TBR Jar Round #1

TBR Jar Round #1

I have a NetGalley addiction. I check the site at least twice a day, and I request something nearly every single time I’m on there. I’ve tried – oh, I have TRIED – to stop myself, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything I can do that will work.

Because of this, I have an awful lot of books on my NetGalley which I haven’t read or reviewed. In 2020, I’m challenging myself to start actively tackling the backlog, so I’ve made myself a TBR jar filled solely with the Ghosts of NetGalley Past. I’m planning on picking at least five titles out each month, and I took my first handful while filming my February TBR, so now that I’ve finished them all I thought I would share my thoughts with you. Was the jar kind to me?

The Sham by Ellen Allen

Last year my boyfriend taught me how to DNF books I really wasn’t enjoying, and that skill came in handy within the first few chapters of The Sham (I DNF’d it at 6% after struggling to get even that far).

Bitchy mean girls forcing an autistic boy to bite the head off of a bird, soiling himself in the process because he was so frightened? No thank you.

That’s not saying anything about how terrible the writing was. The mean girls were called Becky, Rebecca, Kitty and Cath. How are you supposed to tell them apart?!

I’ll be honest, the first chapter/prologue thing was vaguely interesting, with Emily’s boyfriend Jack murdering a girl in a rather bloody and very graphic way, but it just proved to me that the blurb for The Sham was so far off. It made it sound like The Fault in Our Stars with a bad boy, alluding to the fact that Emily’s boyfriend was very sick (but also accused of murder!) when in fact the murderous part of him is confirmed pretty dang quickly.

I also hated the fact that Emily refused to share the identity of which one of the mean girls he killed, called them ‘Dead Body and friends’… I mean, I hated all of the mean girls very quickly, so I’m more disappointed that he didn’t kill all of them.

Apparently Ellen Allen was inspired by a nightmare to write this, and this is the kind of horror-filled awfulness that should have probably stayed in her head.

It’s still the only novel she’s ever released… I’m quite glad about that, because she’s definitely an author I was not going to be trying out again.

The Messenger by Pamela DuMond – 2 stars

After Madeline is accidentally pushed off of a train platform, she finds herself waking up in 1675 in the midst of a battlefield in King Philip’s War. With colonists dead around her and a bloody gash on her forehead, Madeline – known in colonial times as Abigail – is the only survivor, but she’s certain that she must be dreaming. How can she have fallen over 300 years back in time?

However, for someone who has woken up in a different time period she’s remarkably chill. Almost running away within the first couple of days, she soon gives up and settles down, blindly accepting the wisdom of a local woman who claims that she is a Messenger. Next thing you know, Madeline is falling in instalove with a colonist called Samuel, learning how to tend fires and helping her ‘cousin’ Elizabeth with running the schoolhouse. All’s well that ends well.

But it’s not quite that easy. Next thing you know Madeline is being stalked by a Hunter who knows she is a Messenger and is desperate to get revenge. Despite the fact that Madeline has had no training at all, she – SPOILER ALERT – manages to miraculously save her life by teleporting back to modern day times, where she bumps into modern day Samuel and seconds later is confronted by the man who is hunting her… And then the book just ends.

Honestly, I was tempted to give The Messenger three stars because even though it was a bit cliched I really enjoyed the concept and I thought the plot was nice and absorbing, but the last few chapters just really annoyed me. The book starts with a flashforward and I’d been looking forward to finding out how Madeline found herself in such a situation, but it didn’t feel authentic when it got there. It also doesn’t help that Madeline makes it sound as though she’s been trained as a Messenger, when in all reality she’s only been given a couple of pieces of advice – I wouldn’t even call them ‘lessons’ as such, and as a reader you still have no real knowledge of how Messengers work (or Hunters or Healers, who are touched upon very briefly).

The ending was rushed, and leaving it on such a hammy cliffhanger irritated me, particularly as it ends under 75% into the NetGalley version which I was reading – the last 25% is a preview of one of Pamela DuMond’s other books, and it isn’t even a sampler of the second book in the Mortal Beloved series! I felt a little cheated and was really glad that I hadn’t spent money on this book, and it’s certainly made me think twice about continuing on with the series: these books are short enough, without making the last fifty pages part of a completely different story.

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen – 1 star

I’m not sure whether I’ve been too harsh on The Lost Letters of William Woolf, but this is definitely a book with a great concept and poor execution.

William Woolf works in the Dead Letters Depot, a place where undeliverable post is sent in the hopes that one of the workers will be able to solve the mystery of that smudged address or that incorrect postcode. William spends most of his time up on the fourth floor in the ‘Supernatural Division’, tackling letters to Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, and when he stumbles across a letter from a lady called Winter addressed to her Great Love, he begins to wonder whether it could have been meant for him.

Now, I thought that concept sounded really cute – a lonely single male finding love in a postbag – but when I started reading it I discovered William is married. Now, his relationship with Clare is in a bad place before he discovers Winter’s letters, but it certainly changed the direction that I thought this story was going to take. He’s emotionally cheating on Clare, fantasizing about finding this girl and being her true love, and I just can’t get on board with that. Yes, Clare does some horrible things, but I think William is a bit of a hypocrite for acting all high and mighty when he’s not that much better than her.

Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want spoilers for how the book ends, but I just couldn’t with the final couple of chapters.

