Always – #JNGReads

I won’t be uploading a full post this week, for several reasons, but I did finish a book today and wanted to let you all quickly know what I thought of it. Here is the mini-review I wrote for Always by Sarah Jio on Goodreads

I was originally intending on writing a detailed review of this book, but I’m honestly a little confused by it (particularly the incredibly rushed ending), and I didn’t want to put something needlessly negative into the world. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, and although I had high hopes for it, it didn’t become a favourite. Rather than going into detail about why that’s the case though, I thought I’d focus on the positive, and leave my one favourite passage from the novel here instead…

“And then you meet someone who is different than your ex in almost every way, and you wonder if you can do it. You wonder if you can love the way you did so long ago. You’re not sure, but you try, and when you do, when you force yourself to go through the motions, you realize that your heart – asleep for so long – is groggily waking up, like a bear fresh out of hibernation. You’re alternately hungry and grumpy, disoriented, a bit lost. It surprises you when you feel the spark again. And though it might not burn as hot as it did so many years ago, as it did with the man who loved you when you were wide-eyed and twenty-five, it burns steadily now. It keeps you warm. And one day you start seeing rainbows again. One shines out your window at work. Another when you emerge from the grocery store. A double one fills up the entire sky when you’re having a glass of wine after a long day at the office. And that’s when you realize that your heart, beleaguered, weighed down with baggage of all kinds, is ready to try again. And so you do.”

Although the ending of the novel seemed to contradict and belittle this passage entirely, this one particular idea was very moving to me.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Forever, Interrupted – #JNGReads

“I was waiting for someone that would sweep me off my feet and would be swept up by me in equal parts.”

This book, Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid, has swept me off my feet. This is probably one of the best books I’ve read recently. I’ve become increasingly critical of books lately, most likely because I’m plowing through my To-Read List a lot quicker than usual (due in large part to daily lunch breaks at the Starbucks by my work, with my green tea and my novel), and I am becoming more and more frustrated by books that waste my time by not being unique or special enough. There are probably many critical things I could say about Forever, Interrupted, but I’m going to try to steer away from that as much as I can in this review. This is an emotional, heartbreaking and painful story, and I feel that it deserves to be treated with feeling, rather than picked apart for literary prowess. There are issues with the telling of the story, no doubt, and it isn’t exactly a masterpiece in the way that a Dickens novel is, but it is extremely touching and affective, and those are the sorts of books that I always can’t get out of my head.

This is the second book that I can remember making me cry on the bus. This slightly embarrassing event first happened to me last April when I read Ali Harris’ moving novel The First Last Kiss (which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoyed Forever, Interrupted or is in the mood for a deeper and harder hitting romance read). Reid had me in tears, just as Harris did, and to be honest, I spent about 90% of my time reading Forever, Interrupted with a lump in my throat. It’s important to explain a bit about the premise of the novel in order for you to understand why I was so overcome and overwhelmed by it: the novel tells the story of Elsie and Ben, a married couple who fall in love very quickly. Within only six months of knowing each other, they have moved in together and are married. It is then that tragedy strikes: Ben is hit by a truck while riding his bicycle, and he dies only a week and a half after eloping with Elsie. The novel portrays Elsie’s shock and grief, but interweaves this “present” narration with a look back at her relationship with Ben. Most of the chapters oscillate back and forth between showing us Elsie in her current moments of grief and mourning, and then filling us in on her love story with Ben. In that way, we get to witness all of the cute and endearing moments between them throughout the entire novel, rather than chronologically, a style which offers a brief respite from Elsie’s torturing sadness.

I don’t know many people who could read this sort of book without crying. Having said that, I don’t know many people who would read this novel when they are 10 months away from getting married themselves, like I did. What possessed me to buy and read this book at a time when I am engaged and planning my own wedding, I will never know, but being able to somewhat relate to, or at least vividly envision, Elsie’s role as a new bride made her loss that much more heart wrenching. I’m surprised I didn’t throw this book at the wall a few times because there were moments when I certainly wanted to get as far away from it as possible.   That is how powerful the articulation of Elsie’s grief is, it hits you right to the core and leaves you winded and breathless.

Reid writes grief well, which is something I knew going into Forever, Interrupted (in truth, I was expecting to be wrecked by it). I read another of Reid’s novels, One True Loves, recently, and it also deals with grief in a way that is very raw and honest. Forever, Interrupted offers everything I felt One True Loves lacked though, because it focused at great length on Elsie and Ben’s connection and affection, and allowed the reader to fully understand just how attached Elsie was to Ben and just how empty her life feels without him. We get right down into the nitty gritty of their relationship, and that makes it even more terrible when we must witness Elsie trying to pick herself up off the ground and create a life without Ben. This isn’t a book for the weak-hearted.

