Ouimet uses) all over the place lately, and I’ll confess that I’m something of a sucker for it, but I really feel that Ouimet was able to do something unexpected with it. I won’t say too much else here, because this is another book that I’d like to write a more detailed review of, but the characters were all great, and the plot and the romance were both exciting and realistically portrayed… 👍

Upcoming Releases: Summer 2017

In a miraculous turn of events, it’s actually been sunny here for the last few days – which is wonderful when you have the day off, but not so wonderful when you’re trapped inside all day… 😓 I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the good weather will stick around for a few more days, but if it doesn’t, then at least I’ve got some exciting new books to look forward to! Here are just a sample of the new releases I’m most eager to see in June, July & August:

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 27/05/2017.]

   

Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone, House editions by J.K. Rowling (1st June)

It feels like Harry Potter has been a part of my life for way more than 20 years, but the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone is imminent, and to celebrate, Bloomsbury are releasing brand-new editions of the first book in all four house colours! I’m not entirely certain if I’ll be picking one of these up (my heart is saying yes, but my self-control is saying no; I’m not yet sure which will win out), but don’t they look amazing? And they’re doing paperbacks, too! You can find the full range here.
Excitement level: 10/10

Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz (1st June)

A follow-up to the Alex Rider series, in which Alex moves to San Francisco to recover the loss of his best friend and guardian at the end of Scorpia Rising, only to come across a suspicious email that seems to indicate that she may be alive after all. A co-worker of mine mentioned to me last week that this book was a thing, and it was a huge bombshell! I never expected to have more Alex Rider in my life, but it’s a welcome surprise! 😆 Excitement level: 9/10

The Rise & Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland (15th June)

A time-travel adventure set in both 19th century London and 21st century America, and involving a group of agents who are tasked with travelling back in time in order to prevent the disappearance of magic. I’ve never read anything by Neal Stephenson before (or even heard of Nicole Galland), but I’ve heard really amazing things about his work, and this story looks like a super-fun place to start. 😊 Excitement level: 7/10

Now I Rise by Kiersten White (6th July)

The sequel to And I Darken, which retells the life of Vlad the Impaler and his brother Radu, had Vlad been born a girl – Lada – instead… And I Darken was an unexpected favourite of mine last year, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating Now I Rise ever since I finished its predecessor. It hasn’t been too long a wait, but it certainly felt like one. Excitement level: 9/10

Also out soon in paperback:

  • A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (15th July)
    Excitement level: 8/10
  • Black Light Express by Philip Reeve (1st August)
    Excitement level: 8/10

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, guys! I’ve been so preoccupied with first Persona 5, then Fire Emblem Echoes, that I’ve barely even been reading, let alone writing… 😓 That said, I did finally manage to finish this month’s LSH challenge – read a book with a monochrome cover – for which I picked a book I’d been super-excited about…

THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B
Teresa Toten

Adam Spencer Ross’ life is turned upside-down when the amazing Robyn Plummer joins his OCD support group. She’s beautiful, she’s fun, and she gets him in a way that almost nobody else ever has; it must be love! Now all he has to do is fix himself ASAP, so that Robyn will love him back… How hard could it be?

I’m sad to say that this book ended up being a huge let-down. 😞 I was really excited to pick it up, and I really wanted to like it – and there wasn’t exactly anything about it that I specifically disliked… it was just really, really boring. Most of the characters (with the exception of Adam and, to a lesser extent, Robyn) were completely bland; we were given a brief, fairly shallow description of each of their personalities early on in the book, and none of them developed even slightly as the story progressed. And the romance between Adam and Robyn was entirely unconvincing. Adam decided that he loved Robyn before she ever opened her mouth, and that love was unshakeable the whole way through the book. I don’t have a problem with instalove in books, as long as there’s some kind of subsequent relationship development, but The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B decided to take love-at-first-sight along its dullest possible path.

Which brings me round to Robyn, who had more than a little of the manic pixie dream girl to her, in the sense that she her only real importance to the story was the effect she had on Adam. Granted, the way her presence influences Adam was interesting, but, similar to most of the side characters, she had very little in the way of character depth or development, despite Toten’s efforts to make her seem mysterious.

A couple of minor irritations before I move onto the things I did like about this book: Firstly, the characters’ adoption of superhero identities in their support group seemed at best gimmicky and pointless – an excuse to use the phrase “Batman and Robyn” far more than was necessary – and at worst a reason to get out of having to flesh out the characters any more. After all, knowing that Iron Man (whose real name I can’t remember) identifies with Marvel’s Iron Man makes him fully developed already, right? What more do we need to know? 😑 Secondly (and I’m aware that this is petty), I found the constant use of the word “superior” (as a  substitute for “awesome” or “amazing”) really grating. Is this slang that people actually use? Maybe, but every time a character used it, it still made me like them a little bit less.

On a more positive note, Adam himself was a great character. He was likeable and sympathetic, and although his life experiences were so far removed from my own that I didn’t find him particularly relatable, people who’ve been through similar things probably would relate to him quite well. And Toten has also done a really great job of portraying his OCD as something that affects his life in a way that is serious, and at times quite sinister. There are two moments in this book where the OCD, plus everything else that he’s going through just become too much for Adam to deal with, and both of these scenes were powerful and emotional.

And if half of the plot revolves around Adam’s romance with Robyn, then the more interesting half involves his relationship with his equally (if differently) messed-up mother, who has been receiving threatening letters. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the whodunnit that I’ve seen it pitched as, but I did find it intriguing, and probably would have enjoyed it even more had I not guessed who the letter-sender was so early on.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

T5W: Books for a Rainy Summer

To be honest, summer hasn’t really shown its face where I live; we had a truly beautiful Sunday, followed by a couple of days of gloomy rainclouds (and as I write, raindrops are attempting to batter their way through my windows). 🌧 Spring does seem to be finally-hopefully-maybe asserting its dominance over winter, but I’m not going to hold my breath for true summer weather for at least a couple more months… So, since this week’s theme – summer reads – is wholly inappropriate, I thought I’d tweak it a little bit, and instead I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite books for a wet summer spent indoors! 😉

Sunny days always make me want to read light, fluffy contemporaries. Rainy days lend themselves to something a little bit heavier; sad or mysterious or thought-provoking or lonely, or maybe even a little spooky (but not too much!)… Though if you asked me why, I doubt I’d be able to answer. 😅

5) The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

A story about a young girl called Maria Merryweather, who, upon moving to the country to live with her reclusive uncle, discovers that her family is cursed, and it’s up to her to find a way to break it. This is a really magical book, and one that I still love even though I’m considerably older than its target audience. Naturally, I’d especially recommend it for people who love horses. 😊

4) Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Not long after Vera falls out with her best friend – and secret crush – Charlie, he dies in damning circumstances, and Vera is left to decide how far she’s willing to go in order to clear his name… and if she even wants to. Dark, mysterious, heart-wrenching, and gripping from start to finish.

3) The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The eerie tale of a man who one evening saves the life of a crane that crash-lands in his garden, and shortly afterwards meets a young woman called Kumiko who seems to have some connection to the crane. And interwoven with this is a wonderful folk-tale-esque story about a crane and a volcano (which I may or may not have liked even more than the main storyline)… Beautifully written, and full of wonderful characters; Patrick Ness is an incredible author, and it’s just as evident in The Crane Wife as in some of his better-known works.

2) Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

A dark, slow-building story about a young man and his first love, who suffered deeply from depression. This book is much heavier than the others on this list (even Please Ignore Vera Dietz!), and is very emotionally draining, too, but it’s definitely worth the energy it takes to get through it. Incredibly thought-provoking, and brilliantly atmospheric.

1) The Kotenbu series by Honobu Yonezawa

Also known as the Classics Club series or the Hyouka series, these books tell the story of a high-schooler who’s forced by his sister to join his school’s dying Classics Club. It’s supposed to be a club where students meet in order to read and discuss classical literature, but instead the small club becomes all about solving mysterious happenings around the school and town, and willingly or not, Houtarou – our main character, who prefers to live his life in ‘energy-saving mode” – is dragged into the chaos. Each book offers up a different main case, and they vary in tone and complexity, but are always a great deal of fun. I really love these characters, too, which probably helps. 😆

These books have no official English translation at the moment, but if this series sounds like something you’d like, then fan-translations are available on Baka-Tsuki. Or you could check out the also-fantastic anime (which is called Hyouka). Or  do both! 😉