Book Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.

Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence… and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.

Not going to lie, when I picked up a copy of this book at BEA I knew that it was going to be a book I’d have to read as a reviewer and as a Children’s Lit person, but I was not expecting to enjoy this as much as I did.

First things first, I had a wonderful Twitter conversation with Ewing where we bonded over our mutual obsession of cheese and what kind of wine goes with certain books.  (My answer is always a good Cabernet or Zinfindel) Anyway, so when I did decide to read this novel, I had a big glass with me.  It wasn’t long until I eventually neglected my wine because I was too engrossed in the narrative.

thejewelEither way, the basic structure of the story is that there is a section of upper-class royalty, if you will, that can no longer produce children or heirs due to the ridiculous amount of incest and intermarrying that happened at the top in order to keep the royalty pure.  Which is ironic considering the minefield that evidently became of their genome.  Now, there have been other books that use this trope, like the Eve trilogy by Anna Carey and the Bumped books by Megan McCafferty, but The Jewel was much more.

Ewing’s crowning jewel (see what I did there?) of the novel is the inclusion of the ultimate question concerning children: nature vs nurture.  Now there is a tad bit of paranormal activity here in this part of the novel, which I thought was extremely original considering I haven’t read any type of dystopian YA fiction that uses that idea.

Also, kudos to Ewing for using the Dystopian genre for the commentary on society and the vast difference between the upper and lower classes, even if it is something that is examined widely in the genre.  I can appreciate this argument, as a Marxist, and think it would be a lot of fun to do a rebellion and alienation argument on this series if it continues to be as good as this first installment.

Overall, I have to tell you that there are some character reveals that you don’t expect and some very sad parts of the story that really tugged at my heartstrings. This book was a joy to read and while I still have to wait for the second installment of The Lone City series, there is a novella coming out in November, so at least I’ll get a fix.

5 Bards for you, Amy Ewing. You go, Amy Ewing. (P.S. Can I pick your brain about Marxist theory and your narrative?)

 

fivebards

 

Book Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

Release Date: September 30, 2014

This book was one of the top two books I knew I had to get my hands on when I went to Book Expo America this year, and I’m so glad I managed to get a copy.  I put off reading it for a long time, because my anticipation was so high that I was trying to calm myself so I wouldn’t be in danger of having my hopes set too high! Because sometimes that happens, and if you are a regular book nerd like me then you know what it is like.

It might come as a surprise that I was this excited about Belzhar when I haven’t even read Plath’s The Bell Jar, which is a huge influence on the characters in this novel.  I have, however, read Gracefully Insane, which is the story about the mental hospital that Plath was sent to for treatment in her early twenties after a suicide attempt (this is vaguely referenced in Belzhar).

I can understand why some teens might not totally understand or feel connected to these characters, but I think a lot of that megwoliztercomes with the common stigma that mental illnesses like depression, eating disorders, anxiety, etc are something to be feared or ashamed of.  I want this book to become the barrier breaker.  The book that students can read that is set in current day that can show how many different things can lead to “mental fragility,” (a term, much like Mrs. Q, I don’t like) and treatment in teens.  Hell, I think this book would be excellent to teach alongside any of Plath’s works (I have read her poetry).

The story is well constructed and the journey that Jam goes through at the Wooden Barn is similar to what some treatment plans would follow, the idea of immersing yourself in that entire experience and then learning to accept it and move on.  I really enjoyed Wolitzer’s use of other characters to really exemplify how many different things, big and small, can affect a person’s outlook and perception of reality.

Kudos to Wolitzer, for making a wonderful book that I really hope will help peel back the layers of social stigma around mental illness, and hopefully give those that might be suffering the courage to accept help and understand that they are not alone.

4.5 Bards.

four.fivebards

Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Release Date: September 30, 2014

When I heard about this book at Book Expo America this year, I couldn’t have been more excited.  A young adult novel that deals directly with the idea of desegregation in the south, in addition to the outrageous mistreatment of anyone who was of a different race, sexuality, religion, etc is one I definitely needed to read.  A little background:  I was born and raised in North Carolina, just north of Charlotte, and my parents both remember how their schools were desegregated.  So while I’ve heard stories from them and through my history courses, there’s nothing like reading a story that is based in the true facts and events that other people have written about and conveyed to those of us in present day.

Fact: in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was a single African American woman, Dorothy Counts, that was integrated into Harding High in 1957.  Some of you might even recognize her picture:

She had rocks thrown at her, was spit on by her classmates, had trash thrown at her, and lost her first two white friends because they were taunted and bullied as well.  Robin Talley explores all of these things in her novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves.  

While Talley’s novel introduces seven black characters going to the same school, they didn’t have it any easier than Dorothy Counts just because there was more of them.  The story really delves into the deep racisim that existed blindly in the south for years, and how it affected both a black and white female character.

I think the important part is that these girls not only grow to like one another as people, despite the fact that the white girl was raised to believe that segregation is God’s way of keeping the unfit separate, and eventually begin to have romantic feelings for one another.  Wow.  Talk about some intense narrative.  I won’t go into more details, but just know that the change that both characters make throughout the story really shows off Talley’s story telling ability and it showcases how the desegretation movement really changed history in the south.

5 Bards for Talley’s daring and historically accurate novel.

fivebards

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 9, 2014

Emmeline knows the woods outside her settlement are forbidden. The mysterious enemy that wiped out half her people lurks there, keeping them isolated in an unfamiliar land with merciless winters. 

Living with the shame of her grandmother’s insubordination, Emmeline has learned to keep her head down and her quick tongue silent. When the settlement leader asks for her hand in marriage, it’s a rare opportunity to wash the family stain clean–even if she has eyes for another. But before she is forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her out to the woods, where she finds a path she can’t help but follow. The trail leads to a secret that someone in the settlement will kill to protect. Her grandmother went down that path and paid the price.

If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 23, 2014

In a future world of dust and ruin, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn struggles to recover the lost memory that might save the human race.

Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to–because heat, dust, and starvation aren’t the only threats in this ruined world.

There are also the Skaldi.

Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they’re not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.

Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi–and now he can’t remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.

If he can’t, he’s their next victim.

 

Book Review: Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

“When I was little I believed in Jesus and Santa, spontaneous combustion, and the Loch Ness monster. Now I believe in science, statistics, and antibiotics.” So says seventeen-year-old Zac Meier during a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia.

A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door. Once released, the two near-strangers can’t forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives. The story of their mysterious connection drives this unflinchingly tough, tender novel told in two voices.

Release Date: September 2, 2014

I recently finished reading The Fault in Our Stars.  When I picked up Zac & Mia and realized I was reading another teenage cancer novel, I was reluctant to continue reading.  I assumed I already knew the story and the final outcome.  Well…I was wrong.

This is not another sappy teenage love story.  Yes, there is an undertone of young love but this novel chooses to focus on relationships in general.  The bond between family.  The bond between friends.  The bond between total strangers.  The bond we have with ourself.  I felt that I knew most of the characters well but could have used a little more depth with a few of them.

The author does a good job of connecting with the reader by using modern pop-culture references.  Any book that mentions Lady Gaga and Harry Potter is OK by me.  There was one line that I really loved.  “When an animals kicking and fighting the most, that’s the time you need to pull it closer.”  This sums up the book for me.  Sometimes people, myself included, act out…resisting and fighting love, friendship and intimacy.  Zac & Mia taught me to just pull closer.

This novel would not have been my first choice for a summer read but I am glad I read it.  If you liked The Fault in Our Stars you should most definitely read this because I enjoyed it twice as much.

5 Bards

fivebards

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 2, 2014

Eveny Cheval just moved back to Louisiana after spending her childhood in New York with her aunt Bea. Eveny hasn’t seen her hometown since her mother’s suicide fourteen years ago, and her memories couldn’t have prepared her for what she encounters. Because pristine, perfectly manicured Carrefour has a dark side full of intrigue, betrayal, and lies—and Eveny quickly finds herself at the center of it all.

Enter Peregrine Marceau, Chloe St. Pierre, and their group of rich, sexy friends known as the Dolls. From sipping champagne at lunch to hooking up with the hottest boys, Peregrine and Chloe have everything—including an explanation for what’s going on in Carrefour. And Eveny doesn’t trust them one bit.

But after murder strikes and Eveny discovers that everything she believes about herself, her family, and her life is a lie, she must turn to the Dolls for answers. Something’s wrong in paradise, and it’s up to Eveny, Chloe, and Peregrine to save Carrefour and make it right.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 23, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end. 

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 23, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whale men safe and prosperous at sea. But before she could learn how to control her power, her mother, the first Roe woman in centuries to turn her back on magic, stole Avery away from her grandmother. Avery must escape from her mother before her grandmother dies, taking with her the secrets of the Roes’ power.

When Avery awakens from a dream foretelling her own murder, she realizes time is running short—for her and for the people of her island, who, without the Roes, will lose their ships and the only life they know.

With the help of Tane, a tattooed harpoon boy from the Pacific Islands, Avery plots her escape from her mother and unravels the mysteries of her mother’s and grandmother’s pasts. Becoming a witch may prevent her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers it will also require a sacrifice she never expected—one she might not be able to make.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 2, 2014

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. 

Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love? 

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