ARC Reviews

Playing Cupid by S.C. Alban


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ARC was given by NetGalley and The Parliament House in exchange for an honest review.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent, grief, depression, talk of hospitalization, terminal illness (cancer), car accident, child neglect, forced institutionalization, brief mentions of attempted suicide

I had to sit with myself and collect my thoughts and feelings on this book. I’ll be honest, it took me a hot minute to get through this book and even really feel out how I felt about the book. There’s some really lovely elements and discussions happening, but ultimately, I think there were a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. Though, I am a sucker for a mythological story.

We follow seventeen-year old Megan, who’s closed off her heart from every finding love again. After her mother dies of cancer and her father descends into a six year mourning and depression, Megan decides to fast track her life. She’s fended for herself this long, why should she rely on anyone else when you’ll just get hurt? With the end of the school year rapidly approaching and her ticket to leave this small town just in sight, things are going well. Until she gets stuck with Jay Michaels for a final grade project and he keeps giving every excuse in the book. And if things couldn’t get any worse, on the night driving home, she hits Cupid just as he’s about to close out his quota for the year. Now Megan’s world is turned upside down and now she’s not too sure if she’ll ever be able to escape this town or the painful memories attached to it.

Whew, these characters were something else, let me tell you! I think this was the hardest part to decide my feelings on because everything else I knew what I liked and disliked, but these characters left me feeling conflicted. I will say Megan and her father felt very realistic for me. I think many readers will have a hard time connecting with them or caring about them, but I found it was really easy to feel invested in them. This might be due to my own history of having iron walls built around my heart and dealing with neglectful adults in my life. However, Megan was really judgmental at times or lacked understanding in certain parts. Jay on the other hand felt very under-developed to me. In fact, the way the books paints him for the reader is in a light of where we shouldn’t like him from the beginning. The only thing that had me invested in Jay’s character was the fact that it was very obvious he had a secret he wasn’t telling anyone. We only see more to Jay at the 75% mark in the book and even then it feels too late to really get a feeling for who he is as a character because up until this point Jay’s just painted in a bit of a negative light. As for Amadeo, our mischievous Cupid, I still have mixed feeling about him. There were times where I thought his personality was very fitting, but other times that felt like his attitude had no place being in a certain scene. Though out of all the characters, Amadeo has the strongest character development.

The thing I loved the most about this book was the world building. Not just the way Mountain Valley is built up with a lot of small town vibes, but also what we learn of the Cupid societal structure. The amount of details we learn about this world, the different levels and how each of these levels mirror places on Earth, and the way you can see how Amadeo fits among this society was really interesting. I was heavily invested in learning more details about the world and honestly, I think this alone could of been turned into it’s own book because it was such an interesting concept.

“Maybe the point is to remind us there are two sides to everything. It makes us more appreciative of the loving part, you know, knowing at any moment, it could all end.”

Most of all, I think the elements that really sealed my connection to this book were the hard topics of this book. We see a lot of themes of grief and how no person in the same with grief. More specifically with Megan’s father, how you can love someone so much that it breaks you, how nothing including you will ever be the same, and how difficult it is to emerge from that grief, that depression and right the wrongs that have taken place during that time of being a shell of who you once were. On the opposite spectrum, we see how Megan fortifies herself because she’s never been given the opportunity to grieve, to feel the full weight of the loss of her mother and instead had to grow up far too quickly than she should have because no one was looking out for her. I think the author did a really fantastic job at writing the grief in a realistic way that allows others to feel a connection to the characters.

I want to take a moment to address the other hard topic in this book. Though this is for the last 75% of the book and I think this will make a lot of readers turn away from this book, I still wanted to talk about it. There’s a whole discussion happening about mental health and the stigma that surrounds mental health, and not just mental health, but we see a small piece where it’s addressed of how there’s still a strong societal stigma surrounding those who end up institutionalized for mental health. And I wish, oh how I wish, this was addressed more openly, in literature and otherwise. How as a society we have the preconceived notion that we can never speak openly about this, that it’s something to be ashamed of, and how if someone does speak up about their experience they’re instantly labeled as someone to avoid, that they’re “unstable” or “crazy”, or they’re dangerous instead of treating them like human beings who are ill, who are facing challenges and hardships with their mental health, and how they chose to be brave to speak up of needing help and their experience.

The only issue I really had with this book was the insta-love between Megan and Jay. A lot of this book is focused on Megan healing from the loss of her mother and her assisting Amadeo hitting his final three targets for his quota. There was never any time fully dedicated to Megan and Jay establishing chemistry between one another, there wasn’t dedicated time to truly see Jay’s character until the last 75% of the book, and Megan and Jay had barely any interactions with one another, as well. We get small little pockets, but for the most part they barely have anything to do with one another and the fact that this relationship was an inst-love with all of that preestablished just didn’t work for me. Honestly, I think I would have loved seeing Megan fall in love with a Cupid over the relationship between her and Jay.

Overall, I really did enjoy reading this book, but I definitely want to caution that this isn’t the book it’s advertised or the way a lot of readers label it as a rom-com or a fluffy romance. Honestly, I removed the romance tag for this book because I see this more as a contemporary story with romantic elements, but it’s a strong contemporary read with hard hitting topics laced throughout the entirety of this book. If you’re someone who’s not turned off by books with heavy topics or enjoy books with mythological elements then I think you’ll enjoy reading this book.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.


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