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

The Crown – #JNGWatches

Good evening Dear Readers and welcome to 2017 at The World of my Green Heart!

My apologies for the extreme delay in posting, but time got away from me over these holidays, since my last blog entry. I’ll mention a bit more about this in tomorrow’s post (yes, that’s right, you’ll be getting two posts in a row to make up for my absence!), but I was specifically kept away from my computer by SS who happened to have 10 days off of work over the holidays. We were able to spend all of these 10 days together – he is right beside me as I write this very text – and I just couldn’t find time to get onto my laptop or even to read. I am finding the time now, though, and I am happy to say that I have many ideas for posts that will be coming very soon! I’m also thoroughly enjoying my current read, Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, so I am certain that I will be finishing it within the next few days, as I get back to work and my lunchtime Starbucks reading routine. I’ve set myself a goal of 18 books in the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge, and what with my full time work schedule and spending every weekend with SS, I think I will be keeping myself pretty busy trying to read a book and a half every month for the next year. Wish me luck!

Anyway, let’s get to the subject of today’s particular post. I’m a fan of the monarchy – actually, that’s not entirely true. I’m a fan of Queen Victoria but that doesn’t mean that I’m an expert on English history by any standards. I know a lot about the Victorian era in terms of literature and culture, and I am a collector of facts pertaining to the queen who gave this time period her name, but that doesn’t mean I know much about King Henry the VIII or Queen Elizabeth I or even the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. While I woke up ridiculously early in second year university to watch the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I’m not a super fan of the Windsor family really. I appreciate their existence and I like the idea of royal families, but I don’t know much about the current family that inhabits Buckingham Palace.

You can’t imagine, however, just how many people have asked me if I’ve seen Netflix’s new original series The Crown. In theory, it makes perfect sense that they would be shocked that it took me this long to get around to watching it – I’m very vocal about my love for Queen Victoria, so it stands to reason that I would also be interested in (or even obsessed with) Queen E II. I’m not though, so I didn’t feel the same passion to watch The Crown that I did when I watched ITV’s drama Victoria. Not even close, to be frank. But, the phenomenon that is this Netflix series certainly intrigued me, so I sat down this past week and blasted through all 10 episodes with SS.

I have to say, I really did enjoy it. Like I said, I don’t know much about Elizabeth’s reign, specifically the beginning of it in the early 1950’s, and I did learn quite a lot about the economic and social climate of the mid-20th century. Having said that, I did find many parts of the series, particularly the more political bits involving the government at Downing Street, to be a touch boring and hard to follow. While John Lithgow put in a formidable and admirable performance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, I still didn’t love the parts where he and his fellow politicians were discussing the laws of England. It didn’t seem all that relevant to me and I found it hard to keep track of their issues, concerns and preoccupations.

What I did really enjoying about the series, though, was the relationships it explored, and the way in which the characters within these relationships were portrayed. In terms of more minor characters, I became very fond of King George, particularly during the flashbacks that were used after his death early in the series, and I also became fascinated by his brother, the former King Edward VIII. The conflicts that these men experience, due largely to the pressures of being royalty, are quite surprising, and I was interested in King Edward’s relationship with the divorced woman he chose over his throne. These were elements of English history that I had no idea about, and I felt the brotherly relationship between George and Edward was really nicely portrayed and explored. The same can be said for the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret. Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby play these roles to perfection, and each dialogue they engage in is full of masterfully measured tone and body language that suggests a discomfort and jealousy between the two sisters that I hadn’t previously expected. Their relationship becomes more and more complicated as the series progresses, and as Margaret becomes open about her relationship with a divorced man, and it is very interesting to see the internal tension that Elizabeth experiences as she must choose whether to be a good sister or a responsible queen. I was on the edge of my seat during many of the conversations between these two characters, and I think Foy and Kirby had great chemistry and were very believable as sisters who both love and resent each other.

