TBR Jar Round #3
Welcome back for another round of the TBR jar reviews! I only chose four titles out of the jar for April’s TBR as I already had a pretty busy reading month lined up what with reading the YA Book Prize shortlist and taking part in the O.W.L.S Magical Readathon, but I’m pleased to say that I managed to get them all read in the nick of time.
I was very excited about the titles I picked out this month, as there are some books here that I’ve been wanting to read for a while and I don’t know why I’ve kept putting them off! But the question is, did they live up to my expectations? Let’s find out.
Broken Things by Lauren Oliver – 3 stars
I actually read Broken Things to pass my O.W.L.S Divination exam, for which you have to read a book which is chosen at random. I’ve read a couple of Lauren Oliver’s other novels but she’s an author who I’ve always wanted to read more from and the premise of Broken Things – following two girls who are suspected of murdering their best friend because of an obsession with a book – was right up my alley.
It took me a while to get into Broken Things because I wasn’t expecting it to be a dual perspective, but throughout the novel we follow both Brynn and Mia. Not only is it dual perspective but it also jumps from the present to the past, showing flashbacks to both of their lives with Summer before her brutal murder and the fallout they experienced directly following the events which unfolded.
Unfortunately, both voices sounded very similar, with little variation between the two characters. At multiple points I found myself thinking we were following Brynn and were actually with Mia. Considering Brynn is meant to be an overly confident lesbian and Mia is supposed to be the meek and quiet girl-next-door type, it should have been pretty impossible to get their viewpoints confused. The flashbacks made things a little bit easier, but I wonder whether this story would have been better told chronologically with two parts splitting life ‘Before’ and ‘After’: instead we have four parts, a pretty obvious murderer and a lot of confusion.
The excerpts from The Way into Lovelorn were one of the most interesting aspects of the story, and I’d definitely be interested in reading it if Lauren Oliver ever decided to expand the excerpts into a full-length novel á la Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. However, The Way into Lovelorn has a mysterious ending which sparks their obsession with the novel, and that ending is explained away in a very off-hand way by one of the characters, making that plot point seem pretty null and void. Considering Summer’s death is supposed to have been a sacrifice to the Shadow – the evil monster from Lovelorn who terrifies all of the inhabitants – it would have been nice if it had had a bit more of a satisfying explanation, but it flipped one of the most memorable plot points into one of the least impactful with just a couple of sentences.
I was expecting this to be a new favourite, but instead it’s a very forgettable story which I’ve seen done better before and will definitely be done better in the future. I’m giving it three stars because I wasn’t annoyed by it, but I definitely wasn’t impressed by it: this story was very much middle-of-the-road.
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich – 3 stars
Dear Evan Hansen is a conflicting novel. Based on the musical of the same name, this book follows a boy called Evan Hansen as he gets accidentally dragged into a pretty bizarre situation.
Evan Hansen’s therapist has recommended that he writes letters to himself in an attempt to give himself a more positive outlook on life. Unfortunately for Evan, he prints one of his letters off at school, where it’s discovered by the brother of the girl who he has a crush on. Connor questions why Evan is writing about his sister, then takes the letter with him… And when he commits suicide that evening, his parents find the letter in his pocket and assume that he had written his suicide note to Evan, not realising that Evan had written the letter to himself.
Do you see what I mean by a ‘bizarre situation’ now?
Sadly, Evan’s anxiety is so bad that he doesn’t know how to correct Connor’s parents, so he goes along with it. Yep. Evan Hansen pretends to be a dead guy’s best friend to avoid upsetting said dead guy’s parents.
I really enjoyed the first half of this story, because Evan’s reactions to the situation are so genuine. As soon as he gets himself implicated it spirals out of control very rapidly – he can’t say no to going to the wake because that would be rude; he can’t say no to dinner with Connor’s parents because that would be horrible – but then Evan starts dating Connor’s sister, Zoe, and that was the moment where I became a bit less enthused by the direction the story was going in.
To start with Evan is just trying to comfort the Murphy family, but as soon as he starts dating Zoe it reads more that he’s taking advantage of their son’s suicide to improve his own situation in life. I loved the fact that Evan teamed up with a couple of schoolfriends to host a memorial for Connor – no one should be forgotten about after committing suicide, and raising awareness of mental health and depression is never a bad thing – but the more that I read the more uncomfortable the story made me.
It wouldn’t have been as bad if Evan had experienced some kind of retribution, but he gets away pretty unscathed. I actually think I would have found the story more satisfying if his deception hadn’t come out at all, because the reveal was such a non-event.
That being said, there are a few chapters sprinkled throughout which are told from Connor’s perspective, and these are fascinating. He gives us an idea of why he decided to end his life, and comes to terms with the choice that he made in a very poignant way. I actually think I might have enjoyed this book more if it had been written entirely from Connor’s perspective and he had been watching Evan’s deception play out, because the few times he sees what Evan is up to he is just as confused as the reader is by Evan’s choices.
I’ve read a few other reviews for this one and have gathered that most people dislike the novel and enjoy the musical far more, so I am still interested in potentially seeing this one on the stage. The concept is so good, and I can tell that the writer has obviously done their best to raise awareness of mental health, but something about it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus – 4 stars
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, which appeared on the YA Book Prize shortlist, has been described as the UK’s answer to One of Us is Lying, so of course the TBR jar decided I’d be reading both of them this month. What are the chances?!
I went into One of Us is Lying pretty blind, simply knowing that five people go to detention and only four of them end up leaving after the fifth person is murdered. Despite the fact that this has been out for over three years now (where has the time gone?!) I’d managed to avoid any spoilers, so I went into this looking forward to solving a mystery.
I thought I’d cracked it pretty quickly, as mysterious Tumblr messages begin popping up and only one of the characters doesn’t read one during their viewpoint… A pretty big giveaway! Or so I thought. Turns out, Karen M. McManus had totally thought about the fact that people would use that to figure out who was responsible, making it a very clever red herring which completely duped me within a couple of chapters.
However, I was reading this one with Sean and he did figure out the big twist! It meant I was still quite impressed by the way it played out, but he lost interest pretty quickly – apparently he’s already read or seen a few things which were quite similar, but this was my first time experiencing a twist like this. I’m not going to spoil it, because it does work really well if you don’t see it (or believe that it is) coming.
The only reason I didn’t give One of Us is Lying five stars is because there’s a twist in the plot which involves a character’s sexuality, and that’s not something I ever really enjoy. I saw that aspect of the story coming from a mile away – literally the character’s second chapter, when it is first alluded to – and it just made me roll my eyes as that kind of twist is very overdone.
I’m glad I waited so long to read One of Us is Lying, because the sequel, One of Us is Next, is already out. That means I don’t have to wait long to catch up with these pretty little liars and see what crazy shenanigans happen in their lives next. This is definitely a story which doesn’t need a sequel – the story is wrapped up very neatly, and if I had read it at the time I would have anticipated it being a standalone – but Karen M. McManus is a pro at writing multiple viewpoints, making all of her characters very different and utterly compelling, and I’m really looking forward to getting to spend some more time with them. Particularly Bronwyn and Nate. Hardcore shipping those two.
The Fire Child by S.K. Tremayne – 1 star
I knew it was too good to be true. The Fire Child was the last book I read out of my TBR jar picks for April, and of course it had to end up being a bloody one star!
This was actually a three star novel until about 20% before the end, where it started plummeting rapidly. I’m about to get pretty spoilery, so if you haven’t read The Fire Child yet and don’t want spoilers you should definitely keep on scrolling…
The Fire Child begins very strongly. Rachel and David have recently gotten married, and he’s just moved her in to his ancestral family home in Cornwall. They are completely smitten, and despite the fact that David has to work in London all week and only spends weekends at home Rachel has never been happier. That is, until her stepson Jamie warns her that she’s going to die at Christmas. There have always been stories that the Kerthen children can see the future so Rachel believes her stepson’s prediction. This causes David to believe Rachel is going crazy and that his son is in danger, so he beats Rachel, getting himself slapped with an exclusion order which means he can’t go within five miles of his home.
His burst of anger makes Rachel wonder whether the story regarding David’s first wife’s death is genuine. Nina plummeted to her death down a mineshaft on Christmas day eighteen months before, but Rachel begins to investigate her death.
What she finds is completely unbelievable, unrealistic, and so goddamned stupid that I’m surprised this book even managed to get published.
Turns out, Nina was barren, so David anonymously paid a young college student to accept his sperm donation and give birth to his child. And that college student was, drum roll please… Rachel! Out of EVERYONE IN ENGLAND, David just happens to meet and fall in love with the woman who he paid to carry his child! That’s TOTALLY believable! I completely buy it!
Rachel works this out because she sees a picture of Nina and David with Jamie and recognises the photographer’s style – Jamie’s face isn’t visible, as he’s turned towards his mother – and she knows that the photographer is the one who first introduced her to the concept of being paid to carry a child. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen loads of different photographers taking pictures of new parents with a baby whose face isn’t visible as that can give them a little bit of much needed privacy, so that’s pretty flimsy in the first place.
Add that to the fact that Rachel is suffering from an extremely rare case of prepartum psychosis, and I would have believed it much more if Rachel had ‘figured out’ that she was Jamie’s mother and then gotten herself sectioned because she was experiencing delusions and actually hadn’t been his mother, because it’s just so convoluted.
Rachel believed that the child she gave birth to was a girl who died, as she gave birth so prematurely that the nurses told her the baby died to make the separation easier. In what world does thinking your child is dead make it easier that giving that child to the family who paid you to give birth to them?! And why would the nurses also bother to lie about the gender when Rachel would never know either way? So many questions, so many unanswerable questions which tear this plot apart as soon as you ask them.
Not only that, but Rachel lied and claimed that the reason she was pregnant was because her father raped her, and she said that she lied like that to protect her mother? Rachel is sexually abused by her father as a child and that is horrendous – and also rather graphically described, another good reason to avoid this book – but I can’t see the logic of telling everyone that your father raped you and believing that you’re doing your mother a favour. Also, if your father is also the father of your baby, where are you explaining the sudden influx of money you’ve received from the man who paid you to carry his baby? Again, more unanswerable questions.
Honestly, the terrible ending isn’t the only reason I knocked stars off for this book. There’s also a brilliant line where the snowy landscape is described as ‘autistic’ and I just??? What the fuck? Who in their right mind describes as landscape as autistic? That’s not even the only time this is used as a negative descriptive word in this novel. Gross.
I loved the descriptions of Cornwall – I spent a day in Truro last year for some work training and S.K. Tremayne does a brilliant job of bringing the location to life – and the photography of the mines throughout adds another layer to the story and sets up the historical context of the Kerthen family very strongly. That being said, if I’d been anywhere near a fire while reading this one it would have been chucked straight in.
And that’s the end of another round of the TBR jar! This month’s picks were not as good as last month’s (and I can tell you already that there’s probably going to be another one star next month based off of those picks…) but at least that’s another four books ticked off on my NetGalley.
Once again, thank you to NetGalley for the service that you provide – I’m just sorry I take advantage of it far more than I should…
Have you read any of these books? If so, let me know your thoughts on them down in the comments, and I’ll see you tomorrow for a fun blog tour post!