Tag: netgalley

Series review: Summoner by Taran Matharu

Series review: Summoner by Taran Matharu

Hey everyone! This is my first series review, so please bear with me as I figure out the best way to do this. I’m going to share my thoughts on each of the books in the Summoner series – including the prequel, The Outcast –…

Blog tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Blog tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin

Hello, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like. First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Meghan from Wednesday Books for reaching out and inviting me to take part in this blog…

Review: The Damned (The Beautiful #2) by Renée Ahdieh

Review: The Damned (The Beautiful #2) by Renée Ahdieh

When The Beautiful was announced, everyone I heard talking about it said it was a duology. Alas, after finishing The Damned I have realised that that is not the case – in fact, it’s rumoured that there are another two books to come in The Beautiful saga.

That might be one of the reasons that I didn’t enjoy this book anywhere near as much as I was hoping to.

The Beautiful was a five star read for me. I thought the marketing was all wrong and that it should have been pushed as a murder mystery rather than as a vampire story – the vampires aren’t explicitly revealed until towards the end of the novel, so if you’re only there for the vampires you’re going to be disappointed – but I thought the murder mystery aspect of the plot was gripping, and I loved Celine and the Court of the Lions (and the various other characters we were introduced to throughout).

Unfortunately, The Damned is the complete opposite.

There just isn’t much plot to the first half of the novel, because we’re so focused on the Court of the Lions and their vampiric ways. One of the main characters (I won’t say who, just in case you haven’t read The Beautiful yet – if not, what are you doing here?!) was turned into a vampire at the end of the first novel, and it feels like an interminable amount of complaining along the lines of, ‘Woe is me! Why am I a vampire? Why didn’t everyone just let me die?!’. I can understand why someone might be feeling that way, but it is painfully repetitive.

I never felt bored during the first book and was picking it up in every spare moment because I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was struggling to motivate myself to continue reading The Damned.

Things do eventually pick up, but Renée Ahdieh tries to cram too much into this novel. I thought that made sense because I was still assuming it was a duology – of course she’s rushing to get all the threads of the story tied together neatly! – but after I’d finished reading and I realised that that wasn’t the case I just couldn’t understand why the story was told in this way. All of the action happens in the last 10% of the novel which makes the first 90% a slog because nothing is really happening, but then when everything kicks off it isn’t satisfying at all because it’s over as soon as it starts.

One of the most frustrating aspects is the rapid fire visits to the Sylvan Wyld and the Sylvan Vale. Ahdieh has crafted an intriguing paranormal world of mirrors and portals, but the time she spends there is over almost before it has begun. I am glad that there are going to be more books in the series because I’m hoping we’ll be able to explore these locations more: when I was still under the impression that it was a duology it all seemed a bit pointless, because they are described so vibrantly and the characters leave them almost immediately to head back to New Orleans.

Meanwhile, there are two characters in this book who should have been utilised far more effectively, but they’re treated as an afterthought. When you’ve got two antagonists and the reader finds themselves regularly forgetting that either of them exist? There is something horribly wrong there.

If I’d been expecting a straight up paranormal romance I would have been satisfied, because the relationship between our two main characters is the main focus (to the detriment of every other aspect of the plot). I was wholly satisfied with the love story – although I’m not sure why Ahdieh felt the need to try to shove in the world’s least convincing love triangle – and that’s the main reason that my rating of The Damned ended up sitting at 3 stars.

I was disappointed with the main plot, but I was invested in the characters and I did appreciate the amount of development that they all went through between books one and two. The Court of the Lions are fleshed out far more than they were in book one – I couldn’t even remember Hortense or Madeleine being mentioned before, but I did read The Beautiful almost a year ago – and I really enjoyed learning more about Arjun and Jae, who are two of the strongest members of the Court.

There is still a lot of potential here, so I will be continuing on with the later books in The Beautiful saga as and when they are released. I just wish I’d known it was going to be a lengthier series when it was first announced, because it might have softened my disappointment while reading The Damned!

I hope you enjoyed my review of The Damned. Have you read The Beautiful yet, and if so what did you think?

Alyce

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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…

Rapid Reviews #5: The 2020 edition

Rapid Reviews #5: The 2020 edition

Hey everyone, and welcome to another installment of Rapid Reviews! I’ve been making a valiant effort to keep on top of reading new releases this year, so here are reviews of five books published in 2020 so far. I’ve gotten these from a mix of…

TBR Jar Round #4

TBR Jar Round #4

First things first, I just wanted to post a link to the Black Lives Matter carrd. Please take some time today to sign petitions or make a donation to the BLM movement.