The breakout star of the series was, for me, Matt Smith as Prince Philip. Wow, that man was something else! I’m not a Doctor Who fan at all and I’ve actually never even seen an episode, but I know a lot of people who are very fond of Matt Smith, and now I can see why. He’s a fabulous actor, and his portrayal of Philip was so surprising to me in every way! Maybe I don’t know enough about the real-life Prince Philip, but I was shocked to find that he is portrayed as a bit of a playboy in The Crown. His one liners are witty and totally unexpected, and he comes across as quite immature and difficult to deal with most of the time. Smith gives Philip an element of the juvenile, but he is also arguably the most memorable character. The scenes between Elizabeth and Philip are uncomfortable and fascinating, and I am very eager to see how their relationship develops over the next several seasons. It’s interesting to watch a series where we know exactly what the ending will be: Elizabeth and Philip will live into their nineties and remain married. What makes this series unique is that it takes the inevitable and complicates it, providing us viewers with a glimpse into the dramas that resulted in the present we are so familiar with.

There’s no doubt that The Crown is a good piece of television, and I’m not surprised that it is nominated for several Golden Globes. My prediction is that it will win many, and I was hoping to see an award for Matt Smith myself, which doesn’t seem like it will be possible considering that he wasn’t even nominated (an outrage, in my opinion, unless I’m missing something and he was in fact nominated…?!). I would, in any case, highly recommend the series because it makes for an intriguing and dramatic watching experience. It is definitely binge worthy!

Let me know in the comments below if you get around to watching it and what you think.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Christmas Film Recommendations – #JNGWatches

Hello dear Readers!

I thought it was high time that I gave you all some Christmas movie recommendations. Today felt like the perfect day to do this because I just encountered a well-known and much loved film for the first time, and it truly touched my heart.

As you all know, I am an avid, passionate fan of the Christmas season, and one of the pastimes that gets me into the spirit each year is watching Christmas movies every night with my parents. We’ve recently brought SS into the fold, and we watched four movies last weekend alone. My mother and I are unstoppable when it comes to scouring out movies, taping them and scheduling time for us all to sit down and watch them. We have a very good idea of whether or not we will like a Christmas film just from the description, and we’ve found some real winners over the years that have become near and dear to our hearts. Although I can’t possibly go through all the Christmas movies we’ve watched here, I would like to recommend a few of my yearly go-to’s, as well as talk about a couple new favourites.

Forever Favourites

~ Borrowed Hearts ~

Borrowed Hearts is a touching and fun Christmas film that is full of romance and valuable lessons. Starring Eric McCormack as a businessman who has no time for holiday cheer, and Roma Downey as the single mother who turns his life around, this movie features some remarkably charming moments, such as a scene featuring a heartwarming game of Twister, a visit to an outdoor skating rink and a whole host of family moments and traditions. McCormack’s character is heavily inspired by Scrooge, and it is exciting to watch him go from grumpy and surly bachelor to a true family man. Hector Elizondo is also just lovely as Javier Del Campo, another businessman who is more appreciative of family values and who encourages McCormack’s character to focus on love rather than his bank account over the Christmas season. There are strong suggestions that Del Campo is actually an angel, and this is a fun twist that really makes the movie feel even more like a Christmas classic. My mother and I have been watching this film for many years, and it is one of the classics that we won’t skip watching every Christmas season.

~ The Bells of St. Mary’s ~

Strictly speaking, The Bells of St. Mary’s is not a Christmas film. There is one Christmas scene in it, but this classic starring Bing Crosby (Sidenote: Bing Crosby singing just about any Christmas carol is absolutely divine!) and Ingrid Bergman definitely offers something for the whole family. This is the film that my father has always called his favourite Christmas movie, and for a long time we have watched it together on Christmas Eve, after returning from dinner at my grandmother’s house. It tells the story of the priest Father O’Malley who begins working at St. Mary’s Church to get it out of a financial slump. He butts heads with a nun who works at St. Mary’s, Sister Benedict, but they eventually start to see eye-to-eye despite several misunderstandings. I should note that my father and I are not at all religious, and although The Bells of St. Mary’s is technically about a priest and a nun and a church, it does not feel heavily religious in the least, and it delivers messages and insights that can be applied in any setting. Father O’Malley is also an incredible character: he is funny, witty, sarcastic and just plain cool. My father and I have always enjoyed Crosby’s take on this religious figure, and there are a number of very humorous moments throughout the film. You’ll also get a chance to hear Bing Crosby sing, which is the ultimate Christmas treat!

