If We Were a Movie ~ #JNGWatches & #JNGWeds

Why would anyone have a Christmas wedding?

Isn’t that time of year busy enough already?

Welcome to wedding month here at The World of my Green Heart!

That’s right, my wedding is only ONE MONTH away, and it’s high time to hunker down and let all you dear Readers in on some of the details of my Big Day. Obviously, once the day has come and gone, I’ll be posting pictures like mad and discussing exactly how it went…but, there are also a few aspects of the planning process I’d like to discuss with you all before I tie the knot. So, with that in mind, I’ll be publishing wedding-inspired posts from now until the wedding day, amongst my regular book reviews and literary posts.

Let’s start off by addressing those questions above, which I’ve heard on a semi-regular basis ever since I started planning my Christmas wedding. I get it, people – Christmas is a stressful time for some. I personally don’t get it because I don’t see how anyone could be sad or frustrated at such a beautiful time of year, but fine, I accept that there are a lot of people who do. Why they think they can criticize my wedding is beyond me, but I’ve grown a thicker skin in recent years than I expected I ever would, so to the “haters” I say, Bring it on!

That being said, it is a valid question in some regards – having a Christmas wedding is quite unique, so I do always like to offer an explanation for why I have ALWAYS wanted a Christmas wedding…

Much of it stems from my love of the Victorian era, no doubt about it. Very few people know this, but Queen Victoria (my one true queen, forever and always) and her beloved husband Prince Albert were the two monarchs that popularized the celebration of Christmas, as we know it today. Many of the traditions they established were of German origin, which makes sense when you consider that both Albert as well as Victoria’s mother were German, and these very traditions became popular worldwide in the 1840’s and 1850’s. If you don’t believe me that we still follow the Victorian model when celebrating Christmas to this very day, you need only look so far as the nearest Christmas tree: Prince Albert was the man who brought the Christmas tree to Britain, so we have him to thank for the décor and atmosphere we so appreciate in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

But, I’m not going to lie, I developed this urge to have a Christmas wedding long before I ever read my first Victorian novel (which was, naturally, Jane Eyre). It all started back when I was in early high school and began religiously (considering I’m not religious at all, I am using that word consciously) watching Hallmark movies every Christmas. A lot of people find these to be the cheesiest movies on the planet, and that’s totally fine…but ever since I watched my first one, I was totally captivated! Yup, everything ends up happy, every single time. Yup, the characters are pretty simple and have relatively drama-free lives. Yup, True Love prevails, always. What is there not to love about that? These movies follow basic plot structures and archetypes, but if you actually sit down to analyze them, you’ll see that many of these structures come from the Victorian novel genre, in which the story ends with a marriage or a happily ever after union, and all the strife and stress is replaced by the most ideal and romantic love that ever existed on this planet. How is a Hallmark movie very different from Jane Eyre? It isn’t, I would argue, and perhaps my penchant for Victorian tales is not so difficult to figure out after all, considering my forever love of the Hallmark movie genre.

With all that said, I want to leave you with a list of my all-time favourite (until next year, anyway) Hallmark/TV Christmas movies. I sincerely believe that my fiancé and I have a romance like something out of one of these movies, and so what better way to celebrate it than with the most epic Christmas wedding?

The Very Best Hallmark/TV Christmas Movies

(Long live the Hallmark Channel!)

  1. Merry Matrimony
  2. December Bride

~ These two movies both star Jessica Lowndes, who is beautiful but also absolutely adorable and sugary sweet. I kid you not, they were the inspiration for much of the décor of my wedding – poinsettias and evergreens, holly and mistletoe, reds and greens and golds. I made my fiancé watch both these films recently and I told him, “See that…that’s the wedding we’re going to have!” And we seriously are!

  1. A Bride for Christmas

~ The name says it all. Again, this movie features a wedding (I doubt that’s a spoiler at this point) which features a giant and absolutely gorgeous Christmas tree! A large Christmas tree smack dab in the middle of your wedding venue? Why didn’t I think of that? Oh wait, I did…all because of this movie!

  1. The Mistletoe Promise

~ This movie is a bit funnier, wittier and sexier than your average Hallmark movie. The two main characters don’t really believe in love and aren’t looking for a serious relationship…but of course, we all know that’s not going to last long!

  1. A Holiday Engagement

~ If this movie doesn’t make you cry, particularly when the main character sings, then you’re heartless…or just not a Christmas softie like I am. In any case, this is one of my fiancé’s favourite Christmas movies.

  1. Love You Like Christmas

~ This is another of my fiancé’s favourites, which we only discovered recently. I myself am also particularly fond of the storyline where a hardworking protagonist realizes that they’re giving too much of themself to their career and decides to slow down a little and open themself up to love.

  1. A Christmas Kiss

~ There are at least three movies in this “series” that I know of, each of them revolving around an unexpected Christmas kiss which I am 100% down for! These movies are a lot of fun!

  1. Holiday High School Reunion (aka Christmas Crush)
  2. A Crown for Christmas
  3. A Royal Christmas

~ Rachel Boston, Danica McKellar and Lacey Chabert can do no wrong as leads. Enough said. Watch anything they’re in ASAP!

  1. Once Upon a Holiday

~ A recent favourite of mine that I unexpectedly found on Netflix and LOVED! This is a bit of a role reversal, where the female lead is the royal and she falls in love with a man that is not royal. It’s freaking AWESOME and Briana Evigan and Paul Campbell are absolute PERFECTION!

This list could seriously go on and on because while writing this post, I swear I thought of about 10 other movies you should all watch. But, let’s start with this (substantial) list, shall we?