It doesn’t seem right to carry on blogging as normal when there are so many more important things going on in the world at the moment, but hopefully this post will give you a bit of a distraction and entertainment before you jump back into the activist fray.

Another month, another set of book reviews for my TBR jar picks. As soon as I drew the titles for this round I was extremely apprehensive about one book, knew hardly anything about another but was really excited for the other three – were my instincts correct?

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy – 2 stars

The first thing I need to say is that my exact rating for Like Other Girls is 2.5 stars. Originally I rounded that rating up to 3 stars, but on reflection I just couldn’t justify rating it that highly because I have some very serious issues with this one.

I think the majority of the problems come from the fact that Claire Hennessy is trying to tackle too much in a book which is less than 300 pages. Whereas one of the issues might have been able to be dealt with effectively in such a short book, the majority of the topics she is trying to address overlap are handled poorly.

If this had been a book focused on abortion and the eighth amendment it would have been pushing five stars, because that aspect of this novel is handled very well. If this had been a book focused on sexuality and gender it would have been a one star, because it’s transphobic to say the least. However, this means that the first half of the novel is a one star and the second half is almost a five star and that doesn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience in the slightest. I was angry at myself for appreciating the way Claire Hennessy used her platform to fight the eighth amendment, because I was angry at the way that she had written about trans people (which made me even angrier about that, because without that this could have been a new favourite book).

This is where I get spoilery, so as always if you haven’t read Like Other Girls yet it’s time to move on to the next review…

Like Other Girls starts with each chapter counting up: week zero, day zero; week one, day four etc. At first the reader isn’t aware of what this is pointing towards – is it tracking the weeks at school? the time that the girls have been rehearsing for their musical? – but around halfway through the book we discover that despite using condoms Lauren is pregnant with the child of her recent ex-boyfriend, Justin, and that is what is being tracked.

Lauren wants an abortion, but because she lives in Ireland she has no choice but to fly to Liverpool to get treatment. Telling her parents she’s going on a trip to Cork with Q Club – a group of LGBTQ+ friends she meets regularly – she makes the journey by herself, as thousands of Irish women have in the past.

This aspect of the plot is handled with aplomb. Lauren seeks advice in Ireland and accidentally walks into a pro-life clinic masquerading as a pregnancy support clinic, but she knows enough about her situation to realise that she’s being lied to. Lauren anonymously goes to the press with her experience, desperate to help other girls in the same situation as her, and the controversy that the article stirs up begins discussions about the eighth amendment and the way that abortion is viewed in Ireland.

When Lauren does have her abortion, she isn’t filled with guilt or regret, which is realistic. The only times I’ve seen abortion addressed in YA, the characters are either extremely remorseful or the entire situation is completely glossed over, so it was brilliant to see the other side of the story represented. As I said earlier, if Like Other Girls had focused entirely on Lauren’s accidental pregnancy, it would probably have ended up being a five star for me. In fact, the only criticism I can find for this aspect of the plot is that it seems unrealistic that Lauren’s brother wouldn’t ask which concerts she was planning on getting tickets for, as she gets the money for her flight to Liverpool by asking for £300 in ticket money for Christmas.

However, then we get to the ‘problematic’ aspects of the novel. (I’m putting problematic in air quotes there, because Lauren mocks the use of the term at various points throughout the book. Possibly Hennessy knew this was going to be a big criticism of Like Other Girls and was trying to invalidate that criticism internally?).

Lauren is a horrible person. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me too much – I’m not opposed to reading about horrible characters – but it is taken too far throughout this novel. Lauren’s sense of humour is infuriating (I literally updated my Goodreads status asking whether this was supposed to be funny, because all of the so-called ‘jokes’ fell completely flat) and most of her comedy is directed towards the gender and sexuality of her friends in Q Club.

These ‘jokes’ included:

‘Marc with a c. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of picking a new name after you come out as trans, at least pick Mark with a k. For fuck’s sake. The world of manly, masculine, macho names open to you and you pick Marc with a c.

And, like, if you’re deliberately going for something not super-macho then why the need to take testosterone and to talk about it all the time?’

and

“Half the pop stars out there are now bi, apparently.”

“Attention-seekers.”

and

‘There has to be something clever and amusing to be said about how wanting a dick makes you act like one’

The sad thing is, I have more examples and I could go on.