Probably my biggest qualm with Forever, Interrupted is an issue I have with Reid’s writing in general: she tells too much and doesn’t show enough. By this I mean that she chooses to have her characters tell the reader how they are feeling, rather than letting the reader figure out what emotions they may be experiencing by witnessing their actions and decisions. I think this is down to the fact that the three novels I’ve read by Reid are all written in the first person; part of me thinks that if she expanded into third person narration, it would leave her more room to experiment and would allow her to let the actions of her characters speak for themselves. Having said that, I think Reid knows that the stories she creates need, to a certain extent, to be written in first person for the reader to truly feel them. Sometimes telling in a story works, and Reid seems to have mastered those moments where telling a reader something is more effective (and affective) than letting them figure it out for themselves. A good example is when Elsie states (in her internal monologue), “I find myself jealous of the dirt that will get to spend so many years close to Ben’s body”. That simple sentence nearly destroyed me, and it’s a sentiment that it would be hard for a reader to pick up on or envision without Elsie telling us. There were several moments like this during the points of Elsie’s grief in the novel, and at those times, I was very grateful that the novel was written in first person, even if it simplified things a touch.

Forever, Interrupted is most unique in its discussion of what exactly love is. Elsie and Ben know each other for only six months, as I said, and yet they feel instantly that they are soul mates. Although Elsie meets, loves and loses Ben all within the span of less than one year, her grief is strong, crushing and all-encompassing. She finds herself, though, in the position of having to justify her love for her husband several times throughout the novel, because many people assume that not knowing Ben for very long means that she can’t possibly miss him that much. Reid, through Elsie, expertly tackles this idea of whether loving someone longer makes it harder to lose them, and I am very happy with the conclusions Elsie reaches on this point. I am a big believer in the power of True Love, in all its forms, and I have never been one to think that it is possible to rush or slow down love. Love is an emotion that takes its own course: for some, it takes years and years to work up to it, while for others, it happens in just one look. Regardless, where True Love is felt, it is felt, and so it cannot be easily dismissed, whether it lasted for days or decades. I appreciate that Reid asserted the validity of all sorts of love and relationships, and I think the greatest lesson that can be taken from Forever, Interrupted is that love is love, no matter who it is between, how long it lasts or what anyone outside the relationship thinks of it.

I highly recommend this novel…but have tissues at the ready!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Love Object – #JNGReads

The Love Object is a collection of short stories by Irish writer Edna O’Brien that I picked up on a total whim when I was in Indigo a few weeks ago. I haven’t tackled a short story collection in a very long time, but I have always been incredibly fond of the medium. Alice Munro (I think we can all agree this woman can do no wrong – makes me proud to be Canadian!) and Mavis Gallant are literary geniuses in my opinion, and when I dabbled in creative writing classes myself in university, I always chose to write short stories rather than delving into any longer pieces (or shorter ones – I’m definitely not a poet!).

The trouble, for me, with reading a short story collection is that there will always be standout stories that are memorable and will go down as favourites, but there will also inevitably be those stories that are very difficult, and sometimes even painful, to get through. Having read a fair number of novels recently, I had to get myself into the flow and necessary mindset for reading short stories again, and I found it very tedious to finish the stories I wasn’t particularly fond of in The Love Object. I just felt that they lagged and lasted a lot longer than I wanted them to. At the same time, there were stories I devoured and never wanted to end, and those were the moments when I wished I wasn’t reading a short story collection and that I could live with those characters for a little while longer. For these reasons, I find it very hard to give a rating to a collection of short stories, because of course there are stories I really didn’t enjoy and would give a very low rating to, while there are those that I absolutely adored and will want to tell all my fellow readers about for weeks to come. To try and combat this issue of giving such a general rating to a large collection of stories of very different styles and genres, I’m going to pinpoint a few of O’Brien’s stories that I LOVED and a few that I really did not understand at all; the combination of my feelings towards all of these stories will justify my overall rating.

Stories I Didn’t Like At All

❥❥ (out of 5)

(I should note that O’Brien is, without doubt, a masterful storyteller, so even the stories I didn’t personally like are still worthy of a reasonable rating. O’Brien has a way of describing and focusing on elements of life that the average person wouldn’t even notice, and it is quite fascinating, even if I didn’t always enjoy the subject matter.)

1) Shovel Kings ~ Just plain boring! I feel like I had come to expect more from O’Brien by the time I got to this story.

2) Brother ~ So very confusing and hard to follow!

3) Inner Cowboy ~ Similar to Shovel Kings, and not in a good way.

These three stories were, for me, quite boring and I was just happy to be done with them.

Stories with Unexpected Subject Matter

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

1) Plunder ~ Extremely emotional and unlike anything else in the collection; tough subject matter that O’Brien treats with grace and sympathy.

2) Black Flower ~ I was genuinely surprised by this one and the relationship it describes. I was also very curious about the main characters and almost felt that the story was too short because their feelings and actions didn’t seem justified or properly explained.

Stories I LOVED!!!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

In order from the story I loved the least to the one I loved the most…

6) A Rose in the Heart of New York ~ Very sentimental and moving! I nearly cried while reading this one because it was such a complex and emotional take on a mother-daughter relationship. (Honourable mention to My Two Mothers, which seemed to be the same story, just retold.)

5) Paradise

4) The Love Object

~ These two stories seemed somewhat interchangeable and very similar in feel and tone, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

3) Madame Cassandra ~ A very well-written internal monologue. It was so vividly portrayed that I could almost see an actress performing it on stage.

