Library Scavenger Hunt: July

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with either the word “metal”, or a kind of metal in the title – was somewhat random, and I had no idea what I was going to pick up when I first ventured into the library… but I actually managed to find something reasonably quickly while perusing the (quite small) comic book section; that something was…

THE IRON WAGON
Jason

A short and strange graphic novel, based on the 1909 Norwegian novel Jernvognen by Stein Riverton, which has never been published in English. It tells the story of a writer whose friend is discovered murdered, and the investigation into his death – which seems like it may be tied to the local of the iron wagon.

The sentence “Why won’t he stay dead?” in the blurb of this book was what initially drew me to it, despite my general dislike of murder mysteries, and my indifference towards what I’d seen of the art style from a cursory flip-through. And, now that I’ve read it, my feelings towards it are slightly mixed… On the one hand, there was not much character depth or development, and I managed to guess both of the story’s major twists early on. On the other hand, I was second-guessing myself a lot, and although this wasn’t the ghost story I was hoping for, it did manage to retain the eerie atmosphere of one.

I’ve already said that the art didn’t initially grab me, but as I grew accustomed to it, I liked it more and more. I wan’t a huge fan of the character design – which completely gave away one of the book’s two plot twists – but the black-red-and-white colour palette was incredibly striking, and really added to the unsettling tone of the story…

I feel that this is a book to be enjoyed more for its strangeness than for its story or characters (or even art), but I did find that I enjoyed it. And, as a book that only takes around half an hour to read, it’s well worth picking up for anyone who’s even a little curious. I’m not sure that I’d be likely to go looking for more of Jason’s work (or Stein Riverton’s), but I also wouldn’t reject it out of hand.

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

Review: Calum’s Road by Roger Hutchinson

An account of the life of Calum MacLeod, and the construction of the road from Brochel Castle to South Arnish, which he built almost single-handedly with only a wheelbarrow and a few hand tools, in hopes of bringing settlers back to the north of Raasay, and connecting his two-person community with the rest of the world.

Calum MacLeod seems to have been a truly remarkable man; his persistence and ingenuity – demonstrated not only by the building of this incredible road, but by numerous enterprises throughout his life, which Hutchinson also describes in this book – are inspiring, and Calum’s Road is both a thorough and impassioned account of his life and work, and his dedication to the land and community that raised him. As someone who does not generally read biographies, I’m probably not the best judge, but it seems clear even to me that Hutchinson has taken great care with his research, and has investigated this tale from many different angles.

Which is not to say that the book is perfect. The problems I noticed were quite small, but cropped up a lot: Firstly, Hutchinson uses a lot of quotations, and as the book went on, they became both more frequent, and much longer, sometimes taking up whole pages… Perhaps this is not uncommon in biographical/historical writing, but I would’ve preferred to have read much of it in Hutchinson’s own words, especially since it’s clear that he’s an excellent writer. Secondly, a lot is said about the beauty of Calum’s Road, and of the island as a whole, so it’s a shame that this book doesn’t include any photos or illustrations beyond a couple of maps at the very beginning (and a single photo on the inside of the cover) – and also something of a surprise, since there are a few places in the book where Hutchinson describes photographs in great detail, where surely it would have been much simpler to show the photos themselves…

I do think that my overall impression of this book must have been improved by the fact that I read it while visiting Skye (which is just a short distance from Raasay, and which is mentioned in several places in the book), but even despite that, this was a really interesting and engaging story. (It’s certainly sparked an unexpected interest in Raasay in me, even though I’ve only ever seen the island from a distance, and have never given it much thought…) Undoubtedly, this is a book that will be of most interest to people who already have some attachment or attraction to the Hebrides, or to similar island communities… but if you are one of those people, then Calum’s Road is definitely for you.

Review: Once & for All by Sarah Dessen (Spoiler-Free)

Louna may work in the wedding industry – helping out her mother, who’s Lakeview’s top wedding planner – but she’s not so certain about true love, especially since her own first love was so fleeting, and ended so disastrously. Enter Ambrose, the handsome and maddening brother of one of a client, with whom Louna seems to be constantly forced into company, and who can’t take anything seriously… except perhaps Louna?

Another great Sarah Dessen book! 🎊 The story was a wonderful blend of sweet and bittersweet, with a real dash of humour that showed up whenever the book began to get a bit too heavy. Louna made for a great protagonist: cynical, but understandably so, and not so much so that it made her annoying, and watching her grow and overcome her problems was incredible. Ambrose, on the other hand, was a rather unusual love interest; when he first made his appearance, I – like Louna – found him more irritating than charming… but he grew on me a lot as the story progressed, and the kindness and compassion behind his seemingly self-centred actions became more evident.

As a plot device, I wasn’t a huge fan of Louna and Ambrose’s bet, but it did keep the story moving quite effectively, and I felt that it progressed (and eventually derailed) in a way that was true to both characters. I would, however, have liked to have seen a bit more of Ambrose’s side of the story…

The side characters were all great, too: Louna’s family (her mother and her mother’s best friend William) played a huge role in the book, and I found it kind of refreshing to be reading a Sarah Dessen book with a protagonist who had such a great relationship with her family. Her best friend Jilly was a lot of fun, too, though her role seemed to mostly be limited to instigator-of-Louna’s-dates… And then there was Ethan. 💕 I loved Ethan – Louna’s first love – so much; he was my favourite thing about this book, and although he played a huge role, and his influence was felt even in his absence, I wanted more of him. During the flashback chapters, where Louna remembered their short but incredibly cute romance, I kept catching myself thinking, “Oh, I wish this whole book were about Louna and Ethan”, or “I hope Dessen writes a book about Ethan next” (all her books are connected in small ways), and then remembering why it wasn’t, and she probably wouldn’t… 😭