William reads one of Winter’s letters and discovers she is getting married, so he goes to the church, AFTER writing a letter to Clare telling her that he really wants them to give things another go. What, so if you can’t crash the wedding of a woman you’ve been effectively stalking by reading private letters which you shouldn’t really have opened, you’ll settle for your wife?! Meanwhile Clare has been pretty adamant throughout the whole book that she doesn’t want a baby, and in a cheap, throwaway epilogue – One Year and One Day Later – we join Clare in her art studio. She’s sporting a huge baby bump, reading The Lost Letters of William Woolf (#inception) until a MYSTERY MAN walks in. I mean, if my husband and I split up and I was having a baby with somebody else I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be reading my ex’s book, so it’s not really that much of a question about who she ended up with…

I think I would have been able to give The Lost Letters of William Woolf two stars if my expectations hadn’t been so high. It doesn’t help that it starts off really strongly – William goes on little cross-country adventures to reunite people with precious items which have been lost in the post, and these chapters absolutely flew by – but things go downhill so quickly. I would have preferred reading William’s own book, which he writes about the most interesting lost letters he has encountered in his career: that definitely would have been a five star read!

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green – 3 stars

Sally Green’s Half Bad is one of my favourite books of all time, which is why I have been constantly putting off reading The Smoke Thieves. I just couldn’t see it living up to Green’s debut, and my expectations for this one were through the roof.

Unfortunately, I was right.

My main issue with The Smoke Thieves is that there are too many viewpoints. As you can see from the cover, we follow a princess, a soldier, a hunter, a traitor and a thief, and only three out of the five kept me engaged.

I wasn’t interested at all in Princess Catherine or Ambrose – they are torn apart too early in the novel for me to feel invested in their separation or any kind of desperation for them to be reunited – and I found myself internally groaning every time I encountered another one of Catherine’s chapters. This a world where there is a lot of misogyny, but the scenes where males were talking down to Catherine and disrespecting her because of her gender were ones which I felt I’d read a thousand times before. I did appreciate the fact that each of her chapters started with a quote from a piece of literature from the world as it fleshed the setting out very nicely, but I think this would have had more of an impact if she’d done the same with all of the characters.

On the other hand, I absolutely flew through all of Tash’s chapters. She’s the female half of a demon-hunting duo and all she wants is to get paid so she can buy herself a pair of boots she’s been coveting. It’s a very simplistic motivation, but it does its job – that pair of boots pushes the plot in some action-packed directions! Not only that but Green has obviously thought through the way that she wants her demons to work, and it’s refreshing to see such a different version of them – I’ve never seen anyone else’s story feature dying demons releasing a smoke which people use to get high!

I also really loved March and Edyon. March is the last member of a race which was wiped out during the war between Princess Catherine’s father and her uncle, who we discover is Edyon’s father. The dynamic between the two of them is very interesting: Edyon is instantly attracted to March so he’s very flirty throughout the majority of their interactions, while March has no idea how to feel because he’s not planning on taking Edyon home to his father after all, meaning their entire relationship is built on a lie. I’m hoping this is going to be a slow burn romance which will be exploring throughout the other two books in the series, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens when March’s original plan is revealed.

The Smoke Thieves is a very strong start to the trilogy, but I think the success of the series is going to depend on how things continue. I’m looking forward to reading The Demon World, and I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it a bit more now that my expectations have been lowered.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner – 4 stars

The last TBR jar pick that I picked up in February was The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner, and thankfully this ended up being the highest rated of the five books in the first round.

Following two sisters called Liba and Laya, The Sisters of the Winter Wood is an ambitious debut novel. Their mother is a swan and their father is a bear, and throughout the course of The Sisters of the Winter Wood Liba and Laya discover that they take after their parents, making this a coming-of-age tale which is chockablock with magical realism.

Not only that, but Rena Rossner tackles the plight of the Jews, who are being shunned in a small town following the death of one of the local girls. Animosity is already in the air, but when a group of fruit sellers sets up in the local market – all non-Jewish boys, one of whom starts wooing Laya – their racist attitudes cause tensions to be raised, and an impending pogrom seems certain.

One of the things I liked the most about The Sisters of the Winter Wood was the difference between Laya and Liba’s viewpoints. Liba is very logical and follows all of her parents rules so her perspective is written in prose, but Laya has her head in the clouds (quite literally, she is a swan after all!) and is much less restrained, which means it makes perfect sense that her chapters are written in verse. The contrast between the styles makes it easy to tell the difference between the characters, making this one of the first dual perspective novel I haven’t had to pause while reading to remind myself who I’m currently following.

However, the reason I couldn’t give this five stars is because there are a lot of gaps in the story where one character will pass out while the other isn’t present and you’ll suddenly time jump to when they’re back together, meaning there are times when you feel you’ve missed a chunk and get a bit disoriented. All in all, this is a very strong debut novel and I’m definitely interested in seeing what Rena Rossner writes next (whenever her second novel gets announced!).

So, as you can see, my first round of TBR jar picks was pretty unsuccessful. I’ve hardly ever DNF’d anything, so for my first choice to end up being a DNF was so unlucky!

Hopefully the books I picked out in my March TBR video will be more enjoyable…

Let me know your thoughts on any of these books down below, and I’ll see you soon,