2) Manhattan Medley ~ I got into the heart and soul of this narrator, and it took my breath away!

1) Long Distance ~ I loved loved LOVED this short story!!! It was a complete game changer for me, early on in my reading of the collection, mainly because it was so reminiscent of a Munro or Gallant story. It had beautiful pacing and imagery and was so very haunting. Although the characters were nameless, we as readers get so close to them, almost inside them, even in such a short story. This is a masterfully written text and is gorgeous in its simplicity ~ a snapshot of love in a moment in time. Long Distance is a story with subject matter that I myself have tried to write about many times, but I will never be able to come close to creating a story as genius as the one O’Brien tells!

O’Brien’s writing style is abstract, in the sense that the reader has to put together the threads she drops to try and paint a complete picture of her characters and settings. Each story has a tragic and heart wrenching quality, and I can see why so many other authors, such as Munro and Philip Roth who are both quoted as praising the collection, are so impressed by her. My one real annoyance is that I never quite understood any of O’Brien’s titles and didn’t feel like they ever really fit with the story they represented – but titles are a tricky thing, and I’m sure she had her reasons for selecting them, so I won’t hold that against her or my favourite stories.

Overall rating: ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

That Summer — #JNGReads

That Summer by Lauren Willig is a book I thoroughly enjoyed until I started thinking about it too much.

I really wanted to love this novel because it felt like the perfect story to delve into during a cold winter month. In many ways it was, as it took place almost entirely in the English countryside, with at least half of the story occurring during the rich and opulent Victorian era. The notion of a 30-something protagonist travelling to England to investigate the house she inherited from a long lost aunt immediately grabbed my attention. The structure of the novel reminded me very much of historical fiction stories I’ve read in the past, such as Anne Fortier’s Juliet, with one chapter recounting the modern day life of Julia and the next detailing the life of her Victorian ancestor, Imogen. Unfortunately, I remember loving Fortier’s Juliet when I read it a few years ago, and although this made me very confident that I would love That Summer, it just didn’t grab or touch me as much as all the other things I’ve read recently.

That Summer could’ve been an incredible story if it wasn’t so simple. It was almost 350 pages, and so I think there was ample space for Willig to explore certain topics and plot points in more detail. Instead, she gestures towards certain characters and their emotions rather than delving deeply into them. Despite the fact that Julia is arguably the focal point of the entire plot, her emotions are very poorly developed. Julia’s struggles with her mother’s death when she was only a child are inconsistent, as she waivers between wanting to ignore memories of her mother and wanting to invite them into her consciousness within the same paragraph or even sentence. Her revelations about her mother at the end and her desire to learn more about her are never fully explored in any way before the conclusion, and her unhappiness and discontent with her work in the financial industry and her desire to go back to art school are repeatedly mentioned but are never fleshed out. Willig alludes to issues that Julia faces, but rather than tackling them and forcing her character to reside in them, she tells the reader that Julia feels certain emotions, and then updates them later that her feelings have changed. Julia decides she ultimately might want to go back to art school, Willig tells us, but then we never hear any more about why her passion for art has been reignited. It’s fair to assume it’s because she’s discovered a Pre-Raphaelite painting in her aunt’s house, but although Julia takes an interest in researching the painting, the reader gets no internal monologue that would let us know what’s going on in her mind during her investigations, and Willig doesn’t show us any evolution in Julia’s approach to life or any revelation about her lifestyle. Instead, we are expected to accept what we are told and move on. The same approach is taken to Julia’s reluctance to build close relationships. She doubts the integrity of the antiques dealer, Nick, she meets for most of the novel, even when he becomes a possible love interest, and she mentions that both her stepmother Helen and her best friend Lexie (both characters who are mentioned by name but who we rarely, if ever, experience interacting with Julia) have alerted her to her trust issues, but we never learn what is going on within her to make her react this way. Again, it is fair to assume that it’s because of her mother’s death, but instead of showing this to us subtly and letting us feel Julia’s reluctance and distrust with her, we are summarily told that the childhood loss of her parent might have affected Julia’s current approach to relationships. For example, we are told on page 296 (too close to the end of the story if you ask me!) that Julia stayed friends with her exes because she never let them too close – but why did we need to be told that? Why not allude to this sort of behaviour through Julia’s actions, instead of mentioning something like that so randomly at the end of the novel? We could’ve seen this sort of tendency in Julia’s actions, if only Willig focused more on presenting them rather than summarizing facts about Julia that Willig seemed to hope would add up to who she is. Eventually Julia decides to give Nick and romance a chance, but we don’t ever find out why she’s had a change of heart. The mention of Nick’s backstory seems totally halfhearted, and while it is used as an excuse for Julia’s doubts about him, his past is never fully explored and so the reader is left wondering why Julia has an issue with it to begin with.

There are also a number of characters that are totally unnecessary, in my opinion. I’ve already mentioned Helen and Lexie, who Julia refers to but never elaborates on, but there are several other characters that barely appear in the novel and seem to just take up unneeded space. Julia’s cousin Natalie is a prime example: she is present for much of the first part of the novel, but then she falls off the face of the Earth toward the end and she seems to be used more as a stereotypical mean girl employed to frustrate Julia more than anything else. Don’t even get me started on Natalie’s brother who appears only in one chapter of the novel. He doesn’t do anything substantial and I truly have no idea why he was even included! The same is true of Natalie’s mother Caroline – it is almost as though Willig added these characters to make her story more rich and complex, but really, they succeeded in doing just the opposite.

Another thing that really irked me about this novel was all the spelling and grammatical errors in it. They seriously impeded the reading experience. I can’t really blame this on Willig because her editor should take more of the responsibility, but it was just totally absurd to me that some of these mistakes were made. The most glaring ones were when Willig employed the wrong pronoun and put “he” and “her” together in the same sentence. I don’t have an exact example from the text because I wasn’t able to go back and find any, but each error was something along the lines of “he held the book within her hands”. Moreover, there were multiple instances of duplicated words in sentences and phrases like “Julia hauled herself into the one of the high…” really stopped my reading flow short. It was a real shame that Willig’s story was marred by these easily avoidable errors.

The only thing I really enjoyed about this story was Imogen’s plot line. I am very fond of Victorian stories in general, and Imogen’s life was exceedingly more interesting and endearing than Julia’s. Her interiority was also much stronger and I felt that she was altogether more fleshed out and realistic. The loveliest moment of the entire novel for me was one toward the end when Imogen sees Gavin for the last time. Without giving too much away, Gavin arrives to take Imogen away from her torturous life, and it is a quiet moment that is very well painted and beautiful. This translates into a charming scene in which Julia is standing outside the summerhouse at Herne Hill and seems to see Gavin, who is firmly in Imogen’s Victorian story and not in the modern day. These moments really did touch me – I only wish the novel had been full of more of them!

This is a hard novel for me to rate. I did enjoy the process of reading it, and as I said, I only noticed its flaws when I would set it down. Once I thought about it more though, I became so horribly frustrated with it! I would sort of compare my time reading it to sitting at home on a Saturday night watching Under the Tuscan Sun on TV. It was a fun experience, not groundbreaking or earthshattering, but pleasant enough. I only wish my experience had stopped there, at that superficial level, and that I hadn’t felt inclined to think so much about the details that were annoying and not properly fleshed out. Unfortunately, the English student in me prevailed this time!

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Attachments – #JNGReads

I’m on a reading roll in 2017! I’ve just finished my 4th novel toward my Goodreads goal of 18, and I’m pleasantly surprised that I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the books I’ve read this year so far.

I can now add Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments to the list of novels I’ve enjoyed and felt very entertained by. I have been meaning to read a book by Rowell for a long time now, and I always thought I would pick up Fangirl first. That wasn’t meant to be the case apparently, because I ended up finding Attachments last weekend in my local Indigo and felt like I may as well pick it up and give Rowell’s writing an immediate try. Attachments was a book that I would describe as incredibly pleasant, light and fun. It wasn’t groundbreaking or earth-shattering by any standards, and I don’t know that any particular moments will remain memorable to me, but I was excited and eager to read more each day.

What I liked best about Attachments, interestingly enough, was not the romance or the “chick lit.” portion of the plot. Lincoln and Beth’s mutual infatuation certainly was the driving force of the novel and did come across as very cute and endearing, but I actually liked learning about the characters’ separate lives a lot more than about their interest in each other…well, Beth’s own life, at least (more on this below). I should clarify: I adored the relationship Beth has with her best friend and coworker, Jennifer, which is told all through email correspondence (you can easily read a summary of the novel online to get a sense for why that writing style works with this particular story). I was very eager to keep reading the web-dialogue between Beth and Jennifer because they had such an affectionate and witty way of talking to one another. It instantly reminded me of my relationship with several of my best girlfriends, as well as of the group emails that sometimes circulate (usually on a Friday) between me and the other women in my department at work. Beth and Jennifer’s friendship goes even deeper than a casual office acquaintance, though, and when they start to speak about more serious issues, like breakups and pregnancy, it is really intriguing to try to piece together what is going on in their broader lives from just their emails back and forth. I sort of started to resent the chapters that spoke about Lincoln’s life, in third person narrative style, because I mainly just wanted to read more about what was happening for Beth and Jennifer. They are without doubt the backbone of this novel and their emails are often simply hilarious!

For that reason, the budding “relationship” between Beth and her IT colleague, Lincoln, who is privy to all of her correspondence with Jennifer and begins to fall for her as a result (who wouldn’t, she’s adorable via email!) was placed on the back burner, for me. I honestly didn’t care too much about Lincoln, and I think that’s down to the fact that he’s a pretty weak character. He is meant to be, but I feel like he is mostly mopey and bland throughout the story. Even when he discovers that Beth has a crush on him and his life starts to turn around, he never really gets excited or enthused about anything, and his relationship with his mother is more annoying than interesting. His conversations with his sister and his mother don’t really seem to add much to the plot in the end, so I mostly wanted to blast through them. Although I understand that Rowell is trying to establish that Lincoln is a little lost and lonely, I don’t think his personality ever really picks up momentum, even when he starts to gain confidence, and honestly he’s just very bleh. Like I said, I didn’t care too much to learn what he was going through because I wanted to get back to Beth’s conversations with Jennifer, so while I found Lincoln to be a cute match for Beth romantically, I didn’t really care to see deeper into his personality and lifestyle than Beth did. The ending also felt rushed, and was a bit cheesy, if I’m honest, specifically the last line that Lincoln says which I didn’t even fully understand. Cheesy lines and endings occasionally happen in chick lit. novels, so I won’t necessarily hold that against Attachments…I have read some fabulous chick lit. novels where the endings were suspenseful and fleshed out, though, so it all depends what you’re looking for.

In Attachments, things are wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end without too much real conflict or upheaval, and that is satisfying in some ways, but frustrating in others. We don’t really get to dig down deep into the conflicts, because of the style and the fact that we are reading emails most of the time, and that is okay in some regards, but it also makes it slightly more frustrating when emphasis is placed on Lincoln’s outside life, rather than those of the characters I felt more invested in. Lincoln also seems largely nonchalant about the upheaval going on in his life, which contributed to my lack of interest in him. I think the novel might’ve been stronger if it was just focused on building a relationship between two female friends, through email correspondence (which is a really enjoyable and unique epistolary style for a novel), rather than adding the romantic element or focusing so heavily on it. If Lincoln were a side-plot, featured in Beth and Jennifer’s emails, rather than a central focus that so much time was spent on, I might’ve enjoyed the novel a bit more.

This novel doesn’t have any stand-out moments. Like I said, it is adorable in parts and quite fun to read, but it was such a simple, linear story that there wasn’t a whole lot to grab onto and become passionate about. Rowell is a witty writer and I will absolutely give more of her books a chance, but I am hoping that these other novels will be a bit meatier. I would definitely recommend Attachments to fans of rom-coms, though, because it is sweet and a very quick and enjoyable read. It offers the same pleasure that watching a Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock movie on a Saturday night would, so for that reason, I still enjoyed it very much.

❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Hating Game – #JNGReads

January 18, 2017

I’m lying in my bed at 9:38pm and all I can think of is The Hating Game.

I’m not actually reading it because I’m just over halfway through…and I never ever EVER want it to end!

You know that heart eye emoji? Yeah, that emoji is exactly what I feel about this book! I am OBSESSED with this book…I have a damn crush on this book! Not just on Joshua Templeman (okay, I have a crush on him too), but on every single sentence of this 300-plus page masterpiece. True, I’m only halfway through, but trust me, it’s going to be a frontrunner for favourite chick lit. story of all time!

*sigh* I love you, The Hating Game! G’night!

January 19, 2017

It’s lunchtime at work (finally) and I’m spending my hour in Starbucks with my green tea and The Hating Game. Sitting here, with my book and my hot tea, I feel more like myself than I have all week! I am truly comfortable.

And this little chick lit. book, this story that was supposed to be so fun and light, is about to make me cry. It all comes down to this: The Hating Game is all about chemistry, that zing between two people who are unbearably attracted to each other, but who also want to curl up into each other, hold each other tight. The very definition of lovers…a word that does, of course, involve love.

This book is making me tingle and I don’t want it to end. It is keeping me warm during a cold and barren week. It is reminding me of the chemistry I have with my special person and also of the spark I want to keep in my life forever. I seriously never want this book to end!

January 19, 2017 ~ 1 hour later

Leaving Starbucks to go back to work. Very sad to leave my book. Like very VERY sad! As in, sad the way I was when I had to leave Jane Eyre in my locker and head to grade 12 Advanced Functions. As in, sad the way I was when my crush got into his car at the end of a long school day, blazing home without even a wave goodbye. As in, sad the way I am every time my fiancé gets on a bus or a subway and rides away from me. Damn…I have a crush on a book. I might even be in love with a book. Damn.

The End

The Hating Game. This book destroyed me. It has ruined me for all other books and I know it will be a long time before I feel this way about a story again. This book made me feel the way I did when I first read The Time Traveler’s Wife, and I see now that it will go down as an all-time favourite.  *Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, meet Lucy Hutton and Josh Templeman. Shake hands, make friends, get comfortable. I know you’re going to love each other!*

This book is good. Not good like, give it 3 stars on Goodreads and be done with it. Good as in…okay…like you meet a guy at a party on a Saturday night and he whispers something in your ear that is so flirtatious but also strangely sweet and gentlemanly. And he asks for your number and you hand it over rapidly. And then, on Monday, you’re sitting in class, staring into space, twirling your hair around your finger, and all you can see is his eyes. You think, “Wow, that guy is good!” (Do people even think or say this anymore? I don’t know. Apparently I’ve been engaged for a long time and am out of the loop.)

The Hating Game is about love, but more than that, it’s about real love. It’s about the love you don’t even know you have until it smacks you across the face with its blinding ferocity. I’ve had this love. I have to be honest, I didn’t love, or even really like, my fiancé when I first met him. Three months into dating him, I knew I wanted to marry him and I told him so…but three weeks into it, all I could think was, Sure, this guy is my first boyfriend but that doesn’t mean he has to be my last. I’m embarrassed even remembering this now because he is the most incredible man, physically, mentally and emotionally, but when I met him I was so nonchalant, mainly because I had a crush on some other guy who was sooo not my type and my fiancé was just this other, random guy who was taking my mind off my crush-induced misery. And then, very quickly, he became my whole world and overnight I developed both a crush on him and fell madly in love with him. That’s what The Hating Game is all about: the love that creeps up on you, literally when you least expect it. My favourite type of love.

It would be easy to say I loved The Hating Game because of the sexy main character, Joshua Templeman, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. I love The Hating Game for everything it is, every last dot on every last page.  Just thinking about this book is going to make me cry silly tears. The kind of tears you cry when the guy says to the girl that he’s loved her from the moment he first saw her, just like Josh says to Lucy. And you think, That’s the stuff of fiction, that doesn’t happen in real-life, until it happens to you. It did to me, and maybe I’m so grossly sentimental about this book because it reminded me of what I have and of what I think every person on this Earth deserves.

The Hating Game is not only about real love, it’s also about being someone’s person. It’s about loving someone so much that you understand them better than anyone else, that you get inside them. It’s a love that is so big and all-encompassing that at first you don’t quite know what it is. When Lucy and Josh finally get together physically (I’m still a big baby who needs to use euphemisms for this sort of thing) towards the end of the book, there is the perfect moment of realizing just how important love is, of understanding how the right kind of physical connection can speak emotional volumes.

You matter. You’re important to me. This matters.

You’re who I want. You’re always beautiful. This really matters.

There is a profound moment in that passage, one that overwhelms and overcomes the erotic and transforms it into something beautiful and profound.

But there is so much that is written and articulated beautifully in this novel, this little slice of rom-com that took me by surprise and blew me out of the water. There are so many gorgeous phrases and ways of expressing the simplest emotions, and Thorne is truly gifted when it comes to manipulating and making art out of language.

“Books were, and always would be, something a little magic and something to respect.”

“It’s like sunshine.  I’d forgotten that other people are warm.”

“He taught me things in the space of two minutes that the span of my lifetime did not.”

All I want to do is kiss you until I fall asleep…I want to make a fool of myself for you.

“‘Lucy,’ is all he can seem to say. ‘Lucy. How am I going to walk away from tonight? Seriously. How?’”

There were so many moments about this novel that could’ve been cliché, such as when Josh becomes jealous of Danny’s attentions toward Lucy, or when Lucy becomes hopelessly obsessed with Josh.  But none of them were, none of them tipped into dangerous, unbelievable or unrealistic territory.  It all comes down to how expertly Thorne told the story and how likeable and complex she made her characters.

Is it possible to be in love with a book? I’ve known since I was a child that the answer is Yes. But it’s a polygamous sort of relationship for me, and I am happy to make The Hating Game one of my multiple book husbands.

I can’t get enough of it! Lucy talks so much about how addicted she is to Josh, and that is how I feel about Josh AND her AND this entire story. I think I’m going to carry it around with me for the next few days so I can reread several of my favourite sections.  I know I have to give it to my mom to read at some point soon, because I know she’s going to absolutely love it, but it actually makes me sad to think of handing it over to her right now and not having it in my room with me every night.

You’ve caught me…I’m a book freak, and this particular one, well, I’ve fallen in love with it!

“If only I could hold onto this moment.  I already feel the sadness that will hollow me out when it ends.”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5 – and all in robin’s egg blue!)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

God Save the Queen – #JNGReads

victoria

My second read of 2017 is already under my belt, and we’re not even halfway through January. That’s 2 out of my Goodreads goal of 18 for the year down – go me! Right on schedule.

I’ve just finished reading Daisy Goodwin’s historical fiction novel Victoria. Now, it’s a well-known fact that I am a huge fan of both Victorian literature and the monarch who gave her name to this era, and I did in fact watch the entire ITV series Victoria when it was released. So, for that reason, this was a bit of a strange reading experience for me. I normally make it a point to never read a book after seeing the film or TV adaptation. The only time I ever did that (until now) was in high school, when I had to read Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a Writer’s Craft assignment. Obviously I was already very familiar with the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn, and I found it extremely difficult to fall in love with Capote’s tale because I was constantly comparing it to the film version. I also read that Capote really did not like Audrey in the role of Holly Golightly, but I could not stop myself from picturing her as I read, so I feel like I never had a natural, authentic reading experience. I just wasn’t able to fully appreciate Capote’s text and prose, and it has been one of my least favourite literary texts ever since.