Fun 2016 Frontrunner

~ Crown for Christmas ~

It’s not every year that my mother and I can say we’ve found a new, all-time favourite Christmas film, but 2016 is certainly that year! Just last night, we watched a movie we had never encountered before, Crown for Christmas, and it was absolutely wonderful! It is highly reminiscent of The Sound of Music and (my personal forever favourite) Jane Eyre in that it tells the story of a New Yorker who is hired as the governess for the daughter of a king. Danica McKellar stars as the governess and she is charming and adorable in the role. My mother and I were instantly rooting for her. It is the king, played by famous British actor Rupert Penry-Jones, who really steals the show, though. I have been fond of Penry-Jones since I first watched the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Persuasion – he is THE Captain Wentworth in my books. Penry-Jones is a consummate British actor, and his traditional good looks and delectable accent made him the perfect choice for the role of king in Crown for Christmas. He has his moments of being cold and distant, but there is an undeniable warmth and goodness that oozes out of him, and he plays the role of father remarkably well. The movie was just so romantic, but also very wholesome, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of movies like The Sound of Music and Jane Eyre, but also to those who may have a soft spot for Rupert Penry-Jones and his dashing persona (I’m sure there are a lot of you out there!).

A New-Old Favourite

~ It’s A Wonderful Life ~

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”

I am ashamed to admit that I had never seen the classic (in every sense of the word) Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life until today. I don’t know why, but I resisted watching it for many years. This seems strange in hindsight because it is a movie that is right up my alley – my favourite films as a teenager getting through high school were the likes of Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady and, of course, The Bells of St. Mary’s, so I don’t know what ever made me think that I wouldn’t love It’s A Wonderful Life. And love it, I did!

I decided to sit down and watch it today after my dear friend CV mentioned to me on the weekend that it is a film she watches every single year at Christmas. CV and I have almost identical taste, and I knew instantly that if it was a favourite of hers, it would certainly make my list of favourite Christmas films. I set myself up in front of the TV with it today, all bundled in my heavy sweater and blankets, and I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen for the full two hours. I happened to watch it in black and white, and I’m so glad I did because I think it felt a lot more authentic that way.

This is the story of a man, George Bailey, who sacrifices everything for the people around him. He is at once a businessman and a family man, and it seems like, for the most part, nothing goes right for him and he can’t really catch a break. His plans to leave his small hometown of Bedford Falls are constantly thwarted, and his dreams of exploring Europe and going off to college are never realized. Instead, George gives of himself to his father by taking over the family business, to his brother by paying for his college education, and to his wife Mary by being a constant source of support to her and their four children. George Bailey reminds me very much of my own father in that sense, and as I watched him toil at work, dealing with one crisis after another in swift succession, I was reminded of the nights when my father would return home from work very late, after a two and a half hour commute. My father never seemed to be tired though, and was always willing to sit down and watch TV with us, offer me and my brother advice with any school dilemmas, or even pick us up from our friends’ houses at all hours of the day and night. To this day, my father works very hard, but he is also a constant presence in our house, a personality that shines in any room he is in. And, he is also the sort of man, just like George Bailey, who has done so much for other people that they are eager and excited to give back to him, whenever they can.

It was wonderful (that adjective is truly fitting in this case) to watch George Bailey in his roles as workingman, husband and father. It honestly warmed my heart, and I nearly cried at the end of the film. Probably what made me so emotional is the fact that my own dear future husband SS is currently, at this very moment, working late, doing everything that he can to build his career, develop a name for himself and set us up with a comfortable and happy life. I am, of course, doing my part as well, and my mother does the same for my father, so it was also very nice to see George’s wife Mary act as his constant support throughout the entire film. It was simply a lovely story to behold, and the underlying message, that a person’s life is so much more valuable than they can ever imagine for the part they play in the lives of those around them, was remarkable and profound. This is a film that quickly became a favourite of mine and that I have every intention of watching every single year!

“Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

There you have it – I hope some of you may have a chance to watch these great Christmas movies and curl up with your loved ones and some delicious hot chocolate over this holiday season!

xox,

JNG

Girl with a Green (and Red) Heart

my green heart

Christmas at Tiffany’s – #JNGReads

christmas-at-tiffanys

I’ve just finished Karen Swan’s novel Christmas at Tiffany’s, and I have to be frank…I LOVED IT! Before I get into the nitty gritty, though, I wrote a few status updates on Goodreads as I read this rather long, almost 600-page story, so I’d like to transcribe them again here and use them as a basis for my review.

~ On arrive à Paris! Good riddance to Luke, who I don’t trust for some reason. Also, I’m slightly frustrated with Cassie for allowing her friends (first Kelly, and now Anouk) to completely remake her when she arrives in each country. Although the changes are physical, I feel like her willingness to just let them have their way with her indicates a lack of self-confidence and inner strength at this point. ~

~ Venice was both exciting and confusing! ~

~ Onward to London, with a broken heart. What I thought would be a light and fun book has seriously surprised me! ~

What I felt while in the midst of reading this rather intricate story is just as true now. I won’t go into a summary of the plot since you can easily read that in the novel’s synopsis on Goodreads or online elsewhere, and I also don’t feel like I could fully encapsulate all that the novel is about. I admit, I picked up the book because of the title, jolly front cover and the description of a story that sounded light, airy and a bit silly, but this novel hits so much harder. It does have an overarching message within it that is conveyed through Cassie’s journey and I don’t think Cassie’s work is done at the end. But the making of a good novel, in my opinion, is that the reader can envision lives for the characters after the back cover is closed, so I will say that this novel was truly a surprise and more impressive than I expected in so many ways!

Firstly, it wasn’t very festive at all. Although the title definitely suggests that this novel will be full of Christmas cheer, there is only the briefest mention of Christmas at two points in the story. While many readers whose reviews I’ve read labelled this false advertising, I still believe that this is a perfect novel to read at Christmas. It is the quintessential Starbucks novel. I curled up with it in Starbucks, green tea (my new addiction!) beside me, every single day, and the environment coupled with the adventure and excitement described in the book put me right in the Christmas spirit. This is a warm book…although there are cold moments of heartache and grief (I’m thinking of Cassie’s devastating experiences in Paris, for example), the emphasis on friendship, love and, most importantly, inner peace truly does warm the soul.

Cassie goes on four remarkable adventures in this novel, visiting New York, Paris, Venice and London after learning that her husband of 10 years has been cheating on her (so much for not providing a brief plot summary). This sort of plot is right up my alley. I’ve visited all of the cities Cassie resides in, and Swan’s descriptions brought me right back to those much beloved places. What I liked best about Swan’s writing style and pacing is that she allowed for the reader to get a really solid understanding of Cassie’s daily life and integration into each city, but she also expertly moved forward in time to significant events without any jarring of the reader’s comfort. We get to live with Cassie for a full year, and I think that by the end, we very much feel like we have journeyed and grown with her.

My least favourite section of the novel was the first, when Cassie spent time in New York, because I felt that she lacked confidence and self-assurance. Even in her move to Paris, Cassie allows her friends to entirely dictate how she should look and act, and I felt it frustrating that a 31 year old woman wouldn’t have a bit more backbone. But, looking back, I absolutely appreciate those parts of the plot because, particularly in hindsight, they emphasized Cassie’s maturation and self-discovery. The truth is that Cassie had no idea who she was, all throughout her marriage, and so she had to start from scratch and develop her self-esteem. She eventually does, and the pride the reader has in her is made greater by the fact that we witnessed her struggle.

My favourite section of the novel was any one that involved Henry…hence why I found the Venice portion of the novel so exciting! Okay, yes, I’m a hopeless romantic, but Henry is a bit of a different hero and he is an instrumental (if not the most instrumental) part of Cassie’s journey. He creates a To Do List for her for each city she lives in, each item of which has a greater significance, and it is his presence that pushes Cassie out of her comfort zone. What I appreciated about this love story is that it emphasized that the right kind of romance will help a person grow. So many people believe that to love is to lose one’s independence, but I disagree. The right love will be full of adventure, and is a unity of two separate minds that come together to quite literally make magic. Cassie and Henry have that…it takes them awhile to work out the kinks, but they inspire each other to be better versions of themselves throughout the novel.

The sole element I found problematic was that Cassie thought Henry was engaged for much of the novel. This was not only a major complication, but also verged on dangerous territory as they began to desire each other more. Cassie is a woman who has suffered at the hands of an unfaithful husband, so I did not in any way want her to become that other woman. Luckily, she steers pretty clear of that, and I am glad that all things became clear at the end. I only wish that maybe Cassie had confronted Henry a bit sooner and emphasized how inappropriate it was for them to spend so much time together when he had a fiancée. This would’ve forced him to admit that he didn’t have one any longer, and much ambiguity could’ve been avoided. But, then I guess the suspense would’ve dissipated too.

All in all, I really enjoyed my first endeavour into Karen Swan’s catalogue and I do plan to read more of her books (and most definitely the sequel to Christmas at Tiffany’s) very soon. After reading some very average books recently, this novel seriously surprised me and ended up being so much more poignant and meaningful than your average dose of chick lit. I will miss my Starbucks dates with Christmas at Tiffany’s, and I hope my next read is just as satisfying!

❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

MIA

Hello dear Readers ~ it’s been a long time!

This is going to be a very quick Wednesday note to let you all know what I’ve been up to recently and to apologize profusely for not writing a post in such a long time.

I’ve been very busy recently, which isn’t really an excuse for not writing any posts.  However, I’m hoping that once you all know the reasons for my absence, and the fun posts I have lined up for the near future, you’ll consider forgiving me.

My weekends have been hectic, to say the least, and for very good reason.  My wedding day is just over a year away (YAY!), and so SS and I recently decided to get some modelling practice and shoot our engagement photos with our wonderful photographer.  I cannot wait for you to see them, and I’m hoping to post as many photos as I can on the blog and tell you all about the incredible artist (there really is no other word for her!) we’ve chosen to work with.  I should have something to show you very soon, and all I want to say to entice your interest at the moment is that there was definitely a very distinct Christmas theme and feel to the whole photoshoot.  Things will definitely be getting festive on the blog!

To that point, I have two glorious weeks of holiday vacation coming up, and I am super excited to write a whole bunch of posts in that time.  A few of these I’ve already got planned, so look forward to another yearly post about the awesome Christmas decorations I’ve encountered around the city, as well as one about my dream home.

Amidst all these lifestyle posts will also be more book reviews, I promise!  I’m deep in my current read, Christmas at Tiffany’s by Karen Swan (Goodreads says I’m about 74% of the way through it), and I think I’ll be finishing it in the next few days.  I’m actually really enjoying it so far, and although it’s not as festive as I had hoped, it’s turned out to be less fun and silly than I expected and much more intricate and meaningful.  A full review is on the way soon!

So, I think that’s just about all for now.  I wanted to update you all and convey that I have not forgotten about this blog that I have grown so fond of and attached to!  I have big and exciting plans for it over the holidays and into the New Year, so stay tuned!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

One True Loves – #JNGReads

Another read for 2016 (which is rapidly coming to an end) is under my belt. Just a short while ago, I had no idea who Taylor Jenkins Reid was, and now I’ve read two of her novels. The first I encountered was Maybe in Another Life, and I quite enjoyed the concept and structure of that novel, which presented two different possible narratives for the main character, Hannah Martin. Similarly to the popular movie Sliding Doors, the two plots expand out from a single point, one particular decision that Hannah both makes and avoids simultaneously, propelling her parallel lives into two very different directions. While I enjoyed each of the chick lit stories well enough, what I enjoyed more about the novel was the way it investigated the notion of Fate and the possibility of multiple universes. It was a concept that impressed and intrigued me.

One True Loves, my second foray into Jenkins Reid’s catalogue, has a similarly intriguing hook: Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart Jesse Lerner and begins to build a life with him, when he goes missing on a helicopter trip and is presumed dead. Years later, Emma is in love and engaged to Sam Kemper when Jesse returns, forcing Emma to decide between past and present love. I knew right from reading the description that I would probably enjoy the novel, and when my best friend purchased it, I immediately asked to borrow it after she was finished.

The thing is, as with several of the other novels I’ve finished lately, I didn’t love this book as much as I expected I would. Actually, I should say that I thoroughly enjoyed the middle of the novel, but I wasn’t crazy about the beginning or the end…as weird as that may sound. Let me explain…

The beginning of the novel, in which Emma explains how she met Jesse in high school, felt a bit rushed to me. It was interesting to learn about her relationship with her parents, her struggles in dealing with her older sister, and her antipathy toward the bookstore her parents own, Blair Books, but I struggled to understand why these moments were taking up space in a relatively short novel that was ambitious enough to try to present two love stories. There were some sweet but short moments when Emma described her infatuation with Jesse, and then, all of a sudden, Emma and Jesse are in their twenties, living in California together. This switch blind-sided me. So many moments of their young relationship were completely skipped over, and I understand that Jenkins Reid was trying to cram two love stories into one novel, but I had really hoped to feel more connected to Jesse and to understand why Emma loved him so deeply. I didn’t feel like there was time for me to develop that sort of emotion with such a rushed narration.

In what I would consider the middle of the novel, Jesse goes missing and Emma is plunged into despair and mourning. This was a truly touching and affective portion of the novel, and I felt the anguish and turmoil Emma was experiencing. There were moments that took my breath away and nearly left me in tears, and it reminded me very much of a novel I read recently and grew very fond of, Ali Harris’ The First Last Kiss. Emma’s first person narration really shone in this middle section, and my attachment to her only grew as she began her relationship with Sam and taught herself to love again. The comfortable domestic moments between Sam and Emma were adorable and endearing, and I started to root for them and feel really connected to their relationship. What was missing in the descriptions of Emma and Jesse’s relationship, the little, simple and mundane moments of living together, were explained with great detail during this section and I really began to believe that Sam was the right man for Emma.

Then, Jesse returned, and the conflict ensued, rather later in the novel than I would’ve liked. One particular scene stood out from this latter portion of the novel, though: the one when Sam and Emma are saying their goodbyes, before Emma explores her relationship with Jesse again. Sam’s heartache is palpable and I felt for him so strongly that I was almost heartbroken over Emma’s indecision and confusion. I feel that this scene and the dialogues between Sam and Emma in it were the strongest of the whole novel. I’m sad to say, though, that as Emma begins to revisit her love for Jesse, I became less and less interested in the story. Clearly, I was partial to Sam all along, but it didn’t have anything to do with that – I was more bored by the time Emma and Jesse spent together than anything. When they decided to visit Jesse’s parents’ cottage in Maine, I was excited, thinking that the emotion of their relationship would skyrocket, but for me it, sadly, never did. I never really understood why they loved each other, I felt no chemistry between them and all I really wanted was for Emma to realize she should return to Sam. I didn’t even fully understand why she felt so guilty about her feelings because I didn’t think she ever had any real connection to Jesse anyway. When Emma did eventually return to Sam, the ending was so rushed and wrapped up so neatly in a bow that I felt like I wished the second half of the novel hadn’t happened at all.

I really wanted to LOVE this book, but I just didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and finished it very quickly, but I don’t think it will leave any impression on me. I’ve read a lot of incredible chick lit in my day, and I do appreciate the genre, but this novel was just a bit too bland in the end for me. The concept was spectacular, but I don’t think it was articulated quite as well as it could’ve been, so it remains a pretty average novel for me.

Having said all of this, I’d like to end this review on a slightly more positive note, so I’ll leave you with a passage from the novel that I did enjoy. Of course, it comes from the scene I mentioned earlier, between Sam and Emma…

“When you love someone, it seeps out of everything you do, it bleeds into everything you say, it becomes so ever-present, that eventually it becomes ordinary to hear, no matter how extraordinary it is to feel.”

One True Loves, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Here’s hoping my next read is a bit better than average, because I think I’m in a slump. Suggestions anyone?

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen – A Belated #ManCrushMonday / #JNGWatches

We interrupt our usual talk of True Love and Victorian romances to bring you a little something different…

Remember months ago when I was home sick from work and I binge-watched the Netflix/Marvel original series Jessica Jones?  That was the first time I had ever binge-watched anything; I’m not really the type to sit for hours and watch TV and I’ve always liked the format of watching shows on a weekly basis.  I believe this style of television watching helps to build anticipation and get the viewer excited.  With Jessica Jones, though, something was different: I felt this growing interest, a sort of craving developing to know what would happen next, and as quickly as possible.  I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Jones, both the character and the show she gives her name to, and I would highly recommend this viewing experience to those who not only enjoy superhero fiction, but also to viewers and readers who appreciate strong female characters with feisty and defiant personalities.  Jessica is very complex, and I think it is high time we had more female protagonists like that on our television screens.

