The Jewel (Amy Ewing)

The Jewel (Amy Ewing)The Jewel by Amy Ewing
Series: The Jewel #1
Published by Walker Books, Limited on 21-08-2014
Genres: Dystopia, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

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.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★ (let down dramatically by the romance)

 

The storyViolet Lasting is a surrogate.  She was taken from her family after testing showed that she possessed the genetic mutation the royalty are so desperately hunting for.  She and the other surrogates were trained in the Auguries and then sold at auction to the wealthiest women in The Jewel.  Violet is gone – purchased by the Duchess of the Lake and known now only as #197.

The Jewel is one of those books that seems to have divided people.  I’ve read reviews from people who adore it and read reviews from people who hated it, but one thing is for sure: it’s been getting reactions.  I quite unexcitingly, fell somewhere in the middle!

I thought the plot was intriguing enough to pick up.  It’s perhaps not the most original storline I’ve heard – it has tones reminiscent of Wither, and of The Selection to just two – but similarities are pretty common in dystopia, and indeed in fiction in general, so that’s not enough to put me off! Graceling, Throne of Glass and Poison Study all have some similar elements for example, but I loved all three.

So, the storyline was definitely of interest and I was very quickly engrossed once I started reading; I read it in a day.

I did feel like some parts of the story weren’t clear enough though.  I understand the need to leave some things for later books, but for me, there was too much not explained in this – we don’t know why the royalty can’t have children, or why the girls from the poorest backgrounds could.  I think it was maybe that there were just a few too many elements: the Auguries, some groups who can’t have children and other groups who can, the politics of the royalty, the talents of the surrogates, etc etc.  For me unfortunately, I just didn’t feel like these elements were clear enough, or tied together enough.

The tipping point for lots of people who didn’t like The Jewel was the romance.  I admit, I had somewhat mixed feelings about the love interest, and I did think the romance developed too quickly, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.  Violet is in an awful situation, and before being sold she hadn’t seen a member of the opposite sex in years, so I can accept her swooniness!

 

The characters

Violet was a likeable main character; she wasn’t especially angsty and she had some fire in her, even if she knew it would be stupid to unleash it.  I didn’t feel like she particularly grew throughout the book though and she is also one of those dystopian protagonists who come across as a little too perfect: she’s stunningly beautiful, she’s fantastically talented, and she has unbelievable powers. I like my main characters just a little more flawed, even if it’s just with a short temper! I found her a bit too perfect to be relatable at times.

The Duchesses were intriguing and I’m definitely curious about the politics; I can’t wait to find out more about the society and the women in the second book.  I didn’t honestly feel much of anything for Ash though which really doesn’t work for a love interest in my opinion!  One of the best characters, surprisingly, was Annabelle, who never speaks.

 

final thoughts

 All in all, I really wanted to like The Jewel, but I just didn’t. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t particularly impressed.  I think the storyline has definite potential, and the cliffhanger means I’ll be picking up book 2, but for now I have to admit I feel largely indifferent towards the series.

Buy it? This is one I’d borrow.
In a nutshell: Great potential, but just okay.  Book 2 will make or break for this series for me.

Other Reviews of The Jewel: Uncorked Thoughts | The Daily Prophecy | Curling Up With a Good Book

One StarOne Star

Grim (Christine Johnson)

Grim (Christine Johnson)Grim Published by Harlequin on 25-02-2014
Genres: Adaptations, Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy & Magic, Paranormal, Short Stories, Young Adult
Pages: 474
Format: eARC
Amazon
Goodreads

Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today:

Ellen Hopkins
Amanda Hocking
Julie Kagawa
Claudia Gray
Rachel Hawkins
Kimberly Derting
Myra McEntire
Malinda Lo
Sarah Rees-Brennan
Jackson Pearce
Christine Johnson
Jeri Smith Ready
Shaun David Hutchinson
Saundra Mitchell
Sonia Gensler
Tessa Gratton
Jon Skrovan

My opinion:

I couldn’t resist Grim when I saw it on NetGalley.  Fairytales with a sinister twist?  There were so many great authors too – some I already knew and loved, like Kimberly Derting, but even more that I’ve heard a lot about but have yet to try.

Unfortunately, what Grim really taught me is that I just don’t really get along with short stories! I absolutely loved the concept behind so many of these stories, and yet I wanted more from them – more build up, more depth, more everything! As expected from an anthology, some stories worked better for me than others, and the highlights for me were The Twelfth Girl, Better and A Real Boy.

The Key (Rachel Hawkins)
In The Key, Lana is embarrassed to find her psychic mother has agreed to do a reading for some of the kids she goes to school with.  Lana has a small amount of psychic powers too, and in this story she sees something she shouldn’t when she peeks into someone’s head after promising not to.

While I enjoyed the storyline, this was one of the stories that stood out to me most clearly as a reminder of why short stories just don’t work for me.  I felt like the ‘twist’ was reasonably predictable, and the open ending meant the story felt like it’d barely begun before it ended.

Figment (Jeri Smith-Ready)
Figment, it turns out is a retelling of Puss in Boots, although my vague inkling while reading was that it reminded me a little of Tinkerbell.  In Figment, Elias, a 17 year old guitar player, inherits a little stuffed cat when his father dies, that turns out to be much more than it seems.

Although I couldn’t tell quite where the inspiration came from, I really enjoyed this story.  Despite being part of an anthology of unusual stories, the originality of this stood out to me.  The story is told from the point of view of the immobile stuffed cat (the titular figment), which was a really interesting point of view to read from.  I felt that this was a story that was truly complete, despite it’s short nature.

The Twelfth Girl (Malinda Lo)
The Twelfth Girl is a modern, urban retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  Liv is the new girl at the Virginia Sloane School for girls, and she’s fascinated by Harley and her friends, who reportedly go dancing every night and seem able to get away with anything.

The Twelfth Girl was one of my favourite stories of the anthology.  Although I don’t think the characters were particularly likeable, they worked really well for the story.  I enjoyed the writing, the plot and the imagery, and I would be more than happy to read a full novel of this story.

The Raven Princess (Jon Skovron)
The Raven Princess is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the story of a queen who wishes her daughter would turn into raven and fly away because she’s fed up of listening to her cry.

This is one of the clearest re-tellings, which is a little bit disappointing.  I also didn’t feel like it was particularly sinister – it was enjoyable, and charming rather than dark and twisted.  I enjoyed the twists Jon Skovron had put on the story, and it was a solid read, but it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Thinner than Water (Saundra Mitchell)
I don’t honestly know what this was a retelling of. I didn’t mind it but I didn’t particularly love it either, and I know a lot of people were put off by the incest and abuse themes.

Before the Rose Bloomed: A Retelling of The Snow Queen (Ellen Hopkins)
This is, obviously, a retelling of The Snow Queen, but it was one of my least favourites.  I found it quite dry and slow, and unfortunately this one really didn’t work for me.

Beast/Beast (Tessa Gratton)
This is a retelling of Beauty and The Beast.  I really enjoyed the writing, but the meaning behind the title honestly escaped me a little. I found that by the end of the book, Beast/Beast had just got lost among some of the more memorable stories.

The Brothers Piggett (Julie Kagawa)
This is a retelling of the Three Little Pigs, and it was one of the stories I enjoyed the most throughout the anthology.

Untethered (Sonia Gensler)
According to Hidden in Pages, this is apparently a retelling of The Shroud.  Although I didn’t find it quite as gripping as some of the other stories, I really loved the way it was written, and it seems to have been the favourite for a lot of people.

Better (Shaun David Hutchinson)
Better was one of my favourite stories.  The story follows Pip, an ‘artificial being’, who was created with the intention of using her to find a cure for the Disease, and Levi, the son of the scientist who is experienting on Pip. I really loved the way Pip was developed, and I’d be happy to read a longer story with this plotline.

Light it Up (Kimberly Derting)
Light It Up was a really creepy, modern Hansel & Gretel retelling.  Hansen and Greta are camping with their father and stepfather and wake up to find themselves alone.  Light it Up wasn’t one of my favourites, but I did like the way the relationship between Hansen and Greta was portrayed, and the story was convincingly creepy.

Sharper than a serpent’s Tongue (Christine Johnson)
I honestly have no idea what Sharper than a serpent’s Tongue is a retelling of, and it’s really hard to talk about the story without giving much away.  In short, the story follows Clara and Dina, two sisters living with an alcoholic mother and very different attitudes. In all honesty, I just found this story a bit strange.  It had lots of different elements and for me personally, it just didn’t work.

A Real Boy (Claudia Gray)
This was a sci-fi retelling of Pinnochio and probably my favourite of the anthology.  I loved the way this was written, the characters and the plot and I’d love to read an entire novel based on this story.

Skin Trade (Myra McEntire)
Another one where I didn’t know which fairytale this was a retelling of! Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me.  Despite the very strange nature of the story, I was really intrigued, but I didn’t feel like there was enough to sink your teeth into.

Beauty and the Chad (Sarah Rees Brennan)
This was a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a twist.  The Beast in this case is a modern day frat boy, sent to a classic fairytale setting.  This was one of the more amusing stories because the two characters may as well have been speaking different languages!  This seems to have been a lot of people’s favourites, but for me it didn’t live up to The Twelfth Girl, A Real Boy or Figment.

The Pink: A Grimm Story (Amanda Hocking)
This felt like the most classic fairytale of the bunch.  While I liked it, and enjoyed the heart-warming nature of the story, I didn’t feel like it fit in with the theme of fairytales with a sinister twist.

Sell Out (Jackson Pearce)
Sell Out was like a very twisted retelling of Snow White/Sleeping Beauty.  In this, the main character is able to bring people back from the dead by kissing them.  This was one of the more original feeling stories, probably helped by the male POV.  One of the better stories in the anthology for me.

 Buy it? This is one that I would personally borrow.
In a nutshell: A really interesting mix of fairy-tale retellings with a few real gems hidden in there.

Other Reviews of Grim: Book Munchies | The Daily Prophecy | In Bed With Books

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[Discussion]: Changing opinions

discussion1header

Yesterday, I shared my review of Eleanor & Park, and for the first time ever, I had to include an additional section with my thoughts, separate from the main body of my review.

In case you missed it, the general problem is that I read a few negative reviews that raised some really interesting points regarding the historical context and Park’s race within that context.  The points were really well discussed, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt myself agreeing to a certain extent.  However, I only had a very slight inkling of those feelings while I was reading the story, and it didn’t put me off at all, so does it deserve a place in my review?  On the other hand, they were good points that may well impact someone else’s decision to read (or not read) the book.  I often mention things that don’t bother me while reading, but may put others off – like the use of we instead of I throughout What’s Left of Me.  Similarly, I wanted to share my own thoughts, because while I agreed to some extent, I didn’t feel as strongly as a lot of other reviewers.

So, I was left with a dilemma, and three obvious choices at first glance:

  • to share my thoughts in my review
  • to leave them out completely
  • to share my thoughts in a separate post

I didn’t want to skew my review to sound more negative, but I also didn’t like either of the other two options.  For one thing, the idea of not sharing my thoughts at all felt wrong – after all, I started the blog exactly so that I could share my thoughts and opinions, whether popular or unpopular, not necessarily for any reason other than because I want to.

I could put my thoughts in a separate post, but I wasn’t sure I had enough to say to fill a second post.  As well as that, it seemed wrong to make people search around for information that (in my opinion) may potentially put someone off reading even if it didn’t bother me.

Eventually, I decided that since the thoughts didn’t bother me while reading, to include them in my review, but not to let them affect my overall rating.

I guess what this experience really taught me was that I should really review sooner after reading but my question to you is…

discussion1

I can think of various circumstances where that may happen, either before or after reviewing:

  • It may be, like me, when you see someone else’s review that makes you think differently.
  • It may be when you re-read a book, and find yourself picking up on issues that previously didn’t bother you/that you hadn’t noticed (or enjoying it more a second time).
  • It may be when you read a comparable plot line that you feel was done in a better way.
  • It may be, like Jamie discusses, when you explore a genre, and find that the early examples you read weren’t amazing in comparison, just amazing to you at the time.
  • It may be as simple as writing your review and finding that what you have to say doesn’t match your gut instinct on a star rating.