I desperately did not want the same thing to happen with Goodwin’s Victoria. I absolutely ADORED the ITV series of the same name, so I was equally eager and wary to read the literary equivalent. I was at once afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell out of my head when reading about Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, as well as desperate to have a chance to continue experiencing the story that I fell so in love with while watching the TV show. I have to say that, now that I have finished reading the novel, I am still very conflicted about whether or not I am happy that I had watched the TV series prior to reading the story. Part of me wishes that I hadn’t because the plot was much less surprising given the fact that much of the dialogue was taken directly from the show and many of the scenes paralleled each other. On the other hand, the novel did go into greater depth during the most significant scenes, and if anything, I felt that it added subtle details and intricacies to the moments from the series that I was most fond of. It’s really hard to rate Victoria for all these reasons – I feel like I can’t quite judge it on its own, as a novel in its own right, and I think that is unfortunate. But, I did still thoroughly enjoy it and I finished it rather quickly because I was so connected to the characters and so eager to revisit them.

The novel was also different from the series in one important respect: (SPOILER ALERT) it ends with the scene in which Victoria proposes to her beloved future husband, Prince Albert. If you’ve seen the ITV series, you’ll know that it goes on after this particular moment, to investigate the early days of Victoria and Albert’s marriage, until they have their first child. I really do love Albert and I think his relationship with Victoria was very significant historically, so I preferred the second half of the TV series because Albert was featured in it. Having said that, the first half explores Victoria’s relationship with Lord Melbourne (Lord M as she likes to playfully call him), and that was lovely to watch unfold as well. There was undeniable chemistry between the two characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them engage in a quasi-romance that was at once forbidden and intoxicating. The novel Victoria delves into this relationship between Queen V and Lord M much further, and we are given a lot more insight into the internal feelings and emotions of each character. While I was disappointed that Albert wasn’t introduced until around 315 pages into the novel (it is only 400 pages in total, so Albert is barely in it), I also found it interesting to get a closer look at a relationship that was sort of overshadowed towards the end of the TV series. I do like Lord M very much, and although I know the romantic aspects of his relationship with Queen Victoria are highly fictionalized and not really grounded in historical fact at all, I still did enjoy getting a closer glimpse into what Lord M might have felt for his much younger monarch and friend.

My experience reading Victoria was undoubtedly pleasurable, despite all the qualms I mentioned above, and probably what I liked most about it was witnessing the young Victoria begin her reign. This moment in her history is treated rather quickly in the series – although Victoria’s struggles in being a young, female monarch are constantly treated, we do tend to focus more on the romances she engages in (or at least, I did while watching). The novel was different in that it thoroughly investigated several scenes in which Victoria is forced to stand up for herself, assert her authority as a monarch and develop her own voice. These moments are wonderful to behold, and they gave me such inspiration as a young woman in the working world, developing her professional career. I latched on to several quotes from these points of the novel because they reminded me that Queen Victoria was a remarkable and revolutionary monarch and still serves as an important role model for young women in a world still very much dominated by men. I loved witnessing Victoria stand up to Sir John Conroy and her uncle the Duke of Cumberland, and I cheered for her whenever she was grounded and strong. She was admittedly somewhat childish and immature at times, but it was also fascinating to see her develop from a petulant adolescent into a more self-assured and self-aware leader. I think this aspect of the novel was more exciting and engaging for me than any of the romantic bits, and for that reason, I would highly recommend Victoria to teenage girls, particularly those in high school, who may be in the market for a powerful role model.

“she would start as she meant to go on.”

“‘It is time that people stopped seeing me as a little girl.’”

“‘I am tired of being treated as a young lady without a thought in her head.’”

To conclude my review, I have to be perfectly honest and say that I preferred the TV series to the novel Victoria. That may be due in large part to the fact that the TV series is visually astonishing – the costumes, the sets, the actors are so remarkable and it is a series that I don’t think I will ever forget. Goodwin writes with a very cinematographic style, and you can clearly tell that she is imagining and picturing each of the scenes she writes, so I think they come across as already being made for the screen. I do believe that the two mediums go hand in hand, though, so I would certainly say that if you view this novel as a companion to the TV show and engage in enjoying the two together, the experience will be very pleasurable.

❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5) for the book alone

❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5) for the book as a complement to the TV series (admittedly my favourite TV series of all time)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Gillespie and I ~ Close Readings — #JNGReads

As I mentioned in both of my blog posts from last weekend (you can read them here and here), the end of 2016 sort of got away from me.  Although I spent the week before Christmas curled up at home or at the Starbucks across the street from my house, reading my current novel with ardor and interest, once Christmas hit, I was absorbed in family activities and spending time with SS, and I didn’t have much time to devote to my book.  I’m back at work now, though, and while that is depressing in many ways, it means that I will be getting back to my daily lunch breaks spent with my current read in the Starbucks just steps away from my office building.  (Needless to say, green tea is becoming a bit of an obsession for me!)

What is that current read? you may wonder.  Well, if you follow along with me on Goodreads, you’ll know that after reading a fun but surprisingly poignant novel Christmas at Tiffany’s, I delved right into a darker and more complex dramatic narrative.  I picked up the novel Gillespie and I by Jane Harris at the exact same time that I bought Christmas at Tiffany’s and I have been eager to read it ever since.  The synopsis on the back cover of the book was what intrigued me: it is clear from just the short description that the novel will be a mysterious, psychological thriller set in the Victorian era.  I had no idea just how interesting and engrossing the story would be, however, and I have been thoroughly taken in by the tale, and more specifically by the surprising narrator, Harriet Baxter.  Harriet is a surprising character because I thought I had her all figured out, only to realise that she is perhaps a bit more sinister and less innocent than I expected.

