TBR Jar Round #5

TBR Jar Round #5

Another month means it’s time for another set of TBR jar reviews. I picked out a wide range of titles for June and could hardly remember anything about any of the titles, so it was fun to discover them throughout the month.

Before you check out my reviews, I’d love it if you could check out the Black Lives Matter carrd. It collects links for petitions and places where you can donate to support the cause, so if you have some spare time or money it can make a huge difference.

The Memory Game by Sharon Sant – 1 star

I had high hopes for The Memory Game. The blurb was reminiscent of Phyllida Shrimpton’s Sunflowers in February which I read back in 2018, but after finding that story a little bland I thought The Memory Game might impress me more.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. I hated The Memory Game, and if it hadn’t been so short – coming in at under 150 pages – I would have abandoned it, review be damned!

David is dead, killed in a hit-and-run accident, but he’s still hanging around. His mum can’t see him, and neither can his best friend… In fact that only person able to see David is Bethany, the girl he used to bully.

I wrongly assumed that David was going to be trying to solve the mystery of his murder, so I was disappointed when Bethany suggested that and David said the identity of the hit-and-run driver didn’t matter. Really, man?! Someone killed you and you’re just blasé?

That wasn’t even the first thing about this book that annoyed me. David’s a massive sexist, blaming the girl he had a crush on for his death because – wait for it – he was only on that road because he was heading home after work, and he only had a job so that he could save money to take Ingrid somewhere nice IF she said yes when he eventually asked her out. Oh boy. Just take responsibility for your own actions, you moron! Then there are the jokes about him possibly following her home and watching her in the shower… Gross.

There is a reason why David is hanging around, which I saw coming from a mile away (and hoped I was wrong about). It’s a disappointing, unsatisfying conclusion. If it hadn’t been published back in 2013 I would have expected a sequel to be on its way, because the story ends very abruptly and it feels unfinished.

However, despite the fact that I really didn’t enjoy this book I was quite impressed by the concept of the memory game itself, which David and Bethany play together. David feels as though he’s fading away and is losing himself, so Bethany describes tastes, smells and feelings which he’s forgetting – it’s very simple, but the scenes featuring the two of them playing the game are some of the most enjoyable in the story.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung – 3 stars

To paraphrase a quote from this book: this wasn’t good, this wasn’t bad, it was nice.

After Lucy wins a scholarship to the prestigious Laurinda school, she begins writing letters to her old friend Linh to tell her about everything that goes on at the new school. From the Cabinet – the three most popular girls, who manipulate and bully anyone who crosses them – pranking a teacher so badly that she quits to the headmistress seemingly condoning the behaviour. Laurinda life would be hard for anyone to adjust to, but Lucy’s immigrant parents and downtrodden neighbourhood make it even harder for her.

Lucy tells Linh all about her first year while trying to work out how she fits into the world of Laurinda and who she really wants to be. Would she rather sit by and let the people in power get away with their terrible deeds, or does she want to stand up as leader of the underdogs?

There’s a big twist towards the end of this book which I don’t want to spoil, but I assumed that was where the story was going and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy it as much as other readers seem to. I’d been expecting something with a bit more drama, but Lucy and Linh almost reads like literary fiction rather than YA: the writing is a lot floatier, and the story is extremely character-driven. At times it doesn’t even feel like it has a plot, because when you boil it down it’s simply Lucy attending school for the majority of the book. In fact, I was far more interested in Lucy’s mother’s story: if this had been a book following her – having a new baby in a foreign country while working all hours of the day and night to provide the bare minimum for her family – I think it would have been much more interesting.

That being said, I did enjoy Alice Pung’s writing style. The descriptions of Stanley, Lucy’s hometown, are very evocative, while she gives Laurinda its own unique aspects so that it stands out from amongst other fancy private schools I’ve read about in the past. I think it helped that this book was set in Australia, as I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this which wasn’t set in America or the UK!

This just didn’t really have any impact on me, and I think I’m going to end up forgetting about this completely sooner rather than later.

Southern Perfection by Casey Peeler – 1 star

I was really looking forward to reading Southern Perfection, but I ended up being completely underwhelmed. I was expecting something a bit more like One Chance Night by Eliza Boyd – which I only gave three stars, but for some reason really sticks out in my mind – so I think I can partly blame my expectations for the reason that this book fell so flat.

However, the synopsis is also hugely misleading. Referencing appearances being ‘not what they seem’ and ‘all the questions are answered with one night, one song, one story, and one boy’ you’d think this would be a cute contemporary romance and not much deeper than that, right?

Wrong! The secret that Raegan Lowery is hiding is that her Grandaddy has leukaemia, so there is far more to this story than I’d expected. If this had been more obvious based off of the description I might not have been as disappointed, but I was looking forward to reading a summery romance, not a girl struggling to come to terms with her grandfather’s impending death.

If Southern Perfection had been solely focused upon Raegan and her Grandaddy, I probably would have given this a higher rating. That plotline is handled very well. Raegan wants her Grandaddy to undergo chemotherapy, while he values the quality of his life over the quantity so is hesitant to do the treatment. This is highly realistic (although Raegan wasn’t as supportive as I thought she could have been. Her constant storming out and flouncing off didn’t seem like the actions of a girl who would do anything to keep her Grandaddy happy).

But, of course, there has to be the romance aspect, and I HATED the relationship between Emmett and Raegan. Emmett has recently come back to town, and because he gave Raegan a toy bunny rabbit when her parents died when she was seven, it’s a-okay when they fall in love within a week.

Raegan hides Grandaddy’s illness from him, then gets really pissed off when he figures out something is going on… Then Emmett hides something about Grandaddy from Raegan, so they have another blow out, just for him to hide something else from her as soon as he possibly can. What?! Just learn how to talk to each other if you really love each other that much!

Not only that, but this book is really poorly written. The characters are flat, and even though Grandaddy’s ill I just couldn’t find the energy to care because none of the characters are three-dimensional. I’ve lost a grandparent to cancer, so you would think this book would hit me right in my feels, but I felt completely neutral (comma bored) throughout the entire story. I just wanted it to end, and I really wish I’d DNF’d.

I was tempted to give Southern Perfection two stars, because the discussion of Grandaddy’s illness was very well done, but then the epilogue happened. OH BOY. I have no words for how much the ending irritated me. Blegh. Nope. Next!

Friend Request by Laura Marshall – 4 stars

Friend Request is the best thriller I’ve read so far this year.

It all starts with a friend request on Facebook. Maria Weston wants to be friends… which wouldn’t be a problem if she hadn’t been dead for 25 years.

Louise is terrified that someone has discovered her involvement in Maria’s death and they are coming after her, so she quickly finds herself thrown back into the teen drama she’s desperately tried to leave in the past.

It all comes to a head when she attends her old class reunion, and the next morning the body of one of her old classmates is found. With another death to investigate, it seems likely that the police are going to discover the truth about what happened to Maria, but will they get to the bottom of the mystery before the mysterious creator of the Facebook page gets their revenge on Louise?

The beginning of this book was ridiculously slow. Louise constantly alludes towards the terrible thing she did to Maria, but we don’t find out exactly what that was until quite a way into the book. However, as soon as that secret is out the pace ratchets up dramatically, and I read the last quarter of the book in one sitting in the middle of the night (this is not the kind of book you can dip into for a chapter or two when you’re trying to fall back to sleep!).

Jumping from 1989 to 2016, this book was half adult thriller and half YA drama, so it was right up my alley. The flashbacks fleshed the characters out a lot more, and by the time you reach that fateful night you find yourself really rooting for Maria to make it out alive. I tricked myself that she was going to be behind it all on multiple occasions while reading, even though it was so obvious that that couldn’t be the case!

I wasn’t surprised at all by the identity of the person behind Maria’s Facebook page, but I loved the twist which came afterwards regarding Maria’s fate. Turns out, Louise wasn’t as responsible for her death as she thought she was… But I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you, because I gasped when I realised where the story was going. More often than not I can figure out the culprits in thrillers and I always feel a little disappointed, but Laura Marshall wove the red herrings throughout her story so cleverly that it was such a huge surprise to discover what actually happened.

I’m so glad I read this book. After reading quite a few disappointing thrillers so far this year, it’s nice to find one which got my heart pounding and kept me guessing for the majority of the story.

The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark – 3 stars

Maddy and Gabe have been skating partners since they were six, but they’re much older now. When their skating coach decides it’s time for them to start doing more romantic routines, Maddy thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to finally show Gabe why they should be together.

Gabe is known for only being interested in each of his many ex-girlfriends for two weeks at the most, so when he starts developing feelings for Maddy he’s sure they’re going to go away. When they don’t, he has to decide whether he’s willing to risk their friendship – and their skating career – for the chance of a relationship which might fizzle out almost as soon as it’s begun.

My actual rating for this book is 2.5 stars because it was painfully average. I was certain I was going to love this one, so this is probably my biggest disappointment this month.

All of the foreshadowing was so heavy-handed. There was a mystery surrounding Maddy’s father which I guessed as soon as it was even hinted that there was a secret he was keeping. Meanwhile, there are constant references to the fact that skating is Maddy’s only plan for life, so when something bad happens towards the end of the book it’s so predictable that I found myself shouting ‘Finally!’ rather than experiencing any sort of emotional reaction. The same thing happens with a subplot regarding another skating pair, but then that doesn’t get dealt with at all – I’m not sure whether Katie Van Ark was planning on writing a sequel and then never got around to it, but there’s are quite a few things which are left dangling in a wholly unsatisfactory way.

Then there’s all of the ice skating language which is shoehorned in throughout the novel. It is CONSTANT, but one of the most irritating examples was when something was referred to as ‘ice-crystal clear’… Come on, surely crystal clear is a good enough turn of phrase!

The relationship was cute enough, but there’s a whole lack of communication between the two which causes a lot of angst and I didn’t find that believable at all. If you’ve been skating with someone for over ten years you’ll know how important communication is, so I don’t think that these two would be as terrible at talking to one another. It also gets majorly cringey towards the end of the book, and I found myself glad that it was over when it ended.

That’s not to say this book was bad. The skating aspects were described beautifully, and I could find myself visualising the choreography which Igor set them really easily. Maddy’s competitive nature comes across brilliantly while her and Gabe are practicing, and I loved her character during those scenes (but sadly when it comes to the relationship she becomes a bit of a simpering wreck). The contrast between Maddy and Gabe’s perspectives was also handled really well: their voices are very distinctive, and it’s impossible to get confused about who you’re following.

Unfortunately The Boy Next Door is currently Katie Van Ark’s only novel, which is such a shame because I would love to read more from her. This wasn’t the book for me, but I found her writing so easy to digest and would have loved to have seen where she went from here. Maybe one day.

I hope you enjoyed this round of TBR jar reviews! This wasn’t quite my worst month of picks, but it was pretty close… Hopefully July will be a bit more successful.

See you soon,