Go grab a cuppa hot cocoa and get crackin’! And let me know what you think of these films below…

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Ugly Love ~ #JNGReads

As it turns out, I’m not a fan of Colleen Hoover.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular opinion and one I fear I may be crucified for. But, I have my reasons, which I am hoping to clearly explain in this review of Ugly Love. I have only read two books by Colleen Hoover in my life, both during this year. The first was It Ends with Us; by the time I finished that novel, I had the sense that I really enjoyed it, but I think that had a lot to do with how emotional it was in the end and how powerful the subject matter was. When I look back, I find that I don’t remember the characters that well and I don’t feel like I truly connected to any of them in a lasting sort of way. I also distinctly remember not being able to get into Hoover’s writing style, and finding it somewhat annoying in places. However, I have heard so many great things about Hoover’s writing that I knew I would eventually have to give another one of her books a try.

For all these reasons, when I was in Chapters days before my birthday trying to decide what book to use my birthday Plum Rewards coupon on, I made my way to the Colleen Hoover section. I thought maybe, since I had a coupon and wouldn’t be spending too much money on the book, I could afford to pick up another one of hers to feel like I gave her the good ol’ college try! I don’t know why Ugly Love caught my attention because I had never heard of it before, but it did, and I found myself flipping to a random page and reading a few lines that really made me eager to delve into the whole novel. I think it was a part where Tate is feeling particularly heartbroken and lost about her “relationship” with Miles and I just felt like I couldn’t put the book back down and abandon the characters.

But honestly, I wish I did. This is not to say that the book is bad, whatsoever; on the contrary, I didn’t hate reading it at all. I just didn’t find that I loved or even liked reading it, and I believe that it just wasn’t worth it for me to pick up this novel right now, in a year when I have read some absolutely amazing stories that were of course going to overshadow one like this. It simply wasn’t the right time for me to pick up Ugly Love, and although I don’t think I would’ve really liked it no matter when I picked it up, I don’t think I would’ve been quite so annoyed with it if I picked it up, say, midway through next year instead. It felt a bit like a waste of my time right now.

Why did I feel this way about this book? Well, as I said there are a few reasons actually, each of which I will go through in turn…

Firstly, I didn’t like any of the characters. Period. This is a huge deal for me because I’m more interested in the characters in any book I read than in any single other detail (including world building and plot structure). I connect to characters fiercely and vehemently, and when that doesn’t happen for me, I find it really hard to enjoy a story. For some people, maybe hating characters is a strong enough emotion to entertain them, but for me it’s just not; I have to LOVE, or at the very least like, at minimum one of the main characters or I find it really hard to like a novel. In the case of Ugly Love, both Tate and Miles annoyed me to NO END. Listen, we’ve all been there or seen people who are there: in a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t want to fall in love and is vocal about that, yet still adamant that we can change them and convince them to have feelings for us, because we’re freaking amazing and no one can love them better! I’m not arguing that this isn’t a realistic scenario or that we don’t all kind of do some arguably pretty stupid things in these sorts of situations. Been there, done that…guilty as charged! What annoyed me about Tate and Miles, though, is that everything is sooo over the top and melodramatic. I get it, Miles went through an awful tragedy and I’m not disputing that…but the guy is WEIRD! It’s almost like he’s a sociopath at times and he’s emotionally abusive in many ways. What drove me most crazy, though, is how Tate responds to that. She LIKES IT! Okay, I don’t want to judge someone else’s relationship, but what bothers me is that Tate recognizes and vocalizes on several occasions that she is NOT happy and that she feels like Miles is controlling or (Hoover’s favourite word in Ugly Love) “invading” her, and yet she does nothing to stop it. She even talks about how apparently powerless she is to leave him, and I just wasn’t a fan of this. I like my heroines to be strong, self-assured and confident and Tate did not strike me as any of those things.

“Now he knows exactly how much I’m not Tate when I’m near him. I’m only liquid. Conforming. Doing what he asks, doing what I’m told, doing what he wants me to do.”

“‘Make me leave,’ [Miles] says, his voice pleading and warm against my throat. ‘You don’t need this.’ He’s kissing his way up my throat, breaking for breath only when he speaks. ‘I just don’t know how to stop wanting you. Tell me to go and I’ll go.’

I don’t tell him to go. I shake my head. ‘I can’t.’

I turn my face toward his just as he’s worked his way up to my mouth, then I grab his shirt and pull him to me, knowing exactly what I’m doing to myself. I know this time won’t end any prettier than the other times, but I still want it just as much. If not more.”

Secondly, I did not like how Ugly Love was written, and based on my similar experience with It Ends with Us, I’m leaning towards believing that I just don’t vibe with Hoover’s writing style. I’ve read a few reviews that talked about how repetitive Hoover’s writing is, and I 100% agree with that; the thing is, though, that it’s not just repetitive in terms of literal words or sentences (although, believe me, it is that too), it’s also repetitive in terms of concepts. If I have to read one more page of Tate discussing how scared she is that her thing, whatever it is, with Miles is going to end poorly, or one more page of Miles spouting how much he loves Rachel and everything is Rachel and the sun rises and sets for Rachel, I will seriously rip my hair out. It was fine in the beginning to read about these sorts of emotions, but it got old fast. Other than having a fair number of steamy sex scenes, nothing actually happens in the book, and that left me truly disappointed.

Thirdly, and along the same vein, what was up with the chapters in Miles’ point of view verging into verse? Nope, not feeling it, and from the reviews I’ve read, I’m not the only one! I have no issue with portions of verse in prose texts, but I do have an issue with it when the verse isn’t particularly good. Miles is not a poet, and clearly neither is Hoover, and so switching into verse when Miles got overly emotional just felt so damn cheesy that I couldn’t stand it after a while (well, actually, about 2 chapters into it). It felt very unnecessary for this to happen and it took me right out of the story and prevented me from connecting with Miles at some of the most crucial moments in the text. I feel that this was a very poor stylistic choice on Hoover’s part.