So what I want to know is, in any of those circumstances, what do you do?

It’s the first time I’ve had such a clear division between my thoughts while reading and my thoughts later, and I’d love to know what you guys would do in the same situation.

If you’ve already written a review, do you edit it?  Add notes to it?  Write a second ‘re-read review’?  If you haven’t yet reviewed the book, do you stick with your original gut instinct or go with your more considered (but perhaps less accurate) thoughts?

Early Review: The Martian (Andy Weir)

Early Review: The Martian (Andy Weir)The Martian by Andy Weir
on 13-02-2014
Pages: 369
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Apollo 13 meets Castaway in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller-set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him-and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive-and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills-and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit-he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

When I requested The Martian on NetGalley it was mostly just because my inner geek loves sci-fi.  I was both fascinated and haunted by the blurb and from that alone I was already dying to know what would happen to Mark.  While I got the gripping survival adventure I expected, I also got something unexpected: a truly funny, immensely likeable main character.

Mark is stranded on Mars after a series of disasters forces his crew to abort, convinced he is dead.  With very little equipment, limited food supplies, no contact with Earth and an injury, things don’t look good for Mark Watney.  Mark has to try and contend with freezing temperatures, a lack of water, oxygen and food, cramped conditions, and of course the fact that no one knows he’s alive, so even if he can survive, his chances of ever making it off Mars are pretty slim.

The story is predominantly all about Mark.  We flick between Mark’s logs and Earth, so there are some secondary characters, but Mark is definitely the key here.  He faces loneliness that is impossible to comprehend, and odds that would probably make (many many) individuals give it all up.  But Mark is a scientist and a fighter, and he desperately tries to work through problem after problem, in the hopes of perhaps somehow surviving four years until the next Mars expedition and catch a ride home.

I feel like often scientists are the cliche anxious geek with no social skills (and yes, as a science student I may be a tiny bit biased against that opinion!) and I absolutely loved that Mark didn’t fit those stereotypes.  Yes, he’s a scientist, and a bit of a geek, and he’s insanely good with maths and problem solving…but he’s also got a good relationship with the rest of his crew, he’s tough, he’s likeable and he’s genuinely funny.  He’s a very believable character, and I loved following his thought processes.  At times, he can come across as a little silly or overly pleased about small things, but I think that’s believable and real: Mark is living, as much as possible, minute by minute, trying not to allow himself to consider the horror of his situation, but focusing on every positive, no matter how small.  He is resilient, and sometimes a little too well-adjusted, but stranded on a foreign planet completely alone with no one to talk to but himself, Mark can either laugh or cry – and crying won’t help his resolve at all.  My only real complaint for the characters is that I would have liked to see a little more about Mark, and to a lesser extent, the rest of his crew outside of the mission; their relationships and so on.

There is a lot of science in The Martian, which may put some people off.  There are calculations and lots of mulling over different solutions to problems, and so it can feel quite science heavy.  I’ve talked before about how I like a bit of science in my sci-fi (shockingly) and so I personally quite liked that.  I didn’t feel it made the story dry or slow, but at the same time, Weir isn’t happy to give you vague statements like ‘Mars is cold’; he assumes you can keep up!  It not only highlights just how clever Mark is, but more crucially, it shows just how bad his situation is.

Despite the humour, and the science, The Martian is absolutely full of tension, from Mark’s dire situation to NASA’s stress and the fact that his crew think he died.  Despite the fact there aren’t really too many ways the story can end (either he’ll make it home, or he’ll die, he can’t survive on Mars indefinitely), Weir manages to keep you guessing the whole way through.

 Buy it? This is one that I would be happy to buy.
In a nutshell: A gripping, unexpectedly funny survival story with a hero you can’t help but root for.

Other Reviews of The Martian: Literary ExplorationThat’s What She Read | A Musing Reviews

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