In September I did things a little bit differently because it was Bookoplathon (hosted by Becca and the Books). I pulled five books out of my TBR jar as normal, but ended up pulling another two books out of the jar throughout the month when …
Tag: tbr jar
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,
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!