For all their cuteness, Sarah Dessen’s books always seem to have a tinge of something sad to them, and Once & for All is sadder than most, but I’d still recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind that fact – it’s a wonderful book, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Cameos I spotted: It’s been a while since I last read anything by Dessen, so I probably missed a lot of the more subtle connections between this book and her others, but the big one – in the form of Eli and Auden from Along for the Ride at the pie place where Louna and Ethan stop on their date – was obvious even to me, and made me ridiculously happy; Along for the Ride is probably my second-favourite of Dessen’s books (after Just Listen). 😊

Summer Holidays ~🎶

This Friday my family and I will be heading off on our annual trip to Skye. I’m looking forward to escaping from the heat and humidity of Cambridge for a while, and (I confess) to having a break from work – but most of all, I’m excited for peace and quiet, and lots and lots of time to read books. ☺️ For the sake of not taking up too much car space, I won’t be taking more than a couple of physical books, but with them and my kindle, I hope that I’ll have enough to keep me going… Here’s what I’m currently planning on reading:

1) Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. I’ve been reading this along with the Harry Potter & the Sacred Text podcast, but I still have a lot of catching up to do, and long car trips are perfect for at least the listening part of the process, so I’ll definitely be bringing this book along. 😊

2) Now I Rise by Kiersten White. The second book in The Conquerors Saga (which started with And I Darken), which is going to be released on Thursday. Obviously, I haven’t got a copy of this book at the moment, but I do have a credit saved up at the moment from my book-buying ban (/restriction), and I’m planning on using it for this book, which I’m super-excited to pick up as soon as I can. Barring unexpected circumstances, I’ll head into town on Thursday to purchase a copy…

3) There really are a lot of Evil Spirits! by Fuyumi Ono. The second book in the Akuryou series, which hasn’t officially been released in English, though fan-translations are available online. Recently, I’ve been re-reading/re-watching/finally reading the sequel to to Ghost Hunt manga and anime, and since I’m enjoying it so much, I thought I’d also pick up some of the novels it was based on… I read the first one quite a while back (though I may decide to re-read it; they’re only short, after all), so I intend to start again from volume two this time.

As for the rest, I’m still undecided, but there are a few books on my kindle at the moment that I might give a go… They include: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, or perhaps the second and third books in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy (which I started during the Anti-Bullying Readathon in 2015 and loved)… Or I might cave in and finally buy A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir; it will likely depend a lot on my mood. 🤔 However, as has become the usual when I post one of these TBRsI will be trying to do a proper review of everything I read on my trip, so whatever I decide to read, expect to be hearing about it! 😆

June Wrap-Up

I wasn’t particularly on top of my blogging game in June, but I did manage to read a few good books – three novels, one comic, and one essay – as well as tick off one more of my reading goals for the year (the one for reading books that people have given me)! 😁 Here’s what I read:

Bellamy & the Brute by Alicia Michaels. A retelling of Beauty & the Beast set in modern-day Georgia, and starring a teenage girl called Bellamy, who gets a summer job as a babysitter for the wealthy Baldwin family, and ends up getting involved with their eldest son Tate, who hasn’t been seen in public since being struck by a mysterious disfiguring illness… Conceptually, this was a really interesting book; it’s unlike any other Beauty & the Beast retelling I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a few of them), and the way that Michaels played around with the source material made for a really fresh, exciting story. It’s also very well written, and I liked the characters a lot (though – as many others have also mentioned – Bellamy did at times seem a little too perfect), as well as the way that Bellamy and Tate’s relationship progressed as the story went on. However, this story had two separate aspects to it (the love story, and the murder mystery), and the way that Michaels tried to tie them together just didn’t really work… the further I got into the story, the more contrived it felt… but it was still a really enjoyable book.Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. The tale of a girl called Karou who lives two lives; the first as a talented – though somewhat eccentric – art student in Prague; the second as an assistant to the chimera Brimstone, who trades wishes for teeth. I’d heard amazing things about this book, and I’m pleased to say that it absolutely lived up to my expectations! The characters were all wonderful, the writing beautiful, and the story fascinating… The romance does come across as a bit instalove-y, but Taylor managed to make it fit in with the story really well, and I’m super-interested in seeing where it goes in the next two books (which I will hopefully get to soon! 😆).Bee & Puppycat, Volume 1 by Natasha Allegri & Garrett Jackson. A really cute comic book spin-off of the Cartoon Hangover web-series of the same name, which follows a girl called Bee, who meets a strange cat-like creature and then becomes a trans-dimensional temp worker. I picked this up without knowing anything about the cartoon beforehand – which may have been a mistake – but still ended up enjoying the book more than not. I wrote a more complete review a couple of weeks ago, which you can find here if you so desire, but in short: Pretty and whimsical, but more style than substance (especially in the second half)…

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A 2012 TEDx Talk of the same name, now adapted into essay form – on feminism, and why it is important not just for women, but for everyone. This short book had a message that I really approved of, delivered in a very powerful, striking manner. It’s also very readable, despite being non-fiction (a genre I often find I have to slog through), and is littered with anecdotes from Adichie’s life that illustrate her views and helped to shape them. A must-read for anyone who’s at all interested in feminism, or in any form of movement towards equal rights.

Hurt by Tabitha Suzuma. A drama/mystery novel about a teenage diver who undergoes a horrible ordeal, and begins to fall apart as he tries to deal with the aftermath all by himself. Enjoyable isn’t really the right word to use to describe this book, but I did find it very interesting, and I felt that it did a good job of tackling a really difficult topic… This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for the month, so I’ve written a more detailed review of it already, which you can find here.

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!]