Damn, I really just s$@t all over this novel, didn’t I? I swear that wasn’t my intention but I just can’t find that many good things to say about it! It wasn’t awful at all…but it really wasn’t good either. At least not in my opinion, but if you love Hoover’s work, I’d say to give it a chance.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Royally Endowed ~ #JNGReads

Royally Endowed by Emma Chase is the third installment in the Royally series, which includes the novels Royally Screwed and Royally Matched. I came across both these books when I first started reading on my Kobo, and I devoured the steamy series within days. When I found out that the third book in the series was coming out, I knew I had to add it to my To-Read List immediately so that I could keep the other two stories fresh in my mind while reading this third one. With that in mind, I picked up Royally Endowed a few days ago and, once again, devoured it.

There’s no question that Emma Chase writes good romance novels. Yes, they are all very formulaic and follow the same basic structure, but Chase knows how to create sexy characters that her readers feel compelled to spend as much time with as possible. Her scenes are hot, but there’s also enough complexity to her stories to make them interesting and distinguish each of her male and female leads from one another. I have to say that I still think Royally Screwed is my favourite novel of the series, but this is only by a thin margin – Royally Endowed was a lot of fun and it was in many ways more realistic because although there were royal elements to the story, neither of the main characters are royal themselves, so the plot felt a bit less far-fetched and fairytale-like.

I really enjoyed Royally Endowed because it was exactly what I was expecting. No, it didn’t deliver anything more or blow me out of the water, but it was a quick, breezy read and I found myself truly liking Ellie and Logan as main characters. Ellie is quirky and confident and she has a bubbly and vibrant personality that stands out as quite unique. Logan is your typical romantic hero, edgy and troubled, conflicted and yet still soft and adoring. I liked Ellie and Logan together a lot, and there were exciting moments in the story that made me eager to read on as fast as possible.

It was also nice to encounter characters from the other two novels in the Royally series again, particularly Nicholas and Olivia and Queen Lenora. They were among my favourite characters in the first two books because I found the dynamic between the traditional and stoic Queen Lenora and her grandson Nicholas, who chooses to abdicate and marry a “commoner” Olivia, really interesting and enjoyable to read about. Ellie is actually Olivia’s little sister, and so it was also cool to get a more in-depth look at their sibling relationship and how marriage and boyfriends changes how they perceive one another.

All in all, I would recommend Royally Endowed because, like I said, it was a lot of fun. One thing that did bother me a bit, though, was the physical portrayal of Ellie. This is more a criticism I have of romance novels in general and is not necessarily limited to Royally Endowed: the main female protagonist in romance novels is always depicted as drop-dead gorgeous, with a toned and sculpted body that is curvy in only exactly the right places. It is always also implied that this physique requires little to no effort on the part of the female protagonist, who doesn’t go to the gym, doesn’t really eat that healthy, doesn’t have to do too much at all to look like a fitness model. I normally don’t have a problem with this sort of representation because it is a trademark of romance novels and I sort of think that a reader should know what’s coming when they go into reading a romance novel. Having said that, it did start to grate on my nerves a little in Royally Endowed, particularly because so much emphasis is put on Ellie’s body and how perfect it is (see the quote below). She isn’t your average woman whatsoever, and I kind of think it would be refreshing to one day read a romance novel with a female lead who is just like any one of us girls.

“Then she steps back and wiggles out of the snug silk gown, letting it pool around her feet, standing in nothing but tiny cream knickers and a matching lace bra. I avert my eyes, but not before the image of smooth legs, flat stomach, a snug heart-shaped arse and perky perfect breasts are branded permanently onto my brain.”

Nevertheless, I am happy that I chose to read Royally Endowed because I got through it easily and rapidly, and it was undoubtedly an entertaining ride! If you’ve read the other novels in the Royally series, you must pick this one up too!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like… ~ The Start of a Christmas Fairytale

Once upon a time there lived a boy and a girl who loved Christmas.

Okay, they were more like a man and a woman, but in the interest of not aging myself too much (my birthday is tomorrow and I’m still insisting on hanging onto my girlhood, although I am distinctly in my mid-twenties now), let’s consider them young-ish adults. When this boy decided to marry this girl, after only a few years of courtship, he proposed to her on a blossoming May day. The sun was shining, the air was clear, the flowers were out and about, waving at the passersby. It was a glorious day to celebrate such a beautiful union!

But, the girl didn’t want to get married in May…or in any warm season, for that matter. No, this particular girl, with her raven hair, pale skin, and blushing cheeks and lips, had always dreamed of getting married during what she believed to be the happiest time of the year ~ Christmas.

Flash forward to almost a year and a half later, and this boy and girl are in a flurry of wedding planning. It is only just over a month until their nuptials, which will take place on December 22nd, and they have settled comfortably into a home in their favourite city. What they didn’t consider when moving in, however, was that they would want to bedazzle their new home in honour of their Christmas wedding…and since it was already past November 1st, what were they waiting for?

The boy and the girl were eager to get to the local arts and crafts store and pick out their first (albeit artificial) Christmas tree, along with ornaments, ribbons, the whole lot. There was just one problem, though: neither the boy nor the girl owned a car (although, it is important to note that the girl could drive; she just had no interest in owning a car herself). How on Earth were they going to get a Christmas tree home with them? Sure, the store was only a 30-minute walk away, but weren’t Christmas trees usually big and heavy? The boy reassured the girl that he could handle it, flexing his muscles while he was at it, and the girl pushed all worries out of her mind, thinking they could sort things out in due time.