Some context is required, I suppose, to explain what this blog post is going to be all about.  In Gillespie and I, Harriet Baxter tells the story of her relationship with the Gillespie family, specifically with the artist Ned Gillespie, his wife Annie and their two daughters, Sibyl and Rose.  For the first half of the novel, things are relatively pleasant and simple enough, as the reader hears about Harriet’s interactions with the family, told from her vantage point years later, as an old woman.  Then, almost all of a sudden, little hints are dropped by Harriet that there is a greater purpose to the telling of her tale, and when Rose goes missing, it becomes clear that Harriet is recounting the story in order to get out her version of the events that transpired.  Here, the plot becomes very interesting, as the reader begins to suspect, for reasons both stated and implied, that Harriet may’ve had a hand in the kidnapping of young Rose.  When Harriet is arrested and put on trial, she continues to assert her innocence, but the reader is still nagged by the sense that something is just not right.

I am currently at the part in the novel when Harriet is on trial for Rose’s abduction.  Although she is adamant that she was wrongfully accused, I don’t know what the actual conclusion or verdict is just yet, so I feel like I have put on my own detective hat and am trying to piece together what role Harriet might’ve had in the crime.  For that reason, I am on high alert, and my reading of her narrative has become quite suspicious.  She is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, and what is most fascinating about an otherwise mundane story is that there is this added layer of unease and uncertainty.  As a result, I’ve decided to provide you with a few choice passages from the novel in today’s post.  I will do a short close reading of each of these passages to portray to you exactly the sense of mystery and skepticism that surrounds Harriet as a narrator.  I’ve missed doing close readings since my university days, and Gillespie and I is a perfect source of inspiration for this sort of literary investigation.  So, here we go…

1) “Under normal circumstances, [Annie] might have left the girls in the care of her maid, but, unfortunately, the Gillespies had been obliged to dismiss Jessie, the previous week.  It so happened that Annie’s Christmas gift from Ned — her silver bar-brooch, with the baroque pearl — had gone amissing.  Annie wore that particular piece of jewellery only on special occasions, and its disappearance might not even have been noticed for a while had I not, one evening, requested another look at it.”

This passage is one that first elicited suspicion and curiosity in me.  It seemed very strange that Harriet should have been the one to draw attention, albeit in an allegedly coincidental manner, to the fact that Annie’s brooch was missing.  Considering that the fact that Jessie no longer works for the Gillespies means that Sibyl and Rose were left to attend to themselves at the time when Rose was kidnapped, it seems far too strange that Harriet would’ve played a part in this whole drama.  Did Harriet ask after the brooch on purpose, knowing that Jessie would be blamed and fired, in order to set the whole crime in motion?  Who knows…but there is at least evidence to suggest that this may be the case.  It is also unsettling just how much Harriet has noted about Annie’s habits, particularly that she only wears the brooch on special occasions, and this gives the sense that Harriet is always hovering, watching and taking stock of the Gillespie family’s routines and activities.  Her descriptions of the family are far too specific to be nonchalant.

2) “One can only imagine how wretched the old lady must have felt: the pangs of dread, churning her stomach; the actual physical ache, in the region of her heart; a tremble in the hands; the bitter taste at the back of her throat; and the ever-present sensation of nausea.  These are the kind of symptoms, I suppose, that must have plagued her.”

How is Harriet able to describe guilt with so much detail?  The very physical, tangible manifestation of this complicated emotion is something Harriet seems to know well.  Although she is not placing herself in the role of the person who should feel guilty, in this instance, she describes the sensations as though she has felt them several times and in such a vivid manner.  Is that not, then, suspicious, considering that she still feigns innocence?  It is especially notable that Harriet uses the phrase “I suppose”, as if to divert the reader from her trail and reassert herself in an innocent light.  Is this believable, though, or is the reader put even more on their guard by Harriet’s anxiety about being guilt-free?

3) “Back in early February, when I had first seen the list of witnesses for the Crown, there were one or two names that I had recognised as persons who might hold slight grudges against me.”

Okay, so what is going on here?!  This woman who we have basically been encouraged to believe, as readers of her personal narrative, has a spotless character, now appears to have a hidden past of some kind.  It is obviously possible that Harriet is entirely innocent in everything and people just wrongfully judge her, but isn’t it hard to believe that sort of thing, given the other hints and clues we’ve collected (for example, in the passages above)?  I should say that these three points in the novel are mere samples of the strange, unsettling moments in this story…and now that I’m looking for them, I seem to find suspicious statements on every page.  Perhaps I am overthinking things, but I feel that this novel is remarkable in that it forces the reader to question absolutely everything.  This is not a comfortable reading experience, by any standards, but it certainly is a compelling one.

So far, I would highly recommend Gillespie and I to those readers who like a jarring and complicated psychological thriller.  I’ll let you all know what I think as I reach the conclusion.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart