Hello everyone! It’s the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, so this week we’re doing a romance novel. This week’s review is of Soul Mates: An Unforgettable Summer by Rose Withering.
You can view the review video here.
About the Author
Rose is the municipal liason for the Akron regional group for National Novel Writing Month. She and her husband and active participants in the yearly challenge. They live in Northeast Ohio with their two cats, Athos and Achilles. You can find Rose on Facebook.
The book is available from Amazon. The ebook edition is 99 cents, and the paperback is $12.99. The Kindle edition is estimated at about 241 pages.
I like the cover. It isn’t a knock-you-down WOW cover, but it looks like the sort of cover I would expect for a sweet (read: no smutt) romance novel. The script font for the word “Soul” is a nice touch. I’m not crazy about the other font (the random slanted letters are weird to me), but there is a nice balance to it. The colors seem to be a bit washed out, but that’s not a big deal. I don’t see issues with consistency between the cover and the contents of the book. So, if this section were just the cover alone we’d be looking at 3, maybe 4 teaspoons.
But, we are not just looking at the cover. Things take a bit of left turn once you crack open the book.
To put it bluntly, the ebook formatting is a mess. It’s missing page breaks. There are line breaks in random places. The header for the Acknowledgements lost its styling somewhere along the way. At times the formatting problems were so distracting I actually had trouble concentrating on the story.
I spoke with the author about it, suspecting there may have been issues with the file that was uploaded. These issues may be resolved by the time this review is live.
The other thing on the inside that gets me is the treehouse picture just inside the cover. I actually really enjoy pictures and art in books I read. But rather than a gorgeous sketch of the house that Eddie lovingly designed, we get what looks like a stock clip-art image of a kid’s tree fort. Rather than adding to the romance of the book, this really distracts from it.
The book description on Amazon is extremely brief. It reads more like a split second elevator pitch than a full book blurb, and really doesn’t give any insight to what sort of story the reader should expect.
My best attempt at summing up the premise would be this: a teenage ranch hand falls in love with the long-lost granddaughter of the woman who owns the ranch his family has worked on for three generations. Over the course of the summer, he works to protect her from her conniving uncle and prove his love. And there’s a treehouse.
There’s some nugget of interesting in this idea. At first blush there’s definitely some room for intrigue and action. So, despite the lack of clarity up front on the premise, it’s not a bad one. Three teaspoons.
Edward Goldman aka Eddie, is our main protagonist. Eddie is supposedly sixteen (and later eighteen), but it feels more like he’s twelve. Despite his attempts to “man-up” so to speak, Eddie really just comes off as childish.
Another major character is Nicole. She is the granddaughter of the ranch owner, Ms. Anne Morgan. I can’t quite figure Nicole out. At first, she acts convinced that everyone is lying to her and insists that the antagonist is her father. Then later she talks about her parents like she knew all along he wasn’t. She does have a pretty badass moment where she torches the bad guy’s house. It was definitely one of the more intense scenes in the book.
The main antagonist of the story is Anne’s son, Judd. He’s a nasty SOB, just like his father. Somebody really should have just shot the rat bastard early in the book and put us all out of his misery. In summary, he kidnapped his niece and tortured her for years, planning to eventually use her to get his mother’s ranch. Or something. Most of his time on camera in the first half is spent trying to shoot Eddie. Why Judd is the way he is doesn’t get explored much. His motivation is muddy at best.
These are just the main characters. There’s a whole host of side characters in the form of Eddie’s family. Honestly, I think the story would have fared better if the cast had been trimmed down significantly. All these names and their relation to the hero of the story are just noise. Uncle Eric is an extraneous character. He didn’t need to be there. Anything he might have done, Uncle Buck could have done. Billy seemed to be used to give Eddie a chance for exposition, and that also feels throw-away. I’m also not sure why Anne needed five sons. Two or three in opposition to each other would have been enough. Robert and Clint could have been combined into one character, as could Chester and Wade.
Characters get two teaspoons.
Seeing as this story is, presumably, set in the real world the act of worldbuilding lies more in grounding the reader in a time and place. Soul Mates fails at this is a big way for me.
When and where on Earth does this story take place? Apparently, the action is split between 1996 and 1998. This wasn’t immediately apparent to me since the “December 1998” heading from the Prologue was crammed onto the page before with the title, copyright, dedication, and acknowledgments. I was halfway through the book before I figured out what year it was. All I knew was that it was sometime after Henry Ford popularized the assembly line because there were several trucks.
The town’s name is Duncan, but where Duncan is, I’m not sure. It seems to have some laws that don’t feel quite reasonable in a modern era. Castle laws and stand-your-ground laws (statutes that allow you to shoot home invaders or someone who is attacking you) are still fairly common in the U.S., but they certainly are stricter than what this story depicts.
It seems like guns in general are a bit misrepresented in the story. The second scene where Judd tries and fails to shoot Eddie feels wildly inaccurate. And this is coming from someone who has actually shot a gun. Several of them, in fact. I don’t know the exact statistics, but unless Judd takes really crappy care of his gun and ammo that many misfires seem highly unlikely. Also, seems like Eddie sure recovered from not one, but two gun wounds awful fast.
Then there’s the shotgun. At one point in the story, Eddie claims to have a deadly aim with a shotgun. Having “deadly aim” with a shotgun made me chuckle. Part of the point of a shotgun (particularly in self-defense) is that you don’t really need to have great aim because the “shot” scatters. You just need to point the gun in mostly the right direction. This is why Joe Biden rather famously (and this was seen as somewhat of a gaffe as I recall) suggested double-barrel 12-gauge shotguns for home defense. At any rate, it would have made more sense for Eddie to take a rifle to the treehouse with him, especially since he took bullets and not shotgun shells.
If this seems nitpicky, it’s because things like this can jar a reader and make them doubt the feasibility of the rest of the story. The book blurb touts the story as being unbelievable, and these worldbuilding miscues make it that for all the wrong reasons.
Worldbuilding gets one teaspoon.
Okay, so it got off to a rocky start, but that premise was good, so how did that play out in the plot? All the best romances stories, in my opinion, have a great overarching plot and conflict that serve as the backdrop for the romance. The love story is an organic outcome of the circumstances facing the main characters.
That didn’t happen in Soul Mates. Eddie just falls in love with Nicole for absolutely no apparent reason at first sight right after she’s been beaten bloody and nearly to death. I guess I could see some protector instincts kicking in, but love? Seems a stretch. He then devotes himself to her, again for no apparent reason, and proceeds to spend several pages pining over her after she (initially) resoundingly rejects him. Nicole at least seems to have the sense to get to know someone before declaring undying love.
Things get even weirder after the two-year time jump back to 1998.
Then there’s Judd. Why on earth does Judd have so much clout? Why wouldn’t they ask for a trial in a neutral location if it’s known that the local judge is friendly to Judd? Both the federal and state courts in the US have procedures for this kind of thing. Where’s the District Attorney when all this is going down? Is it really the DA that Judd has in his pocket? How does a man that lives in a trash heap afford that kind of respect?
It feels like the story wants to be an old western in a mining town, but with the modern convenience of farm trucks. The story makes one leap in logic to the next. I found it very hard to follow. I’m still trying to figure out why the treehouse was safer than the ranch house, other than maybe Judd wouldn’t look there? I don’t know.
One teaspoon for the plot.
There was some good and some bad here. There are moments of evocative imagery such as “In the summer, the trees would be laden with fruit and they would scent the air with a sweet fragrance; but now, the trees were bare and the only smell that filled the air was the stench of manure from cows in the pasture.”
There were definitely a few miscues. I honestly spent probably the first eight chapters trying to figure out what was going on in this story. The prologue seemed to be trying to make use of a framing technique that shows a bit of the future, then jumps back in time for the start of chapter one. I do enjoy this framing technique, but the book doesn’t indicate that time jump well. I think the story would have been stronger either without that prologue. It didn’t really add anything for the reader, in my opinion. I’m not normally a fan of exposition-y prologues, but I think even that would have been better, considering the struggle I had figuring out who was who and what the heck they had to do with the ranch.
The first part of the story that mostly told from Eddie’s first-person point of view also seems like a miss to me. I feel like this was not the best choice of narrating voice for this story. It’s not that a romance can’t be told from a young man’s first-person perspective, it’s just that there’s so much information that the reader might have benefited from that would have better been explained outside of Eddie’s head and his maturity level does not add to the believability of the story as a romance.
I have to give Soul Mates: An Unforgettable Summer an overall rating of two teaspoons.
I really, really wanted to like this book. Partly because I wanted to have a glowing romance recommendation for Valentine’s Day, and partly because I do consider Rose a friend. But I just couldn’t. There were too many things for me to overlook, even when taking the struggle of independent publishing into account. I think Rose has a lot of potential, and I look forward to reading her work again in the future. I think she has so much room to grow and blossom.