Flash forward again to 2 hours later, when the boy and the girl are scurrying down the busiest and longest street in their city, carrying not 1, not 2, but 3 Christmas trees! When they saw the incredible sale on trees at the store and realized that they could get 3 trees for the regular price of 1…well, how could they resist? They were, after all, the ultimate Christmas enthusiasts! And it seemed that the residents of their favourite city were taking notice: they got multiple stares from people walking past (particularly as they took their many breaks along the trip home), and one man even stopped them to ask if perhaps they had gotten a bit carried away, getting 3 trees? The girl replied, confidently, “Absolutely not, Sir! Christmas is the happiest time of the year, so why not make the most of it?” She smiled and continued brightly, “Have a very Merry Christmas!” The boy smiled too, his heart growing about 10 sizes at how utterly adorable the girl was! *cough cough*

The boy and the girl would look back fondly on this hour-long trek, and the story of their first, most ambitious Christmas would be passed on from one generation of their family to the next, as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren shared the story of JNG and SS’s first official Christmas together.

~ If you haven’t gotten it by now, that boy and that girl are none other than my fiancé and me. And, it’s definitely true – we did indeed walk an hour home, lugging 3 Christmas trees, just last weekend. Our place couldn’t look more festive (aka absolutely perfect)! Would you like to see?

We decided to wrap our kitchen cabinets like presents, and gave each one a label. Some of the “gifts” are from our favourite literary characters!

 

Our 2 smaller Christmas trees, named after our favourite brothers and fellow Christmas enthusiasts: Ernest and Albert.

 

Our large Christmas tree, affectionately named Tree #108 (inspired by Queen Victoria’s Doll #123).

Stay tuned for more Christmas-y blog posts coming soon, as wedding month kicks off here at The World of my Green Heart!

JNG

Girl with a(n Ever)Green Heart

Eligible ~ #JNGReads

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a remarkably entertaining read that I enjoyed very much!

This novel is part of a broader series called The Austen Project, in which contemporary authors rework and rewrite some of Jane Austen’s most popular works. Sittenfeld’s story Eligible adapts the plot of Pride and Prejudice and it is an incredibly unique and witty retelling of a much-lauded classic.

I should start my review by saying that Pride and Prejudice is not my favourite Austen novel. Although I definitely love the story itself, I never was able to fully connect to the characters because I find Austen’s writing style in Pride and Prejudice to be too unemotional and almost scientific. That being said, I really love Austen’s novels Emma and (my personal favourite) Persuasion, and so I think that I just have a mental block toward Pride and Prejudice because I have seen it adapted into films so many times and yet feel that the actual text is devoid of much of the feeling and sentiment ascribed to it in popular culture. However, there is no doubt that Austen was a genius of literature, and I absolutely have a fondness in my heart for Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, and all the cast and characters of Pride and Prejudice.

So, I was excited to give Eligible a try and see how Sittenfeld would adapt Austen’s novel about social hierarchies and personal biases to a contemporary time and setting. And, I am happy to report that Sittenfeld does an awesome job of sticking to Austen’s important plot points while tweaking details slightly to fit within the 21st century. There are many things about Pride and Prejudice that would seemingly be hard to incorporate in a modern setting (such as Bingley and Darcy’s wealth, for example), but Sittenfeld manages to find creative ways to account for these things, such as making Bingley a reality TV star and Darcy a neurosurgeon with an old family estate. She even addresses the subtle racism and bigotry of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in ways that are very relevant, particularly by portraying how these characters (who act and speak as if they jumped right from Austen’s original text) would react when meeting transgender and homosexual characters, as an example. Although aspects of these interactions left me feeling a bit uncomfortable because I felt that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were extremely offensive and narrow-minded, I understood the statement that Sittenfeld was attempting to make with these characters and I appreciate that she pushed the envelope to show just how detrimental these attitudes and behaviours are. Often, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are said to be humorous, the comic relief of Pride and Prejudice (particularly in the film adaptations), but I think Sittenfeld is smart to investigate how very awful and unfunny it would be if they existed in our modern times…and how very unfunny it is that there are still people who think like they do nowadays. There was certainly a broader messages to these points in Sittenfeld’s text, and I respected what she was trying to do and think she did it quite well, given the lighter feel of Eligible as a whole.

What was most fascinating about Eligible was how expertly Sittenfeld captures the spirit and tone of Pride and Prejudice without resorting to parody. Sittenfeld doesn’t emulate or imitate Austen’s style per say, but she somehow manages to write with a voice that is so similar to Austen’s while still being firmly contemporary. It’s really hard to explain unless you’ve read the novel and I would rather not cite entire passages because it would give too much of the beauty and style away, but suffice it to say that I was VERY impressed with Sittenfeld’s writing and with her mastery of a voice that is at once Austen-esque but also distinctly her own. You get this sense that you are reading a great work of literature while immersed in Eligible, and yet somehow the novel still feels light and breezy and pleasurable to get through. It is in many ways the perfect blend of a classic literary style with the modern day enjoyment factor characteristic of romance novels.

I want to give Eligible 5 stars because I enjoyed reading it just that much, so I am going to. But that doesn’t mean that it is a perfect book by any standards. I can’t actually say that I liked any of the characters; I do really love Elizabeth and Jane Bennet as characters in Pride and Prejudice but, in Eligible, there were aspects of their characters that annoyed me quite a bit, such as Jane’s absolute lack of direction in her life and Liz’s justification of having a relationship with a married man. It also threw me off at first that Jane and Liz are in their very late 30’s, and while this makes sense given that no one in contemporary society would call a 20 year old an old maid or spinster, it still made it a bit hard for me to picture them engaged in these particular sorts of romantic and familial foibles. I also found Chip Bingley and Darcy to be somewhat flat characters and felt that their personalities were not explored as much as I would have liked because they just weren’t given that much attention in the novel. But, for some reason, these issues didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment of the novel as a whole or from my eagerness to read it, and I was able to accept that I might not like all of the characters, but I certainly was excited to read about and spend time with them.