All of those make me extremely uncomfortable. Lauren is bisexual, and her attitude to other bisexual people irritates me: she believes in the worst kind of stereotypes, claiming that she hates the word bisexual because it sounds as though you can only ever be sexually satisfied by having two lovers at once: wtf?!

She is very judgmental towards her pansexual friends too, derogatorily referring to them as the Posh Pansexuals and assuming that they are just straight girls wanting to fit in with the Q Club (when she herself is a bisexual girl with a boyfriend: double wtf?!).

She complains constantly about the fact that her boyfriend is a white, cis, straight guy, yet when he tries to break up with her she begs him to stay… Only for them to break up a couple of chapters later and for her to act like it’s no big deal, like she didn’t care about him anyway and had been trying to get rid of him. Riiiiight.

But the worst thing of all about Like Other Girls is Lauren’s attitude towards her transgender friends. She has a crush on her best friend Steph, but after they have sex – an intimately described f/f sex scene the likes of which I’ve never seen in YA before – Steph freaks out. A few weeks later she messages Lauren and explains that the reason she was uncomfortable is because she is trans, and soon starts going by the name Evan and using he/him pronouns.

Lauren begins hating Marc from Q Club because she believes he’s brainwashed Evan into feeling this way, and that he wouldn’t be transgender if it wasn’t for Marc’s influence. She also accuses Evan of only coming out because they had sex: it’s obvious that Lauren thinks the world revolves around her and that Evan’s decision is solely for her benefit, and that’s a terrible attitude.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Lauren went through some kind of redemption arc, but because of the short length of this novel there just isn’t time for that. She feels some empathy towards Marc after bumping into him at the therapist’s office after he attempts suicide – she has to get counselling because of alcohol abuse, another plot point which is somehow crammed into this story – but that’s the only thing that makes her attitude begin to change. Then she sabotages the school play to make some statements about gender and abortion and we’re expected to believe she’s a better person and her views have changed? Sure, sure.

I am not trans but I have seen this review from a trans readers on Goodreads, so I don’t believe I’m being overly sensitive with my criticisms of this novel. I’m not aware if the views of her character actually reflect the views of Claire Hennessy herself, but a topic like this should have been dealt with with far more sensitivity.

This could so easily have been split into two books, and then perhaps all of the topics might have been dealt with in a satisfactory manner, but as it is this is not a story I would recommend. I hate saying that, because Nothing Tastes as Good was a five star read and is one of the best books I’ve ever read regarding anorexia, but this just wasn’t the book for me. I wasn’t looking forward to reading Like Other Girls because I thought that might be the case: unfortunately I was right, but for so many more reasons that I first assumed.

Now that rant’s over, let’s move on to the other titles!

Internment by Samira Ahmed – 2 stars

Internment is another 2.5 star book. Although I liked it more than Like Other Girls, I still can’t justify rounding it up to 3 stars.

Set in America in the near-future, Internment follows Layla Amin as she and her family are placed into an internment camp for being Muslims. Considering that anti-Muslim rhetoric has been on the rise in America during Trump’s presidency, this is a horrifying ‘what-if’ novel which explores an important and timely subject, showing a snapshot of what life could have become for hundreds of thousands of American citizens… I just think that it could have been done better.

Layla is supposed to be 17, but she reads as much younger (I kept thinking she was either 14 or 15). She is separated from her boyfriend, David, and she befriends a guard called Jake solely so that she can contact David and let him know that she is okay. This eventually sparks a bit of revolution – Layla manages to smuggle articles to David with Jake’s help, so he can send the inside story to the media and show just how horrifying life is inside the internment camp – but to start with Layla comes across as quite self-absorbed, risking her family’s safety just so that she can contact her boyfriend. This might have made sense if she was a little bit younger, but most 17-year-olds don’t seem to be quite that impulsive.

I was also frustrated by David’s parents. David is Jewish and members of his family lost their lives in the German concentration camps during World War II, but his parents don’t want to get involved in the plight of the Muslims and David makes it sound as though they don’t really care that Layla has been abducted in the middle of the night. If you had lost family members to an atrocity like this in the past, I don’t think you would be ambivalent! Your voice would be one of the loudest, denouncing the entire scheme.

I did knock an entire star off for the way that Samira Ahmed describes the Director of the internment camp. If I’d taken a shot every time his ‘purple lips’ were mentioned, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book because I wouldn’t have been able to see straight. He’s a caricature, and it’s hard to take him seriously because of that: despite the fact that he’s a violent, bigoted man, you know that he’s going to get his comeuppance because men like that always do. Ahmed attempts to make him suave and charismatic in front of the media but his anger fuels him and his facade shatters: he would have been far more terrifying if he’d been able to keep his cool.

Meanwhile, the idea of the internment camp being constructed using mobile homes on blocks seems a bit too sanitary: if you see the horrifying pictures from the detention centres that the Trump administration have opened on the Mexican border, it seems far more likely that the internment camps might have looked more like that.

This could have been more effective as an adult novel, because some of the older characters would have made really interesting protagonists. I think it’s brilliant that this novel was aimed at younger people, because it is important to educate them to the reality of internment camps, but I just think it might have worked better with an older audience in mind. If this had been aimed at adults Ahmed might have had a no holds barred approach, but this is the best-worst case scenario. It is infuriating and enraging to think that people could be controlled like this because of their religion, but I think the reality of internment camps is far more heart-wrenching and devastating.

I have found it so hard to review this novel. This is such an important subject and I’m so glad than an own voices author decided to tackle it, but the execution is very poor. I’d recommend checking out this own voices review to help you make up your own mind: they are far more eloquent than I am!

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton – 5 stars

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill absolutely blew me away. Telling the story of a girl called Neena who suffers a psychotic break after her brother Akash leaves her, this is a powerful novel tackling mental health in a very sensitive way.

Due to the fact that Neena is suffering from psychosis, she is an unreliable narrator. You’ll find yourself questioning what you’re reading as Neena begins to doubt her own sanity, living scenes which are later revealed to have taken place in her imagination, and almost everything you think you know will be flipped on its head at one point or another.

There are so many things I absolutely loved about this novel. When the story begins Neena is taking prescribed anti-depressants, but she stops taking them because she believes that her mother is ashamed of her. Eventually Neena is medicated, taught CBT and undergoes therapy, showing that often a combination of treatments is often needed to have the biggest impact. That’s utterly realistic, and I loved the fact that there was no ‘one size fits all’ miracle cure in this story.

Cultural pressures are a huge part of this novel, but Emma Smith-Barton makes a concerted effort to tackle the presumption that all of the pressures faced are cultural. There’s a very eye-opening scene in which Neena is talking to a therapist, who suggests she may be interpreting her parents’ actions through a cultural lens when they might just be reacting the same way that any worried parents would. I’ve seen a lot of novels which have tackled the overbearing Asian parent stereotype (specifically British-Pakistani in this book) but none of which have actually posited the question as to whether it’s just a parent stereotype regardless of background, and that made me look at a few other books I’ve read recently in a completely different way.

Neena’s parents are three-dimensional characters with their own plot, which is a novelty in itself! So often the parents in YA are only there to react to their child’s actions, and I loved the fact that Neena’s parents felt so realistic. They are also struggling to accept life without Akash, and although they take their frustrations out on Neena at the beginning – believing that she’s following the same path as her brother and is going to end up leaving them as well – they undergo their own character development and are far more sympathetic towards her mental state by the end of the novel.

This book isn’t perfect – there are a few instances in the first half of the novel where Neena fat-shames her mother – so this is more of a 4.5 star novel, but I feel as though the good thoroughly outweighs the bad in this instance.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill is Emma Smith-Barton’s debut novel, and I am very excited to see what she writes next.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig – 4 stars

I don’t think I’m smart enough to review How To Stop Time. I finished it last week and I’m still finding it pretty impossible to form my thoughts on it into coherent sentences, because this is the kind of epic, literary novel which is beautifully written but almost went over my head and then smacked me in the forehead and gave me a little bit of a headache.

Following Tom Hazard, How To Stop Time focuses on the concept of albas – short for albatrosses – which is a code word for people who age extremely slowly. Tom only looks in his late-twenties, but he’s actually been alive for over 400 years (he said his ratio is 1:15; for every 15 years he lives, he looks like he ages one).

Tom is a member of the Albatross Society, which means every eight years he gets a new name and moves to a new place to avoid people getting suspicious about his lack of aging. When we join Tom he decides he wants to move back to London – the place where he fell in love and lost his love hundreds of years ago – so he can start teaching and try to track down his long (long!) lost daughter.

This book certainly wasn’t what I expected, as it was marketed as ‘a love story across the ages’ and I had expected romantic love rather than familial love. I actually think I enjoyed this more because of the fact that it focused so heavily on Tom’s desperation to find his daughter: she is like him, but she runs away before he can learn that about her and he has always sworn that he’ll make it up to her someday.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that my brain had to work extremely hard to keep on top of everything. Tom’s memory begins overwhelming him, so he suffers with flashbacks intruding into his lessons and debilitating migraines. The intrusive nature of the flashbacks is written brilliantly – Tom will be halfway through talking and his words will spark some long forgotten scene from his past into flooding back – and it effectively shows the major downsides to living to be 400. I also feel as though I learnt a lot about what Britain (and London in particular) has been like throughout the ages.

The only thing that stopped me giving this book five stars was the ending. It’s extremely abrupt and doesn’t feel that satisfying compared to the rest of the novel. There’s not really a good way to finish a story like this, but something about it wasn’t exactly to my taste. That being said, there’s apparently going to be an adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and I can’t wait to see how they translate a novel like this to the big screen.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini – 5 stars

I should have read Eragon ten years ago at least. One of my friends in primary school kept recommending it to me, but because of its length – over 500 pages! – I found myself too intimidated, so I avoided it like the plague.

When I picked this one out of the TBR jar, I will admit that I was apprehensive. I didn’t know much about the story except for the fact that there’s a farm boy who finds a dragon egg in the forest, and that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing which can really fill 500 pages. I also thought the dragon’s name was Eragon, not the boy… So that was a bit of a surprise when I first started reading!

However, this is a non-stop action from cover to cover and a very strong series starter. It’s got everything you want in fantasy: mysterious creatures, adventuring and exploring, a few heartbreaking deaths and some very badass fight scenes.

Eragon hatches his dragon egg but soon mysterious men known as the Ra’zac appear in his village asking questions. They end up burning down his family home in the search for him, killing his uncle in the process.

Eragon goes on the run with a mysterious man called Bram (who knows far more about dragons than should be possible), trying to track down the Ra’zac so he can avenge his uncle’s death. While journeying across Alagaësia, Bram begins training Eragon to be a dragon rider – the first in the land outside of King Galbatorix’s control since he began his reign and killed any dragon riders who stood against him.

With monsters called the Urgal and the Shade chasing Eragon down, he begins having mysterious dreams about a woman locked in a prison cell. That, combined with some pretty dark prophecies divined by a local fortune teller named Agatha, means Eragon has a heck of a lot on his plate.

Honestly, I enjoyed this book so much. Despite its length it honestly flew past, and I couldn’t believe it when we got to the end and it had been such a painless experience.

The majority of the negative comments I’ve seen regarding Eragon focuses on the fact that it’s quite similar to Lord of the Rings, but I read The Fellowship of the Ring in April and struggled to get through it. The pace was interminable, the action didn’t really start until the second half of the book, and the large cast of characters made it pretty hard to keep track of anyone. In contrast, Eragon is nonstop. The cast of characters is much smaller which means you get to know them better and care an awful lot more for them, and although the world isn’t as richly described as Tolkien’s it also means you don’t get bogged down by information about the setting and scenery.

Perhaps if I’d enjoyed The Fellowship of the Ring more I would have enjoyed Eragon less, but as it is I think this is one of the best fantasy novels – particularly fantasy novels aimed at younger readers – which I’ve ever read. I’m looking forward to carrying on with the series, because the ending to this one is rather satisfying but leaves quite a few things up in the air and I just want to know what’s going to happen next!

I hope you enjoyed these reviews! Sorry for ranting a bit too much about Like Other Girls and Internment… I’m going to have to start giving myself a word count limit on these posts.

Please remember to visit the Black Lives Matter carrd which I linked at the top of this post. Signing petitions doesn’t take a lot of time but it can make a huge difference, and if you don’t feel comfortable going to physical protests for any reason then it means you can still make sure that your voice is heard.

See you next time,

Alyce

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Believathon wrap-up

Believathon wrap-up

Hey everyone! I took part in How To Train Your Gavin’s Believathon between the 11th and the 24th of May. If you haven’t heard of Believathon, you can learn more about this readathon here, but it’s basically a celebration of all things middle grade. Middle…

#10in20 review challenge #1

#10in20 review challenge #1

This might not work, but today I’m giving myself a little bit of a challenge. With two small children I don’t have as much time to review as I used to, but I’m still reading a ridiculous amount of books (I’m almost halfway to my…

TBR Jar Round #3

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!

Alyce

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TBR Jar Round #2

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…