TBR Jar Round #2
Technically that title is a lie, because I’m no longer using my TBR jar. I have had to upgrade to a TBR bucket instead! But it still does the same job, it’s just a Halloween bucket rather than an unused travel mug meaning it is far more on-brand.
This is my second month picking titles out of my TBR jar, and after how unsuccessful last month was I was hoping to get some stronger picks this time around. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like a few of them as soon as I chose them, but you’ll have to read on to see what I ended up thinking about each of the five…
Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith – 4 stars
I took part in the blog tour for Breaking the Lore last year, but I did not get the book read in time to post a review because I was in the midst of a terrible reading slump (#justpregnancythings).
Breaking the Lore follows a detective called Nick Paris who is investigating a rather mysterious suspected murder. The victim has been found crucified in someone’s back garden… But they’re a fairy, so they’re only a couple of feet off of the ground. Paris can almost believe that it’s a hoax, until a talking crow turns up on his doorstep and starts warning him about a demon threat. Huh.
If I’m being honest, I HATED the first 10% of this book, subconsciously abandoning it and completely forgetting I’d even started it until I pulled it out of my TBR jar. Malbus, the talking crow, is the best part of the book, so when he was found decapitated I was absolutely distraught – how could you kill off such a promising character after they’ve delivered such an ominous warning to our protagonist? Little did I know that the crow who was found decapitated wasn’t Malbus. He comes back into the story shortly after the place where I originally abandoned it, and as soon as he came back I started absolutely loving this clusterfuck of craziness.
If you love J.R.R. Tolkien’s world but find yourself craving an alcoholic British cop in the midst of the magical drama, this is the book for you. Fairies, dwarves, elves, demons – everything you could possibly imagine is present in this novel, and although it gets utterly wacky at points (a particular scene featuring Malbus serenading a conference of the best and brightest members of the police force springs to mind…) it’s a charming cheese fest and it works beautifully.
My only warning is that you need to love puns to read this book, because even though I’m a huge lover of pun-based jokes I still found myself rolling my eyes and groaning at a few of the jokes which are cracked. If you don’t like hammy humour then I’d definitely recommend skipping this book, because it’s a big part of Redsmith’s writing style and at points it strays dangerously close to ‘too much’ territory.
Since finishing Breaking the Lore I’ve discovered that the second book in this series, Know Your Rites, was released last July, so I’m planning on picking this up at some point in the next couple of months. I’m so glad I finally finished Breaking the Lore – I had completely forgotten that I’d started it, and if I hadn’t picked it out of my jar it might have been years before I attempted to tackle it again, but this was the perfect lighthearted read to ensure I started March off on the right note.
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – 1 star
Oof, this one hurts me. I was certain I was going to love Whistle in the Dark because I’ve heard such amazing things about Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing. I didn’t actually realise I had this book on my NetGalley because I have it sitting on my bookshelf, so I thought this story was going to be swiftly moving from my ‘read then donate’ pile straight onto my shelf of favourites.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite ended up happening. I’m about to get spoilery, so if you haven’t read this book yet it’s probably time for you to jump down to my thoughts on Furiously Happy…
Whistle in the Dark doesn’t really tell a story. A girl goes missing during a vacation in the Peak District with her mother, and when she comes back she won’t tell anyone where she’s been. Her mother is worried that someone kidnapped her or took advantage of her, but Lana remains tight-lipped: is she protecting someone, or has she suppressed her memories of the traumatic event? Sounds like the makings of a perfect psychological thriller, right?
WRONG. This book has such a brilliant premise, but it doesn’t live up to it AT ALL. It starts to try to address so many different, interesting plot lines, then abandons them and jumps off on other tangents. There are a slew of almost thought-provoking inclusions – the struggles of parenting a child with depression, self-harm, sperm donation, religion – but in the grand scheme of things every single one of them falls short.
I’ve seen a lot of different reviews since I finished this book, and all of them have said that they were impressed by at least one section – either the beginning, the middle or the end – so they’ve felt justified in giving Whistle in the Dark three stars minimum. Meanwhile there’s me, the salty little sausage in the corner, who can’t think of a redeeming thing to say about the entire novel. The beginning was intriguing for all of five minutes, the middle perfectly showed the paranoid musings of an anxious mother (and then showed it perfectly over and over again, as Jen repeated her worries so regularly that I began to worry that I was pressing the back button on my Kindle rather than reading further into the book), while the ending was possibly the worst thing I’ve ever read.
Turns out, Lana went into a cave to OD, passed out, came around and got lost in the cave and managed to find her way out three days later. We learn this because Jen goes exploring and gets lost in the same cave… But gets out within a couple of hours. How long are we supposed to believe Lana was unconscious?! None of it added up, and it’s the least satisfying pay off I’ve ever gotten from a ‘thriller’. I’m still going to pick up Elizabeth is Missing, but I wish I’d trusted the Goodreads ratings on this one.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – 5 stars
Furiously Happy is superb. As you can tell by its full title, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, this non-fiction title follows journalist Jenny Lawson as she experiences mental illness but does her best to continue living life to the fullest, taking awful situations and making light of them.
I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw the cover, but little did I know that that crazy-ass raccoon is actually taxidermy. We actually follow him on some pretty wild adventures of his own over the course of this book (the mental image of two taxidermy raccoons – oh yes, he has a brother – attempting to ride cats is one which will stick with me until the end of my days) so if you’re not a fan of taxidermy, or the kind of people who own taxidermy, then you’ll want to walk away now.
Yes, this book is so stuffed with hyperbole that it would make a really great pillow, but I loved every single far-fetched, utterly unbelievable moment of it. There are poignant moments which slow the pace down dramatically, but as someone who related to a lot of the ways Jenny Lawson described her mental illnesses it made this book feel like talking to an old friend. In act, I loved this book so much that I ordered Jenny Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, the night that I finished Furiously Happy.
I’m definitely going to be following The Bloggess and will be inhaling Jenny Lawson’s posts as soon as she writes them in the future.
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson – 4 stars
When I picked The Morning Gift out of my TBR jar, I was expecting it to be a children’s title, as the only Eva Ibbotson novels I’ve read in the past have been middle-grade. Although some people have described The Morning Gift as YA I definitely feel as though it falls in the historical fiction genre, as the pacing is much slower than your average YA release.
Not only that, but this story is intensely character-focused. Set during World War II, we follow Ruth Berger as she gets separated from her family and trapped in Vienna, where the Nazis are preparing to march upon the city. Forced to marry a friend from her childhood to get British citizenship so that she is able to rejoin her family, it isn’t long before Ruth manages to get to safely. Her new husband, Professor Quin Somerville, promises that he will use all his power as a famous paleontologist to get their marriage annulled as quickly as possible so that Ruth can marry her childhood sweetheart, Heini. His only conditions? That Ruth must promise to pursue higher education, and that she may never contact him again.
Ruth agrees to these conditions quickly, but due to some mixed messages she ends up enrolling in his class at college. Ruth and Somerville do their best to pretend that they don’t know each other, but their chemistry is unmistakable, not only causing tension between Ruth and some her classmates but also conflicting Ruth herself.
A lot of this novel relies on a lack of communication between the characters, which is one of my least favourite tropes and is probably the only reason that I didn’t give The Morning Gift five stars. If it was only used once I may understand, but with it cropping up a few times throughout the course of the novel it made some parts of the story a little unbelievable. That being said, as it was a historical novel this did annoy me less than novels which rely on this trope and are set in modern times – it’s not like Ruth and Somerville could have just messaged each other on Facebook to get to the bottom of things!
Overall, this story is remarkable. Eva Ibbotson’s magical use of language imbues each of the settings with vibrancy, from the local café to Somerville’s estate, and each member of the large cast of characters comes to life too. Some of the characters are only mentioned once or twice but are still very memorable, as Ibbotson gives each of them unique traits to make them more realistic. Yes, the story does drag at times – descriptions are definitely prioritised over the plot and the pacing – but that makes the payoff at the end of this story all the sweeter, and I found myself enjoying it far more than I normally like historical fiction.
Eva Ibbotson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, so I’m glad that her writing still appeals to me now, fifteen years later. She has so many novels which I’m yet to read, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of them – and rediscovering my old favourites – in the future.
Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer – 4 stars
I’m beginning to wish I’d reviewed Call It What You Want as soon as I’d finished it, because as time goes on I’m struggling to remember why I liked this story enough to rate it four stars.
Following Maegan and Rob – a girl whose perfect scholarship sister has just announced she is pregnant, and a boy whose father attempted suicide after being caught embezzling millions of dollars – this is a much darker contemporary than I had expected after seeing the cute cover sprinkled with origami hearts.
I enjoyed both Maegan and Rob’s stories individually, but I begin to feel conflicted when I consider their romance. Maegan is vilified for cheating on the SAT, while everyone at school presumes Rob must have been involved in his father’s crime as he worked at his office, so it makes sense that they are drawn together as they can relate to each other’s struggles… But something about it still fell flat for me. Their relationship seems to develop very quickly, going from gentle flirting to intensely serious in a split second, and I just wanted this to be a bit more of a slow burn. They’re both have some trust issues, finding it hard to develop friendships because of the judgment that they’ve experienced due to their situations, and it would have been nice if this had been addressed more.
That being said, I obviously did enjoy it enough to give it four stars at the time! The writing is easily digestible and despite the length of this story we devoured it in a couple of sittings. Brigid Kemmerer also writes really great friendships: the interactions between Rob and the librarian will forever warm my heart – we stan a supportive adult who just wants to discuss books – and the friendship which develops between Rob and Owen (one of the victims of his father’s crime) is heartwarming to the max. I also loved the way Kemmerer tackled the relationship between Rob and his ex-best friend Connor: it’s a brilliant glimpse into the dynamics and intensity of male friendship, which isn’t focused upon too frequently in YA.
I’m definitely planning on reading more of Brigid Kemmerer’s work in the future, but I’m not sure I understand the hype that her writing attracts just yet. A Curse So Dark and Lovely is one of the other titles in my TBR jar, so I’m hoping I’ll pick that out sooner rather than later, but we also own Letters to the Lost, so I’ll be putting that on my TBR at some point over the next couple of months.
As you can see, this round of the TBR jar was far more successful than the first! I’ve already picked out the titles for April’s TBR – only four titles this time, as we’ve got a pretty full on month with the O.W.L.S Magical Readathon, and I’m also attempting to read the YA Book Prize shortlist in its entirety – but I’ll get a post up soon with my thoughts on the new picks.
See you soon!