Oh screw it, I’m going to provide a few quotes here, ones that I found particularly funny and well-written during my reading. If you want to avoid all spoilers (if that’s even possible considering the entire novel is a retelling), I suggest you not read the passages below…

~ “‘It’s probably an illusion caused by the release of oxytocin during sex,’ Darcy continued, ‘but I feel as if I’m in love with you. You’re not beautiful, and you aren’t nearly as funny as you think you are. You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition. And your family, obviously, is a disgrace. Yet in spite of all common sense, I can’t stop thinking about you. The time has come for us to abandon this ridiculous pretense of hate sex and admit that we’re a couple.’ Darcy had delivered this monologue stiffly, while mostly avoiding eye contact…”  CLASSIC DARCY! (And yes, that’s right, Liz and Darcy do have casual sex in this adaptation – surprising, but not altogether unrealistic!)

~ “Such compliments – they were thrilling but almost impossible to absorb in this quantity, at this pace. It was like she was being pelted with a magnificent hail, and she wished she could save the individual stones to examine later, but they’d exist with such potency only now, in this moment.”

~ “and then – outside the lodge, behind the boulder, he in a tuxedo and she in a lavender bridesmaid dress – their faces met and they kissed at such length that the kiss contained multiple phases, including the one in which they both were smiling, practically laughing, and the one in which she forgot where she was.” A highly Austen-esque description – veiled, logical and informative!

~ “she loved Darcy too much to try to prove her love to anyone except him.” ~

All in all, Eligible is a GREAT novel and one that I HIGHLY recommend to Austen fans! It was a thoroughly unique take on Pride and Prejudice unlike anything I’ve ever encountered, and certainly just as entertaining as the original!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

If We Were Villains ~ #JNGReads

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a unique and engaging mystery novel, but unfortunately it failed to grip me quite as much as I thought it would.

It is nearly impossible to say anything about this novel’s plot without including spoilers, so I will keep my summary short. If We Were Villains follows the story of Oliver Marks (the narrator) and his 6 fellow students as they attend an acting program geared specifically toward performing Shakespeare. We first meet Oliver as he is being released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence for a crime related to a tragedy that occurs during the students’ senior year at Dellecher. Oliver then recounts his story and the events leading up to his convictions, and we as readers piece together the story as we move closer toward Oliver’s trial and entrance into prison. In this sense, we already know the outcome/end of the story before it has even really begun.

This is a fantastic and fascinating premise for a mystery novel, and my issues in getting into the story did not have anything to do with the plot, which I found very intriguing. Rather, I found it very difficult to connect with any of the characters because I could not bring myself to like them or care what happened to them, including Oliver himself. Now that I sit down to write this review, I am finding it almost impossible to describe why I didn’t love the novel or the characters because each one of them was interesting enough. Each character had their own quirks, background and personality, but for some reason, they all fell flat for me and I found myself getting annoyed with them more than anything. I found Alexander to be irritating and thought his jokes weren’t funny and were poorly timed; I thought Meredith was self-centered and very difficult to get to know because she was such a total femme fatale stereotype and seemed to have no more layers than that; and I found that Wren and Filippa just faded into the background and didn’t stand out to me at all. Arguably, the three most interesting characters are James, Richard and Oliver, but I found James to be too much of a good guy, Richard too overdone as a villain, and Oliver just plain whiny. That was maybe the hardest part of the novel to accept, for me: I expected Oliver to be this super intricate character, and I wanted him to rival the unreliable narrators I’ve encountered in such great novels as The Moonstone and, more recently, Gillespie and I. Instead, all Oliver seemed to do was get overly nostalgic and sentimental, idolize and dote on his fellow students, and overall absolve all of them of any of their guilt because he held them on such a high pedestal. It grated on my nerves at points and also made it hard for me to care about Oliver…which meant that I didn’t feel any real eagerness to learn why he ended up in prison or any anxiety about his situation because I sort of assumed his own stupidity landed him there.

Moreover, although I love Shakespeare and I’m the first to appreciate a quote from one of his plays coming from either the mouth of a real person or a fictional character, I found it totally heavy-handed how often Oliver and his school mates quoted the Bard. Sure, I get it, they are theatre students and they only act in Shakespearean plays, and having them say a couple quotes here and there in conversation would’ve been cool, but a significant portion of their dialogue came straight from Shakespeare’s plays (not to mention the scenes when they are actually acting on stage and large chunks of the plays are transcribed). This just made it even harder to connect with the characters because none of them really had a voice of their own. I felt like I knew Shakespeare better than any of the characters by the time I finished If We Were Villains. Not to mention the fact that since the quotes were interwoven into every day conversation, I found myself having to pause and dissect exactly how they fit into the scene I was reading and why the character would’ve chosen to speak that specific line. This was a jarring experience and took me right out of the drama and mystery every time it happened.

That being said, If We Were Villains is an enjoyable enough book. It’s not awful by any means, and I actually quite liked the plot, even if I didn’t like the characters. I think I should also note that I recently finished the Six of Crows duology which features such a strong cast of characters, all working together, that it was hard not to compare the 7 main characters of If We Were Villains to the strong and diverse group in Six of Crows. I’m sure there are many readers out there who would have better luck with If We Were Villains, and indeed, there are some rave reviews of it on Goodreads, so I encourage readers who like unique thrillers or who have a particular fondness for Shakespeare to give it a shot. Hopefully you’ll find something to connect to in it!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

2 Mini-Reviews and an Update ~ #JNGReads …and reads…and reads!

Hello dear Readers and welcome to a midweek mini-update!

Remember when I wrote that post a short while ago, outlining the books I wanted to read to finish off 2017? Well, it turns out, I’m a faster reader than I thought because I blasted through the Six of Crows duology and found that, if I stuck to the reading plan as it was, I would be finished all of the books I wanted to read well before the end of December. While this would normally be a good thing because I could pick up some additional novels toward the end of the year and into 2018, I desperately want to finish my year with a re-read of Jane Eyre. I want to be reading that beloved favourite of mine when I get married (on December 22nd, specifically), and it only makes sense to position Jane Steele and Mr. Rochester just before that. So, with that particular plan for the very end of the year in mind, I decided last week to insert a few short, lighter reads into my plan before I reach the Jane Eyre-themed end of 2017.

I began by picking up two books that have been on my To-Read List for quite some time and that, fortunately for my plan, only took me a handful of days each to finish. With that being said, though, I didn’t have too much to say about either of them in terms of a proper review, so I decided to combine my thoughts on them into one post here on the blog. Below, you’ll find these reviews…and look for many more reviews coming as 2017 winds to a close!

Unfiltered by Lily Collins

Below is a review I posted on Goodreads for the non-fiction book Unfiltered by actress Lily Collins. I didn’t have much to say about the collection of essays, which I finished in 2 days’ time, so I did not feel it warranted its own blog post…

I don’t have too much to say about Unfiltered so I will keep my comments brief, as I am rather ambivalent about it.

This collection of essays by actress Lily Collins is fun and light, which is both a compliment and a criticism. I believe that its style is very accessible, particularly for readers in the young adult category. However, Collins does attempt to write about some important subject matter, such as her struggles with anorexia and bulimia and her experiences in an abusive relationship, and I felt that in these specific essays, she failed to dig as deeply as she could have. The book is replete with platitudes but there aren’t any really profound conclusions or morals to be drawn from it. Collins does a good job of presenting herself as just like any one of us, but that is mainly because she doesn’t give enough specifics about her personal struggles for the reader to feel like they truly understand her. I was a bit disappointed in that sense because I expected to learn new things about her as a person, but I found that I did not. I also wasn’t fond of the humble brags that seemed to abound in the text, and while I enjoy Collins’ acting and think she’s very beautiful, it annoyed me slightly that she professed to be amazing at so many different things, such as journalism and cooking. It was all a bit much for my liking, and although I’m sure she’s very talented at many things, I felt that her overt discussion of it distanced me from her and made it so that she wasn’t believable as the girl next door.

That being said, I enjoyed the collection well enough, and the pictures added a nice layer of intimacy to the text. It isn’t a masterpiece by any standards, but I think it would prove to be an enjoyable read for younger fans of Lily Collins, especially because she writes with a simplistic style and addresses a younger audience (rather than one that is closer to her own age of 28).

Overall, pleasant enough and a quick, easy read!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham

I am a huge fan of Madeleine Wickham…or rather, I should say that I am a huge fan of her when she writes under her pen name, Sophie Kinsella. That’s right, the author of this little known chick lit. novel is in fact the hugely famous writer of the Shopaholic series, among other awesome stories (shout out to I’ve Got Your Number, my personal favourite!). Although I’ve read almost all of Kinsella’s novels, I had never picked up one of Wickham’s, until a few days ago.

I’ve owned Cocktails for Three for about three years now, since I picked it up at a used book sale. It sat on my bookshelf for all this time because I just never felt in the mood for it, having heard mixed reviews about the stories Kinsella writes under her real name. I always opted to read a “proper” Kinsella novel, rather than delving into Cocktails for Three, and I only picked up this novel this week because I wanted a quick read that I would be done with rapidly.

Well, Cocktails for Three is certainly a quick read, but it is also one that has left me conflicted. I both enjoyed it and found it very slow, and I couldn’t reconcile the fact that Wickham is Kinsella, and vice versa, because the tones and styles of their novels are just so different. Kinsella’s novels are effortlessly hilarious, replete with over-the-top but endearing characters whose dramatic lives still somehow seem to be relatable to the reader. Cocktails for Three is perhaps even more relatable in the sense that the characters are very average and every day, but for some reason, I just couldn’t make myself like any of the three main characters, Candice, Maggie and Roxanne. It wasn’t until about two thirds into the novel that I even enjoyed it at all, and I felt myself wavering between being excited by the story and feeling helplessly bored by it.

I think, as I just mentioned, my main reason for struggling with Cocktails for Three is that I didn’t find any of the female leads likable. They each have these flaws that are extremely difficult to look past and which I found pretty annoying: Candice is ridiculously naïve and innocent, to the point of making me want to slap her; Maggie is so unprepared for motherhood that she seems not to think it bad to drink or be around cigarette smoke while pregnant; and Roxanne is in the midst of a 6 year long affair with a married man, which is a story arc that has always rubbed me the wrong way, since I first began reading chick lit. I admit that, as I got halfway into the novel, I started to warm up to the three characters, but I still found it hard to ignore Roxanne’s immorality, Candice’s ignorance and Maggie’s selfishness. What’s more, there wasn’t really anything romantic about this novel, and while not every novel has to be a romance of course, I’ve grown so accustomed to how artfully Kinsella writes romance that it made me kind of sad to read a novel of hers that was love-free.

With all that said, somehow, I look back on the novel now and I feel like I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a favourite by any means, but I do have to admit that it breaks the chick lit. mold and doesn’t rely on stereotypes or clichés. I appreciate that, and while I didn’t love the story or the characters, I found the novel interesting enough and was overall happy and occupied while reading it.

This is certainly a hard one to rate… I think I’ll definitely give another novel by Wickham a chance in the future, to see if they all adhere to this slightly different style…but I probably will pick up another Kinsella novel first!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Crooked Kingdom ~ #JNGReads

“a black glass boy of deadly edges.”

So this is what all the hype was about.

I have to be honest right from the start: when I read the Grisha Trilogy, I was sort of wondering what all the fuss was about.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the three novels in the series well enough, but at the end of my reading experience and recently, several months after finishing the series, I found myself thinking that it wasn’t at all what it was hyped up to be.  I liked Leigh Bardugo’s creative world building and interesting characters (shout out to The Darkling and Nikolai/Sturmhond in particular) a lot, but I just couldn’t fully understand why everyone on Goodreads was obsessed with Bardugo’s writing.  I found myself not really getting it.

That is until I read Six of Crows which absolutely blew me away.  Having now finished reading the second novel in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom, I can finally say that I truly understand Bardugo’s genius and I am absolutely eager to pick up anything and everything she has written and will write in the future.  The Six of Crows duology is masterfully written and articulated: the pacing is absolute perfection, blending a suspenseful plot with intense moments of quiet, emotional reflection within each character; the world is vast and immense, and draws on elements of the Grisha trilogy to create a realistic setting and environment that is all encompassing and broad; and the characters…well, they’re impossible to describe and equally impossible to forget.  I wrote last weekend about my appreciation for the female protagonists Nina and Inej who I believe are groundbreaking in their representation, and I was inspired even further by their friendship and teamwork in Crooked Kingdom – they truly reminded me of myself and my dear best friend, CV, boosting each other up and growing each other’s confidence at every turn.  All of the characters are fascinating, though, from Wylan, the quiet and innocent scientist, to Jesper, the rambunctious and daring gambler (and, Wylan and Jesper’s relationship was remarkable and touching as well).  There really is nothing that could’ve been made better or improved in the Six of Crows duology, and it is, to me, an utter masterpiece of literature.  Despite the fact that it is a fantasy series branded as young adult lit., it is edgy, dark, heart wrenching and profoundly mature.  This is the sort of young adult literature that needs to be written more often – we don’t need to pander to or belittle young adults, we need to provide them with stories that are as diverse and thought provoking and complex as they are.  Leigh Bardugo does this artfully.

And, in truth, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom feel like very adult novels, particularly in some of the darker themes they investigate.  One of these is the treatment of PTSD and anxiety, which is what touched me most profoundly when reading Crooked Kingdom.  It all comes down to the astonishing characterization of Kaz Brekker, arguably the main character of the duology.  Kaz is a character that I identified with very strongly (never mind the fact that every “Which Six of Crows character are you?” quiz I took yielded the result KAZ).  Kaz suffers from anxiety in a way that is very complicated and easy to leave unrecognized.  He is a strong and confident character, a born leader whose mind is so sharp that he always has a number of plans, and multiple backup plans, in the works.  He is one of the most capable characters I have ever encountered.  But, at the same time, Kaz is deeply flawed and troubled, having survived the traumatic experience of watching his brother die from illness when he was very young.  There are so many layers to his particular story that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that Kaz has difficulty connecting emotionally to anyone else, as well as physically touching other people, because of what he has experienced.  The fact that he wears black leather gloves almost constantly is a physical representation of his anxiety about getting too close to the people around him.

And how remarkable is it to have a character that gets things done, and does them well, but is also constantly at war within himself?  This is absolutely, 100% groundbreaking in my opinion, and Bardugo treats Kaz’s anxiety and PTSD with the utmost care and sensitivity.  But, she also displays his flaws, delves deep into them, and presents him to the reader warts and all.  I felt in so many ways that Kaz was a mirror that reflected myself back to me – no, I don’t have trouble connecting to other people, but I do have my fair share of serious anxieties, and although I am often on top of them and use them to complete my tasks and responsibilities with even more perfection, they are frustrating and exhausting all the same.  Suffering from anxiety is an everyday battle, and even if things are going well and everything is successful, that doesn’t mean that a person isn’t feeling weakened and vulnerable.  Kaz is such a clear representation of that, this person who is seemingly always in control, but who is battling these harsh demons within himself.  I easily sympathized and empathized with Kaz, and I would encourage every single person to read Crooked Kingdom (and of course, Six of Crows first) to get a sense of what a life with anxiety can be like.

What also struck me about Crooked Kingdom was the emphasis on fighting one’s demons, on doing everything possible to be healthy, to conquer one’s anxieties and weaknesses.  This was a powerful message that I felt truly touched by – I loved the emphasis on doing the work to better yourself, on not just sitting around and saying that you are “damaged” and then doing nothing about it.  Yes, there are so many people who go through grave and traumatic things, but I think what is most inspiring is when these people take those experiences and the pain they feel every single day and channel it into being a good person, or into bettering themselves and learning from their experiences.  There is so much growth to be taken from trauma and pain, and although it is so much easier said than done, I appreciate that Bardugo forces her characters to be self-aware, to understand their flaws and complexities and work on achieving their own version of happiness, whatever that may be.  The treatment of both anxiety and the healing process is flawlessly and movingly done.

“‘I would come for you…I would come for you.  And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together knives drawn, pistols blazing.  Because that’s what we do.  We never stop fighting.’” ~ Kaz to Inej

“‘Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined.  If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.’” ~ Inej to Jesper

Bardugo does so much with her characters in both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and she explores so many wonderful facets of their personalities, that it is quite impossible not to love and root for them.  I was touched by the stories of every single one of the characters, and it was just an added bonus that the plots of the novels were so complex and exciting.

I would HIGHLY recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone.  Leigh Bardugo’s talent as a writer is so evident in these two novels, and it is a genius you won’t want to miss out on!

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

Crooked Kingdom ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Six of Crows – A Mini Review ~ #JNGReads

Well, I’m certainly late to the party with this one, but boy am I glad I finally arrived!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a remarkable, suspenseful, heart wrenching and complex tale. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year, and will go down as one of my all-time favourite novels.

I don’t want this review to be too long or comprehensive because I’m planning to move rapidly into reading the second book in the duology, Crooked Kingdom. I would much rather wait until I have finished that book to write a full review of the entire series, with more thorough thoughts on the main characters. Having said that, there was something that struck me about Six of Crows and I just felt that I had to get my thoughts on it down in writing.