Having said all this, I don’t know why I resisted watching the other extremely popular Netflix/Marvel series Daredevil.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have because there was no chance I wasn’t going to love it…but I kept telling SS that I wasn’t interested in watching it, that I just didn’t think it could blow my mind like Jessica Jones did.  Consider me corrected.

Daredevil is an absolutely PHENOMENAL series!  I think that sums up my reaction to both seasons 1 and 2 quite nicely, but let me go further and give you some reasons as to why I enjoyed it so much.  It is truly (and it is very similar to Jessica Jones in this way) unlike any other superhero movie or television show I have encountered.  The episodes are such high quality, and the acting was superb.  What impressed me most of all, though, was that the action wasn’t simply gratuitous: the fight scenes were beautifully shot and were little works of art in themselves, and I was fascinated by how the choreography allowed the viewer to embody the character of Daredevil for a time.  I believe they did an excellent job of referencing his blindness in these scenes, and of making the viewer feel how disoriented and fatigued he often became.  It was a very unique approach to filming these scenes that in movies usually become cheesy and annoying.

It wasn’t just the choreography and the style of shooting that got me hooked though; I was truly impressed by the stellar acting, as I mentioned before.  I think each and every one of the main characters were complex and well-developed, but I have to give huuuge props to Charlie Cox who was a serious surprise for me.  I had only ever encountered Cox in the movie Stardust previously, and while that’s a great movie, he isn’t exactly superhero material judging by that film.  Imagine my surprise when he totally encompassed the roles of both Matt Murdock and his crime fighting counterpart, Daredevil, or the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.  His glorious abs notwithstanding (although, let’s be honest, I’m pretty obsessed with them now), Cox embodied the aura of a superhero who is not at all arrogant, who is truly a hero in every sense of the word.  He is quiet, contemplative and a little lonely, and that comes across strongly in Cox’s portrayal of his inner turmoil and his fear of letting his closest friends down.  He isn’t an arrogant superhero by any standards, and that was so refreshing to see after recently encountering characters like Deadpool and Dr. Strange whose egos seem to sometimes get in the way of their productivity.  I know this is inherently a part of Matt’s character, but I particularly loved how Cox emphasized his goodness, his desire to maintain his humanity and morality, even amidst the evils he witnesses.  His main focus, as Elektra rightly notes at the end of season 2, is to maintain peace and safety in New York, and he devotes himself not to becoming famous, an idol for the masses, but instead to looking after the people around him, his fellow citizens, who struggle and live in fear on a daily basis.  He is, in many ways, more of a martyr than a vigilante, and that is an interesting concept to investigate and get swept into.

Of course, as I said, the supporting cast is also incredible, and honourable mention must be given to Élodie Yung and Jon Bernthal for their portrayals of Elektra and Frank Castle/Punisher respectively.  In particular, Yung made me hate the character of Elektra, and the way she was influencing Matt, so much that I went on several rants about it…so obviously, that’s some good acting right there.  I really do have to mention the stand-out star, though: Vincent D’Onofrio was absolutely brilliant as season 1’s primary villain Wilson Fisk (who also goes by the name Kingpin, which was news to me, but is apparently very significant to diehard Daredevil fans).  D’Onofrio was an absolute force to be reckoned with as Fisk and his acting gave me chills on several occasions.  SS realized how much I had come to like the character, so he bought me a POP figurine of Fisk, along with one of Matt, to keep on my dresser.  I stare at these guys everyone morning and am reminded of a television series that I was almost too stubborn to watch.  Boy, am I glad I came to my sense and gave it a chance!

daredevil-and-fisk

Watch Daredevil everyone!  I urge you to delve into this truly engrossing series.  You’ll become addicted quickly, and you won’t regret it.  And be sure to dive right in before The Defenders comes out next year…and gives us a chance to see Daredevil and Jessica Jones in action together.  What could be better?!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart