Overall Grade: Stars don’t do this book (and its predecessor) justice—> More than all the stars
It’s February of 2020, and I’m dead. Obviously, it’s not literal; it’s figurative, of course. But after reading Jewel E. Ann’s The Life Series, I’m broken. The book that officially stuck a fork in my soul and rendered it done: The Life You Stole. There are many things that make a writer brilliant, talented, genius, (you choose the modifier here to express the greatness of a writer), etc. I’ve noted them in other reviews: the ability to connect a story to my soul so that my emotions overwhelm me when I’m reading the story, the careful construction of prose to render my writerly brain speechless in the face of said prose, the purposeful creation of characters that feel both real and unreal and my inability to suspend my disbelief in their presence. All of these conspire to create stories/books that earn the descriptor of “good.” Obviously, “good” or “bad” lies in the eye of the beholder. I’ve seen GoodReads ratings of 1 star simply because someone hates the idea of a book. They have “been there done that.” I obviously struggle with that level of critique because it’s lazy and seems like a move to render themselves a “troll.” Whatever…
The point of my rambling in this review is set-up, the understanding of depth of genius. Because…because The Life series, and for purposes of this review The Life You Stole, illustrates the reason that people, readers, you, should read this duet and Jewel E. Ann’s booklist. Again, I know this is my opinion, and there are aspects of this book that will turn readers off instantly (I refuse to name them). But to NOT read this book and its predecessor is to ignore genius. Literally.
I have only been reading romance for the past two years, so I’m a relative newbie. There is MUCH that I have yet to read. I mean, for gosh sakes, I just read my first Colleen Hoover book, and I refuse to read the Twilight series (yes, you can shoot me). I share this with you to show you my shortcomings as a reviewer. I am trying to catch up; I’ve read almost a 1,000 books from a variety of authors in the past two years. Yet, I know that there is a big wide world of romance out there. When I make this statement, take it with all of my spewing in mind. I have NOT read a book like the two of this series. Nothing (and I read anything from dark to clean, angsty to funny ha ha rom-coms) has compared to The LIfe That Mattered and The Life You Stole. Nothing. Here’s my come clean moment: I could NOT suspend my disbelief in the reading of The Life You Stole, and I had to read it out of chronology to save my soul. You might be asking me why I’m sharing that…because, to me, any book that renders me an emotional, anxious puddle is genius. When a book reaches into your heart and palpitates it for you, it’s a good book. Any book that makes you want to vomit out its pain is genius. Literature exists to MOVE us, not always to satiate us. The best writers of our time did and do that. And this series moved me and rearranged my thinking about topics I HATE to talk about.
I will not talk about this story other than to tell you it is more of Evelyn “Evie,” Ronin “Roe,” Lila, and Graham. When The Life You Stole ends, you feel replete, but you MUST go through emotional turmoil to get there. This isn’t a “feel good” book in the midst of its telling; the resolution of its story brings a completeness that feels well-earned. Every word you read is a reward for the story’s end. Remember that.
So, I’ve rambled on for good measure about the background of this book, the reasons for noting a writer as genius, here is where I will tell you, beyond the emotional connection of this book, WHY you should read Jewel E. Ann’s The Life Series, more specifically The Life You Stole:
- This is a master class in storytelling. I’m going to try to explain my thinking here, and it will probably be confusing but bear with me. In my review of The Life That Mattered, I noted the space between Ann’s words, as though there was more to be said but it wasn’t revealed in the story. In reading The Life You Stole, that revelation of silence is KEY. It’s intentional. The silence of The Life That Mattered finds its space in The Life You Stole, and Ann uses it to illustrate its harm. The characters of this story remain silent, and it breaks apart lives in destructive ways. To craft that silence into her prose and story is GENIUS. As romance readers, we miss aspects of storytelling such as structure, but we shouldn’t. It’s in that space where writers illustrate their craftsmanship. Jewel E. Ann is masterful with it here. Even more, she furthers this in giving Lila and Graham points of view in The Life You Stole. She’s filling in the silence of the story with more words, revealing more secrets as a contrast to the silence of the characters with each other in the story. Once again, this underscores the danger of keeping secrets and remaining silent. This is storytelling acumen at its best.
- I cannot share the concepts of this book without revealing spoilers so I won’t. What I will say is that Jewel E. Ann is playing with concepts in ways to challenge our thinking about them. As each page turns, you begin to question your thoughts and feelings about a concept, and you’re forced to ask yourself if you can change your perception of them. In fact, by the end of the book, you will find yourself in the gray, accepting things you never thought you might accept. Jewel E. Ann moves you, forces you to stare at your reflection and understand where your line is drawn in the sand. Even more, she challenges you with The Life You Stole (and The Life That Mattered) to re-draw it. The best writers challenge your thinking and values. That is the power of literature.
- All her words. I’ve noted this in other Jewel E. Ann reviews, but her ability to string words together is a gift. She can take the simplest of terms and render them into a sentence of meaning. Over and over again, this book’s words bewitch your spirit. I found myself reveling in them, as I did with her story construction and character development.
Reading The Life You Stole awakened my literature brain. I took two pages of scribbled notes about this book trying to make sense of my emotions and thoughts. This rambling review is the closest I can get to telling you WHY you should read this book and its sister. I won’t give you any summary; there are other truths I’d love to reveal; and there is literary theory that I could pour into this review, but it would reveal too much. And The Life Series must simply be experienced for you to understand its truth. There is a depth of understanding about human nature in this book that will bend your mind, your heart, and your soul, and I predict there is no book in 2020 that will do the same. The Life That Mattered and The Life You Stole sit in a class all their own.
In love and romance,