Review: What’s a Soulmate? by Lindsey Ouimet (Spoiler-Free)

In a world where everyone sees in black and white until the moment they meet their soulmate, Libby Carmichael is shocked to meet the eyes of Andrew McCormack and see the world bloom into colour around her. After all, she’s always been a good girl, so how could she possibly be destined for someone behind bars?

I’m kind of a sucker for soulmate tropes, and this particular one – where people begin to see in colour after meeting their soulmate – is one that I’ve come across a lot online. Several of the reviews I’ve seen for this book criticise Ouimet for taking the idea directly from tumblr/pintrest/etc., but (while I think it would probably have been better practice for her to acknowledge that it’s not an original concept) I don’t think it’s particularly fair; this trope is common enough that it’s difficult to pin down where it actually originated, let alone where Ouimet first came across it… And I also think that her take on this idea is far more complex and well-thought out than any other I’ve come across. From fashion to social structures, Ouimet has done a fantastic job of showing how colour – and the absence of it – has shaped the world of What’s a Soulmate?.

The actual philosophy on soulmates that Ouimet uses in this book is also one that I really approve of (and don’t come across very often): There is no certainty that a person will ever meet their soulmate, and even for people who do, there’s no guarantee of a perfect romance. In What’s a Soulmate? we are given examples of so-called “true soulmates”, who are soulmates in the traditional sense, but also of healthy romantic relationships where the soulmate connection is one-sided; a reciprocal soulmate bond that’s still a really unhealthy relationship; and even platonic soulmate relationships between close friends, or within families (Libby, for example, is her father’s soulmate)… I’ve always thought that if soulmates were a real thing, then they wouldn’t be as cut-and-dry as a lot of soulmate stories portray them, so this portrayal appeals to me a lot.

This great world was also populated by some really wonderful characters. Libby made for an excellent lead; she was a fun and very likeable character, and her flaws also managed to make her feel very real. I would have liked it if Libby’s interest in fashion had played a larger role in the story, but that’s a very minor complaint… Her various relationships – with Drew, with her best friend Beth, and so on – all rang very true as well, and I particularly appreciated the scenes between Libby and her parents; YA books with really great parental figures are difficult to find, but I seem to be stumbling across quite a few of them lately, and although her family bonds are not the focal point of this novel, they’re really heartwarming.

Like Libby, Drew was a very genuine character. The mystery surrounding him meant that it took significantly longer to get to know him (both for Libby, and for the reader), but I felt that the time put into it was worthwhile, and he ended up being really likeable, with a fascinating backstory. As the (obvious) love interest of the book, I always assumed that there was going to be a good (and sympathetic) reason for what he did – if it even turned out that he did it at all – but piecing together what happened to him was still fun, even if there were very few surprises along the way… And, to be honest, I picked this book up for the romance, not the mystery, so I was glad that the characters and their relationships were the driving force behind the plot.

All in all, What’s a Soulmate? was a really fun read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a cute but somewhat unusual romance story. The story is engaging, the characters wonderful, and Ouimet’s writing is also excellent… I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

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.

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!]

Review: The Scarecrow & His Servant by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

One night a scarecrow is struck by lightning and comes to life, and a great adventure ensues, as – along with his newly-hired (and very hungry) servant Jack – the Scarecrow hits the road in search of fame and fortune and, eventually, home… all while being pursued by bandits, birds, and all manner of other fearsome foes!

The short version of this review would be “a jolly romp, but a bit silly for my taste”, but since that doesn’t tell you much, I’ll go into a little more detail…

The story is told rather episodically, with Scarecrow moving from one adventure to the next without much thought, and much of it seemed rather flippant. Pullman was clearly going for a more comic tone with this book, and while there were some humorous parts, for the most part I feel that it missed the mark with me. Jack’s narration was good, however, and I liked him a lot as a character; Scarecrow was incredibly silly, but Jack seems to take all his quirks in stride.

I also really loved the role of the birds in the story. Naturally, a bird is a scarecrow’s mortal enemy, but (with some intervention from Jack) the way their relationship with Scarecrow changed over the course of the book was wonderful, and culminated in a great scene near the end where Scarecrow was brought before an enormous congress of birds (including Granny Raven, who is quite possibly the best character in the whole book).

The plot did come together quite well in the end, too, and although the ending managed to seem simultaneously drawn out (by Scarecrow’s illness) and rushed (in the final four-page chapter that ties up all the loose ends for everyone, however big or small their role), it was still a good one.

Review: I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman (Spoiler-Free)

All Bob and Joan really want is a child, but after years of trying, they’ve all but given up hope. That is, until a small boy in a tattered page-boy’s uniform knocks on their door one night with no clear memory of anything except this: That he used to be a rat.

I remember really loving this book when I was little, but it had been so long since I read it that I’d completely forgotten what it was called or who it was by… Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally came across it again (in Pullman’s Four Tales anthology) – but at the same time, I was really nervous about re-reading it, in case my memory of how good it was had been skewed by nostalgia. Luckily for me, it turned out that it hadn’t; I Was a Rat! was just as amazing the second time around as I remember it being the first! 😀

It’s quite a short story, so there’s not that much room for extensive character development, but it’s great to see how Roger (the rat-boy) changes as he learns more about living amongst humans – for better and for worse. Bob and Joan are both wonderful parents/mentors to him, I really admired their persistence throughout the book; and all the other characters we’re introduced to over the course of Roger’s journey (however large or small their roles might be) are full of quirks, and a delight to read about.

This story is a sequel of sorts to a very well-known fairytale (which I won’t name here even though I wouldn’t really consider it a spoiler), and Pullman has twisted the familiar tale in some very interesting ways beyond just showing it from Roger’s (very interesting and very unusual) perspective. He’s definitely a master storyteller, and I Was a Rat! is a perfect demonstration of that… The edition I’ve been reading is also littered with fun illustrations by Peter Bailey, which really enhance the reading experience.4 stars