Six of Crows, as I said before, is remarkable – it is unlike any other novel in so many ways, such as its tone, narration and sophisticated, gothic feel. It is most remarkable, however, in its portrayal of the six characters that serve as the protagonists of the story. Wylan, Jesper, Matthias, Nina, Inej and Kaz are among the most unique, creative and well-articulated characters I have ever encountered in literature. Each one of them has such a vast and complicated personality, with a detailed history, and Bardugo’s genius truly emerges in her narrative style and the fact that she allows each of the six characters to have their own focus while maintaining consistent third person narration. It is a style that is really hard to describe, but it is almost as though the narrator, this omniscient being, decides to hone in on each of the six characters in their own turn, portraying their own internal emotions and anxieties while simultaneously pinpointing how these internal sentiments manifest themselves in outer reality and are perceived by the other characters. I can’t do the style justice by trying to describe it, so believe me when I say that Six of Crows would be worth reading just for the unparalleled narrative style.

But Six of Crows is also worth reading for sooo many other reasons, such as the suspenseful plot and the complex relationships between these six intriguing, flawed but strong characters. Kaz is by far a standout character, but what touched me most profoundly, and what I want to talk about more closely right now, is Bardugo’s portrayal of her two female characters, Nina and Inej. I have not come across such inspiring female characters in a very long time, and I have to admit that Nina and Inej have already inspired me in my own life. They have given me that little extra push I needed to be the strongest, most powerful young woman I can be, and I think we should all be grateful as readers that two female characters like this exist in a young adult novel. I, for one, will be having my future daughter (if I have one) read Six of Crows at an early age because of Nina and Inej.

Nina ~ The Confident and Curvy Grisha

Nina was the character that truly surprised me the most in Six of Crows. When she first appears in the novel, she is working in what I guess is a sort of brothel or something of that sort and she comes across as somewhat flaky and far too focused on physical appearances and superficial things. Very quickly, though, it becomes clear that although Nina is beautiful, she has many gifts as a Grisha Heartrender and is also extremely intelligent, fierce and takes no nonsense from anyone. Above all, she is unfailingly loyal, both to her lover Matthias and eventually to the Six of Crows crew, and she makes sacrifices and wise snap decisions that I really didn’t expect from her. She was just a fascinating example of the appearance vs. reality motif.

What stuck with me most about Nina was her inspiring amount of confidence. It’s mentioned several times in the novel that Nina absolutely loves sweets and food in general, and her voluptuous form is also described. This led me to believe that Nina is more of a curvy figure, and that was something that I seriously LOVED! This is a different topic for another time, but I have always struggled with my weight, body confidence and self-esteem, and no matter how many times my fiancé and my friends tell me that I have nothing at all to worry about, I can’t seem to acquire the confidence I would like to have about this particular aspect of myself. To read about Nina acting with such confidence, particularly in her interactions and when making those snap decisions, was truly eye opening for me. Nina’s body isn’t even a thing that she mentions herself or seems to think about, except in its capacity to assist her in her tasks and when she is using it to her advantage. She seems to truly love herself and take pride in exactly who she is, and all I could think while reading is, I want to be Nina when I grow up. I’m not even close to as confident and self-assured as she is yet, but I would really like to be one day.

The passage that touched me the most with regards to this idea was the following one…

“Do you never doubt yourself?” [Matthias asked Nina.]

“All the time,” she’d said as she slid into sleep. “I just don’t show it.”

Nina is the embodiment of the “fake it till you make it” mentality – and boy, does she ever make it in the end! She became one of my favourite fictional characters ever!

Inej ~ The Defiant and Daring Ghost

While Nina was most probably my favourite character in Six of Crows, Inej was the one that intrigued me the most (and that is saying a lot since Kaz Brekker is very intriguing!). In contrast to Nina, Inej is this slender, silent character that is actually given the nickname The Wraith to describe how adept she is at remaining hidden and taking people by surprise. She was raised as an acrobat, and her athleticism and the way she pushes her body to the ultimate extremes (such as climbing up an incinerator shaft, practically barefoot) is freaking insane! It is totally groundbreaking, in my opinion, to see characters like Nina and Inej working together and becoming such close friends without any competitiveness whatsoever, and it warmed my heart to see this wraith-like figure soften and begin to trust another female. I also couldn’t help but root for Inej, not only in her crazy physical feats, but also in terms of wanting her to find love and respect, and to value herself as more than simply a pawn or tool in Kaz’s missions. I think whereas Nina possesses confidence inherently, Inej truly develops and gains confidence as the novel progresses, especially in her interactions with Kaz, and that is an epic transformation to watch unfold. Although Inej never doubts herself when getting a task done or doing something physical, it is heartwarming to watch her start to believe in her own value more and become self-assured.

Inej’s newfound self-worth is most obvious in a line toward the end of the novel that I just couldn’t get out of my head…

“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”

Inej finally has the confidence to go after exactly what she wants, and she refuses to settle for anything less. I was more proud of her than I can adequately express here.

And on that note, let me finish by giving a song recommendation. I am sometimes struck by songs that I like that somehow seem to fit exactly with an aspect of a novel I’ve just read, and today when I was running on the treadmill for an hour (What can I said, Inej inspired me?!), the song “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent came on my iPod. I’ve liked this song since high school, but as I listened to the lyrics today, I couldn’t help but think of Kaz and Inej and their complicated relationship. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I am going to include some lyrics that I think express this comparison, as well as a link to the song below. If you’ve read the novel (and if not, I urge you to ASAP!) you’ll know exactly what I mean.

From “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent

Never understood how she could,

Mean so little to so many

Why does she mean everything to me?

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

******

I never walked so far on a lonely street

With no one there for me

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

Accept this confession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

You’re not my high possession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

My conscience is vicious!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

And I’m begging forgiveness!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-GSagBJgY

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥(out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart